Thursday, January 30, 2020

Beyond King Harold's tomb

Another walk with John Rogers:
My first walk of 2020, and it seemed apt to start the new decade at the tomb of King Harold at Waltham Abbey. The aim of the walk was to climb a ridge of high land near Monkham's Hall that I've looked at many times. 
A comment on a previous video mentioned a First World War anti-aircraft gun emplacement on the hill near Kennel Wood - so that's where I headed. A truly magnificent start to the new year and the new decade.

Annual Paddy Ashdown Memorial Lecture established

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An annual lecture on Hong Kong has been established to honour the late Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown.

Announcing the Paddy Ashdown Memorial Lecture on Hong Kong, Hong Kong Watch says:
The lecture will take place in the Houses of Parliament in London each year, and details of the inaugural lecture to be held later this year will be announced soon. The guest speaker invited to deliver the lecture each year will be chosen by the trustees of Hong Kong Watch. 
The speaker will be either a distinguished politician or activist from Hong Kong who has shown particular courage and commitment in the struggle for democracy, human rights, the rule of law and autonomy for the city; or a British or international politician or activist who has shown particular dedication in supporting the protection of ‘one country, two systems’ and Hong Kong’s way of life. 
Lord Ashdown’s love for Hong Kong stemmed from three years spent there learning Mandarin Chinese from 1967-1970, when he qualified as an interpreter. He returned several times, notably in 1989 when he marched in the streets with protesters following the Tiananmen massacre, and he consistently fought for the right of abode of Hong British National Overseas ... passport holders
In his final years, he spoke out vocally in support of imprisoned activists and protesters

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Steve Winwood and Traffic behind the Iron Curtain

From the Budapest Business Journal:
Traffic, the U.K. foursome famous for their flower-power hit “Hole in My Shoe”, were one of the first Western rock acts to play in communist Hungary. It was 1968, and even though they had sanctioned it, the authorities were less than happy with the band’s presence. 
As the musicians took to the stage, police, uniformed and plain clothed, watched intently for any sign of “irregular behavior” among the crowd, straining to catch the merest whisper of an anti-government utterance. 
But after a couple of numbers, the mood relaxed a little: the crowd, it seemed, knew their limits. It was then that Steve Winwood, Traffic’s front man, calmly announced: “The next song we would like to dedicate to the police. It’s called ‘Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring’.” 
Was this a joke? A provocation? Didn’t these guys know you don’t mess with communist police? 
“We froze. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of kids all froze. Will they stop the concert? Take them away in handcuffs?”

Monday, January 27, 2020

London from the top of a double-decker bus, 1970

This video was tweeted today by Dan Rebellato, who wrote:
I love that something so banal is so mesmerically fascinating.
In 1970 I was proud of knowing that the best Tube stop for Charing Cross station was Strand, not Charing Cross.

Six of the Best 907

"Most of us know precisely what is wrong with Tickbox - that most of these measures or targets either miss the point or get finessed by managers. Those who can’t see it tend to be the elite forces who run the world - and who believe what they are told by the frontline." David Boyle has a new book out on tick-box culture - or 'Tickbox'.

High-tech smart cities promise efficiency by monitoring everything. But, asks Amy Fleming, would cities be better if we ditched the data?

Shoshana Zuboff explains how we are all controlled by surveillance capitalism.

"The most dramatic moment came on May 17, 1972, when ten thousand school children went on strike. Central London came to a standstill as police struggled to contain crowds marching through the streets with banners reading 'No to the Cane'." Owen Emmerson on school strikes against corporal punishment.

"Terry was warm, generous and sociable. Always interested in meeting new people and sharing his enthusiasm with them. I’ve made many good friends through Terry and their messages and memories, coming in over the last few days, all conjure up a vision of a good man." Michael Palin remembers his friend Terry Jones.

Helen Day pays tribute to the Ladybird Books illustrator John Berry.

Lib Dem council backs return of rails to Cirencester

Liberal Democrat controlled Cotswold District Council has donated £13,000 to ensure that a feasibility study of the reopening of the railway line from Kemble to Cirencester can be conducted.

The line was closed to passengers in 1964 and to goods traffic the following year. Later Cirencester's ring road was built over part of it.

But that has not stopped the reopening campaign. You can find detailed plans on the Cirencester Community Railway site.

Terry Jones as a historian

Open Culture reminds us that, as well as being a Python, was a medieval historian.

His series Terry Jones' Medieval Lives was screened by the BBC in 2004.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Burton's shop in Long Eaton

Montague Maurice Burton (1885-1952) opened his first store in Chesterfield in 1904, and entered the bespoke tailoring business in 1912. By 1914, there were 12 shops, mainly in the north of England; by 1939 there were 595. 
At first the stores occupied existing buildings, but from 1923, new stores were built on freehold sites, and prominent town-centre corner sites (such as this one) were favoured. In about 1932, the company established its own architectural department, which maintained the house style established by the architect Henry Wilson, who had been working for the company since 1923. 
In about 1937, Nathaniel Martin became chief architect, so this store is probably his work. Burton's stores are important as pioneering exponents of corporate architectural style, and as sponsoring Art Deco design.
This piece of architectural history comes from the Listing for a Burton's store in Aberystwyth and the one in Long Eaton was built in a similar style.

What with its library, tin tabernacles and the arch that pinpoints the location of Trent Station, Long Eaton repays a visit.

Maria McKee: Page of Cups

Maria McKee is an American artist who has been around since the early 1980s, when she was a member of the band Lone Justice.

This a track from her forthcoming album La Vita Nuova.

Fire Records says:
The lyrics in 'Page Of Cups' flirt with the "unexpected, surprising muse" figure in the minor Tarot arcana. The track recalls 'Forever Changes'-era Love.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

First National Rally of Boats at Market Harborough, 1950

This uncredited photo was taken during the Inland Waterways Association's first National Rally of Boats at Market Harborough in 1950.

That's Hillcrest Avenue in the background.

G.K. Chesterton's Beaconsfield home threatened with demolition

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From the Bucks Free Press:
The former home of famous writer and philosopher G K Chesterton could be bulldozed and replaced with flats – in a move branded “shameful” by angry Beaconsfield residents. 
Gilbert Keith Chesterton, best known for the Father Brown detective novels, moved to Beaconsfield with his wife Frances in 1909 and lived in Grove Road until his death in 1937 – first at Over Roads and then across the road at Top Meadow. 
Now, Over Roads, to which fans of the prolific writer flock every year, could be knocked down and replaced with nine apartments.
The National Catholic Register gives the history of Chesterton's two Beaconsfield homes:
In their will, the Chestertons left both houses, Overroads and Top Meadow, to the local Catholic diocese. They requested that the property be used as a seminary, a convent, or as a temporary resting place for Anglican clergymen who had converted to Catholicism. 
For a number of years, this was indeed how Top Meadow was used. Eventually, however, the diocese sold both properties. Today, both houses are privately owned. 
Over Roads or Overroads, I hope it will be saved.

Friday, January 24, 2020

The only landside remains of Trent Station

Since that trip I have discovered that Trent Station, once an important Midland Railway junction, was not by the cottages but a little further down the line. So I will have to go back and photograph the arch that is the only thing that marks the site on public land.
That's what I wrote about a trip to Long Eaton when I looked back on 2018.

Well I did go back and here is that arch.

It's heavily overgrown now, but in its day it was the only public access to Trent, which was built largely so people could change trains.

The arch took people under the high level goods lines and there must have been a subway so they could then reach Trent's one island platform.

If you doubt me, have a look at the photo below, which I salvaged from a website about the station that was about to disappear.

Six of the Best 906

Without the BBC we could be facing a post-truth dystopia, says Jonathan Freedland.

But certain Beeb programmes may be taking us there. Here's Fiona Sturges on Question Time: "At a time of entrenched tribalism, experts remain thin on the ground while showboating 'characters' reign supreme. As contrarian columnists spew bile on one side, terrified junior ministers trot out pre-rehearsed platitudes on the other. Meanwhile, viewers roar in fury on social media."

GrĂ¡inne O’Hare recommends a podcast on the history of general elections.

"When it comes to brain development, time in the classroom may be less important than time on the playground." Jon Hamilton on the power of play.

Sam Dresser explains why Margaret Mead became a hate figure for the right.

"In the early 1960s, Boothby, known throughout his life as Bob, was one of the country’s more famous politicians, albeit now in the House of Lords." Rob Baker introduces to a scandalous figure.

Vazectomy? Leicester East Labour Party to rerun vote for new chair

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Last week came news that Keith Vaz had turned up as the chair of his old constituency Leicester East.

Today the Leicester Mercury reports that the position will be voted on again 'in the coming weeks'.

The East Midlands Labour Party says this was always the plan.

Others will be struck by the Mercury's account of the meeting where the first vote was held:
Some Labour members have claimed they were barred from attending the vote, and one reported being assaulted at the meeting. 
Current MP Claudia Webbe was not present at the constituency Labour party ... meeting which was held on a Tuesday night when she was in Westminster. She told LeicestershireLive she only became aware of it on the night it was held

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Farmer says 'all hell will break loose' if he's offered milk alternative in Ulverston Costa

Our Headline of the Day comes from the North-West Evening Mail.

The judges thank Jonathan Healey.

C.B. Fry and the Training Ship Mercury

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Access to my photos of Repton still comes and goes, so let's stay with C.B. Fry and his training ship Mercury.

The photo above shows Fry with his inmates inspecting a statuette of himself as a cricketer.

The one below shows Winston Churchill watching the boys in training.

And quite what the one below that shows I do not know.

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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

One, two, three, look at Philip Lee

I wondered how many of the MPs who joined the Liberal Democrats only to lose at the last election would be seen in the party again.

One is certainly staying around.

Wokingham Today reports that Dr Philip Lee has been appointed by the local Lib Dems as parliamentary spokesman for the year ahead and quotes him as saying:
"I was very proud to be asked to become the Wokingham Lib Dems parliamentary spokesman for the coming year and was delighted to accept. 
"With their large majority, it will be essential to hold the Conservatives, and their representative in this area, to account in order to ensure that neither runs roughshod over the interests and wishes of the local community."

Monday, January 20, 2020

Repton, C.B. Fry and feet of clay

Readers with a good memory will recall that I had begun showing you photographs from my days out during last summer's holiday.

I had got as far as Repton, with its Saxon crypt and stamp machines, when my Photobucket account went tits up.

That was five weeks ago and only today have my photos started to reappear. It all seems very fragile at present, but let's hope that soon improves.

Repton is one of the folders that has come back, so I can carry on with my visit.

St Wystan's does not just have a Saxon crypt to boast. It also has the grave of C.B. Fry - or rather the resting place of his ashes - who was educated at the public school next door.

Who was C.B. Fry? I hear you ask.

I once reviewed a biography of him for Liberal Democrat News and that review was reprinted by the Journal of Liberal History:
lain Wilton’s new biography reveals some heavy feet of clay, but first it is important to appreciate just how compelling a figure Fry was in his prime. Born in 1872, his fame came originally from his extraordinary ability as a sportsman. 
He equalled the world long jump record while a student at Oxford, was reserve for an England rugby trial, won an England soccer cap and played for Southampton in the FA Cup final. Contemporaries likened him to a Greek god in appearance. 
As a cricketer Fry was one of the giants of the golden. years before the First World War. Batting for Sussex with Ranjitsinhji, the silk-shirted Indian whose wristy stroke play ravished Edwardian crowds, he turned himself into the most remorselessly effective batsman in the country.
Fry was twice a Liberal candidate, assisted Ranjitsinhji when he became one of India's representatives at the League of Nations and was himself offered the throne of Albania.

Backwatersman has blogged about Fry's eccentricities, but there is a darker side to his story.

As I wrote in my Lib Dem News review:
 In 1898 he married Beatrice Holme Sumner, ten years his senior. She had long been involved with Charles Hoare, a married banker, and the relationship had resulted in a scandalous society divorce. Her marriage to Fry has been seen by some as a business arrangement: Fry made an honest woman of her in return for Hoare financing his cricket career. 
Wilton rejects this theory, yet his revelation that the first child of the marriage was probably fathered by Hoare seems to support it. 
Hoare had established the Mercury, a training establishment for boys wishing to go to sea. On Hoare’s death in 1908 Fry became its nominal head, but the real power was Beatrice. Her rule became increasingly brutal, and the rigours of life under it proved fatal to one young inmate. 
That reliable arbiter of morals, The Cricket Statistician, has gone so far as to describe both Fry and his wife as psychopaths.

Moving the House of Lords to York

Maybe moving the House of Lords to York isn't practical. Maybe it's the sort of idea that good for a newspaper column but can't survive in the real world.

Still, Britain does have a bad case of overcentralisation. London is our political, commercial and cultural capital. Other countries manage to spread the jam more fairly.

And shouldn't the Liberal Democrats be full of exciting, radical idea for solving this problem? What I have heard today is us speaking up for the status quo.

I admit I am biased: I love York and went to university there. But I would like to hear what the Lib Dem answer to London's overweening importance is if it's not this.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Shrewsbury Prison from above, 1927

As well as the town's prison, this also shows the Severn and Shrewsbury railway station.

The poet Housman adds:
There sleeps in Shrewsbury jail to-night,
Or wakes, as may betide,
A better lad, if things went right,
Than most that sleep outside.

Kevin Ayers: Stranger in Blue Suede Shoes

Time for some more Kevin Ayers.

This track from his album Whatevershebringswesing was relesed as a single in 1971 and again in 1976, but failed to chart both times.

But who cares about that?

Six of the Best 905

"Who displayed the strength and bravery to keep calling it out? Two women. Margaret Oliver, a former detective loathed by senior police command; and Joan Agoglia, the grandmother of a vulnerable teenage girl whose death she simply wanted investigating." Jennifer Williams on the Manchester child abuse scandal,

Chris Dillow points out the massive difference between the sort of conservatism Roger Scruton championed and free market economics.

"British tweeters skew left and toward remaining in the European Union, which reflects their demographic makeup." Helen Lewis reminds us that the Twitter electorate isn't the real electorate.

Anna McKie asks if standing up for expertise is a fool's errand.

Christopher Bray sees David Bowie's career as a Thatcherite parable of hard work by a boy from the suburbs.

Two Dario Argento films - Suspiria and Inferno - are discussed on the Evolution of Horror podcast.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Braybrooke, Great Oxendon and mud

It was a bright winter's day, so I decided on a walk across muddy fields. Very muddy fields, it turned out.

I caught the bus to Braybrooke and made it to the Canvas Cafe at Great Oxendon.

On the way, the low sun showed up the medieval ridge and furrow to great effect and, as ever in this part of the world, the walk was often accompanied by the sound of more or less distant shotguns.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Goodbye Mr Derek

I was very sorry to hear of the death of Derek Fowlds.

His selflessness as an actor was central to the success of Yes Minister, but as a working-class lad he was worried about playing a Whitehall high-flyer. So he turned up to rehearsals with a pair of glasses and a posh accent.

When he saw this Paul Eddington said: "Just talk to me the way you used to talk to Basil Brush."

And here is Derek Fowlds with Basil Brush. Together they produced some of the happiest television moments of my childhood.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

A 1937 film on the dangers of pollution from burning coal

It's a while since we have looked at the BFI's Britain on Film collection, but if you click on the iamge above you will be taken to a fascinating 1937 film on coal pollution.

The blurb for The Smoke Menace on the BFI site runs:
Smog was the deadly downside of Britain's industrial might, as this powerful and revealing documentary spells out. In 1937, coal was Britain's lifeblood; it fuelled her industry and heated most homes. 
But coal was wasteful and dirty, and it had an unpleasant, even lethal by-product. Smog wasn't just nasty and disruptive, it took its toll on buildings, the economy, child development and adult health - and it was a killer, claiming scores of lives every year. 
By 1937, the battle against smog was already being waged: the film points to processing technology to convert raw coal into oil or smokeless fuel, the increasing use of cleaner energy from gas and electricity, and improved housing. 
But another 15 years of periodic outbreaks of smog still lay ahead, before London's Great Smog of 1952 finally spurred Parliament into action in the form of the Clean Air Act of 1956.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Keith Vaz is the new chair of Leicester East Constituency Labour Party as police investigate alleged assault

If you thought you had heard the last of former Labour MP and part-time washing machine salesman Keith Vaz you were wrong.

This evening he was elected chair of the constituency party in his old seat of Leicester East.

If you want to know why this may cause some disquiet, have a read of Vaz's Wikipedia entry.

And there's more.

The Leicester Mercury reports:
A woman has claimed she was assaulted when she was barred from entering a meeting in which Keith Vaz was elected chairman of the Leicester East Constituency Labour Party. 
The Labour activist says she suffered an injury to her right wrist as she attempted to get into the meeting at Belgrave Neighbourhood Centre, in Belgrave, Leicester, on Tuesday night.

She told LeicestershireLive she visited a police station and a walk-in centre to get treatment after the meeting. 
Leicestershire Police has confirmed it is investigating the allegation.
Just another day in Leicester politics.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Paddy Ashdown profiled in 1988

Taken from an edition of This Week broadcast in May 1988.

At that point David Steel and Robert Maclennan were acting as joint leaders of the new party known as the Social and Liberal Democrats.

Row over potatoes at a wake saw 'over-sensitive' man, 59, smack victim with his crutch

A potato yesterday

The judges had no hesitation in choosing Teesside Live as the winner of our Headline of the Day Award.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Playtime isn't wasted time: it's intensely educational

Yesterday I came across an article by Lenore Skenazy:
[Peter] Gray is a professor of psychology at Boston College and a co-founder, along with me, of Let Grow, a nonprofit promoting childhood independence. He writes often about how kids need to play; this is how they learn how to get along, be creative, make things happen and grow up. Playtime isn't wasted time; it's intensely educational, just not in a standardized test kind of way. When administrators replace play with academics, the gains are short-lived, but the damage is not.
But as her article says:
Increased academic pressure and testing in kindergarten is bringing everyone to tears - including the teachers.
All of which gives me an excuse for posting the video above, which I was promoting in the day job on Friday.

Layla Moran: Labour and Lib Dems should "bury the hatchet"

And she doesn't mean in each other's heads either.

A pact with Labour is unlikely to work - parties cannot deliver their supporters en bloc to another party in the way activists fantasise - but we should remember the success of 1997 when the two parties concentrated on fighting the Conservatives.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Tony Robinson on Mick Aston and Time Team

Time Team, like Go With Noakes, was a programme that made you happy.

Good people doing interesting things in the British countryside. What more can you ask for?

Here Tony Robinson celebrates the long glory years of Time Team.

Note the mention for W.G. Hoskins and his The Making of the English Landscape.

No plans for a paperback edition of David Cameron's memoirs

Tim Walker writes about David Cameron's memoirs in his Mandrake diary column for The New European:
Booksellers tell me that there appear to be no immediate plans to publish For the Record in paperback. When I inquire, the former PM's factotum Laurence Mann confirms no publication date has been set. 
And who would want to read the paperback if they did read it?

The mess Britain finds it in is down to Cameron's strange mixture of cowardice and overconfidence.

As Tim writes:
Cameron appears to have withdrawn in terror to his garden shed and has not seen fit to emit a single Tweet since December 13, when his long-time rival Boris Johnson secured his Commons majority.
It's like I blogged back in October, the public schools' weakness is now the character of its old boys.

Jane Weaver: The Electric Mountain

BBC Manchester profiled Jane Weaver back in 2008:
Forget Jane Birkin, Nico and Julie Driscoll, singer-songwriter Jane Weaver is a unique and talented vocalist with her own distinctive style and her own dazzling collection of songs. 
Born in the same hospital as John Lennon, she had a strict catholic upbringing. Luckily for us, fate intervened and Weaver became seduced by the sight and sounds of Kate Bush bellowing Wuthering Heights on TOTP. 
"It was like a visitation" she recalls fondly. "She had this other worldly quality that was very emotive and very fairytale like. I immediately wanted to become a singer."
And in a 2014 review of her album 'The Silver Globe' on The Quietus told us that "The Electric Mountain' is cleverly based on a loop of Hawksind's 'Star Cannibal'."

Friday, January 10, 2020

Six of the Best 904

Christine Jardine argues that the Liberal Democrats should not hurry to elect a new leader.

"I have long argued that Labour members should ban the words 'Tory voters' from their vocabulary. If you start from the premise that someone a Tory voter is who someone is, rather than voting Tory being something they have done, you write them off as a potential vote for Labour." Emma Burnell makes a simple suggestion.

Stephen Parsons analyses why the Church of England is unable to respond adequately to revelations of abuse by its clergy.

Sarah Manavis examines the strange case of Paul Zimmer, the social media star who came back as a different person

"The ECB has a history of chasing golden geese. Remember how they courted Allen Stanford before the Texan billionaire was behind bars for fraud and the Indian Premier League had stolen a march on creating a T20 league that still dominates the domestic calendar. That disappointment still haunts a number of people at ECB HQ and hopefully The Hundred is not a delayed reaction built on jealousy rather than solid strategy." James Buttler believes The Hundred is a gamble that cricket does not have to take.

Jonathan Rowson says the challenge of chess - learning how to hold complexity in mind and still make good decisions - is also the challenge of life.

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Walking a lost Roman road

John Rogers takes us from Theydon Bois on the Central Line out to Hobbs Cross to find a forgotten stretch of the Roman Road that once ran from London to Great Dunmow in Essex.

He also takes in part of the Essex Way long-distance path to get to Epping station.

Harry and Meghan have made the right decision

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Even if you support the monarchy - its powerlessness to resist Boris Johnson's prorogation of parliament last September has made me less inclined to do so - you have to admit that Prince Harry has already outlived his function.

One of the American heiresses who married into and rescued the British aristocracy in the late 19th century is supposed to have referred to her two sons as "the heir and the spare".

Harry was always the spare, and now his brother has three children there is no need for one. His Uncle Andrew hardly offers an encouraging model of what becomes of members of his family who no longer have a function.

So there is every reason for Harry and Meghan to look for a new life. And the unrelenting racism of sections of the British press means that it was always likely to be in America.

One of the strongest arguments against the monarchy is that life is impossible for anyone who has to live under such a spotlight.

Few who have married into the royal family in recent decades have managed to stay there. Antony Armstrong-Jones, Mark Phillips, Diana Spencer and Sarah Ferguson have all come and gone.

And we should not forget that Harry himself was the victim of an act of extraordinary cruelty by 'the firm'.

As a 12-year-old he was made to walk behind his mother's coffin in a public funeral because it was thought that protocol demanded it or that it would make an affecting spectacle.

There is no doubt that Harry and Meghan have made the right decision.

Nick Harvey on Jo Swinson's "catastrophic mistake"

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Nick Harvey, former Liberal Democrat chief executive and for MP for North Devon, has a letter in the new Private Eye.

It concludes:
Though I had departed by then, the Lib Dem pivot on 28 October to back an election appears to have been taken that weekend under SNP pressure, and Labour left Labour no choice but to follow suit.
It was a catastrophic mistake, gift-wrapping everything wanted and handing it to him for Christmas... majority government, Brexit, and given the state of the Labour Party, potentially ten years in office. 
Defeated Lib Dem MPs, Jo Swinson among them, paid a heavy price for her disastrous miscalculation.

Monday, January 06, 2020

Norman Baker: Shipping Forecast

Thanks to Paul Walter on Liberal Democrat Voice for posting this track from Norman Baker's solo LP Staying Blue.

Paul also has news of an album involving another former Lib Dem MP - Greg Mulholland.

Layla Moran on being outed by the Mail on Sunday

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Last week Layla Moran came out as a pansexual, but the decision and its timing were made under duress.

Writing for the Independent she explains:
For the last few months, I had been hearing second hand that a few journalists had been attempting to make our relationship salacious or sensational. My understanding was that they had been calling around asking questions from as early as mid-October. 
Then, last Saturday the Mail on Sunday contacted me directly to tell me they were publishing something with less than 24 hours notice. I pleaded with them to wait. I hadn’t yet told my 92-year-old Grandma who reads their paper “just for the crossword” and I couldn’t bear the idea she would see it before anything else. 
After a series of phone calls over the course of the day, they agreed to not write it last week, but I still believed they would publish this Sunday with or without me. So I told my grandmother and decided to take back the control that I feared would be stolen from me. 
In the past few days, I have learnt that reporters have been offering money and doorstepping houses of an ex-boyfriend and former neighbours looking for information about either of us. All because I had the prerogative and confidence to tell our story myself. 
Today a follow-up story in the Mail on Sunday accuses me of trying to "weaponise" my sexuality. They have barely quoted anyone who met me, and many of the people quoted seem confused about what pansexuality actually is. 
The story frames my actions, my telling of my story, as a calculated plan. 
This couldn't be further from the truth. While I am proud of who I am, it was the media who I felt intimidated me into doing it at a time, not of my choosing.
Reading this you wonder why anyone would go into politics.

Sunday, January 05, 2020

The Byrds: Eight Miles High

Released in 1966 and, says Wikipedia, influenced by Ravi Shankar and John Coltrane,Eight Miles High was influential in developing psychedelic rock, raga rock and psychedelic pop.

Critics - and this is still Wikipedia talking - often cite it as the first psychedelic rock song.

I would only add that, while this single version lasts just three and a half minutes, there are any number of live performances online that last several days.

GCSE in natural history being developed

Will Hazell claims an exclusive in the i:
A GCSE in natural history is being planned to help teenagers reconnect with wildlife by learning the names and characteristics of British plants and animals, i can reveal. 
i understands that a major UK exam board is actively working up proposals for the new qualification, which is the brainchild of broadcaster and nature writer Mary Colwell and backed by Green Party MP Caroline Lucas. 
Ms Colwell said she was hopeful it could be taught in schools in England as early as September 2021.
Mary Colwell explained why she has been promoting this idea in a guest post for this blog last year:
It arose from a realisation that the world is unfamiliar to so many. Although we live here, breathe the air, eat what is grown in the earth and watch programmes that celebrate the natural world, many people know little about their surroundings. 
This was not the case 50 years ago. There has been a steady erosion of the rock that kept us stable on the planet - our understanding of nature and our place in it. 
A similar idea lay behind the publication of The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris and the subsequent campaign to get it into schools.

Friday, January 03, 2020

The Monastery of St Antony and St Cuthbert in the Stiperstones 4

So here is the last of these videos from the Orthodox monastery beneath the Stiperstones in Shropshire.

"It's jolly mysterious," said Dickie.

Thursday, January 02, 2020

T.H. White vs the Oxford School of children's fantasy literature

Being a contrary child, I often took against writers I was meant to enjoy.

Arthur Ransome, for instance, was dispatched with a pincer movement involving Malcolm Saville and Richard Jefferies.

And once I discovered T.H. White's The Sword in the Stone I had no more time for C.S. Lewis.

I have just come across an article that suggests there may have been more behind this latter judgement than sheer cussedness.

In it, Rebecca Onion interviews Maria Sachiko Cecire about her book Re-Enchanted: The rise of children’s fantasy literature in the twentieth century.

In it she identifies an 'Oxford School' of children's fantasy literature led by J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis - led not just through their own writing but also through their influence on the development of the university's English Literature curriculum.

Sachiko Cecire says:
This curriculum at Oxford was really heavy on medieval literature, just at the moment when most other universities were going in the direction of modernism and the kinds of writing that we now associate with literary fiction in the 20th and 21st centuries. 
At Oxford they were doubling down on medieval literature and also looking at it not just as examples for linguistic analysis - which was how it had been primarily studied in the 19th century under philology - but really looking at it as literature. Really seriously asking students to meditate on both the English medieval past and also this idea of magic and enchantment.
And she points out that Susan Cooper, Kevin Crossley-Holland, Diana Wynne Jones and Philip Pullman all studied this curriculum between 1956 and 1968.

Cambridge doesn't have the same legacy of children’s fantasy writers, but it did have T.H. White:
T.H. White was at Cambridge at a really interesting time, when there was still a medieval requirement, but right as they were ending it. If you compare his The Once and Future King to, say, The Lord of the Rings, they’re so different in the way they talk about the Middle Ages, with a different level of reverence. 
There’s anachronism in White’s writing, and pretty profound critiques of the warlike nature of the Middle Ages and of a lot of the nostalgia for that period. Whereas Tolkien and his students tend to be a lot more reverent of that material.
This may explain why White's writing is so much warmer than that of the Oxford School.

The Sword in the the Stone is funny and sad, wise and silly, steeped in history and turns anachronism into an art form.

Free school meals and Russell Group universities

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One of the statistics that those interested in equality of access to the best of higher education look at is the number of pupils receiving free school meals who gain a place at a Russell Group university.

The other day I realised that I had done exactly that in 1978. Yes, I was once a poster boy for social mobility.

Though the Russell Group was not formed until 1994, and the University of York did not join it until 2012, a place at York was certainly sought after when I was taking my A levels.

One of the problems poorer teenagers like me face is a lack of knowledge.

I realised when I applied to go to university that we were going to have to spend serious money on train fares when I went for interview.

The arrangement I came to with my Mum was that I would put the pound-a-week pocket money she gave me towards the fares and rely on my Saturday job (a whopping £3.50) for spending money.

It would be hard to check now, but I seem to remember that I later found out that the county council would have paid my fares to go to interviews because I got free school meals.

But no one at school knew this or thought to tell me if they did.

When I tweeted about this the other day, a much more recent student who had also achieved the same feat told me that every bursary he received came because he heard about it by chance. There was no communication about them from the university.

From which I conclude if you want to see social mobility in education then poor students need more information and schools and universities need to care about it more.

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

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