Tuesday, April 30, 2019

"They cheered like anything to see such quantities of sand"

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This 1910 Great Northern Railway poster for the Yorkshire coast takes some liberties with Lewis Carroll's The Walrus and the Carpenter.

John Hobson, Jeremy Corbyn and Imperialism

When I heard that Jeremy Corbyn had written the foreword to an antisemitic book, I assumed it was a recent work.

But it turns out the book is Imperialism by John Hobson, which was published in 1902.

Hobson was an interesting and heterodox economic figure, who is claimed by both Liberals and Marxists. Imperialism was his most influential work.

He was one of the leading New Liberal thinkers before the first world war, but later joined the Labour Party without ever feeling wholly at home there.

Imperialism was his most influential work.and I am glad that it is in print. And Jeremy Corbyn is entitled to contribute a foreword if he wishes.

But there is a problem with Hobson,

As Danny Finkelstein writes behind The Times paywall.
In The War in South Africa, Hobson is clear. The war was being fought to support Jewish interests. Hobson blames “a small group of international financiers, chiefly German in origin and Jewish in race . . . The rich and powerful liquor trade . . . is entirely in the hands of Jews . . . the stock exchange is needless to say, mostly Jewish . . . the press of Johannesburg is chiefly their property . . . we are fighting in order to place a small international oligarchy of mine owners and speculators in power at Pretoria.” 
His biographer John Allett concludes that for Hobson: “The conspirators, then, were the Rand Jews.” This idea carries over into Imperialism. In his foreword Mr Corbyn says of the book that “what is brilliant, and very controversial at the time, is his [Hobson’s] analysis of the pressures that were hard at work in pushing for a vast national effort, in grabbing new outposts of Empire on distant islands and shores”. 
Yet central to Hobson’s analysis of the “pressures that were hard at work” were the finance houses controlled by Jews. “These great businesses — banking, booking, bill discounting, loan floating, company promoting — form the central ganglion of international capitalism,” writes Hobson in Imperialism, not too many pages on from Mr Corbyn’s foreword.
It would be possible to restate Hobson's theories about the origin of imperialism without mentioning anybody's race, but there is certainly a strand in British political radicalism whose opposition to high finance is too aware that those financiers are Jewish.

So Corbyn should have drawn attention to the antisemitism of Hobson's work and condemned it.

In his, defence, however, neither the Wikipedia page on Hobson, nor the article about him from the Liberal Democrat History Group nor the entry on him in the Dictionary of Liberal Thought make any mention of his antisemitism either.

Clearly, it is a prejudice that is easy to ignore if you are not the object of it.

For an article arguing for Hobson's importance but acknowledging his racism, see 'Why should we still study J. A. Hobson’s Imperialism?' by Richard Toye.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Widnes–Runcorn Transporter Bridge in 1960

Wikipedia explains:
The Widnes–Runcorn Transporter Bridge crossed the river Mersey and Manchester Ship Canal linking the towns of Runcorn and Widnes. Completed in 1905, it was Britain's first transporter bridge and the largest of its type ever built in the world.It continued in use until 22 July 1961, when it was replaced by a through arch bridge, now known as the Silver Jubilee Bridge. The transporter bridge was then demolished.
This footage was shot at the very end of its life.

Andrew Teale's guide to this week's local elections

Thursday night is local by-election night and it is made more enjoyable by the previews Andrew Teale produces every week. You can find them on the Britain Elects site.

Go there today and you will also find his preview of this week's local elections.

I strongly recommend it:
If the Tories are having a bad night Hinckley and Bosworth may be vulnerable to the Lib Dems.

Local Tories go off the rails

I arrived home to find a glossy Conservative election leaflet through my door.

In it the two Tory candidates make this claim:
We've recently been working with Neil O'Brien MP to reinstate the footbridge, we're pleased to confirm this has now been completed and is back in use.
But the bridge has not been reinstated: it is a new arrival.

Until it was closed without notice at the end of 2015, the way across the railway here was by a foot crossing.

You can see it in the photograph above.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

The search for the Nutbrook Canal 1

The Nutbrook Canal ran from Shipley in Derbyshire to the Erewash Canal near Trowell. It was built to serve collieries at Shipley and West Hallam, and was completed in 1796.

Competition from the railways and subsidence saw most of it was closed in 1895, but the last mile and a half remained in use until 1949.

This, the first of two videos, sets out to discover what remains of the canal today. You can watch the second here.

Cow rescues itself after falling into freezing canal

A cow yesterday
Our Headline of the Day comes, as so often, from the Shropshire Star.

Deep Purple: Fireball

This is a song, like Barry Ryan's The Colour of My Love, that I heard in the background on Talking Pictures TV.

Fireball comes, not from down-at-heel Sixties Brighton and Public Eye, but from hippy Amsterdam and Van Der Valk.

It is the title track from Deep Purple's fifth album and got to 15 in the UK singles chart in 1971. This was an era, after the prime of the great Sixties groups and before glam rock choked the charts, when some quite heavy bands had hits.

There is a more local musical connection with Van Der Valk. Its theme tune, Eye Level, was composed by Simon Park, who was born in Market Harborough.

It spent four weeks at number one in the charts in 1973. It was credited to "The Simon Park Orchestra", but I suspect them of being a group of session musicians brought together in the studio.

A few years ago Park appeared on Bargain Hunt and they played a clip of the tune from Top of the Pops. As he gamely pointed out, none of the musicians he was supposedly conducting were looking at him.

Oh, and that sound at the start of Fireball? It's the air conditioning being turned on.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Market Harborough from the air in 1947

The road and railway from Northampton enter bottom left and run in parallel until the railway swings right. It soon joins the line from Rugby, though that is hard to see here.

I like the patchwork quilt of allotments to the left of the road. They are still there.

The town looks small to modern eyes and, if you know where to look, you can see my house in the bottom right quarter.

In which the Tiggers unbounce themselves

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"In fact," said Rabbit, coming to the end of it at last, "Tigger's getting so Bouncy nowadays that it's time we taught him a lesson. Don't you think so, Piglet?" 
Piglet said that Tigger was very Bouncy, and that if they could think of a way of unbouncing him, it would be a Very Good Idea. "Just what I feel," said Rabbit.
It was expected that the Independent Group would be very pleased with itself. You must get quite an adrenaline rush from launching a new party.

But it soon began to grate and I wondered would could be done to unbounce them..

Here's Rabbit's solution:
"Well, I've got an idea," said Rabbit, "and here it is. We take Tigger for a long explore, somewhere where he's never been, and we lose him there, and next morning we find him again, and-mark my words-he'll be a different Tigger altogether." 
"Why?" said Pooh. 
"Because he'll be a Humble Tigger. Because he'll be a Sad Tigger, a Melancholy Tigger, a Small and Sorry Tigger, an Oh-Rabbit-I-am-glad-to-see-you Tigger. That's why."
If you had a well-spent childhood you will know that Rabbit's plan did not work quite as he hoped.

So it is just as well that the Tiggers have spent the week unbouncing themselves.

When the Independent Group was launched I wrote:
I have no idea what will happen next, but I have a feeling it will be more fun than the last few years have been,
But it has been getting less fun ever since. 

There has been their refusal to contemplate any sort of alliance for the European parliament. If you read my blog post about their launch you will see that has not surprised me, but it has certainly put off a lot of people and diminished any sense that the Tigger MPs are not like other politicians.

There has been the problems with their candidate selection for those elections. Did they not foresee there might be problems over social media activity and do some vetting?

Then there has been the policy vacuum beyond a notable vapid initial statement and a notably silly pamphlet from Chuka Umunna. Does he really think bringing back national service is the way to win over the young voters the new party must attact?

And now there is the party's acting leader Heidi Allen announcing she has sympathy for the view that a the option of no deal should be offered in any referendum because to some people it represents a "clean Brexit".

The overwhelming impression the Tiggers give is one of amateurism. Everything had been done in a hurry and nothing has been done very well. 

But then I suppose if you are parachuted into a safe seat, as so many Tigger MPs were, you are likely to acquire an exaggerated sense of your own skill as a politician.

By contrast, Liberal Democrat MP have to work hard - ridiculously hard - and be good politicians to get elected to the Commons.

The feeling that the Indpendent Group may be a bubble with a short life is growing stronger by the day.

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.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Coombe Junction Halt: The least used station in Cornwall

Coombe Junction Halt is one of only two halts left on Britain's railways - the other is the neighbouring St Keyne Wishing Well Halt.

And with only 48 passengers a year, as well as being the least used station in Cornwall it is the second least used station in Britain. Only Shippea Hill in the Fens sees fewer passengers.

This video features an interesting bit of railway operation and a fine viaduct. I wonder more people do not go there.

Good media coverage for Lib Dem Euro campaign launch

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If the Liberal Democrat press people could have dictated the start of an article about today's launch it would have read something like this:
The Liberal Democrats launched their European election campaign on Friday in east London with a simple message, Stop Brexit, but expressed disappointment that there was not a single pro-Europe grouping. 
The "unapologetically pro-European party" slate of 70 candidates includes local councillors, a chartered engineer, a former journalist, and those who are new to politics. 
The party leader, Vince Cable, said it was a pity that Change UK, which launched its European election campaign last week as the anti-Brexit party, had ignored the Lib Dems’ offer to stand on a united slate. "We should be standing together," he said. “The millions of people who want to remain would expect us to stand together. 
"The Liberal Democrats made it clear we were happy to work with others but it wasn’t reciprocated." He said the Lib Dems were the more established party and expected to benefit from anti-Brexit sentiment.
That is from the Guardian and BBC News took a similar line. Stephen Bush in the New Statesman was notably enthusiastic too.

Somewhere behind this good coverage, I suspect, is a sense of disappointment with the Tiggers, Change UK or whatever they are currently calling themselves. They have badly overplayed a weak hand and lost sympathy as a result.

In particular, the professionalism of today Lib Dem Euro campaign launch is a telling contrast with the Tiggers' efforts to date.

Conservatives suspend Leicestershire council candidate

Yesterday the Guardian had an article on Conservative council candidates who have been suspended over "racist and inflammatory posts".

Here's one of them:
Robin Popley, 28, who is standing for the Conservatives in Leicestershire as a candidate in the Charnwood borough and Shepshed town council elections for Shepshed East, has endorsed Facebook posts suggesting Sajid Javid was appointed home secretary to secure “the ethnic vote” and criticising Prince Harry for having a relationship with “a divorcee of mixed race”. 
Popely “liked” a post that read: “I had a lot of time for Harry however his choice is way off. A divorcee of mixed race ‘actress’ who has shown her ass on HBO does not fill the bill to be royal imo [in my opinion]. This just makes a mockery of everything the Royal Family and Traditionalists stand for.” 
He “loved” another post made criticising the appointment of Javid which read: “It’s an appointment aimed at securing the ethnic vote. Purely cynical tactic from May. It should be on merit, not skin colour.”
BBC News has since confirmed that Popley has been suspended from party.

Popley has protected his tweets, but there is still plenty about him online. Notably an article where he claims to be a High Tory.

Really? If you are a High Tory then reverence for the Royal Family is pretty much at the top of your list of beliefs.

As so often - see my post on Brexit - people claiming to be Conservative have little understanding of what Conservatism is.

Tory vote halved in Shrewsbury by-election

The only council by-election last night was in the Belle Vue ward of Shropshire Council, which takes in some reasonably comfortable Shrewsbury suburbs. You can read more about it in Andrew Teale's preview.

This has long been a Labour ward, and last night they held it with the Liberal Democrats coming second with an increase in their vote.
What is striking here is the fall in the Conservative vote from 24.2 per cent to 11.9 per cent. They weren't helped by the appearance of a Ukip candidate, but this is still a poor result for them - particularly just a week before the local elections.

It does support the story, based on an internal Lib Dem memo in the Mirror this morning, that the Tories face "catastrophe" next week.

Apparently the memo says:
"Just half of people who expressed support for Labour in 2015 are now intending to definitely or probably vote Labour."

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Pagan London 12: A strong brown god

I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river
Is a strong brown god—sullen, untamed and intractable...
This is the last of the videos in this series. You can find them all on Minimum Labyrinth.

If I ever do a series like this on Leicester, I shall begin with the Humber Stone.

Pig Steals Campers Beer, Gets Drunk & Starts a Fight With a Cow

A pig yesterday

Outdoor Revival
wins our Headline of the Day Award.

The judges dedicated today's contest to the late Joe Grundy.

The view from Stamford Meadows

Stamford Meadows are celebrated for their views of the town and their wildlife - which on Saturday seemed to consist largely of swans and dogs.

It was on this walk that I found the town's old medicinal spring and by the end of it could see the heroic industry of Ketton cement works.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

The history of Stamford's medicinal spring

The other day I promised you a video about the history of Stamford's medicinal spring.

Here it is - a few in jokes and hobbyhorses too many, but still interesting to anyone who loves this remarkable town.

It also explains why I included a photo of Tinwell pumping station in that first post about the spring.

Six of the Best 863

David V. Johnson defends Mill's On Liberty in an age of conspiracy theories.

"Several anecdotal reports have highlighted the increased community cohesion resulting from both the organisation process on a street and the ‘playing out’ sessions themselves. The University of Bristol study found both a strengthening of existing connections and building new connections between neighbours." Alice Ferguson on the benefits brought by the 'playing out' movement.

Barb Drummond offers a cultural history of the scarecrow, taking in Henry Williamson, Traffic and the Watersons.

"Nothing like it had ever been seen on BBC television and even the natives, already familiar with the more surreal reaches of British comedy on BBC radio, took a while to adjust to this new kind of visual humour in which nothing was too sacred to be lampooned." Clive Irving attends the birth of Monty Python.

Before Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris (and long before Steven Soderbergh's) there was an adaptation of Stanisław Lem’s novel on Russian television, reports Michael Brooke.

Notts Lit takes us on a tour of D.H. Lawrence's Nottingham.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The last aerial ropeway in England

This is the last surviving industrial aerial ropeway in the country.

They used to be common - a cheaper way of transporting heavy loads than building a railway.

You found them in the Northamptonshire iron ore fields. One crossed the Market Harborough to Northampton road just south of Brixworth. Another passed close to Rushton Triangular Lodge.

And as any reader of Malcolm Saville's Seven White Gates will know, you found them in the Shropshire lead mining country too.

So enjoy this one while you can. There is something satisfying about the way the loaded buckets negotiate the pylons.

General von Haynau and Donald Trump: London used to know how to deal with unwelcome visitors

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So Donald Trump has been invited to pay a state visit to Britain. There is a long history of unsavoury characters paying such visits and of good people protesting against them.

I hope there will be mass protests against Trump when he comes. Even I took to the streets last time he was here.

But the best way to deal with such visitors was demonstrated by the people of London back in 1850.

The Southwark News introduces us to General von Haynau:
Julius Jacob von Haynau was an Austrian general who, due to his brutal suppression of Hungarian forces during a revolution in 1849, earned the nicknames “the hangman”, “the hyena”, “the tiger” and “the butcher.” 
Contemporary commentators are also cutting in their reports. Historian Antoine Vanner describes him as a “bully and a tyrant” while historian Pete Brown, whose excellent book Shakespeare’s Local details Bankside’s history over six centuries, keeps it simple with “a murderous authoritarian bastard.” 
His penchant for punishment knew no limit. He whipped women, hung over 100 people and ordered vicious reprisal attacks during his campaign of terror. The brute was even infamous hundreds of miles away in Britain, where tales of his violence were covered in the papers and passed by word of mouth. From Buckingham Palace to Bankside, Haynau was discussed with both awe and disgust.
This murderous authoritarian bastard made the mistake of coming to London and visiting Barclay & Perkins' Anchor Brewery in Bankside:
A crowd quickly gathered as word of his appearance spread through the borough. Given his facial hair, he had attracted some attention on the way to the brewery and, by helpfully signing the visitor book on the way in, there was little doubt it was him.
A crowd, made up of local residents, workers and the brewery drayman, forced their way through the building to Haynau to boo and heckle him. 
An eyewitness said: “The gallant woman flogger looked about him in evident surprise, forgetting probably that he is now in a land which, with all its faults, bestows on its citizens the privilege of free thoughts and speech, and teaches them to denounce the tyrannies of a butcher like Haynau.” 
According to a separate eye witness, the scene then turned violent, with the brewery draymen deciding to stick the boot in in a more literal sense.

A report says: “Nearly all the labourers and draymen ran out with brooms and dirt, shouting out ‘Down with the Austrian butcher’ and other epithets of rather an alarming nature to the marshal.” 
A bale of hay was dropped on Haynau’s head before his clothes were ripped off by the furious crowd. He was flogged with brooms so hard that one of them broke across his back, while manure and dirt were thrown.
He first tried hiding in a dustbin and then found refuge in a pub, where the police turned up to rescue him.

So unpopular was von Haynau that the authorities did not dare to bring any charges over the affair.

Two further points.

There is a plaque commemorating these events in Park Street in Bankside. I shall photograph it for this blog.

And there are unconfirmed that, as the murderous authoritarian bastard was spirited away, the crowd was heard to chant:
"Haynau, Haynau: don't dream it's over."

Pointless offers a warning to Change UK

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Change UK - or the Tiggers, as I still think of them - announced their Euro candidates today.

There are some names I recognise, notably the former Conservative cabinet minister Stephen Dorrell.

I note, however, that he is standing in the West Midlands rather than the East Midlands, where he was an MP for 36 years.

With Dorrell and a few other people we politicos have heard of - Rachel Johnson, Gavin Esler - the Tiggers must be feeling pleased with themselves.

But they should not feel too pleased.

Last year I pointed out how little most people know about politics:
Pointless is almost a mirror image of Family Fortunes, which rewarded contestants for being average not for being clever. 
Yet there are two subjects where Pointless contestants generally know little and find the thought they might know something to be so unreasonable as to be amusing. 
One is British politics and the other is geography.
After I had posted that, "the admirable Alwyn Turner" sent me the link to a post he had written in 2013.

It was about a round in Pointless that year where 100 people had been asked to name as many politicians as they could remember who had served in the Labour cabinets of either Tony Blair or Gordon Brown. That is, any cabinet member between 1997 and 2010:
Top of the list was John Prescott, named by just 15 out of the 100 people. 
Then came: Ed Miliband - 13 out of 100 
Ed Balls -13 out of 100 
David Miliband - 12 out of 100 
Jack Straw - 7 out of 100 
Alistair Darling - 7 out of 100 
Peter Mandelson - 4 out of 100 
David Blunkett - 4 out of 100 
Clare Short - 2 out of 100 
Mo Mowlam - 1 out of 100 
Margaret Beckett - 1 out of 100 
We never found out whether my nominee, Ivor Richard, made it into the pointless category, because there were simply too many names to go through. But amongst those who rated not a single mention were: Andrew Adonis, Andy Burnham, Jack Cunningham, Charlie Falconer, Patricia Hewitt, Derry Irvine, Donald Dewar, Frank Dobson, Geoff Hoon, Margaret Jay, Alan Milburn and James Purnell.
So, as I say, the Tiggers should not feel to pleased with themselves tonight.

Incidentally, this second post was quoted without attribution on the Today programme by a Leading Political Commentator, who unfollowed me on Twitter when I pointed this out.

But I'm not bitter.

Monday, April 22, 2019

GUEST POST Three unlikely heroes from Grantham suggest a future for smaller towns

Brynley Heaven looks at the problems besetting the Lincolnshire town of Grantham and finds solutions in some unexpected quarters.

Violet Van Der Elst, the daughter of a washer woman and a coal heaver, took over Grantham Castle in 1937. Edward VII had tried to buy it before her, but had to settle for the less impressive accommodation at Sandringham.

As chief promoter (and quite probably inventor) of Shavex shaving foam, Violet had become seriously rich and spent lavishly on interiors. Everything top drawer and in the grandest style, she received visitors in the great chair of the Doges of Venice.

She banned shooting from the estate, which wound up the local gentry something rotten.They got their revenge when the all-powerful War Ag Committee set the parkland to the plough.

Violet sponsored the Women's Peace Legion in Grantham and conducted a tireless, incredibly brave and ultimately successful national campaign against capital punishment which made her a now-quite-wrongly-forgotten household name. She was arrested seven times and there were innumerable Court proceedings. She deserves a statue in Grantham.

Denis Kendall, who liked to call himself The Chief, employed 6,000 people in a Grantham rearmament company called BMARCO. Son of a Yorkshire miller, he ran away to sea age 14, made a pile of money on the Shanghai waterfront (we await his biographer, there is enough for a lengthy tome), he developed serious manufacturing ambitions, which are compellingly captured in a Pathe newsreel. The treatment of the Land Girl is as noteworthy as the styling of the vehicles.

Elected MP by a whisker, reelected by a landslide as Independent MP for Grantham (so much for the town's immutable Toryism), Denis led a national wartime cause célèbre against US servicemen or rather their very public red light support contingent in the town. It was graded by price along the High Street and culminating in the most expensive parading on the Town Hall steps.

He died in his nineties, living long enough to support Ollie North in the Iran-Contra scandal, capping a lifetime of glamorous skulduggery, arms smuggling and shady connections.

Our third Grantham notable, Margaret Thatcher is better known and usually misrepresented. Here I can draw upon my interviews with the late John Mitchell, which are published for the first time.

John was also a "political animal" who knew Margaret Roberts from the Conservative circle around the Upson family at Heydour Manor House, Grantham where both were encouraged to take their interest further. "Mrs Upson acted informally as Margaret's godmother".

Margaret overcame three interwoven kinds of prejudice, as a woman, as a Methodist and, by no means least, as merely middle class, to win selection as a Conservative candidate:
"You could see that she had got promise and that she had ambition. Her sister was like her mother, but Margaret was like Alfred, her father. There was something in her eyes, although she was four years younger than I, I found her highly attractive. She had a gleam in her eye like her father".
Grantham today
A walk around Grantham today reveals a town on its uppers, the heavy engineering all gone, the great names - Aveling Barford; Ruston & Hornsby - at one with Nineveh and Tyre.

"It's a lot poorer than it should be, an hour from London" is the customary put-down. Well paid jobs replaced by work in chicken evisceration, a huge enterprise. The housing crisis evident in the terraces.

If the High Street seems more vacant than is now usual, the urge to investigate further is choked off - and that is the apposite phrase - by the inexplicable failure to pedestrianise. The George Centre, an indoor shopping precinct, boasts a pizza place, vape shop and nail bar, but is mostly vacant, the shop fronts decorated to disguise this fact. The ancient Market Place itself is framed by a prominent sex club.

A little further out of town are the retail sheds, my favourite is the approach to B&Q and M&S Food where a mini-Zebra Crossing leads straight into a raised bank. Unusable. Nobody cares. Been like that for years. You must fight your way through moving traffic. Any survivors must repeat the ordeal on the way out.

Out on the A1, there are to be Outlet Centres/Fashion Villages, two rival schemes both approved, which conventional wisdom might see as a threat to the centre. But that ship has sailed and these arguments are no longer heard.

Grantham was designated for growth - meaning housing estates - long ago, a sensible place to expand, then billed as "the greenest ever" and subject to eternal rebranding as Eco Towns, Town Extensions, Garden Suburbs, New Quarters (a far from exhaustive list), but nobody expects to see what we really need, homes to rent and buy within reach of local wages, so more dormitory, more financial assets to juggle.

Lincolnshire, or this part of it, is run by a moribund rentier class, who live in surrounding villages and are currently taking the Conservative Party in unexpected directions. There is a cultural side to this. A fantasy ruralism. And a few accomplices in the media to make it plausible. Well almost plausible, if you shut your eyes.

The future
What remedies would our three Grantham go-getters suggest?

Voilet van der Elst anticipated our own times with her passions for animal welfare and human rights, her deep interest in spiritualism notwithstanding. She would have eschewed market town philistinism as thinly disguised defeatism and self-loathing.

Denis Kendall was the original populist, overthrowing tables, defeating incumbents (including Winston Churchill's nominee in wartime, let it be said), flirting with extremists, appealing to base feelings, throwing huge parties, dispensing favours, cutting corners. He would want urban ambition, not the sulking ruralist concoction currently served up.

Margaret Thatcher famously never had time or affection for her old haunt. A statue with a high plinth will shortly be put up on St Peter's Hill where, vandals permitting, she will gaze out on Lettings Agencies and a Betting Shop. What an accurate tribute.

One of her local acolytes, Colin Davie, the Conservative responsible for economic development, has proposed closure of Lincoln's prestige purpose-built Usher Gallery with its dazzling list of big name artworks:
"The future is not going in to somewhere and staring at walls"
Clunking and crass, the phrase might have come from her lips. Thatcher would be proud that the torch is still carried. Let us go boldly into the dark.

Brynley Heaven is a member of Grantham Labour Party.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Norman Bowler on Norman Bowler

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One of the pleasures of Mark Gattis's documentary on the artist John Minton, which was screened last summer, was the appearance of Norman Bowler.

As I wrote when posting an earlier interview he gave about his memories of Minton:
One of my early heroes was Detective Sergeant (eventually Detective Chief Inspector) Harry Hawkins in Softly, Softly and then Softly, Softly: Task Force
He was played for a decade from 1966 by Norman Bowler, who turned up many years later as Frank Tate in Emmerdale. 
Before Softly Softly, Bowler was an artist's model and bodybuilder. He was a member of the Soho set alongside John Minton, Francis Bacon and Daniel Farson. He married the model and writer Henrietta Moraes.
The other day I discovered that Bowler had published his memoirs, My God. Is That the Time?, in 2005.

It appears to be a scare and expensive book, but you can find Bowler reading six extracts from it online for free.

They don't cover the Soho set or Softly, Softly, but are well written and still of interest.

The six are:
  • Any two - memories of being evacuated to Wiltshire during the second world war
  • The tent - Just William adventures in Wiltshire
  • Reg- a moving tribute to a beloved older brother who died in the war
  • Classical music - how beauty and pain can be shared across wartime borders
  • Going to sea - adventures as a merchant seaman
  • Fit ups - Bowler learns to act in Ireland, after having already signed a film contract
These pieces do solve one mystery about Bowler. He is the son of the West Hampstead jeweller Clifford Bowler, yet in every part he speaks with a West Country accent. This must be a relic of his childhood Wiltshire days that he has kept or cultivated ever since.

It may be significant that he speaks with more warmth about the family he was evacuated to than about his own family in London.

The Greens are fighting fewer wards than four year ago

There is an interesting point in a post by Mark Pack on the number of wards the Liberal Democrats are fighting in next month's local elections.

It is that the Greens are fighting fewer wards than they did four years ago. In 2015 they put up candidates in 38 per cent of wards being contested. This time round the figure is 30 per cent.

I report this not to gloat - I feel warmer to the Greens than I do to the Tiggers, Change UK or whatever they call themselves - but to suggest it is another reason why a unified Remain list did not appear in the European elections.

There are few parliamentary seats where the Greens are in with any chance of a gain, and if they are slipping back in local government then, in England, that leaves only the European elections.

It may well be that those elections suit the Greens best. Their broad approach is appealing to many and it is not exposed to the detailed criticism that can lessen that appeal. To give one example, how does their opposition to austerity square with their belief that we consume too much?

So just as the Tiggers have do do well in the Europeans elections to gain any sense of momentum, those elections offer the Greens' their best chance of electoral advance or good publicity.

Perhaps it is the Liberal Democrats who have led calls for a joint Remain list for the European elections because they do not represent such an opportunity for us.

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceWhile some gains in them would be good, what we really want are good local election results next month with some promising parliamentary by-elections to follow.

Paul Simon: The Late Great Johnny Ace

A song about three deaths: Johnny Ace, who killed himself in a shooting accident in 1954 when Paul Simon was 13; John F.Kennedy, assassinated in 1963; and John Lennon, murdered in 1980.

This live performance took place during the Simon and Garfunkel concert in Central Park in 1982, two years after Lennon's death.

When someone rushes on to the stage yelling "I gotta talk to you", there is real danger in the air.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Stamford's baths and medicinal spring

These baths stand on the edge of the Welland meadows in Stamford, and incidentally mark the outer wall of the castle once built to protect the river crossing.

I had assumed the elegant building once housed a fashionable spa, but it turns out to have been home to public baths built because of the poor sanitary conditions in the town.

Yet Stamford did once have a medicinal chalybeate spring and today I found it.

It is in those same meadows, but some way out of the town. You can find it near the bridge that takes the A1 over the river.

An online forum carries memories of childhood Sunday walks to the spring to fill bottles.

I have found a video that gives the history of the spring and explains why it is now dry. I will post it here one day.

In the mean time, here are the photographs of it I took today. The nearby weir is part of Tinwell pumping station, that sens water from the Welland to Rutland Water.

Former Labour MP says Lib Dems will do well in local elections

Mike Smithson has written a post on Political Betting looking forward to next month's local elections.

In it he quotes the observations of the former Labour MP Nick Palmer:
Interesting 3 hours on the doorstep this afternoon (and no, people don’t mind being canvassed at Easter) in deepest Surrey. 
I think the Lib Dems are going to do well – I’m used to their voters showing up as don’t knows till the last minute, but there’s some definite enthusiasm out there. Labour's core vote seems solid but not especially enthusiastic – it’s mostly about fighting the Tories. 
The Tory vote is crumbling at the edges – unusual number of former Tory voters going out of their way to say they wouldn’t ever vote Labour but definitely not Tory any more either – even met some Brexiteers voting Lib Dem as an anti-big party protest. But the Tories too have a core vote which is loyal – I don’t expect a real meltdown.
Palmer sat for Broxtowe between 1997 and 2010.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Iain Sinclair on Van Gogh in London

It's time to join the daddy of psychogeographers, Iain Sinclair, on another walk.

This time, says the blurb on YouTube, he follows Vincent Van Gogh's daily walk to work from his lodgings in Hackford Road, Brixton, to the gallery in Southampton Street, Covent Garden, where he worked as an art dealer.

We go inside the house in Hackford Road, which is currently being restored by Livia Wang of San Mei Gallery.

The film coincides with the Tate Britain exhibition Van Gogh and Britain, which runs until 11 August.

Things are transient: we are more permanent

When you are young you feel the built world around you is permanent and you are ephemeral.

If you are lucky you live long enough to realise that, while you go doggedly on, that world is in flux.

Take the two primary schools I attended in Hemel Hempstead.

I have found a photograph and a drawing of the old Boxmoor school and put them on this blog.

But I have never seen a photograph of Fields End, which was one of celebrated concrete-and-glass schools that Hertfordshire County Council built after the war.

And what does the photograph above, which I took today, have to do with all this?

Not so long ago this would have been dull to me too. It is a scene I see every working day: unremarkable modern rolling stock passing through my local station.

But things have changed.

East Midlands Trains has lost the franchise to operate the St Pancras main line, which means its livery will soon be a thing of the past. Suddenly this train looks interesting,and in 10 years' time it will be far more interesting.

And the track it is one will soon be a thing of the past too, alignment lost under an extended station car park.

At the start of June trains will be calling at the new platforms that are currently taking shape.

GUEST POST Why we need a GCSE in Natural History

Mary Colwell says a GCSE in Natural History could be the first step in a revival of nature in our education system. 

Whenever I listen to Brain of Britain on Radio 4 my sense of inadequacy grows as the programme progresses. I simply don’t know that many facts.

In March, I caught the first heat in the quest to find the greatest knowledge-guru of 2019 and I barely got off the starting blocks. Maybe I could have answered one or two questions given more time, but I can’t recall fast enough. I hugely admire those who have this kind of info sitting in an accessible part of their brain.

Then, one of the questions was on natural history. The question master, Russell Davies, asked, “Daubenton’s, Brandt’s and Leisler’s are three species of which British mammal?” The answers proffered were hedgehog, otter, badger and shrew.

I found this surprising. Brandt’s and Leisler's are not as well-known as Daubenton's, but I was taken aback that not one of the highly intelligent and well-informed contestants guessed, or knew, they were bats. It was equally surprising that they thought there was more than one species of hedgehog, otter and badger in the UK.

This observation is in no way meant to put down the people taking part in the programme, but it did highlight that the names of common British mammals are considered specialist rather than common knowledge.

Why is this so important? Is it simply enough to know there are bats and badgers? Or is it useful to know that there is only one species of badger in the UK, but there are 18 species of bat, 17 of them breeding here? And – is it important to name them?

I think there is a good argument for doing so. When a creature is named it is conferred autonomy while at the same time we affirm its place alongside the rest of the nameable world. If we care enough to name something, we might be more inclined to embrace its existence alongside our own. 

Conferring the dignity of a name allows us to embrace the creature as familiar - the root of empathy. Understanding, familiarity and empathy are essential for a fully-human, holistic and meaningful relationship with the world.

As an example, that flitting shadow seen over the local park lake on a summer night is not just a generic, flapping animal, it is a bat. More than that, it is a Daubenton's bat, a fascinating creature that is sometimes referred to as a ‘water bat’ because it skims over the surface of water bodies feeding on insects flying close to the surface. Sometimes it scoops them up with its large feet.  After one night’s feeding it can increase its body mass by over 50 per cent.

Daubenton’s bats spend the winter in caverns underground, adding further mystery to their nocturnal lives.  A Pipistrelle bat, on the other hand, is our smallest and commonest bat. It is often found in urban settings and the one you are most likely to see in the garden or roosting in your roof. It can live in colonies of over a thousand.

Names matter if we want to add richness to our understanding of the world.

Bats, along with other wildlife, are not just biological specimens. They come marinated, as it were, in folklore and cultural attitudes. We are creative and inventive creatures, we love stories, and have long gazed at the life that accompanies us on our journey on earth and have conjured up all manner of associations.

Bats fly at night, at a time when we find it hard to see. We are easily scared by a flitting, frantic shadow. It is no surprise that bats have been, and still are, connected by our inner fears to death and the mystery of the unknown beyond life. Films about vampires and distressed souls feature bats to add a shock factor tinged with the unknowable.

To see a bat is to observe a flying amalgam of story and scientific fact. The animal that streaks past the streetlight seems to bring forth a range of emotions that enhance our existence.

Names matter, associations matter. Without the ability to look at the natural world around us and be able to name it and give it a place in our cultural lives, we become diminished.

In 2011, I came up with the idea of a GCSE in Natural History. It arose from a realisation that the world is unfamiliar to so many. Although we live here, breathe the air, eat what is grown in the earth and watch programmes that celebrate the natural world, many people know little about their surroundings.

This was not the case 50 years ago. There has been a steady erosion of the rock that kept us stable on the planet - our understanding of nature and our place in it. 

After a couple of attempts to drum up support, including a government petition in 2017, it wasn’t until Caroline Lucas, the Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, contacted me to ask if she could help that the idea was transported into the corridors of power and progress is being made.

A GCSE in Natural History isn’t just a qualification in naming things, it is a course that provides young people with the ability to observe, record and name the planet.

It will teach them to work with the realities of a messy, unpredictable world and be able to use the data they collect. It will require patience and an ability to think outside the box. It will sharpen the senses and broaden horizons. It will require an understanding of biology, geography, maths, English, technology and outdoor pursuits.

It will also, crucially, connect the natural to the cultural world through the relationship between nature and art, music, literature, poetry and digital media. A GCSE in Natural History will bring the nature into the heart of the city, the town and village. It will start to nurture those weakened connections to the living world that have been so eroded through the 20th Century.

If the GCSE is established then the school system will begin to gear up to prepare children through the primary and early secondary years. It may go on to an A Level, and who knows, I’d love to see degrees in Natural History.

The late and very great Aubrey Manning had the esteemed title of Professor of Natural History at Edinburgh University. I’d like to see those positions in every learned establishment.

A GCSE in Natural History is the first step in what I hope will be a revival of nature in our education system.

Mary Colwell is a producer and writer specialising in nature.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Smuggling inevitably follows

The end of another week with Lord Bonkers. I have the feeling that, however things turn out, the old boy will continue to thrive.


You don’t have to be the Wise Woman of Wing to have noticed that the Brexit negotiations are going badly. I have chartered a charabanc to take the villagers on the great march in London, but by the time you read this…

To be candid, I haven’t the faintest idea what will have happened by the time you read this.

As to what Brexit will mean for Rutland, I can foresee only an outbreak of criminality. Where there are borders and tariffs, smuggling inevitably follows. Someone hereabouts will make a great deal of money out of it in the years to come. It’s a good thing I am such a morally upstanding fellow.

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

Earlier this week....

Thursday, April 18, 2019

The man who discovered Little Bowden

I did not feel up to travelling on Saturday, but I wanted to take some photographs. So I explored Market Harborough.

Well, Little Bowden actually - a village that was long ago absorbed by the town. The same thing is in the process of happening to Great Bowden today.

One quirky fact about Little Bowden is that it used to be in Nortbamptonshire.

The border between Northants and Leicestershire used to be the Welland, but by the 1890s there had been enough new building south of the river to annoy the tidy minded.

You can still see, in Northampton Road, what used to be the police station and magistrates court for the part of Market Harborough that was in Northants.

So the border between the counties was moved a mile or two to the south, so the whole of Market Harborough and Little Bowden, my house with them, now lay in Leicestershire.

The same act got rid off the enclaves of one county that were to be found surrounded by another across England. A Wikipedia article on Worcestershire shows just how complicated the picture could be.

Anyway, this is how Little Bowden looks today - not forgetting our new footbridge and a local cat.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Those giant orange diamonds

I have found myself wondering recently whether people holding giant orange diamonds behind Lib Dem notables just look silly. It seems Lord Bonkers agrees with me.


When we do have a new leader, he, or indeed she, will have to something about our membership cards. I admit it makes an impressive photograph when one of our candidates stands in front of a bank of card-carrying members, and you can see a fellow Liberal Democrat coming down the street a mile away.

But are those giant orange diamonds practical? They do take up an awful lot of space on the bus, for instance. Wouldn’t we rather have something you could just slip into your wallet? After all, in these straitened times not everyone has domestic staff to carry his card for him.

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

Earlier this week....

The Lib Dems have already won 11 seats in May's local elections

Good news from an openDemocracy article on wards with only a single nominated candidate in next month's local elections: the Liberal Democrats are guaranteed 11 victories.

The less good news is that there are also 5 seats with just an Independent candidate, 17 with just a Labour candidate and 267 with just a Conservative.

Such non-contests have always been a sad fact of political life in this part of the world, so I am not surprised to learn that the East Midlands has more of them than any other region.

Still, openDemocracy is right to see their existence as a problem:
How did this happen? In England, elections use the ‘first past the post’ system – where all votes that don’t elect the winner are effectively thrown away. Over many decades, areas become effectively single-party fiefdoms – ‘safe seats’ that seem impossible to challenge. We’ve all heard “x party could put a rosette on a donkey and still get in here”. Equally, we’ve all heard: “Your party can’t win here.” 
It turns out, under first past the post, it’s often true – and parties take note, refusing to put resources into ‘unwinnable’ seats. That means whole areas can become electoral wastelands, with voters ignored and denied real choice. 
As we’ve seen this can – at the most extreme – lead to parties not even bothering to contests seats and denying voters even a token say in who represents them. 
This is why today we see we see hundreds of councillors - nearly all Conservatives - measuring the curtains in town halls across the country before polling day has even begun. A sign of just how dysfunctional our electoral system has become.
Later: There may be even more uncontested seats than suggested here.

I am told that in Oadby and Wigson there are three three-member wards with three Lib Dems and only one Conservative standing.

So we are guaranteed six successful candidates before a vote is cast.

Later still. I am also told that there is a seat in Lincolnshire with no candidates at all.