Monday, April 30, 2018

I was there: The 1968 Daily Express Trophy, Silverstone

Sometime in the late 1960s I went with a school friend in his father's yellow-and-while Ford Anglia to a big race meeting at Silverstone.

After some heavy googling I think I have worked out which day it was: 27 April 1968.

That was the day of that year's Daily Express Trophy, which appears to be the sponsor's name for a race better known as the British Racing Drivers' Club International Trophy

I am sure I have the right race because I remember this programme from a long-vanished scrapbook of my childhood souvenirs.

It also places the meeting after my first football match and before I sang on the West End stage with Danny La Rue. Memory is is fallible, but that feels the right sequence.

The Daily Express Trophy featured some of the top Formula One drivers of the day and was won by Denny Hulme from New Zealand. (That Wikipedia page gives the date as 25 April, which confused me for a while, but I now think it is just an error).

A report from the MotorSport archive says the race was preceded by "a poignant silence in memory of the late Jim Clark".

And the race did indeed take place in the era when you expected some of the top Formula One drivers to die each season.

Bruce McLaren, who finished second, died in a testing accident in June 1970. Piers Courage who finished fifth died the same month in a crash in the Dutch Grand Prix.

But it's not so surprising that it was another world when you are looking back 50 years.

By chance, the other day I saw a tweet from Transdiffusion Broadcasting System that showed that the race had been broadcast on ITV's World of Sport. It was so long ago that Dickie Davies was billed as Richard Davies.

And British Pathe and Bob Danvers-Walker were there too.

CityMetric’s guide to the 2018 London borough elections

Jonn Elledge has produced a thorough guide to this week's London borough elections, dividing the contests into the really interesting ones, the slightly interesting ones and the frankly pretty boring ones.

His overall prediction?
My instinct is that the Tories are going to get battered, but that some of the more excitable predictions of Conservative losses are unlikely to be delivered on.
He also Labour has failed to manage expectations. As a result, if it does not win Westminster (a borough it has never controlled) it will look like failure.

Of the three borough where the Liberal Democrats have hopes of maintaining or taking control, he writes:
Kingston gives the Lib Dems a genuine chance of adding a borough to their tally in London. Even if that doesn’t happen, it seems probably the Tories will lose control.
Anger about Brexit could cause the Tories problems here [Richmond upon Thames], again. This could be a Lib Dem gain.
In 2014, the yellows won 45 seats to the Tories’ nine [in Sutton]. The latter are said to have their eye on the borough, but – at risk of tempting fate – It doesn’t look terribly likely.
 All very encouraging, but if it is to be a really good night for the Lib Dems we must also make modest advances in other boroughs across the capital.

Six of the Best 787

"I've had people on street stalls ask me what our position is before signing a petition for a people’s vote on the final deal. I've had people read that text and still want to check that this means they are signing something against Brexit." Mark Argent says the Lib Dems need to make their opposition to Brexit clearer.

Bob Hudson asks whether the privatisation of adult social care is reversible.

"By the turn of the millennium, the city’s leaders realised that family flight was draining the city of energy, creativity and a long-term tax base - and giving it a terrible public image. Being labelled in 2006 the worst Dutch city to bring up a child proved a catalyst." Tim Gill explains how a focus on child-friendliness revived Rotterdam's fortunes.

Ross Clark, himself the father of a learning-disabled child, says the Scouts can't offer equal access to the disabled.

Chris Schurke explores a former nuclear bunker in Shrewsbury.

"Striding proudly across the River Mersey and the Manchester Ship Canal at the so-called Runcorn Gap is a stupendous railway bridge." Stuart Marsh describes its restoration.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Walking the length of the Cromford Canal

Dean Read accompanies us along the length of the Cromford Canal (some 14 and a half miles) from Cromford to Langley Mill.

Of particular interest is the collapsed Butterley Tunnel, which is the great obstacle to the canal's complete restoration.

You can see some claustrophobic photographs of its interior on the Friends of the Cromford Canal site.

William Boyd wins First Paragraph of the Day

Photo from Geograph © Stephen McKay

It's not often awarded, but William Boyd thoroughly deserves it:
Back in the mid-1960s, I went on a  school trip to Inverness. We were allowed 30 minutes of liberty in the city centre before returning and as the senior boy I was responsible for counting heads to make sure all were present after our brief furlough. I counted and recounted – we were short by two. I turned to the teacher: “I’m sorry, sir,” I said, “But Burgess and Maclean are missing.” The unbridled hilarity that greeted my remark – from teacher and bus driver – alerted me to the fact that I had inadvertently stumbled on an adult joke. I was baffled. It was explained to me. It was the first time I heard of Donald Maclean.

Morrissey: Speedway

Last week Twitter was full of people declaring that they had never liked Morrissey's music anyway.

Maybe they were telling the truth, because the Smiths were more of a minority taste than history now records. All those wonderful singles spent a handful of weeks in the UK top 10 between them.

But I suspect it is development of the bubble and echo-chamber politics that social media encourages. If an artist doesn't share your politics they just can't be any good.

The truth is rather different. If you expect your favourite artists to share your views or even to be admirable human beings, you are in for a lot of disappointments.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Loughborough pastoral

Keith Vaz vs Andrew Bridgen: The battle continues

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One of the more entertaining aspects of Leicestershire politics is the mutual antipathy between Keith Vaz (Labour MP for Leicester East) and Andrew Bridgen (Conservative MP for North West Leicestershire).

The latest manoeuver in the battle is reported by the Sun:
Counter-fraud cops last night confirmed they were looking into allegations against shamed Labour MP Keith Vaz. 
The National Crime Agency said it was taking questions over his unexplained £4million wealth “very seriously”. 
They made the revelation to Tory MP Andrew Bridgen, who has demanded a probe into how Mr Vaz has amassed such a large property empire on an average annual earnings of just £90,000.
In a separate report the Sun suggests that Mr Vaz was rather busy during the period when the parliamentary investigation into his was suspended because of his poor health.

Friday, April 27, 2018

"I feel I've only to turn my head to see them on the road behind me"

Eric Portman's great speech from A Canterbury Tale.

It's a powerful film. I once got a train derailed by taking it lightly..

Book Review... The Architect-Walker: A Mis-Guide

The Architect-Walker: A Mis-Guide
Wrights & Sights
Triarchy Press, 2018, £20

Formed in 1997, Wrights & Sites is a group artist-researchers, including Phil Smith who once wrote a guest post for this blog, whose work looks at people’s relationships to places and landscapes.

The Architect-Walker: A Mis-Guide is their manifesto for changing the world through exploring it.

They describe it as “a tool for playful debate, collaboration, intervention and spatial meaning-making” and “an invitation to engage”.

Here are some of their suggested activities:
Create top-secret bases with no agenda in obscure rural sites. Surround them with barbed wire to incentivise transgression and appropriation. 
Sometimes it is just a matter of leaving some space to the others. I mean the others who come out in the small hours, when everything in a small city closes down. The streets have generally emptied of pedestrians. At such at time, you might sit and watch, and wait, and see a badger to pull up treats from the ground. Fox slips by. A hedgehog snorts with the effort to get under a low gate. 
Hang a red rope between two brass stands in front of a random space. Unhook it and usher people through.
Some of it is fun, some of it is silly, some of it is a bit Yoko One. But in cities where every inch is privately owned and policed with security guards and cameras, this is the spirit we need.

My own explorations are too solitary and too driven by local history books to cut the mustard here. Maybe it is the walks I used to go on with the Malcolm Saville Society, searching for possibly non-existent real-life models for places we had known all our lives, that came closest to the thinking of the Wrights & Sights.

You can order The Architect-Walker: A Mis-Guide from Triarchy Press.

Four Class 56s at Leicester this evening

Readers who follow me on Twitter will know that I often tweet pictures with the caption "Exciting times at Leicester station".

Sometimes this is an ironic comment on run-of-the mill freight workings, but sometimes the pictures really are exciting to rail enthusiasts of a certain age.

That is because there is a depot to the immediate north of Leicester station that now belongs to UK Rail Leasing:
UK Rail Leasing own, maintain and lease out freight locomotives, with the core of our operations being the leasing of our fleet of Class 56 locomotives. Our main business is long-term leasing, but we are also able to offer locomotives on shorter terms, for emergency needs or as maintenance cover. 
UK Rail Leasing’s fleet consists of 15 Class 56 as well as two Class 37 locomotives.
Those two classes are now on the elderly side. Class 37s were introduced at the start of the 1960s and handled both passenger trains (notably out of Liverpool Street) and heavy freight.

They appeared clumsy and bulbous to me 40 years ago, but are still going strong. They handle the odd scheduled passenger train in East Anglia to this day.

Class 56s were introduced from 1976, with the first 30 of them being assembled in Romania. Those were the days when Nicolae CeauČ™escu was seen as a more reasonable sort of Eastern Bloc leader who deserved encouragement.

As part of this effort David Steel presented the Romanian dictator with a labrador puppy.

Anyway, the Class 56s were withdrawn at the start of this century as the coal traffic they hauled had largely disappeared.

This evening, waiting for my train home, I saw four of them on manoeuvres coupled together. You can see them in the picture above.

UK Rail Leasing also owns a cute green shunter that puts in an appearance from time to time.

I think it is a Class 03, though in British Rail days these had to push a trolley wherever they went because on their own they were too small to trigger the track circuiting that tells signallers there is a train on the line.

Later. I am told by someone knowledgeable on Twiter that it is not an 03, it is a Hudswell Clark locomotive that was never owned by British Rail.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

St James, Thrapston

Taken after I had been delivering in the town during the 2012 Corby by-election.

Something about the light makes it look like a painting.

Senior Tory MP's diary secretary caught selling sex online is sister of Channel 4 reality TV star

The Daily Mirror wins our Headline of the Day Award.

However, the judges were not impressed by the paper's attempt to turn this into a story about security. I doubt Dominic Raab's diary secretary has been entrusted to with many of the nation's secrets.

As to the suggestion that Raab "has been tipped as a future Prime Minister", one judge suggested the view to me that the only people tipping him are:
  • Dominic Raab
  • Dominic Raab's mother
  • People who have been paid in used bank notes to do so.
I might add that if a newspaper feels it has to pixelate every face in a photograph, it is probably not worth printing it at all.

Is there a Lewisham by-election coming?

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From the Guardian:
Heidi Alexander, the former shadow health secretary, is considering quitting the Commons to accept a senior job at City Hall with London mayor Sadiq Khan, the Guardian understands. 
Alexander was Khan’s campaign chair during the 2016 London mayoral election. The MP, who has spearheaded the campaign to keep the UK in the single market since leaving the shadow cabinet, currently represents Lewisham East. 
It is understood Alexander may be considering taking a prominent role at City Hall under Khan, though no timeline was given for her departure.
Heidi Alexander had a majority of 21,213 at last year's general election, with the Liberal Democrats in a distant third place. We did have a good second place here as recently as 2010.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Six of the Best 786

"The new Southern and Thameslink trains ... look as if they have been designed to be hosed down after use." However you organise the railways the Treasury always wins, argues David Boyle.

Elizabeth Ammon explains how scoring cricket games during the miners' strike made her political: "I saw a portly offspinner break down in tears when asked for his match subscription. He didn't have it. He couldn't scrape together the five pounds he was being asked for. It made me angry."

Donald Trump's wall would do great damage to life and landscape along the Rio Grande, says Nick Paumgarten.

A famous scene in Blow-Up features David Hemmings and a Yardbirds line up with both Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck. It also features Janet Street Porter, who remembers how it was filmed,

"Plenty has been written about the greatness of Odessey and Oracle’s individual songs, but I want to focus on what seems to be an under-appreciated facet of the album: Its implicit suggestion that DIY music can be just as refined as high-budget, professionally produced music." Alasdair P. Mackenzie celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Zombies' superb album.

Corse Present explores Alan Garner's Elidor.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Vince Cable calls for break up of online monopolies

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The Liberal Democrat leader made an important speech last week:
Vince Cable has compared Google, Amazon and Facebook to the US oil monopolies that exploited their market power more than a century ago – and called for them to be broken up. 
In a speech in London, the Liberal Democrat leader said a series of recent scandals, including revelations about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, meant the “tech titans” had “progressed from heroes to villains very quickly”. 
“Just as Standard Oil once cornered 85% of the refined oil market, today Google drives 89% of internet searches, 95% of young adults on the internet use a Facebook product, Amazon accounts for 75% of ebook sales, while Google and Apple combined provide 99% of mobile operating systems,” he said.
Exactly right. In fact I think I tweeted something to the same effect last week before I read about Vince's speech.

Why have the online giants been allowed to get away with it for so long?

One reason was given by John Harris in an article published back in 2011:
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. 
In those days when the coming of the internet seemed of a piece with the collapse of the Iron Curtain and the end of Apartheid. It was a new, more liberal world and the new online entrepreneurs were a different, cuddlier breed from their meat world equivalents. Didn't they eat jelly beans and go snowboarding?

But as Harris went on to ask:
For sure, it's still nice to live in a liberal democracy, but given that the world has since moved in no end of sinister directions, isn't our unthinking embrace of the cloud (and just to recap: our medical records could soon be up there) an ill-advised throwback? 
And what of the long view: looking ahead 50 years, how certain are we that the surveillance state will not have extended its tentacles; that nasty, illiberal politics will not be all the rage; or that Google, Microsoft et al. will not have learned dangerous new tricks?
And even if liberalism is able to fight back, we now know that online entrepreneurs can be as rapacious as any other.

Hemel Hempstead Town 0 Harwich & Parkeston 0

The first football match I attended was an Athenian League clash between Hemel Hempstead Town and Harwich & Parkeston that my father took me to.

I remember that the game ended in a goalless draw, Hemel played in a green and white strip and it all took place at their Crabtree Lane ground,

Thanks to the wonders of The Results Web I can tell you that this match took place on Saturday 18 November 1967, so I was seven.

The Crabtree Lane ground was sold for housing in 1970, but you can see it in the video above, which was shot a in the 1961-2 season.

Monday, April 23, 2018

A Buddhist retreat in White Grit

I once discovered that there is an Orthodox monastery in the shadow of the Stiperstones. The other evening I arguably topped that by turning up a Buddhist retreat in White Grit.

It doesn't just have a strange name: White Grit is a strange settlement. Originally a lead-mining village, it now consists largely of modern bungalows that must have been put up long after the mine closed.

I was once bitten by a Jack Russell in White Grit. As the village is just over the Powys border, I complained about it to the then MP for Montgomeryshire, Lembit Opik, when I met him at the Liberal Democrat Conference.

His reply ("You're fucking mad, you are.") is not to be found in the ALDC guide to casework.

On a happier note, Ronnie Lane's farm is just up the road.

Leicester Conservatives fall out over promise of a tram system

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It's quite something to have a split over your local election manifesto when you have only one councillor, but Leicester's Conservatives have managed it.

Last week I blogged about their election promise of a tram system from the city that would reach as far as Market Harborough.

Today, reports the Leicester Mercury, the city's only Tory councillor, Ross Grant, poured cold water on the idea:
“Nobody mentioned it to me. I wasn’t consulted at all. 
“If somebody had, they would have been told that I have been consistently against having a tram system in Leicester. 
“It would be horrifically expensive. 
“There are far less expensive ways of trying to deal with traffic and pollution problems. 
“You could get an entire fleet of hydrogen-fuelled buses which would have the advantage of taking people to where they actually want to go rather than just along a rail route. 
“Within my ward I don’t see how you could run a tram track down Welford Road. 
“The disruption would be immense.
It would be great to see trams back in Leicester, but I suspect this is the last we shall hear of the idea from the Tories for a while.

If they want to revive it one day, they will need to produce detailed plans. All we had from them this time is the report of a conversation at a photo opportunity with Chris Grayling.

Six of the Best 785

The UK should not be a hostile environment, says Jonathan Fryer.

In 1968 the Conservatives won control of Sheffield and captured every council seat in Leicester. Lewis Baston looks at their local election landslide that year.

Paul Saffer knows what the Queen should do: "Monarchists make much of HM’s sense of duty. Well, what greater service to her nation could she perform than to lay out for its future historians, and her humble subjects generally, her uniquely privileged testimony on the events and personalities of her reign?"

"In the fall of 2016, Harvey Weinstein set out to suppress allegations that he had sexually harassed or assaulted numerous women. He began to hire private security agencies to collect information on the women and the journalists trying to expose the allegations." Ronan Farrow tells an extraordinary story.

Adam Scovell goes in search of the locations used in Ken Loach's film Kes.

"In total, Bentley made 367 appearances for Chelsea and scored 150 goals. He won 12 England caps and became the first Chelsea player to feature at a World Cup, representing England in 1950." Chelsea FC remembers Roy Bentley.

Write a guest post for Liberal England

I welcome guest posts on Liberal England.

As you can see from this list of the 10 most recent ones, I am happy to consider a wide range of subjects.

If you would like to write a guest post yourself, please send me an email so we can discuss your idea.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

J.W. Logan and the East Langton ladies cricket team

© Leicestershire Police

A wonderful photograph of an Edwardian country-house cricket team. Better still, the players are all women.

Even better than that, the only man in the photograph is this blog's hero J.W. Logan, who was Liberal MP for Harborough between 1891 and 1904 and again between 1910 and 1916.

You can see another photograph of him on his Wikipedia entry, where happily he is now called Paddy Logan. It has clearly been edited by someone who reads this blog.

I am sure Mr Logan's suffragette daughters will be among the players and it will have been taken at the East Langton ground he had laid out..

This photograph was tweeted earlier this year by The Police Gazette, which is devoted to the history of policing in Leicestershire.

The account owner tells me it was printed in Tally Ho,  a magazine for police officers in Leicestershire, in the 1960s.

Thunderclap Newman: Something In the Air

Working in a press office, you have to keep abreast of the news. So we were talking about the man who was hospitalised with thunderclap headaches after eating the world's hottest chilli.

Which naturally put me in mind of this record.

Wikipedia explains:
Thunderclap Newman was a British rock band that Pete Townshend of the Who and Kit Lambert formed in 1969 in a bid to showcase the talents of John "Speedy" Keen, Jimmy McCulloch, and Andy "Thunderclap" Newman.
Townshend played bass on Something in the Air, though he was not there to mime on this television appearance.

Jimmy McCulloch was only 15 or 16 when this record was made. He died young, but you can see him playing some years later on one of my favourite music videos: Roger Daltrey's version of Say It Ain't So Joe.

Thunderclap Newman himself was the group's pianist. Which means that this is another of those bands - Brinsley Schwarz, the J. Geils Band and arguably Manfred Mann and the Spencer Davis Group too - that are named after a member who is not the most prominent.

Something in the Air still appears regularly on film and television soundtracks when the makers want to summon up the spirit of late Sixties radicalism.

You can see why.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

A Tynemouth gull

Taken in 2012.

Now read about The burial of Alexander Rollo at Tynemouth Priory.

Six of the Best 784

"I’ve spent much of the past several years reporting on political psychology, asking the country’s foremost experts on human behaviour some variation of, 'What the hell is going on in the United States?'" Now Brian Resnick shares the fruits of his research.

Lions led by pro Mini Golfers? Otto English discovers what Ukip's gay donkey rape man is doing now. In Lewisham.

Nicholas Whyte finds David Goodhart's The Road to Somewhere an annoying book.

"Like many men his age, Dad was raised by a mother who did everything for him, and then he was passed to a wife who seamlessly took over. The result was that Dad never learned how to fend for himself." Stuart Heritage on our changing conception of masculinity.

A London Inheritance takes us to the University of London Senate's House - an impressive building that could have been even more so.

Steven Spielberg has been retelling the story of Peter Pan from the start of his career, says John Dilillo. He argues that Catch Me If You Can is a better and more faithful adaptation than Hook.

Saving the curlew in Shropshire

Today is the first ever World Curlew Day, so it's a good one to write about the Curlew Country project in Shropshire and Powys.
The project works thanks to its close collaboration with farmers and land managers who describe the first evocative bubbling of returning curlew to be a herald of spring.  Farmers describe memories of hay meadows from which "curlew and peewits rose in clouds". 
The Curlew Country project has been trying to establish why these long lived birds (they can exceptionally live for 20 or 30 years) are now failing to breed successfully on the farmland habitat they nest in outside moorland and upland areas.  A  Nest Monitoring Project in the local study area has deployed cameras, used thermal data loggers and close observation techniques. 
During the years 2015 and 2016 no chicks were successfully reared from the nests monitored.  Based on our findings we are now acting fast to intervene to try and save the population of about 40 breeding pairs within the local trial area, and gaining valuable information to help other similar curlew projects.
The call of the curlew is immensely atmospheric and reminds me of walking in the Stiperstones in May. I knew I was getting high up when I began to hear it. The curlew is an estuary bird, but it haunts upland moors too.

Now it is under threat in Shropshire, and there is a worrying precedent. The quotation above mentions peewits, which are better known as lapwings.

When the children in Malcolm Saville's Mystery at Witchend (published in 1943) set up the Lone Pine Club, they found it natural to adopt the call of the peewit as their secret sign.

But Robert Smart, who knew Saville and published walking books about the Shropshire hills, once told me that it was years since he had seen the bird on the Long Mynd.

Friday, April 20, 2018

"Fab: The first ice lolly for girls"

In this early spell of summer weather it is natural that my thoughts turn to ice lollies.

I have been thinking in particular of the Fab lolly, which had a relaunch last year to mark its 50th anniversary.

What is really scary is that I remember when Fab was new.

I was also sure that I remembered that when it first appeared in the 1960s it was marketed as an ice lolly for girls.

In fact I was certain I remembered that because, as a small boy in those days, you were desperate to try one but daren't be seen eating it.

Thanks to a couple of people who sent me the advertisements below via Twitter - @AndrewSNicoll and @DavidBertram1, follow them at once - and a bit of googling that turned up the television commercial above, I now know I was right.

It is easy  to forget how much children used to segregate themselves by sex. I enjoyed the 2003 film Wondrous Oblivion, which was set in the 1950s, but it got this badly wrong.

It's central incident saw a white schoolboy failing to invite a Black girl to his birthday party, which was interpreted as a slight based on race. But in the 1950s a young boy would not have invited a girl to a party to save his life and a girl would not have expected to be invited.

We are more enlightened now. Still, Lady Penelope was an excellent role model for girls.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Church Langton in an interregnum

St Peter’s, Church Langton, has problems. It has no parish priest – it’s “in an interregnum” a notice in the church charmingly puts it – though regular services continue.

And it has been hit by the widespread lead thefts from church roofs in the region. When I went inside there was a bundles up carpet that had obviously fallen victim to a leak.

Intriguingly, the notice about raising money for repairs also mentions “an exciting project that explores the rich heritage of St Peter’s”.

Outside, I made my regular pilgrimage to the Logan family graves and also visited Colonel Hignett at the other end of the churchyard:
Then there was Colonel Hignett, the Tory who had bought Logan’s estate on his death in 1922* and was, incredibly, still active locally when I became a councillor in the 1980s. I came across him several times and he had an unnerving habit of starting telephone calls with “Now, look here....” Fortunately, this was generally followed with “...if I can be any help, you let me know.” 
When the church roof at Church Langton needed repairing and the estimate from the builders proved too high (“They could put that where the monkey put the nuts.”) he organised the locals to do the job themselves and was filmed by local television as he directed operations up on the roof at the age of 90.
The other evening I was talking about Colonel Hignett to a taxi driver who had worked for him as a builder. Hignett had been David Niven’s commanding office during the second world war, and the driver has asked his opinion of him. Let’s just say it was a very low opinion – Niven enjoyed killing more than a regular officer like the Colonel found seemly.

Church Langton still has a primary school and its pub, the Langton Arms, has just reopened. It is now very much geared to the food trade – I was told they were fully booked for lunch – and the bar staff were rushed off their feet with orders for the restaurant, which meant it wasn’t a great place for a drink. There were sandwiches on the menu, but maybe you have to book those in advance too?

I shall try my luck there on a weekday, but for now I shall show the pub in gentle disuse.

* I now suspect there was at least one owner of East Langton Grange between J.W. Logan MP and Colonel Hignett.

In Our Time on Middlemarch

There was a cracking In Our Time on George Eliot's Middlemarch this morning. (An edited version will be broadcast this evening at 9.30, but I would listen to it via the BBC website.)

I read Middlemarch before starting my Masters in Victorian Studies out of duty, but thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

When the BBC adaptation (filmed in Stamford) was screened in 1994 I had great kudos at work because I knew how things would turn out.

I was interested to hear this morning that many of Eliot's contemporary readers, like my colleagues in 1994, hoped and expected that Dorothea would marry Lydgate.

And I was pleased to hear that I am not alone in finding Ladislaw an unconvincing character.

There was always something unreal about him to me, though this impression may owe something to the fact that he came into the novel as I was reading at twilight beside the Wye in Hay.

Leicester Tories promise a tram to Market Harborough

Forget Daventry Conservatives and their canal. Leicester Tories are promising a tram to Market Harborough.

The Leicester Mercury quotes their chairman Jack Hickey:
“I discussed our ambitious plan with Transport Secretary Chris Grayling in Parliament recently, and he was enthusiastic about the benefits of light rail in Leicester and keen to listen to the business case for the project.”
Mind you, Mr Grayling doesn't look very enthusiastic in the accompanying photograph.

And you can understand it. Hickey was the man who complained that activists coming to Leicester West to campaign for his Labour opponent in last year's general election were trying to "skew the vote".

I would love to see trams return to Leicester just as I would love to see the Grand Union reach Daventry. But there would be many problems with the idea, even if the city could raise the capital to build a system.

Nottingham's trams - "I’m furious Nottingham has a tram and we do not" says Hickey - have been reported as losing almost £1m a week.

This at a time when the county Conservatives tell us they cannot afford a modest town bus service in Market Harborough.

Then there are the practicalities.

As the city's Labour mayor told the Mercury:
"We have done studies before and all parties have agreed the geography of the city – which is very different to Nottingham’s, is not suitable for a tram. 
"Weaving them out in and out of the city would be very, very difficult."
Still, full marks to the Tories for coming up with a startling idea to get some headlines.

They have to do that when, like the Liberal Democrats, they have only one councillor in Leicester.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

At last an anthem for Brexit

We have been told. When Brexit goes horribly wrong it will be the fault of us Remainers for not getting behind the project.

"Every time a child says, 'I don't believe in fairies,' there is a fairy somewhere that falls down dead," as Peter Pan put it.

What we need is a song we can all sing to show our for support Brexit. And I have found it.

My God, have I found it.

I know England Swings from a sweet version by Roger Miller, but this is, er, different. You wonder if the Bonzos were familiar with Patty Duke's oeuvre when they came up with Cool Britannia.

She, incidentally, won an Oscar for her portrayal of Helen Keller in 1962 and is the mother of the well-known hobbit Sean Astin.

Later. I have just shown the video to Lord Bonkers. He remarked: "Guardsmen and male dancers? It reminds me of St James's after dark."

New canal becomes an election issue in Daventry

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For the first time in a couple of centuries, the building of a canal is a major election issue.

The Conservative-run Daventry District Council has come up with the madcap but magnificent idea of building a two-mile arm to link the town with the Grand Union.

According to a report in the Daventry Express:
The Labour Party will oppose any further expenditure on the proposal for a canal arm and will demand that more is done to make Daventry into an attractive market town again. 
It will press for better leisure facilities and entertainments for people of all ages, believing that "more shops are likely to be attracted to Daventry by a vibrant town centre rather than by a stagnant canal", as well as demand progress on a new cinema for the town.
"A stagnant canal" is silly and mean-spirited. Has Daventry Labour not seen any of the excellent urban canal regeneration projects around the country?

The Lib Dems say the canal project needs to have a robust business plan to justify it and it should not be at a cost to Daventry District taxpayers.
which sounds more sensible but probably means in practice that they don't support the new canal either.


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The two bridges over the Nene at Irthlingborough in 1946

You may remember that I was taken with the two bridges over the Nene at Irthlingborough last summer.

The Britain From Above site (which allows bloggers to use its images for free) has a nice shot of both bridges taken in 1946.

In the foreground you can see the medieval bridge and further back the impressive concrete viaduct that had opened 10 years before.

The tannery which stands beside them has long vanished.

Lord Bonkers: "Not a well-behaved Orban"

I was having dinner with Lord Bonkers last night.

"This Viktor Orban fellow seems a bad egg," he remarked.

I agreed, offering a catalogue of the Hungarian prime minister's crimes.

Lord Bonkers thought for a moment. "Not a well-behaved Orban then?" he offered.

Whereupon he shook with laughter, slapped his thigh and exclaimed "Oh my! Oh my!" for what seemed an age.

I have to say I didn't find it that funny.

Why it matters that millennials won't handle raw meat

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Yesterday's story about millennials being too squeamish to touch raw meat gave plenty of opportunity to laugh at the folly of the young. These days that's one of my chief occupations.

But there is more to it than that.

The Telegraph report says:
Ruth Mason of the National Farmers’ Union said it was “disconcerting that shoppers are so removed from their food” at a time when the meat and farming industry faces pressure from the increased number of consumers adopting vegetarian or vegan diets.
Well, we like children to be in touch with nature - to pick blackberries and get their knees muddy - but it may be that people are turning vegetarian because they are closely in touch with the farming industry and so aware of the cruelty producing meat can involve.

But the squeamish millennials are still eating meat. The danger is that they will favour meat that looks as little like a dead animal as possible. And the danger of that is that such meat is more likely to have been produced in a way that involves cruelty.

They should have seen Market Harborough in the 1970s when Hobbs the Butcher had pheasants and rabbits hanging outside his shop as every lorry en route from the West Midlands to Felixstowe growled past.

Monday, April 16, 2018

"You know when you've been tango'd": Ray Wilkins, Hugh Dennis and Gil Scott-Heron

Readers of a certain age will remember this television commercial for Tango, which featured the late, great Ray Wilkins.

What I didn't know that the other two voices in it belonged to Hugh Dennis and Gil Scott Heron (whose father played for Celtic).

The commercial was very popular, but there was a snag. In school playgrounds across the country children copied it, but they slapped one another on the ears not the cheeks.

I know someone who worked approving television commercials for the Independent Broadcasting Authority in those days. He said the medical evidence, emphasising the risk of perforated eardrums in children, gave them no alternative but to ban this one.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Logan Street, Market Harborough, from above in 1932

The "Britain From Above" archive is now FREE in high resolution and it is *incredible*. 96,000 photos of landscapes and buildings - many long-lost, from the air.
So Tim Dunn tweeted earlier this evening, and he is right.

Better still, the conditions of use allow you to post Britain From Above images on your blog if, like this one, it has no log-in restrictions or charges.

So here is a shot of the Logan Street area of Market Harborough (aka New Harborough or Monkey Town) in 1932.

Logan Street, named after this blog's hero J.W. Logan, is the long street running from the middle of the picture towards the top. The photograph was taken looking north.

Opposite the southern end of Logan Street, on the other side of the Coventry Road, is a long-vanished tennis court or bowling green.

You can also see the River Welland winding across the middle of picture and the Market Harborough to Rugby railway line (closed 1966) cuts off the bottom left-hand corner.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Well thought of in Golspie

Our week at Bonkers Hall draws to a close as the old boy proves that he still has his finger on the pulse when it comes to the Liberal Democrats (as far as we have one these days).


There are those (it is hard to credit) to whom not every Liberal Democrat MP is a household name, so let me give you a few notes upon the slightly less famous ones.

Wera Hobhouse is heir to the family fortune, which is founded on sales of her uncle L.T.’s Liberalism.

Christine Jardine I have found to be a fierce competitor. She once took over the captaincy of my XI when Mike Brearley was called away to conduct an urgent session of psychoanalysis, whereupon she packed the legside field and ordered our fastest bowler to let the batsmen have a barrage of snoot-high deliveries.

Jamie Stone is believed to be well thought of in Golspie.

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

Earlier this week

Six of the Best 783

"As I watched the 20-year celebrations of the Good Friday agreement play out, my frustration and anger began to boil over. 'Where the fuck is she?' I wanted to shout at the television and radio." Henrietta Norton says her stepmother Mo Mowlam has been written out of the history of the Northern Ireland peace process.

Christine Thuring explains the forces behind the Sheffield street tree massacre.

"An epistemic bubble is when you don’t hear people from the other side. An echo chamber is what happens when you don’t trust people from the other side." C. Thi Nguyen examines the effect of social media on our reasoning.

" [Angela] Thirkell’s hatred of what she saw as the socialist destruction of old England struck a deep chord, and during these years her 'Barsetshire' sequence of novels sold prodigiously." David Kynaston looks at the genteel backlash that followed Labour's 1945 victory.

Gyles Brandreth remembers his friend. Kenneth Williams, who died 30 years ago today.

"Across the whole of children’s literature, there are relatively few portrayals of a father-son relationship where the father isn’t either forbidding, or simply absent for good or ill." acidandamnesty reads of Roald Dahl's Danny, the Champion of the World.

Michael Nyman: Knowing the Ropes

Michael Nyman's music makes me happy.

This piece from the soundtrack of Peter Greenaway's strangely English film Drowning by Numbers is played by the Motion Trio of accordionists, the Michael Nyman Band and Nyman himself on piano.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Meet Pop Corbyn

Hang on in there, readers, there is only one more entry to go after this.


When Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party I naturally stationed gamekeepers armed with orchard doughties at the lodge gates lest he try to claim my estate in the name of the people.

However, 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. I think I shall stand down my gamekeepers.

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

Earlier this week

Friday, April 13, 2018

Listen to Mr Asquith

Here is the Liberal prime minister Herbert Asquith making the case for Lloyd George's 'People's Budget' in 1909.

The Film Programme features Talking Pictures TV

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This week Antonia Quirke from BBC Radio 4's Film Programme visited the headquarters of my favourite television channel Talking Pictures TV.

They turned out to be a pebble-dashed detached house in Hertfordshire, but this is no kitchen-table operation.

As Noel Cronin, who runs the channel with his daughter and son-in-law, told her in their interview, the channel attracts audiences of up to 1.3m, spends £1m a year on film rights and makes a profit.

The still above comes from the superior early Dirk Bogarde film Hunted, which Talking Pictures screened again last night. It shows Bogarde with the child actor Jon Whiteley.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Gay conversion camps

Look, I don't write this stuff. I just edit it for him. OK?


Plans for this summer’s gay conversion camps here at the Hall are in hand. I know these are a controversial idea, but it would take a heart of stone not to help the parents who come to me. “We’ve tried everything,” they sob, “bought him Doris Day records, but he is just not interested.” This summer I have decided the students will camp, and I use the word advisedly, by the lake.

Then there is the fixture list for my XI this summer. Among our regular matches against the MCC, Mebyon Kernow and the Elves of Rockingham Forest, I am pleased to see a number of new names. Notable among them, all the way from China, is Mr Xi’s XI.

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

Earlier this week

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Penistone in the 1960s

As well as town events, there are plenty of shots of the electrified Woodhead route and an unexpected appearance by the Flying Scotsman.

Conservatives plan to scrap Market Harborough town bus service

Sad news from the Harborough Mail:
Market Harborough’s number 33 town-and-around bus service is at risk of being axed - because it doesn’t come close to paying for itself. 
In fact the service costs Leicestershire County Council a huge £109,000 a year to keep it running, the Mail has been told. 
And with the cash-strapped county looking to save £400,000 on public transport the town’s 33 service is “red-listed” in the council’s own consultation document. 
That means it’s a service “likely to be discontinued” as a county-council contracted service.
As far as I recall, this service had been put in place just before I came back to live in Harborough. The first piece community campaigning I got involved with was a residents' survey in Great Bowden to see how people were finding it.

The new, small buses that operated it were known as 'Fox Cubs' as they were run by the Midland Fox company.

There is a desperate lack of joined-up thinking here. Our new Conservative MP has taken a laudable interest in the issue of loneliness, but it will only be made worse as his government and council group scrap the services that help older and poorer people stay in the swim.

Anyway, if you want to try to save the 33 bus, there is a consultation on transport policy open on the county council website.

Six of the Best 782

Fascism poses a more serious threat now than at any time since the end of World War II, warns Madeleine Albright.

"Traditional left-wing parties have lost not only the grasp of their main political narrative, they have lost much of their traditional electorates. These electorates did not so much ‘switch’ away from the left, they have rather disappeared as a comprehensible social group." Jan Rovny analyses the causes of the decline of left-wing parties across Europe.

Tanya Gold observes the fall of Milo Yiannopoulos.

"Today, pellagra is mostly relegated to history lessons and medical reference books. But occasionally, such as during isolated outbreaks in a refugee crisis, the world receives a vivid reminder of how the disease still affects people." Kristin Baird Rattini on the disease that once devastated the American South.

David Mikics relives the making of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Charles Darwin's family home, Down House near Biggin Hill, is now open to the public. Sarah Moulden blogs about the work involved in bringing it back to life.