Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Monday, May 10, 2021

Write a guest post for Liberal England


I welcome guest posts on Liberal England and am happy to publish obes on subjects far beyond the Liberal Democrats and British politics.

In fact I could do with some guest posts on what the Lib Dems should do in the light of Thursday's elections. I am now a full-time carer, which limits the time I have to write longer posts of that sort.

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

Sunday, May 09, 2021

Renaissance: Northern Lights

The band Renaissance has a complicated history. It was formed in 1969 by Keith Relf and Jim McCarty, two members of the Yardbirds who fell by the wayside as that band transformed itself into Led Zeppelin, and its original line up also include Relf's sister Jane.

In the Seventies a new line up emerged, with Annie Haslam as the lead vocatist. It was this incarnation that recorded Northern Lights, which reached number 10 in the UK Singles charts in the summer of 1978.

Roy Wood was involved with Renaissance a couple of decades after that, and the band is still going today. Only it has crossed the Atlantic and is now firmly American.

I liked Northern Lights back in 1978 and like it today. This is chiefly because of Haslam's voice, but it's also good to see a pretentious, late Seventies double-necked guitar again.

Two reasons Labour deserved to lose Hartlepool

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Twitter is not Britain, they say. And that's just as well.

Much of the reaction I've seen on the platform from those disappointed at the result in the Hartlepool by-election has involved attacks on the town's voters. They are stupid, they are racist and so on.

But what if Labour got pretty much the result they deserved? What if they had a disaterous recent history on the local council and imposed the wrong candidate?

Here's a paragraph from the magisterial preview of the by-election that Andrew Teale wrote for Britain Elects:

Then the wheels really started to come off the clown car that is Hartlepool council. This is complicated, please bear with me. In 2018 the five UKIP councillors walked out of the party and, eventually, rebranded as a new party called the Independent Union. 

Just before the May 2019 elections the ruling Labour group suffered a huge split, with most of the leadership group walking off to join the Scargillite Socialist Labour Party. The electorate were not impressed, and in May 2019 ... Labour lost six of the nine wards they were defending and overall control of the council.

And here is Ailbhe Rea reporting her visit to the town in the New Statesman:

"Have you heard about our fantastic candidate, Dr Paul Williams?" a keen Labour activist asks an elderly gentleman who has answered his door in Seaton Carew, a seaside village a few minutes’ drive down the coast from Hartlepool’s centre. 

He is not voting Labour, he tells the canvasser, saying he has read that Williams was involved in the decision to close critical care at Hartlepool hospital (Williams, an NHS doctor, was indeed on the board that consulted on that decision).

Sometimes in politics you get the result you deserve.

Saturday, May 08, 2021

The Joy of Six 1007

I have long regretted choosing 'Six of the Best' as a name for a feature on this blog. I mentioned this in a recent post and, thanks to a suggestion there by Epictetus, I have my new title.

At least I can be confident that I will never come to regret using one based on a naff Seventies sex manual.

So on we go...

Shev Fogarty blames the Jersey government's new licensing system for the current fishing dispute.

"Having spent time in 2005 asking people around Scotland how they planned to vote, and why, the most common answer to the second question was ‘that’s how we’ve always voted’, often with an invocation of a father. ... These days, the most common answer is 'I’ll see what they have to say'. The SNP didn’t become a part of people’s identities in the way their old parties used to be. It just convinced them to be open-minded." Adam Ramsey explains how the Scottish political landscape has changed.

James Kirkup says education, not class, is Britain's real political divide.

Amanda Perkins talks about her experiences working with farmers, ornithologists and volunteers in the Shropshire hills on curlew conservation.

"By the time he wrote The Owl Service, [Alan] Garner was subverting both the style and the narrative structure of fantasy, creating a distinct voice and a numinous experience. Garner’s fantasy novel focuses on the angst, loves and rivalries of its teenage protagonists: what is at stake is the home and the family. And what disrupts them (but also offers the possibility of redeeming them) is a coherent mythological tradition: in this case, Welsh legend." Dimitra Fimi celebrates a novel that broke the rules of fantasy.

Ben Clifford takes us on six walks that encompass Croydon’s boundaries and history.

Friday, May 07, 2021

Richard Thompson on Fairport Convention, Hugh Cornwell and Sandy Denny

From the blurb on YouTube:

In which the beloved entertainer talks about his memoir 'Beeswing: Fairport, Folk and Finding My Voice 1967-1975', a rich and circuitous ramble that features Jimmy Shand, Louis Armstrong, a school band with Hugh Cornwell, sitar lessons with Andy Summers, the word game that invented 'Unhalfbricking', the genius of Sandy Denny, the 'backstabbing' folk community, the perils of the British stiff upper lip, a cardboard cut-out of Nick Drake, the Henry the Human Fly photoshoot, disinfecting sheep, the writing of Meet on the Ledge and the enduring mystery of the best song lyrics.

A Word in Your Ear appears weekly as a conventional podcast and is agreeable listening for music fans of a certain age.

Thursday, May 06, 2021

Snoring Somerset dormouse stuns National Trust rangers

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ITV News wins our Headline of the Day Award.

Click on the link to be stunned yourself.

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

James Graham looks back at the AV referendum 10 years on

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James Graham has written a cracking post looking back at the referendum on introducing the Alternative Vote for British general elections.

This took place on 5 May 2011 and its staging formed part of the Coalition agreement. Unfortunately, it turned out that no one had any idea how to argue for AV because, as James confirms, no one much believed in the system.

I can't remember a single poster or slogan from the pro-AV campaign. I can't even remember voting in the referendum, though I suppose I must have done.

Anyway, here are a few highlights from James's post, but do hurry over to Quaequam Blog! and read the whole thing:

It was genuinely surprising to me that in the run up to the EU referendum, no-one from the Remain campaign ever approached me about my thoughts on what they should and should not do. Perhaps this is ego talking, but I’m not aware of anyone in the campaign being approached.

It seemed remarkable to me that no-one seemed to think they had anything to learn from us. But then, if I was a Cameron-supporting Tory who had been on the No to AV side and was aware of what a brutally effective campaign that had been, I would have moved the earth to avoid holding a second national referendum in the first place. It isn’t just the Lib Dems who were guilty of hubris.

And:

I’m not writing this to especially condemn the man – there has been far too much water under the bridge since – but it seems very weird to me the degree to which Lord Sharkey‘s role in the campaign has been downplayed and even airbrushed out of history. ... And yet it was my recollection that every single significant appointment or campaign decision had been made by him. No one has ever challenged this as far as I know. He’s just been essentially erased.

And:

My career weirdly mirrors Nick Tyrone’s. While the AV referendum was the finishing of my political career, it was the making of his. He went from an obscure film producer who just happened to be the husband of Nick Clegg’s Director of Policy, to the head of the Radix think tank. He fell out with the Lib Dems pretty quickly post-2015 as the party sought to distance itself from the “coalicious” period and these days has very much positioned himself in the same right wing circles as Matthew Elliot.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

There's nothing wrong with calling our national flag the Union Jack

It's featured in Doctor Who, and the last person I heard making the claim was Jim Davidson.

I don't know where the idea that it's wrong to call the UK's national flag the Union Jack comes from - on no evidemce. I suspect QI - but it's bollocks.

If you don't believe me, talk to Cdr Bruce Nicolls OBE RN (Retd) of the Flag Institute:

It is sometimes claimed that the Union Flag should be described as the Union Jack only when flown in the bows of a warship, but this is a relatively recent idea. From its earliest days, the Admiralty often referred to the flag – however it was used – as the Union Jack. 

In 1902 an Admiralty Circular announced that either name could be used officially. And in 1908 the UK Parliament approved this verdict, stating that ‘the Union Jack should be regarded as the National flag’.

Cdr Nicholls's article featured in a Six of the Best here long ago. I still enjoy collecting links for this feature, but I find its name increasingly embarrassing.

Does anyone have a better idea for something to call it?

Monday, May 03, 2021

Alex Andreou on the need to give Leavers the space to change their minds

There's a really good contribution to the latest Oh God, What Now? podcast by Alex Andreou,

I liked it so much that I transcribed it, but if you click on player above you can listen to him making it:

We are never going to get the Damascene conversion en masse that we crave – “we” as in Remainers. There’s never going to be that moment where Nigel Farage is marched naked down the street with Naomi [Smith] following him ringing a big bell going “Shame! Shame! Shame!”

It’s just not going to happen. We’re not going to get that satisfaction outside our fantasy world.

And when actually it does happen, the vast majority of Remainers’ reaction is to go: “Why did you vote for it then you wanker?” You know, to punish the people who publicly change their mind.

So here’s what need to happen. What we need to do is to create create the space – the intellectual space – for people to change their mind in the privacy of the polling booth.

They don’t have to publicly admit it. They don’t have to make some grand apology: “You were right. We were wrong. Badly done on us.” We just have to give them enough reasons and enough space to U-turn n the privacy of the polling booth, just between them a piece of paper and a pencil.

Oh God, What Now? is the new name for the old Remainiacs podcast,

Sunday, May 02, 2021

Sandy Denny: Whispering Grass

My main present for Christmas 1973 was a cassette recorder and I was soon busy taping music off the radio. I remember recording the year's top 60 singles, stopping the tape every time Peters and Lee put in an appearance.

And I remember taping a snatch of this record from a trailer for a Radio One programme. Looking at BBC Genome, it must have been for the edition of Sounds on Sunday broadcast on 6 January 1974.

I had no idea what the song was or who the singer was, but I thought it was wonderful.

Whispering Grass was made famous by The Ink Spots in the 1940s and was to reach the top of the charts in 1975 thanks to  Windsor Davies and Don Estelle.

These two were playing their characters from the comedy It Ain't Half Hot Mum. One day I will write a post offering a limited defence of that show.

Later, like all sensible people, I came to worship Sandy Denny's singing. Despite the appearance of biographies, though, her life and character remain opaque.

Six of the Best 1006

Rafael Behr says there is only one thing certain in the court of King Boris: it will all end badly: "Johnson is driven by a restless sense of his own entitlement to be at the apex of power and a conviction, supported by evidence gathered on his journey to the top, that rules are a trap to catch weaker men and honour is a plastic trophy that losers award themselves in consolation for unfulfilled ambition."

"The unreadable in pursuit of the unelectable" Mic Wright deconstructs my old classmate Allison Pearson's interview with Laurence Fox.

Ian Sanjay Patel is interviewed about his book We’re Here Because You Were There: Immigration and the End of Empire.

Children read more challenging books in lockdowns, reports Alison Flood.

"Aunt Lucy gets to see firsthand that Paddington is okay and know he is loved and being cared for with the utmost sincerity. It’s all one can ever hope for when they have to give a child up for adoption." Mike X. Nichols says the two Paddington films get a lot right about adoption.

"One of the key British films of the 1950s, Pool of London was far out ahead of the crowd in tackling racial issues on screen. This classic dockside noir was directed by Basil Dearden." Adam Scovell goes in search of the locations used in the film to see what remains.

Saturday, May 01, 2021

London's Lost Railways: Woodside and South Croydon

Geoff Marshall, who produces the Least Used Station videos I sometimes post here, has started a new series: London's Lost Railways.

The first of these takes us to Croydon and the remains of the Woodside and South Croydon Joint Railway.

Friday, April 30, 2021

What does success in 6 May's elections look like for the Lib Dems?

Prospect thinks it knows:

Win at least 16 per cent of projected Britain-wide vote share
Gain more council seats than they lose

Win at least 10 per cent of constituency vote in elections to the 

Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly (8 per cent in both elections last time)

These goals are depressingly modest and the third, judging by the opinion polls, looks out of reach.

But we also need to male some spectacular advances that suggest there are new parliamentary seats within our grasp at the next general election,

It is such successes that keep us going and that feature in emails from Liberal Democrat HQ.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

‘WW2 bomb’ found in Bavarian forest was sex toy, say officials

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A reader tweets me and the Guardian wins our Headline of the Day Award.

Of course, it could have been an unexploded WW2 bomb and a sex toy: 

Lord Bonkers is uncharacteristically reticent about the part he played in defeating Hitler, but I seem to recall some stories along these lines one evening when the Auld Johnston (that most prized of Highland malts) came out.

Michael Meadowcroft's Guardian obituary of Jonathan Fryer

The former Liberal MP Michael Meadowcroft has written an obituary of Jonathan Fryer for the Guardian:

Jonathan Fryer, who has died aged 70 of a brain tumour, was a foreign correspondent and writer whose broadcasts from a total of 162 countries made his a familiar voice on BBC Radio. 

He also wrote about history and lectured on international politics, and spent more than half a century as a Liberal and later Liberal Democrat activist and candidate.

But the obituary is more than a list of achievements:

Jonathan was adopted at the age of 18 months by Rosemary and Harold Fryer. He had an exceptionally difficult childhood – his father, a Manchester businessman, sexually abused him. 

At primary school he fared badly, and his regimented early years at Manchester grammar school, studying subjects that he found uncongenial, led to failed examinations until one teacher fostered his interest in literature, geography and languages. He then won an open exhibition to St Edmund Hall, Oxford University, to study geography.

Forcing himself to be independent before he went to Oxford, Jonathan fulfilled his determination to get away from his father by travelling overland to Vietnam during the war there, partly funding his journey and stay by persuading Brian Redhead, then editor of the Manchester Evening News, to pay him for articles sent back to the paper. 

His experiences led him to switch to Oriental studies with Chinese and Japanese when he finally arrived at university.

Jonathan Fryer published an account of his childhood, Eccles Cakes: An Odd Tale of Survival, in 2016.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Lib Dems set to gain Caithness, Sutherland and Ross

Willie Rennie, leader of the Scottish Liberals Democrats, has said the party is set to gain the Cathiness, Sutherland and Ross seat in next month's Holyrood election.

The John O'Groat Journal and Caithness Courier quotes "party polling" from the Lib Dems that shows their candidate Molly Nolan is just three points behind the sitting SNP member. The figures are SCP 37.2 per cent, Lib Dems 34.2 per cent.

Rennie told the paper:

"We know we can win this, we can take out a Scottish Government minister – who I don’t think has served the community particularly well on the list – and we can bring in Molly Nolan."

Caithness, Sutherland and Ross covers much the same territory as the Westminster seat held for the Lib Dems by Jamie Stone.

The photo above shows Thurso Castle. Now ruined, it was the boyhood home of Sir Archibald Sinclair, who led the Liberal Party between 1935 and 1945.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Walking the River Roding from Barking to Creekmouth

Another London walk in the company of John Rogers.

His blurb on YouTube describes the route:

A walk from Barking to Creekmouth along west bank of the River Roding.

Picking up the west side of the River Roding following my previous walk with Paul Powlesland of the River Roding Trust (and Friends of the River Roding). This river walk starts at Barking Town Centre and continues through Town Quay and Fresh Wharf to Hand Trough Creek. 
From here the route takes us through Wall End and beneath Alfred's Way on the A13 to the Creekmouth Nature Reserve and Jenkins Lane Sewage Treatment works - the end of the Northern Outfall Sewer. The walk ends next to the confluence of the River Roding and River Thames.

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

Six of the Best 1005

Anne Applebaum says Alexei Navalny is showing the world what courage means: "Nothing is secret about the poisoning, false trial, or harsh imprisonment of Navalny. Like the multiple attempts to murder him, these things are playing out in public, in the open, for everyone to see."

"For 48 hours, soccer stood on the brink. Fans took to the streets. Players broke into open revolt. Chaos stalked the game’s corridors of power, unleashing a shock wave that resonated around the world, from Manchester to Manila, Barcelona to Beijing, and Liverpool to Los Angeles." Tariq Panja and Rory Smith on how the Super League fell apart.

T.J. Coati explains what's wrong with Secure Schools.

In 1982 the South African government bombed Islington. James Morris has the story.

"A fascinating essay by Tom Holland describes a mysterious artefact which may show a West Indian slave playing cricket and then follows C L R James in analysing cricket as a pathway to equality." Richard Heller and Peter Oborne argue that the new Wisden is a global record of war, plague, racism and environmental change.

Jessica Pickens looks bacj at juvenile Oscars - 12 were awarded between 1935 and 1961.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Steve Winwood: (I'm a) Road Runner

Chris Welch's biography of Steve Winwood - titled Keep on Running in the UK and Roll With it in the US - identifies the Albert Hall concert organised by Ronnie Laine in aid of the multiple sclerosis charity ARMS as an important step of his re-emergence as a solo artist in the 1980s:

The first signs of Winwood stepping back into the spotlight and the high life came when he toured with his new band for the first time in 1983. Later he appeared on the unique ARMS charity shows  held in the autumn of that year.

Maybe he was stung by critics who had described his career as "low key and patchy" or perhaps he sensed that the years were slipping away. At any rate when Steve played the ARMS shows he gave an impressive display of confidence that had not been seen since The Spencer Davis Group days, but had slowly evaporated into self-effacement during he years hiding behind a massive Hammond organ with Traffic.

The line up that night was extraordinary, including all three Yardbirds guitarists - Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page - but Welch reckons:

While the crowds rose to their feet to pay homage to legendary figures back in action, the more discerning noted that the best, most accomplished performance came from a still youthful Steve Winwood, upstaging his elders, just as he had in the sixties!

(I'm a) Road Runner was originally a hit for Junior Walker and the Allstars. Winwood's own Roll With It bears a resemblance to it - so much so that the Motown songwriters Holland-Dozier-Holland now have a writing credit on Winwood's song.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Anthony Burgess gave the address at Benny Hill's memorial service

You'll never guess who gave the address at Benny Hill's memorial service.

Well you will because you've just read the headline, but it is still a remarkable piece of trivia. Indeed, it's my Trivial Fact of the Day.

I was put on to it by Jonathan Meades and The International Anthony Burgess Foundation has more:

Burgess was introduced to Benny Hill through his brother Lenny Hill, with whom he shared a literary agent. They met occasionally for dinner in London until Benny Hill’s death in 1992. 

Burgess admired Benny Hill’s bawdy style of visual comedy, and he claimed that Hill was a great English comedian in the tradition of William Hogarth, James Gillray and Donald MacGill. When he learned of Benny Hill’s death, Burgess said: ‘The gaiety of nations is dimmed,’ quoting Samuel Johnson’s words on the death of David Garrick.

It also says Burgess's address was recorded and played on the BBC television news.

Horrorshow.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Pay £96 to read my thoughts on Dickens and anti-Semitism

That's the hardback price. The paperback and Kindle editons are much cheaper.

I have written a chapter of Racism in Psychology: Challenging Theory, Practice and Institutions, which is edited by my old friend Craig Newnes and published by Routledge.

It will be published on 29 April, but some copies have already appeared on Amazon.

My chapter, which I will admit is a strange inclusion, looks at my own obsession with Oliver Twist and the way I have written about it in the part without touching on the novel's anti-Semitism.

I look at tellings of the story other than that by Dickens - notably David Lean's 1948 film and Will Eisner's graphic novel Fagin the Jew.

And I draw parallels between Oliver and local saints like Little St Hugh of Lincoln - Christian children supposedly murdered by Jews.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

‘Pointless’ drive into Wales costs Shropshire sisters £400 in fines




As it so often does, the Shropshire Star wins our Headline of the Day Award.

Is the call for a progressive alliance a counsel of despair?

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Martin Kettle has a piece in the Guardian arguing that a 'progressive alliance' involving Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and whoever will not in itself deliver victory over the Conservatives:

If a progressive alliance is focused solely on proportional representation and electoral pacts, it will be inward-looking. Why would most people vote for it, even if - improbably - the parties were able to sort all the details? Proportional representation may help, but it is not the key that unlocks the door.

He's right, of course.

But there is another thing that worries me about the widespread enthusiasm for a progressive alliance. It's that it is a counsel of despair. We have given up any hope of winning Conservative voters.

Maybe it's social media that has encouraged this state of mind. See a tweet by or about a Leave voter who has changed their mind and you will see a host of insulting replies from long-term Remainers.

While if a former Tory voter announces he will support Labour next time he will be abused by Corbynites for his earlier treachery.

More and more, we talk only to our tribe and the supporters of other parties exist only as distant caricatures.

There is hope in the traditional electioneering that is taking place at the moment. You can't neat knocking on door and talking to people as a way of gauging the public mood.

Kettle himself points to Shirley Williams's approach to politics as  a model that might give such a progressive alliance substance. He says she was:

instinctively creative in thinking about shared moral and political values across parties and broadly shared political objectives. 

That is certainly the approach the opposition parties need today.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Hulu true crime doc 'Sasquatch' investigates whether Bigfoot murdered three NorCal cannabis farmers



Thanks to a nomination from a reader, SFGATE shambles off with our Headline of the Day Award.

Whether a Bigfoot can form the mens rea for murder is another question.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Six of the Best 1004

"Essentially ,,, Britain is being run by children in adult bodies for whom politics is little more than a fascinating game."  Jörg Schindler examines the baleful effect of Eton on our politics.

"Fundamental to holding onto hope of living in harmony with nature is modernising the UK’s Anglo-Norman land ethic. This cannot abide the idea that land is the core natural asset of the nation and of the planet. Instead, it gives primacy to any private benefit that may accrue to those who choose to exploit it." Laurence Rose says we shall have to be radical if we are going to save nature.

Daniel Button asks if the government will finally act on social care: "The problem with the Care Act ... was that the reality came nowhere near the aspiration. The wellbeing principle lacked teeth, was passed into law while councils were being cut to the bone and the social care system was simply not set up to deliver on these principles."

The Rest is History podcast weighs the importance of the year 1066 to British history.

Owen Hatherley interviews Jonathan Meades about his new book Pedro and Ricky Come Again,

"What a Crazy World is far from your average pop film. Its songs are a blend of music hall and rock'n'roll, and for all  the lightness of tone their subject matter is essentially gritty: unemployment, petty thieving, fighting, the generation gap." Pismotality celebrates this 1963 release.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Walking the Rye Harbour branch

From the description on YouTube:

This 1½ mile standard gauge branch left the Ashford-Hastings line just west of Rye station. It can be joined on the southern edge of Rye at grid reference TQ 920199, where a kissing gate leads on to a narrow waymarked path enclosed by bushes. This is the trackbed, which soon opens out on to a shallow embankment across sheep pastures, with fine views of Camber Castle to the south. 

The old railway can now be followed, with very minor diversions, as far as the former level crossing on Harbour Road (TQ 936192). Do not turn back here, but continue by road to Rye Harbour, turn left at the T junction where Harbour Road ends, and walk past the William the Conqueror pub to the water's edge. Turn left here and you will see the railway trackbed heading back towards Rye. Look around carefully, and you will see another grassy embankment nearby, which carried a branch off of the branch.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Daisy Super from St Albans

On our last day at Bonkers Hall the old boy has inadvertently tuned in to coverage of the Liberal Democrats virtual spring conference.

And virtual spring is now breaking out all around us.

Sunday

Do you have the electric internet? It’s amazing what you can find in it: for instance, as I write these words I am viewing what appears to be a Liberal Democrat event. 

Wendy “Neville” Chamberlain,  Jamie Stone (increasingly known as “The Wernher von Braun of the Flow Country“), Daisy Super from St Albans… they are all there. 

Wait! Who is this? Call off the dogs: I think I have found Ed Davey!

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

Earlier this week...

The Beatles: Penny Lane

When I was 13 I coveted the two Beatles compilations 1962-1966 and 1967-1970 but could not afford them. Since then my enthusiasm for the loveable moptops has waned.

I have been choosing these Sunday music videos since 2007, yet The Beatles have been represented only by two cover versions (from Laibach and The Jam)  and the atypical While My Guitar Gently Weeps, which was written by George Harrison and features Eric Clapton on guitar.

My problem with The Beatles is rather like my problem with Mozart in the classical sphere: I can see they are good, but there are half a dozen Sixties bands that I find at least as interesting.

And I do remember The Beatles from their first time around. Born in 1960, I cannot recall a time when I did not know She Loves You and I Want to Hold Your Hand, though I doubt if I remember them from 1963 when they both topped the charts.

I certainly remember liking Eleanor Rigby and Penny Lane, which were in the charts when I was six.

And the record that reminds me of the first Summer of Love, alongside Up, Up and Away by the Johnny Mann Singers, is All You Need is Love.

So here is Penny Lane. It still sounds good, but maybe not quite as good as I hoped.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Lord Bonkers' Diary: One woman was convinced he had served her in a Stockport chip shop

I suspect we have seen those old ladies and apple scrumpers before, but then life in the village at the gates of Bonkers Hall is like that.

Saturday

Who should I meet outside the Police house in the village but Sergeant Carmichael? We share a chuckle over the sightings of Ed Davey reported by the public following my recent television appeal. 

Would you believe that one woman was convinced he had served her in a Stockport chip shop? And that a family from Fife solemnly reported seeing him mucking out the wildebeest at their local zoo? 

As the rozzers are up to their helmets in this Davey business, I help them out, clipping an old lady round the ear before helping a group of unseasonal apple scrumpers across the road.

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

Earlier this week...

The Market Harborough woman who gave birth to a cat

In 1569  Agnes Bowker of Market Harborough gave birth to a cat. Or so legend maintains.

This Renaissance English History Podcast looks at what this event tells us about the lives of women in 16th-century England.

David Wootton once gave another interesting take on these events in the London Review of Books.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Luisa Porritt: The police should be a service not a force

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The website Left Foot Forward reports on the plans of Luisa Porritt, the Liberal Democrat London mayoral candidate, to give London safer streets:

She is calling for a shift in policing in the capital, following the heavy-handed policing of the vigil for Sarah Everard last month, as well as long-standing concerns over racist policing in the capital.

Under Porritt’s plans for the capital, London would see:

  • A return to 'community policing', including doubling the number of dedicated ward officers. There has been growing concern about officers being ‘parachuted in’ from Scotland Yard to situations that should be handled locally
  • A 'London Youth Service' established to help coordinate andimprove access to activities foryoung people after school.
  • An end to the use of Section 60 'suspicionless' stop and search – which disproportionately hits black communities – and blocking the rollout of facial recognition technology.
  • "Effectively deciminalising the possession of cannabis" – Liberal Democrats will encourage the Metropolitan Police to use the discretion it has available to stop arrests for cannabis posession, and campaign for a legal, regulated market for the drug. Sadiq Khan has pledged to set up a commission to look at legalising cannabis (a power he does not hold), but has not come out in favour of legalisation.

All good stuff, and I hope to see these ideas implemented far beyond London soon.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Lighting their bonfires in my covers

If Lord Bonkers is afraid of anyone it's the Elves of Rockingham Forest. After all, no one in the Labour or Conservatives Parties is likely to turn you into a toad.

Except Priti Patel, obviously.

Friday

The days when I could blithely start a diary entry with "To Cropwell Bishop" are long past. I have not visited even Bonkers House in Belgrave Square for a year, while the Hotel Splendide, Antibes, seems a distant dream. 

The Elves of Rockingham Forest still come go as they please, lighting their bonfires in my covers without a by your leave, but the rest of us hereabouts are Doing Our Bit. 

I spend the morning making arrangements for polling day, as by tradition voters in the Bonkers Hall ward come at six to collect their Good Morning leaflets and are treated to a slap up breakfast. 

I can now confirm that this year the queue will be rigorously stewarded and that each voter will receive a takeaway meal in a bag bearing the legend: "Remember, your rents fall due on Lady Day."

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

Earlier this week...

"Sun readers don’t care who runs the country as long as she’s got big tits"

This must be the most famous exchange between Jim Hacker and Sir Humphrey. As so often, Bernard is allowed to steal the scene.

It comes from an edition of Yes, Prime Minister first broadcast on 23 December 1987.

Yet, beautifully done though it is, these lines were not original. I can remember seeing a version of them on a junk fax (ask your parents) a year or two earlier.

Dirty Feed has gone into their origins in detail. He has traced them back to July 1976 and promises further revelations.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Snatched from Grace Road

I'm far from convinced that this escapade was compliant with the Covid regulations then pertaining, but I'm not going to be the one to tell the old brute.

Thursday

The evening sees my joining a socially distanced brigade to maintain the defences on Leicestershire’s border with Nottinghamshire. Fences are reinforced, mines laid, booby traps dug. 

We have seen too many promising Leicestershire cricketers snatched from Grace Road by the Trent Bridge press gang to take these matters lightly – the names Stuart Broad and James Taylor spring to mind. 

One day my campaign to have first-class status restored to Rutland will bear fruit, but for now I am happy to throw in my lot with Leicestershire even though they did invade us in 1974. 

For is it not the case that Leicester was a prominent Roman city many centuries before Nottingham was a collection of mud huts on the banks of the Trent called “Snottingham”?

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

Earlier this week...

20 rheas running free in Hertfordshire village 'actually just one bird called Chris'

Herts Live runs off with our Headline of the Day Award.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Six of the Best 1003

"Western democracies are not simply embracing neoliberalism in the sense of deregulating the economy. Elites are pursuing something aptly described as a new form of feudalism, in which entire realms of public law, public property, due process, and citizen rights revert to unaccountable control by private business." Robert Kuttner and Katherine V. Stone offer a sobering analysis.

Andrea Barry replies to the Sewell Report: "While some black British have better education outcomes, this does not translate to better labour market outcomes. Again, this is not just one individual, but a majority. Pay and Curriculum Vitae (CV) studies, which are widely available, showcase the difference in experience in the labour market for BME workers, regardless of education."  

Prince Philip's death has unearthed the fake patriots, argues James Belchamber.

Samantha Rose Hill marks the 60th anniversary of the trial of Adolf Eichmann by looking at Hannah Arendt's account of it.

"The Innocents took the British horror genre away from the Hammer films of the mid-1950s, which were drenched in lurid colour, visual excess, graphic sexuality and bloody violence, back to the shadows, suspense and ghostly figures of its Gothic beginnings." Hollie Starling looks at the use made of children in British genre cinema in the 1960s.

The Tolkien Society has made back numbers of Mallorn, its peer-reviewed journal, open access.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Make the Wise Woman of Wing a peeress

Lord Bonkers once offered the observation that the Wise Woman of Wing was "Terribly Wise".

I think he was on to something.

And there really was a Wise Woman of Wing, you know.

Wednesday

"What you people have to do, dearie, is stop attracting new groups of supporters and then letting them down as soon as the election is over." 

My interlocutor, you will not be surprised to learn, is the Wise Woman of Wing. I have popped over to her cottage to pick up a herbal tonic for my moustache, which is none the better for its long experience of lockdown, and the conversation has turned to the fortunes of the Liberal Democrats. 

She is definitely On To Something. I remember when Clegg came to Leicester during the 2010 general election and made a beeline for Del Monte University so he could be photographed with crowds of adoring students for the evening papers. The next thing the aforementioned students heard, he had stiffed them all for their course fees. 

Then there was the 2019 election, for which we hit upon a slogan that was unparalleled in effectiveness since the days Gladstone was wowing the burgesses of Midlothian. I am talking, of course, about the masterly “Bollocks to Brexit”. Many pro-European types were won over to our cause, only to hear Ed Davey tell them that Brexit was here to stay as soon as the election was gone. 

I once suggested to Charles Kennedy that he make the Wise Woman of Wing a peeress - I wish he had taken my advice.

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

Earlier this week...

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Stanlow and Thornton: The least used station in Cheshire

Stanlow and Thornton was opened in 1940 to serve a plant producing aviation fuel for the RAF.

In those days there were extensive sidings here, but they vanished  as the plant turned into Britain's second largest oil refinery. It is still served by jetties on the Manchester Ship Canal though.

This week the Stanlow refinery has been in the news, as its owners Essar Oil UK have been hit by a "deepening financial and corporate governance crisis".

Anyway, enjoy the video. The general views in the YouTube comments is that the road to the refinery is open to pedestrians and bicycles, but not to cars. 

And, whatever the views of Stanlow's owners, it's hard to get new third-rail electrification approved anywhere these days.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: 36, 24 and 3/6 a pound

A second day Bonkers Hall and we meet inhabitants of Rutland Water that we have not come across before.

Tuesday

I awaken in a sunnier mood and, after the eggs and b and a read of the High Leicestershire Radical, I go for a brisk walk on the shores of Rutland Water. There is a first hint of spring in the air and, sure enough, it has brought out the mermaids. 

They sit upon the rocks combing their long hair and polishing their scales. How splendid they look! It is a pleasure to hear them singing  each to each and they kindly sing to me too. 

I am tempted to return the favour by telling them the old joke about their vital statistics being 36, 24 and 3/6 a pound, but recall just in time that it Went Down Badly the last time I tried it on them. (I still have the dent in my bean from the rock that was flung.) 

On the off chance, I ask if any of them has seen Ed Davey. “Darling,” comes the husky-voiced reply, “the only Davy we know is Davy Jones.” 

At least I tried and, bearing no ill will, I tip them off that the gossip on Oakham Quay is that the inshore fisherman will try their luck in these waters at low tide.

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

Earlier this week...

Police hunt after world's largest rabbit stolen







Today's Headline of the Day Award proves once again that all the best news comes from Shropshire - or at least the Shropshire Star.

Farewell to Shirley Williams

Embed from Getty Images

I was very sorry to hear of Shirley Williams' death. Her warm, sensible, conversational style reminds us of what has been lost from British politics in recent years.

Her Guardian obituary speculates that she might have made a more attractive leader of the nascent SDP than Roy Jenkins, which makes a lot of sense.

Yet I cannot remember this possibility being talked about at the time. Put it down to sexism.

It also worth pointing out that Shirley Williams was not an insipid moderate. 

In her Labour days she was seen as being in the mainstream of the party and received a lot of trade union support in its internal elections.

Her decision to leave was down to her strong opposition to Trotskyism and belief that it had no place in the Labour Party.

Again, the existence of a politician with principles and deeply held beliefs reminds us of what we have lost.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Under the dining table with a bottle of my best cherry brandy

Another week at Bonkers Hall. I intend to make the diary entries individual posts this time, but apologies in advance if my new caring responsibilities mean they come out in lumps.

Anyway, our first entry finds our old friend combing the Bonkers Hall Estate. He doesn't find anything, but it looks much neater when he's finished.

Monday

Another depressing day searching for the leader of the Liberal Democrats. As no one has seen or heard of Ed Davey for months, I have given orders for a search of the whole Bonkers Estate to be conducted.  No stone has been left unturned: 

Meadowcroft’s potting shed, the crypt under St Asquith’s, the cellar of the Bonkers’ Arms and even the shaft of an abandoned Stilton mine have all been scrutinised, but we have found neither hide nor hair of the man. 

When two Well-Behaved Orphans go missing, it is a good bet that they will be found either at the railway station standing on one another’s shoulders in an adult’s overcoat or under the dining table with a bottle of my best cherry brandy. I have personally searched both locations and did not find Davey at either of them.

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

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Doves: Black and White Town

Doves, says Wikipedia, are an alt rock band from Manchester. Black and White Town was a 2005 single taken from their album Some Cities and reached number 6 in the UK singles chart.

It has also been widely used by BBC Sport - this video was directed by Lynne Ramsay and shot on the Summerston estate in Glasgow.

This all sounds authoritative, but I just heard it on Radio 6 Music and liked it. But then another Doves song has already been a Sunday music video.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Download the new Liberator now

The new Liberator can be downloaded free, gratis and for nothing from the magazine's website.

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

Issue 406 includes tributes to Tony Greaves and articles on the Conservatives' importation of American voter-suppression tactics, British arms exports to Saudi Arabia and the 40th anniversary of the SDP's founding.

The magazine always carries a wide range of articles, but I usually turn first to Radical Bulletin, which has news and gossip about the Liberal Democrats you will find nowhere else. 

This time you can read about:

  • a presentation made to various party committees by the Lib Dem director of strategy
  • disgruntlement among MPs with the party's media operation
  • what Tony Greaves said about Lembit Opik

In case that all sounds too good be true, there is also Lord Bonkers' Diary.

Good news for harebells, yellow mountain pansies, stonechats and skylarks in the Stiperstones

The Stiperstones ridge is the site one of 10 new projects across England and Wales to be funded by the Wildlife Trusts Coalition, reports the Ludlow & Tenbury Wells Advertiser.

It will see Shropshire Wildlife Trust is to restore 12 acres of unsprayed fields above Tankerville to allow harebells, yellow mountain pansies, stonechats and skylarks to thrive.

You can hear John Hughes from the Shropshire trust talking about this project on BBC Radio Shropshire's breakfast show. The item starts at 2:17:20.

I don't know when I'll be able to visit Shropshire again, but I can still blog about it.

Thursday, April 08, 2021

Lib Dems promise universal basic income trial in Wales

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have promised to undertake a trial of universal basic Income.

The party's 2020 Senedd manifesto says:

Our economy must support secure, well-paid work and good public services. It must recognise that work is not a guaranteed route out of poverty. We want to see an economy that ensures that work pays and that there is meaningful support for those that are unable to work, working with the UK Government to create a genuine social security system based on values of dignity and compassion.

Jane Dodds, the party's leader, told Nation Cymru:

"The Welsh Liberal Democrats will put recovery first which will mean; an economic recovery, a green recovery and a recovery for mental health that will benefit everyone in Wales,

"The past year has been tough, life as we know it has changed, but I know Wales is a resilient country and we have the chance to build a better future for our children and our children’s children."

Clare Balding, Rick Minter and British big cats

Out recording her Ramblings radio programme near Ross-on-Wye one day, Clare Balding came across what she described as an "enormous black cat".

In the latest edition she talks to Rick Minter, who runs the Big Cat Conversations podcast. I have already praised it on this blog:

What emerges from all this is a picture of sober country people and professionals coming across big cats in the countryside but not making too much fuss about it. They don't want the press or trophy hunters descending on them and they don't want officialdom snooping around their farms.

As they walk through the Gloucestershire countryside, Minter sets out the case for believing that a breeding population of big cats exists in Britain.

The recording that Balding made after seeing her enormous black cat is impressive.

Ten years ago, another Ramblings saw Clare Balding walking in the Shropshire hills with members of the Malcolm Saville Society.

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Six of the Best 1002

"The scenes we all saw of the police using force against those at the Clapham Common vigil were entirely foreseeable, preventable and unnecessary." Brian Paddick is critical of the inspectorate report on the policing of the vigil for Sarah Everard.

Alison Faulkner offers a depressing analysis of the Commons debates on the review of the Mental Health Act 1983. 'The Expert' - the psychiatrist - was characterised in the debates by knowledge, training and an assumed trustworthiness, while 'The Patient was associated with non-compliance, potential risk and impaired decision making.

Stefan Collini reviews two books on meritocracy: "There have long been individuals from less advantaged social backgrounds for whom education has been the route to advancement (‘the scholarship boy’ was one of the most celebrated, and most obviously gendered, of the tropes used to represent this possibility). This, too, is an important truth, not simply to be disparaged as ‘elite recruitment’. But the fact that such individual stories stand out is an indication that education does not work in this way for the majority."

"The management at ABC spotted something: when they showed a play that was a bit more avant garde or intended to challenge the viewer’s opinions or lifestyle, viewing figures went up. Against the conventional wisdom, it seemed that people in the late 1950s liked having television that took them on full in the face." Russ J. Graham offers an appreciation of Cathy Come Home, 55 years after it was first broadcast.

Richard Coles talks to Lucy Walker about his love of music from Motown to Benjamin Britten.

We look back to the days of Jim Cumbes, Chris Balderstone and the days when it was possible to be a professional footballer and cricketer with Vince Cooper.

The failure of the first Severn Tunnel


In a December Six of the Best I linked to an article about the failure of the first Severn Tunnel.
This video tells the same story and takes you to what remains of the tunnel today.

More from Paul and Rebcecca Whitewick on their website.

Monday, April 05, 2021

The Reunion: Finding Richard III

In June 2012 I wrote:

Today the site of Greyfriars monastery and Herrick's garden is occupied by Greyfriars, Friar Lane and New Street. Leicester Chronicler says:

very little survives of the medieval friary; just an archway in the basement of private property and some stones incorporated into the wall of an open air municipal car park.

I suspect that is the car park behind the social services building in Greyfriars, which was securely locked when I was there this afternoon. But I did find this plaque across the road on the side of the old Nat West bank.

And, somewhere under the paving stones, the body of Richard III may well be close by.

Three months later it was found.

The latest edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme The Reunion tells the story of the dig and the research that proved the identity of the skeleton they unearthed on the first day of the dig.

There is no participant from the Richard III Society: they seem to be like that.

I paid my respects to Richard when his coffin was displayed in Leicester Cathedral and got rather carried away:

It has been a remarkable week for Leicester and Leicestershire. 

When the plans for taking Richard's bones around the Bosworth battlefield and the villages associated with it were announced, I wondered if it was a good idea. But it turned out to be an act of genius and I found myself ridiculously moved.

This, I think, had less to do with Richard III and more to do with the community involvement. Councillors, ex-servicemen, Scouts and Brownies... 

What we saw on BBC News and heard on BBC Radio Leicester was the sort of civic England you fear had been lost to modernisation and the turbo-capitalism.

Because the day was not about celebrating Richard III or the monarchy: it was about celebrating our pride in Leicester and Leicestershire. In the end, the day was about ourselves.

And then Richard's returned to Leicester in triumph, rather than naked over the back of a horse.

Let no one tell you that history cannot be rewritten.

I recommend this programme, though Kirsty Wark neglects to mention that when this story was first covered by Newsnight she asked one :participant:

"Where will Richard be buried? Presumably not Leicester.

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

Sunday, April 04, 2021

Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons: The Night

I was on the way home after settling my Mum down for the night when I called in at a garage whose shop was still open.

A song was playing on the radio. I recognised it and knew that it was by the Four Seasons, but didn't know its name.

It turns out that The Night made number 7 in the UK singles chart in 1975 - I don't suppose I have heard it since.

The song has an interesting history. The Four Seasons (Valli was the lead singer but did not originally feature in the billing) were huge in the early 1960s and enjoyed success through most of that decade.

By 1969 they were in decline and, seeking a revival, they signed to Motown. But it did not work out.

Valli attributed this to Motown's poor promotion of their records. Listening to this wonderfully dramatic song, he has a point. The Night was not even appear as a single in the US.

Originally released in the UK in 1972, The Night became a Northern Soul classic. Not having been a chart hit is central to that status.

In 1974 Northern Soul became fashionable beyond Wigan and began to influence the singles charts. It may be that the success of The Night is down to that.

Anyway, in the mid-1970s Valli and a recast Four Seasons began to enjoy chart success again and he was even asked to record the theme song for the film of Grease.

Saturday, April 03, 2021

'Behave in Market Harborough or we will take your alcohol away'



This worrying effort from the Leicester Mercury wins our Headline of the Day Award.

Montgomeryshire Lib Dems call for canal restoration


The past few weeks have seen the appearance of increasingly optimistic schemes for the reopening of long-closed railways.

But Mongomeryshire Liberal Democrats are calling for the reopening of a canal:
We will continue to support the restoration of the Montgomeryshire Canal and push the Welsh Government to provide increased funding towards the project that would significantly boost the economies of Welshpool and Newtown along with other villages enroute. 
The Conservative's have had 10 years in power to push for this and have not succeeded. 
We will seek to use our influence to push the Welsh Government to provide funding for the project, as well encourage the UK government to attribute funding to the project via the new 'UK Development Fund. 
I am pleased to see this. The Montgomeryshire has been undergoing restoration for as long as I can remember, yet progress has been painfully slow.

You can read about the current restoration plans on the Restore the Montgomery Canal! site.

Friday, April 02, 2021

Andy Hagon is the Lib Dem candidate for the Hartlepool by-election

Embed from Getty Images

Andy Hagon, who fought the seat at the 2017 and 2019 general elections, has been unanimously adopted as the Liberal Democrat candidate for the Hartlepool by-election. The contest will take place on 6 May.

The Northern Echo quotes Andy:

"I have decided to stand for a third time so that people have another choice beyond Labour and the Conservatives. 

"There should never be one in three Hartlepool children living in poverty in one of the richest countries in the world, we need a more caring country. 

“If elected, I pledge to stand up for local people.

"In particular, for those who have been unemployed for far too long and desperate for work, and for those who are sick of travelling too far for jobs.

"Our voices matter, and I want to make them heard and get things done.’’

Thursday, April 01, 2021

John Rogers takes us to Bohemian Hackney

From the blurb on YoutTube:

This walk starts with a look around the incredible home of Hackney artist and flamenco dancer Ron Hitchins. Ron was also known as the Prince of Petticote Lane when he had a stall selling the shirts he made. 
We then walk across London Fields to the notorious artists studios in Martello Street when Genesis P-Orridge and Cosi Fan Tutti had studios as well as Bruce Lacey and many others. 
We look at the Pub on the Park, pass Netil Market and London Fields Brewery on our way to Beck Road which was once home to many artists including Genesis P-Orridge and the band Throbbing Gristle, and Helen Chadwick. 
We pick up the Regent's Canal by the grand gasometers and then pick up the Hertford Union Canal which is currently drained while repairs to the walls are carried out. 
Our walk ends with a stroll through Victoria Park in the company of Travis Elborough.

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

Lord Bonkers' Diary from the April 1991 Liberator

It's time to look back30 [gulp] years and see what Lord Bonkers was doing in Liberator 196, the April 1991 issue.

We journey to the glory days of Ronnie Fearn, who was Liberal MP for Southport from 1987 to 1992 and from 1997 to 2001. Also present is a youthful Matthew Taylor, Liberal MP for Truro from 1987 to 2010. The exchange between them at the glee club was exactly as reported here.

Adopted at birth, Matthew was later revealed to be the great grandson of Sir Percy Harris, who was Liberal MP for Harborough from 1916 to 1918.

This was news to me, but I suspect Lord Bonkers knew it all along.

Saturday

Just as I am preparing to depart for Twickenham, a party of Cornish Primitive Methodist clergy arrives. They express the wish to pass a thoroughly miserable  day, so I can do no other than take themto the "Spring Conference" of the "Liberal Democrats" at Nottingham. 

The journey goes smoothly, with a stop at Melton Mowbray to mortify the flesh, and we arrive in time to attend a lunchtime fringe meeting. My guests enjoy it immensely because the room has particularly uncomfortable chairs.

In retrospect, my decision to take them to the glee club was not well advised. In particular, whilst I found Miss Fearn's  rendition of "If You Were the Only Girl in the World" to Master Taylor peculiarly moving, the appeared somewhat shocked by it.

"Is this really the well-scrubbed fellow we see at Sunday School every week?", they quizzed one another. 

I have to spend the entire journey home  explaining what Miss Fearn had meant when she indicated her tie and said "This isn't the only thing that dangles."

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