Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Six of the Best 963

Jonathan Chait offers a way of understanding Donald Trump: "He is a brilliant con man, who has, throughout his career in business and politics alike, honed the singular skill of identifying marks and exploiting them with spectacular lies."

"Senator Bankhead, the uncle of Tallulah, managed to get a bill drafted in Congress which would have authorised $1 billion of stamp scrip to be issued the following year." David Boyle girds up to make the case for local money again.

Jessica Grose says that though devices for tracking children calm parents' fears, they hamper the children's development.

"'Sport confirmed that in England, you could do as you pleased,' he writes, and to this end he takes us on a dizzying journey from the bull-runners of Stamford to the public school cricketers of ­Uppingham, from the militaristic pomp of the fox hunt to the bloodied bare-knuckle heroes of the prize-fighting ring, from the Peterloo ­massacre of 1819 to the stirrings of modern football." Jonathan Liew reviews This Sporting Life: Sport and Liberty in England, 1760-1960 by Robert Colls, who taught me on my Master's course at Leicester many years ago.

Adrian York celebrates Kate Bush's election to fellowship of the Ivors Academy, the independent professional association UK for music creators.

Will Carr looks at Anthony Burgess as a Mancunian.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The Stilton Strike of 1919

An unexpected and valuable insight into the economic history of Rutland and also into Lord Bonkers' relationship with Lloyd George.


Liz Truss – I could have sworn she used to be one of ours – has had what she believes to be the novel idea of selling Stilton to the Japanese. It’s not novel at all, as anyone familiar with the economic history of Rutland could tell her. 

When Japan opened herself to trade with the West in the 19th century, our merchant captains were among the first to sail into Yokohama and Nagasaki. Sweating with thick blue veins and a pungent odour, those skippers chose Stilton as their cargo. Trade with Japan grew steadily and I remember as a boy seeing Japanese craft tied up at Oakham Quay having made the perilous crossing of Rutland Water with their bales of silk. 

All went well until the Stilton Strike of 1919, when the miners came out demanding better pay and Lloyd George sent the troops in. They were billeted in Cropwell Bishop, and I recall telling LG at the time that this was Going A Bit Far, but by then he only had ears for his new Conservative friends and the trade with Japan never recovered. Really, I wonder what they teach in school History classes nowadays.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary...

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

"When he was wise and learned ... he was known as the Calder"

If I understand Nick Barlow's latest blog post aright, it is a story told round a campfire far into a post-apocalyptic future and inspired by Calder's Sixth Law of Politics.

This holds that:

All Liberal Democrat leadership elections are reruns of Steel vs Pardoe

Nick writes:

You know how we have those who are foolish on some days and yet wise on others? They had one such as this. He was said to be an ancient soul, who was one of the Parley-Pardies in the times before the times before, he was said to know the location of the steeper stones, whatever they may be, and that he had, in his youth, put many pieces of paper through the door of many houses, though none could enlighten me as to why that was important. When he was a fool, they laughed and called him Bonkers, an old epithet of the lands of Ukay, my uncle believed, but when he was wise and learned, they sat before him as well-behaved orphans might, and then he was known as the Calder.

Now, there was an ancient prophecy, said to have been uttered by the first Calder of the tribe, that the new leader would be chosen from just two of the Parley-Pardies and that one of would be of steel, the other of a type of uncooked bread my uncle did not know but they called a par-dough. And so, the Parley-Pardies would line up in front of the Calder, he would examine them through squinted eyes and declare for all to hear which of them were steel and which were par-dough.

I have not been so flattered since I lent my name to the chairman of the Blaxwich Chamber of Commerce who attempted to assassinate Dr Beeching in Hookland.

Nick's story also reminds me of one of my very favourite blog posts: Fred Carver's Argonauts of the incredibly specific: anthropological field notes on the Liberal Democrat animal.

For instance:

Liberal Democrats also have formative rituals, or initiation ceremonies, known as “by elections” to establish identification with the group. The by election ritual is much like the circumcision ritual of the Xhosa tribe:

"During the time of the initiation, the young men live in special huts, secluded from the rest of the tribe and especially from any females. They undergo training and endurance tests, which require great discipline. All aspects of the initiation are kept very secret."

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The occasional bulk order from a gang of armed robbers

Lord Bonkers has long been at pains to encourage such local craft industries. In this respect, though perhaps no other, he resembles Gandhi.


It's an ill wind that blows no good, as the proverb runs, and we have seen the truth of that saw here in recent months. For years the Ladies’ Mask Sewing Circle has met every week in St Asquith’s church hall to make facial coverings for shy people. There has never been much profit in it: indeed, if it were not for the occasional bulk order from a gang of armed robbers. I doubt they would have been able to keep going. 

Then came this wretched virus and suddenly they could not sell enough of the things. I even scoured the Hall for spare material on their behalf and was able to come up with two gross of T-shirts left over from an old Liberal Party general election campaign. Which is why you will see many people walking around Rutland in masks bearing the slogan ‘One more heave’.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary...

Man who erected a giant wooden penis on his lawn fights to keep it up

Embed from Getty Images

What with Covid, Brexit and Simon Mann's cricket commentary, the judges thought we needed cheering up.

So our Headline of the Day Award goes to CBC.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Harry and Paul's Panel Show

This is very funny and makes an important point about the uselessness of a common style of comedy.

As Jonathan Coe once wrote:

When Humphrey Carpenter interviewed the leading lights of the 1960s satire boom for his book That Was Satire, That Was in the late 1990s, he found that what was once youthful enthusiasm had by now curdled into disillusionment. 

One by one, they expressed dismay at the culture of facetious cynicism their work had spawned, their complaints coalescing into a dismal litany of regret. 

John Bird: "Everything is a branch of comedy now. Everybody is a comedian. Everything is subversive. And I find that very tiresome."

Barry Humphries: "Everyone is being satirical, everything is a send-up. There’s an infuriating frivolity, cynicism and finally a vacuousness."

Christopher Booker: "Peter Cook once said, back in the 1960s, “Britain is in danger of sinking giggling into the sea,” and I think we really are doing that now."

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Lunch with Freddie and Fiona

This entry would fall on the day of the leader's speech. I'm afraid Rutland's most celebrated fictional peer remains resolutely off message.


Socially distanced lunch in Westminster with Freddie and Fiona. It transpires that the man from the Stockport chip shop was their favoured candidate in the leadership contest. 

“We write all of Ed’s best lines,” they tell me. “That one about rejoining the EU being ‘for the birds’? That was one of ours. And we thought of telling journalists to come back in ten months if they want to know what our policies are.” 

I ask how they see Liberal Democrat developing under our new leader. “We’re very interested in the yellow halo,” comes the reply. Now that may sound like something that would be offered in one of Soho’s less salubrious establishment’s, but they are referring to some opinion poll or other that says we are poised to sweep all before us in the South East of England. 

I tell them I have heard it all before: there used to be a fellow called Orpington Man we were supposed to cultivate, but he turned out to be a myth (or was that Piltdown Man?) Fiona, however, will have none of it. “There are still whole streets in Esher that are not within walking distance of a Waitrose. Those poor people! They need us.”  

I catch the train home to Rutland and spend the evening playing Layla on the jukebox in the Bonkers’ Arms.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary...

Leicester East MP Claudia Webbe charged with harassment

Claudia Webbe, the Labour MP for Leicester East, has been charged with harassment, reports the Leicester Mercury.

She was charged after the Metropolitan Police passed a file of evidence was passed to the Crown Prosecution Service.

Webbe, who replaced Keith Vaz as MP for the seat at last year's general election and remains a councillor in Islington, is due to appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on 11 November.

Later. The Evening Standard says Claudia Webbe has been suspended from the Labour Party.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Six of the Best 962

"Britain’s Higher Education system is experiencing something close to an existential crisis, perhaps even a moral or spiritual meltdown, because it no longer knows what it is for or where it should go." Public Policy and the Past says the universities' problems reach far beyond Covid.19.

George Smid, Lisa Brewin and Andrew Brown discuss the damage Brexit will do to farming in the East Midlands.

Hua Hsu asks how we can pay for creativity in the digital age.

"One business in particular arrived with a van to remove all their equipment on a Saturday, only to find they couldn't park outside due to the closure. They were so astonished to see the footfall that they reversed this decision which in itself has saved nearly 20 jobs." Frankie Adkins reports on the success of a pedestrianisation scheme.

Josh Jones introduces us to the CIA's Simple Sabotage Field Manual, which offers a timeless guide to subverting any organisation with purposeful stupidity.

The writer of the pilot episode of The Simpsons was then excluded from the writers' room for being a woman, reports Clarisse Loughrey.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: When teddy bears terrorised Britain

Lord Bonkers peered over my shoulder at the Liberator website. "It says there 'the film Rock Around the Clock,' but I think I meant Blackboard Jungle. That was the one that got all the teddies stirred up. Be a good chap and change it here."

"The ethics of blogging require..."

"Remember, your rent falls due on Lady Day."


A correspondent asks for my memories of Britain in the 1950s. I reply that the decade is perhaps best remembered for what the teddy bears got up to. It all began at showings of the film Blackboard Jungle, where they slashed the seats, threw bottles and fireworks, and put in shop windows. Soon they were being denounced as hooligans and criminals – I remember writing a trenchant editorial for the High Leicestershire Radical along those lines myself. 

It was an old Chinaman who put things right: apparently some child had made the mistake of feeding his teddy after midnight and that had led to all the disorder. After the headmaster of a leading prep school went on to Children’s Hour to forbid this practice, there was no more trouble from the ‘Teds’( as they had become known).

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary...

Opossum: Girl

I have a pile of CDs from music magazines that I have never played. Some are years old and it can be hard to find out much about a song you like.

Opossum are a band from New Zealand and Girl comes from their 2012 debut album Electric Hawaii - there's a review of it on Pitchfork.

And NZ on Screen reveals that the album won Best Alternative Album at that year's New Zealand Music Awards.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Derailed by A Canterbury Tale

Though I increasingly name it as my favourite film, I used to worry whenever I watched A Canterbury Tale. It felt such a fragile thing - a rare essay in English mysticism - and I worried that the magic would not work this time.

But it always did and five years ago I learnt that its magic is not fragile at all. This is not a film to take lightly.


Filmed in 1943 by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, A Canterbury Tale tells the story of three modern-day visitors to the city. They are played by Dennis Price, Sheila Sim and John Sweet, who meet when they get off the train at the fictional Chillingbourne station.

Price plays Peter Gibbs, an Army sergeant who is a classical organist by training but has been making money by playing in cinemas. Sim is Alison Smith, a land girl and former shopworker mourning a fiancé missing in action and presumed dead.

Perhaps both actors are a little too genteel for their parts, but this is infinitely preferable to the way the working-class characters were commonly treated in British films – see Kathleen Harrison in The Winslow Boy for the very worst example. And Price, with his coolness and cynicism, seems a thoroughly modern figure.

John Sweet, the third member of the trio, was billed as Sergeant John Sweet US Army and that is just what he was - a soldier posted to Britain and working on Eisenhower's staff, not a professional actor.

Confused by the black out and lack of signs and mishearing the announcement, his character gets out at the station before Canterbury by mistake, setting the plot of the film in motion.


These days caring responsibilities make it hard to get away. My trip to Canterbury in 2015 was the last proper holiday I have had.

I was full of thoughts of the film as I travelled down to Kent, and when I arrived I found my bed and breakfast, a sort of overflow from one of the city’s major hotels, stood bang opposite the Marlowe Theatre. Opened in 2011, it occupies the site of The Friars Cinema where the premiere of A Canterbury Tale was held in May 1944. (John Sweet had to miss the occasion. The film's action takes place while the country is waiting for D-Day and he was busy preparing for the real thing.)

And on my first day I visited The Chaucer Bookshop and asked about Paul Tritton’s book on the film. I had heard it was hard to find and expensive when you did, but they had two copies of the first edition at a reasonable price. (It's a book any lover of the film will want, and I gather the second edition is even more comprehensive.)

So I planned the week’s outings: a day for the cathedral, trips to Whitstable and Reculver, another day for other sights in Canterbury and then Dungeness on my last full day. And, in the middle of it all, I would go to see friends in Hastings.

That Sunday, waiting on Ashford station on the way back from Hastings, I sent a tweet.


As the three travellers leave Chillingbourne station, Sheila Sim has glue poured on her hair by a mystery assailant. The three learn that this is not the first such attack and join forces to unmask 'the glue man'.

It’s less of a mystery to the film’s audience, who are given a big clue to his identity that the characters do not see. Besides, this is not what the film is really about, though there is great fun to be had from the way the three recruit the local urchins to help them in their investigation.

Closer to its heart is Eric Portman’s portrayal of Thomas Colpeper, gentleman farmer, magistrate and passionate local historian. The part had been written for Roger Livesey, but he disliked the ‘glue man’ element of the film and declined to take part.

Livesey would have brought more warmth to Colpeper, but Portman is mesmerising and it is his public lecture that you remember most from the film.

Yet in what is essentially a film about the war and why we are fighting it, this scene is shot in a way that makes us remember Portman’s turn as a fugitive Nazi in 49th Parallel. It makes his aristocratic Puck of a character, who still lives with his mother, all the more unnerving.


Shortly after I sent my tweet the Canterbury train pulled in and I caught it. We sped through the late evening and then it became clear something was wrong.

My carriage began to judder and it was obvious that the one in front had become derailed.  

Eventually we came to a halt and then sat out in the dark fields waiting for something to happen. Then flashing blue lights became visible in the distance and I have never been so glad to see them.

While we waited I tweeted a photograph of the coach in front of mine and was fending off media requests for the next couple of days.

One by one we climbed down from the trains and made our way down a slippery embankment and across wet fields to the road where vehicles were waiting to take us to Godmersham village hall. (Godmersham is near Chilham, one of the models for the film's Chillingbourne.)

As I said in a light-hearted blog post that was quoted a little too fully by Kent Online:

I chose the cage at the back as it was the only chance I will get to ride in one unless someone talks

There, late on a Sunday night, tea and cakes were provided for us all. It was just the sort of occasion where Mr Colpeper would look in to ensure all was well. I think I saw his mother serving tea.


What A Canterbury Tale is really about is not the hunt for the glue man, nor the powerful role of women in war, nor the beauty and resilience of that city. It is about the blessings received by the three latter-day pilgrims

Denis Price plays the cathedral organ for a congregation of soldiers and rediscovers his vocation as a serious musician. John Sweet receives a stack of letters from the girl he thought had dumped in. Sheila Sim learns that her fiancé is alive and that his father, reconciled to their marriage, is waiting for her at a Canterbury hotel.

Eric Portman receives no such blessing, unless it is the knowledge that he has closed himself of from the world too much and that Sheila Sim or someone like her would be the woman for him.


Photo credit: Network Rail

And me? I have always been fascinated by trains and found the experience exhilarating. It was only the next day that I began to think about how lucky I had been. 

My train had struck some cows that had wandered on to the line and been derailed as a result. At Polmont in 1984, 13 people died in just such an accident.

And the driver, whom I talked to on the ride to Godmersham village hall in our cage, told me he had thought we were going down the embankment.

In the event we hit the low parapet of an underbridge and were diverted back towards the tracks and safety.

So my blessing may have been that I was still alive to warn you not to take A Canterbury Tale lightly.

This post was written for Terence Towles Canote's Rule, Britannia Blogathon.

Later. It's nothing to do with the film, but I could have mentioned that my friends' young son was quite insistent that I should spend the night with them in Hastings and not travel back to Canterbury. But then his mother is Irish, so he may have The Sight.

Social Liberal Forum report on rebuilding the Lib Dems

Ian Kearns and Jon Alexander from the Social Liberal Forum have published 'Winning for Britain: Rebuilding the Lib Dems to change the course of our country'.

You can download the report from the SLF website.

If you are short of time then its most important conclusion is:

The path to a real breakthrough, allowing the party to play a significant role in removing the Conservatives from office while giving it a real say in what happens afterwards, is going to require several things: a rigorous understanding of the diverse voter coalition that needs to be built; a much deeper engagement with those voters, including facing into issues that may be outside the “comfort zone”; and the articulation of a distinctively liberal and progressive narrative about the future direction of this country that can span that coalition, inspire hope, and bring people together.

Kearns and Alexander have also written an article about their report for Liberal Democrat Voice.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The little inmates hung upon my every word

Our second day at Bonkers Hall finds the old boy in reflective mood.


Still, I suppose it is good that we now have a leader. I recall a visit I paid some weeks ago to my own Home for Well-Behaved Orphans. The little inmates hung upon my every word as I told them tales of how life used to be. I spoke of a distant time when one was free to meet one’s friends and neighbours as one wished and our thoughts were not dominated by just one subject. 

"I wish it could be like that again!" exclaims one little girl. "Never mind, my dear," I say, patting her arm, "the Liberal Democrat leadership election can’t last for ever."

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary...

Friday, September 25, 2020

Welsh LIb Dems back reopening of Aberystwyth to Carmarthen line

A report in Nation Cymru begins:

Reopening the Aberystwyth-Carmarthen railway would cost significantly less than thought, a report by campaign group Traws Link Cymru has claimed.

They claim that the cost of reopening the Aberystwyth to Carmarthen railway could be reduced to around £620 million, 20% less than the Wesh Government’s £775m price tag.

The report, entitled A Strategic Rail Corridor for west Wales comes two years after the Welsh Government published their own feasibility study.

It found that 97 per cent of the original trackbed was clear and that reopening was a realistic prospect.

And on Twitter Jane Dodds, the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats says:

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Haddock and chips (hold the mushy peas)

Liberator is now a free online publication, but Lord Bonkers is carrying on regardless.


Did you know the new leader of the Liberal Democrats is a man who serves in a chip shop in Stockport? Extraordinary, isn’t it? 

I was in that town today to buy a new fedora and decided to treat myself to a fish supper before turning in for the night. So there I was ordering haddock and chips (hold the mushy peas) when the fellow introduced himself. As he was wearing a visor it was hard to make out everything he said even with my ear trumpet turned to 11, but it was something about wanting to listen to me. 

I was forced to reply as follows: "Young man, that is not a good idea. First, the people behind me in the queue want their chips every bit as much as I do and, second, if you have made the effort to get yourself elected as the leader of one of our historic political parties, I rather hope that it will be worth my listening to you."

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

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Download the new Liberator free of charge to read what's really going on in the Lib Dems

The new Liberator - the first online-only issue of the magazine - can be downloaded free, gratis and for nothing.

While you are on the Liberator website you can sign up for its email newsletter so you will know as soon as a new issue is posted.

The magazine always carries a wide range of articles, but I usually turn first to Radical Bulletin, which has news about the Liberal Democrats that you will not find anywhere else. 

This time, for instance, you can learn who funded the two leadership candidates' campaigns, what went wrong with the selection of the party's London mayoral candidate and how our internal disciplinary mechanism is being choked with minor complaints.

In case that all sounds good too be true, tomorrow I shall start posting Lord Bonkers' Diary from the new Liberator.

Why it's a smart move for Hutchison Ports to pay Chris Grayling £100,000 a year

There's been a lot of adverse comment about the decision by Hutchison Ports to pay Chris Grayling £100,000 for seven hours' work a week for a year.

Critics point out that the firm with no ships that Grayling hired to run ferries in case of a no-deal Brexit has gone bust this week owing £2m. But they are missing the point.

What Hutchison Ports will undoubtedly be doing is listening to Grayling's advice and then doing the precise opposite of what he recommends.

So £100,000 represents excellent value for the company's shareholders. I may invest in it myself.

Six of the Best 961

"A basic income will be the best, fairest and simplest way to safeguard the most vulnerable in society and care for those who need it." Christine Jardine writes for the Daily Mirror.

Stephen Bush reviews two books on Labour under Jeremy Corbyn.

"I’ve been threatened numerous times during the course of my career but now face a daily barrage of abuse - from being threatened with rape to personal attacks on my appearance. I live in the community I work in, as do many of our reporters. Yet we do not feel safe." Behind Local News reveals the onslaught of online abuse journalists now face.

Rachel Aldred and Anna Goodman find that the low-traffic neighbourhoods scheme implemented in outer London has led to decreased car ownership and use and to increased active travel.

"The most remarkable features of the ‘vision’, apart from a failure to mention the original purpose of the National Trust and the reasons for more than a century of bequests to it, are an insulting assessment of its public, a blithe confidence in its powers of clairvoyance, and a slick, obfuscatory jargon." Nicholas Penny is not impressed by the National Trust's new vision.

"So Andrey Tarkovsky loved Star Wars?" The director's son talks to Max Dax.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

The tidal Thames in colour (1935)

In this 1935 colour film we follow the tidal Thames downstream from Teddington through the Pool of London to Docklands and beyond. (A comment on YouTube identifies the locations and vessels for us.)

It all looks beautiful, though I doubt the river was terribly clean in 1935, but the choice of music makes the film seem even longer older than it is.

I recall a series of videos (now vanished) that showed footage of the last days of British steam accompanied by Motown classics and other music that was in the charts in those years.

As so much of that music still sounds modern, it was a counterbalance to easy nostalgia. Here the music pushes down that side of the scales hard.

Thanks to Isle of Dogs Life.

Is social class the elephant in the Liberal Democrat room?

One of the best things about our party is that we are so sensitive to the many reasons that people can suffer discrimination.

Yet I cannot recall any Liberal Democrat blogger or tweeter noting that, after two consecutive Lib Dem leaders educated in state schools, this year saw a contest in which both candidates has been privately educated.

Is social class the elephant in the Liberal Democrat room?

At least 2020 did not see a contest where the two candidates had been to the same expensive school. This happened when Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne disputed the party leadership in 2007.

Police may patrol Kent border after Brexit

Today's news that, as far as hauliers are concerned, there will be customs posts at the Kent border is not news as far as readers of this blog are concerned.

Because I wrote about it at the start of last month:
That's right. Brexit won't just introduce a hard border with our European neighbours: it will, as far as hauliers are concerned. introduce borders within the UK.

Why didn't business leaders speak out sooner? We heard little from during the referendum campaign.

I suspect they could not believe any government could be this mad.
At least the haulage industry is speaking up today.

Politics Home quotes Richard Burnett, the chief executive of the Road Haulage Association:
"We already know this. It’s what we’ve been saying for many months. We know that traders and haulage operators will face new customs controls and processes and we know that if they haven’t completed the right paperwork their goods will be stopped when entering the EU.

"Mr Gove stresses that it’s essential that traders act now to get ready for new the formalities. We know for a fact that they are only too keen to be ready 

but how on earth can they prepare when there is still no clarity as to what they need to do?
"Government’s promises that the UK will be ready for business on 1 January are just a whitewash, and right now it appears that traders and haulage operators are being left to carry the can."

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The abandoned copper mines of Alderley Edge

Martin Zero is our guide into and under Alan Garner country.

A competition for young nature writers

My Wildlife, a free-to-enter competition, is looking for writing by young people on the theme of nature. There are two age categories: 8-10 and 11-16 years. 

Writing can be in almost any form, including descriptive pieces, short stories, personal reflections, letters, journalism, diaries and accounts - fact or fiction. The organisers are not looking for poetry or plays.

Mike Pringle, director of the Richard Jefferies Museum at Swindon, is one of the organisers of the competition.

He told the Swindon Advertiser:

"When the Covid-19 crisis struck, many of us realised just how precious nature – the great outdoors – is and how much it can do for our wellbeing.

"Our learning officer suggested that maybe we should let young people tell us what they think of it, and the competition was born."

You can find full details of the competition, which closes on Friday 27 November, on the Richard Jefferies Museum website.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Christmas 1959 in Nottingham

It's 1959 and, says the blurb on the British Film Institute site, Beryl Reid is on at the Theatre Royal in Nottingham, a trolley bus passes the Palais de Danse and the Christmas tree is present and correct in Old Market Square. 

Most intriguing of all are the Nottingham characters posing for the camera at the start of this amateur reel shot by local filmmaker F. Pole. A forgotten fragment of 1950s life preserved for posterity.

Click on the image above to view this film on the BFI site.

When John Pugh quoted Evelyn Waugh in the Commons

Yesterday I posted my answers to a short questionnaire about some of my favourite and least favourite reading

One of the books I mentioned was Evelyn Waugh's Decline and Fall, and today I found this comment on that post:

Waugh's "Decline and Fall" is a good choice. I once used it in the Commons debate on the Academies Bill to general mystification as no-one who would have read it could have missed the irony of that particular proposal. Philistines !

"The Bill suggests that simply calling schools academies without the dosh will work some special magic. I am personally intrigued by this relabelling exercise.

There may be a day when simply calling an institution a "school" might be some sort of insult or an indication of failure. I do not know whether other hon. Members have read Evelyn Waugh's "Decline and Fall" but in it the hapless Paul Pennyfeather seeks a teaching job through an agency having been expelled from Oxford. He is told by the man at the agency:

"We class schools...into...Leading School, First-rate School, Good School and School. Frankly...School is pretty bad".

Interestingly enough, Waugh's unfortunate character Paul Pennyfeather was expelled from Oxford for indecency, having been de-bagged by drunken members of what Waugh calls the Bollinger Club. There is a slight resonance in that.

The comment was anonymous but a search of Hansard revealed that my hunch was correct: the writer was the former Liberal Democrat MP for Southport, John Pugh.

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.

Later. The play has now been nominated for an International Emmy and its young lead Billy Barratt, who had just celebrated his 12th birthday when filming began, has been shortlisted for the best male actor award.

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.