Thursday, September 30, 2021

Repairing the Pinnacles of St Mary the Virgin, Shrewsbury

Historic England's blurb on YouTube says:
Completed in 1220, St Mary the Virgin’s Church is a grand Norman build that sits at the heart of Shrewsbury town centre. It boasts an incredible ornate nave roof, grand pinnacles and one of the finest stained-glass collections in the country.

A portion of the £1,345,049 Culture Recovery Fund grant awarded to Churches Conservation Trust was allocated to St Mary the Virgin’s Church. The grant was used to stabilise the chapel pinnacles and reroof the vestry.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

The Joy of Six 1027

"History must have been in the mood to make things pretty obvious for once, since it has given us the most perfect mathematical example of how, and how not, to deal with loud-mouthed populism. In 2017, the AfD won 12.6% of the national vote. That is, of course, exactly the same as Ukip won here in 2015. And look now at the tale of these two conservative parties." James Hawes pays tribute to Angela Merkel. 

Ella Glover reviews a new book that makes the case for reducing the working week.

"From its inception, eugenics was a political creed, but one that was wedded to a science that was immature and frequently wrong. Ultimately, in the US, forced sterilization primarily targeted the poor and those with disabilities and was deployed against African Americans, Indigenous Americans, and other marginalized groups." Adam Rutherford offers a cautionary history of eugenics.

Twenty-five years ago cricket got rid of the men in blazers: now, argues Barney Ronay, it's time to get rid of the suits of the England and Wales Cricket Board.

A.J. Black finds a strand of horror in the comedy of One Foot in the Grave.

"From loyal band man to solo hitmaker and philanthropist, from cherished friend and collaborator of the Winwoods, Claptons and Harrisons to award-winning songwriter, Jim Capaldi was a man of many roles. He starred in many of them, but that was never the point. Music itself sustained him, all the way until his sadly premature death at the age of 60, in 2005." Paul Sexton pays tribute to Traffic's drummer and Steve Winwood's songwriting partner.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Write a guest post for Liberal England

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

In fact I could do with some guest posts. I am now a full-time carer, which means I am struggling to find the time to come up with longer posts.

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

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Four Tops: It's the Same Old Song

I wasn't sure which song to choose for today's music video, but when I walked home past the Conservative Club last night I heard someone making a brave stab at this. Sorted.

There are those who say The Same Old Song is a reworking of Where Did Our Love Go or I Can’t Help Myself, but Motown Classics is having none of it:

The title is an intentional joke, occasioned by the increasing perception that all Holland-Dozier-Holland’s songs sounded the same, together with the ludicrously unrealistic time frame imposed on this. 

It’s a cheeky wink, something that HDH might have done among themselves for a bet (in the face of an accusation that all their songs sounded the same, I can absolutely see them challenging each other to write a coherent and internally-consistent song around such a phrase), but it’s certainly not – as I’ve seen argued – compelling evidence Motown were laughing in their fans’ faces while selling them six copies of the same (old) song with three notes changed.

It's the Same Old Song reached number 5 in the US singles chart, but Britannia was so cool in 1965 that it stalled at number 34 here.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Those nuns were the authors of their own misfortune

It seems that my expression of hope that Lord Bonkers is about to return to the political was miscalculated. 

I grant that he is no longer wandering a strangely timeless East Midland landscape with the Elves of Rockingham Forest, but I remain to be convinced that he is yet pointing the way to a Liberal Democrat return to office.

Those nuns were the authors of their own misfortune

When I set out on this odyssey I swore that I would not spend time in a zoo, having unhappy memories of the Bonkers Hall Safari Park and its sudden closure. (I still maintain that those nuns were the authors of their own misfortune.) 

I am, however, glad that I changed my mind upon reaching the West Country: this gorilla costume is warm in the autumn evenings and I have always been fond of bananas. 

The neighbours are charming too - the elephants are happy to trade buns for bananas, I have been invited to take tea with the chimpanzees next Tuesday and I have already signed up two giraffes as Liberal Democrat members.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The noted East End gangster and philanthropist

When I came across this entry in the old boy's diary, with its characteristic interest in Evan Harris's long-running feud with the local peasantry and Eric Clapton's tribute to Layla Moran, I naturally assumed he was back to normal - using the term in its widest sense.

The noted East End gangster and philanthropist

After Sarah Greene’s victory I spent my days wandering the Oxfordshire countryside like the poet Arnold’s Scholar-Gipsy. I found the charred remains of the castle once occupied by Dr Evan Harris in the surprisingly mountainous country east of Abingdon – I fear those peasants with their pitchforks and flaming torches did for him in the end. I also met our own Layla Moran and played her the song composed in her honour by Eric Clapton. I employed the banjulele that I had carried with me all the way from Oakham.

At Sutton Courtenay I visited the graves of George Orwell – the only decent Blair the Socialists ever came up with – and H.H. Asquith. I was pleased to note that the latter resting place was decorated with floral tributes from his close relation, the noted East End gangster and philanthropist Violent Bonham Carter.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Friday, September 24, 2021

The ghost train of West London

Many years ago, wandering the streets of West Kensington, I came across what had clearly been an important public building.

The next time I stayed with my Liberator friend Stewart Rayment, who had books on such things, I discovered that it had been the headquarters of the Post Office Savings Bank.

So important was this building, it had its own railway service - an unadvertised working from Clapham Junction to Kensington Olympia and back.

Jago Hazzard tells its story in this video. You can support his videos throufj his Patreon page.

An earlier video posted on this blog shows that the service could be steam hauled as late as 1967.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: "You should have stood down in more seats"

The sooner we get Lord Bonkers back into action the better, if you ask me. And when I read this entry I was hopeful of doing so.

"You should have stood down in more seats"

At the count I also met my old friends Freddie and Fiona, those ultimate Liberal Democrat insiders. They were full of their plans for a 'Progressive Alliance'. 

"All we need do," said the latter, "is change the Labour Party constitution, have all the parties agree a common manifesto and then get them to stand down wherever we think they should."

I reminisced that the Liberal Party had stood down in half the seats in the country in 1983 and a fat lot of good came from it. "The trouble with you old-fashioned Liberals," replied Freddie, "is that you lack ambition. You should have stood down in more seats."

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Independent panel says Keith Vaz should be ashamed of his behaviour towards Commons clerk

Embed from Getty Images

Because of the background of his victim, the Belfast Telegraph has the fullest report of today's findings against Keith Vaz, the former Labour MP for Leicester East.

The newspaper says:

A former MP bullied a member of parliamentary staff in a “hostile, sustained, (and) harmful” way, a report has found.

An independent panel said former Labour MP for Leicester East MP Keith Vaz bullied and harassed Northern Ireland woman Jenny McCullough, who has waived her right to anonymity, to such an extent that she left her career in the House of Commons.

And the panel said Mr Vaz should be “ashamed” of his behaviour as it ruled he should never again be allowed to hold a parliamentary pass.

Mr Vaz had likened Ms McCullough to a prostitute, told her she could not do her job because she was not a mother, and threatened to take photographs of her drinking alcohol to show to her boss.

Sir Stephen Irwin, chair of the Independent Expert Panel (IEP), which decided on the sanctions to be levelled against Mr Vaz, said his actions had a “real and enduring psychological impact”. 

The IEP was appointed after the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards concluded that Vaz had, on several occasions between July 2007 and October 2008, breached the bullying and harassment policy in his interactions with Jenny McCullough, the second clerk of the Commons committee for which Vaz was chairman.

You can read the full report on the parliament website.

And you can read Keith Vaz's response, which appears to deal with matters of process rather than contest the truth of the findings against him, on Twitter.

If you find yourself on a train journey and at a loss for some sensational reading, try the Wikipedia entry on Keith Vaz or his label on this blog.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Mounted elves and vegans

This is more like it! The old boy has clearly stumbled upon the Chesham and Amersham by-election and staged a decisive intervention.

It's a pity about that faux pas with Ed Davey, but at least we know who to thank for that much-demolished representation of the Blue Wall.

Mounted elves and vegans

Naturally, I took command of the nearest committee room and rallied the troops. I had no cavalry at my command, but was able to commandeer some bicycles and routed the Conservatives – I shall employ mounted elves and vegans at every by-election in future whatever the ALDC says.

I bade farewell to Elvis, who had to return to Rockingham Forest on urgent business, and hurried to the count. Who should I meet there but Ed Davey? “What are you doing with yourself  these days?” I asked, only to sense a certain froideur in his reply. 

Still, we had a chinwag and I suggested that, in the event of a Liberal Democrat victory, it might be a good idea to have himself photographed knocking down a wall of blue bricks with a hammer.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Jenny Agutter interviewed in 1981

Over here to promote An American Werewolf in London in London, says the blurb on YouTuhe, Jenny Agutter spoke to David Childs about her film career.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The beechwoods of the Chilterns

I wouldn't say Lord Bonkers was away with the fairies this summer, but he was certainly away with the elves.

The beechwoods of the Chilterns

And Elvis was right. We walked all that afternoon through woods and never heard or saw a motor car at all. As dusk fell we entered an elven settlement in what I calculated to be the Northamptonshire Uplands, though quite where all those trees had come from I never worked out. That evening I was treated to an elven banquet and a harp concert - Aeolian cadences and all that. I returned their hospitality by teaching the assembled company to sing The Land.

I passed the next week with Elvis and we travelled with Gypsies, spent a night with poachers and conversed with foxes and badgers. At length, we reached the beechwoods of the Chilterns and my companion went into Chesham to sell some elven waybread to a vegan supermarket he knows there.

He returned shaking his head. "You humans are funny. In the town there is a special building and all your kind are going in there, putting a cross on a piece of paper and dropping it into a box. What strange ritual is this?"

"Ritual, man? – sorry, elf," I returned. “That’s not ritual: it’s a parliamentary by-election!”

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Walking the Hackney Brook with John Rogers

The YouTube blurb for this video says:

This lost river walk along the Hackney Brook is guided by Tom Bolton's book London's Lost Rivers - A Walker's Guide, Volume Two. Thanks Tom. 

The course of the river starts just off Holloway Road in North London and then crosses the road cutting across Seven Sisters Road to Tollington Road and from here to Hornsey Road and round the Arsenal Emirates Stadium. 

We follow the river as it runs parallel to Gillespie Road, past the old Highbury Stadium then crosses Blackstock Road bound for Clissold Park in Stoke Newington. 

The Hackney Brook runs along the northern edge of Abney Park Cemetery, crosses Stamford Hill, Hackney Downs, Amhurst Road, Mare Street and runs parallel to Morning Lane in Hackney. 

We then walk along Wick Lane into Hackney Wick. The Hackney Brook makes its confluence with the River Lea just past Old Ford Lock.

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

Lord Bonkers' Diary: "We shall travel by the old roads"

Yes, the sly old fox had us all fooled. I hope Nanny, who spent weeks knitting him a fisherman's jersey, will not cut up rough.

"We shall travel by the old roads"

I had planned to follow Ashdown’s lead and spend some time working aboard a Grimsby trawler, but the passage from Rutland Water to the North Sea is a treacherous one and not to be undertaken without the services of an experienced pilot - that may be why it does not appear on many charts. Besides, from what I hear, the Grimsby skippers have all tied up their vessels, left for Norway or become Uber drivers. Some have done all three.

So I arranged instead to be dropped off as soon as I was out of sight of the Quay, and waiting for me on the beach were my old friends the Elves of Rockingham Forest. They had promised to show me the real England - the Ancient England – and I was grateful for the offer.

Their leader, an elven prince named Elrond or Elvis or something like that, told me that we were to travel on foot. "What about the A6 and the A14?" I asked. "We shall have to cross them somewhere." "They won’t trouble us," Elvis replied. "We shall travel by the old roads."

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Monday, September 20, 2021

GUEST POST Saving Church Langton's open space from the Diocese of Leicester

Anthony Lawton on a Leicestershire village's campaign to defend its only open space.

I know far too little about my mother who, a single mother after being widowed when I was three, died herself when I was eighteen. I do recall she was a self-professed liberal and Liberal, committed to being active in the community. She also brought me up within the Church of England. 

However, although the impact of her liberalism and community action endures, fifty years on from teenage confirmation my church going days are long gone. A year of bewildering and stubborn behaviour by leaders and institutions in the Diocese of Leicester has seriously eroded what little faith that endured still, or at least in the church hierarchy beyond the parish.

For decades the grass, Thorpe Path Field and The Bucket, has been the one accessible open space within our village boundaries in rural Church Langton in Leicestershire. A public footpath crosses the land. There villagers of all ages walk and talk, congregate and play, and exercise dogs of many types and sizes in ways they cannot, despite appearances, in the privately owned farming land all around.

Donated, I believe, by the Revd William Hanbury to his charity founded in the 1750s to pursue grandiose plans for a national centre of learning to rival Oxford and Cambridge, the field was for many years part of the playing fields of the local school founded in the 1870s. In the early 2000s it passed from the stewardship of the Hanbury Charity to fellow charity, the Leicester Diocesan Board of Education (LDBE), in an asset-swap to facilitate the building of a new Langton Community Hall next to the school

LDBE trustees want to realise the value they think the field has as building land, despite it being formally designated ‘Open Space for Sport and Recreation’ by Harborough District Council, and despite the council leader asserting he sees no prospect of successful evasion of the implied responsibilities. To date, two planning applications and an appeal to the National Planning Inspector have been vigorously and successfully opposed by the community.

The Board of Education’s leaders have stated on the record, several times, that they have no intention to renew planning applications for the “foreseeable future”. The Board professes in its vision statement to work “with” local communities. Yet the it has in the last couple of years sought to exclude villagers from the field — save for access to the public footpath — against the wishes of the local community, in order to seek to graze livestock, without disclosing how this helps advance their long-term interests. 

Trustees have rejected all offers from villagers and the Parish Council to rent the land for village recreational use until such time as the Board is successful, if ever it is, in winning building permission. Some twenty four trustees, including the Bishop of Leicester, have resisted all the supportive entreaties of the local conservative MP, local district and county councillors, the leader of Harborough District Council, even the church’s own lay incumbent and the local parochial church council.

Despite numerous requests, and formal complaints to trustees and the Charity Commissioners, still no-one outside the charity has been given a clear, persuasive reason why the Board persists so stubbornly to reject community offers. One of the two formal objects of LDBE is always to embody the principles and doctrines of the CoE. I can recall no principle or doctrine which favours being untransparent, so disrespectful of local community interests, and so stubborn.

We "need to pray passionate prayers to change stubborn situations," wrote one local Reverend in a regular church column in the local paper. Characterising myself now as an unbeliever, and ever-influenced by my mother’s liberalism, I prefer to put my faith rather in the power of collective community action.

Mind you, the Diggers who in the 1600s actively opposed enclosures by the church and other landowners, believed in both prayer and action, in pursuit of their belief that "no man has any right to buy and sell the earth for private gain". 

That may be a belief too far for many. However the not-for-financial-profit Charity Board of Education trustees are stewards and custodians of the land which the board holds in trust for public benefit, not private gain. They should not be so focused upon profit-maximising.

I persist in believing they might be brought to their senses about their own diocese-wide interests, as well as the interests of the local community, by concerted community action, including the lobbying of political representatives of all persuasions and none. 

We will as committed active citizens continue actively and insightfully to collaborate to change this “stubborn situation”. But, inspired as I am by the Diggers and mindful of the local Reverend’s advice, I have said publicly I might just try some "passionate prayers" too.

You can follow Church Langton's Keep Our Open Space Open campaign on Twitter..

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Meadowcroft was heard to blow his nose loudly

The last time I spoke to Lord Bonkers he was full of his plans to travel round Britain. Since then I 've received only the odd postcard from him.

That is, until this diary was put through my door late one night. I heard it drop through the letterbox and looked to see who had have delivered it, but elves are good at blending with background foliage.

How long Lord Bonkers will be away, I do not know. Nor do I know if my flaky internet connection will allow me to post all these entries.

But here goes...

Meadowcroft was heard to blow his nose loudly

Summer was still young when I set out to discover England – and, indeed, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. I had in mind writing a book along the lines of Paddy Ashdown’s Beyond Westminster – or Beyond Our Paddy, as it was affectionately known to his many admirers. I still miss the man and those letters of his marked ‘Top Secret: Burn Before Reading.’

A gratifyingly large crowd had gathered on Oakham Quay that morning to see me leave Rutland aboard the Saucy Sarah Olney; Cook was inconsolable and even Meadowcroft was heard to blow his nose loudly. (The Well-Behaved Orphans, by contrast appeared to be Bearing Up Well.) How everyone waved as I sailed away!

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

Climax Blues Band: Couldn't Get It Right

The Climax Chicago Blues Band was formed in Stafford in 1967 to play blues standards. In time, it shortened its name and broadened its repertoire into blues-tinged rock.

Couldn't Get It Right reached number 10 in the UK singles chart and number 3 in the US in 1976. Wikipedia tells a fanciful story about its genesis:

The song was recorded for their eighth studio album, Gold Plated, which was named after Pete Haycock's Veleno guitar and produced by Mike Vernon. The song was specifically written and produced after the manager of the band, Miles Copeland III, demanded that the band append a radio-friendly song to the track listing. 

The band at the time had released eight albums and although that had translated into fame, they did not have a great impact on the charts. Copeland suggested a cover version of an Elvis Presley song; this suggestion was ignored, and instead the band came up with an original composition "from absolutely nowhere".

It was simply a case of sitting in the studio, conjuring up a rhythm, appending the traditional dual vocals for which Climax Blues Band were known, and coming up with a couple of hooks. The sudden emergence of the song irritated the producer, as he thought the band had been withholding a hit from him.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Llandudno goat selfie warning from coastguard

A goat yesterday.

BBC News should thank a Liberal England reader for nominating them for our coveted Headline of the Day Award.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Blogging may be light...

I'm having problems with my internet connection at home.

This is no bad thing, in that it encourages me to go to bed when I get back from caring for my mum, but it does mean blogging is likely to be light for a few days.

In the mean time, you can always find me on Twitter and Instagram.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

North Yorkshire Police phone lines deluged with ‘people complaining about each other’

Embed from Getty Images

Our Headline of the Day Award goes to the website YorkMix.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

A fascinating 1980 interview with Leonard Rossiter

Leonard Rossiter is best remembered as the creator of Rigsby and Reggie Perrin, but before he was a sitcom star he was a celebrated actor on stage and screen. He has a habit of turning up in films (King Rat, 2001, Barry Lyndon) where you do not expect to find him. 

Click on the image of Rossiter as King John above to watch an interview, recorded in 1980, in which he talks about his career. 

Rossiter died in 1984, during a performance of Joe Orton's Loot. He was playing Inspector Truscott and I had seen him in the role only a few weeks before.

Monday, September 13, 2021

The Joy of Six 1026

Contrary to popular and academic belief, says Deborah Boucoyannis, Adam Smith did not accept inequality as a necessary trade-off for a more prosperous economy: "The key principles of Smith’s system work against the concentration of wealth - they also speak to the top issues in economic policy today: profits, taxes, and the minimum wage."

Clio Chang argues that the past decade has seen all that was most fun about the internet destroyed by an increasingly unsustainable media ecosystem built for the wealthy.

Why are boys more likely than girls to be deemed to have special educational needs? James Redburn investigates.

In 1973 W.H. Auden was interviewed on Parkinson and David J. Collard has the transcript: "I was walking across a field at school with a friend of mine who later turned into a painter called Robert Medley, and he said 'Do you ever write poetry?' and I said 'No, I've never thought of it' and he said 'Why don’t you?' and at that moment I knew that was what I was going to do."

Emily Knight reviews a new biography of Joseph Wright of Derby, the "painter of light".

Roger French fails to reach Britain's most westerly bus stop.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

A new picture of my hero J.W. Logan MP

J.W. Logan's Wikipedia entry now has this picture of the great man.

It's not as good as the one of him with the East Langton ladies cricket team, mind.

Logan, as regular readers will know, was Liberal MP for Harborough between 1891 and 1904, and between 1910 and 1916.

They will also know that he once instigated a mass brawl on the floor of the Commons.

And as I recently blogged, Logan is quoted in The Shortest History of England by James Hawes.

Handel: The Trumpet Shall Sound


I have taken to using my phone to play my mother classical music while I am caring for her.

She loves The Messiah and I have long found that He Shall Feed His Flock makes me wish there was a God.

I don't get the same yearnings from The Trumpet Shall Sound, but it is a magnificent piece of music and Philippe Sly is a mighty bass-baritone. I have also developed a love of the baroque trumpet from listening to Mark Bennett and Aksel Rykkvin.

As ever, Handel makes the most of the words he was given:
Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. 
The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 
For this corruptible must put on incorruption and this mortal must put on immortality.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

The disappearance of Central Croydon station

Jago Hazzard takes us to the site of Central Croydon. This station, which was sited where its name implies, was a commercial failure. It was open for two short periods: 1868-71 and 1886-90.

The short branch to it from East Croydon was long ago lost under the Fairfield Halls and Town Hall, but Jago manages to find some scant remains.

And he tells us how it might have become an Underground station.

you can support Jago's videos via his Patreon page.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Peter Cook was realistic about what satire can achieve

Embed from Getty Images

Satire is everywhere. I've been known to write it myself. But what does it achieve?

Peter Cook, the godfather of the satire boom of the Sixties, was a realist on this question.

He once said his own Establishment Club had been inspired by "those wonderful Berlin cabarets which did so much to stop the rise of Hitler and prevent the outbreak of the second world war".

And the most notable achievement of 30 years of Have I Got News For You has been to help make Boris Johnson prime minister.

Andy Burnham is right about the funding of social care

Embed from Getty Images 

Writing in the Evening Standard, Andy Burnham puts his finger on the central issue in funding social care:
Boris may have introduced a cap on care costs but, at £86,000, it is still a huge sum of money. And the reason it is so high is because the Tories have stuck with the approach where only those who need care should have to pay. 
So the Tories are in effect sticking with a "dementia tax" policy which will still make people face the indignity of draining their parents' bank accounts to pay for often sub-standard care.
And he proposes a solution that addresses it:
Here’s Labour’s opportunity to end this injustice once and for all and extend the NHS principle to social care. It should create a National Care Service. Labour should ask all older people to contribute, whether they need care or not. Everyone benefits from this approach because it means no one has to worry about care costs in the later stages of their life. And by asking all older people to contribute, the cost comes right down.

More than 10 years ago, I proposed this approach as health secretary as part of my plan for a National Care Service. My 10 per cent care levy on all estates was labelled a "death tax" but I still stand by it. Taxes are never popular but they are at least fair when everyone has to pay them and everyone feels some benefit.
The present system is a lottery. If your surviving parent drops dead with a heart attack you win everything. If they develop dementia even a couple of years before they die, you win nothing.

Speaking as the carer of an elderly parent, I'd welcome this levy, because it would give me some certainty about what I was going to inherit.

I'd be happy to trade a percentage of an inheritance that may never arrive for such certainty and security.

Thursday, September 09, 2021

Andrew Hickey's History of Rock

Andrew Hickey's magisterial blog A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs has reached the era of the British Invasion and Motown, which is roughly where I came in.

As Blogger refuses to display its details properly when I try to add this blog to my favourite XI in the righthand column here, let me pick out a few recent episodes.

Episode 129: (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones

Jagger is expressing the kind of aggressive sulk that pretty much every teenager, especially every frustrated male teenager will relate to. The protagonist is dissatisfied with everything in his life, so criticism of the vapidity of advertising is mixed in with sexual frustration because women won’t sleep with the protagonist when they’re menstruating.

It is the most adolescent lyric imaginable, but pop music is an adolescent medium.

Episode 128: Mr. Tambourine Man by the Byrds

There have been all sorts of hypotheses about what "Mr. Tambourine Man" is really about. Robert Shelton, for example, suspects the song is inspired by Thomas de Quincey’s Confessions of an Opium Eater. de Quincey uses a term for opium, "the dark idol", which is supposedly a translation of the Latin phrase “mater tenebrarum”, which actually means "mother of darkness" (or mother of death or mother of gloom). Shelton believes that Dylan probably liked the sound of “mater tenebrarum” and turned it into "Mister Tambourine Man". Others have tried to find links to the Pied Piper of Hamelin, or claimed that Mr. Tambourine Man is actually Jesus.

Dylan, on the other hand, had a much more prosaic explanation - that Mr. Tambourine Man was a friend of his named Bruce Langhorne, who was prominent in the Greenwich Village folk scene. As well as being a guitarist, Langhorne was also a percussionist, and played a large Turkish frame drum, several feet in diameter, which looked and sounded quite like a massively oversized tambourine.

Episode 122: A Change is Gonna Come by Sam Cooke
Cooke was very friendly with Ali, and also with [Muhammad] Ali’s spiritual mentor, the activist Malcolm X, and both men tried to get him to convert to the Nation of Islam. Cooke declined - while he respected both men, he had less respect for Elijah Mohammed, who he saw as a con artist, and he was becoming increasingly suspicious of religion in general. 
He did, though, share the Nation of Islam’s commitment to Black people pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and presenting themselves in a clean-cut way, having the same vision of Black capitalism that many of his contemporaries like James Brown shared.

Wednesday, September 08, 2021

The Kids for Cash scandal in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania

One of the most remarkable stories I ever reported on this blog was the Kids for Cash scandal in the city of Wilkes-Barre in Pennsylvania.

As the Wikipedia page on the scandal says:

In 2008, judges Michael Conahan and Mark Ciavarella were convicted of accepting money in return for imposing harsh adjudications on juveniles to increase occupancy at for-profit detention centres.

Many of the children and teenagers were locked up for trivial offences and kept behind bars for years.

In 2013 Robert May released a well-received documentary, Kids for Cash, on the scandal. That film is not online, but you can watch May talk about the film in video above.

Usefully, he talks about the ways of dealing with children and teenagers in school and the legal system that made the scandal possible as well as about the cupidity of the two judges.

When blogging about the scandal at the time, I refereed more than once to the book Crime Control as Industry by Nils Christie.

A review for the Prison Policy Initiative usefully summarises his argument:

Christie traces the extent to which crime control has come to dominate the economic structure by absorbing the unemployed into the roles of keeper and kept and then supplying services to each. Limited by space, let me highlight two of Christie's many sharp observations. 

First Christie argues that the applicable political economy to describe prisons is not slavery, but of the old work-houses, where the objective was not profit for the State, but for private parties to relieve the State of its unwanted population at the lowest cost possible. 

The second sharp observation is that justice itself has been mechanized to cope with the influx of raw materials and remove a democratic restraint upon growth. Mandatory minimums and the sentencing guidelines have served to remove discretion from judges, turning them into little more than secretaries for the legislature. 

While judges are in a unique position to learn details about victims and the accused; and could adopt sentences to match the needs of the offender and the community; that takes time. Time costs money, and the industry's conveyor must be kept moving, hence the removal of judge's discretion.

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

The Joy of Six 1025

There are worse things in the government's Elections bill than its proposals for compulsory voter ID, says David Howarth.

"How did Labour collapse? Is the party’s 20-year decline the result of inevitable structural change, or can it be traced back to individual decisions and mistakes? To find out, the New Statesman spoke to more than 20 key figures, from former leaders and ministers to senior advisers. Could they, between them, identify ten key moments in Labour’s collapse?" Harry Lambert presents "a tragedy in ten acts".

Richard Scorer responds to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse report on the experiences of children in the care of Lambeth: "international evidence demonstrates overwhelmingly that mandatory reporting of child sex abuse by regulated activities helps protect children across society. If another Lambeth is to be avoided, this is the most important and urgent reform."

Linda Ronstadt talks about living with Parkinson’s, the perils of stardom and her sorrow at what the US-Mexico border has become.

"Families with buckets and spades joined the train at every stop, as we made our way eastwards to the point where Essex crumbles into the North Sea at the rate of two metres a year. Yet all this erosion, while reminding us of the force of the mighty elements, also delivers a perfect sandy beach – the colour of Cheddar cheese – that is ideal for sand castles and digging." The Gentle Author takes us to Walton on the Naze.

Katherine Langrish detects a strong Beauty and the Beast vibe in Jane Eyre.

Sunday, September 05, 2021

Colin Blunstone: Caroline Goodbye

Talking Pictures TV is always discussed by the press in terms of nostalgia, but the old British films it specialises in are not as tame and twee as we are told.

Matthew Sweet once wrote:

Observe, say, 1950s Britain through its top-of-the-bill films and it emerges as a land populated by pipe-smoking, twentysomething men who drive vintage Bentleys, usually with Muriel Pavlow in the back. 

Explore it from the bottom of the bill and you'll encounter something different: tracts of featureless industrial estates, a world in which Wolseley police cars clatter under railway bridges in Croydon and mid-price actors occupy frowsty suburban drags. 

It is threadbare, unspectacular territory, where compromised people spend their time committing adultery and double-crossing each other, often while drinking pre-mixed American cocktails.

And what strikes me about those top-of-the-bill films is how vividly the villains are painted. Dirk Bogarde in The Blue Lamp, for instance, remains sexy and dangerous more than 70 years on.

The good young character he is contrasted with, a trainee constable played by Jimmy Hanley, appears utterly insipid, but then I suspect he did when the film was released.

Other villains from this era to seek out are Peter Sellers (playing it utterly straight and with a Liverpool accent) in Never Let Go (1960) and Ronald Ward in Ealing's racing drama The Rainbow Jacket (1954):

"There's a certain gentleman I know - using the term in its widest sense - who wouldn't be at all pleased if you were to win the Leger on Fair Noon."

Talking Pictures TV's latest enterprise is Friday evening's Cellar Club, a slot for British cult cinema. It's introduced by Caroline Munro, singer, model, Bond girl and star of many such films.

She was also the inspiration for this week's music video. Colin Blunstone, the lead singer of The Zombies, explains:
When I wrote Caroline Goodbye, it was about my girlfriend, the Bond girl Caroline Munro.  I didn’t want everyone to know who it was about, so I tried to find another name, but nothing fitted. 
I admitted defeat and thought that only my close friends would know it was Caroline. However, a journalist found out and I ended up with a two-page spread in the Daily Express, so the secret was out. 

Saturday, September 04, 2021

Iranian commander who said the West deployed lizards as nuke spies dies from Covid-19

 Our Headline of the Day Award goes across the pond. Congratulations to the New York Times.

The consensus on Twitter was that you only had to throw in an alpaca and this would be 2021 in a nutshell.

London's Lost Railways: West Drayton to Uxbridge Vine Street

Hacking his way through darkest Middlesex, Geoff Marshall finds this line has been largely lost to housing development.

Uxbridge Vine Street is particularly not there anymore, but longstanding readers will have seen it before.

Though it had closed to passengers five years before, in 1967 the station was used as a location by the Gideon's Way episode How to Retire Without Really Working.

Below you can see a still from this programme and there are more photos of Uxbridge Vine Street on Disused Stations.

Friday, September 03, 2021

The Joy of Six 1024

"Biden labelling Afghanistan 'the graveyard of empires' is, at best, historically illiterate and, at worst, utterly self-serving. It not only negates thousands of years of Afghanistan’s history as a flourishing centre of civilisation, but also - in an act of supreme imperial hubris - shifts the blame for U.S. failures there onto the land and people of Afghanistan themselves." Alexander Hainy-Khaleel takes issue with the Western perceptions of the country.

"As in many other countries, most of the research funding in Norway comes from the government. Thereby, the government funds all stages of research production, but must then pay again to access the research results." Martin Hagve explores the strange economics of academic publishing.

Emma John exposes cricket administrators' regular claims that the game faces ruin and the uses they make of them.

Callum Marius reports moves to reopen York Road tube station to serve the King's Cross Central development.

Jade King traces the development of the artist Graham Sutherland.

"As great as it is to be able to choose whatever you want on Amazon, sometimes what you really want is to have no choice at all." Mark O'Connell makes the case for bad bookshops.

Thursday, September 02, 2021

Kaliningrad on the Clyde

Embed from Getty Images

The Mirror reports claims that plans have been drawn up to move Britain's nuclear-armed submarines to the US or France if Scotland votes for independence:

UK government officials have reportedly examined basing them in the US, France or Devonport.

Another option would be creating a British overseas territory within Scotland, it is claimed.

Basing the British deterrent in the US would expose the fiction that it is in any way independent, but it's the last point that interests me here.

The realities of Brexit are pushing this Conservative government into making Britain resemble a Soviet satellite state - empty shelves in the supermarkets, attacks on human rights, subsidies to major industries.

But this would make us resemble the Soviet Union itself. We're talking Kaliningrad on the Clyde here.

What do these "UK government officials" envisage happening if an unarmed Scottish crowd approaches the gates of this rump-UK missile base?

It's no surprise to see the Westminster government making plans, however wrongheaded, for life after Scottish independence.

Conservative moderates had little idea how to argue for British membership  of the European Union, and their colleagues have no idea how to argue for Unionism today.

But then the Tories gave up on the Union back in 2015 when David Cameron won the election by scaring English voters about the prospect of Nicola Sturgeon having an influence on the government at Westminster.

If those English voters think it is unthinkable for the dominant party in Scotland to have a role in the government of the Unite4d Kingdom then the Union is dead.

Wednesday, September 01, 2021

White supremacist sentenced to read Pride and Prejudice and other literary classics

Thanks to a nomination from a reader, the Leicester Mercury wins today's Headline of the Day Award.

And the story beneath it is worth reading too:

A young Nazi sympathizer who downloaded bomb-making instructions has been sentenced to read classic novels including Pride and Prejudice instead.

Judge Timothy Spencer QC told Ben John, 21, he could stay out of prison as long as he steered clear of white-supremacy literature and and read books and plays by Jane Austen, William Shakespeare, Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens.

The former De Montfort University student will have to return to court every four months to be tested on his reading by the judge after avoiding jail "by the skin of his teeth".

You wonder if a young Muslim facing similar charges would have got off with a reading list of postcolonial literature, but I'm all for keeping young people out of prison if at all possible.

The idea that encountering great art makes you a better person is deeply unfashionable, though it lies at the heart of Alexei Sayle's novel Overtaken. But anything is better than reading Nazi literature.

For myself, I have never made it past the first few pages of Pride and Prejudice, but I did enjoy Northanger Abbey.