Saturday, July 11, 2020

Little Bowden Crossing signal box, Market Harborough

This box stood on the line from Market Harborough to Northampton and could be found in the former at the junction of Scotland Road and Northampton Road.

It closed with the line in 1981 - I took this photo a year or so before that - but had an afterlife. Today you can find it on the Northampton & Lamport Railway under the name Pitsford and Brampton.

Meanwhile, there is no news on whether Little Bowden Junction box on the Midland main line survived the closure of Coventry's Electric Railway Museum. I fear it did not.

Six of the Best 942

In 2016 Paul Pettinger wrote a Social Liberal Forum paper arguing that centrism doesn't work as a strategy for minor parties.

"The government failed to activate the full network of laboratories at its disposal - within the NHS, as well as in universities and independent research facilities. When the government did finally roll out wider testing, months later, it again bypassed existing labs and set up three, new mega-facilities whose operations - managed by Deloitte under the banner of 'lighthouse laboratories' - have been based on contracting arrangements about which there’s little public disclosure." Rachel Shabi says the British government's response to Covid-19 has been pro-privatisation shock therapy.

Sarah Simons says meritocracy is a myth but education can still open doors.

"Numerous studies have shown the mental and physical benefits of spending time in nature, but for some people, it took a pandemic and stay-at-home orders for that desire to spend more time outdoors to feel like a necessity." Children’s behaviour may suffer from lack of access to outdoor space, argues Meg St-Esprit McKivigan.

Jem Poster examines Richard Jefferies' influence on the poet Edward Thomas.

The lost hills and walkways of Nottingham city centre are explored by David Lowe.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Ed Davey calls for action on pollution of the Wye

Ed Davey's Lib Dem leadership campaign risks being too focused on not upsetting moderate Tory voters in seats in the South of England where we are in second place. But maybe he has found an issue that is dear to my heart.

Powys's County Times reports that last month Ed raised concerns about the pollution of the River Wye in the county in the Commons.

Though its report seems to refer to a written question from Ed, the paper quotes him at length:
"Our natural environment is precious and there is none more precious than Wales’ beautiful River Wye," Sir Ed said in the House of Commons last month.

"I have very fond memories of youth hostelling along the River Wye with school friends and it is a vital resource to both the natural environment and the economy in Wales.

"We clearly need to see an action plan drawn up between Powys County Council and the Welsh and UK Governments that protects this beautiful river, the tourist economy that it sustains and supports the farming community that is helping feed the nation."
Ah well, no man who loves the rivers of the Welsh border can be all bad. And generating local newspaper coverage across the region from a written question is impressive.

Shrubs stolen in Stow-on-the-Wold

This sad story of rural crime, nominated by a reader of Liberal England, wins the Cotswold Journal our Headline of the Day Award.

Thursday, July 09, 2020

Fear in the Furrows: The rise of folk horror

In this BBC documentary Simon Hollis explores the darker underside of the pastoral idyll and the traditions of Folk Horror being revived by a new generation of writers, musicians and filmmakers.

Contributors include fantasy writer Alan Garner, musician and composer Sharron Kraus, writer and filmmaker Adam Scovell, author Ben Myers, field folklorist Jonathan Huet, occult historian Gary Parsons, Piers Haggard the director of The Blood on Satan’s Claw, and Maxine Sanders "Queen of the Witches".

There's even a snatch of Steve Winwood and Traffic.

A poem from Lucy Furlong's The Sward

As well as her guest post Around Tolworth in the footsteps of Richard Jefferies Lucy Furlong sent me one of the poems from her chapbook Sward.

The poem's narrow column echoes the long thin strip of central reservation.

Skin of the Earth

Humans don’t walk here. I see
drivers stare at me through
windshields and wound down
windows as they pass by. One
day a woman and a girl stop to
look at me as I kneel to take a
photo of red clover. They double
take as I double take. A horse
and trap careers across the dual
carriageway at the Jubilee Way
junction – a time warp - a bright
sunny day. I am teetering at the
end of one part of the sward,
waiting to cross – a bride and
groom, resplendently fancy,
billowing clouds of gypsy white
wedding. I see them holding on
to each other, laughing as the
driver races away, and I miss the
shot. But people do inhabit the
sward – if not for long. There is a
tiny path worn across the grass
where lads cross over to play
football. At the end of May there
was a human-sized patch in the
waist-deep grass, where
someone had slept by the lime
tree. Amongst the wildflowers
there is rubbish, probably
thrown from car windows *
achillea * birds foot trefoil * ragwort *
red clover * plastic bottle * buttercup *
speedwell * cigarette packet
* mallow * cigarette butt * dandelion *
 daisy * sweet wrapper * plastic
bottle * plantain * hawkweed *
ragwort * ragwort * plastic bottle *
buttercup * nitrous oxide bottle *
teasel * plastic bottle * bristly ox
tongue * hub cap * crisp packet * plastic *

Berkhamsted to Aylesbury by canal in 1965

This video shows a canal journey from Berkhamsted to Aylesbury in 1965. Note that steam locomotives were still working the West Coast main line that year.

I used to think our first family canal holiday took place that year, but I have a clear memory of hearing Frank Sinatra's Strangers in the Night playing on a taxi radio at Oxford station at the end of the trip and that dates it to 1966.

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Layla Moran: I think we should be leading with things that are a bit more bread-and-butter

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Layla Moran has given a major interview to Matt Withers of the New European in which she attempts to sweep away the characterisation of her coming from Ed Davey's camp.

Think of the unworthy "We don’t need to lecture the electorate about what they ought to think" from Tim Farron.

Or as Withers puts it:
Moran is also eager to dispel some of the murmurings among those backing Davey that she will be a "woke warrior" - my words, not hers - focusing on trans rights and statues, important issues but rarely those which come up on the doorstep.
So Layla says:
"I think we need to major on the things that matter to the broadest number of people, and you’ll notice in my three pillars of education, the environment and the economy, that’s what I’ve chosen to really focus on," she says.

"But that doesn’t mean that we give up on those important progressive issues. And the Lib Dems have always been at the forefront of that bit of society - you know, we were one of the first ones who spoke about equal marriage."

"I don’t think we should concede that ground. But I think there has been a perception that that’s all the party talks about. And I think we should be leading with things that are a bit more bread-and-butter."
And that sounds very like Ed Davey something might have said. Which suggests we may not hear a lot about policy differences in this Lib Dem leadership election - but then we usually don't.

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

The recent career of Ryan Coetzee

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You remember Ryan Coetzee. He was Nick Clegg's special adviser and then director of strategy for the Liberal Democrats' 2015 general election campaign.

That was the campaign that saw the party reduced from 57 MPs to eight.

Nothing daunted, he then served as director of strategy for Stronger In, the official pro-remain campaign in the EU referendum.

After that, he went a bit quiet.

But today's Guardian brings us up to date with his career:
Hong Kong has turned to the former director of strategy of the UK remain campaign in the Brexit referendum to revive its reputation, amid further scrutiny of the role played by London-based political operatives that advise overseas governments.

The Hong Kong government awarded a £5m public relations contract to the Mayfair-headquartered Consulum as part of its Relaunch Hong Kong campaign, shortly before Beijing introduced a new security law designed to crush pro-democracy protests in the territory.

The Guardian understands the Hong Kong account is being led by Ryan Coetzee, who was employed on the unsuccessful 2016 remain campaign.
The paper also tells us:
Following his unsuccessful role trying to convince Britons to remain in the European Union, Coetzee joined Consulum where he continues to be heavily involved in projects to rehabilitate the overseas reputation of Saudi Arabia. These efforts were derailed in the international media by the 2018 murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The current Lib Dem leadership is much concerned with whether we should defend or disown our years in coalition with the Conservatives.

This is odd, because I doubt that voters in 2025 will be much interested in a Lib Dem defence of what we did ten or 15 years before.

But Coetzee's later career, like Nick Clegg's journey from pledging to go to jail rather than carry an identity card to becoming the front man for the data harvesters of Seattle, does not make one warm to those who were in positions of power in the party during the coalition years.

It was 50 years ago today: John Barleycorn Must Die

Well, 50 years ago this month, because I have seen various release dates quoted for Traffic's LP John Barleycorn Must Die.

It began as a Steve Winwood solo album, but he soon decided he needed to get the gang together.

The critics like it:
"Winwood. Traffic. Here is some group," raved Circus magazine, when the group reconvened for the John Barleycorn Must Die album. "There is no better,” drooled their reviewer Jonathan Eisen. “It is not Cream or Blind Faith. It is not Miles Davis. It is not The Beatles. It is not the Traffic of yore. It is merely the best, the quintessence of what rock is, what it could be."
Here is the title track. Mainly Norolk discusses the recent history of this folk song - Steve Winwood got his version from the Watersons.

Reader's voice: I thought this was meant to be a political blog. Three of your last five posts have been music videos.

Liberal England replies: Chill daddio.

Monday, July 06, 2020

Farewell Ennio Morricone

I have just seen a clip of Morricone saying his music for spaghetti westerns was not his best work, but I still think this is wonderful.

Six of the Best 941

Melissa Black argues that our system for diagnosing mental disorders doesn’t work and offers a humane, clinically sound alternative,

"'Build build build; is the wrong starting point. Planning is dominated by a target of building 300,000 homes each year, and the prime minister’s rhetoric reinforces that narrative. But one simple quantity metric on housing is dangerous and limiting when planning encompasses so much more." Alister Scott calls for any changes to the planning system to take account of the full range of problems we face.

Should the Guardian be accepting a subsidy from this government? asks Brain Cathcart.

Jonn Elledge reveals that the rise of outdoor socialising has exposed a previously hidden problem: the UK has privatised its toilets. 

"Take Hold My Hand for example. Three pitch-perfect harmonies, a driving percussive section and a palette of colourful guitars and the result is a pop song that stands nicely with many of the tracks Badfinger, ELO and, even, Wings released around the same time." Eoghan Lyng says 1978's 'The Rutles' album is a classic in its own right.

Stuart Broad is not guaranteed a start in Wednesday's first test, but Sam Morshead offers seven reasons why we should love him.

Sunday, July 05, 2020

Are we a party for pubgoers or for curtain-twitchers?

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Ed Davey has written to Kent Police asking them to investigate whether Nigel Farage has breached quarantine rules.

Farage was, inevitably, photographed going for a pint yesterday morning and it is not clear that he had completed his 14 days before he did so.

Davey told the Mirror:
"It is clear from his social media posts that he was in American (sic) on June 20th, and he was pictured at a Trump Rally that evening. 
"Given the current requirements for visitors returning to the UK to isolate for 14 full days on their return, Nigel Farage appears to be in violation of the quarantine.

"It is a responsibility of everyone to take the lockdown requirements seriously in order to stop the spread of the virus. By choosing to go to the pub when it appears he should have been staying at home, Mr Farage is showing a flagrant disregard for the safety of people in his community.

"I have written to Kent Police asking them to urgently investigate the timeline of Mr Farage's travel and ascertain whether he has breached quarantine rules."
I suspect it will turn out that Kent Police have better things with its time. If Farage had not completed his full fortnight then he had very nearly done so, and drinking alone in a pub does not present much of a risk to anyone.

We Lib Dems must be wary of playing along with the government narrative that is taking shape. It will tell us it did all it could in the Covid-19 pandemic, but the people just wouldn't cooperate.

And this narrative will then be used by the Tories as an excuse to bring in some pet repressive Tory measure supposed to make the population more biddable.

Rather than make this process easier, we should be emphasising the economic and social reforms needed to slow the spread of the virus.

I can see that Ed's letter may appeal to Lib Dem members - and he has a good reason for wanting to appeal to them at present - but I wonder how it will play with the wider population.

Despite his outings to Dover, it will be hard to make the charge of hypocrisy stick on Farage. He had no part in framing the regulations he appears to have bent.

So people may be left with the impression that Ed is just out to cause trouble for a political opponent. And that may not play well at all.

One of the unlovely things about the early days of lockdown was the readiness to report their neighbours for supposed breaches of the regulations. Remember the outrage by people sunbathing in the park?

I never warmed to the New Labour project precisely because it sought to appeal to this curtain-twitching tendency in British society and I don't want to see the Liberal Democrats appealing to it now.

My sympathies are with the pubgoers, even if one of them is the odious Nigel Farage. And I suspect this is true of many other voters.

Wizzard: See My Baby Jive

Posting a snippet about The Move the other day put me in mind of Roy Wood and his later band Wizzard.

I used to be a little embarrassed that I had liked them so much when I was 13, but no more.

Because Roy Wood is a genius and the first three Wizzard singles - Ballpark Incident, See My Baby Jive, Angel Fingers (the last two topped that charts - were superb.

So here is the second of them with no embarrassment at all. Viewing the video today, with its teddy boys and gorillas, I can see the influence of the Bonzos,

Saturday, July 04, 2020

The remains of the Snailbeach District Railways

My photograph was taken at the old lead mine at Snailbeach in Shropshire and shows the remains of the Snailbeach District Railways.

This line ran from the mine to transshipment sidings near Pontesbury, which was on the GWR branch to Minsterley.

The line to the mine had ceased working by 1947 and its three locomotives were cut up there in 1950. It continued to serve a quarry nearer Pontesbury until 1961, but latterly a tractor was used as motive power on uphill journeys.

Covid-19 spike turns eyes to Leicester's garment trade

The surge in the number of people in Leicester with Covid-19 has drawn fresh attention to the city's garment manufacturers.

In his United Kingdom Labour Market Enforcement Strategy 2018/19 David Metcalf, the government's director of labour market enforcement, wrote of an:
unenviable reputation for lack of compliance, both with labour market regulations and others such as health and safety, payment of tax, etc. This has been highlighted a number of times in the national press, and raises questions of why this has not been more proactively tackled by the enforcement agencies.
Now the campaign group Labour Behind the Label has produced a report on the links between these poor working conditions and Covid-19:
Emerging evidence indicates that conditions in Leicester’s factories, primarily producing for Boohoo, are putting workers at risk of COVID-19 infections and fatalities. 
Factories in Leicester are no stranger to illegal working conditions, with numerous reports over the years showing low pay – as little as £3 – and blatant intimidation of vulnerable workers. Now however, emerging evidence indicates that conditions in Leicester’s factories, primarily producing for Boohoo, are putting workers at risk of COVID-19 infection and fatality as some factories have remained open for production during the lockdown, whilst others are now re-opening. 
The Financial Times has a long article on the problem by Sarah O'Connor, in which she interviews David Metcalfe:
Metcalf tells me the UK government enforces labour law too lightly overall: "The amazing thing is how many firms comply, because you haven’t got enough enforcement resources and the fines are too low." 
He says the average employer can expect an HMRC inspection once every 500 years, based on current statistics. 
He has recommended higher fines and new "joint responsibility" rules, where companies would be named if they failed to sort out non-compliance in their supply base.
Until the government takes action on this culture of noncompliance, things will not improve in Leicester or anywhere else.

Friday, July 03, 2020

The lost stations of Oxford

"If it could only be like this always - always summer, always alone, the fruit always ripe and Aloysius in a good temper."
Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited

GUEST POST Around Tolworth in the footsteps of Richard Jefferies

Lucy Furlong explains the genesis of her recent chapbook Sward.

Published by Sampson Low, Sward: Skin of the Earth is the product of my last walking and writing project centred around Tolworth (for now). Six months plus of walking up and down the central reservation of the A240 from Tolworth Roundabout to the end of the Royal Borough of Kingston Upon Thames and the boundary with Surrey. 

Sward was a performative series of radical walks, of reclamation and acknowledgement that this central reservation, a slim strip of grass, trees, and in some places cracked pavement, concrete and detritus, is a 'place' all of its own. 

It is important as part of the local distinctiveness of Tolworth and should be valued and recognised as such. Additionally, it is an important nature corridor, inhabited by small mammals, birds, insects and pollinators, which allows them to find a way from one side of the road to the other, as well as mitigating air pollution. 

My family has lived in Tolworth for generations, enjoying its wild, green spaces, lesser-known and recognised than the famous brutalist Tolworth Tower and congested roundabout, but substantially more significant and historically important than either. 

All of these green spaces, including the Hogsmill River at Malden Manor, where the Pre-Raphaelite artist John Everett Millais painted the backdrop to Ophelia (Tate Britain’s most popular painting) and Tolworth Court Farm Fields, the borough’s largest protected nature reserve with rare butterflies and wild deer, are all coming under threat from development and pollution.

I was inspired by the Victorian nature writer Richard Jefferies, who lived in Tolworth from 1877 to 1882, and wrote about it in his most famous book of essays, Nature Near London. His use of the word ‘sward’ in his writings gave me the name for this project and a way of linking my very contemporary form of walking and observing with his extensive walks around Tolworth and its environs, which are beautifully evoked in his essays.

Lucy Furlong (right) with Alison Fure and 'Richard Jefferies'. Photo: Paul Atkindon

My Sward project came six months after Alison Fure and I completed our Tolworth Treasure and the Hogsmill Hum series of public walks and writing workshops around Tolworth’s open green spaces and along the Hogsmill River, which is a rare chalk stream. 

A highlight of this was our walk ‘In Richard Jefferies Footsteps’ which attracted about 40 people on a blazing May bank holiday Monday in May 2018, and was recorded for the Radio 4 programme, Women Who Walk. This was part of the Art of Now series, a programme exploring the work of women walking artists. 

Sward was officially launched on 8 February this year at the Poets for the Planet all-day fundraising event, Verse Aid, which was held at the Society of Authors in London. As well as reading poems from Sward, I led two workshops exploring the themes of Sward: walking, writing about and valuing local wild spaces and a look at the work of Richard Jefferies. 

If you would like a copy of Sward you can buy one online. For more information on Tolworth Treasure and the Hogsmill Hum follow TolworthTreasure on Twitter  

Lucy Furlong is a writer, poet and walking artist whose work has been published widely, exhibited nationally and broadcast on BBC Radio 4. Her poetry map Amniotic City was featured in The Guardian and poetry from her Over the Fields map is taught as part of the Open University MA in Creative Writing. She recently moved to Wexford, Ireland. Follow her on Twitter.

Thursday, July 02, 2020

How David Bowie inspired the formation of The Move

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I was exploring the excellent Brumbeat site the other day when I came across this gem on the page for The Move:
A band from London called "Davy Jones and The Lower Third" were performing one evening in Birmingham at the trendy Cedar Club on Constitution Hill. Their vocalist Davy Jones (later known as David Bowie) suggested to Trevor Burton and Ace Kefford that they should form their own group. 
Ace Kefford recalled; "Trev and I were there one night and Davy Jones and The Lower Third was on. They were like The Who with target jumpers, hipster trousers, doing stuff like 'Heatwave' and 'Needle In A Haystack'. Chatting afterwards, David put the notion in our heads of forming our own band. 
We approached Roy Wood who was already singing that sort of stuff with The Nightriders. I had a similar spot in The Vikings doing 'Jump Back' and 'Every Little Bit Hurts', trying to copy Stevie Winwood like everyone else."

Six of the Best 940

"In a move that suggests its back to business as usual punishing people on benefits, a three-month suspension of sanctions introduced in response to the Coronavirus pandemic is coming to an abrupt halt." Mary O'Hara on the swift return of the blame and shame narrative to the benefits system.

Writing in the New York Times, Alex Marshall has noticed the British government's unwillingness to help the arts sector survive lockdown.

Anita Sethi says the joys of nature can seem out of reach if your class, ethnicity or access to transport make the countryside a no-go zone.

"On the brink of adulthood - not knowing where I would study, where I might live, what men I would love, whether I would have children - I felt that everything I might need to know about marriage, about love, about life itself, was encompassed in the novel’s eight hundred and fifty pages." Rebecca Mead has a lifelong love for George Eliot's Middlemarch.

Carl Reiner died this week. Earlier this year Hadley Freeman spoke to him and Mel Brooks about their 70-year friendship.

Ka Bradley reviews the cats in her garden: "A muscular, convincing performer brimming with debonair, Blinky's feints at songbirds and his occasional brawls with the foxes are heralded by the tinkle of his collar – which he has been given, my plus one assures me, for being 'extra naughty'."

Putin's grandfather cooked for Lenin and Stalin

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Our Trivial Fact of the Day is a doozy. Vladimir Putin's paternal grandfather cook for both Lenin and Stalin at a Moscow dacha.

You can find it in a Reuters story from 2018. The Wikipedia entry for Putin tells the same story, referencing Victor Sebestyen's Lenin the Dictator.

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

The legacy of Saxon Leicestershire

Time for the third of Jim Butler's Hidden Histories videos.

This one explores the legacy of Saxon Leicestershire, through archaeological finds, place names and the lives of two remarkable ladies of Mercia.

Whatever happened to Little Bowden Junction signal box?

My photo, taken in 1980 or thereabouts, shows Little Bowden Junction signal box in Market Harborough.

It stood on the Midland main line until the major resignalling project of 1987. That, however, was not the end of its story. 

The box was taken down and re-erected at the Coventry Steam Railway Centre, which later became the Electric Railway Museum.

This closed in 2017 when the city council declined to renew its lease because the site was wanted for redevelopment.

I have found reports that  at least some of the locomotive and rolling stock found homes elsewhere, but nothing about Little Bowden Junction box.

Does anyone know what happened to it?

Man's hell as special trip out for fish turns into parking nightmare

PlymouthLive wins our Headline of the Day Award.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Ed Davey and Layla Moran: It's déjà vu all over again

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Calder's Sixth Law of Politics holds that all Lib Dem leadership elections are reruns of the Liberal Party leadership conetest between David Steel and John Pardoe in 1976

As I once blogged:
You could argue that the 1976 contest set a pattern for later Liberal and Liberal Democrat leadership elections.

One candidate (Steel) was orthodox, sensible and just a little dull. The other (Pardoe) was more charismatic, more open to new ideas and just a little unreliable in his judgement.

So in later contests Paddy Ashdown was a Pardoe and Alan Beith was a Steel. And Chris Huhne was a Pardoe and Ming Campbell and then Nick Clegg were Steels.
Not all contests have obeyed my law as clearly, but this time it is spot on. It's clear that Ed Davey is the Steel and Layla Moran is the Pardoe.

For me, Ed is being a bit too much of a Steel for his own good, but I shall not be declaring my support for either candidate until I have seen more of the campaign. I have urged the same course of action on other Lib Dem members.

In case you are curious, you can find all seven of my Laws of Politics in a recent post on this blog.

The often forgotten tale of the Peaks

This video tells the story of British Rail's class 44, 45 and 46 diesel locomotives.

The 45s looked after passenger services on the Midland main line in the years when there was a real possibility that St Pancras would be demolished and the video tell that story too.

Haringey Lib Dems call for Britain's first Indian MP to be celebrated

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Sir Dadabhai Naoroji, Liberal MP for Finsbury Central between 1892 and 1895, was the first Indian and non-white person elected to the House of Commons.

Now Haringey's Liberal Democrat councillors are calling for a park, school or main road in Muswell Hill to be renamed in his honour or for a statue or plaque to be erected to commemorate him.

Cllr Julia Ogiehor, Lib Dem councillor for Muswell Hill, says:
"By remembering that Victorian voters were willing to choose an Indian campaigner against the Empire as their MP, we are remembering that whilst racism has a long history, so too does anti-racism."
The councillors have set up a petition to gather support for their call.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Six of the Best 939

"I have reported on British politics for almost three decades, and have never encountered a senior British politician who lies, cheats and fabricates as habitually or systematically - or with as much inventive relish - as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson." Peter Oborne says we are now in the same family of nations as Putin’s Russia, Modi's India, Sisi’s Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Jennifer Williams writes on the plight of homeless families in bed and breakfast accommodation under lockdown.

Jack Flemming was not impressed by his encounter with Britain's Covid-19 testing system.

"I was playing in a Minor Counties match when one of the opposition - a guy who had just retired after a first-class career - kept asking me if I had any bananas in my bag. I asked what he meant and all his team-mates laughed." In a series of interviews, George Dobell discovers what it has been like to be a black player in English cricket.

Jane Dunford hopes the Slow Ways network will change walking in Britain.

Jem Aswad watches a new documentary on the death of the Rolling Stones' Brian Jones.

Leicester schools closed for at least two weeks

Matt Hancock has just made a Commons statement announcing measures to combat the spike in Covid-19 infections detected in Leicester.

Non-essential shops will close again for at least the next fortnight and school will be closed again, except for vulnerable children and those of critical workers.

The measures cover not just the city of Leicester but also surrounding settlements including Oadby, Birstall and Glenfield.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Should we publish daily totals of the number of nominations Lib Dem leadership candidates have amassed?

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What do the Liberal Democrats need from the current leadership election?

I’d say it’s, above all, a good debate about the future of the party between candidates who offer clear and contrasting visions for it. We also need to see how those candidates perform in debate and when faced with difficult questions.

Well, we have two candidates with contrasting visions, but will we have the debate? At present the party is encouraging people to nominate one of the candidates by publishing running totals every afternoon.

So, of course, the two camps are doing all they can to encourage Lib Dem members to nominate their candidate. As both are a long way past the 200 nominations they need, this seems to me unfortunate.

Because it means the campaign will open with a significant percentage of the electorate already having committed themselves. Of course people can change their minds, but committing yourself in this way makes it less likely that you will do so.

Which leaves the danger that the campaign will become more about cheering your candidate on and less about the future of the party.

That may sound too idealistic, but we need to do some hard thinking because it's by no means guaranteed that this party has a future.

But then I always seem to be disappointed by our leadership elections.

Before the last contest (which turned out to be a coronation) I wrote a post under the title Forget “the Lib Dem family”: Let’shave proper leadership elections itemising how previous contests, from John Pardoe’s wig to Tim Farron’s religion, had failed to live up to my hopes and concluding:

It looks to me as though we Lib Dems are too scared of rocking the boat to have really informative leadership elections.

Some like to talk of the “Lib Dem family,” but in my experience happy families are those that can have lively discussions, even rows, and make their peace afterwards.

We Lib Dems, by contrast, resemble an unhappy family where everyone is sat around the dining table on their best behaviour and terrified of saying the wrong thing.

Bizarre report of 50 people with suitcases in Ardingly

The judges were unanimous: today's Headline of the Day Award goes to The Argus.

In addition, they are well aware that the Great Central went nowhere near Ardingly, but they liked this photo.

Joan Armatrading: Me Myself I

A woman singer-songwriter who has enjoyed a 40-year career? That's unusual. 

 A Black British woman singer-songwriter who has enjoyed a 40-year career? That must be unique. 

 Joan Armatrading is one of those artists who has been there for as long as I have been interested in music. And for that reason it is easy to forget what an unusual career she has had.
I stand by what I wrote when I chose her Willow, except that she has now enjoyed a 50-year career. 

Me Myself I was a single taker from her 1980 LP of the same name.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Local lockdown for Leicester?

Robert Peston suggests that the first local Covid-19 lockdown could be imposed within days and that it may well be in Leicester.
He notes that there has been a surge in cases there, with 658 reported in the fortnight to 16 June.

Peston writes:
New data on the prevalence of the virus in the area has been delivered to Leicester's mayor Sir Peter Soulsby, according to the LeicesterLive website, and he said his officials were analysing the data over the weekend. 
I am told that the data does not yet show that a full lockdown is required. 
A senior official said: ‘It would need to be driven by the data and we’re not at that stage right now. We are very actively managing [this] and analysing it at the moment. Time will tell.’
Outbreaks of Vovid-19 have been reported at the Samworth Bros sandwich factory in the city and at a Sainsbury's superstore. Five Leicester schools have been closed because of the virus..

Tory MP for Harborough blocks local Labour Party on Twitter

The Harborough Labour Twitter accounts says it has been blocked by Neil O'Brien MP.

You may say nothing that happens on Twitter matters very much, but I think this is a shame.

Democratically elected politicians should be prepared to talk to people from other parties.

Dracula’s links to Aberdeenshire strengthened after church renovation discovery

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The Scotsman wins out Headline of the Day Award.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Six of the Best 938

Philippe Sands sees the British government still defending our colonial legacy: "Five decades on, many former residents of the Chagos Archipelago still wished to go home, supported by Mauritius, many other African countries, and much of the world besides. This was one of the purposes of the resolution before the General Assembly—and it was, of course, precisely such a matter as the United Nations was created to address."

"If you use a piece of data as a target or as a box that must be ticked, then the data will become inaccurate. That's Goodhart's Law." David Boyle introduces us to an important concept.

Boak and Bailey give their initial thoughts on the guidance for reopening pubs.

Flickering Lamps watches airships over London - in war and peace.

"Tony Benn, who was a cousin, spoke of her as a genial companion and produced a photo for a BBC documentary of the two of them sitting in deck chairs on a beach. He said she was exactly the same on screen and off." Jack Buckley says Margaret Rutherford was a gift from the gods.

Backwatersman shares my affection for Vic Marks: "His estimate of his Test career may be accurate rather than merely self-deprecating, but his one-day bowling (which he rather underplays) entitled him to respect (both his average and economy rates were superior to his England contemporaries Emburey, Miller and Hemmings)."

Article 39 wins right to challenge reduction in protection of children in care

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
The High Court has granted the children’s rights charity Article 39 a judicial review of the Department for Education’s removal and dilution of legal protections for children in care.

These changes were announced overnight in April with the Covid-19 pandemic given as the reason, yet DfE has been trying to bring in some of these changes for several years.

Given the seriousness of the changes and the vulnerability of the affected children, Article 39 asked the court for the case to be expedited. This was also agreed by the court, and the  hearing will take place on 27 and 28 July.

Carolyne Willow, the charity's director, told the Independent:
"We know from past tragedies that too often children’s suffering goes hidden until it is too late and the harm has been done.

"Before the pandemic, at least half of local authorities were struggling to meet their statutory children’s social care duties – as judged by Ofsted – and councils have been saying for years that they are desperate for funds.

"Ministers should have been focused on ensuring local authorities had the financial support they needed to keep children in care safe and protected, rather than dismantling safeguards."
One requirement lifted – for a six-monthly review of a child’s care – dates from the death of 12-year-old Dennis O'Neill at a farm in Shropshire in 1945.

Boris Johnson offers a devastating analysis of Boris Johnson


Thursday, June 25, 2020

Michael Mullaney on fighting for a Liberal Midlands

In this edition of the Lib Dem Podcast Leicestershire's own Michael Mullaney talks about the new group Lib Dems for the Heart of England. It has been set up to revive the party's fortunes in the Midlands.

You can read more from Michael on the group and the battle to revive the party beyond the South of England in his guest post on this blog.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

London's hidden hamlet of Snaresbrook

It's high time we had another walk with John Rogers. He describes it on YouTube like this:
A walk through the lost Hamlet of Snaresbrook on the edge of Epping Forest, now a part of the parish of Wanstead in the London Borough of Redbridge. We cross Leyton Flats to the Eagle Pond and look at the Eagle Pub. Here we see a section of the Sayers Brook or Sayes Brook that gives Snaresbrook its name. We also see Snaresbrook Crown Court which was built in 1841 as the Infant Orphan Asylum. 
From here we walk along Woodford Road to look at the modernist wonder of Hermitage Court before walking down Eagle Lane to Falcon Close. I ponder upon the idea of Hauntology, a term first used by Jacques Derrida but popularised by Mark Fisher particularly in relation to music culture. Fisher spoke of "the failure of the 21st Century to really arrive" and how in the 21st Century "culture floating free from time" .  I wonder whether the modernist architecture of Hermitage Court is another example of a "lost future". 
From Falcon Way we look at the Merchant Seaman's Orphan Asylum on Hermon Hill built in 1861, then walk down Cranbourne Avenue to Elmcroft Avenue where we enter the Roding Valley Park. We explore the wonderful parkland beside the North Circular Road and River Roding as far as Charlie Brown's Roundabout and then turn up Chigwell Road to Hermon Hill. Our walk ends at Holy Trinity Church, South Woodford. 
Psychogeography keeps you fit.

Sherlock Holmes on the dangers of the countryside

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I used to run a second blog called Serendib, which I jotted down striking passages from books I was reading.

Maybe I didn't read enough books, because the blog did not last.

But if I were still running it I would have added this passage from Conan Doyle's story The Adventure of the Copper Beeches.
"Do you know, Watson," said he, "that it is one of the curses of a mind with a turn like mine that I must look at everything with reference to my own special subject. You look at these scattered houses, and you are impressed by their beauty. I look at them, and the only thought which comes to me is a feeling of their isolation and of the impunity with which crime may be committed there."

"Good heavens!” I cried. “Who would associate crime with these dear old homesteads?"

"They always fill me with a certain horror. It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside."

"You horrify me!"

"But the reason is very obvious. The pressure of public opinion can do in the town what the law cannot accomplish. There is no lane so vile that the scream of a tortured child, or the thud of a drunkard’s blow, does not beget sympathy and indignation among the neighbours, and then the whole machinery of justice is ever so close that a word of complaint can set it going, and there is but a step between the crime and the dock. But look at these lonely houses, each in its own fields, filled for the most part with poor ignorant folk who know little of the law. Think of the deeds of hellish cruelty, the hidden wickedness which may go on, year in, year out, in such places, and none the wiser."

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

A snapshot of forgotten post-war railway history

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Browsing railway photographs on GettyImages, as you do, I came across this. Taken at Bristol Temple Meads in May 1952, it shows a locomotive with a remarkable history.

British Rail 18100 was a prototype gas turbine-electric locomotive commissioned by the Great Western Railway in the 1940s but not delivered until 1951. It spent its working life hauling express passenger services on BR's Western Region.

In 1958 it was withdrawn from service to be converted into an electric locomotive, numbered E1000 (E2001 from 1959), and was then used for testing and staff training in connection with the electrification of the West Coast main line.

It was put into store at the end of 1961, but lasted until November 1972 when it was cut up for scrap.

Six of the Best 937

Nick Barlow looks at the Liberal Democrats and 'equidistance': "The Liberal Democrats of 2020 are in the same position with regard to the election of 2024 (or whenever) and I can’t foresee a situation in which you could credibly claim the Tories of Johnson (or his successor) and Starmer’s Labour are two sides of the same coin."

"For what, in the end, does a social safety net do? It allows us greater control and agency over our lives. It allows us to stay home and take care of our health, rather than go to work in a crowded factory. It allows us to obtain economic freedom from a violent marriage. In doing all these things, it allows human diversity to flourish." Jonathan Cohen says "individual freedom vs public health" is a false dilemma in the Covid-19 era.

Lenore Skenazy discusses the importance of play, working through fears, and raising independent kids with the psychologist Peter Gray in the first Supervision Not Required podcast.

"Of all those who sing and have sung the ancient Cotswold tracks, however, no voice is more poignant than the pastoral composer and poet, Ivor Gurney." Anne Louise Avery takes to the Cotswold Way.

"Despite the cumulative formative hours spent muttering and groaning alongside my brothers and sisters, on pavements outside countless cold, dusty and child-unfriendly secondhand bookshops; often peering in through uncleaned windows in forlorn hope of catching sight of Mum or Dad beating a retreat, having at last exhausted their capacity for browsing,  I love second-hand bookshops." Richly Evocative on being the child of two secondhand book dealers.

Jarvis Cocker talks about his new project, why prehistoric cave dwellers were the world's first ravers, and why he's uncomfortable being called a 'National Treasure'.

Wera Hobhouse drops out of Lib Dem leadership race and backs Layla Moran

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Stephen Bush writes on the New Statesman site:
Wera Hobhouse has ended her campaign for the Liberal Democrat leadership and has thrown her weight behind Layla Moran, cementing the Oxford West and Abingdon MP’s status as the candidate to beat.

In a statement to her supporters, the Bath MP said that “we must accept that we are no longer the best vehicle” to deliver her aims of “pulling our party firmly to the centre-left, rebuilding our local government base, securing a progressive alliance, and moving effort and resources to our regions”.

In a coded rebuke to Ed Davey, the party’s deputy leader, MP for Kingston, and Moran’s sole rival for the leadership, Hobhouse warned against becoming a "London-centric" party. Moran described herself as "delighted" to have received Hobhouse’s endorsement.
I am not sure those who fear a London-centric party will see an Oxford-based leader as a huge bonus. In recent days I have seen people noting that the launch of Layla's Build Back Better document featured speakers from London, Oxford and Cambridge - and nowhere else.

And I suspect Wera's campaign was damaged by a rather less coded rebuke to Ed Davey the other day.

Still, this must be a boost for Layla even if it is odd for a party that worships the single transferable vote to end up with just two candidates.

Me? I voted for Ed last time but am definitely Layla curious. She is the Pardoe in this contest, after all.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Sapperton Tunnel on the Thames and Severn Canal

The most substantial engineering work on the Thames and Severn Canal was Sapperton Tunnel, which is 2.17 miles (3.49km) in length.

This video examines the tunnel and its rather perilous remains. The unfenced shafts remind me of the remains of the lead mining industry in Shropshire when I first explored them more than 30 years ago.

Cotswold Canals in Pictures has an informative page on the tunnel, which says the last commercial traffic to use the tunnel did so in May 1911.

It also says:
The restoration of Sapperton Tunnel is entirely feasible from an engineering standpoint. As might be expected though, this will be the most complex and expensive single element of the Thames and Severn Canal restoration.

Write a guest post for Liberal England

Do you want to have your say on the Liberal Democrat leadership election or the future of the party?

This is a reminder that I welcome guest posts on Liberal England.

As you can see from this list of the 10 most recent guests posts, I am happy to consider a wide range of subjects beyond the Lib Dems

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

The Thirsk MP killed by a turnip who took the seat from a man who thought he was a bird

The Northern Echo wins our Headline of the Day Award.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Witchfinder General was partly set in Market Harborough

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The budget for Michael Reeves 1968 film did not run to showing the Battle of Naseby, but Witchfinder General does include a scene set immediately after the battle where the hero Richard Marshall meets Patrick Wymark's Oliver Cromwell.

And where was Cromwell staying immediately after the battle? At the Bell Inn, Market Harborough

It used to occupy the corner where the Coventry Road leaves The Square.

Rickie Lee Jones: Chuck E.'s in Love

A Los Angeles Times article last year said of Rickie Lee Jones:
Forty years ago, in the spring of 1979, her self-titled debut made a splash: a best new artist Grammy along with a handful of other nominations, No. 3 on the Billboard 200 albums chart and top 10 on the Hot 100 for the single "Chuck E.’s in Love," and the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.
"Pirates," the 1981 follow-up, did well too (both were reissued on vinyl this year). But Jones followed her ear and wound up in and out of critical and market favor as she chased new information: electronic experiments, pop and jazz covers, spiritual folk, building an eclectic catalog that has, over 20-odd albums and 40 years, never failed to keep people guessing.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

A Shropshire signpost

You will find this opposite what used to be the post office at Shelve on the Shrewsbury to Bishop's Castle road.

Friday, June 19, 2020

George Sanders and John Cleese: The Best House in London

It had a script by Denis Norden and a remarkable cast - in this brief clip you see George Sanders with John Cleese and David Hemmings with Willie Rushton - but the critics were not kind to The Best House in London, Roger Ebert gave it one star.

According to Hemmings' memoirs he offered to play both lead roles so he could cross two films off his contractual obligation to MGM.

Anyway, this clip is fun, not least because of those unexpected juxtapositions. It may be worth pointing out that The Best House in London appeared the year after Carry On Up the Khyber.

Six of the Best 936

"It’s good to see people in the Liberal Democrats actually wanting to have discussions about ideas and approaches to politics and acknowledging that we need to have this sort of debate." Nick Barlow offers his first thoughts on Build Back Better.

James Gilmour calls for the reunification of the Social Democratic and Liberal traditions in British politics.

Mary Reid has been thinking about the way she was taught history: "I was denied any understanding of the importance of prime sources, or of historical method, and I didn’t appreciate that records were always created by the literate elite."

"The most radical aspects of Rousseau’s programme - and the most profound philosophical questions that it addresses about the nature of human freedom and happiness - have largely been excluded from the practical business of education." Rousseau’s child-centred ideals are now commonplace but, says James Brooke-Smith, his truly radical vision of educational freedom still eludes us.

Zehra Zaidi tells a story of interracial love in 18th-century Wales.

"As with declaring half an hour prior to the close of play, promoting a nightwatchman provokes another game within a game with subplots and multi-layered nuances." Yahoo over Cow Corner celebrates the intricacies of multi-day cricket.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Can cats help tackle loneliness?

A new report from the all-party parliamentary group on cats calls for more research into the role that cat ownership can play in combating loneliness.

It makes these recommendations:
  • a pilot of cat ownership and interaction within a social prescribing context
  • improvements to the evidence base
  • enabling renters to own or foster a cat more easily
  • provision of information and advice about responsible cat ownership and its benefits
  • cats to be incorporated into health assessments and personalised care plans
All good ideas, but you have to choose the right cat. I have known some that would do absolutely nothing for your self-esteem.

Layla Moran publishes Build Back Better

The Guardian is getting excited about the new Liberal Democrat publication Build Back Better:
The Liberal Democrats could take a decisive shift to the centre left, shedding the final legacies from the party’s period in coalition, under a new review of policy ideas overseen by leadership hopeful Layla Moran.

A new booklet, Build Back Better, edited by the MP, is billed as a modern equivalent to the Orange Book, a 2004 collection of essays from Lib Dem figures – including the former leaders Nick Clegg and Vince Cable, and former cabinet minister David Laws – which pushed the party towards a centre-right, markets-based stance.

In contrast, Build Back Better, with contributions from more than 40 Lib Dem MPs, members and supporters, includes essays advocating ideas such as a universal basic income, free broadband, and commandeering private health resources to clear a backlog of NHS operations caused by coronavirus.

I always suspect those who attribute such influence to the Orange Book have not read it.

Still its good to see leading members of the party trying to get to grips with the problems we face today and good to see the Guardian covering us.

You can download Build Back Better from Layla Moran's website.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Rails to Wick and Thurso in 1964

Some lovely footage of the line north from Dingwall to Wick and Thurso in 1964.

And I commend the reopening of Salzcraggie station to the excellent Jamie Stone (Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) as a vote-winning campaign.

Note the post bus at Lairg. An article on Messy Nessy tells you about this lost means of rural transport.

So farewell then Willie Thorne

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Goodbye to a great Leicester sportsman. 

In the days when Leicester Chess Club met at the Willie Thorne Snooker Centre, which was housed in the old city council offices in Charles Street, it had by far the best premises in the county league.

I am so old I remember when Willie Thorne had hair, was obviously hugely talented but could not win a frame on television.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

A tour of Pre-Roman Leicester and Leicestershire

In the second of his Hidden Histories videos Jim Butler shows us that Leicester was an important town - a tribal capital and cultural hub - long before a the Romans conquered Britain,

He explores Iron Age Leicester and the surrounding county to understand why it was such an important target for the Roman invaders.

Layla Moran calls for fund to protect UK music venues

Layla Moran has called on Boris Johnson to establish a cultural protection fund to secure the future of music venues threatened by the economic impact of Covid-19, reports the New Musical Express.

The NME says more than 400 grassroots music venues in the UK are at imminent risk of closing for good as a consequence of the ongoing health crisis. This is despite a campaign from the Music Venue Trust which has saved cultural 140 spaces so far.

Layla told the NME:

"We need to have recognition that arts in this country is one of our most important exports, it binds us together as a country but we take it for granted. It needs money and support and unless we’re really careful, we’re going to lose venues and it won’t just be the small guys."