Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Painted Boats: A film set on the canals in wartime

I've just watched the 1945 Ealing film Painted Boats. It's not an Ealing comedy, but it is hardly a drama either as the plot is so weak and the film wants to educate as well as entertain. Yet there is much to enjoy.

Above all you would watch it today for the footage of the canals in wartime. You could frame many of the shots and put them on your wall.

It is very much of its period, or a slightly earlier period, in that the narrator Louis MacNeice wrote some verse specially for the film. The nearest thing to this I can think of is Auden's contribution to some GPO Film Unit productions.

The real weakness of Painted Boats is the way it has asked upper-class actors to play boating families. Some manage better than others and the worst is Robert Griffiths, the romantic lead as far as there is a romance. You can see why he made just three films.

More familiar faces in the cast are Megs Jenkins and Harry Fowler.

With its uneasy combination of drama and education, Painted Boats reminded me to a surprising extent of Flower of Gloster, a children's television serial from the 1960s I once blogged about.

I suspect you have to be a canal enthusiast or a lover of obscure British films to enjoy Painted Boats. I am both, so I enjoyed it very much.

Painted Boars is on the Talking Pictures TV Encore site, but hurry if you want to watch it because it will come down on 7 June.

Anti-Johnson Tories launch Operation Rinka

Photo of a Great Dane by edustalker at Morguefile.com

You've heard of Operation Save Big Dog, the push (prop. B. Johnson) to safeguard the position of the prime minister.

So it's natural that the Conservative MPs who want to see Boris Johnson go have named their campaign Operation Rinka.

Rinka, you will recall, was the Great Dane owned by Norman Scott, the man Jeremy Thorpe was tried with conspiring to murder. She was shot dead in what the jury apparently believed was an attempt to frighten Scott.

The Guardian has heard that Johnson now has opponents from across the party:

The source said multiple groups were angry with Johnson: lockdown sceptics, disgruntled ex-ministers and MPs from former Labour red wall seats who judged him to be failing to deliver on the levelling-up agenda. 

"It only takes a dozen letters from each group to get you close to the 54 you need [to trigger a no confidence vote in the prime minister], so it’s harder to keep them all down at once." the source said.

It's good to see poor Rinka is still remembered 47 years after her death.

Second earthquake in six months strikes North Shropshire

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Last December there was a political earthquake in North Shropshire as Helen Morgan gained the seat for the Liberal Democrats with a 34 per cent swing from the Conservatives.

But there was nothing metaphorical about yesterday's earthquake. Centred on Wem, it measured 3.8 on the Richter scale.

The Shropshire Star says:

People across the north of the county, as well as parts of Telford, reported doors slamming and furniture moving for a few seconds when shocks were felt just after 3.30pm.

And the paper's photo caption adds that "homes in Whitchurch wobbled".

Monday, May 30, 2022

Remembering After Dark, the best TV discussion programme ever

In the days when I was on the Liberal Democrats' federal policy committee, the members were invited to a breakfast meeting with Channel 4 at party conference each year.

At one of these events I asked someone from the network why it didn't bring back the open-ended Saturday night discussion programme After Dark.

He replied snootily: "We like to retire formats become they become tired."

I should have replied: "What about the format where Z list comedians look at old TV clips and say 'Blue Peter was for posh kids. We watched Magpie.' That got tired years ago, didn't it? Eh? Eh? Eh? But you've still gone on using it, haven't you? Eh? Eh? Eh?" 

Unfortunately, I didn't think of that retort in time.

But at its best After Dark was really good. You can see above its celebrated programme on the British intelligence services from 1988.

It lasts three hours, which was one of the points of the programme, so you may prefer to dip into it.

Or you could read this 2017 blog post from the chief executive of Open Media, the company that made After Dark:

One of the programme’s unshakeable principles was that After Dark is always live, really live, the discussion being transmitted as it takes place, without prerecording or delay. This is rarer than one might think, "live" being a word broadcasters use with promiscuous frequency to describe everything from theatrical events recorded long in advance to political debate edited before transmission. 
For example, the BBC’s Question Time – on air when After Dark started in 1987 and still going today – while pre-recorded still claims, disappointingly, that it is "live". The BAFTA TV Awards were transmitted this year with a seven second delay, just in case anything "dodgy" was said in the heat of the moment. 
But After Dark was actually live, whatever the consequences. What the guests said was transmitted. No delay, no editing, no hidden manipulation, and no censorship: what one might call freedom of speech.

The future of Britain's railways: No ticket offices but plenty of tasers

Earlier this month the rail union RMT revealed plans by the rail industry for a cull of ticket offices across the network. It said over 1000 ticket offices are at impending risk of closure.

I looked at their list for the Midland main line and, sure enough, Market Harborough is on the list of ticket offices due to go. But so are Leicester, Nottingham, Sheffield and St Pancras.

It looks as though pretty much all ticket offices are to be closed.

But isn't this what has already happened on the London Underground? Does it really matter.

The independent campaign group Railfuture thinks it does. On its website Nigel Middleton lists five unique services a ticket office can offer:

  • They can be the friendly face to explain fares to customers new to the railway (or for regulars, making a very occasional journey) the fearsomely complex fares system and what type of ticket is best for their intended journey.  At a time when Penalty Fares are about to increase, there will be a natural concern that the right rail ticket is about to be purchased.
  • They sell tickets to those that are uncomfortable with technology (and although any journey can be bought from any rail retailer [in broad terms], in practice, nervous purchasers need to get to grips with many different rail retailer websites).
  • They may be the only option for someone wanting to pay cash.
  • They are the only way to buy some types of ticket – e.g .some Rail Rovers.
  • They can help travellers out and about who do not have Smartphones and therefore cannot self-serve on needs such as new/changed seat reservations.

Meanwhile, the British Transport Police have become the first force in the UK to arm its special constables with tasers.

The specials' chief officer told ITV News:

"Allowing them to carry the device is a positive step both in recognising the skills and competence of our part-time, volunteer officers and further strengthens our commitment to ensuring the railway is a safe environment for passengers and rail workers."

When tasers were first introduced, we were told they would be used as a last resort to prevent the police having to draw firearms. Today they are rapidly becoming standard issue.

I don't suppose anyone beyond Priti Patel wants a future in which stations have few railway staff and are patrolled by police with what can be lethal weapons, but it's where we are rapidly heading.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Adam's Mile from Market Harborough to Lubenham

Adam Mugridge was a 13-year-old boy from Lubenham who was killed cycling to school in Market Harborough in 2006.

In his memory, the old railway between the two places has recently been opened as a footpath and will one day become a cycle path - it is already surfaced at the Harborough end. 

This memorial is the result of intensive fund raising by Adam's family and the wider community. You can follow developments on the AdamSmile website.

I walked to Lubenham yesterday. The new path runs through lovely country - there were buttercups in the fields - and includes a bridge over the Welland.

When I was 13 (this was back in 1973) I wanted to explore the old railway, which went to Rugby and had closed only six years before. But if you tried to climb up the embankment behind the last house on Willow Crescent in Market Harborough, its owner would come out and tell you off.

It's much easier to walk it these days.

County cricket: Crisis what crisis?

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Today a County Select XI, made up of promising young England-qualified players, beat the world test champions New Zealand by seven wickets. Yesterday, in New Zealand's second innings, they reduced the visitors to 18-6 at one point.

The match did not have first-class status: these days, because of the lack of warm-up games they are granted, visiting teams like to be able to give more than 11 players a chance to bat or bowl in the games they do play.

This robbed Ben Compton, who completed his fifth century of the season today, of the accolade of being the first player to scoring a thousand first-class runs before the end of May since Graeme Hick in 1988..

But the game seems to have been a serious affair, so victory was a considerable achievement for the young English team.

Something even more impressive happened last summer. Pakistan's tour of England began with a three-match 50-over series, but the England squad was struck down by Covid. The result that was Ben Stokes found himself leading what was effectively an England third or fourth XI.

It didn't matter: England won the series 3-0.

You could conclude from this that the county game in England is in pretty good shape, but for some reason that is never something you hear from the authorities.

The talk is all of reducing the number of first-class counties and often of abolishing all the counties and replacing them with "franchises" based at England's test grounds.

As this would mean the demise of both Leicestershire and Northamptonshire, you will not be surprised to hear I am against this move.

There are problems with domestic cricket in England, chiefly with the way the county championship takes place in the spring and autumn, with high summer given over to one-day cricket. And there is an awful lot of one-day cricket, with the Hundred doing its best to eclipse the counties' Twenty20 competition.

But I find it hard to believe that the problems with the England test team have arisen because we play too much first-class cricket. 

Belle and Sebastian: Unnecessary Drama

Belle and Sebastian found alive!

Americana UK explains the video:

Group therapy in Glasgow keeps the music moving in Belle and Sebastian’s new video, 'Unnecessary Drama'. The band returns to form with this barn-burner of a song from their first full-length album in seven years titled 'A Bit of Previous'.  

Under the watchful eye of a therapist, the members of the group are seen struggling through rehearsal and a number of trust-building exercises until they finally align and bring it all home during the final chorus.  (Some additional harmonica-related therapy may be needed.)

That last comment is odd: it's the harmonica that makes this.

Saturday, May 28, 2022

The Joy of Six 1053

"This sense that they are stuck with Johnson, whose personal approval ratings have been sinking since the start of the scandal last year, is freaking out Conservatives. They worry that Johnson has done irreversible damage to his own image in the eyes of most voters, who have finally seen 'what he's really like,' as one senior Conservative put it. The only thing left is for his reputation to now tarnish the rest of the party - something that opinion polls and recent election results suggest has started already." Luke McGee explains British politics for CNN.

The civil service needs to act in response to Sue Gray's Partygate report too, argues Jill Rutter.

Hugh Ellis is critical of the government's Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill: "The reality of the Bill is that communities will have no control over important strategic decisions or site specific design requirements.  They may have new and exciting opportunities to be digitally informed about these new documents, but they will have no meaningful way of testing the quality or content because they have no right of access to the key decision making forum of the examination."

Jodi S. Cohen and Jennifer Smith Richards find that the practice in Illinois of involving the police in minor school disciplinary matters has had disastrous consequences: "Susan McCoy's son took one of Nichols’ deals to pay $350.50 in fines and fees for consumption of alcohol. The 17-year-old later said school workers had questioned him after he threw up at the bus stop, and he admitted that he'd drunk whiskey at home during the night."

The Black Death gave rise to British pub culture, or so Richard Collett claims.

Little Peak District Moments looks at the rescue and restoration of a ruuned lock-keeper’s cottage on the Cromford Canal.

Market Harborough and cat's eyes in 1934

You sometimes hear the claim that Market Harborough was the first town in England (or Britain or possibly the world) to install cat's eyes in its roads.

When I looked into this I found that a book that said the urban district council had laid "Follsain Glowworm studs, patented by Jesse Neuhaus" in 1934. (Percy Shaw's cat's eyes were not patented until the following year. Their USP was that they were self cleaning.)

I've now found a bit more evidence. The Market Harborough Advertiser and Midland Mail for Friday 11 May 1934 carried this paragraph:

Mrs. Dare, who is a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. G. H. Saunders, of Market Harborough, writing home from India (Bombay) says that she has seen reference in the "Times of India," to the novel road studs which have been placed on the Leicester-road at Market Harborough.

In those days we were so go-ahead they even talked about us in India.

Friday, May 27, 2022

So who was St Pancras?

 Jago Hazzard explains.

The Shropshire Hills shuttle bus service is cut again

I will get back to the Shropshire hills soon - if not this summer, then next. And when I do I shall use my favourite buses - the Shropshire Hills Shuttle.

They used to be called the Secret Hills Shuttle, but I guess the hills are better known these days. If they are not, it's no fault of mine.

I can remember when three different routes were timed to coincide at The Bridges pub at Ratlinghope, giving visitors a wonderful choice of destinations.

In 2012 it was possible to reach Much Wenlock, which has some claim to be the cradle of the modern Olympic movement, and I can recall dropping in on Aardvark Books at Brampton Bryan, which is in Herefordshire.

As in recent years, in 2022 there is only one route. And it has been cut back.

I can see why this has been done. Once the bus left Snailbeach and the remains of its lead mine, the ride back to Church Stretton was scenic but did not pass through anywhere people were likely to want to alight.

Now the bus turns back at the Stiperstones Inn (where I once posted a Britblog Round Up), which means it does not even reach Snailbeach.

I trust I shall still be able to walk there from the Stiperstones Inn (sorry if this is getting technical), but there are many people who cannot.

The decline in this bus service, which allows people access to these lovely hills without a car, is a measure of our decline as a nation since I stated vising the Shropshire hills 36 years ago.

Here endeth the first lesson.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Nick Clegg proposed to Miriam on a Lincolnshire railway platform

Nick Clegg these days reminds me of the episode of The Simpsons where Homer gets a new job and doesn't realise he's working for a Bond villain bent on world domination.

But he does feature in this blog's Trivial Fact of the Day.

Previewing a local by-election today in Lincolnshire, Andrew Teale writes:

Quarrington and Mareham is Sleaford’s southern ward, taking in the Quarrington and New Quarrington areas on the southern fringe of the town. Also here is Greylees, a large and very new housing development on the site of a former asylum next to Rauceby railway station. 

This station, which was built primarily to serve the former hospital, was where the former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg proposed to his wife Miriam while they were waiting for a train to Sleaford.

Claudia Webbe's sentence cut so there will be no recall petition

Claudia Webbe, the MP for Leicester East, today lost her appeal against a conviction for harassing a love rival. But her sentence was reduced to a community order for 80 hours' unpaid work with no custodial element, so there will be no recall petition.

She was elected for Labour in 2019. Though she was born in Leicester, many regarded the Islington councillor Webbe as a candidate imposed on the local party by the Corbyn leadership. 

Resigning from the Labour after her selection, the Leicester East constituency chair called it "a fix and a disgrace".

Webbe was expelled from Labour after her conviction and has since sat as an Independent.

Before she was elected in Leicester, Webbe - and I'm not making this up - was chair of the panel that oversees Labour’s disciplinary cases.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Evolutionary psychologist Dr Peter Gray on why children need the freedom to play

This is an enjoyable TEDx Talk - and it's always good to hear an expert endorse your prejudices.

The blurb for it on YouTube runs:

In this talk, Dr. Peter Gray compellingly brings attention to the reality that over the past 60 years in the United States there has been a gradual but, overall dramatic decline in children's freedom to play with other children, without adult direction.

Over this same period, there has been a gradual but overall dramatic increase in anxiety, depression, feelings of helplessness, suicide, and narcissism in children and adolescents. 

Based on his own and others' research, Dr. Gray documents why free play is essential for children's healthy social and emotional development and outlines steps through which we can bring free play back to children's lives.

I find evolutionary psychology compelling. It can tell you why children don't like spinach - it's because it would be dangerous if children liked bitter green things. They would poison themselves.

And I have heard Peter Gray explain why children never want to go to bed. It's because for most of our time on this planet there really have been monsters underneath it. Children want to stay with the adults because that's where safety is. After all, it's what we tell them the rest of the time.

But as a good Popperian I have to ask how you test these theories. Aren't they just plausible stories about our ancestors and hunter-gatherer society?

The Joy of Six 1052

Basic Income Conversation and Compass have published new research modelling a fiscally neutral basic income that could reverse the poverty and inequality rises of the last 45 years.

Maxim Osipov describes the journey of those, like him, who chose exile rather than remaining as their country invaded Ukraine: "On the way to the airport, you drove through Moscow. Although this is where you were born, where you studied and lived, it has long been enemy territory. Parting with people is hard, nearly impossible; parting with Moscow is easy." 

"You might imagine that more conventional forms of modern therapy as delivered by a psychologist, counsellor or clinical social worker cannot be harmful because the treatments involve ‘just talking’. Regrettably, this is not the case." Yevgeny Botanovis, Alexander Williams and John Sakalukis on the drive to identify psychotherapeutic approaches that are not only ineffective but actively harmful.

The brainchild of Orkney-born musician Merlyn Driver, Simmerdim: Curlew Sounds is a multi-artist album inspired by the Eurasian curlew. Such celebrations inspire us to protect what we have, says Karen Lloyd.

Paul English reports on the search for the Glasgow Garden Festival: "A team of archaeologists is beginning an excavation in the only remaining part of the 120-acre site in search of touchstones evoking memories of the six-month festival that ran between spring and autumn in 1988." 

We all know  Margaret Rutherford's father murdered his own father (who was Tony Benn's great-grandfather) by banging him repeatedly on the head with a chamber-pot in Matlock. Matthew Sweet dives deep into the case.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

The Conservatives used to hate Winston Churchill

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There was a time when the Conservatives hated Winston Churchill. When Asquith asked the Tories to join a coalition government in 1915 their leader Andrew Bonar Law had only one condition: the Churchill should be removed from his position as First Lord of the Admiralty.

The Tories were no better disposed to him eight years later, judging by how the Tory Sheffield Daily Telegraph reported the party's disappointing showing in the 1923 general election:

Three Great "Advantages" 

It was by Unionist votes that the Liberals defeated the Parsee Communist, Mr. Saklatvala, in North Battersea. This, the defeat of Mr. Joseph King elsewhere, and the failure Mr. Churchill to gain West Leicester, are three great advantages the country and suffice to offset the return of that doctrinaire Liberal, Mr. Charles Masterman. A very advanced Labour man has snatched a seat from the Liberals Bethnal Green.

There are some interesting characters here. Shapurji Saklatvala had been elected in 1922 with Labour support and was to win Battersea North again without it in 1924 before losing in 1929. My mother, who grew up in Battersea, remembered there being a Communist Party shop there in the 1930s or perhaps during the war.

Joseph King was the defeated Labour candidate in York in 1923 after having sat as a Liberal in North Somerset from 1910 to 1918. He was sympathetic to the Bolshevik government in Moscow and published a book on the danger posed by Hitler as early as 1922.

Churchill and Masterman my readers will know. Churchill had fought Leicester West for the Liberal Party and lost, while Masterman had gained Manchester Rusholme - he was defeated there the following year.

And the "very advanced Labour man" must be Walter Windsor, who sat for Bethnal Green from 1923 to 1929, and from 1935 to 1945.

It is telling that Churchill is listed among such Tory bogeymen and that Masterman was too.

The Willow Brook flows through Leicester to the River Soar

The photo above shows the Willow Brook shortly after it has emerged from a culvert beneath a large roundabout on Leicester's Belgrave Road in a corner of the city centre still dominated by the inner ring road.

Below the roundabout Willow Brook joins the Grand Union Canal and, through it, the River Soar. It's formed by the Bushby Brook and the Evington Brook when they meet in Spinney Hills in the east of the city. There names tell you where they have come from.

The Willow Brook has been in the local news recently because of pollution problems. The city council has warned that:

Fly-tipping, litter and oil pollution are contaminating the water, harming wildlife habitats, polluting Leicester’s river and canal network and causing blockages that could increase the risk of flooding in the area.

Still the Willow Brook and the two streams that form it do open up the possibility of some urban river walks of the sort I post here by John Rogers. As he says, they can take you to parts of the city that you wouldn't otherwise see.

Finally, a word for the swan in the final photograph. I assume he was the partner of the one on the nest at the mouth of the Willow Brook - I'm afraid she's a bit of a white blob in the second photo. He was guarding her from a distance by hanging out with two anglers on the canal towpath.

I am happy to record that he did not break my or their arms with one blow of his wings.

Diving board at Richard Jefferies' Coate Water to be restored

Swindon Borough Council is to spend close to £150,000 to restore the Art Deco diving platform at Coate Water.

Wiltshire Live reports the news, gleefully adding the detail that the board is "covered in bird poo".

At this point I can do no better than repeat a post from 12 years ago:

Richard Jefferies, who his best remembered as a nature essayist but, almost in passing, invented post-apocalyptic science fiction (in After London) and the children's holiday adventure (in Bevis), was the subject (or victim) of my Masters dissertation.

His birthplace near Swindon now houses a museum devoted to his life and works. New readers should start with this guest post on Jefferies and Coate by Rebecca Welshman.

The museum stands next to Coate Water, a reservoir constructed in 1822 to provide water for the Wilts & Berks Canal. In Bevis it features as a boyhood paradise and in After London is transformed into a vast inland sea.

When the canal closed in 1914 Coate Water was turned into a park to serve the town of Swindon. Memory Lane at Coate Water describes its use in the 20th century:

Visitors to the park were charged an entrance fee and a variety of small wooden buildings around the lake provided boating and changing facilities. A wooden diving platform was built in 1921 and there was wooden staging separating the swimming and diving areas of the lake. Later a full size swimming pool and a children's paddling pool were added although today the swimming pool has been filled in and changed to a children's paddling pool and the original paddling pool has been filled with sand and turned into a play area for children. 

By 1935, the 'Art Deco' Diving board provided a nationally renowned platform for diving competitions and the lake was also regularly used for regattas and water polo. 

Although swimming in the lake was stopped due to public health and safety concerns in 1958, the diving board can still be seen today and has become a local landmark associated with the park and its history.

The diving board, occupied by the lake's more daring waterfowl, is indeed the landmark that most strikes visitors to Coate today. The video above describes Sophie Hart's ambitions to see it preserved.

I had to use the Wayback Machine to find Memory Lane at Coate Water again, but Sophie Hart's video is still where it ever was.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

A milestone on Belgrave Gate, Leicester

They say you should always look up in town, because the upper floors of shops tend to reveal more about their history, but sometimes it pays to look down.

I spotted this milestone on the front of a shop when I was walking up Belgrave Gate in the centre of Leicester on Friday.

What is it doing there? 

Leicester City Council's local heritage asset register explains:

A rare example of a milestone within the city, dating to the 19th century the milestone is a replacement for a Roman milestone that was discovered in 1771 near Thurmaston and positioned at the Belgrave Gate junction c. 1783, being removed in 1844 and now on display in Jewry Wall Museum. 

The current milestone is of cast iron construction and is engraved ‘TO LONDON 98, HARBORO 15, LOUGHB’RO 11’.

Andrew Symonds was picked to play cricket for England A

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Andrew Symonds, who played test and one-day cricket for Australia between 1998 and 2009, died in a car crash in North Queensland last week aged 46.

His Guardian obituary reminded me of something I had forgotten: it was once hoped that Symonds would play cricket for England.

For he was born in Birmingham and taken to Australia by his adoptive parents when he was three months old.

In 1995, at the age of 19, he came back to England to play for Gloucestershire and did enough in his first season to be voted young player of the year by both the Cricket Writers' Club and the Professional Cricketers' Association.

Qualified for England by birth, he was chosen to tour Pakistan that winter as part of the England A team. But he made it clear that his future lay with Australia and declined the selection.

Strangelove: Beautiful Alone

Time for another number from my favourite not-exactly-obscure-but-didn't-have-the-success-they-deserved Nineties band.

In the past I have chosen Time for the Rest of Your Life (Q magazine's single of the year in 1995) and Elin's Photograph.

Beautiful Alone was as good as it got for Strangelove in terms of singles chart success: it reached no. 35 in 1996.

Patrick Duff, Strangelove's lead singer, did not enjoy the duties his music brought with it. He told the Guardian they year:

In Britain, how you come across in the press is ridiculously important to your chances of success, and even though we had received a lot of support, I couldn’t help but think when I read my interviews that I was somewhat inadequate; I seemed unable to communicate what my songs really meant. Also, I would take the slightest criticism in the press as proof of this. I would be deeply hurt and throw myself into drug and alcohol binges.

Other bands who were doing well all seemed to have singers with a very different personality than my own. Or was it that they could feign that they were cocky, self-confident and content in a shallow sort of a way without a glimmer of self-doubt? I knew our songs were genuinely different and genuinely good, but I couldn’t just seem to strut around like a walking advertising board for them - it seemed crass. I stopped reading any music papers and told my manager I couldn’t do interviews.

Strangelove split in 1998, with guitarist and keyboard player Alex Lee enjoying the most successful later career. But Patrick Duff is still around and is playing The Camden Chapel in August.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Methodist chapel in Stiperstones village to become home for Ukrainian family

A little-used Methodist chapel in Stiperstones village is being converted into a home for a refugee family from Ukraine, reports BBC News.

Though it opened as recently 1993, Perkins Beach Methodist Chapel no longer has a worshipping congregation. Of late it has been used primarily as a retreat and conference centre.

One of the people involved in the conversion project told the BBC:

"We are united in our determination to rescue a traumatised family and look after them here in safety,"

In the 19th century the lead-mining communities in this part of Shropshire were an island of Liberalism and Noncomformity in a largely Tory and Anglican shire, so they were well supplied with chapels.

One reason for this is that many miners came up from Cornwall to work in Shropshire because the tin mining industry in their native county was in decline.

The website Shropshire Noncomformist Chapels has historical notes and photographs from across the county. It lists many current and former chapels in the lead-mining area.

Later. There's a JustGiving page hoping to raise £500 to support this project.

Friday, May 20, 2022

The derelict Corah factory site in Leicester

When I was at a loss for something to photograph in my early days with a digital camera, I used to turn to the Leicester Mercury to see what the city council was proposing to pull down or allow to be pulled down. Then I would go and record it before it was too late.

In recent weeks the newspaper has been concerned with the future of the massive and largely derelict Corah site. 

As a Mercury article explains:

The slogan “Leicester clothes the world” reflected the civic pride and confidence in the economic strength of our city’s manufacturing industry.

Established in 1830, Nathaniel Corah and Sons epitomised the industrial landscape of Leicester, growing to become the largest producer of knitwear in Europe. It was the first clothing partner of Marks & Spencer, widely-accepted to have been instrumental to their success.

Corah's use of the St Margaret’s label inspired Marks & Spencer to run their own St Michael line for over 80 years. One of the major employers in Leicester, Corah had 1,000 workers in 1900, and by the 1960s, had expanded to 6,500.

The company became known for its commitment to good working conditions, training schemes and was one of the first companies in the country to offer paid holidays. 

But Corah's closed in the 1990s and, while some small businesses are based in and around the site, much of it now lies derelict.

The plans for redevelopment would save the façade of the main building and a couple of chimneys at the edge of the site. Leicester Civic Society is disappointed in the plans, while some of the people interviewed for a vox pop piece in the Mercury dutifully came up with the word - "eyesore" - the newspapers use for such occasions.

More interestingly, some of the remaining businesses are dance studios and gyms and struggling to find suitable premises elsewhere.

Anyway, the Corah site is wonderful: full of the industrial dereliction that I love to photograph. And I even found a plaque recording a bit of its history hidden in its deepest recesses.

John Shuttleworth cave concert abandoned due to cliff rescue

The judges didn't need to send out for more coffee today.

Well done, BBC News.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

The Westminster Gazette pays tribute to Charles Masterman at his death in 1927

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This how the Liberal newspaper The Westminster Gazette noticed the death of Charles Masterman in 1927:

The death of Mr. Charles Masterman ends a career which had brilliant promise, considerable achievement, and more than its share of the accidents of political mischance. 

All who knew him will recall, as a gift outshining many others in a versatile array, a spirit of gay courage in confronting life which made him one of the most friendly personalities of our day. If his humour became rather caustic, almost sardonic. it remained good humour. 

He kept the faith of Liberalism against the temptation to seek a larger career on the Labour side. He was a democratic Liberal who hoped that there would be a junction between the Labour Right and the Liberal Left. He worked for this in the 1923 Parliament. 

His book, "The Condition of England," was the best broad survey of social England written before the Liberal revival in 1906, and his best journalism. 

As a Minister he did most of the solid work which produced the Insurance system, improved factory conditions, and established the standard of the minimum wage to be found in the Trade Boards Act 

Perhaps he was too waywardly poised to have become a Prime Minister, for which many of his qualities would have fitted him, but few politicians have done more to advance "the condition of the people" problem.

As the best days of Harborough's own J.W. Logan were in the 1890s, Charles Masterman is my favourite Edwardian Liberal. 

Everyone should have a favourite Edwardian Liberal.

Another Rutland by-election is coming

It's all happening in England's smallest county: there's going to be another by-election.

Oakham Hub News reports the resignation of Ian Razzell, one of the members for the Oakham South Ward. He was elected as a Conservative in 2019, but earlier this month announced that he had left the group to sit as an Independent.

He was the council's armed forces champion and has told Oakham News Hub:

"Principally, the values and standards of a 37 year career in the Army are binary and at odds with the actions and plans of a number of elected members."

The by-election has not yet been called.

You would need the combined services of a Kremlinologist and an expert in irrational numbers to fully understand Rutland politics these days.

But as far as I can make out, the Conservatives won 16 of the 27 seats at Rutland Council's 2019 all-out elections. Since then, defections and by-election defeats have seen their group shrink to 6.

The other two councillors for Oakham South are Liberal Democrats, and we won a by-election there in August of last year by polling two-thirds of the votes cast.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

The Joy of Six 1051

Charlotte Tobitt explains why the Tory MP arrested on suspicion of rape has not been named in the media.

Liam Thorp on the errors that have led to Liverpool City Council's electricity bill going up by millions of pounds: "The report ... really needs to be read to be believed. It charts a remarkable catalogue of mistakes, failures and communication bypasses that have somehow led this cash-strapped council, already under government intervention, to add a further £5 million onto its electricity bill and potentially cost the city, its schools and its fire service a total added cost of £16 million."

"The term neurodiversity was coined in 1988 by Australian sociologist Judy Singer. It means that neurological differences should be recognised and respected. Rather than using drugs to change the behaviour associated with disorders, such as ADHD and autism, society should be more accommodating of neurologically diverse people." Matthew Smith asks what the future holds for Ritalin, the drug with a long and varied history that has latterly been used to treat attention problems in children.

"Profits grew. Participation slumped. The latest figures show it dropped by 25 per cent in the first five years Harrison was in the job. And that was before the pandemic, when it plummeted again." Andy Bull marks the departure of Tom Harrison, chair of the England and Wales Cricket Board.

"Train Landscape shows us the interior of a third class railway compartment done out in the livery of the Southern Railway, circa 1939, an interior Ravilious has drawn with loving attention to detail. It isn’t just any compartment, but a specific one, with saggy seat cushions and a window sash that is worn with use. We’re in a specific location too, passing beneath the white horse carved into the hillside above the Wiltshire town of Westbury." James Russell contributed an essay to the catalogue of the Eric Ravilous exhibition in Winchester that has just closed.

William Cook meets Bernard Cribbins.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Up Caledonian Road to Copenhagen Fields with John Rogers

John Rogers takes us on another London walk. This time it's from Gray's Inn Road up the Caledonian Road to Caledonian Park in Islington.

I was in Housmans bookshop [09:00] the other week and emerged with a novel by Rose Macaulay. I still haven't got the hang of this "left wing" thing.

A note of caution on the prospects for a progressive alliance: We are bad at predicting our own behaviour

Best for Britain is proud of its opinion poll, which forecasts how people would vote given various scenarios where parties co-operate with one another at the next general election.

Most Liberal Democrat and Green voters would vote Labour if their parties stood down, their findings say. Equally, Labour voters would mostly be happy to vote Lib Dem or Green.

It looks easy, doesn't it?

As Freddie and Fiona once put it to Lord Bonkers:

"All we need do ... 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."

But then F&F aren't old enough to remember the Alliance and what it is like when the Conservatives and the press are looking for divisions to exploit. It would be far worse now with more parties involved and what Lord Bonkers would call "the electric social media".

There is another problem with this poll. Most opinion polls ask people how they would vote if there were an election today. This one asked them how they would vote in a year or two's time given a number of different conditions,

The problem is that we are poor at predicting our own behaviour. As a post on the Research Digest blog once expressed it:

Psychologists have identified an important reason why our insight into our own psyches is so poor. Emily Balcetis and David Dunning found that when predicting our own behaviour, we fail to take the influence of the situation into account. 
By contrast, when predicting the behaviour of others, we correctly factor in the influence of the circumstances. This means that we’re instinctually good social psychologists but at the same time we’re poor self-psychologists.
So this sort of polling is unlikely to provide the proof that Best for Britain thinks it has. They might, however, do better if they ask people how they think their neighbours would react faced with these conditions.

For instance, I would not see a progressive alliance as a way of denying people choice and so resent it, but I suspect many possible anti-Tory voters would.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Cuckoos, lapwings and curlews in the Shropshire Hills

And I can't remember the last time I heard a cuckoo, yet when I was a child you expected to hear one on any spring or summer walk.

The cuckoo is not the only bird that is disappearing from Shropshire. When Malcolm Saville's Lone Pine Club (the thinking child's Famous Five) formulated its rules at its camp on the Long Mynd, the members found it natural to adopt the cry of the peewit (or lapwing) as their secret signal.

I knew the late Robert Smart, who had been a friend of Saville's and published several books of walks in the Shropshire Hills. The last time we met he told me he hadn't seen a lapwing on the Mynd for years. That must take us back to the turn of this century.

The only place I have seen Lapwings is the Outer Hebrides. The are entertaining birds - tumbling yet slightly pompous with it - that remind you of Dickensian clerks.

But the bird that really makes me think of the Shropshire hills is the curlew. When I started visiting the Stiperstones in the 1980s, the bird's haunting cry told me that I was getting near the summit ridge.

Today the curlew is in danger of going the same way as the lapwing, but there are people working to save it.

The film below threatens to be overwhelmingly sad, but hold on for a more hopeful ending.

But it's a sad fact that 50 years or more of environmental activism have not been enough to save what used to be everyday birds in these hills.

Christopher Hitchens saw through Vladimir Putin from the start

Here's The Hitch answering a question at the University of Western Ontario on 8 March 2005.

Unlike many commentators, he saw Putin for what he was right from the start.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

The first night of Oliver!

Embed from Getty Images

Oliver! is the great British musical. I regard that as a statement of fact rather than an opinion.

Legend has it that the opening night audience went wild, but what did the critics make of it?

Well, our old friend J.C. Trewin loved it. Writing for the Birmingham Daily Post on Friday 1 July 1960, the day after Oliver's premiere he confirmed the legend:

"May Dickens forgive me!" said Lionel Bart as he took that surprising thing, an author's call, at the end of Oliver! to-night. He came upon the stage of the New Theatre after the most triumphant reception a musical play, and a British play at that, has had in years.

As for himself:

After the twentieth call we knew what the first-night audience thought. I fancy that Dickensians will forgive Mr. Bart. exclamation mark and all. I repeat, this is not a night for pedantic analysis. You have either to surrender to it or to carp. Personally. I have not found it hard to surrender.

He names the songs from show that he thinks will prove most popular: I'd Do Anything, As Long as He Needs Me and Oom-Papah. 

Maybe it's just because of Ron Moody's performance of them in the film, but today I think first of Reviewing the Situation and Pick a Pocket or Two. 

Who Will Buy?, with its street cries, is in many ways the most interesting, while the least interesting, Food Glorious Food, was the one BBC Radio played to death for a couple of decades.

And this is what Trewin had to say about the cast:

Fagin is presumably allowed to get away. Something, of course, may happen to him later; but that it not in Mr. Bart's scheme, and we could not wish that much would happen to the old fence as Ron Moody presents him, in a fantastic-grotesque performance that is suited exactly to Oliver! if it is not entirely Dickensian ....

But this is not a time to consider the acting too closely. though such a major part as Georgia Brown's Nancy has full spirit. Keith Hamshere is meltingly Oliver. and a sketch of the undertaker's wife by Sonia Fraser, late of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, would aid any production. 

Ron Moody we all know. Georgia Brown is generally acknowledged as being a better Nancy than the film's Shani Wallis, though it's hard not to regret that the money men wouldn't grant Carol Reed's wish to cast Shirley Bassey.

Sonia Fraser had a long career in theatre and was a friend and collaborator of Miriam Margolyes. Keith Hamshere lasted over a year before he grew too tall to play Oliver, then made a couple of films and gave up acting to become one of the leading stills photographers in the film industry.

The Joy of Six 1050

"Those that claim to be the party of clever economics and fiscal responsibility would do well to remember this simple truth: the square root of fuck all is always going to be absolutely fuck all, no matter how creatively you’re told to to dice it." Jack Monroe asks why elected representatives and salaried journalists and presenters are trying to undermine the ten-year career and credibility of a food blogger.

Andrew Adonis reviews Chums: How a Tiny Caste of Oxford Tories Took Over the UK by Simon Kuper: "In place of Kuper’s plan, I would instead introduce a different 'levelling-up' reform challenge for Oxford. It needs to radically broaden the social intake of its state school recruitment, which today is too largely drawn from grammar schools, sixth-form colleges and academies in London and the southeast".

Helena Horton on ambitious plans to rewild London.

Neal Ascherson is always worth reading: here he discusses the history of the extraordinary Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

"Tragically, he was discovered, captured, and deported during a raid in Toulouse in 1944 - first to Drancy, then to Auschwitz, and finally Kaunas-Reval in Lithuania. Of hundreds of people captured in Toulouse that day, only a handful survived. They perished without a trace." Janet Horvath says we should not forget the cellist and composer Pál Hermann.

"It was a big car park, but it was in bad shape. So in 2010, the Trinity Square high rise car park, an iconic brutalist building that dominated Gateshead’s skyline in the 1970s, was demolished, and a part of British film history was gone. Though not before the canny council sold tinned lumps of rubble to film fans for £5.00 a go." Tim Pelan watches Mike Hodges' 1971 film Get Carter.

Aldous Harding: Fever

Aldous Harding is a New Zealand artist now based in Cardiff. A 2019 Guardian review of a concert by her said:

In the years since 2014, when her self-titled debut came out in her native New Zealand, Harding has become cult-famous for her intense performances. They draw attention to the fact of their own artifice and have garnered comparisons to uncompromising auteurs such as Kate Bush.

Harding has a punk rock stare and, on her stool, she adopts cowboy postures that would be called manspreading if they happened on the London underground. When she sings, she is legion: Harding can sound like a child, like Joanna Newsom, or a dissipated émigré such as Nico. 

Saturday, May 14, 2022

The old road to Foxton Locks

I've blogged before about how I worked for the organiser of the Liberal Party Assembly in 1985. That summer the office was housed on two narrow boats at Foxton Locks.

The photo above shows where the boats were moored - on the arm that served the bottom of the inclined plane that once took boats up and down the hill here.

A lot has changed at Foxton since then, notably there's now a proper car park for visitors and a new road to serve it.

What used to be the road to the bottom of the locks is now a footpath.* Ironically, it is in much better condition than it ever was as a road. Then it had enough large potholes to keep a Focus team pointing for a fortnight.

I remember guiding the chief stewards van down it when he arrived to collect the assembly programmes which the printers van had brought a couple of days before.

Today it was all sheep and May blossom, with not a pothole in sight.

* The final stretch of the path is new - the old road ran along the bank of the canal for a little. But, going uphill, once you are through the first gate you are on what was the road all the way to the top.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Yesterday's local by-elections and a progressive alliance

There were two local by-elections yesterday. Both were in Conservative-held seats and the Conservatives lost both of them.

The results also pose questions about the practicality of and need for a "progressive alliance".

Take the by-election in the Frensham, Dockenfield and Tilford ward of Waverley Borough Council in Surrey.

Here, Labour and the Liberal Democrats stood down to give the Green Party a clear run against the Conservatives. The Tories lost all right, but it wasn't the Greens who won.

The victor was David Munro, an Independent who used to be the Conservative police and crime commissioner for the county. Munro is a former Army office who lost his career because he was openly gay.

This should serve as a reminder that parties do not own their supporters votes and cannot deliver them en bloc to another party. And also as another reminder that Twitter is not the real world.

Last night there was also a by-election in the Peacehaven ward of Lewes District Council.

There was no progressive alliance here: Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens all fielded candidates. But this did not stop Labour from gaining the seat by a mile.

The result was Labour 641, Conservatives 477, Lib Dems 32, Greens 32,

If the electorate is determined to get rid of the Tories, as they were in 1997 and as I sense they are now, then it will organise itself to do so.

Remember that in 1997 Labour came from third place to take two seats from the Tories - Hastings & Rye and St Albans - that had been Liberal Democrat targets.

You can hear these issues debated in the latest Oh God, What Now? podcast, where Layla Moran is the guest. I share her view that any alliances must be locally determined and not imposed from on high.

And is it good for Liberal Democrats to taken on a "progressive" identity?

I have seen a quote online from my much-missed friend Simon Titley that exposes its weakness:

"Progressive." What does it mean? The only discernible meaning is "not conservative" or "not reactionary"... negative definitions. The "p" word is a lazy word, so give it up. It will force you to say what you really mean. We need real politics not empty slogans.

I don't know where this comes from, but there is an archive of Simon's writing on the Liberator website.

Let me end by once again recommending the weekly local by-election previews by Andrew Teale.

Thursday, May 12, 2022