Monday, February 28, 2022

Wood's of Wistanstow has ceased brewing

Sad news from the Shropshire Star:

Real ale drinkers in Shropshire are ruing the closure of a renowned county brewery in Wood's.

Its closure has been confirmed by a message on the company's answering machine.

A sad-sounding message says that the company's demise was "forced" on to it due to "unfavourable trading conditions."

The recorded message apologises for not being able to answer - but it points out that the brewery pub, the Plough Inn, remains open and trading.

Wood's began brewing in 1980 and their most famous beer was the bitter Shropshire Lad. 

This was originally to be a limited brew to celebrate the centenary of Housman's collection of poems in 1996 - and I have happy memories of drinking it that year - but it proved so popular that it became a fixture in their range of beers.

Gerrard Winstanley and the oligarchs of St George's Hill

The warning to rich Russians linked to Putin that the UK government “will come after you” and ensure oligarchs have “nowhere to hide” is likely to hit hard at the gated luxury housing estate in Surrey dubbed “Britain’s Beverly Hills”.

writes the Guardian's wealth correspondent.

Russians and those from former Soviet states own more than a quarter of the 430 luxurious homes in St George’s Hill, a heavily guarded 964-acre estate near Weybridge, Surrey, where mansions have changed hands for more than £20m each.

If St George's Hill sounds familiar, it may be because you have read The World Turned Upside Down, Christopher Hill's thrilling study of radical ideas in the English civil war and Cromwell's Commonwealth.

Gerrard Winstantley, leader of the Diggers or True Levellers, is the most prominent figure in that book. In 1649 the Diggers occupied an area of common land near Weybridge, planted vegetables and invited everyone to join them.

That land was on St George's Hill.

Perhaps Winstanley has a message for its current occupants, for in his The New Law of Righteousness he asked:

Was the Earth made to preserve a few covetous, proud men to live at ease, and for them to bag and barn up the treasures of the Earth from others, that these may beg or starve in a fruitful land; or was it made to preserve all her children?

28 February in Liberal England history

So what has this blog been concerned with on what is usually the last day of February?


Rosalind Franklin, the neglected pioneer of our understanding of DNA, turned out to be the great niece of the Liberal Party leader Herbert Samuel. 


This was, I had worked out, the 51st anniversary of my only West End appearance in the Danny La Rue show Queen Passionella and the Sleeping Beauty - I was one of the children asked up on to the stage halfway through::
My strongest memory of the evening, apart from my own performance, is of Danny La Rue coming out in front of the curtain, as himself, and announcing that someone had died and singing his own signature tune "On Mother Kelly's Doorstep" as a tribute to him. 
I have tried to make sense of this memory in recent years, assuming that the person who had died was the writer of the song. But on investigation he turned out to be George Stevens, and he died in 1954. 
Then a few days ago I heard Barry Humphries on Desert Island Discs. One of the records he chose was "On Mother Kelly's Doorstep, as sung by Randolph Sutton. 
Sure enough, Wikipedia tells us that Sutton made a famous recording of the song and died on 28 February 1969. Which dates my first and last West End performance to within a day or two.
In fact, as I say at the end of this post, it dates it exactly to 28 February 1969, when I would have been eight years old.


Francis Young wrote a guest post on the undiscovered treasure trove that is the work of forgotten Victorian folklore collectors:
The digitisation of local newspapers and Victorian pamphlets, making them searchable, is bringing much lost folklore recording to light, and we are currently living through a golden age of folklore research – not because there is still traditional folklore to be collected (in most cases there is not), but because folklore collected over a hundred years ago is finally emerging from the shadows.


I did not post on 28 February, but the day before I had posted a picture of the wonderful Musical Ruth in sharing the news that there would be no Arts Fresco street theatre festival in Market Harborough in the summer.


Good news! I had found another video about the disused railway from Oswestry to Welshpool.


I compared The Boy in Striped Pyjamas with I Am David - a book that I read as a child in the 1960s:
The Boy in Striped Pyjamas reflects the modern belief that moral education involves the young being taught about the Holocaust and being able to recite the correct lessons from it. It also reflects the high status we give to victimhood. ...

I am David was written in a different era. It is not about death, but about escape, moral growth and the finding of happiness.


Dangerous Minds had posted a new documentary on Nick Drake and his music. In posting it on here I quoted them:
Other than a few childhood home movies, no film footage of Nick Drake exists. So director Berkven had to create a sense of Drake through other means. That he succeeds is quite remarkable. 
He is enormously helped by Nick’s mother Molly. Her own music uncannily evokes her son’s and creates a deeply emotional dimension to A Skin Too Few.


Cat of the Day came from here in Little Bowden.


Richard Ingrams believed Ian Hislop  had been editing Private Eye for too long and I agreed with him:
Perhaps part of the Eye's appeal is precisely that it is the same every time. But while I still value its reporting and gossip, its humour pages do seem stale. Perhaps it needs some new contributors, if not a new editor?
But he ignored both of us.


I remembered a ghost story from Much Wenlock in Shropshire:
This photograph shows Raynalds Mansion in Much Wenlock, where I went several times in the 1990s for the Festival at the Edge. The half-timbered front dates from the 17th century, but the building behind it is much older.

One year I joined a guided walk around the town. Outside Raynalds Mansion we were told the story of some children who were evacuated to the town and housed here during World War II.

On the first morning they came downstairs and demanded to know who the children in funny clothes they had been playing with were.


These were the days when blogging still seemed important and Liberal Democrat Voice ran interviews with party bloggers. Today was my turn:

I realised that I was not a Socialist ... when Boxmoor County Primary School demanded a letter from your parents before you were allowed not to have custard with your pudding.


28 February fell on a Sunday this year, so I posted a music video. And a rather good one too.


This was the era of blog carnivals, including the Carnival of Modern Liberty, which I once hosted here.

This time it was the turn of Liberal Conspiracy and James Graham.


And this was the era when the Liberal Democrats had their only weekly newspaper and I wrote a column for it.

This week it was about Michael Martin, the Commons speaker who was undone by the scandal over MPs' expenses:
Labour backbenchers broke the modern convention that the position should alternate between the Labour and Conservative parties to install him. In 2000 there was a strong feeling amongst them that a house with a large Labour majority should have a Labour Speaker. Such a partisan launch to his career was never going to make things easy for him when the time came to rule on contentious questions.:


I had gone all intellectual, contributing the entry on Karl Popper to the newly published Dictionary of Liberal Thought.


It was time for an anecdote about Sir Alan Ayckbourn, who is famous for living in Scarborough and opening all his plays there:
Ayckbourn was walking along the front there one day, when he was accosted by a stranger.

Mr Ayckbourn, isn't it?

It is.

I was looking at the paper the other day and I noticed that you have two plays running in the West End.

Yes, that's right.

I hope you don't mind me saying so, but you must be doing quite well out of that.

Yes, I suppose I am.

Mr Ayckbourn, there's one thing that's always puzzled me. If you got all this money, why don't you live in Bridlington?


I had been to the Commons press gallery:
On the way I passed the Fathers 4 Justice demonstrators (Batman, Robin and Captain America) who had found a perch on the Foreign Office building in Whitehall.

My taxi driver said he supported their cause but not their tactics. He said that if everyone just ignored them they would have to stop this sort of stunt.

He also pointed out that Robin was wearing a coat over his costume, so he was not as heroic as all that.

Sunday, February 27, 2022

President Zelensky was the voice of Paddington

The historian Andrew Roberts has compared Volodymyr Zelensky to Winston Churchill as a wartime leader, and we know he won the Ukranian equivalent of Strictly Come Dancing.

But that is not the end of his talents.

Because President Zelensky provided the voice of Paddington when the two recent films about him were dubbed in Ukranian.

"Crikey!" said Jonathan.

Thanks to Michael Idov on Twitter.

Freight Train: The Chas McDevitt Skiffle Group

Skiffle was the punk of the 1950s. Suddenly anyone could form a band and play - you didn't need any formal musical education,

Chas McDevitt was the biggest name in skiffle after Lonnie Donegan, but look at the forces here. Yes, his bass player has a proper instrument when most made their own from a tea chest, but the four guitars are all about rhythm not melody and there is no drum kit, just the inevitable washboard. 

Even the vocal backing - humming and whistling - is home made.

This is a great record - the video comes from the 1957 film The Tommy Steele Story - and that greatness owes much to its singer, Nancy Whiskey.

Researching Freight Train, I discovered that she had moved to Melton Mowbray in the 1960s and could be found performing in clubs around the town until shortly before her death in 2002.

If you doubt the importance of skiffle to the music that came after it, have a look at a 14-year-old Jimmy Page.

And do read about the remarkable writer of Freight Train, Elizabeth Cotten.

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Malcolm Saville and the death of Dennis O'Neill

The death of 12-year-old Dennis O'Neill on a farm in the Shropshire hills in 1945 created a national scandal and led to the reform of the law on the fostering of children.

It was also the genesis of Agatha Christie's famous play The Mousetrap and of No Room at the Inn, a play and film I recently came across.

But did the boy's death make a mark on the work of Malcolm Saville, my favourite author as a child, who set many of his books in just this part of the world?

I discussed this question in an article in the latest issue of the newsletter of the Malcolm Saville Society.

"You have shocked world and shocked England"

Jonathan Calder

The older I get, the more I think Seven White Gates is my favourite Lone Pine book. It is set in the Stiperstones, the Malcolm Saville landscape I like best, and benefits from the prominence given to Peter. Saville generally wrote better about girls than boys, and here he gives us a heroine who is good but not in the slightest dull. As a child I probably found it disappointing there was no crime for the Line Piners to fight, but today I find this story of family reconciliation appealing.

Though I have grown to love the book over the years, I have also become haunted by a real event that took place in the Stiperstones at just the same time.

Seven White Gates was published in September 1944. Earlier that summer two young brothers in the care of the local authority in Newport, Monmouthshire – Dennis O’Neill, aged 12, and Terry, who was 9 – had been fostered at a farm in the Stiperstones.

By September things were becoming difficult for them as they were made to do farm work before and after school and punished for the most trivial offences. As the winter closed in their lives became impossible: they were barely fed, inadequately clothed and beaten every day. A doctor called to the farm on 9 January 1945 found Dennis dead, refused to sign a death certificate and called in the police.

The farmer Reginald Gough and his wife Esther were both charged. The committal proceedings focused the nation’s attention on the tiny court at Pontesbury. News about the progress of the war shared the front pages with reports like this:

Women in tears as Terence sobs out story of beatings

There was an awed silence in the tiny police court at Pontesbury, near Shrewsbury, yesterday when Mr H.H. Maddocks, prosecuting counsel, said: “I call the witness Terence O’Neill.”

A small fair haired child of ten was then led through the crowd of villagers who packed the court.

For two days they have listened to the case against Esther Gough, a former child’s nurse, and Reginald Gough, farmer, accused of killing Dennis O’Neill by negligence and violence.

This was the dead boy’s brother and the most important witness for the crown – a child so small that he could not even peep over the witness box. He had to sit on a bench in front of the court.

Slowly and often in a tearful whisper he told of life at Bank Farm, Hope Valley.

The Goughs were committed for trial, which took place in Stafford because feeling in Shropshire was running so high. Terry again gave evidence and both defendants were convicted. Reginald Gough was sentenced to six years imprisonment and Esther Gough to six months.

Passing sentence, the judge told Reginald Gough: “You have shown beastly cruelty and your behaviour has, I think rightly, shocked the world and shocked England.”


It’s a terrible story, but what does it have to do with Malcolm Saville beyond the coincidences of time and place with Seven White Gates? After all, children’s books were pretty cosy in the 1940s weren’t they?

But there was nothing cosy about the early Lone Pine books. For all we know, Mrs Thurston was hanged as a traitor after the end of Mystery at Witchend and it is certain that the Ballinger was happy to leave Penny and the Twins to drown in The Gay Dolphin Adventure. 

And think of the readers of those books. Bombed, evacuated, orphaned… they are the last generation of children we should patronise.

Besides, I believe Dennis O’Neill’s death did find its way into a Malcolm Saville book, though it was not one set in Shropshire and not in the Lone Pine series.


Strangers at Snowfell, the third of the Jillies books, was published in 1949 and, like many good thrillers, is set on a train. Our young heroes, having just foiled kidnappers in Two Fair Plaits, are on their way to Scotland to see in the new year, but heavy snow means they are delayed at Shap on the Cumbrian fells.

By helping his son evade an obvious villain on the train, the Jillies, Guy and Mark have become caught up in the affairs of a Professor Thornton, who is carrying out scientific research of extraordinary importance at a farm near Shap.

Desperate to telephone London and finding the lines from the village out of action, the professor calls at a half-ruined house nearby. There he encounters a girl called Mary:

She was leaning against the broken-down gate, and could not have been much more than eleven, although her face looked older than her thin, shabbily-dressed little body.  … She was a lonely and pathetic little figure, and her lips trembled as she said, “Hallo! Are you kind?”

I remember finding this an unexpectedly bleak passage when I first read it as an adult. Now when Thornton notices that Mary’s hands are “chapped and blue with cold” I think of the O’Neill brothers and suspect that Saville was thinking of them too. Among their torments in the bitter winter of 1945 were chilblains and chapped legs.

Sure enough, Mary soon tells Thornton:

“All the time she’s at me for something or other, shouting and arguing, and then she hits me if I run away – she’ll hit me now ‘cos I’ve come up here.”

Though we are told she is thin, there is no mention of Mary being starved, but that motif soon makes an appearance. The house turns out to be the base of the villains who are after Thornton’s research, and when he refuses to sell it to them he is locked up without food or water to encourage him to change his mind.

All ends happily, with the abused child carried away from the house on the shoulders of a policeman. There was no such rescue for Dennis O’Neill.


I first came across the story of Dennis and Terry O’Neill from a passing reference in a book on the history of the care system. The mention of ‘a lonely farm in Shropshire’ intrigued me and I looked up some contemporary press reports.

In 2005 I was asked to write a chapter on the history of concern about child abuse. I used the fact that the death of Dennis O’Neill had been largely forgotten to argue that this history is one of forgetting and rediscovery, not one of steady progress.

Dennis’s death is no longer forgotten. Today you will find it in all the social work textbooks. A major reason for this is that in 2010 Terry O’Neill published a book about his and his brother’s ordeal at Bank Farm. 

I am not usually one for trigger warnings, but Someone to Love Us is harrowing. The same is true of The Mousetrap and Me, an award-winning documentary about Terry and his childhood experiences that can be found on the BBC website.

If you are wondering about its title, Agatha Christie wrote The Mousetrap after reading of events at Bank Farm. The murders in the play soon turn out to be connected with the death of a child at a farm and its first audiences in 1952 would have been familiar with the story of the O’Neill brothers.

So Malcolm Saville was not the only author moved by the death of Dennis O’Neill.


The O’Neill brothers should never have been at Bank Farm. They were to be fostered by a family in Pentervin, a hamlet on the other side of the Hope Valley near Bromlow Callow. When they arrived, however, the family was already looking after a girl for Shropshire County Council, so other arrangements had to be made by the official accompanying them.

He tried a farm nearby, but the woman there was expecting a baby and could not take the boys, so he placed them with the Goughs at Bank Farm.

The name of the farm near Pentervin where they could not stay? 

White Gates.

Jonathan Calder is a former editor of Acksherley!

This article first appeared in issue 75 (Winter 2021) of Acksherley!, the newsletter of the Malcolm Saville Society.

Friday, February 25, 2022

Derek Fowlds: A part well played

The first episode of Yes, Minister was broadcast on 25 February 1980, which makes it a good day to mention that Talking Pictures Encore has an interview with Derek Fowlds about his acting career.

You can watch A Part Well Played online for free.

Derek Fowlds, who died in 2020, is remembered for appearing with Basil Brush and in Yes, Minister and Heartbeat, but he enjoyed success on the stage and in films too.

Read the Intelligence and Security Committee's report on Russian interference in British politics

Embed from Getty Images 

Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee completed its report into Russian interference in British politics in March 2019.

Normally such reports are published within days, but Boris Johnson managed to prevent its publication until July the following year.

You can read the report on the committee's website and the press notice below gives a summary of its contents.

Intelligence and Security Committee questions whether Government took its eye off the ball on Russia, finds that they underestimated the response required to the Russian threat and are still playing catch up:

  • Russian influence in the UK is the new normal. Successive Governments have welcomed the oligarchs and their money with open arms, providing them with a means of recycling illicit finance through the London ‘laundromat’, and connections at the highest levels with access to UK companies and political figures.
  •  his has led to a growth industry of ‘enablers’ including lawyers, accountants, and estate agents who are – wittingly or unwittingly – de facto agents of the Russian state. 
  • It clearly demonstrates the inherent tension between the Government’s prosperity agenda and the need to protect national security. While we cannot now shut the stable door, greater powers and transparency are needed urgently. 
  • UK is clearly a target for Russian disinformation. While the mechanics of our paper-based voting system are largely sound, we cannot be complacent about a hostile state taking deliberate action with the aim of influencing our democratic processes. 
  • Yet the defence of those democratic processes has appeared something of a ‘hot potato’, with no one organisation considering itself to be in the lead, or apparently willing to conduct an assessment of such interference. This must change. 
  • Social media companies must take action and remove covert hostile state material: Government must ‘name and shame’ those who fail to act. 
  • We need other countries to step up with the UK and attach a cost to Putin’s actions. Salisbury must not be allowed to become the high water mark in international unity over the Russia threat. 
  • A number of issues addressed in this published version of the Russia Report are covered in more depth in the Classified Annex. We are not able to discuss these aspects on the grounds of national security.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

The Rest is History podcast on Ukraine and Russia

If you want to understand the history of Ukraine, and its relationship with Russia in particular, then this podcast is invaluable.

It was recorded before today's Russian invasion.

Ed Davey: Russian interference in this country must end

The Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey issued this statement following Boris Johnson's television address to the nation this morning:

At this dark moment we must renew our commitments of international cooperation and stand with our allies against this horrendous invasion.

For too long we in the West have been complacent about the threat which Putin poses to our allies and to the fundamental values which underpin our way of life. No more.

We must stand with the people of Ukraine and provide them with humanitarian and military aid, while unleashing the severest of sanctions against Putin and his cronies.

The era of Russian interference in this country must come to an end. Much of the legislation needed is ready to go - it must be brought before MPs immediately. 

Parliament must sit this weekend, day and night if we have to, to pass the necessary measures and impose the most punitive of sanctions upon Putin’s regime.

Responding to the sanctions announced by Johnson today, Davey said:
The absence of Gazprom and Rosneft, part-owned by BP, in today’s sanctions list is the elephant in the room. The UK must do everything we can to stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine. 
Russia’s state-owned oil and gas giants stand to profit from this war and soaring prices. We must start treating Putin’s Russia like the rogue state it is and immediately cut off UK investment in these firms.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

The former temperance hotel near Market Harborough station

The radio station Harborough FM - which these days provides the best local news service - reports that 16 more buildings and locations are to be added to the district's list of "non-designated heritage assets".

Those on this list are deemed worthy of protection because of their historic, architectural or archaeological interest.

Among the new 16 is a former hotel in St Mary's Road near the railway station, which Harborough FM describes as a:

grand two-storey building has likely links to Thomas Cook, who lived in Market Harborough, and the former Temperance movement, a major societal movement in the 19th Century.

The building's history used to be more apparent. Back in 1984 I took this photograph of a now-vanished ghost sign. It could be found, if I recall correctly, to the right of the front door.

Why is Jacob Rees-Mogg so fond of imperial measures?

Embed from Getty Images

Jacob Rees-Mogg's decision to launch a study of the economic benefits of reintroducing imperial units of measurement is, of course, ridiculous.

That's the whole point of it.

Rees-Mogg is a 21st-century financier who has cultivated a comically old-fashioned image as a way of disguising this fact. (It follows that those on the left who mock that image in the hope of harming his political career are actually boosting it.)

The announcement does serve political purposes too - reassuring the core Brexit vote, bringing out the worse in the government's opponents* - but it is best seen as part of Reew-Mogg's long campaign of self-advancement.

He appears to be using public money for personal PR every bit as much as Liz Truss does with all those Thatcheresque official photographs.

* On social media at least, Liberals and the left have a weakness for lecturing people. It is noticeable that Keir Starmer and Ed Davey have been careful to avoid this register.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Mark Kermode discusses Local Hero with Bill Forsyth

Made in 2008, this short film sees Mark Kermode discussing the making of Local Hero with its director Bill Forsyth. They travel back to Pennan, the Aberdeenshire village where the film was shot.

Comfort and Joy, the film Forsyth made after Local Hero, is currently available on the BBC iPlayer. I have fond memories of it, though I have not watched it since it came out in 1984.

Monday, February 21, 2022

The Joy of Six 1042

"Sometimes state delivery is best, but how has the country which once developed a thriving mutual and cooperative sector managed to lose so much of it? The loss of so many building societies during the 1980s/90s was a backwards step, for example. The demise of cooperatives (particularly in poorer/working-class areas) another." Tony Robertson is a social liberal, not a socialist.

Polly Curtis has spent three years investigating how the state makes decisions on behalf of children at risk": That is potentially nearly 27,000 children in the care system who, with the right support, might not have needed to be there. We are taking children away before we have done everything we can as a society to support a family to stay together safely." 

"People stopped laughing at Bottomley’s jokes only when they grasped the source of his money. It was not enough that he lied or that he enriched himself. They needed to see that he was rich because he stole from them." David Renton piece on the conviction of the disgraced Liberal MP Horatio Bottomley feels relevant to politics today..

Rhianna Evans says Tony Hancock should be revered as one of the founders of modern British comedy. "If you had to pinpoint the first well-known British sitcom, the one that broke the mould, the one that still holds relevance to this day, it would surely be Hancock's Half Hour."

"It was clear that Sully followed in no one’s footsteps. This uniqueness unsettled reviewers when her books first came out; now, it was what intrigued me. Even relative to my own extensive knowledge of neglected writers, the extent to which Sully’s work had vanished seemed astonishing." Brad Bigelow on the strange disappearance of the novelist Kathleen Sully.

Matthew Shallenberger argues in a Twitter thread, argues that the whole "the NYT ruined Wordle" thing is a case study in confirmation bias.

Happy birthday to Malcolm Saville

Malcolm Saville, my favourite author when I was a boy, was born on 21 February 1901.

As I once argued in the Guardian (or at least on its website) he was a better writer than Enid Blyton, the writer he is inevitably compared to:

For a couple of decades after he published his first story in 1943, Malcolm Saville represented the strongest challenge to the Blyton supremacy.

Mystery at Witchend tells how the young members of the Lone Pine Club bring to justice a gang of saboteurs hoping, perhaps optimistically, to cripple the Allied war effort by blowing up a dam in the Shropshire hills.

Though he wrote other series and set books in other places, it is the Lone Pine stories and their Shropshire landscapes for which Saville is best remembered. Quite why so many criminals used this backwater as their base for operations was never wholly clear, but one of the best things about his books was that they were set in "real places you can explore for yourself", as he always said in his forewords.

Many readers did just that, discovering Bishop's Castle, the Long Mynd and the Stiperstones for themselves. Saville voted Labour in 1945, but was essentially a one-nation Conservative and his politics were more civilised than Blyton's. Their very different treatment of gypsies shows this. They are villains in her books: in Saville's, not only are the gypsies good characters, but people who are prejudiced against them generally turn out to be no good. As they were writing only a few years after gypsies had been victims of an attempted genocide, this is no trivial point.

And, unlike the Famous Five – stranded for ever in a sexless world of buns and fizzy pop – the Lone Piners were allowed to grow up. Two even get engaged in the final book.

You can still find cheap copies of his books - and pay a fortune for first editions with their dust jackets. Be aware, though, that the Armada paperback editions are edited versions of the original hardbacks and that a lot of the character development and period detail was lost in cutting them down.

The Malcom Saville Society has a spiffy new website and I can recommend the blog posts on each of the books in Saville's major series by Martin Crookall.

Even more valuable in understanding these books and the background to them are the collected papers of Stephen Bigger - I published some of these in the Saville society's newsletter in its early years.

Finally, if you don't mind the tangential, there is the Malcolm Saville label on this blog.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

McDonald and Giles: Turnham Green

It's embarrassing how little I know about music. When Ian McDonald died I was astounded to learn that the unremarkable band Foreigner had been cofounded by a member of King Crimson. King Crimson.

But I did know about another episode in McDonald's career though. He recorded the trippy album - McDonald and Giles - in 1970 with fellow King Crimson member Michael Giles. It didn't sell well at the time but is now much sought after.

Traffic were recording John Barleycorn Must Die at the same studios, which is why Steve Winwood can be found playing piano and organ on this track from it.

Which means we can add Turnham Green to Finchley Central and Warwick Avenue on the list of London Underground stations that have had songs named after them.

Friday, February 18, 2022

Lib Dems win Oundle by-election

The Liberal Democrats have won yesterday's by-election to gain the Oundle ward of the new North Northamptonshire Council. The seat was previously held by the Conservatives and the votes were counted this morning.

The result:

Lib Dem: 1683
Con: 1423
Lab: 337
Green: 124

Congratulations to Charlie Best, the victorious Lib Dem candidate.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

The Joy of Six 1041

Anne Applebaum explains why the West’s diplomacy with Russia keeps failing.

"If you are repeatedly saying racist things, standing in front of racist posters and devoting your entire political career to a racist agenda, then the question of whether you are a racist 'at heart' seems somewhat irrelevant." Adam Bienkov on Michael Crick's biography of Nigel Farage and the taboo on calling racist politicians racist.

Social Work Shorts listens to Lucy Johnstone critique the current professional and public perception of mental health: "She started by quoting Dr Allen Francis the chair of the DSM IV Committee (the mental health diagnostic manual) as saying ‘there is no definition of a mental disorder ….it’s bullshit.’ Johnstone was keen to point out in saying this and the other things she said she wasn’t denying the very real and problematic experiences that people have. She was simply suggesting that we are approaching it in the wrong way"

"If you want to be confident of getting the best ticket deal on Britain’s railway you need to interrogate both the ticket machine and the ticket office to be sure you are getting the cheapest fare, as both offer different ticket prices. And that’s before looking online and maybe being offered more options, including ones where you pay an additional commission to the likes of Trainline." Roger French explores the crazy world of rail ticketing.

Norman Baker, meanwhile, gets all nostalgic about public transport in 1973.

"It’s a highly ambiguous snapshot of [Andy] Partridge’s relationship with his country. It’s a hiding-in-plain-sight masterpiece that, for reasons which will become apparent in this article, remains on the outside of popular consciousness. It’s also a grand folly, specifically designed to dig Partridge out of a particularly messy hole." Fergal Kinney marks the 40th anniversary of XTC''s English Settlement.

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Petition to save The Humber Stone pub in Leicester

The Humber Stone pub in the Leicester suburb of Humberstone closed early in 2020 because of the Covid pandemic and has never reopened. Nor has there been any news about its future.

Now it has been put up for auction, with the billing referring to it as "a former public house and restaurant" and noting the site's "potential for residential development".

In response, some residents have opened a petition on calling on Leicester City Council not to grant any planning permission that would allow the demolition of The Humber Stone

The accompanying notes say:

This is an absolute disgrace and shows there is a plot to destroy local communities that unite though there local pubs. ...

This pub makes Humberstone a village and to see it go will upset a lot of residents.

Having explored this part of Leicester I agree that it does has that effect on Humberstone, even if it is an unlovely modern building,

The Humber Stone pub, incidentally, takes its name from a mysterious standing stone to be found nearby.

When I visited it I came across this story on This Was Leicestershire:

“Boy drew creature that stood beside his bed” was a Leicester Mercury headline as recently as 1980, when a 10-year-old boy, living close to the Humber Stone, had constant “visits” from a devilish entity. It was, apparently, a creature with a goat’s head and long curving horns, a man’s body and cloven hoofs. After drawing it at school, the boy’s teacher asked what it was. “I don’t know, miss”, he said. “It’s the thing I sometimes see at the end of my bed”.

A folk album inspired by Richard Jefferies' After London

Folk Radio reports a forthcoming album from the Brighton folk group Bird in the Billy:

In 1885 the nature writer Richard Jefferies published one of the strangest and most visionary novels in the whole of English literature. After London or Wild England was an early experiment in science fiction and perhaps the first example of what we might call an ecological apocalypse ever committed to the page, a lyrical depiction of a mysteriously depopulated country in which the monolithic edifices of the industrial revolution quickly return to nature and London is covered by stagnant water.

Brighton-based folk group Bird In The Belly (singer Ben ‘Jinnwoo’ Webb, Laura Ward on flute and vocals, guitarist and percussionist Adam Ronchetti and multi-instrumentalist Tom Pryor) have created a concept album that provides a kind of musical prequel or backstory to the novel, a creation myth for a future world, combining new lyrics with old ballads and poems as well as songs based on passages from the novel.

After the City will be issued by GF*M Records (GFM0013) on 25 February 2022. A launch event takes place on Saturday 26 February at The Harrison, King's Cross, London WC1H 8JFfrom 7.30pm.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

The man who links the murders of John F. Kennedy and John Lennon

Dive down the JFK assassination rabbit hole and you will find that anti-Castro Cubans, who felt the President had let them down over the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, are among the favourite candidates for conspirators.

Fall deep enough and you will come across the name José Sanjenís Perdomo. 

Wikispooks describes his career:

After working in the Cuban police under the command of Batista, Perdomo went into exile in the US after Fidel Castro took power. He joined the CIA, to whom he gave lists of skilled and like-minded people who could be trusted enough to take part in Operation 40. He was a member of Brigade 2506 during the Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961. His handler was Frank Sturgis.

Perdomo, a chief of police in Cuba before Castro's revolution, features in some theories as an organiser of the shooting of President Kennedy.

He was certainly a mysterious figure and used many aliases. Sturgis, who had been jailed as one of the five Watergate burglars, reported his death in 1974.

But Perdomo was not dead.

When Mark Chapman shot John Lennon outside the Dakota Building in New York, it was the doorman who rushed to help him and then identified his assailant to the police,

"Do you know what you've done?," the doorman demanded of Chapman. "Yes," he calmly replied, "I just shot John Lennon."

That doorman was José Sanjenís Perdomo.

You will find, the internet being what it is, plenty of sites suggesting Perdomo was Lennon's real killer, but let's play out with a Paul Simon song that mentions both shootings...

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Searching for the Taunton to Barnstaple line

Much of the Devon and Somerset Railway, which ran from Taunton to Barnstaple and closed in 1966, has been lost beneath the Devon Expressway.

Yet it turns out there is still plenty of interest to be found along the route, including the brick piers of a towering trestle viaduct.

If you enjoy these videos, you can support Paul and Rebecca Whitewick through their Patreon page/

Mick Jagger in the Shropshire Hills

Over towards the Stiperstones, the Shropshire Hills are full of stories that you could once enter a pub there and find rock and roll royalty, drawn by Ronnie Lane's studio there, giving an impromptu concert.

I once helped a BBC journalist pin down the truth of one of these stories: Lane and Eric Clapton played the Drum and Monkey pub (now named Abel's Harp) in March 1977.

And on Christmas Day last year an anonymous comment on a post here placed Mick Jagger in these hills too:
I spent three summers in the mid 70's living at the More Arms for my holidays. My uncle Alvin Evans from Pontesbury, was the landlord there with his wife Diane. It all ended sadly I think. But I did serve at the fuel pumps each day to earn my keep, to the right hand side of the pub as you looked from the road. I had great memories of these time youthful Rose tinted glasses. Carefree.. 
My family had Christmas there too one year, when we came across from Birmingham and met up with my Aunt Vera Evans and uncle Bill at Alvin's pub at the More Arms. Great times I recall. I met Ronnie Lane and his wife. 
Ronnie was a lovely guy, very kind, quite quiet. I got on with him well. He gave me an acoustic guitar he had with him one evening. He left me and my brother some months later x2 tickets at the box office to see a concert of his new band Slim Chance. Don't think I ever saw him again. 
His wife, a lovely, lively type of Bohemian lady, used to dance in the main bar and Ronnie and her came into the back kitchen for a few drinks after closing time with Alvin and Diane and me on more than one occasion. 
Eric Clapton did indeed come in and so did Mick Jagger. They used to use/record at Ronnie's (mobile) studios I think down in Ronnie's farm that he'd bought locally. Though I don't know exactly where.
Later on Twitter....

Thursday, February 10, 2022

The Joy of Six 1040

A Twitter thread by Kate Long lays bare Primark's hugely sexist messaging on children's clothing.

Paddy Briggs knows West Kent's golf clubs and therefore understands Nigel Farage and the world he sprang from better then most commentators.

"The most direct way in which politics affected the nature of club cricket in England came with the election of Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister in 1979. Thatcher's economic changes caused a marked reduction in the number of cricket grounds supported by public bodies with the intention of encouraging good health for the nation. Council cutbacks brought further slippage, and changes in education policy encouraged the mass sale of school playing fields." David Hopps reviews a new book on the class and culture war at the heart of English cricket.

Fergus Butler-Gallie finds he has conducted the funeral of the man who saved his life.

"With a horrid shock of recognition, I suddenly realised what Stoke-on-Trent Bus Station reminded me of. As a one-time public transport officer in a local authority I, like most others, often experienced the depressing feeling of being unable to source enough funding to keep an originally good idea going. And it was that." The Beauty of Transport is saddened by a visit to what should be a great public building.

Alexandra Heller-Nicholas offers an A-Z of Dario Argento’s Deep Red. Importantly, she discusses whether David Hemmings has a mullet.

The Bunt: Hertfordshire's Finest Lost Railway

A lovingly produced tribute to a lost branch line that once crossed rural East Hertfordshire.

An unexpected feature is the appearance of David Niven and Spike Milligan - the line and its stations turn out to have been popular with the makers of post-war British film comedies.

This video was produced by Rediscovering Lost Railway group, who would love you to follow them on Instagram.

Julian Bird on becoming an actor in his sixties

Embed from Getty Images

At the end of last year this blog discovered Freda Jackson and Henry Bird - Northampton's power couple of the arts. We also discovered that they had a son, Julian Bird, who, after a career as a psychiatrist, trained as an actor in his sixties.

Julian Bird spoke about his new career with Paula Cocozza in the Guardian:

It is tempting to wonder what his mother, who died in 1990, would have made of his career change. He has worked in TV and theatre for the past 15 years. “I would have loved her involvement and appreciation,” he says. There’s a pause. Recently, he has had “a passing thought. Maybe that freedom was partly possible because they both had gone. I was free of their influence."

Saturday, February 05, 2022

Tory cuts threaten Shropshire's rural buses

Shropshire Lib Dems' shadow lead for communities, culture, leisure and tourism says bus services in the county are under threat because of cuts in government funding.

Nigel Hartin, the councillor for Clun, told the Shropshire Star:
“The central plank to government's 'levelling up' strategy was called the 'Bus Back Better' strategy published last year. It promised £3bn in funding to transform bus services across the country.
"However, a Department of Transport letter recently leaked to the press shows that this pot has now been shrunk by more than 50 per cent by the Treasury to £1.4bn.
"This letter makes clear the lack of funding by saying 'prioritisation is inevitable, given the scale of ambition across the country greatly exceeds the amount'."
He said bids for government money under 'Bus Back Better' are likely to exceed £9bn.

As an earlier post here suggested, if there are cuts in Shropshire's rural services then the 553 from Bishop's Castle to Shrewsbury is unlikely to survive.

Thursday, February 03, 2022

The Joy of Six 1039

"Politician after politician has stood up in parliament to insist there is no place for dodgy money in London. But then the lobbying starts. Every one of these sectors — finance, law, estate agencies, auction houses, education — starts arguing for exceptions and loopholes, and nothing gets done." Oliver Bullough on Britain's addiction to dodgy foreign money.

John Read and Joanna Moncrieff explain why drugs and electricity are not the answer to depression.

In a Twitter thread, Gwen C. Katz looks at "pajamafication" - what happens when a challenging book like Art Spiegelman's Maus is replaced in the classroom by one like John Boyne's The Boy in Striped Pyjamas.

"She has approximate dates; she is claimed by a definite place, Knaresborough; and she even has her own tourist attraction, in Mother Shipton’s Cave. But the closer we get, the more elusive she becomes." Richard Jenkins goes in search of Mother Shipton.

Mark Man tells the story of the Battle of Saxby and Lord Harborough's curve: "Not all landowners during the railway mania boom were too happy to have their land cut up by railways or too impressed by the compensation money offered. The 6th Earl of Harborough at Stapleford Park was one of those who robustly defended his land using his estate workers against the trespassing surveyors of the Midland Railway Company and their team of navvies and prizefighters

An interview with the late great Barry Cryer reveals the pleasing fact that J.B. Priestley was a Monty Python fan.

Good luck to Zuffar Haq in the Evington by-election

The Baptist Chapel, Evington

Zuffar Haq MBE, four times the Liberal Democrats' parliamentary candidate in Harborough, is standing for the party in a Leicester City Council by-election today.

The contest in the Evington ward follows the death of a sitting Labour councillor.

Before his demise, the council had 52 Labour members, one Conservative and one Liberal Democrat.

Good luck to Zuffar!

Wednesday, February 02, 2022

The Goblin: The Gospel Oak to Barking line

Jago Hazzard looks at a short line with a complicated history.

You can support his videos via his Patreon page.