Sunday, September 20, 2020

Luisa Porritt talks to the Ham & High

Tomorrow's Hampstead & Highgate Express has an interview with Luisa Porritt, who is certain to be named as the new Liberal Democrat candidate for the London mayoral election:

The Lib Dem has spent most of her life in London. She was born at the Royal Free Hospital and grew up in Camden. While she will inherit part of the manifesto that Ms Benita was set to run on, she refers to her experiences in London that underpins her initial pitch to voters. 

She hits out at the "kleptocracy" behind empty homes in the capital and says Sadiq Khan hasn’t done enough to protect free travel for under-18s in the recent government bailout of Transport for London. There’s also perhaps a glimpse of a potential campaign slogan, returning to themes that London needs to be "safer, fairer, and greener".

"That encapsulates the key challenge we’re facing," the 33-year-old said. "Whether we’re tackling air pollution or making young people in London feel safe. It is utterly tragic, and I don’t want to keep opening a newspaper and hearing about another young person who has died unnecessarily. Sadiq Khan has a poor record on that."

Dickens, T.H. White and Susan Hill

In the October 2019 issue of Clinical Psychology Forum I answered a few questions about my taste in books for its Books R Us feature.

The book you most often recommend

When I tell people they should read Dickens, which is often, it is Great Expectations I recommend. It is of manageable length, extremely good and contains all the Dickensian themes you could wish for.

The book you should have read but didn't get round to

It’s a long list - as, more shamingly, is the list of books I have started but not persevered with - but at the top is War and Peace.

The book you wish you had written

Ultimately, of course, it’s just Cinderella for boys, but I admire T.H. White’s The Sword in the Stone inordinately. It is funny and sad, wise and silly, steeped in history and turns anachronism into an art form.

The book you wish hadn't been written

Wishing books hadn’t been written is not so far from wanting to burn them, so let’s talk about books I wish I hadn’t read. Susan Hill’s Simon Serrailler crime novels are a recent example. I tried one and found I was supposed to care more about the careers of the detective’s extended middle-class family than I was about the fate of the abducted child. What really shocked me was the disregard of the rules of the genre. I tried another to see if it was better. It wasn’t.

The funniest book you know

The older I get, the more I appreciate wit employed in writing with a serious purpose. Paradoxically, setting out to be funny for the sake of it feels cold blooded. So let me choose a young man’s book: Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh.

The Kinks: You Really Got Me

Released in August 1964, this may well be the most influential British single as its power chords were later to influence both heavy metal and punk rock.

But then there is something very punk about You Really Got Me's genesis: its novel distorted guitar sound was achieved by taking a razor blade to Dave Davies' amplifier. Characteristically, he and his brother Ray cannot agree on whose idea this was.

Some believe that Jimmy Page played the guitar solo here, but both he and Dave Davies deny this.

Kara Jayne writes:
It’s been argued that perhaps the persistent Jimmy Page rumour was fostered by the established British rhythm and blues community that simply couldn’t fathom that an upstart band of teenagers could produce such a powerful and influential guitar track, seemingly out of nowhere.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Canadian police make arrests as tempers flare in lobster feud

Our Headline of the Day Award goes to BBC News.

Dire Straits, Market Harborough and the decline of branch banking

Over to Leicestershire La La La:

Multi-platinum Dire Straits’ bassist Jon Illsley was born in Leicester on June 24, 1949. He spent five years in the city before his father accepted the post of Westminster Bank deputy manager in Market Harborough and the family moved to Shrewsbury Avenue, Little Bowden.

Surrounded by fields and once fond of fishing for sticklebacks in the nearby River Jordan, Jon had what he described as an “idyllic” childhood. No, it doesn’t sound very rock, does it? Dire Straits formed in John’s flat in London in ‘76 in the middle of a punk revolution. Back then Pick Withers, another Leicester native, was their drummer.

Regular readers will be familiar with the Jordan, but here is Shrewsbury Avenue.

What interests me about this report is that

  • the Westminster Bank was once an independent concern (it merged with the National Provincial Bank in 1968)
  • local branches once had not only managers but deputy managers too
  • the job paid so well that you could afford to live on an unadopted road

Years ago, when I had an important letter to post I had a superstition that led me to climb the hill and use the little box you see in the photo above.

Government looking at electrification north of Market Harborough

During the last general election campaign Boris Johnson blurted out a promise to electrify the whole of the Midland main line.

Under present plans the wires will stop at Market Harborough.

On Thursday the Nottingham Labour MP Alex Norris asked the transport minister Andrew Stephenson what was being done to keep this commitment.

Stephenson replied:

Further electrification of the midland main line is currently at an early stage, but it is being examined by Network Rail. The Department will continue to work closely with Network Rail on the development of a proposal for this, including approaches to advancing the delivery of electrification across the route.

That doesn't sound very committal to me, but someone has got very excited by it:

Midlands Connect Director Maria Machancoses has welcomed news that the government is for the first time in 3 years looking again at electrifying the Midland Main Line.

Maria called the news a ‘massive boost for the region’ and a key step towards a ‘Midlands rail revolution’ allowing us to be better connected whilst decarbonising the network sooner.

We shall see.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Finsbury Park to Moorgate: The lost Tube line

Jago Hazzard relates the history of the Northern City Line from Finsbury Park to Moorgate.

He does not mention it, but the former Gainsborough Studios building in Islington, which turned up on this blog recently, was originally the power station for this line.

Six of the Best 960

"Through the long Covid months, it was only England that Boris spoke for, and spoke to, at those teatime briefings from Downing Street. Meanwhile, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland did their own devolved things." Neal Ascherson foresees the end of the United Kingdom.

Andrew Page presents 25 unquestionable benefits of Brexit - hear him.

We need to overhaul what we grow, and how and where we grow it, if we are to make the most of our land and fight climate change, says Natalie Bennett.

"Craigie was contributing to a new environment that encouraged the formation of modern identities for young women, who would write in with their problems, escape into the worlds of torrid romance stories, compare their lives to those of the stars or fashion their own appearances and lifestyles based on beauty, health and relationship advice." Hollie Price looks at the early journalistic career of the film documentary maker Jill Craigie (who later married Michael Foot).

"Though they come to us via our hubbub-filled Instagram feeds, these stand-alone pictures are as quietly stunning as any made by our greatest American artists of alienation and loneliness, from Edward Hopper to Arthur Dove." Naomi Fry appreciates The Simpsons as art.

Mark Valladeres tours Suffolk by public transport.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Market Harborough has a Poets Estate too

He walked down Coleridge Close, turned right into Tennyson Avenue, then left into Wordsworth Drive, and down the snicket into Station Road.

It isn't only Reginald Perrin's Climthorpe that has a Poets Estate. Today I explored one of the many parts of Market Harborough that didn't used to be there and came across this collection of roads.

Jeremy Corbyn, Seumas Milne and Claire Fox

Embed from Getty Images

The final item in Kevin Maguire's latest Commons Confidential column for the New Statesman reveals the existence of a hitherto undiscovered circle of hell:

Labour criticising Johnson’s award of a peerage for the Brexit Party’s Claire Fox, who once said she didn’t think child porn ought to be removed from the internet and has in the past defended the IRA, prompted a senior figure to recall Jeremy Corbyn halting an onslaught against the ex-MEP. 
Printed leaflets highlighting her record were pulped instead of being delivered on polling day in the 2019 Peterborough by-election. Disgruntled Labour campaigners suspected that Seumas Milne’s friendship with Baroness Brexit kiboshed the plan.

More than 200 naked convicts on the run after prison escape in Uganda

Sky News streaks off with our Headline of the Day Award.

Responsible Child is back on the BBC iPlayer

The Liberal Democrat peer Navnit Dholakia has long been campaigning to raise the age of criminal responsibility in Britain. It is currently 10, which is low by international standards.

Before a general election was called for last December, Lord Dholakia had succeeded in taking a bill through the Lords to raise the age to 12.

This debate was dramatised in the play Responsible Child, which received a BAFTA nomination for the best single television drama of 2019.

Responsible Child has reappeared on the BBC iPlayer, where it will be available for at least the next year.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Introducing Ealing Studios

This video was made by the British Film Institute. Its blurb on YouTube runs:

What makes a film an 'Ealing' film?  Why should we cry at 'Mandy'? What has 'The Man in the White Suit' got to do with the atomic bomb? And what might Ealing films teach us about the world today? 

In this short video find out why Ealing Studios are so important in the history of filmmaking with broadcaster Matthew Sweet and BFI curator Mark Duguid.

Across the fields from Great Bowden to Market Harborough

The best walk back to Market Harborough from Great Bowden is the path across the fields. A history history teacher once told me that it used to be the main route between the two settlements - it also formed part of our school cross-country course.

On Saturday there were bulls in two of the fields it crosses, but they ignored me. Perhaps they were too busy admiring the pattern of ridge and furrow left by medieval ploughing?

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

City A.M. alleges Sangeeta Siddhu-Robb “bought her way in" to Lib Dem London mayoral election

From City A.M. this evening:

Sangeeta Siddhu-Robb, a millionaire businesswoman, was yesterday forced to drop out of the race to be the Liberal Democrats’ [London] mayoral candidate, after it was revealed she had delivered a public antisemitic tirade in 1997. ...

Liberal Democrat insiders have said Siddhu-Robb was chosen for the party’s shortlist for her potential to inject the party with sorely needed funding, meaning she effectively "bought her way in".

This confirms my view that the unsuitability of Siddhu-Robb as a candidate should have been revealed before her name reached the selection committee.

The report goes on to quote someone from Siobhan Benita's campaign - she recently stood down as the Lib Dem mayoral candidate and resigned from the party.

Its source says a large reason behind Benita’s decision was because the party was

"skewing its process of choosing candidates so they can get funds in” with Siddhu-Robb being a prime example.

"We were introduced to Geeta [Siddhu-Robb] as a donor of the party and someone from that wing,” they said.

"They wanted her to be a candidate so she could bring in money and wealthy connections, but there wasn’t proper scrutiny of her. 

"There’s just a serious lack of professionalism."

The Grantham Canal from West Bridgford to Cotgrave

I have been to Meadow Lane Lock and found the start of the Grantham Canal on the opposite side of the Trent.

This video takes you a whole lot further, following the remains of the canal as far as Cotgrave.

The Conservative Party is following the doomed path of all revolutionaries

Four years ago, after a meeting of Corbyn supporters had booed the name of Sadiq Khan, I wrote a post saying Corbyn's revolution was following the logic of all revolutions.

In it I quoted the philosopher and broadcaster Bryan Magee:

There is a situational logic to revolutions. Disparate groups unite to overthrow an existing regime, but once they have succeeded in doing so the cause that brought them together has gone, and they then fight one another to fill the power vacuum that they themselves have created. These internecine struggles, usually savage, among erstwhile allies perpetuate the revolutionary breakdown of society far beyond the overthrow of the old regime, and delay the establishment of a new order. 

As you can see from the tweet above, the same thing is now happening to the Conservatives.

Tim Montgomerie, as editor of Conservative Home and chief of staff of Iain Duncan Smith, was at the forefront of the revolution that saw the Conservative Party stop being Conservative and instead become an alliance between the forces of global capital and terminally aggrieved voters.

But that will not save him. It's off to the tumbrils in the morning.

Ships to tie up at Shrewsbury bus station

Red faces at BBC Shropshire today.

I have a soft spot for Shrewsbury bus station, as it's where you set off for Church Stretton, Stiperstones and Bishop's Castle, but it will be good to see the Severn made navigable again this far upstream.

To be serious for a moment, you can read about the now defunct Severn Navigation Restoration Trust online.

Thanks to a vigilant reader.

Six of the Best 959

"The party needs a degree of national strength and purpose if it is to present a convincing local challenge anywhere. To do so it needs to champion causes that the Conservatives and Labour are ignoring, but which are both popular and highlight the party’s values. Matthew Green on the Liberal Democrats' search for a strategy.

"Britain is a country where food poverty is an almost invisible national scandal. Almost invisible because, although we see the food bank boxes at the end of the supermarket checkouts when we shop, the people who are going hungry tend to tuck themselves away. The stigma and shame of poverty, and of not being able to afford to feed yourself and your family, means that people sometimes don’t seek help, they don’t talk about their situation." Jack Monroe says no one who has experienced food poverty would stand by and let it spread.

"The UK leaving the EU meant that there would have to be a customs border somewhere between the UK and Ireland, either on land, between Northern Ireland and the Republic, or in the sea, between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Once the UK was outside the single market and customs union, there would have to be import/export paperwork, border formalities and checks somewhere between the two." Flip Chart Fairy Tales makes clear Boris Johnson's continuing refusal to face reality.

Richard Byng asks if we should halt the rise in the prescribing of drugs for pain and distress.

In January 1943, a daylight German bombing raid killed 38 children and six teachers at Sandhurst Road School, Catford. Running Past tells the story.

Reggie Unthank takes us to the planes of Norwich.

Monday, September 14, 2020

One Pair of Eyes: Alan Garner

 All Systems Go! was broadcast in 1973 as part of the BBC's documentary series One Pair of Eyes.

Celluloid Wicker Man says it:

feels more like a beautiful, art-house essay film, full of folklore and landscape, and soundtracked by Malcolm Clarke of the Radiophonic Workshop.  It not only puts Red Shift completely into perspective (having been made a whole six years earlier) but it is also an essential viewing for fans of Garner.

Light on that Lib Dem London mayoral shortlist

I’ve been talking to well-placed sources and Lib Dem insiders about the debacle over the appearance of Geeta Sidhu-Robb on the shortlist from which our new London mayoral candidate will be selected.

It seems the shortlisting committee had not heard even a whisper about her anti-Semitic campaigning and that if it had then her name would never have gone forward to the members.

All the candidates (there were originally three, but one withdrew during the process) had passed their media and policy interviews and survived social media vetting. Selection committees have to take such information, along with someone’s already being an approved candidate, as a given.

Disquiet had been expressed about some of her views and media appearances, see PoliticsHome for examples, but the committee decided to allow party members to be the judge of them. Such committees are always reminded that it is their job to compile a shortlist, not to select the final candidate.

Besides, had the committee come up with a shortlist of one after excluding a possible BAME candidate… Well, you can imagine what the reaction would have been.

I get the impression that the problems with the system lie some way upstream of the committee that selects the shortlist. Unsuitable candidates should be winnowed out before they get that far.

'It could have ended in tragedy' - row intensifies over councillor who admitted driving lorry during Zoom meeting

After adding the missing closing quotation mark, the judges gave our Headline of the Day Award to Lincolnshire Live.

Look closely and you will spot Cllr Brown in the image above.

Thanks to a reader for alerting us to this story.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

A walk from Kingston to Ewell

John Rogers takes us on a walk from Kingston to Ewell. Starting at the Anglo-Saxon coronation stone in Kingston, he mostly follows the Hogsmill River and there is an early mention for Richard Jefferies.

John has a Patreon account to support his videos and blogs at The Lost Byway.

Film emerges of antisemitic campaigning by Lib Dem shortlisted as London mayoral candidate

From PoliticsHome today:

The Lib Dems have shortlisted a candidate who was seen launching an antisemitic campaign against her election rival during an unsuccessful effort to become an MP.

PoliticsHome has seen footage of Geeta Sidhu-Robb using a megaphone to urge Muslim voters not to vote for her Labour opponent, Jack Straw, because he is Jewish.

The Lib Dems announced on Tuesday that Ms Sidhu-Robb, a former corporate lawyer turned health food entrepreneur, would go head-to-head with councillor Luisa Porrit for the party's nomination for London mayor, with the winner due to be announced on 13 October.

But in footage from the 1997 election campaign, Ms Sidhu-Robb, who was at the time standing as the Conservative candidate for Blackburn, was filmed saying she planned to inform voters about Mr Straw's faith, adding "how is a Muslim going to vote for someone who is Jewish?”

You can see the footage in question above.

It's clear that Geeta Sidhu-Robb should never have been shortlisted. Besides this antisemitic outburst she has some strange and silly opinions.

An earlier PoliticsHome article quoted a London Liberal Democrat activist as saying:

"I am astonished Ms Sidhu-Robb has been shortlisted as our potential candidate. An out-of-touch millionaire who flogs juice detoxes to celebrities is not someone we should be asked to consider.

"We want to be back out there talking about the issues that matter to Londoners, but instead we have shot ourselves in the foot with this baffling selection."

Later. A statement from London Liberal Democrats says Geeta Sidhu-Robb has been suspended from the party.

Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band: One of My Kind

One of My Kind, explains AllMusic, was:

A casual documentary chronicling the formation of Conor Oberst's Mystic Valley Band during the early days of 2008 and their subsequent tour, One of My Kind appeared as a free download in 2009 and then a re-edit was packaged for an official release in 2012, accompanied by a soundtrack of the same name. 
Considering how raggedness is part of the band's appeal, this collection comprised of B-sides, tour-only EPs, re-recordings, and outtakes from the band's two albums emphasizes that ramshackle charm.

This is the title track from that soundtrack.

There's more from Conor Oberst and the various bands he has been part of on his own website.

Burton upon Trent and Uttoxeter in 1957

ATV's film of rural North Nottinghamshire from 1957 turned out to include scenes of child sacrifice in Sherwood Forest.

There's nothing so dark here, but there is some industrial steam in Burton and a memorial to Dr Johnson in Uttoxeter, where the great man did penance in the market place.

Click on the still above to view the film on the British Film Institute website.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

The last hundred yards of the River Jordan

I walked the last hundred yards of the River Jordan today, from its confluence with the Welland back to the Kettering Road bridge.

With the railway on an embankment above me on one side and trees almost meeting overhead, I felt as though I was walking a long-abandoned canal, albeit one that it might be possible to restore to navigation.

But then this almost certainly is an artificial cut. The Jordan used to wander through Little Bowden, passing the church and looping around the village green.

At some point, and it may have been when the railway came, it was diverted, and after the war some an ugly concrete channel was provided for it further upstream.

So much like a canal does this stretch feel that it was a surprise when the towpath did not continue under the Kettering Road bridge.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Tommy Kearins on the making of The Maggie

I have written before about the 'Ealing Apocrypha' - the film comedies the studio produced that have been largely forgotten, like The Magnet and Barnacle Bill.

The best of these is Alexander Mackendrick's The Maggie from 1954, which is like a less sentimental version of Local Hero. An American businessman makes the mistake of entrusting his furniture to the skipper of an ageing steam vessel for delivery to his holiday home in the Hebrides and never looks like getting it back.

Among the crew is Dougie, a boy, played by Tommy Kearins. Here he gives his memories of the making of the film.

Six of the Best 958

"I will never forget the relentless anxiety of living hand to mouth. When you're in that position, you go through every possible emotion. Shame. Panic. Fear. Ultimately everything becomes about survival." Liz Jarvis makes the case for a basic income.

David Henig explains the fundamental problem with Brexit now: "The problem is not the UK, whether Labour or Conservative, wanting a deal. It is that the deal that the UK seems to want, of privileged non-membership access without cost, it not available, has not been available since 2016, and that neither Labour or Conservative Party is prepared to admit this."

Karen Shalev Greene says that children transitioning from care to adult life are being badly let down and falling prey to criminal gangs.

"Extraordinarily, we now live in a world in which the best evidence that Royal College of Psychiatrists has been able to muster for the real-world effectiveness of ECT exactly parallels the claims for homeopathy," claims Peter Kinderman.

Gareth Dennis investigates the role that capital from slave owners played in the development of the railways.

William Blake saw angels and ghosts and the Hallelujah sunrise, even on the darkest day. We need to foster his state of mind, argues Mark Vernon.

Cricketer Usman Khawaja's brother apologises for making false terror claims against love rival

Embed from Getty Images

The Guardian goes down under to claim our Headline of the Day Award.

Iain Sinclair walks around The Last London

Time for a walk with the daddy of London psychogeographers, Iain Sinclair.

His 2017 book The Last London was reviewed in the Guardian:

The Last London is an elegy for a London that is now over. The artists, the homeless, the eccentrics - the people Sinclair has always been on the side of - are moving out, or being moved out. The city seems to want him out too. He receives cards from estate agents urging him to "sell up, cash in, get out". 
His children and grandchildren have been forced out by rising rents, part of the great London exodus to the coast: "Artists settling, mobbing like gulls at the tideline, after being expelled from their London warehouses and railway arches." (Sinclair himself bought a flat in St Leonards-on-Sea a few years ago, though he’s yet to sever the umbilical cord completely). 
Global capital and political meddling have conspired to bring about, he concludes, "a strategic destruction of the local".

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Dismal turnout in Green Party leadership election

From Left Foot Forward:

The Green Party’s co-leadership team has been re-elected following a vote of members.

Jonathan Bartley and Siân Berry were re-elected with 49% of the first preference votes. Rosi Sexton received 27% of first preference votes, while Shahrar Ali received 24% of first preferences.

A total of 7,503 ballots were across all the internal elections, giving a turnout of 16%, according to the party. There are nearly 48,000 members of the Green Party of England and Wales.

Turnout for the leadership – at around 14% – was the lowest since Natalie Bennett was elected unopposed in 2014.

I'm not gloating: the turnout in the recent Liberal Democrat leadership election was only 57.6 per cent. But this is dispiriting news for the Greens and for anti-Conservative politics in Britain more generally.

Mourning the death of A level General Studies

The Oscar-winning writer Ronald Harwood died earlier this week. I first came across him in 1978 when he took over from Melvyn Bragg as presenter of BBC One's Sunday evening book programme Read All About It.

In those days I got a lot of my cultural education from it and Barry Norman's Film programme, which occupied the same slot for part of the year. I used to lug our black-and-white portable up to my room to watch these shows in bed.

So you could say they helped me get to university. In fact they did so quite directly, because I wrote about them in my A level General Studies exam.

I have blogged about how taking that exam helped to get me a place at York to read Philosophy, so I was sorry to read this summer that it has died out.

This wasn't just personal nostalgia: there is something to be said for allowing students to display knowledge and enthusiasms that lie outside the approved curriculum. 

I am also struck by this paragraph from a 2015 TES report saying A level general studies was to be axed:

Research suggests the qualification is harder than it has been given credit for. A 2007 analysis by Durham University found general studies was the subject in which pupils were least likely to achieve high grades. And John Hutton, emeritus professor of economics at the University of York, stated in August that general studies was the “only predictor worth considering” for results at the university in his subject.

Paradoxically or not, General Studies was the only subject in which I got an A.

At least in my sixth form days, the exam consisted of two three-hour session, which both involved a raft of multiple-choice general knowledge questions and a choice of topics about which you had to write an essay.

To be honest, the general knowledge questions did not present a great challenge to someone who was to win the BBC East Joint Account quiz with his mum a couple of months later, but I can still remember the two essays I wrote.

One was about the idea that we should treat people equally. I said we should, but argued that this did not always mean treating people the same. I remember it as being short and (I hoped) elegant, and it is at least a position I would defend all these years later.

The second essay was on television arts coverage and I contrasted the Read All About It approach of inviting a panel of celebrities on to discuss the week's new paperbacks with the Film 1978 approach of having one informed critic discuss the latest releases.

I came down firmly in support of the Barry Norman approach, but I bet Bragg and Harwood's guests looked like The Athenaeum to the people who get on television panels today.

The whole of Waking the Dead is on the BBC iPlayer

Perhaps because I have fond memories of watching Trevor Eve in Shoestring, I liked Waking the Dead. And the good news is that for the time being at least every episode of it is on the BBC iPlayer.

Watching them now I find that the first part of each introduces us to an intriguing mystery reawakened by the discovery of a body, while the second spins off incoherently in all directions while Eve shouts at people.

But I am glad they are there and you do find serous actors like David Hemmings and James Fox turning up in the cast.

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Welcome to The Generous Society

The Generous Society is a new vision for a more liberal UK. It reframes the timeless values that brought us many of our most cherished freedoms for a time in our national life that is defined by division, anger, and deceit.

This is not an exhaustive list of policies. It is about defining the country liberals want to live in – the ‘good life’ and what it might look like for each individual. It is time to give everyone the best possible chance to live that life, taking away barriers to freedom, and providing support where it is most needed.

A welcome development today has been the publication of The Generous Society, which has been written by Tom King in consultation with a group including David Howarth and Julian Huppert.

It is welcome because for years the Liberal Democrats have struggled to rise above the minutiae of policy and articulate what it is that they are about.

The emphasis on human flourishing in The Generous Society gets close to the heart of that. We should talk about it more in future.

You can read The Generous Society on its own website.

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

How I became anti-nuclear: Windscale Fallout by Ian Breach

Ever since Michael Gove said "I think the people of this country have had enough of experts" the left hasn't been able to get enough of them.

Yet if you are on the left then at some point you will have decided that Important People are wrong.

For me it was the debate over nuclear power. At the start of 1978, when I was still 17, Lord Justice Parker recommended in his inquiry report that a thermal oxide reprocessing plant be built at Windscale and the government went ahead with the idea.

I decided Parker had got it wrong. I remember asking a visiting speaker at school, who was there to promote nuclear, why we didn't develop renewables instead.

And I had a 'Nuclear Power? No Thanks' T-shirt and bought a Penguin Special on the subject: Windscale Fallout by Ian Breach. 

Though they sound like something out of the 1940s, Penguin Special were very much a thing in those days. They felt serious and grown up and I liked them in the way I liked the New Statesman because it had its leading article on the front cover.

I've found a review of Windscale Fallout from Australian Left Review:

The scene that Breach describes is familiar: A company which has been doing a profitable business in reprocessing nuclear fuel wants to expand its operations. It already has a very lucrative contract with Japan. The workers are in general in favour of this expansion. And so is the Labour Government. The expansion goes along with future plans for a commercial fast breeder reactor program. But because the company has been secretive about the safety of its operations, because local people are concerned, the Government is induced to hold a public inquiry.

The wide terms of reference of the inquiry encourage those who have objections, mostly environmentalists, to throw a great deal of time, effort and money into presenting their case. They raise the issues of safety, civil liberties, nuclear proliferation, the need for public participation in setting safety standards and making energy policy. In the end, the Commissioners write the report which the company and the Government expected and wanted.

Not much has changed in more than 40 years.

Breach was an interesting figure who became one of the BBC's first environmental correspondents before, his Guardian obituary records, being sacked by John Birt for demanding the corporation devote more airtime to the environment.

Powell and Pressburger on Radio 3 and in Shrewsbury

The BBC website has a series of short talks on films by Powell and Pressburger that were first broadcast on Radio 3.

You can listen to:

  • The Red Shoes - Deborah Bull
  • The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp - Ian Christie
  • A Matter of Life and Death - Richard Coles
  • Black Narcissus - Peter Bradshaw
  • I Know Where I'm Going - A.L. Kennedy

  • And another of their films, Gone to Earth, is being shown at Theatre Severn in Shrewsbury on Friday and Saturday.

    I am sorry if it looks a little melodramatic, but the Shropshire hills are like that.

    Monday, September 07, 2020

    Stolen narrow boat retrieved after low-speed chase

    From the Leicester Mercury:

    A stolen narrow boat was boarded by officers after possibly the slowest police chase ever encountered.

    The tension, for police and suspects alike, must have been unbearable as the 13-mile 'pursuit' unfolded earlier today on the Grand Union Canal.

    It ended up being a cross-county border affair - at speeds of up to 4mph - as officers with Leicestershire's Harborough Police teamed up with Northamptonshire colleagues to bring the incident to a safe conclusion.

    The photo above shows North Kilworth in Leicestershire, where the boat was stolen. Contrary to the hope expressed by one of my Twitter followers, the police did not give chase in a pedalo.

    Ode to Joy as a Nazi anthem

    I heard an extraordinary programme on Radio 3 yesterday. Looking at the history of Beethoven's ninth symphony, it opened with an extract from the performance that Wilhelm Furtwängler conducted for Hitler's birthday in March 1942.

    Though some have claimed to detect a subtle protest in it, with those added drums it sounds a full-blown Nazi anthem to me.

    I have added it above as I don't know how long the radio programme will stay on the BBC site,

    The piece it reminds me of is Laibach's reworking of Queen's One Vision to reveal the totalitarian impulse that can be present in unthinking rock.

    Elsewhere in the programme you will hear from Nigel Farage and learn that the tune of Ode to Joy was used for the Rhodesian national anthem.

    Oh, and Auschwitz had a children's choir used to dupe visitors about the nature of the place, which revealed a new circle of human depravity to me.

    "Far from politicians not listening, they have never listened more"

    Embed from Getty Images

    Fifty years ago, the Labour MP for my home town of Lincoln was Geoffrey de Freitas. In those days, Lincoln was a very safe Labour seat and Geoffrey de Freitas was a very wealthy man.

    In common with many MPs of that era, de Freitas did not maintain a home in his constituency (a practice that at least had the merit of incurring no controversial expense claims). Indeed, he spent little time in his constituency at all. On the rare occasions he paid a visit, he and his wife would get in the Rolls Royce and drive north to Lincoln, his chauffeur following in a Morris Traveller. When the convoy reached the constituency boundary, it came to a halt. Mr and Mrs de Freitas would get out of the Rolls and into the Morris, and make a suitably modest entry into the city. The chauffeur followed at a discreet distance in the Rolls.

    Simon Titley died almost six years ago, but I thought of that anecdote today because it opens an article he wrote for Liberal Democrat Voice in 2008 about politicians who claim to 'listen'.

    As Simon went on to observe:

    Far from politicians not listening, they have never listened more. In the 1950s, most MPs – not just Geoffrey de Freitas – put in only token appearances in their constituencies, while local councillors were never seen from one election to the next. Yet electoral turnouts and party memberships were at an all-time high. 
    Nowadays, most elected politicians conduct regular surgeries and carry unprecedented loads of casework; they are accessible online via e-mails, websites and blogs; they deliver leaflets and appear regularly in various local media; and they conduct frequent surveys and polls. Today, a politician with Geoffrey de Freitas’s hauteur would not even get selected, never mind elected. Yet people still moan that politicians are “out of touch”.

    He goes on to argue that there is certainly a widespread sense of powerlessness and alienation among voters but that, given all the listening that is going on, it is doubtful that more of it is the solution.

    Instead be recommends the report of the Joseph Rowntree Trust's Power inquiry, which had just been published and is still worth reading.

    Simon was writing at a time when the whole party was being urged to listen, but his words still have resonance:

    Politicians of all parties must stand for something, not blow with the wind. Their job is to lead, not follow; to persuade, not accept public opinion as a given. This does not mean being arrogant. Politicians should engage in debate and connect with people’s concerns. But they can do this effectively only if they have a clear sense of right and wrong, and they should not be afraid to communicate that moral clarity to the electorate. The people have the right to elect or reject them on that basis. But any politician who has no idea of what he stands for and instead can only ask “you tell me” is unfit for office.

    You can find an archive of Simon Titley's writings on the Liberator website.

    Sunday, September 06, 2020

    Six of the Best 957

    "It’s a crisis for education, but it’s also an opportunity to put everything on the table and consider ideas that would have been impossible before COVID. Outdoor school, long relegated to the Waldorf fringe, is getting a serious look. The pandemic is forcing conversations about equity in education, and both parents and teachers are asking how we can reimagine the school day to prioritise student well-being and mental health." Anna Nordberg asks if the Covid-19 pandemic could change education for the better.

    James Rebanks on how to save British farming and the countryside.

    David Graeber died a few days ago. Read him on the phenomenon of bullshit jobs.

    James Robert Wood praises T.H. White's studies of the 18th century - and there's a mention for Shropshire's Mad Jack Mytton.

    "I’m old-fashioned enough to think that for something to count as a cult, it should be dark, subterranean and bound up with sacred mysteries. On that definition, Penda’s Fen (1974) may be the only authentic cult TV I’ve come across." Robert Hanks celebrates David Rudkin's television play.

    "He was a lovely man, a consummate professional and treated us as equals when clearly we were not. I consider myself very lucky to have played that day and witnessed a magnificent all round appearance both on and off the field." Stan Heaton pays tribute to the England cricketer David Capel.

    Former leader suspended by Harborough District Council's ruling Conservative group

    Well now.

    Neil Bannister, the former Conservative leader of Harborough District Council, has been suspended from the ruling Tory group for six months.

    According to the Leicester Mercury:

    Neil Bannister has been given a six month suspension from the Harborough District Council Conservative councillors group after he wrote a letter to Leicestershire County Council about the 2,750 home Lutterworth East scheme.

    The former Conservative police and crime commissioner candidate was a member of the district council planning committee that decided in July, by a single vote, to approve the controversial housing scheme, proposed by the county council which owns the 550 acres of farmland earmarked for development.

    Having voted to approve the scheme, Cllr Bannister subsequently wrote a letter, seen by LeicestershireLive, to county council leader Nick Rushton and chief executive raising concerns over elements of development.

    He wrote in his capacity as chairman of the South Leicestershire Conservative Association and purported to set out the views of Tory MP Alberto Costa who had spoken in support of the application at the district council planning meeting.

    According to the Mercury, the county council’s director of law and governance has said there was 'strong concern' about what Cllr Bannister had written.

    Later. You can download Neil Bannister's letter and the reply from director of law and governance on the county council website.

    The Cairo Gang: Take Your Time

    Take Your Time is a track from The Cairo Gang's 2013 LP Tiny Rebels.

    KUTX said of it at the time:
    One listen, and you might think that you were listening to a long, lost outtake from The Byrds’ Fifth Dimension. About halfway through the tune, the gentle, folky psychedelia yields to hallucinogenic, snaking, Eastern-flavored guitar lines before circling back. Kelly expertly guides the organized chaos in the back-half as the action starts to rise once again, and when the song ends it’s a beautiful release.

    'Kelly' is the band's leader Emmett Kelly

    Saturday, September 05, 2020

    New liveries on the Midland main line

    I was back at Market Harborough station today for the first time in ages. While I've been away new liveries have appeared on East Midlands Railway trains.

    The one above is distinctly stylish.

    Procul Harum at Witley Court

    After I blogged about Bob Dylan going ghost hunting with the Winwood brothers, a couple of readers told me that this wasn't the only time this ruined mansion crops up in pop history.

    For Procul Harum recorded the original video for A Whiter Shade of Pale there.

    Friday, September 04, 2020

    Watch Michael Gove as a comedy performer

    With the new BBC director general (and former deputy chairman of Hammersmith and Fulham Conservatives) Tim Davie questioning the left-wing slant of the corporations's comedy output, there is an obvious opening for right-wing comedians.

    Step forward Michael Gove, who once fancied himself in this role.

    Louis Barfe will tell you more about A Stab in the Dark and has more substantial footage from it.

    Bute renamed ‘Penis Island’ in Gaelic sign blunder


    Our Headline of the Day goes to The Scotsman.

    Rewilding Britain calls for natural regeneration to be at heart of government tree strategy

    The campaign group Rewilding Britain has called on the government to have bigger ambitions and adopt more natural solutions in tackling England's lack of tree cover.

    In its response to the government's England Tree Strategy the group says:

    With Britain one of Europe’s least wooded countries, the current proposal to increase England’s woodland tree cover from only 10 per cent currently to just 12 per cent by 2050 is woefully inadequate. We urgently need to see an expansion of nature’s recovery across Britain to match the scale of the threats from accelerating climate heating and species extinction.

    The group calls on government to commit to doubling woodland cover to at least 26 per cent by 2030 for the benefit of people, nature and climate. Government, it says, should raise and integrate investment in woodland regeneration from public and private financing

    Rewilsing Britain urges the government to support natural regeneration as the default approach:

    The government’s unambitious plans also focus on manual tree planting as a quick fix. But our recent research shows that allowing natural and assisted regeneration – supported by native tree planting in suitable sites – would be the most effective long-term approach for landscape-scale reforestation.

    Allowing trees and shrubs to naturally regrow over much of their former landscapes could massively increase the scale of woodland creation at a fraction of the cost. It would create woodlands better able than plantations to soak up carbon dioxide, support wildlife, and adapt to a changing climate. Management costs, imported tree diseases, and plastic tree guards would all be reduced.

    Thursday, September 03, 2020

    The strange history of the Waterloo and City line

    Why does London have an underground railway that was for most of its history not regarded as part of the London Underground?

    Jago Hazzard explains.

    In which Bob Dylan goes ghost hunting with Steve Winwood

    When Bob Dylan played Birmingham in 1996 with The Band, Steve Winwood and his brother Muff met him backstage before the concert.

    Dylan told them he was really into ghosts, so Muff Winwood mentioned Witley Court. This derelict Worcestershire mansion was said to be haunted by its last owner, who could be seen walking the grounds with his dog.

    And Dylan insisted they took him there after the show.

    Muff Winwood takes up the tale:

    After the gig they’d got the limos ready and so we just jumped into these limos – there we were in four bloody stretch Princess limos all driving out to Worcestershire at 12 o’clock at night! Well, we got to the place, so I jumped out and flagged all the limos down and I said, "Look, there’s somebody living in the gatehouse, so we’d better turn all the lights off and go in very quietly." So one by one, all these limos turned their lights off and drove carefully through the gates and up the long, long drive to where the house was. We got all the limos up there without anybody in the gatehouse knowing.

    And out poured Dylan and the band and girlfriends and hangers on and we started wandering around. The house looked absolutely magnificent – it was a clear night with a great moon and everything, and Dylan was just absolutely knocked sideways by it, just enraptured by it. And of course the classic happened…

    We said, "Let’s be very quiet, let’s see what we can hear." And in the mists there were these old statues in the garden that had got ivy growing all over them and they looked really eerie ... and somewhere a dog barked!

    Now this is likely to happen in the countryside in Worcestershire at gone midnight, but Dylan is convinced that he’s heard the ghost of the dog! He was like a kid! He amazed me because I looked up to this great man, but he’d just keep running up to you grabbing you by the arm, saying, "This is unbelievable! This is fantastic!" Really child-like enjoyment of the whole thing. It was great fun.

    Arrest after pink ice cream van police chase

    The East Midlands Live page from BBC News wins our Headline of the Day Award.

    Wednesday, September 02, 2020

    John Snow - my first cricketing hero

    John Snow was my first cricketing hero. He played for Sussex, an affection for whose cricket team is about the only thing my father left me, and he was good enough to win series for England abroad.

    Here you can see his two best test performances: 7/49 against the West Indies at Sabina Park on the 1967/8 tour of the West Indies (the first England tour I was aware of as a small boy) and a match-winning 7/40 at Sydney on the 1970/1 Ashes tour.

    A couple of things strike the modern viewer. First, Snow is quick - quicker than most modern-day England seamers. Second, fielding standards have risen hugely in the last 50 years, yet at Sydney his fellow fast bowlers Peter Lever and Bob Willis are throwing themselves about to take close catches.

    Snow, always a controversial figure. was left out by England throughout the 1973 and 1974 seasons because the authorities saw him as a troublemaker. 

    As I was 13 and 14 at the time, that period seemed to last half a lifetime. I blamed Mike Denness, the England captain, for his omission, but later learnt that it was the doing of Alec Bedser, chairman of the selectors and professional misery.

    Then in 1975 he was recalled and I paid on the gate at Edgbaston to see him open the bowling against Australia.

    I came across a good recent article on Snow to share with you just now. Then I noticed the author's surname and realised, what with that and his being interested in Sussex cricket, he is probably a grandson of my first literary hero Malcolm Saville.

    If only I could stay alive lone enough and make enough trivial connections, I think I should understand the universe.

    The Yellow Balloon is on Talking Pictures TV this Sunday

    One of the key texts in my interest in children and bombsites in post-war British films is The Yellow Balloon from 1953.

    In that first post on the subject I noted that, while in Hue and Cry from 1947 "a damaged London belongs to errand boys and the film celebrates their independence and resourcefulness," films soon began to take a more equivocal view of the subject.

    Soon they were was no equivocation left:

    In The Yellow Balloon (1953) and The Weapon (1956), bombsites are places where terrible things befall small boys who play on them.

    Part of this, I suspect, is to do with an anxiety that the nuclear family need to be reinforced as more collectivist wartime era recedes.

    The boys in Hue and Cry have jobs and long trousers, but the 1950s boys seem infantilised in comparison. Andrew Ray in The Yellow Balloon is given a hiding by his father Kenneth More.

    The Yellow Balloon is a good film, with a rather scary climax played out in a disused tube station (largely recreated in the studio).

    It is so scary, in fact, that the censors gave it one of their first X certificates, which ruined the production company's plans to promote the film.

    One effect of this was that the film's young star was unable to see it. In the event, it was reclassified as an A after complaints by the cinema chains.

    There is a scene towards the end that tends to support my view that British films became steadily more genteel as the war receded.

    Andrew Ray meets a dancer played by Hy Hazell and she persuades him to flee the villain into whose clutches he has fallen (that's William Sylvester, seen in the clip above) and return to his parents.

    We are told Hazell is a dancer, but suspect she is a prostitute. The way this is passed over without comment contrasts with Dora Bryan's shameless turn as Rose in 1948's The Fallen Idol.

    I am writing this post tonight because you can see The Yellow Balloon on Talking Pictures TV on Sunday at 6pm.

    Later. I had misremembered Hy Hazell's role a little: she is a teacher of dancing. I recall reading somewhere that it was originally planned to make her a prostitute, but the plan was dropped in favour of this more respectable profession.

    Leisure in Market Harborough in 1906

    Browsing behind the London Review of Books paywall, I came across a review of The Cambridge Urban History of Britain. Vol. III: 1840-1950.

    The reviewer, Andrew Saint, writes:

    Stephen Royle’s chapter on small towns, heavily based on Leicestershire, seems at first to paint a picture of stagnation (Hinckley’s ‘stinking state’ in 1840 etc) and cultural decline. Then abruptly he tells us that Edwardian Market Harborough, a town just short of 8000, boasted Sunday schools, friendly societies for young men and girls, a Church Lads’ brigade, a Territorial Army branch, a debating society, a reading society, a choral society, an opera society, a brass band, an angling ‘society’, clubs for cricket, football, tennis, golf, polo, water polo, bicycling and point-to-point riding, a swimming-bath and a roller-skating rink, and regularly put on carnivals, flower, produce and horse shows and swimming galas. I abridge. There can have been little room for masterly inactivity in Market Harborough.

    The swimming baths, as longstanding readers will know, were given to the town by this blog's hero J.W. Logan MP.

    Tuesday, September 01, 2020

    Sherwood Forest and the Dukeries in 1957

    Click on the still above to view this film on the British Film Institute site.

    There the blurb runs:

    This silent travelogue intended to familiarise ITV audiences with their new Midlands region takes us to north Nottinghamshire - a part of the country that ATV in reality rarely visited. Contemporary audiences knew all about local hero Robin Hood from the hugely successful ITV series starring Richard Greene. The Robin Hood Pantry at Edwinstowe nods towards the enduring popularity of the outlaw, even though their afternoon teas lack a certain rebellious zeal.

    Other landmarks featured include Lord Byron's home at Newstead Abbey and Thoresby Hall at Budby. The film was shot by Birmingham Commercial Films who had the contract for producing filmed items for Associated Television's Midlands' region during the period.

    We now think of North Nottinghamshire as mining country, but in the 19th century it was famed for its beauty and called 'the Dukeries' because it was home to so many aristocratic estates. But then those aristocrats decided to cash in and sold the mineral rights...

    The only thing that worries me about this film is the scene shown in the still. We see two boys about to climb up inside the hollow Major Oak in a way that would never be allowed today. Ah well, small boys, grazed knees, 1950s, isn't it?

    But I have a horrible feelings that what we are seeing is a form of child sacrifice that has allowed the tree to live for a thousand years. When the authorities searched the site the next day all they found was the first boy's school cap.

    Six of the Best 956

    "The story of Solidarity should also provide some hope for those of us who, four decades later, believe ourselves to be in politically impossible positions. There cannot be many more unlikely stories than the triumph of Solidarity, and the total collapse of the Communist empire it helped to bring about." Andrew Page marks the 40th birthday of the trade union that changed Polish history.

    Oz Katerji argues that Jeremy Corbyn’s blunders over the Salisbury poisonings were central to his polling collapse.

    "Cults, extremist political or religious ideologies and closed communities of all kinds draw their strength and their toxic influence by drawing people into an unhealthy relationship with leaders." Stephen Parsons looks at the mentality that lies behind recent scandals in the Church of England.

    The New York Review of Books has an audio recording of a 2013 conference celebrating the work of the philosophers Isaiah Berlin, Stuart Hampshire and Bernard Williams.

    A new archaeological dig began today at Shrewsbury Castle. Nigel Baker discusses what it may find, from  pre-Conquest Thomas Telford's landscaping.

    Luc Roeg discusses his father Nic's 1971 film Walkabout, which he appeared in as a small boy.

    Monday, August 31, 2020

    A walk along the Brampton Valley Way

    Today I went for a walk along the Brampton Valley Way. Following the route of the old railway line to Northampton, this runs for 14 miles south from Market Harborough, but I made it just to the Waterloo Tearoom at Great Oxendon and back.

    The route was busy with bank holiday cyclists, dog walkers, joggers and foragers - autumn is already arriving in the hedgerows.

    The last train ran along here in 1981 and over the years the nature of the Way has changed. It used to feel much more like an old double-track railway: it was wide and there was ballast everywhere.

    Over the years the route has narrowed, as bushes and trees have established themselves. Yet the fauna has diminished: you used to scatter rabbits every time you walked along here and there were muntjac deer too. Today I saw a couple of the former only when I wandered into a neighbouring field.

    Because it was busy, today the Way was more for cyclists. But on a quieter day it makes a great walk - follow the full 14 miles and you will go through tunnels at Great Oxendon and Kelmarsh.