Sunday, January 31, 2021

£2m centrepiece of Henry VIII’s lost crown found in field near Market Harborough

Exciting news from the Tudor and Stuart correspondent of The Sun:

The centrepiece of Henry VIII’s lost crown has been found under a tree by an amateur treasure hunter.

Kevin Duckett ended a 400-year-old mystery when he dug up the solid gold figurine in a Northamptonshire field.

The 2½in-high, inch-wide piece, one of five on the Tudor crown, is now at the British Museum and could be worth £2million.

Experts say the find is one of the most significant by an amateur.

The field in question is at Little Oxendon, which is only a mile or so south of Market Harborough.]

Henry's crown survived until the Civil War, when parliament gave orders for it to be broken up, sold off and melted down.

Enticingly, it is on the route that Charles I took after fleeing his defeat at Naseby, which makes one speculate that he, or at least his retinue, lost or hid the jewel on that flight.

It is also on the route to Tur Langton, where legend has it that Charles watered his horse as he fled. You can see a rare 17th-century photograph of him doing so at the head of this post.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Six of the Best 992

"A bill for the compulsory sterilisation of certain categories of 'mental patient' was proposed, with the Labour MP Archibald Church wanting to stop the reproduction of those 'who are in every way a burden to their parents, a misery to themselves and in my opinion a menace to the social life of the community'." Stephen Unwin explores how some of our most civilised and intelligent thinkers have supported eugenics.

Jennifer Quellette uses insights from the study of folklore to reveal how conspiracy theories emerge.

The Antipope of Mar-a-Lago: Michael Kruse on hat a medieval religious schism can teach us about Donald Trump’s unprecedented and radically antagonistic approach to the ex-presidency.

Chris Heather and Andrew Munro look into the accidental death of an aristocrat near Manton Junction in 1902.

Adam Scovell goes in search of locations from the James Fox and Mick Jagger film Performance.

Can you name the debut novel, originally published in Britain in September 1965, that became a more or less immediate best seller, and the fans of which included Noël Coward, Daphne du Maurier, John Gielgud, Fay Weldon, David Storey, Margaret Drabble, and Doris Lessing? The answer to this question from Lucy Scholes is "Irene Handl."

A Leicestershire man led the prosecution of Charles I

Charles I was executed on 3o January 1649. His prosecution on charges of tyranny and treason was led by the solicitor general John Cook.

Cook was a Leicestershire man. His parents had a farm near Burbage and he was christened at All Saints, Husbands Bosworth.

After the restoration, Cook was prosecuted and publicly executed as a regicide. 

Shortly before his death he wrote to his wife Mary:

We fought for the public good and would have enfranchised the people and secured the welfare of the whole groaning creation, if the nation had not more delighted in servitude than in freedom.

The trouble was Charles I was that he would not or could not admit that he had been defeated. 

I suspect parliament would have been happy to see him live quietly as a country gentleman, but it was obvious that, as long as Charles was alive, he was going to scheme with any force, at home or overseas, that might bring about his return to the throne.

So Cromwell's "cruel necessity" was about right.

Read Martin Crookall on Malcolm Saville's children's fiction

It turns out I'm not the only blogger who retains an affection for Malcolm Saville's Lone Pine stories.

But Martin Crookall has been far more systematic about his enthusiasm than I ever have. He has written individual posts about each book in Saville's three main series: not just the Lone Pine Club, but also the Jillies and the Buckinghams.

He is never less than interesting on these books: here he is on the penultimate Lone Pine story, Where's My Girl?, and the decline of this flagship series:

En route to the station in London, the Mortons are held up by a jewellery robbery, by an armed gang, who shoot a policeman (not fatally) and a bystander, almost under the Twins’ noses, an incident that scares and subdues them, and leaves David rattled too. And what nobody knows yet is that King’s Holt is one of the centres for smuggling guns into the country, for sale or hire to increasingly violent criminals.

It doesn’t fit. There’s nothing especially noticeable that suggests Saville’s heart isn’t really in it, but after such a long run, the subject is intrusive, and distasteful, and it ramps up the level of danger to a point that is too far. You can’t point a gun at a Lone Piner, not and retain the innate qualities of the series. Admittedly, Saville doesn’t go quite that far: today, they are merely in the background, but that background is right behind David and Peter, Tom and Jenny, the Twins and Macbeth.

The truth is that by 1972, when Where's My Girl? was published, both Saville and the children's holiday adventure genre in which he wrote were growing old.

Even his characters recognised this: 

And there is still the struggle to maintain the Lone Pine Club as a Club. In his own mind, Dickie Morton is acknowledging that openly. The Club is breaking up, he tells himself. The seniors want to be with each other – Jenny exemplifies this, asking Peter to confirm that when they’re both married, they’ll still be friends, still see each other – and even his Twin, Mary, is no longer on the exact same wavelength as him, now that they near the age of eleven.

And Saville recognised it himself:

This time, Saville is forced to go against the grain of children’s adventure fiction. Even though, when Tom’s uncertain memory gives up the vital clue that enables the boys to rescue their girls, the immediate reaction to the kidnapping is to hand over all responsibility, not just to the Police (including the now-obligatory pretty WPC), but all the parents. Mr Morton (wondering if his children are fit to be let out anywhere on their own, even if that’s about sixteen books too late) sets off from London, Alf Ingles and Mr Sterling from Shropshire.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Report on Northampton Borough Council's loan to football club

The long-awaited auditor's report into Northampton Borough Council’s loan to Northampton Town Football Club was published yesterday. You can download it from the council's website.

A BBC News report on the affair begins:

A £10.25m council loan to a football club for use on a stadium redevelopment had "serious failings", a report found.

Northampton Borough Council loaned the money, which has since disappeared, to Northampton Town in 2013 and 2014 to rebuild a stand and develop land.

The Public Interest Report "calls into question the legality" of decision-making over the deal.

For the political background to the loans, I recommend this Twitter thread from Willy Gilder, who used to report local politics for BBC Radio Northampton:

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Restoring the Stiperstones to heathland

The Stiperstones have changed since I first visited them in the late 1980s. In particular, a lot of conifer plantations have been cleared to allow the heathland to regenerate.

Here Colin Preston from the Shropshire Wildlife Trust talks about how and why these changes have been made.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Minor public schools, major public schools and deference

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One overlooked factor in the rise of Boris Johnson may be the instinctive deference that those who went to minor public schools show to those who went to major ones.

Here is Charles Collingwood - Brian Aldridge in The Archers - writing of his schooldays in his memories Brian and Me:

We played cricket against Ludgrove, which was frightfully smart and a serious feeder school for Eton and Harrow. The captain of cricket at Ludgrove was a boy called Mike Griffith, who went on to captain Sussex. On the day we played them, we got off the coach at Ludgrove, shook hands like adults then walked down this immaculate path to the cricket field. To our far left there was another immaculate path so I asked what was the significance of these mown paths? 

"Well except on match days," Mike told me. "The one we're walking on today is for the exclusive use of boys who are going to Eton" 

What about the other immaculate path?" I asked. 

"That's for the exclusive use of boys going to Harrow." 

"What about the unmown path in the middle?" 

"That's for boys going to other schools!!"

The punctuation is ropy, but you get the point.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Six of the Best 991

"The status quo is no longer acceptable: it’s either federalism or independence. It’s time for the Liberal Democrats to fight for what we believe, rather than define ourselves by what we’re against. Let’s either make federalism happen or go down fighting for it." Andrew Page on what should be the Lib Dem response to the growing support for Scottish independence.

Regina Keith outlines the long history of school meals in Britain.

"An inadequate train service and vanishing high street are common complaints of Barrovians – and visitors will say those complaints are justified. Portland Walk in Barrow’s town centre lost Topshop, River Island and Marks & Spencer stores in 2020, to name just a few." Adam Payne asks what the Conservatives' claimed "levelling up" agenda can offer Barrow-in-Furness.

Edward Lucas pays tribute to his father J.R. Lucas, Oxford philosopher and Cold War champion of the Czechs.

We have Charlie Chaplin to thank for the blockbuster, argues John Sturgis.

Flickering Lamps discovers an ancient cemetery in the heart of Greenwich Park.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

The Monkees: (I'd Go The) Whole Wide World

I remember Wreckless Eric's single The Whole Wide World from 1977, though it was never a hit in the UK.

This version is to be found on the prefab four's 1987 album Pool It! Mike Naismith declined to be involved and, in an echo of band's early days, the album was largely played by session musicians, with the Monkees themselves contributing lead vocals. Here Micky Dolenz is the singer.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

What's wrong with Covent Garden?

Taking a break from smuggling duties in Cornwall, Jago Hazzard looks at the history of this Piccadilly line station.

It was threatened with closure in 1929, but today it is so busy that the authorities try to discourage people from using it.

Friday, January 22, 2021

The uselessness of Boris Johnson's cabinet is a feature not a bug

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Ed Davey says Gavin Williamson is the worst education secretary in living memory. He's right, of course.

But then Williamson is not alone in not deserving a place around the cabinet table.

Priti Patel resigned as secretary of state for international development when it emerged she had been holding meetings with Israeli officials without informing anyone in London. Yet somehow today she is home secretary.

Jacob Rees-Mogg is such a liability that he had to be hidden from voters during the last general election, but he is still leader of the House of Commons.

But maybe their presence should not be such a surprise.

Many Conservatives with principles - David Gauke, Rory Stewart, Nicholas Soames - were effectively sacked from the Commons by Boris Johnson in September 2019. 

They were not the sort of people he wanted to surround himself with. Better to have malleable mediocrities who will do whatever they are told.

Better still to have people no other Conservative prime minister would dream of appointing to the cabinet. They will know that they owe their careers to Johnson and that any successful rebellion against him would inevitably lead to the end of those careers.

It's probably all in Machiavelli: surround yourself with people who should never have been put in a position of power and you will be much more secure.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

QAnon's mighty wind fails to blow

Believers in the QAnon conspiracy theory spent the last three years believing that Donald Trump was taking on powerful paedophile networks that had hitherto ruled the world.

Trump's defeat did not discourage them: they were certain Joe Biden's inauguration day would see power cuts, the declaration of martial law and his arrest along with all other leading Democrats.

In the Guardian, Julia Carrie Wong reports on the reaction of some QAnon believers to yesterday's events (or lack of them):

As Biden took the oath of office just before noon on Wednesday, a QAnon channel on Telegram lit up with laments.

"We’ve been lied to," wrote one person.

"I think we have been fooled like no other,” another responded, adding: “Hate to say it. Held on to hope til this very moment."

"I feel like I’m losing my mind,” said a third. “I don’t know what to believe anymore."

"Anyone else feeling beyond let down right now?" read a popular post on a QAnon message board. "It’s like being a kid and seeing the big gift under the tree thinking it is exactly what you want only to open it and realize it was a lump of coal the whole time."

There are religious precedents for such feelings of deflation. The 19th-century American Baptist preacher William Miller forecast that Christ would return to Earth on 22 October 1844.

After He failed to appear, the non-event became known among Miller's followers as "The Great Disappointment".

But, reading about the baffled QAnon adherents, I thought first of the above sketch from Beyond the Fringe.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Terrified by Mr Tapp the undertaker

What is the most frightening television programme you have ever seen?

Back in 2007 I answered that question like this:

For me it is probably the episode of Sexton Blake in which the hypodermic-wielding villain measured Tinker for his coffin while he was still alive. Mind you, I may have been as young as seven when I saw it.

After that, as I went on to say in that post, it was Don Taylor's television play The Exorcism, which I saw when I was 12.

According to an upload on YouTube only one episode of ITV's Sexton Blake series of the 1960s survives - you can see it above. Sadly, it contains no sinister undertakers.

What interested me most was one of the comments below the upload:

Many thanks for the upload. I can remember watching this series as a youngster, and being terrified by one of the villains, a sinister undertaker by the name of, if memory serves, Mr Tapp. Such a pity no more episodes remain.

Mr Tapp must surely be the undertaker who scared me too. 

A little research shows he appeared in a just one two-part Sexton Blake story and that those parts were screened in January and February 1968. So I was indeed just seven when I watched them.

Market Harborough's ghost sign has lost its ghostliness

The ghost sign on what is now the British Heart Foundation shop in Market Harborough has undergone a striking restoration. It now looks magnificent, even if it has been robbed of its ghostliness.

You can see what it used to look like (on a much sunnier day) below. The restoration was carried out by Alex Scott.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Mark Kermode notices The Ghost Goes Gear

Last night BBC2 screened the latest of Mark Kermode's Secrets of Cinema programmes - this one was on pop music films.

I was looking forward to it, but had sadly concluded that he would not find room to mention the Spencer Davis Group film The Ghost Goes Gear.

I was wrong.

Let's be honest though: it's not a good film. As I blogged when paying tribute to Nicholas Parsons a few years ago:

According to Parsons' memoirs, the weather in which they had to film was so bad that he assumed the project had been scrapped. He was surprised there was a film to release.

What made the cinema was basically a collection of largely undistinguished musical performances, apart from those by the Spencer Davis Group themselves.

But the start of the film, with the band performing on a boat, the (Etonian?) swimmers and rowers, and Monkees-style antics, make you think you are  in for something better.

So the clip above is as good as the film gets.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Exploring Kelmarsh railway tunnels

The last train from Northampton to Market Harborough ran in August 1981. Most of the trackbed now forms the Brampton Valley Way, which as a result passes through former railway tunnels at Great Oxendon and Kelmarsh.

This video explores the Kelmarsh tunnels, both the one that carries the Way and the parallel one, which is not officially open to the public.

Six of the Best 990

Jack Haines says that as we see the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic hit our society harder than ever before, it is essential for Liberal Democrats to be pioneering and spearheading the charge towards making basic income a reality.

"The reason the Department hasn’t done the simplest, cheapest thing and just give parents a bit of extra cash is because they don’t trust them to spend it properly. Or rather they are scared of the public perception that, as Tory MP Ben Bradley luridly put it last year, the money would be spent in crack dens and brothels." Sam Freedman says myths about poverty must be refuted so that parents are trusted with £20 and not half a pepper.

Christian Kerr asks if the appointment of Josh MacAlister as chair of the independent review of children’s social care in England means its conclusions are a foregone conclusion.

"This is a story about secrecy, obfuscation and political embarrassment at the heart of government. It revolves around an attempt by the Home Office to withhold vital research evidence about the causes of serious violence - a decision the department clung to, even though it undermined the credibility of its flagship plan to tackle the problem. It ended in a three-year legal battle that cost taxpayers thousands of pounds." Danny Shaw takes on the Home Office.

"James in his letters is a real human being, we see him go from a small boy of seven to a junior schoolboy, to Eton and then Kings College Cambridge and all of his life in between and after it is wonderful and very humbling, to be privy to this." Jane Mainley-Piddock is interviewed about her forthcoming book, Casting the Runes: The Letters of M. R. James.

Mark Shirley introduces us to the Leicester variant of table skittles.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

It's not that we get more right wing as we get older

Spending time with at my mother's house is giving me time for all the books I bought and never read. Among my findings so far is that Isabella Tree's Wilding is inspirational and Helen Macdonald's H is for Hawk is overwritten.

Today I tried Wagner and Philosophy by Bryan Magee - that temporary son of Market Harborough - and hit gold before I'd finished the preface.

In it Magee describes Wagner as a classic example of someone who, when young is a passionately committed and active revolutionary, but becomes disillusioned with politics and turns away from it altogether in middle age.

He continues:

Former comrades who retain their left-wing commitment usually see such a person as 'moving to the right', and of course some do, they become conservatives. But in most cases this is an uncomprehending way of seeing what is happening. 

For most such people are not switching from one political allegiance to another, they are becoming disillusioned with politics as such. They are ceasing to believe that the most important of human problems have political solutions. They are acquiring a different sort of outlook on life, one that does not see politico-social issues as primary.

And concludes with the insight:
The unforgiving bitterness of the disappointed left-winger is a quite different phenomenon psychologically from the curmudgeonliness of the reactionary, even if in elderly people the two often show some of the same symptoms. One is bitterness at the loss of a past, the other bitterness at the loss of a future.

Johnny Bristol: Memories Don't Leave Like People Do

Let's see if I can get back to choosing a music video each Sunday.

This one dates from 1974, a year in which I followed the UK singles chart obsessively even though I could sense at the time that it was no golden age.

Memories Don't Leave Like People Do only made no. 53, but it doesn't sound so bad today. Wikipedia says Johnny Bristol was best known as a songwriter and producer for Motown. He died in 2004.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Geeta Sidhu-Robb expelled from the Lib Dems

Jewish Chronicle reports:

The founder of an organic foods company who was shortlisted to stand as a London mayoral candidate for the Liberal Democrats has been expelled from the party following a complaints panel hearing into comments she made about Jews.

Geeta Sidhu-Robb was pitted against councillor Luisa Porrit to land the party's nomination to challenge current Mayor of London Sadiq Khan in elections scheduled to take place in May.

But she was suspended in September after footage of her using a megaphone during the 1997 election campaign in Blackburn emerged in which she urged Muslim voters not to vote for her opponent, former Labour Secretary Jack Straw, because he is "a Jew".

The report quotes Sidhu-Robb, who says she has already publicly apologised for "an act of momentary stupidity" and goes on to refer to an unidentified faction within the Liberal Democrats, who "felt threatened by a fresh, engaging, female-centric approach to politics".

You can see a video of Sidhuy-Robb making her comments in an earlier post on this blog.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Can there be a 70 Up without Michael Apted?

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I remember an English lesson in the lower sixth when we had all watched 21 Up the evening before. The lesson was, for some reason, taken by the head of department rather than our usual teacher, and we spent all of it talking about the programme. Thanks to the wonder of Wikipedia I can date it to 10 May 1977.

Michael Apted, the man behind the Up programmes, died last week. Beginning with 7 Up in 1963, this series followed a series of people through their lives. It may have begun as an exercise in sociology, but it has turned into something extraordinary. What engaged me intellectually when I was 17 can now move me to tears because of the themes of promise, poor health and redemption that have developed.

A New York Times article asks if there can be a 70 Up without Apted. We all hope there can be - "70 and 7 do have a good symmetry," as one of his team says - but the article brings home that if the participants in the Up programmes have grown old then the team that made them has grown even older.

One of them, we are told, remembers:

“Every seven years we’d get a new commissioner and a new executive producer, and they all come into the program thinking they’re going to make some change. Michael saw them all off,” at first politely and then with a colourful two-word phrase.

Lakenheath: The least-used station in Suffolk

Superintendent: It's a country station, rather off the beaten track.

Will Hay: Oh, I don't mind, as long as it's near the railway.

Time for another of these engaging videos. Lakenheath station, Wikipedia tells us, lies some three miles north of the village and is not within convenient walking distance of any sizeable population. 

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Rudolf Lehmann was Liberal MP for Harborough 1906-10

The opening of Penelope Fitzgerald's review of a 1998 biography of John Lehmann provides a potted biography of his father Rudolf:

The first volume of John Lehmann’s autobiography, published in 1955, starts:

"When I try to remember where my education in poetry began, the first image that comes to mind is that of my father’s library at the old family home of Fieldhead on the Thames. It is an autumn or winter evening after tea, for James the butler has been in to draw the blinds and close the curtains, and my father is reading under a green-shaded lamp."

He has said a good deal already – the little boy who wants to be like his father, the sheltered child who doesn’t need to know the time or even the season because James, the always reliable butler, deals with that, the illusion of a dedication to poetry. Adrian Wright, in this new biography, refers several times to Lehmann’s half-commitment (in spite of his energy) to the professional life he chose. Fieldhead was the magic enclosure to which, as an adult, he looked back, wishing that it might have been possible to sit there, watching and listening, all his life.

He came of a German-Jewish family, musical, hospitable, successful in business. His grandfather ended up in Scotland, by way of Huddersfield. His father, who built Field-head, was called to the Bar, edited the Daily News, and was returned as Liberal MP for Market Harborough. He was a dedicated rowing coach, and wrote quantities of light verse, often about rowing, for Punch. He married Alice Davis, a strong-minded New Englander, twenty years younger than himself. Their family consisted of three girls – Helen, the indulged Rosamond, Beatrix – and, at long last, the boy John.

Lehmann held Harborough for the Liberals in the landslide election of 1906 and remained its MP until he stood down at the second election in 1910.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Six of the Best 989

Campaigners are urging the government to give poor families cash and not food vouchers, reports Vincent Wood.

"Trump disguised what he was doing by operating in plain sight, talking openly about his intent. He normalized his actions so people would accept them. I’ve been studying authoritarian regimes for three decades, and I know the signs of a coup when I see them." Fiona Hill believes in calling Trump's coup a coup.

Simon Wilson argues that it is not worth trying to recycle plastics.

Karen Liebreich on the othering of cyclists: "For some years people on bikes have been perceived as members of a different, lesser species, not deserving of the basic consideration or courtesy one would usually extend to an equal."

"In the early 1970s British television began to spread the idea that accessing and expressing your feelings was a good thing. Most documentaries still just observed people - or used them to make political or social points. But a number of factual programmes became channels for the new psychotherapeutic ideas." Adam Curtis offers a history of television and hugging.

John Lewis-Stempel names Richard Jefferies among five things that inspired his book The Running Hare.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Lady Sybil Grant and the oldest treehouse in the world

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Lady Sybil Grant,. you may recall, "spent much time in a caravan or up a tree, communicating with her butler through a megaphone".

And this is the tree she spent her time up. It's on the Pitchford Estate in Shropshire and is claimed by them to be the oldest tree house in the world.

There's much more about Lady Sybil, daughter of the Liberal prime minster Lord Roseberry, from Epsom & Ewell History Explorer and on the Pitchford Estate site.

A 1960 film made to promote commercial traffic on the waterways

The blurb on YouTube explains:

This is an edited version of a film made in 1960 to show how British Waterways were upgrading their  broad waterways for more commercial traffic. At that time the container revolution had not really started, but within ten years container ports including inland container ports enabled goods to tranship quickly and without all the handling shown here.

At the heart of the film is a trip up the Trent with nice shots of Newark and a river freight depot at Nottingham.

Monday, January 11, 2021

"Welcome to the Brexit, sir." Remainers knew British drivers' sandwiches would be confiscated but reacted wrongly


The Independent reports:

Border officials have been confiscating sandwiches and other foodstuffs from drivers arriving in the Netherlands from the UK after Brexit, TV footage has revealed.

A Dutch TV clip showed a driver had his ham sandwiches taken away by border officials as he arrived – with one border guard joking: "Welcome to the Brexit, sir."

This development should not have come as a surprise.

In April 2019 The Scotsman warned:

Britons travelling to the EU will no longer be able to carry meat and dairy products with them in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the European Commission warned. 

EU Customs Commissioner Pierre Muscovici said the risk of a no-deal Brexit and major disruption was increasing, and said customs checks would "apply to all goods arriving from the UK". 

Tourists would be prevented from carrying British cheeses and meats with them to the continent.

A good point for Remain campaigners to make, you might think, but it didn't turn out that like.

As I blogged at the time:

Almost all the comment on this story I have seen from our side of the debate has been concerned with laughing at people who might want to take British food with them.

Some Remainers have gone on to list all the Continental foods they enjoy in a self-congratulatory way.

I stand by the conclusion to that post:

I am a Liberal. I want to be able to get on a train at St Pancras and take a pork pie anywhere I damn well please.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Introducing Lady Sybil Grant

A footnote in The Quest for Queen Mary by James Pope-Hennessy (edited by Hugo Vickers) runs:

Lady Sybil Grant (1879-1955), eccentric daughter of 5th Earl of Roseberry. She was a writer and designed of ceramics. In later life, she spent much time in a caravan or up a tree, communicating with her butler through a megaphone.

Saturday, January 09, 2021

Sir John Farr remembered

When we moved to Market Harborough in 1973 its Conservative MP was John Farr, who was to be knighted 11 years later. 

He once toured my school without speaking to a single student (or pupil as we may still have been then).

Sir John died in 1997 and was remembered like this in Chris Mullin's diary, later published as A Walk-On Part:

John Farr, a ruddy-faced knight of the Shires with whom I formed an unlikely alliance over the Birmingham Six, has died. He dropped dead while out grouse shooting, which I am sure he would regard as a good way to go.

I once asked whether his stand on the Birmingham bombings had caused problems with his Conservative colleagues. "Only from the lawyers - and they are all arseholes," he replied.

A difficult year: Lord Bonkers in 2020

Putting my life back in order will be more of an undertaking, but I can at least start returning Liberal England to normality. So let's begin by looking at what Lord Bonkers got up to last year.


The old boy was fully in support of Harry's decision to elope with Meghan Markle:

Congratulations to the Duke of Sussex for making it over the wall and quitting the Royal Family, together with his delightful wife and child.

In my experience his family are a ghastly crew – in my young day it was common knowledge that the Jack the Ripper murders had been committed by Queen Victoria – and he is well shot of them.


By now the coronavirus was affecting life on the Bonkers Hall Estate:

Meadowcroft has taken this damned virus badly, locking himself in his potting shed and  morning, noon and night. You may very well feel he is Going A Bit Far, but he is determined not to pass the virus on to his beloved geraniums. As I gaze out of the window I see Cook pushing slices of cheese on toast under the door. What a fine woman she is!


This month saw some characteristically forthright comments on the leading lights of the Liberal Democrats in the Coalition years:
Whenever I questioned their actions, Clegg and Alexander assured me they were making Britain a better place to live. Yet now I find that the former has upped sticks to Seattle and the latter has fled to China. 

You may feel that rather gives the game away.


Lord Bonkers paid tribute to the Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross:
Jamie Stone telephones, full of his plans for his new spaceport in Sutherland; no wonder they call him the Wernher von Braun of the Flow Country. 


I made a personal donation to the Bonkers Home for Well-Behaved Orphans after publishing an inaccurate post about Sir Nicholas Clegg.


Readers were treated to my employer's recollections of the the Stilton strike of 1919 when the miners came out demanding better pay and Lloyd George sent the troops in:
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.


Most scholars now accept the theory that the model for Bonkers Hall is Nevill Holt Hall near Medbourne in Leicestershire. 

So Liberal England was interested in the news that the 17-year-old son of the owner of Nevill Holt has received a garnt of £85,000 from the Culture Recovery Fund.

The lad is "patron" of Nevill Holt Opera, but I concluded that "it does sound more Darren Grimes than Peter Grimes".


Things were getting factitious in Rutland's alternative medicine sector:
Lunch with the High King of the Elves of Rockingham Forest, who tells me of their plans to help during the new lockdown: "We like to think of ourselves as putting the 'elf' into 'welfare'." ...

In the afternoon I call on the Wise Woman of Wing and purchase some of her herbal remedies as a precaution against the virus. "I’m much cheaper than those elves, dearie" she tells me, "and what’s more my shit works."


At the end of the year I took to reprinting Lord Bonkers' thoughts from 30 years ago, as his diaries have been appearing there that long.

Here he is on the 1990 Eastbourne by-election:

I presented myself bright and early at the committee rooms and was asked to drive some pensioners to the polls. A menial task for a man of my experience, you might think, but we Liberals are nothing if not democratic and I went about it with a will.

Fortunately, I had brought with me my collapsible travelling horsewhip and this eased matters considerably. the elderly voters made a terrible fuss and were constantly tripping over each other's Zimmer frames, but I got them all into the booths eventually.

Friday, January 08, 2021

London from the Regent's Canal in 1924

Click on the image above to new a gem on the British Film Institute site.

This 1924 film shows a journey through London along the Regent's Canal from the docks in Limehouse through east London, under Mile End Road, past Whitechapel, Kentish Town, King’s Cross, Camden Lock and London Zoo to Paddington basin.

There are good shots of trams and buses in the streets surrounding the canal too.

Six of the Best 988

Bruno Maçães says the attempted coup in Washington this week is further proof that we live in an age that is collapsing the distinction between fantasy and reality.

"Any story which depends on obtaining documents from US government sources will become impossibly dangerous. No British journalists would dare to handle it, let alone publish it." Writing before the unexpected verdict, Peter Oborne and Millie Cooke considered what the extradition of Julian Assange would have meant for journalism.

William Yang asks if the mass arrest of pro-democracy figures in Hong Kong signals the beginning of the end for the territory's civil liberties.

Gillian Darley mourns Coventry's failure to cherish its modernist architecture.

"The jargon made you part of the country’s largest and least violent gang, the drifts of boys of all ages and social classes who gathered at the edge of cuttings, the ends of platforms and the mouths of tunnels: the fellowship of the number and the name." Ian Jack on the history of trainspotting.

"In St Mary’s Church, in the village of Frensham, Surrey, the strangest object can be found. Propped up on a tripod, near the pews, beneath the arched windows, in among all the other fittings you’d expect in an English country church, stands what appears to be a witch’s cauldron." David Castleton tells a strange story.

Thursday, January 07, 2021

A memory of the days when you could explore Lubenham station

Lubenham railway station used to stand just to the north of this bridge at the western end of the village. It closed, along with the rest of the Market Harborough to Rugby line, in 1966.

It's all fenced off now, but in 1973 you could wander up what had been the station approach and explore its remains. What I remember most is that one of the platforms looked as though it had just been resurfaced.

And that may well have been done just before the station closed. Matthew Engel, in his history and survey of the state of Britain's railways Eleven Minutes Late, published in 2009, records an incident at another station on this line, Clifton Mill:

The departments of British Railways didn't talk to one another. David St John Thomas noted that some of the maddest acts of all came because the commercial and engineering departments failed to communicate.

"During the 1950s several branch lines were extensively relaid or resignalled shortly before closure. At one station - Clifton Mill [in Warwickshire] - the office was actually being enlarged to take a new stove, which had just arrived, two days before total closure."

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

Dickie Attenborough, David Hemmings and Sunday League cricket

I caught the end of Only When I Larf on Talking Pictures TV when I got home from my mother's this evening. Based on a Len Deighton novel about jet-setting confidence tricksters, it starred Richard Attenborough, David Hemmings and Alexandra Stewart.

The film has not been on television for years before tonight, but if the theme tune sounded strangely familiar to people of my vintage it may be because it was also used to introduce BBC2's coverage of the early years of Sunday League cricket.

Wikipedia adds an interesting note:

Credited to Whistling Jack Smith, the record rose up the UK singles chart. When it was featured on Top of the Pops, actor Coby Wells was used to mime the whistling, and later toured as the public face of Whistling Jack Smith. (Wells' real name was Billy Moeller; a brother of Tommy Moeller, lead vocalist, guitarist, and pianist with Unit 4 + 2).

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Searching for the River Neckinger

John Rogers follows the course of another of London's lost rivers, the Neckinger.

The walk takes him through Elephant and Castle, Borough and Bermondsey to the Thames.

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

Monday, January 04, 2021

Sunday, January 03, 2021

GUEST POST Carry On up the Brexit

Stuart Whomsley on the psychodrama that was Brexit.

Ten years ago, Europe was not an issue for the vast majority of the people of the UK. The right wing created this psychodrama, created this problem, this crisis that was never there and now see themselves as the ones who have heroically solved it.  This represents a fine piece of manipulation.

However, we can start to consider this issue with the role of New Labour. I remember when Blair was still PM, my saying that though I thought it was the case that the UK needed migrants and they add to our society, the way Blair had overseen such a rapid arrival rate of migrants would stir up racism, as the UK was still a racist society. 

I was told at the time that the UK was not a racist society any more and there was nothing to worry about. Probably by the same people who were saying we were now a meritocracy, class conflict was over and everyone was becoming middle class.   

But migration was the impetuous to turn a fringe issue, our relationship with Europe into what it became.  It allowed Farage to sculpt UKIP into the cloaked racist anti migrant party that it became. And to turn it into the threat that it became to the Conservative party leading to Cameron putting the offer of a referendum in their manifesto, never thinking that he would win so well. 

Unfortunately the Sun did more than blow the bloody doors off Milliband's chances of winning in 2015 with its sandwich eating shot, so that Cameron won outright. Without the restraint of being in Coalition, no Clegg to hold him back, he was forced to hold the referendum as promised.  Well complacent Cameron feeling he was Mr Lucky messed up at that referendum, as we all know.

Johnson actually a pro-European saw that his only route to the job he so craved was to support Leave and to make sure Leave won. His charisma and affable clown persona helped push Leave over the line. Cameron at this point instead of showing character and fulfilling his responsibility and getting a deal and taking it through parliament instead went off in a huff to Chillax. 

May as the new PM immediately showed one of her flaws of character, that of not being able to work well with others, and decided to go it alone instead of taking a cross party approach to build a consensus Brexit. In a failure of self-confidence and judgement, thinking she did not have enough of a majority to get what she wanted through, when it would have turned out that she did, went to the polls.

At the polls she did so badly that now she was in the position where she did indeed not have the majority needed to get what she wanted through. She lost her majority by rather than playing safe and having a neutral manifesto that would focus on getting Brexit done instead put forward a reckless radical vote losing manifesto. Yet May still managed to put together a very shaky Brexit deal to put to a vote.

The sensible thing for pro-European MPs to have done at that time would have been to have cashed out on the May deal. But they did not.  For some it was the hope that kills you, the hope of a People’s vote that stopped them taking the option of the May deal. On the Labour side who knows what machinations were going on with the objective of bringing down Corbyn being prioritised over the European issue.

So in came the Johnson premiership on the mantra that he would get Brexit done and that as this was now the democratic will of the people, to do anything else would be an attack on democracy, an attack on The People.  How far we have come in ten years from our relationship with Europe being a marginal issue to it having been such a central and divisive one.

Brexit is now done, well sort of.  With vast amounts of money spent, with our national political life having been directed towards this issue above all others for four years, until the pandemic arrived, and with the union of the four nations put at risk, with a deal that does in fact look worse than the one we were in whilst part of the EU, the questions we now ask are:

  • Was it worth it?
  • What psychodrama will the UK head into next?
You can follow Stuart Whomsley on Twitter.

Saturday, January 02, 2021

Six of the Best 987

The system is broken and it’s corrupt: liberals need to make fixing the system and rooting out corruption a key part of our message to voters. If we don’t, then who will?" Max Wilkinson says the latest peerage announcements are yet more evidence that the system is broken.

David Torrance looks at the Government of Ireland Act 1920. He argues that it "paved the way for the formation of the United Kingdom as we know it today".

.Will Davies dissects the intellectual decline of the Spectator.

"The primary message that came through loud and clear from the respondents is that their children began to learn to read when removed from school because the pressure to read was reduced or removed." Peter Gray on how dyslexic children learn to read when removed from school.

"Ever since vaulting to fame, Rowling had sought the protection of some private realm. ... But her safest space had long been the one she found in writing. There, she knew all the secrets, ordained good and evil, and decided how everything would end." Molly Fischer offers a penetrating study of J.K. Rowling.

Tim Worthington remembers the days when the BBC would attempt to scare its young viewers to death: "In the early eighties, the Children’s Department had a go at producing their own Ghost Stories For Christmas, which in all honesty were only slightly less disturbing than their adult counterparts."

Friday, January 01, 2021

Benjamin Britten: A New Year Carol

It's can't be worse than 2020, can it?

There's an explanation of this carol on Mama Lisa's World.

Snailbeach is becoming central to the English music scene

Half Man Half Biscuit secured the village its place in music with Descent of the Stiperstones:

And so returning to the car at Snailbeach, I set off in the direction of Montgomery, where I was more than certain my need would be met by Bunner the chandler who sold everything.

Now Theo Williams, an artist based in South London, has gone further and taken to calling himself Snailbeach.

Perhaps he shares my love of the remains of lead mining?