Monday, December 31, 2018

Market Harborough station in 1980

This photograph of Market Harborough station house must date from about 1980.

In the foreground you can see the bay platform which once accommodated trains heading for Rugby or Northampton.

On the Midland main line there is a nice splitting distant semaphore signal. You can see it in more detail in another photograph on this blog.

Below that you can see some cycle sheds. Until I saw this photograph I had forgotten they used to be there.

A busy year: Lord Bonkers in 2018


His lordship proposed a characteristically radical solution to the problem of Donald Trump:
As my regular readers will know, I am not a vengeful man, but I am forced to conclude that Trump has Gone Too Far and Something Must Be Done. So I am urging my American friends to arrange a Presidential visit to Dallas, the home of the fearsome Texas Schoolbook Suppository. It did for poor Jack Kennedy and I have no doubt that it would do for Trump too.


We were treated to a glimpse of Jeremy Corbyn in action at Westminster:
News reaches me from the Commons that, far from leading a Bolshevik uprising, he is hand in glove with the Conservatives. For Tory MPs have taken to calling him ‘Pop’. 
“What do you think of foreigners, Pop?” they cluster round to ask, whereupon Corbyn grimaces, shakes his fist and goes “Foreigners? Grrr!” How the Tories clap and cheer! 
The hilarity continues until a division is called upon some bill to do with Europe, whereupon Corbyn takes Jacob Rees-Mogg’s hand and allows himself to be led through the government lobby.


Freddie and Fiona were doing their bit in the campaign for a people's vote:
“We’re going to Lancashire and Lincolnshire. Or are they the same place? Anyway, the idea is we cruise round and whenever we see someone who looks as they voted Leave we point at them, shout ‘Gammon!’ and roar with laughter.”
Lord Bonkers also gave us his view of Norman Scott:
"a stable lad and an unstable lad."


At the risk of being a tourist, I visited both Bonkers Hall and the Bonkers' Arms and photographed them..


In the course of his exploration of the Rutland Union Canal, our hero was cast adrift with the cabin boy (a Well-Behaved Orphan):
My only companion is Tom, who proves a quick-witted child as he has smuggled some bottles of Smithson & Greaves Northern Bitter aboard under the very noses of the pirates. 
Perhaps he is too quick-witted: “Why are there so many orphans in Rutland, your lordship?” he asks with a steady gaze.


The Liberal Democats unveiled their new slogan, but only Lord Bonkers' readers knew where 'Demand Better' came from:
There is a cottage that I make available to the party so that overworked headquarters staff can enjoy some rest and recuperation. After a stay in Rutland they return to the fray refreshed and ready to redouble their efforts – and if they do not then they are packed off to the Home for Distressed Canvassers in Herne Bay, from which they are occasionally allowed out if the lady in the library promises to Keep An Eye On Them. 
For the past view days said cottage has been occupied by a fellow charged with thinking up a new slogan for the party. Despite my urging, he has insisted on continuing to work. When I call on him this morning I find he has covered the walls with words written on those yellow sticky notes. ‘Radical,’ they say. ‘Moderate.’ ‘Firm.’ ‘Fair.’ ‘Green.’ ‘Centrist.’ ‘Fluffy Kittens.’ ‘Free Cake.’ 
I drag him off to the Bonkers’ Arms for a stiffener. When I return from the bar I find him staring intently at a beermat. “That’s left over from an old Smithson & Greaves advertising campaign,” I tell him. “’Demand Bitter.’ That was their slogan.” His face lights up, he pockets the mat, drains his pint and asks for a lift to the station.
And in his introduction to the new Liberator Songbook, the old boy gave us his observations on house music:
Like all successful genres, it developed many varieties. There was acid house, funky house, diva house, country house (particularly popular here in Rutland) and, my own favourite, hob house.


We learnt that Halloween is observed at his favourite charitable institution:
The Well-Behaved Orphans, being little horrors themselves, always demand a scary bedtime story from me on this night. I decide to call their bluff this year by reading them the most frightening thing I know: the 2017 general election results in constituencies that the Liberal Democrats won as recently as 2010. 
How they squeal with frightened glee when I give the figures for Truro & Falmouth and Redcar! I am halfway through Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey when Matron hurriedly announces that it is my bedtime and sends me back to the Hall. I hope I don’t have nightmares.


The year ended on a sad note with the death of Paddy Ashdown. I found the old boy "inconsolable ,,, and blowing his nose very loudly".

EXCLUSIVE: What that Seaborne Freight service will look like

Thanks to Nicholas Parsons and the Spencer Davis Group for their demonstration.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Seaborne Freight: Brexit is turning the Conservatives into a caricature of the Labour Party

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As Theresa May would put it, I am not making this up.

The Guardian reports that:
One of the companies contracted by the government to charter ferries in the event of a no-deal Brexit does not own any ships, has not previously operated a ferry service and is not planning to do so until close to the UK’s scheduled departure date from the European Union, it has emerged. 
Concerns have been raised about Seaborne Freight, which was awarded a £13.8m contract to operate freight ferries from Ramsgate to the Belgian port of Ostend if the UK leaves the EU without a deal, after a councillor for the Kent town queried whether it would be possible to set up the new service by the scheduled Brexit date.
The company in question is Seaborne Freight, whose plans are the subject of a notably sceptical article by The Isle of Thanet News:
According to Companies House records the firm has declared fixed assets of £35,169, shares totalling £53, debtors amount due within one year of £6,364 and creditors amount due within one year of £416,607.
And the councillor mentioned by the Guardian is Paul Messenger, a Conservative county councillor in Ramsgate.

Speaking of Seaborne Freight, he asked the paper:
"It has no ships and no trading history so how can due diligence be done? 
“"Why choose a company that never moved a single truck in their entire history and give them £14m? I don’t understand the logic of that."
Good questions both.

Fleet Street's finest will be crawling all over the company's accounts, its directors and their political connections tonight, but explanation for this bizarre decision is simple.

We have a fourth-rate government that is desperate to bring in an anti-business policy in a few weeks. So it's now wonder that they are spending public money without due diligence or common sense.

Brexit s turning the Conservatives into a caricature of the Labour Party. It is turning it into everything it professes to hate.

LaterWhat that Seaborne Freight service will look like.

If private schools enter pupils for easier exams, university offers should reflect this

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Today's Observer reports that:
Tory education reforms are giving private school pupils a huge additional advantage in the hunt for university places and jobs by allowing them to sit easier GCSEs than the more rigorous exams that are being forced upon state schools, new official figures suggest.
If this is the case, then universities must take it into account by demanding grades from prospective students from private schools than they do for state schools.

I have long suspected that A level grades are as much a measure of social background and the school attended as they are a measure of academic potential.

Though private schooling gives better social contacts, if parents were confident that there child was bright they would save tens of thousands and put him or her through the state system.

These new figures show such a blatant abuse that the universities must act if the government does not.

Liberal England in 2018: Part 4


The month began with my MP (a Tory) fearing that the Conservative Party could go out of business. An enticing prospect.

Then I learnt that the employees of this blog's hero J.W. "Paddy" Logan had once tried their hand at archaeology at Hallaton Castle.

I welcomed the re-emergence of utopian economic thinking and wondered at the disappearance of Adur Liberals.

Snatching a crafty drink on the way home from a work event, I learnt that there had once been hares in Bloomsbury:
After the opening of Woburn Walk, the newly laid paving stones became a magnet for the local hares, who could easily be seen late at night resting peacefully along the walk. 
Indeed, famous poet W. B. Yeats who lived on Woburn Walk in the 1920’s, wrote of "a handsome old grey hare taking rest" outside number 6.
Back in Leicestershire, I found King Charles's Well near Tur Langton on a perfect autumn day. Then I went to the pictures and saw The Little Stranger.

I walked the Nottingham Canal from the station to the Trent and found it changed, and yet in some strange way not, from the landscape of industrial decay it used to be.


I found evidence that I had helped Leicestershire win a county chess title in 1996 and mocked Jeremy Corbyn as "Centrist Grandad" for his timid tax policies.

Harborough would now vote Remain, said a massive opinion poll.

I looked back with nostalgia on the day when the secret state thought the Young Liberals were worth keeping under surveillance.

The Brampton Valley Way makes a good walk in late autumn  - and the photograph above rather reminds me of Rowland Hilder.

New jobs were in the air. Lembit Opik wanted to be President of Estonia and Nick Clegg went to work for Satan Facebook.

Alastair Campbell, whom time and Brexit have made an ally, gave the Charles Kennedy Memorial Lecture.

I  discovered an unexpected link between M.R. James, the master of the ghost story, and the Glee Club at Lib Dem Conference.

Remembering that I am meant to be a radical, I argued that New Labour's tough rhetoric on immigration boosted the right.


The way Remainers swooned over a video narrated by Stephen Fry made me worry that they had learnt nothing from their defeat in 2016.

Vince Cable came to Market Harborough and I recalled that when I was young all my favourite books had maps.

Stephen Lloyd resigned the Lib Dem whip so he could vote for Theresa May's Brexit deal. Then Theresa May pulled the vote on it. How everyone laughed!

As it has been replaced by a (yet to be opened) footbridge, I pulled a photo of Little Bowden level crossing out of an old album.

The year ended on the saddest of notes with the death of Paddy Ashdown. I recalled:
He never gave the impression when he talked to you that he was looking over your shoulder for someone more important.
And there was good news. David Howarth is at the heart of the campaign to force a second referendum on EU memebership and Zuffar Haq, three times our candidate in Harborough, has been awarded an MBE.

Fleetwood Mac: My Baby's Gone

Before Fleetwood Mac were Fleetwood Mac, they were very much Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac. This recording comes from that era, when they were one of the great British blues bands.

Here Mick Fleetwood is on drums and John McVie on bass. The lead vocal is not by Green but by Jeremy Spencer. The presence of Danny Kirwan means they have three great guitarist on stage together. No wonder they sound so exciting.

Now listen to Peter Green sing and play Man of the World.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

A 1927 advertisement for The Lichfield Brewery Co. Ltd

This advertisement for The Lichfield Brewery Co. Ltd comes from the 1927 official guide to the city.

The brewery stood beside the railway, just to the north of Lichfield City station. Looking at Google Street View, there are still one or two of its buildings left on the site.

Samuel Allsopp & Sons Ltd acquired the company and its 182 public houses in 1930, closed the brewery and merged with Ind Coope four years later.

Liberal England in 2018: Part 3


I was charmed by Hanging Houghton and found Cromford waiting impatiently for my plan to move parliament there to be implemented.

For the first time, as far as I recall, I was quoted in my favourite newspaper, the Shropshire Star.

I visited Trent Lock, Long Eaton, and Bonkers Hall - or Nevill Holt as they insist on calling it - and demonstrated against Donald Trump.

Back in Leicester I found the birthplace of the novelist C.P. Snow and a plaque in memory of the first victims of German bombing of the city in the second world war.

This was on about the hottest day of a very hot summer, and I then took it into my head to walk up the hill to Clarendon Park. There I enjoyed a beer that tasted so wonderful I will spend the rest of my life trying to recreate the experience.

I found that Vince Cable's exciting new ideas for the Liberal Democrats reminded me of the old Liberal Party and suggested that it is not good for governments to be afraid of their people.

You want a quote? I argued that Brexit is giving Britain the economics of the old Soviet Union:
There is a story we used to tell in the West to demonstrate the superiority of our economic system.
It concerns an official from the old Soviet Union who came on a visit to Britain.

Back home he was responsible for ensuring that the right amount of bread arrived in Moscow each morning.

When he arrived here he was asked if there was anyone he would like to meet.

He replied that he would like to talk to his opposite number - the government official who was responsible for ensuring that the right amount of bread arrived in London each morning.

And he was astounded to be told that there was no such person. 
Well, that is not true any more.


I blogged about The Magnet, a minor Ealing comedy starring a very young James Fox, and Lembit Opik became prime minister of outer space.

Buying the programme for the first theatre production I ever went to - Cinderella at the Watford Palace - led me to recall three encounters with Glyn Worsnip.

The village cricket ground at Gumley is crossed by a public road. I went to see how that works out.

Taking advantage of the local bus services before the Tories scrap them, I visited North Kilworth and found much more than I had expected.

Why do Oxford and Cambridge dominate British society? Because, under the Stamford Oath, it was illegal to teach anywhere else until the 19th century. It wasn't always like that: Northampton had a university in the 13th century.

Back at Gumley, I found the Motte, which may or may not be the remains of a Norman castle.


I began the month by finding that, via the late Mark Tavner, I had put words in Stephen Fry's mouth and arguing that David Dimbleby has destroyed political debate in Britain.

In Stamford, I found the remains of the medieval St Leonard's Priory.

Trent Cottages, Long Eaton, are threatened with demolition by HS2, though I doubt the line will get north of Birmingham in my lifetime. Anyway I went to find them.

Since that trip I have discovered that Trent Station, once an important Midland Railway junction, was not by the cottages but a little further down the line. So I will have to go back and photograph the arch that is the only thing that marks the site on public land.

At West Bridgford I photographed the lock where the Grantham Canal joined the Trent and was rather pleased with myself for knowing what I had found.

I was taken with Long Eaton library, while Melton Mowbray reminded me of what closed urban railways used to be like.

Choosing a song from Hair as my Sunday music video, I mused about music in that era:
I know what they say, but I remember the 1960s and the picture we have of it now as a musical wonderland is only half the story. 
Simon Titley used to say that if you picked a Sixties chart at random Ken Dodd was generally at number 1. And what I remember from the era is the songs from the shows. 
Seemingly by law, every request programme played Harry Secombe singing If I Ruled the World and Stanley Holloway singing I'm Getting Married in the Morning. 
And if you went to a friend's house their parents would have, not Ogden's Nut Gone Flake or The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, but the cast recordings of Oliver! or My Fair Lady.

Congratulations to Zuffar Haq MBE

Zuffar Haq fighting Harborough in 2010

Zuffar Haq, Liberal Democrat candidate for Harborough at the last three general elections, is to receive an MBE in the New Year’s Honours List.

He told the Leicester Mercury:
"I am honoured, and humbled, to receive this award. 
"Born and brought up in Leicester I have always felt it important to play a part in the community which has given my family and I so much."
Zuffar also fought the Leicester South by-election for the Lib Dems in 2011. He escaped the fate of most Lib Dem by-election candidates during the Coalition years and held on to second place.

I wrote about him during the campaign.

Friday, December 28, 2018

The 1916 German attack on a New York munitions store

Though land reclamation projects have since incorporated it into the mainland, Black Tom was once a small island in New York Harbour next to Liberty Island.

In 1916 it was the most important assembly and US shipping centre for munitions and gunpowder being sent to the Allies, according to an article by Elizabeth Nix.

She says:
While the United States had not yet entered World War I and was officially neutral, American munitions dealers could legally sell to any of the warring nations. Most of the arms, however, were going to the Allies - Britain, France and Russia - because the British navy had blockaded Germany.
Wikipedia takes up the story:
After midnight on July 30, a series of small fires were discovered on the pier. Some guards fled, fearing an explosion. Others attempted to fight the fires and eventually called the Jersey City Fire Department. 
At 2:08 am, the first and largest of the explosions took place. Fragments from the explosion travelled long distances, some lodging in the Statue of Liberty and some in the clock tower of The Jersey Journal building in Journal Square, over a mile away, stopping the clock at 2:12 am. 
The explosion was the equivalent of an earthquake measuring between 5.0 and 5.5 on the Richter scale and was felt as far away as Philadelphia. Windows were broken as far as 25 miles (40 km) away, including thousands in lower Manhattan. Some window panes in Times Square were shattered. The stained glass windows in St. Patrick's Church were destroyed/
The explosion was originally put down to safety violations by workers on Black Tom. Elizabeth Nix explains:
It would take years for a persistent team of American lawyers to find sufficient evidence that showed that in fact the disaster had been plotted by the Germans. The lawyers sued Germany in the Mixed Claims Commission at The Hague, and in 1939 won the case. Germany, under the rule of Hitler, failed to pay up and the settlement was renegotiated in the early 1950s. The last payment was made to Black Tom claimants in 1979.
You can learn more about the Black Tom explosion in the video above.

One of its results persists to this day. The blast damaged the Statue of Liberty and the viewing gallery on its torch was closed. It has never reopened.

David Howarth helps write report on forcing a referendum on Theresa May's Brexit deal

Best for Britain has published a report looking at ways the government could be forced to call a referendum on Theresa May's Brexit deal.

Roads not yet explored: Routes to a final say sets out four possible roads to this outcome:
  • Amendments to the Section 13 Motion
  • Replacing no deal with a Final Say
  • Voting down the deal and negotiating a Final Say
  • Demonstration of political support to get no deal off the table 
The second option is the most radical as it would make the raising of taxation dependent upon the government agreeing to a second referendum.

For more detail, follow the link above and download the report.

It appears to be the work of Dominic Grieve, the leading Conservative Remainer, and David Howarth, the former Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge.

Howarth always struck me as the most intellectually impressive Lib Dem MP of his era. I am glad he is involved in the campaign against Theresa May's deal.

Liberal England in 2018: Part 2


It was revealed that the Conservatives had decided not to electrify the Midland main line north of Kettering before the 2017 general election, but had not made the decision known until afterwards.

Ray Wilkins was my second Chelsea hero after Charlie Coooke. Even so, I was surprised how his death upset me.

I reviewed Chris Rennard's autobiography, not least for its description of the old East Midlands Liberal Party office in Loughborough:
The East Midlands Regional Party was considered to be one of the most viable in England because it owned a (near-derelict) house in Loughborough. The house did not even had a functioning loo and visitors had to rely on the facilities at the nearby railway station. This was the regional office and home for the administrative secretary, a man called Maurice Bennett, who also hailed from Liverpool. 
Much to my surprise, I found that I had been quoted by Richard Branson in his latest memoirs.

Most of my readers, I suspect, voted Remain, but I did find the perfect anthem for Brexit.

I remembered the 1960s, when Fab, in a campaign fronted by Lady Penelope from Thunderbirds, was marketed as the first ice lolly for girls: "as a small boy in those days, you were desperate to try one but daren't be seen eating it."

This wonderful photograph of J.W. Logan and the East Langton ladies cricket team turned up on Twitter.


I formulated Calder's Fifth Law of Politics:
Beware of arguments that involve expressing indignation on behalf of a third party.
Brixworth proved to have been taken over by Men in Black and a rare diesel locomotive spent some weeks at a Leicester siding. A Class 27, since you ask.

I argued that we Remainers should not use the concept 'gammon' - it might so wonders for our self-esteem, but would it encourage anyone to change their vote in a second referendum?

In Kettering I photographed a surprisingly charming tin tabernacle: St Michael and All Angels.

The most widely read post I have ever written on this blog was written in May. It was a short one about the later career of Jeremy Thorpe's son Rupert.

That post, of course, was popular because of the BBC Drama A Very English Scandal. Another post written this month may have influenced developments in the Thorpe affair that happened after it was shown.

Planning to say something disobliging about Rinka's assassin Andrew Newton, I thought I had better check that my impression that he died some years ago was correct. A little googling suggested that he was almost certainly still alive - a fact that had escaped the police.

I don't know whether it was because of my blog post "A 2015 encounter with Andrew Newton", but Fleet Street's finest were camped on his doorstep a day or two later.


The month began with a visit to Shardlow - an inland port on the Trent and Mersey Canal.

Former Lib Dem MPs Lembit Opik and Parmjit Singh Gill went into space.

Talk of Labour Live reminded me that the Liberal Party had got there decades before with a fun day at Knebworth.

I was not impressed by Sir Christopher Chope and his blocking of Wera Hobhouse's bill to criminalise upskirting:
There is something of the school bully about Chope. He takes a delight in coming across shiny-eyed new MPs who are ardent to change the world and showing them that the Commons is no place for such ambitions. 
He's like a prep school tough who raids the junior dorm on the look out for teddy bears and photographs from home that he can taunt younger boys with ever afterwards.
A Harborough Conservative councillor joined the Lib Dems, while I pondered the strange transformation of Darren Grimes.

In a guest post, James Tarry remembered drinking with the Soho legend Daniel Farson.

Back in Kettering I mourned the loss of backstreet shops and found a derelict Sunday school.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Class 13 locomotives at Tinsley Yard in 1980

Here are two Class 13 locomotives I photographed at Tinsley in 1980,

Wikipedia explains:
The British Rail Class 13 was a type of diesel-electric shunting locomotive. The type was designed in 1965 because of the need to provide more powerful shunters for the Tinsley Marshalling Yard. 
Because of Tinsley's status as a hump yard, it was not possible to use a single locomotive owing to the risk of grounding. So, to achieve the required power, a pair of Class 08 shunters were permanently coupled in 'master and slave' formation, with the slave unit having had its cab removed. ... 
With the end of hump shunting at Tinsley the class became obsolete. The unique qualities of the locomotives were not required elsewhere and so withdrawal was inevitable; 13002 was withdrawn in 1983, with the remaining two locomotives going with the closure of Tinsley hump in 1985. None of this unusual class survives.

Six of the Best 840

"He was a true leader in a period of history when leadership is largely missing." David Boyle pays his tribute to Paddy Ashdown.

John Naughton argues that social media poses an existential threat to our idea of democracy.

"The corruption of the Republican Party in the Trump era seemed to set in with breathtaking speed. In fact, it took more than a half century to reach the point where faced with a choice between democracy and power, the party chose the latter." George Packer dissects the corruption of the US Republican Party.

Can Comic Sans be forgiven because it helps dyslexic learners? No, says Jon Severs.

Peter Gibbs remembers meeting Sydney Barnes - arguably England's greatest ever bowler and a difficult man,

"The overlapping of the rural and the urban, the pastoral and the modern, creates a liminal, edgelands clearing in which the ambivalent attitude to the emergence of the industrial landscape can play itself out." Corse Present reads the ghost stories of L.T.C. Rolt.

Liberal England in 2018: Part 1


The year began with a Headline of the Day about a fare-dodger getting his penis stuck in the barriers at Covent Garden Tube station, Things could only get better after that.

They did. I discovered that a forgotten Liberal MP who had died the previous summer, James Davidson, had enjoyed a remarkable life.

The Liberal England was quoted without acknowledgement on the Today Programme by a Prominent Political Journalist, who pointed out how little interest most people take in politics. I did not mind, but I was miffed when he unfollowed me on Twitter after I blogged about it.

So I took myself off to Whittlesey and its Straw Bear Festival:
I saw the straw bear dance and caper, led by his keeper and followed by musicians playing his own loping tune. 
And it turned out that Whittlesey, like Play School, has a big bear and a little bear. 
Beyond that the day is a festival of dancing. There were the inevitable morris dancers, but also clog dancers (almost military in their noise and precision) and mysterious molly dancers.
You can see the Straw Bear dance and hear that loping tune in another post.

I asked if the nest Liberal Democrat leadership contest would be between two women and mourned the death of the Argent, Kinks and Zombies bassist Jim Rodford.

We were, I am sure, all proud to learn that Lib Dem peers swear the most on Twitter.

In other news, I blamed Enid Blyton for Brexit, a naked man was arrested in Adam and Eve Street, Market Harborough, and I recalled that Alexei Sayle had once likened Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to a comedy double act whose members were "locked into working night and day with somebody they now hate".


The month began with Tory-run Northamptonshire County Council announcing emergency spending controls and then being attacked by the county's Tory MPs. And all the Tory members of Desborough Town Council resigned.

Alice Hawkins, the Leicester suffragette, was honoured with a statue in the city and Jo Swinson got the better of John Humphrys on the Today programme.

I went to the open day at Foxton Locks, which had been drained for maintenance and took the chance to
walk in areas that are usually under deep water. You can ... see the paddles that are raised to let water into the locks from the side pounds used at Foxton. ...
I also learnt that rather being cut into the hillside, the locks were largely built on the surface and then had earth heaped up against them. 
It is notable that the brick floor of the chambers probably dates from 1814 when they were opened and that the piece of metalwork at the bottom of one of them is the work of an early 19th-century blacksmith
One of the pleasures of 2018 for me was the television channel Talking Picture TV (Channel 81 on Freeview). In February I wrote about the film Violent Playground, which starred a young David McCallum:
among McCallum's gang you will find Melvyn Hayes and a boy called Fred Fowell. After a spell in a minor Merseybeat band he emerged in the 1970s as the comedian Freddie Starr.
Meanwhile, Tory Wandsworth wanted to fine children for climbing trees, flying kites and playing cricket in its parks.

I photographed the Saxon cross shaft in Rothley churchyard and revealed that Ben Bradley, the Tory vice-chairman who libelled Jeremy Corbyn, was not some working-class hero: he attended an expensive private school.


We should not play along with his act by calling him "the Member for the 18th century" or anything like that. It is just how he wants to be seen.
I was right about Jacob Rees-Mogg, but no one seemed to take much notice.

Ian Jack wrote a good article about the causes of Brexit and I paid tribute to Do Not Adjust Your Set, the ITV children's programme from the 1960s.

4 Cowley Street, where I used to drop in when it was the Lib Dems' HQ and I wrote for the party newspaper, is now a £36m mansion.

Ken Dodd died and I told the story of the quadruple murderer who appeared on Bullseye,

I grumbled that the concept of "the Lib Dem family" means that we do not debate our differences properly, even at party leadership elections and asked, not for the last time, if Remain had changed enough to win a second referendum.

The Saxon church at Earls Barton provided another photographic opportunity.

I defended the idea that teenagers should have Saturday jobs, which all right-thinking people had taken against purely because Esther McVey had supported it.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Advertisements for stage musical of the 1960s

When I chose a song from Hair as my Sunday music video, I wrote of my childhood in the Sixties:
Seemingly by law, every request programme played Harry Secombe singing If I Ruled the World and Stanley Holloway singing I'm Getting Married in the Morning. 
And if you went to a friend's house their parents would have, not Ogden's Nut Gone Flake or The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, but the cast recordings of Oliver! or My Fair Lady. 
There was more fun to be had at one friend's house as his parents had the cast recording from Hair, which we used to play.
These two advertisements from my Danny La Rue programme reflect this era.

I have heard it said that in the Sixties, when we believed the welfare state had eradicated poverty, Oliver! was seen as a historical curiosity. Maybe the first advertisement reflects that. But in 2018 it has worrying contemporary resonance,

Hy Hazell, who features on two of the LPs in the second advertisement was a great British musical actress of the era - I know her from the 1953 British film The Yellow Balloon. She was to choke to death in a restaurant in 1970,

How schools created the Gilets Jaunes

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For years it has been impossible for a party of children to leave their school unless they are dressed like navvies.

Michael Gove used to dream of putting every child in the country into a blazer, but it is the hi-vis jacket that has triumpjed.

I sometimes have lunch at the cafe at Leicester's museum. and even there the visiting school parties all wear this garment.

It is, I suppose, a reflection of teachers' fears of being blamed if anything happens to a child in their charge and of wider society's belief that something terrible will befall a child who is left unsupervised for even a second.

But I suspect it has also led to the rise of the Gilets Jaunes.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Trivial Fact of Christmas Day

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Thanks to a tweet from Andrew Samson, the scorer for Test Match Special, I can reveal that more runs have been scored for England by players born on 25 December than by players born on any other day.

The Christmas-born England players are Alastair Cook, Marcus Trescothick, Simon Jones, Walter Lees and Tich Cornford. (I hadn't heard of the last two either.)

In a close second place is the 24 November contingent, led by Ken Barrington, Ian Botham, Herbert Sutcliffe and Fred Titmus.

Want to hear Alastair Cook singing a Christmas carol?

Monday, December 24, 2018

A Merry Christmas to all our readers

Along with two other of his compositions, this was included in the King's College, Cambridge Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols in Benjamin Britten's centenary year.

Britten wrote A Hymn to the Virgin when he was 16, though he later revised it.

The text that Britten uses is by an anonymous poet and probably dates from about 1300. It appears in The Oxford Book of English Verse 1250-1900, which he won as a school prize for music. 
It’s a macaronic verse; that is, a poem in which one language is introduced into the context of another. The main body of the choir sings in Middle English and another semi-chorus (or group of soloists) supplies a refrain in Latin.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

"Reasonably priced, in the new decimal currency"

An advertisement from the Diners' Guide in my Danny La Rue programme.

16 Irving Street is now home to the first UK restaurant of the Turkish  grill chain Ali Ocakbasi.

Six of the Best 839

"Anyone could talk to Paddy. If you were depressed, he cheered you up. If you lacked motivation, he provided it in bucket loads. If you were unsure of where our policies applied in the greater scheme of things, he would make it all seem so simple. He did it with a smile, a joke and often a pint in his hand." Richard Kemp pays tribute to Paddy Ashdown.

Guy Verhofstadt on the reforms Europe needs.

Paul Bernal examines Jacob Rees-Mogg's mastery of the techniques of fake news.

Why is there a spike in deaths between Christmas and the New Year? Ariana Eunjung Cha investigates.

"British cinema still struggles today in the face of American dominance, and Korda’s story represents a moment when it tried to stand tall." John Fleet is interviewed about his documentary on the the relationship between Winston Churchill and Alexander Korda.

David Stannard looks at legends about the bells of long-drowned churches: "Legends of bells tolling beneath the waves surround many of the East Coast churches which have succumbed to coast erosion over the ages. These include Shipden church lying off Cromer; St. Clements’s Church, Keswick offshore of Bacton; several of the churches lost at Dunwich in Suffolk; and the church of Eccles St. Mary-next-the-Sea between Happisburgh and Sea Palling."

Paddy Ashdown: Brexit is a monumental act of self-harm which will bewilder historians

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As a memorial to Paddy, read an article he wrote for the Independent in March 2017:
Few in Britain voted to leave the single market; remaining in it was proposed by many Brexiteers and promised in the Conservative election manifesto. Estimates put the cost to Britain of this kind of “hard Brexit” as high as £200bn over 15 years. 
Already companies are leaving, taking with them livelihoods, expertise and the futures of many citizens. We are now embarked on a course that will bewilder future historians as the most remarkable example in modern history of a country committing an act of monumental self-harm while still in full possession of its faculties. 
So why has May moved her party onto policies indistinguishable from those of Ukip? For the same reason that Mr Cameron insisted on the Referendum in the first place: the best interests of the nation are once again being held hostage to the internal management of the Conservative Party. 
The article begins with a quotation from Hazlitt and ends with the words:
If you feel depressed today, don’t be. Be fighting mad. There’s still everything still to fight for.

Goat: Let It Burn

I have been hearing this quite a bit on the radio lately and I like it. Paradoxically, I have chosen the radio edit for its video - the long version is here.

Let It Burn has a feel of 1970 about it, when folk and heavy rock and all sorts of other influences mingled happily. Maybe it's just the flute, but it even makes me think of Traffic.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Garsdale turntable and Dandry Mire viaduct

Taken leaning out of a locomotive-hauled train on the Settle & Carlisle round about 1980, this photograph shows the former turntable at Garsdale station and Dandry Mire viaduct.

So high were the winds at this point that there used to be a stockade of railway sleepers around the turntable to prevent locomotives being swung around and around.

Garsdale station serves Sedbergh in Cumbria and Hawes in North Yorkshire, both of which are some miles away.

It's original name was Hawes Junction, the junction being with the Wensleydale line. That has been reopened as a heritage railway between Northallerton and Redmire, though plans for restoring the line all the way to Garsdale seem to have been abandoned.

The distance of Hawes Junction from Hawes gave rise to a Victorian joke:
Vistor: I say my good man, why is that station here so far from the town? 
Local inhabitant: 'Appen they wanted it near t'railway, sir.

Lord Bonkers reads Paddy Ashdown's autobiography

The old boy is inconsolable this evening and blowing his nose very loudly, but I found this tribute to Paddy's memoirs that he wrote in 2013.

Advising an ambitious young correspondent, he wrote:
Once you have been adopted, however, there is only one volume that will do: A Fortunate Life: The Autobiography of Paddy Ashdown (which is by Paddy Ashdown, incidentally). 
I know of no book that sets out half so clearly what is needed to win an election campaign. I don’t mean the chapter on "The Winning of Yeovil" that was made available free on the electric internet recently, excellent though it is In Its Way: no, I am thinking about the section on jungle warfare in Sarawak where Ashplant explains how to mount patrols, the best way to lay an ambush and how to treat an open wound using red ants. It was no surprise to me when, armed with this knowledge, we took control of South Somerset District Council.

Paddy Ashdown has died

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Sad, sad news this evening. Paddy Ashdown has died at the age of 77.

His character and enthusiasm were a large part of the reason that the Liberal Democrats emerged as a force from the botched merger process.

It is hard to escape the feeling that Britain would be a better place if it had made greater use of his talents.

His memoirs were notable for the sections on his childhood and service in the Marines and on his later work in Bosnia.

And he never gave the impression when he talked to you that he was looking over your shoulder for someone more important.

John Stuart Mill's paper dolls

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Albert Pionke, Professor of English Literature at the University of Alabama, has written an article for The Conversation on the marginalia to be found in John Stuart Mill's library:
Like many serious readers, Mill read with pen or pencil in hand, marking passages he found interesting, protesting against premises and conclusions he judged facile, and sometimes summarising his own thoughts in annotations on unprinted pages.
Mill's annotations are now the subject of an international research project: Mill Marginalia Online.

I was struck, however, by a more human discovery in one of Mill's volumes:
tucked between pages 674 and 675 of Arnoldus Vinnius’s Institutionum Imperialium – a weighty and much-reprinted history of Justinian law – are two paper dolls, with a third waiting between pages 866 and 867. ... 
But the question is, whose dolls were they? Printed in 1665, the book is old enough to have been in the Mill family library when the young John Stuart was tutoring his sisters. Left in the library at Blackheath after his death, it might also have served as a toy depository for Harriet Taylor Mill’s daughter Helen (Mill’s stepdaughter) about whose childhood relationship with Mill we know very little.

Friday, December 21, 2018

The Leek & Manifold Valley Light Railway

The Leek & Manifold Valley ran for eight miles through remote and beautiful countryside in the Staffordshire Peak District.

It was open for only 30 years (from 1904 to 1934), but is immortalised in this footage.

The Killing of Sister George

A nice little advertisement from my Danny La Rue programme.

It does tend to reinforce the impression that this wasn't your conventional pantomime.

Read about The Killing of Sister George in an article by Melissa Anderson.

Shrewsbury police hunt teens who attacked milkman and escaped in his float

Proof that not all crime stories in the Shropshire Star are from Telford.

Anyway, my favourite newspaper wins Headline of the Day.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Inside Harborough Market

An honest and oddly moving short video, directed by Amie Fretter and produced by Eleanor Thomas.

Six of the Best 838

"The undeniable reality is that the House of Commons needs to clean up its act, that PMQs has been reduced to a pantomime and 'unparliamentary' behaviour tolerated far more than it should be. Instead of the undignified sight of Tories turning on the Speaker for upholding parliamentary procedure, perhaps efforts would be better spent on overdue reform of both procedure and the chamber itself?" Andrew Page offers his thoughts on Stupidgate.

"Liberal Democrats ought to be cautioning against risking council finances on volatile investments, and there is an alternative, one which would have wider social benefits than property investment, and that is to invest in building social housing." Mark Valladeres fears the next crisis in local government funding may not be far away.

Iain Dale on being phoned by someone considering suicide: "I won't go into all the details of the conversation but during it Michael told me that when he was referred to NHS mental health services he was told there would be a two year wait for treatment. Even when he phoned the Samaritans he was told there would be a thirty minute wait to talk to anyone."

"For some reason George Orwell’s funeral service was one of the most harrowing I have ever attended," wrote Anthony Powell. Hilary Sprurling looks at Orwell's final days.

Boak & Bailey reveal the secrets of the ubiquitous Doom Bar's success.

Lisa Lane was "the first chess player on the cover of Sports Illustrated. (Fischer followed, a decade later, as the second and the last.)" Emma Baccellieri remembers a forgotten American woman chess player.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Danny La Rue in Queen Passionella and the Sleeping Beauty

Look what's arrived in the post. It's the programme for my only West End appearance.

The cast list reveals no star names beyond Danny La Rue - I get the impression he had his own company of regulars - but there are some very 1969 advertisements I shall share with you one day.

Child migrants to receive government compensation at last

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The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse can now point to a solid achievement.

The government, reports BBC News, has agreed to pay compensation to thousands of Britons who were sent abroad as children under a resettlement scheme, often to a life of drudgery and abuse..

Back in 2010, Gordon Brown apologised on behalf of the government, referring to a "shameful episode" in Britain's history, and the Department of Health said it would set up the compensation scheme as quickly as possible.

But since then nothing has happened.

So it looks as though it was the inquiry's March hearings into the child emigration scheme and call for compensation to be paid within 12 months that made things happen.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Michael Palin returns to Pythonland

A documentary first shown in 1999.

How dated and appealing the corner shop where John Cleese began his silly walk now appears!

Council backs Robbie Williams’ swimming pool plan despite Jimmy Page’s objection

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Our Headline of the Day comes from the Irish Independent, Kensington and the crazy world of rock and roll.

Rutland councillor convicted over Facebook posts will lose his seat

Remember Richard Alderman, the Rutland councillor convicted over his Facebook posts?

In October I wrote:
Richard Alderman, the 'Democracy Rutland' councillor, today received a six-month community order for his posts on Facebook. 
He will have to wear an electronic ankle tag to monitor a 7pm to 7am curfew. 
As the Leicester Mercury has said he intends to carry on as a councillor, he had better hope there are no evening meetings.
But there are evening meetings. The council's meetings all start at 7pm.

And today BBC News reported that Rutland County Council had decided not to grant him dispensation to miss meetings.

Which means - unless there is a stray afternoon subcommittee or working party meeting he can attend - he faces disqualification for not attending a meeting for six months.

Reader's voice: Shouldn't a liberal be shocked that a councillor faces the loss of his seat for stating his opinion?

Liberal England replies: More and more, I view free speech, not as an individual right, but as a social good. My favourite liberal philosophers - Mill and Popper - treat it in that way. They emphasise the role of free discussion in revealing error and allowing progress.

So the question becomes how we foster institutions that allow and promote free speech.

Online forums have the potential to do this. But, as we have all learnt, they are often poisonous places dealing in abuse and driving people away rather than arenas for reasoned debate.

So someone who behaves as Alderman did is not promoting free speech but curbing it.

Monday, December 17, 2018

The railway from Farranfore to Valentia Harbour

For our latest fix of railway nostalgia we travel to County Kerry.

Wikipedia explains:
The Farranfore to Valencia Harbour Railway was 39.5 miles (63.5 km) long single-track broad gauge railway line that operated from 1892 to 1960 along Dingle Bay's southern shore in Ireland. It was the most westerly railway in Europe.

One of Santa's 'reindeer' loses leg in bad weather near Market Harborough

Our Headline of the Day Award is a home win for the Harborough Mail.

What is it with Market Harborough and Christmas?

A year ago the Leicester Mercury won with "Santa's sleigh run called off in Market Harborough due to too much snow".

And in 2009 Conservative Home got very upset after Harborough District Council cancelled an appearance by real reindeer because of snow and ice.