Wednesday, June 30, 2021

London's Lost Railways: Tooting, Merton and Wimbledon

Geoff Marshall follows the path of the abandoned line from Merton Park to Tooting through Merton Abbey station, which was originally known as Tooting Junction.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Cyril Smith vs rock and roll

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Britain was a little wary of rock ‘n’ roll in January 1957. The previous autumn had seen the film Rock Around the Clock spark riots across the land, and next month the stars of that movie, Bill Haley and His Comets were to land in Southampton, bringing real-life rock to Britain. The consequences were uncertain.

In the lull before the anticipated storm, the spotlight turned on various dancehalls that were running lunchtime rock ’n’ roll events. These were simple affairs: admission cost threepence, tea and soft drinks were available, records were played, and people danced. A good time was had by all.

But, as this old post by Alwyn Turner on Lion & Unicorn tells us, not everyone was happy with these lunchtime events.

Among the critics was a 26-year-old -Labour councillor from Rochdale called Cyril Smith. He was chairman of the governors of two technical schools - one for boys, one for  girls - a "stone’s throw" from the town's Carlton Ballroom:

"Rock 'n’' roll is hitting youth club work," he said. "At the Lea Hall Youth Club we have had to recruit a completely new netball team. The first team are rocking 'n' rolling on Saturday afternoons. Youth club attendances have dwindled alarmingly.’

Smith’s main concern, though, was the age of the dancers at the Carlton:

The management assured me that only those of sixteen would be on the dance floor, but that was not so, for I recognised many as schoolchildren under sixteen. The girls had changed quickly into dresses from school uniform to deceive the management. And on the balcony, to where the under-sixteens were directed, there were twenty-five couples, many as young as eleven, rocking 'n' rolling.

His conclusion was that this had to be stopped. "I propose to recommend that the premises should be placed out of bounds to schoolchildren during school hours," he told the press, and he was as good as his word. The following month, the Carlton’s licence came up before the Rochdale Licensing Justices, and Smith was there to make his objections.

Smith was successful. Alwyn Turner records that the Carlton's music licence was amended to stop the lunchtime dances, permitting it to open only between 2 pm and 11 pm (or 11.30 pm on the weekend).

Turner wrote his post in 2019, when Smith's career as an abuser of boys and young men was in the headlines. 

He tells us that Smith

retained his interest in youth activities, however, and by the beginning of the 1970s – now returned to the Liberal Party, whence he had come – he was chair of the council’s Education Committee, its Youth Committee and its Youth Employment Committee, while also serving on the committees of the Rochdale Youth Opera and the Youth Theatre Workshop. 

Where he had been a governor of two schools, he was now on the board of twenty-nine. And then there was the Cambridge House hostel that he had helped found and that was the site of much of his abuse.

When Cyril Smith died in 2010 I blogged that I had heard him

address a public meeting in Sutton Coldfield in 1982 and he was a terrific speaker. His style of oratory, which no doubt came from Nonconformist preaching, now seems a world away from today's culture of soundbites and glottal stops.

What I remember more today is that he began his speech by saying that he had attended the ninth World Scout Jamboree in Sutton Park in 1957.

This won him murmurs of approval and pleasure from around the hall, but it makes me cringe today,

Monday, June 28, 2021

GUEST POST Why the Progressive Alliance is irrelevant in Batley and Spen

Matthew Pennell says those arguing for a Progressive Alliance in the Batley and Spen by-election don't understand the seat.

I’m a massive track and field freak and I learnt an important life lesson from an Athletics Weekly editorial a while back - it talked about having a ‘no short cuts’ approach to the sport. 

This wasn’t, as you’d expect, about not taking performance enhancing drugs, but weight loss. It’s known that getting on the Slimfast can boost your performance in the short term but what you gain in speed you lose in strength so you’re far more likely to get ill/injured in the long term. Adopt a ‘no short cuts’ approach to life in general and you won’t go far wrong. 

For this reason I smell a rat in the recent calls for a Progressive Alliance in politics as it seems like a classic short cut approach.

You may have already noticed calls for a Progressive Alliance in Batley and Spen, they’re utter drivel and I’ll explain why. Batley and Spen isn’t a classic red wall seat, it’s toggled between Labour and Conservative throughout the years and has never been a particularly safe Labour seat since Mike Wood gained it in 1997. It’s competitive, Labour know it’s competitive, how much does Labour want to win?

What’s the pathway to Labour victory in Batley and Spen? 

This seat has developed a micro-climate which Labour will have to negotiate in order to reach the winning post. Unlike Hartlepoolm there’s no overwhelming Brexit sentiment in Batley and Spen, the Brexit party polled far lower in 2019 and Reform UK isn’t standing this time. There was a major third party, however, last time out - the Heavy Woollen District Independents (HWDI), who polled a whopping 6432 votes. 

This is a rare example of localist politics breaking through at a general election. This smacks of disaffection with the political establishment, but it’s not an overt right-wing Eurosceptic statement - HWDI aren’t standing this time. 

Due to problems with their candidate the Greens aren’t standing this time either, If you aggregate Brexit, HWDI and Green votes from 2019 that amounts to 8800 - this voter cohort will be crucial in determining the result on July 1.

Another ingredient in the micro-climate is the latest chapter in the George Galloway’s Massive Ego show. He’s standing under the Workers Party banner, with what looks like a straightforward Blue

Labour platform, and has already been very active in the constituency. Early polling suggest the Workers Party pulling in 6 per cent of the vote, enough to be a spoiler for Labour.

For those wanting Labour to win, there are four key outcomes:

  • Labour retains its vote from 2019
  • Labour manages to persuade some Conservatives to switch back to them having left Labour due to Brexit and Corbyn
  • Labour wins over 50 per cent of Heavy Woollen District Independents votes 
  • Labour neutralises the threat of the Workers Party

If Labour is successful in doing the above it will win the seat, and quite frankly the voting behaviour of Lib Dems and Greens, who would be shoehorned into a Progressive Alliance, won’t matter. 

The notion of a Progressive Alliance simply isn’t relevant to Batley and Spen, and most of those who do don’t live there, aren’t campaigning there and clearly don’t know its recent electoral past and present.

Matthew Pennell blogs at returnoftheliberal and you can follow him on Twitter.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Adam Faith: I Survived

No, it's not a great record, but it's an interesting one.

In 1974 I was all over Radio One, Radio Luxembourg and the charts, which means I have a lot of half-remembered songs at the back of my mind.

This is one of them and I recently discovered what it is.

Adam Faith was one of the pioneers of British rock, but his ballads suddenly sounded old-fashioned when groups took over the scene.

By 1974 he was better known as an actor than a singer, and a very good actor he was. Talking Pictures channel recently repeated Budgie, his finest hour on television.

I Survived was not a hit in the UK, but here it is on Top of the Tops.

Faith's last top 20 single was ten years in the past by then. In 1974 that was a lifetime to me: today it seems the blink of an eye.

Friday, June 25, 2021

The Joy of Six 1014

"Thatcher ... would often pepper her speeches with talk of Hayek, Popper or Friedman. And that wasn’t mere showboating: such men formed her worldview. It is not at all clear that Johnson has any equivalents (at least not since Juvenal) or even that he and his colleagues are interested in acquiring any." Rutland's own Chris Dillow exposes the intellectual decline of the right.

Nick Cohen warns of the curbs on free speech contained in the government's draft online harms bill.

"He is part of an establishment that operates on the blithe assumption that all skills are transferable, that an aptitude for political schmoozing magically confers any number of lesser competences on its owner - and that the Right Sort of Chap is the right person for the job, even if they’ve proved otherwise, time and again." Sam Leith explains the rise and rise of George Osborne.

Helen Stace on the tragic state of the River Wye and the impact on our wildlife.

"Local resident Gillian Vesey recalled how, as a young barmaid at the Olde Hob Inn, she stood up for African American soldiers against attempts by white Americans to impose discriminatory practices in the pub, insisting that the American white soldiers wait their turn rather than expecting to be served before their black colleagues." Alan Rice says that Black troops were welcome in Britain during the second world war but Jim Crow wasn’t.

Lin Benley looks at the history of 10cc.

Police called after woman rants at Euro 2020 beer tent she wrongly thought was covid testing site

Our congratulations go to the Liverpool Echo.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Secret Islington walking tour: Canonbury

John Rogers takes us on another London walk, This one

takes into a magical realm just off the hustle and bustle of Upper Street Islington as we take a walking tour around the streets of Canonbury. Ed Glinert described Canonbury as ‘The best preserved and most picturesque suburb in inner London’ (The London Compendium). 

In The London Nobody Knows, Geoffrey Fletcher wrote that to walk from Upper Street to Canonbury Square is to ‘move into an entirely different world’.

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

Later. A fellow Malcolm Saville enthusiast tells me that Canonbury Square was the model for Brownlow Square, where the Morton family lived.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

The Joy of Six 1013

Adrian Sanders offers some wise words of caution on a 'progressive alliance': "The problem with pre-election pacts, rather than informal arrangements such as the pre 1997 one between Labour and ourselves where we stand but don’t work in different seats, is that you cannot be sure where, or even if, a voter’s likely second choices will be used the way the pact hoped. There is a danger that in some seats such a narrowing of voter choice will entrench the support of the candidate whom it was hoped would be unseated."

What should a Liberal approach to building a more sustainable economy in a sharply contested world order look like? asks William Wallace.

Rural voters are increasingly comfortable returning non-Conservative councillors, argues Matthew Pennell, He usefully identifies four types of rural constituencies.

Jay Bea reads  Anna Cale's new biography The Real Diana Dors.

Mina Tavakoli reviews The Sparks Brothers - a documentary on Ron and Russell Mael and their band Sparks.

"Flat Holm is full of the beauty of nature. It's home to seabird colonies and retains its wilderness, remoteness and isolation. But alongside the lighthouse and wildlife sits an abandoned and dilapidated former cholera hospital where sick and infectious patients were sent to live and die." Thomas Deacon takes us to an island in the Bristol Channel.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Corby woman steals cactus before attacking man with it in town centre

For this vignette of life in the county, the Northamptonshire Telegraph wins our Headline of the Day Award.

Talk of cacti reminds me of Lord Bonkers' entry on Nick Clegg's teenage delinquency.

Prelude: After the Gold Rush

Prelude were a folk group, formed in Gateshead in 1970 and active until recently.

This 1974 a capella version of a Neil Young song was their finest hour. It charted around the world, reaching number 21 in the US and number 22 in the UK.

What is it about? Wikipedia offers a choice of answers:

Dolly Parton (who was in the process of recording a cover of the song along with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt) has said, "When we were doing the Trio album, I asked Linda and Emmy what (the song) meant, and they didn't know. 

So we called Neil Young, and he didn't know. We asked him, flat out, what it meant, and he said, 'Hell, I don't know. I just wrote it. It just depends on what I was taking at the time. I guess every verse has something different I'd taken.'"

However, in his 2012 biography Young reportedly gave a different explanation of the song's origin and meaning, describing the inspiration provided by a screenplay of the same name (never produced), which apocalyptically described the last days of California in a catastrophic flood. The screenplay and song's title referred to what happened in California, a place that took shape due to the Gold Rush. 

Young eventually concluded that “After The Gold Rush is an environmental song... I recognize in it now this thread that goes through a lotta my songs that’s this time-travel thing... When I look out the window, the first thing that comes to my mind is the way this place looked a hundred years ago.”

Ed Davey's blue wall was couriered from Grantham

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I like this detail at the end of an interesting Guardian article on the likely impact of the Liberal Democrat triumph in Chesham and Amersham:

It amused Lib Dem staffers that the boxes that made up their blue wall prop had been delivered by courier from Grantham, birthplace of another true-blue export, Margaret Thatcher..

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Building Coventry Cathedral

Historic England introduces this video on YouTube:

Using photographs from Historic England’s Archive, KS2 students learnt more about their local heritage. The students carried out oral history interviews with people who constructed Coventry Cathedral and together they visited the building.

Friday, June 18, 2021

Lib Dems storm to victory in Chesham and Amersham

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It wasn't even close! Congratulations to Sarah Green on a stunning victory:

Sarah polled 21,517 votes to the Conservative candidate's 13,489 - a majority of 8028 and a swing of 25 per cent.

This result reminds us that, for all the talk of a progressive alliance, the most satisfying way of winning Tory seats is by converting former Tory voters.

It also reminds us that, if the voters are determined to get rid of the Tories, they will organise themselves without outside help.

Georgie Fame reminisces about his Flamingo Club days

Choosing Yeh Yeh as Sunday's music video, I came across this discussion between Georgie Fame and Jamie Cullen.

Fame tells how he escaped the world of Larry Parnes, who gave him his stage name (his real name is Clive Powell), for the most authentic jazz scene London had to offer.

It's interesting to heat that Bad Penny Blues influenced him too.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

The Joy of Six 1012

"Lib Dems in cities (and remember, a lot of politically active centre-left folk live in cities) see municipal Labour as unimaginative, entitled, tribal, machine-based and sometimes corrupt. Labour people see local Lib Dems as unprincipled, incoherent opportunists and dirty campaigners." Lewis Baston looks at the prospects for inter-party cooperation against the Conservatives.

"Few political parties around the world have endorsed UBI as the Liberal Democrats have, and in releasing this discussion paper with specific policies, they have taken that endorsement to an unprecedented level of seriousness." UBI Center praises our policy paper on universal basic income.

William Francis makes the Liberal case for the mass ownership of property.

Andy Kroll says the Forever Trump movement has captured the Republican Party.

"As far as facilitating inclusion and diversity is concerned, it is better to support employees in dealing with past behaviours than it is to 'name and shame' them in the national press. The ECB could have done more to protect their players and show that it is serious about challenging prejudice, but it has shown itself unable to do either." Andrew Page on the Ollie Robinson affair.

Samuel E Pheby-McGarvey examines the tensions between modernity and folk horror communities in Children of the Stones.

Monday, June 14, 2021

MP bullied Commons staff because he is very tall

Daniel Kawczynski, the Conservative MP for Shrewsbury and Atcham, today made an apology on the floor of the Commons for bullying parliamentary committee staff.

As the Shropshire Star explains:

The Tory MP made the statement for acting in a "threatening and intimidating manner" towards the complainants after he was unable to join a committee hearing due to technical problems.

A disciplinary report said the Shrewsbury and Atcham MP consumed a "significant amount of alcohol" on the day and phoned the manager of the committee staff while under the influence, behaviour that was "grossly unprofessional".

The incident occurred in April 2020, as Parliament was adapting to new remote working during the coronavirus lockdown.

I was struck by his argument against being forced to make a public apology:

Mr Kawczynski failed in an appeal against the recommended sanction that he should apologise in the House, claiming that he was under great pressure at the time due to Brexit and flooding in his constituency.

The appeal suggested the 6ft 9in MP was "very conspicuous" due to his height, making him a target for "extremely vicious" attacks from members of the public.

Anyway, you can watch the apology below.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames: Yeh Yeh

I can remember being aware of Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames as a small boy in the 1960s - I think there was something about the fame/flame combination in their name that intrigued me.

Almost 50 years later I saw Georgie Fame play at Market Harborough Leisure Centre with Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings.

The Blue Flames were originally Billy Fury's backing band. When he sacked them, Fame took over as singer and they enjoyed great success.

Yeh Yeh topped the UK singles chart in 1964 and may well be the record that first introduced me to them.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Craft gin is illegal

Writing about food and politics in Britain, Pen Vogler:

The governments of the day experimented vainly with taxation, until alighting on legislation that outlawed small-batch distillation. (The current craft gin craze is thanks to Sipsmith who took on HMRC and persuaded it to deviate from its strict adherence to this 1751 Gin Act.)

Of course, the really great thing about craft gin is that it makes a bottle of ordinary gin seem so cheap.

Lib Dems would gain five seats with new constituency boundaries

A rare piece of good news for the Liberal Democrats is to be found in a New Statesman article by Ben Walker.

He says that we are set to gain from the new constituency boundaries proposed by the Electoral Commission.

By his calculations, if the 2019 election had been fought on these boundaries the Lib Dems would have gained Sheffield Hallam from Labour and Esher and Walton, Finchley and Muswell Hill, South Cambridgeshire and Wimbledon from the Conservatives.

Other commentators have suggested that Tim Farron will have trouble finding a winnable seat in Cumbria, and there will be more subtle losses and gains across the country,

But it is worth noting Ben Walker's conclusion that "these boundary changes aren’t dramatically helpful for the Conservatives, nor disastrous for Labour".

Friday, June 11, 2021

The loneliness of Roding Valley

Jago Hazzard explains why the Central Line's Roding Valley is the quietest station on the London Underground. You can support his videos via his Patreon page.

Oh and Geoff Marshall has been to Roding Valley too.

Simon Hughes wins phone-hacking damages from The Sun

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From the Guardian:

The publisher of the Sun has paid a substantial sum to settle a phone-hacking claim brought by the former Liberal Democrat MP Sir Simon Hughes, who claimed he was illegally targeted by reporters wanting to out his sexuality.

Speaking to Byline Investigates, Simon said:

‘This was to do with unlawful obtaining of phone bills by The Sun.

‘This explains what happened 15 years ago when The Sun came to me and said they had information about my relationships.

‘In this case, we know that it wasn’t just private investigators – it went right to the top. The people at the top were quite clearly involved.’

Byline Investigates also explains exactly what went on between Simon and The Sun.

In 2006 the paper had found out the numbers that he called frequently, as well as call times and durations:

The sensitive data was bought from a notoriously illegal private investigator firm called ELI.

At the beginning of the case, Hughes was shown this disclosure and was ‘deeply troubled and shocked.’

ELI (Express Locate International) was a private detective company, which has been linked in other litigation to phone hacking, and which sold illegally-acquired private and personal information to newspapers across Fleet Street.

In the middle of a leadership contest in January 2006, Trevor Kavanagh told Mr Hughes that they had obtained private and sensitive data, but did not reveal how.

Based on this, the journalist said the paper was going to publish a story that Hughes had engaged in homosexual activities.

Hughes ‘believed that with or without his agreement,’ The Sun would publish the story anyway, according to a statement read in open court.

He felt that ‘he had no choice but to cooperate and this resulted in a front page article on January 26 2006.’

The story ended-up misrepresenting Hughes’ sexual orientation.

Wednesday, June 09, 2021

Lembit Opik to appeal against expulsion from the Lib Dems?

From Nation Cymru:

A former leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats has been expelled from the party for advising the Tories on how to beat them, it has been reported.

Lembit Öpik, who used to be the MP for Montgomeryshire, upset his former colleagues when he claimed the party had become a “become a parody of itself” and suggested that there is “currently no vaccine against stupidity”.

In the run up to the Senedd election, he spoke at a ‘How to Stop the Lib Dems with Lembit Öpik’ event organised by the Conservative Party.

He was introduced by former Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling, Conservative Member of Parliament for Epsom and Ewell.

His appearance at the event has led to him being booted out, according to a source in Lib Dem HQ that spoke to The Sunday Times.

But that may not be the end of the story. Over to Powys and the County Times:

Mr Opik says he has appealed against the decision to expel him, and believes the party has violated it's own complaints procedure by confirming his expulsion publicly before the result of an appeal has been heard.

"I am astounded to learn this news from the County Times," he said.

"My understanding is that an individual is complaining about me in the party but, as the party itself has confirmed, I have the right to appeal against these complaints through a formal process.

"The party itself has insisted that when dealing with a complaint there's an internal conflict resolution procedure between the complainant, respondent and panel and all communications must be direct between the parties and cannot be conducted with third parties.

"The party is disrespecting the very processes it has insisted on enforcing upon me on June 7."

He added that he still felt optimistic that a resolution could be reached, and said he would respect the outcome of an internal complaints procedure.

If the facts are as reported by Nation Cymru then it's hard to see why Lembit Opik is astounded or why he would wish to remain a member of the Liberal Democrats.

Such have been his antics over recent years - faithfully recorded on this blog - that it's easy to forget there was a time when, helped by his Estonian heritage, Opik seemed an interesting politician.

But his style came to be a poor match for the sensitivities of the traditional Liberal voters of the Welsh Border.

The yawning heights of Boris Johnson

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In my early days with Liberator I reviewed The Yawning Heights, a satire of the Soviet system by the Russian philosopher Alexander Zinoviev.

Its title at least has remained with me all these years, and I was reminded of it when I read Tom McTague's profile of Boris Johnson for The Atlantic.

Because, though Johnson has devoted his life to becoming a 'character', the clear impression of him you get from this profile is that there's nothing there. The man is a vacuum.

McTague has scaled the yawning heights of Boris Johnson.

Sunday, June 06, 2021

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The length and breadth of these islands

So Lord Bonkers is off on his travels. I don't know how often we shall hear from him in future.

I have been a full-time carer for my mother since Christmas and am finding it hard to spare the time to do anything else - even to act as the old boy's literary secretary.

So I have decided that Lord Bonkers and I are to part our ways, at least for a little while. It may be that he will send me postcards as he makes his journey - I don't know.

Lord Bonkers adds:

Wherever they's a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever they's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there. Wherever there's a winnable by-election, I'll be there.


If St Asquith’s were open as usual I should have urged the Revd Hughes to hold a service of thanksgiving for Albert’s efforts, taking some lines from Job as the text for his sermon:

Do you give the horse his strength or clothe his neck with a flowing mane? Do you make him leap like a locust, striking terror with his proud snorting? He paws fiercely, rejoicing in his strength, and charges into the fray. He laughs at fear, afraid of nothing; he does not shy away from the sword.

Soon, as the Covid virus departs with its tale between its legs, we shall be able to enjoy such pleasures again, and I have thought of the perfect way of taking advantage of this regained freedom. I shall travel the length and breadth of these islands and write a book about my experiences. 

Ed Davey was supposed to be undertaking such a journey, but as far as one can tell got no further than his local fried fish shop and Auchtermuchty Zoo, so I shall instead take my inspiration from Dame Peggy Ashcroft’s Beyond Westminster, which saw its author venturing into more challenging locales than this. 

There is no doubt about it: as well as being one of the greatest actresses of her generation, she was the finest leader the Liberal Democrats ever had.

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

Earlier this week...

Carole King: It's Too Late

Choosing No Secrets one Sunday, I blogged:

I suppose if there were an event for albums by females singer-songwriters released in 1971, Carly Simon would win bronze while Joni Mitchell and Carole King disputed gold and silver for Blue and Tapestry respectively.

What is remarkable is that Blue and Tapestry were recorded at the same time in neighbouring studios - the same piano appears on both records.

It's Too Late is the best known track from Tapestry and gave Carole King her only US number one as a performer. Fifty years on, it still sounds great.

Saturday, June 05, 2021

Lord Bonkers' Diary: "I don’t suppose anyone there will thank me"

Alfred, who long ago wandered into these diaries from the pages of Toad of Toad Hall, saves the day.


Just as we are despairing over our blocked canal, a saviour appears: it is Alfred, that excellent carthorse. "I’ve been in Oxfordshire,”" he reports. "'Why don’t you stand as a paper candidate?' they said? 'You won’t have to do any work,' they said. 'Just come over and sign your Consent to Nomination,' they said."” It transpires that the poor beast has been delivering Focus in the county’s Liberal Democrat target wards ever since.

I apprise him of our problem with the canal and after pushing his straw hat to the back of his head, he takes a stub of pencil from behind his ear and starts to make calculations in the margin of a back number of the High Leicestershire Radical

Finally, he says: "Hitch me up to the boat, take a turn round that tree and I’ll shift it myself." 

He is as good as his word and the assembled throng cheers him when he trudges off south-westwards back to Oxfordshire. “They want me to deliver thank you leaflets, but I don’t suppose anyone there will thank me.”

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

Earlier this week...

London's Lost Railways: Mill Hill East to Edgware

Geoff Marshall explains on YouTube 

Here we're walking the path of the line old that used to exist between Mill Hill East and Edgware, with 'Mill Hill (The Hale)' station abandoned along the way.

Friday, June 04, 2021

Lord Bonkers' Diary: "A haughty old boot"

You know, I sometimes suspect that relations between the Bonkers and the Dukes of Rutland fall some way short of cordiality.


Back in Rutland, we are still racking our brains to solve the problem of the blocked canal. Hard as we try, the transhipment docks behind Oakham Quay continue to fill and no solution emerges. 

Really, if it were not for the memoirs of a previous MP for this part of the world (I do not mean my own 20-volume work), I should despair. 

Fortunately, Alan Duncan has published Noises Off and given us all a Jolly Good Laugh. He details a row they had in The Falcon at Uppingham – a pleasant watering hole, but it’s not the Bonkers’ Arms –  with the Dowager Duchess of Rutland and describes her as “a haughty old boot”. Reader, I roared.

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

Earlier this week...

The Joy of Six 1011

"History at Oxford and Cambridge will be fine. The risk is that its study will be focused in institutions which are more commonly the preserve of the middle-class student. That its questions and challenges are less accessible to those on the wrong side of History’s tracks." Sir Keith Burnett explains why universities need the humanities as well as sciences.

James Butler looks at Dominic Cummings' appearance in front of the Commons inquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic: "The fantasy of the philosopher-king – or in this case, the scientist-king – is the oldest expression of oligarchical resentment at democracy there is; Parliament has already accorded to the government extensive powers to regulate all social life during the pandemic with minimal scrutiny, powers which are even then often exceeded and unequally applied by the police."

By the late 1980s almost all mature specimens of  Britain's once-iconic elm tree had died as a result of Dutch elm disease. Mark Rowe investigates attempts to reintroduce them.

Did Margaret Thatcher help invent soft-serve ice cream? No, says Daniel Fromson.

"In English villages, vats only exist for drowning people—in beer, in pickling brine, in whiskey, in jam. This is doubly true if the vat was built by 14th century monks." Maureen Johnson offers a guide to not getting murdered in a quaint English village.

Richard Foster reads Pat Nevin's autobiography The Accidental Footballer.

Thursday, June 03, 2021

Lord Bonkers' Diary: One of the great sights of London

The Rutland Union Canal may be blocked, and Stilton and pork pies be building up at the dockside, but duty calls our diarist back to Westminster.


It is one of the great sights of London. Late at night the cognoscenti gather at the rear doors of the Treasury to see the rabble scrabbling for contracts and used fivers. Despite my travails in Rutland, I cannot resist taking in the spectacle on my journey home from Westminster to St Pancras.

Here is the brother-in-law of a junior minister; there the landlord of the local of an eminent peer. Here the former nanny to the second family of a cabinet minister; there a fellow with a folder of incriminating photographs. 

How the recipients caper as they pocket their gifts! Some can barely walk, so weighed down are they with cash. Really, I wonder the spectacle is not in every guide book.

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

Earlier this week...

New attempt to revive Leicester's Granby Street and Church Gate

It's good to see Leicester's architecture celebrated like this, but Granby Street is a victim of earlier council schemes.

When I first got to know Leicester, Granby Street was a serious shopping street. But the construction of first The Shires and then Highcross, which shifted the heart of the city's retailing back to where it had been in Roman and medieval times, left it out on a limb and the prestige shops have long departed from it.

What will become of it in the long run remains to be seen, but om the mean time you can read more about these new plans,

Wednesday, June 02, 2021

Lord Bonkers' Diary: A party of well-meaning water voles

His lordship would appear to have reached something of an impasse.


The estimate from the Elves of Rockingham Forest proves to be steep and, if one reads the small print, involve the hiring of several JCBs. 

As the efforts of a party of well-meaning water voles come to naught, I drive over to Wing and the cottage of the Wise Woman this afternoon, only to find a notice on her door saying she has “Gone A-Maying”. What are we to do?

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

Earlier this week...

Tuesday, June 01, 2021

Lord Bonkers' Diary: I have no memory of their Landslide from 1906

Lord Bonkers pays his tribute to another great Liberal and casts new light on the brewery that owns The Bonkers' Arms.


As if the blocked canal were not enough, the morning brings sad news. Lord Greaves, scion of the famous brewing family, is no more. History tells how in 1824 Jedidiah Greaves and Obadiah Smithson met, swore at one another, became the firmest of friends and resolved to go into business together brewing the finest beer in England. 

The house of Smithson and Greaves has done so ever since, notably in the shape of their famed Northern Bitter, which is always on tap at the Bonkers’ Arms. Yet there is more to the company than that as, unusually for brewers, both families have always been staunch Liberals. So they have regularly produced special brews to mark notable victories by our party. 

I have no memory of their Landslide from 1906, which suggests that it lived up to its billing, while the ale brewed to celebrate Mark Bonham-Carter’s victory at Torrington in 1955 is said to have been potent that many of his supporters were unable to find their way to the polls at the following year’s general election. 

To mark Lord Greaves' passing I give orders for black ribbon to be tied around the beer pumps at the Bonkers' Arms and for the darkest ink to be poured into the jar of pickled eggs.

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

Earlier this week...