Saturday, June 25, 2022

An off spin masterclass from Graeme Swann


With the arguable exception of Derek Underwood, the greatest English spin bowler of my lifetime is Graeme Swann.

He was so good that England were happy to go into tests with only three seamers if he was in the side.

Not only that, he was made useful - and somehow infuriating to the opposition - runs at 8 or 9 and was a good slip fielder.

Here he discusses his career and the art of bowling off spin with Michael Atherton.

This is just the sort of analysis you want from a commentator but, with the notable exception this summer of Jeremy Coney, you are unlikely to get it from Test Match Special these days.

Friday, June 24, 2022

A false story about the death of Dennis O'Neill in 1945

There's a false story about the death of the foster child Dennis O'Neill, at the age of 12, at a farm under The Stiperstones in Shropshire in 1945.

It's been repeated in several articles on the case and I have had it added as a footnote to something I wrote about it too.

As far as I can tell the story originates from a piece by David Batty published in the Guardian in 2003.

Batty wrote:

The case shook a war weary Britain and there was a national outcry when [Reginald] Gough was jailed for six years for manslaughter. An appeal court ruling changed the verdict to murder and his sentence was extended to 10 years.

This is wrong for three reasons.

The first is that you can't try and convict a person for one crime and then, at a later date, decide you'd rather convict them of another, more serious, crime. You couldn't do it in 1945 and you can't do it now.

If you doubt this, you will find that there's not mention of a later murder conviction in the newspapers of the period. I've looked.

The second reason is that, though there was an outcry over Dennis O'Neill's death, it was not an outcry against Gough but against the authorities. This is no different from today, when we seem angrier with the social workers who fail to protect childred than we are with the people who abuse them.

When the report of Sir Walter Monkton's public inquiry into the case was published, the Daily Mirror (29 May 1945) printed the photographs of all 19 members of Newport Borough Council's education committee. This was the committee had sent the the boy to live far from home while doing next to nothing to ensure he was being properly treated.

And the third reason I'm sure that this story is false is that we know Reginald Gough was at liberty by 1951.

On 20 June 1951 the Daily Herald published this short report:

Offence against girl - fined

For an offence against a girl of l5, Reginald Gough, 37-year-old farm labourer, was fined £25 at Shropshire Assizes yesterday. The Judge said there were mitigating circumstances and it was not case for imprisonment. 

A police witness said that in 1945 Gough. then a farmer. was jailed for six years for the manslaughter of 13-year-old Dennis O'Neill.

That is more conclusive proof than I expected to find.

The illustration above is the cover of the Canadian edition of Terry O'Neill's book, which was published in the UK as Someone to Love Us in 2010.

Terry was fostered by Reginald Gough and his wife alongside Dennis. His book is a harrowing account of their treatment and it is shocking that the "discipline" Terry later received in children's homes echoed the abuse he and his brother had suffered.

There is also an award-winning BBC Wales radio documentary The Mousetrap and Me, which tells Terry's story.

A readers of this blog will know, Agatha Christie's record-breaking play The Mousetrap was inspired by Dennis O'Neill's case, as was the play and film No Room at the Inn.

In defence of the Lib Dems' door

Here are Ed Davey and Richard Foord, the newly elected Liberal Democrat MP for Tiverton and Honiton, showing Boris Johnson the door.

I've seen a lot of criticism of this stunt on Twitter today: it is "cringe"; would you believe someone thought this was a good idea? That sort of thing.

But it has worked. The video above come from Sky News and there's a similar one on the BBC News site.

For a while this afternoon a photo of our door led the Guardian's online coverage of yesterday's by-elections.

But then what was their alternative? A couple of people few would recognise looking happy? A couple more such people looking unhappy?

There's only so many pictures of people holding orange diamonds that anyone can stand.

We have learnt that the media need engaging images and that if you help them get those images then you have more chance of getting coverage, even favourable coverage.

One thing that struck me during the EU referendum was how much better the Leave campaign was at staging events and stunts that appealed to the media. All we had to offer was George Osborne threatening to put your taxes up.

And when the Remain campaign finally woke up - sadly this was just after the referendum had taken place - we were still poor at providing the media with good images and footage.

What we gave them was lots and lots of people marching. And when they failed to screen much footage of that marching, we yelled about their bias rather than ask ourselves what we could do that might appeal to them more.

Now we do provide the media with good images. So much so that the media have come to look for them.

What stunt the Lib Dems will put on becomes a live question to them in the last days of the campaign if it looks like we're going to win.

And if there is a slight cheesiness to what we offer, that is part of its appeal. These post-victory stunts have become the Lib Dems' Eurovision.

Lib Dems gain Tiverton and Honiton with huge swing as Labour wins Wakefield


From the Guardian website this morning:

The Conservatives have lost two key byelections on the same night, with Labour taking Wakefield and the Liberal Democrats overturning a 24,000-plus majority to snatch Tiverton and Honiton, piling enormous political pressure on to Boris Johnson.

The Tiverton and Honiton result, where the Lib Dem candidate, Richard Foord, defeated the Tories’ Helen Hurford by 6,144 votes to take a constituency that has been Conservative in its various forms for well over a century, will particularly spook Tory MPs.

It is believed to be the biggest numerical majority ever overturned in a byelection, although there have been higher percentage swings in other seats.

And Britain Elects has the numbers:

Hilaire Belloc's influence on A Canterbury Tale

This public lecture by Mr Colpeper (played by Eric Portman) from A Canterbury Tale is probably my favourite moment in probably my favourite film - a film I've learnt not to take lightly.

A reader has now alerted me to an obvious source for it: Hilaire Belloc's The Old Road. Published in 1904, it describes the author's journey along what he claims to be an ancient trackway from Winchester to Canterbury.

Describing what he hoped to gain from this journey, Belloc writes:

For my part I desired to step exactly in the footprints of such ancestors. I believed that, as I followed their hesitations at the river crossings, as I climbed where they had climbed to a shrine whence they also had seen a wide plain, as I suffered the fatigue they suffered, and laboriously chose, as they had chosen, the proper soils for going, something of their much keener life would wake again in the blood I drew from them, and that in a sort I should forget the vileness of my own time, and renew for some few days the better freedom of that vigorous morning when men were already erect, articulate, and worshipping God, but not yet broken by complexity and the long accumulation of evil.

You can certainly here echoes of this passage in Colpeper's lecture, but as the person who put my reader on to this connection said:

I think the three Ps (Powell, Pressburger in particular as the screenwriter, and Portman) did a better job of it, not least by toning down the religious aspect Belloc the Catholic was keen to stress.

I agree. Indeed, there is something pre-Christian in Colpeper's complex character. He is in part an aristocratic Puck.

Hilaire Belloc sat for Salford South as a Liberal between 1906 and the second general election of 1910. He was a nasty antisemite, but his book The Servile State remains a challenging read and is well worth seeking out.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

The Joy of Six 1058

"Johnson proposes to close a 2,000-year-old divide with a few more bus routes, some 'free ports,' the relocation of parts of government departments out of London, and a 'levelling up fund' of £4.8 billion, equivalent to 0.2 percent of Britain’s annual GDP." Boris Johnson claims to have taken back control but, says Tom McTague, has hardly tried to exercise it.

Carolyne Willow argues that the Bill of Rights just introduced into Parliament will make it even harder for breaches of children’s human rights to be challenged: "I am constantly taken aback by the intransigence of professionals, forcing children to pursue drawn-out complaints to secure the basic markers of a decent childhood or a sincere apology and recompense when they have been failed."

"Many home educators are worried that, backed with new powers and under pressure to boost attendance, local authorities will take a risk-averse approach, demanding unreasonable information from parents and forcing children into school." Eloise Rickman on the new Schools Bill and its attack on home education.

Christian Wolmar praises the campaign that will see railway services between Ashington and Newcastle upon Tyne restored.

Is morality innate? A new study, reports Jeffrey Kluger, suggests that babies as young as eight months old can show a desire to punish wrongdoers.

George Sobell introduces us to the South Asian Cricket Academy, which gives unsigned players the chance to display their talents to county sides: "The entire cost of the programme is around £50,000 a year. The ECB have declined to contribute."

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Fears for Glastonbury revellers as ‘huge puma’ seen lurking in trees near festival




Our Headline of the Day Award goes to the Daily Star.

I am reminded of the Rutstock Festival of 1969 and its role in the demise of the Bonkers Hall Safari Park.

The Market Square in Bishop's Castle has a new guardian


I never did learn her name, but I think this is my favourite of all the cats I have met in Shropshire. 

As I wrote the last time I met her:

There is a little square at the top of the main street in Bishop's Castle. It's where the town's Market Hall stood until it was demolished in 1951. The Powis coat of arms that used to be on the building can still be found there.

If you visit the square you may well find a grey and white cat keeping an eye on things.

I met her this summer and you can see her photograph above. But then her photograph has appeared here twice before. You will see that she has a habit of looking into the observer's soul.

This time I learnt a bit more about her. She is 14, has had two litters of kittens and lives in one of the houses bordering the square.

I expect she would like to retire, but would another cat carry out these duties so conscientiously?

That was back in 2017, so I'm afraid she will by now have gone to the happy hunting ground, where mice are slow and shrews taste pleasant.

So let's remember her as she was in her prime with the photograph above. She was indeed able to look into your soul but, unlike most cats, did not judge what she found there.

The reason for this post is that earlier today I was looking at some lovely photographs by Duncan Smart, who has just finished walking the Shropshire Way.

One of them was of the Market Square, Bishop's Castle, and showed that a small black cat has taken on her role.

I look forward to meeting it, if not this summer then certainly next.

The Tories have hidden their Tiverton and Honiton by-election candidate from the media and voters

At 10.15am she arrives at HQ with her sidekick, local Tory chairman Gillian Evans.

As she enters the reception area, I follow her in. Immediately after identifying myself Ms Evans whisks her charge away to the back of the office.

Two burly volunteers then block my path to her and tell me to leave, suggesting I get in touch with the press office to request an interview, something I have done on countless occasions over the past week.

I ask to put just a couple of questions to Ms Hurford.

"This is private property, please leave," says one of the Tory enforcers.

No, David Parsley from the i isn't getting much joy from his attempts to talk to the Conservative candidate in tomorrow's Tiverton and Honiton by-election candidate.

He tried staking out the Tory HQ because she ducks all attempts to talk to her after public debates and has not invited journalists to join her on a canvassing session.

According to Parsley, Helen Hurford isn't that keen on talking to voters either:

Over the past three weeks I have spoken to hundreds of local residents in dozens of towns and villages across this traditionally true-blue seat. Not one of them has seen the Conservative candidate on their street, let alone knock on their door.

Many have seen the other candidates, especially Ms Hurford’s main rival, the Liberal Democrats’ Richard Foord.

I wish Richard all the best for tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

West 11: Another early Michael Winner film

Last time I praised an early Michael Winner film the post was quoted in a book. So here goes again with one he made when he was only 28..

If it had no other virtues, the street scenes of Notting Hill would make West 11 interesting. When the film was made in 1963, this was an area of poverty and racketeering landlords.

And beneath the opening titles we see Alfred Lynch walking past 25 Powis Square, where Performance was to be filmed a few years later..

For me the glory of West 11 is its cast, which might have been chosen with me in mind. Not the leads, Alfred Lynch and Kathleen Breck, who are a little underpowered, but the supporting players. Eric Portman. Freda Jackson. Even David Hemmings in a bit part.

There are other faces to look for: Diana Dors in her best era, Kathleen Harrison, Patrick Wymark. The Mosleyite agitator at the street meeting is the unlikely figure of Brian Wilde.

The cast could have been even more impressive. According to Flashbak, the film's producer Danny Angel turned down the idea of casting Julie Christie, Sean Connery and Oliver Reed because they were "nothing more than B-picture artists".

West 11 is available cheaply on DVD, and Talking Pictures TV has shown it too. There's plenty in it to enjoy, notably Eric Portman's turn as a seedy confidence trickster who leads Alfred Lynch astray,

Monday, June 20, 2022

Angela Carter discusses Peter Greenaway's The Draughtman's Contract in Channel 4's first week

This is television gold from the first week of Channel 4 in November 1982: the novelist Angela Carter discusses Peter Greenaway's The Draughtsman's Contract.

Starting with this film, Greenaway enjoyed a vogue in the 1980s. Some thought him pretentious, but his concern for images in their own right gave his work a distinctive, Continental flavour.

Yet you could also say his films were very English. Drowning by Numbers, for instance, brings out something sinister that lies just below the surface of genteel Southwold. In fact, I had been on holiday in the town for a couple of days before I worked out why it felt so familiar.

The Draughtsman's Contract is a mystery film, though whether you can really solve that mystery from a study of the drawings made by the hero I don't know. Greenaway's original cut of it ran for three hours - and I would gladly watch it - so any loose ends can be attributed to the way this had to be whittled down.

When he went out of fashion it was partly because of a strain of cruelty that people saw in his films - you can see it here in the scenes from The Draughtsman's Contract.

That strain worries me more today than it did in the 1980s - there seems something crass and adolescent about it. But then, perhaps because I had seen so few films as a teenager, I had my own cinematic adolescence to catch up on.

The other thing that made Greenaway's films stand out was the music of Michael Nyman. His near-frantic reworkings of Baroque masters fit particularly well in The Draughtsman's Contract. These include Chasing Sheep is Best Left to Shepherds, which was one of the pieces of music my mother enjoyed in the last weeks of her life.

Angela Carter was a novelist, known for her feminist and magical realist approach. When she died in 1992, aged only 51, her reputation with both critics and the reading public stood extremely high.

It's my impression that she suffered little of the collapse of interest in their work that almost all writers suffer in the years after their death, but I've not read enough of her to tell you much more than that.

Besides, there is something else about her that cannot be ignored: that accent. She sounds extraordinarily posh and like someone from three decades before. It's how you imagine Princess Margaret must have sounded. At the same time, the odd word gives a hint that the accent is not entirely secure.

Carter's biographer Edmund Gordon was asked about the subject in an interview by Caleb Sivyer for Angela Carter Online:

CS: I remember being quite surprised by the particular sound of Carter’s voice the first time I encountered it. Although her voice changes quite a lot, I was surprised at those moments when she appears to adopt, perhaps self-consciously, an educated-sounding voice.

EG: Absolutely. I think it’s partly a generational thing. As Martin Amis says somewhere in his memoir Experience, "it used to be cool to be posh". I think there is partly that. 

But you know, she was not entirely un-posh. She had working-class roots but she was one generation removed from them. Her father was a Fleet Street journalist, she was very middle-class and she went to a private school. But what is extraordinary about her voice is that it suddenly shifts between registers, and indeed between accents. 

Last night [at the British Library celebration of Carter] when they showed two clips of her, she sounds sort of Northern sometimes and south London sometimes and very genteel and posh sometimes. It is an odd voice. 

But then I also think that in her work, there’s so much about performance and she obviously was a highly self-conscious person, and it is the voice of someone who’s quite self-conscious, somebody who is very aware of how they sound and how they’re coming across.

Perhaps unfairly to both women, I am reminded of what someone said about Allegra Mostyn-Owen, who had the misfortune to become the first Mrs Boris Johnson, at Oxford:

"She speaks to you as though she were launching a ship."

Rail Strikes: Latest Peace Moves


John Bodkin Adams: The Harold Shipman of the 1950s

With the Conservative candidate in the Wakefield by-election having drawn an analogy between the party's previous MP for the seat and Dr Harold Shipman, my mind has returned to the bad doctor's equivalent from the 1950s, Dr John Bodkin Adams.

Though he was acquitted of murder at the Old Bailey, the number of Eastbourne widows who changed their wills in Bodkin Adams' favour, only to expire after his next visit, leaves little doubt about what was really going on.

In fact the video above suggests the evidence from the police investigation of him reveals that he may be Britain's worst ever serial killer.

Bodkin Adams has appeared on this blog three times.

First, I revealed that the chaplain of All Saints Hospital, Eastbourne, at the time of Bodkin Adams' arrest was the Revd Hubert Brasier, better known today as the father of Theresa May.

Talking of the Conservative Party, Bodkin Adams was the doctor of Harold Macmillan's brother-in-law the Duke of Devonshire and was attending him as he died. 

This video, as many modern accounts do, ties that in with the fact that one of Macmillan's children was fathered by the Tory peer Bob Boothby, and tries to tie that into the story as a reason for the Establishment engineering an acquittal.

I've seen this theory elsewhere, but never much evidence to suggest it's true.

Besides, Labour has its connections with this story too. The doctor called as his main expert witness onr John B. Harman. He was the president of the Medical Defence Union and the father of Harriet Harman.

Revelaing that face was my second mention of Bodkin Adams here. The third was to reveal that the man who put the police on to him was the variety star Leslie Henson, because he had suspicions about the death of an old friend.

Leslie Henson was the father of the actor Nicky Henson and the grandfather of Countryfile's Adam Henson.

Whether any of them have worked with Timothy West, I don't know, but you can find him playing Bodkin Adams in a dramatised version of the affair on YouTube. And there's an enjoyable review by Craig Brown of a book on the case.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Kate Bush: The Saxophone Song

Kate Bush is back at the top of the UK singles chart 44 years after Wuthering Heights. 

This is a record gap and makes me feel rather old, because I bought her first album (The Kick Inside), which included that song, when it came out.

But we won't worry about that. So here's another track from The Kick Inside.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Watch All Night and Barriers: Unscrambling my memories

Having more or less vindicated my memory of having once heard a purported real "stone tape" on the radio, let me confess to a less accurate recollection.

Take a look at these tweets.

October 7, 2021

Replies to them convinced me that I had run together two different serials screened by ITV on Sunday afternoons in that era.

The girl who met her father and was then told she hadn't (a plot that owes something to the early Dirk Bogarde film So Long at the Fair) came from Watch All Night.

But the boy with the flute had wandered in from another series altogether: Barriers.

You can see its opening titles above. I have watched the first episode and, with it scenes of the East/West border and public school life, it feels like John le Carré for teenagers. 

So it's appropriate that its star, Benedict Taylor, went on to play the young Magnus Pym in the BBC adaptation of A Perfect Spy.

There were two series of Barriers. Only the first is on YouTube and I think it was the second that I watched, which makes this last point hard to prove.

But could that haunting theme be the reason I am convinced that Fauré's Sicilienne was once used to introduce a period detective series?

A big of googling shows I am not alone in this belief, but if Taylor turns out to have played Sicilienne at some point in the second series of Barriers, I suspect that will clarify another of my unconfirmed memories.

Tories can't find a candidate for Rutland County Council by-election


Good news this morning: the Liberal Democrats have gained another seat on Rutland Council Council.

You've not missed a rare Friday local by-election: it's that when nominations closed for the vacancy in Oakham South it was found that only one valid nomination had been submitted.

So congratulations to the ward's new Lib Dem councillor Raymond Payne.

As far as I know, this isn't because the Conservatives messed up their nomination paper,. It's because they couldn't find anyone prepared to stand for them.

When Stephen Lambert gained the Uppingham ward from the Tories last month I blogged:
At Rutland's 2019 all-out council elections, the Conservatives won 16 of the 27 seats. Today, thanks to by-election defeats and defections, they are down to 6.
I think that is still the position, because the Oakham councillor who stood down and caused the by-election had already left the Tory group.

But it equally possible that, by the time you read this, that group will have been reduced to five. Or four and an inexpressible fraction.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Howard Marks at the haunted Prince of Wales Inn

The haunted wall of the Prince of Wales Inn at Kenfig makes another appearance, thanks to a tip from a reader.

In 2007 Wales on Sunday interviewed the late Howard Marks, who had somehow contrived to become a celebrity drug smuggler, at this very pub:

"This pub’s got a talking wall, do you want to come and see?”

What?

"It’s haunted. Shall we see if the landlord will show us?"

Not exactly a seamless way to change the subject but, hell, let’s hear what the wall has to say.

Howard shuffles towards the bar and landlord Gareth Maund takes us up the stone stairs to a room once used as a courthouse.

Howard is clearly fascinated as Gareth recounts chapter and verse about the bar.

And doubtless he’s happy to be out of his interrogator’s hands.

It's amazing how many supposedly haunted pubs are claimed to have been courthouses.

When he died in 2016 his Guardian obituary began:

Howard Marks, who has died aged 70 of cancer, was Britain’s best-known and most charming drug smuggler, and also a successful author and raconteur. 
He translated a lifetime of international cannabis dealing and a long stretch in an American jail into a bestselling book, Mr Nice (1996), and a career as a stand-up performer.

And went on to record that:

After seven years, he was freed, receiving maximum parole, and returned initially to Mallorca and his family. He set about writing Mr Nice, a frank autobiography which has sold more than 1m copies. 
He also started doing one-man shows, telling anecdotes, joint in hand, to sell-out theatre audiences, many of whom had not been born when he was. arrested.

"Mr Nice" was one of the many aliases he used in the course of his smuggling businesses and also, many agreed, a fair description of his character,

Marks was born at Kenfig Hill, a mining village a couple of miles inland from Kenfig, which overlooks the Bristol Channel.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Wakefield by-election candidates compete to deploy the most unsettling argument


There seems to be a competition among the 15 candidates in Wakefield to put forward the most unsettling argument as to why you should vote for them.

First there was Paul Bickerdake of the Christian People's Alliance, whose leaflet began:
"I have been a foster carer for over 14 years and have never sexually assaulted anyone. I am happily married to Janet."
Then, says YorkshireLive:
In response to questions about the leaflet, Mr Bickerdale said: "I do look at children but I look at children in a proper way, not the way that the previous MP was looking at children."
It's a big ask, but today, the Conservative candidate Nadeem Ahmed may have topped that today.

As the story is behind the Telegraph paywall, it's over to indy100:
The Telegraph's Whitehall correspondent Tony Diver was in Wakefield ahead of the by-election next week that has been called after the former Tory MP Imran Ahmad Khan was convicted for sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy. 
Diver spoke to Tory candidate in the Wakefield by-election, Nadeem Ahmed, who claimed Khan was "one bad apple" and argued "we still trust GPs” after notorious serial killer Harold Shipman killed 250 people. 
Tory hopeful Ahmed said: "The people of Wakefield know that he [Khan] was one bad apple. As you know, Harold Shipman committed suicide in Wakefield prison. 
"He was a GP – one of the most, you know, a trusted professional like teachers and others… Have we stopped trusting GPs? No."
And here is a tweet from Diver to prove it:

Write a guest post for Liberal England


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

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

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

The Joy of Six 1057

David Hencke argues that the Supreme Court has taken to backing the government against the people: "The change appears to have taken place after Lord Robert Reed became President in 2020 replacing Baroness Brenda Hale of Richmond. It also follows a change in the composition of the court which is now almost exclusively male with just one token female judge out of 10."

"The question that arises from the current furore is not one about the Church of England’s role and purpose within the life of the nation, but rather one about the role of the Conservative and Unionist party. If that august body no longer believes in the concept of a national conversation where the ancient institutions of Church - and, indeed, Crown - get a voice; then what, pray, is its purpose?" Fergus Butler-Gallie asks what the Conservative Party is for if it's no longer Conservative.

Colleen Morgan on what to do if you are the subject of a Daily Mail outrage-bait article.

When things feel unreal, is that a delusion or an insight? John Horgan looks at the psychiatric syndrome called derealisation.

"Inside, the house is preserved just as it was in Britten’s day, not only furniture and paintings but manuscripts, correspondence and bills and postcards from friends. Somehow it manages to avoid feeling like a museum and you feel instead you’ve stepped into a private house still occupied by the owner." Kay Gale visits Aldeburgh and The Red House museum.

Paul Walter blogs from St Kilda, "the islands at the end of the world".

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Lib Dems accuse Tories of wanting rail strike to keep activists away from by-election


The Liberal Democrats transport spokesperson Sarah Olney has written to transport secretary Grant Shapps accusing the government of sitting on its hands over the proposed rail strikes. 

This, the letter says, is because the government hopes the strikes will keep Lib Dem activists away from the Tiverton and Honiton by-election.

The Independent report quotes some of letter:
"It is becoming clearer by the day why you have chosen to let these strikes go ahead," Ms Olney said in a letter to the transport secretary. 
"This is part of a cynical and desperate political game by the Conservative party to help Boris Johnson win next week’s crucial by-elections, despite the devastating blow no rail services will have on tourism in areas such as the South West." 
She added that the strike will "result in volunteers not being able to attend the by-election in Devon", branding it "a new low for the Conservative party".
The strikes have been called by the rail unions for 21, 23 and 25 June - 23 June is polling day in the by-election.

I suppose the Tories can say in their defence that they are sitting on their hands over every problem Britain faces, but it makes you think.

Milton Keynes, Peter Pan, Michael Collins, The Seapoint Tragedy and James Joyce

Last night The year is 1971 posted these TV listing from Tuesday 15 June of that year, pointing out that:

Last week saw the last of the first series of And Mother Makes Three, this Tuesday it is replaced with the start of the fourth series of Father Dear Father.

But for some reason my attention was caught by the late-night programme on Thames:

11.30 Living Architects: Lord Llewelyn-Davies

Llewelyn-Davies? Could he be related to the Llewelyn-Davies boys who were adopted by the dramatist J.M. Barrie. This was relationship depicted in the film Finding Neverland, where Barrie was played by Johnny Depp, and the BBC drama serial J.M. Barrie and the Lost Boys, where he was superlatively played by Ian Holm. (The whole series is on YouTube and you can buy the DVD for a few pounds.)

It turns out that Richard Llewelyn-Davies the architect was their cousin. His father and the boys' father were brothers.

That Wikipedia entry also reveals that the architectural practice founded by Lord Llewelyn-Davies was responsible for the master planning of Milton Keynes. As this involved the new city being built around the motor car, it was very much of its period.

But Richard Llewelyn-Davies' mother is more interesting than his father.

Moya Llewelyn-Davies was born Moya O'Connor, the daughter of the Irish nationalist MP James O'Connor. She was herself politically active, raising funds for Sir Roger Casement's legal defence and then campaigning for the commutation of his death sentence.

After the Easter Rising she provided a safe house for Michael Collins. It seems they became lovers, but the rumour that Collins was Richard's father was untrue.

And, as a little girl, Moya survived a dreadful calamity that destroyed her family. Choosing the Green tells the story:

John O’Connor  was a well-known journalist and Nationalist politician. He was the M.P. of West Wicklow and a family man who had a loving wife and five young children. This seemingly adoring family was torn apart when almost all of them were fatally poisoned. Only John O’Connor and one of his daughters survived.

The family story says that his children were sent to collect mussels on the seaside, but they decided to choose them from a pool closer to home instead. That pool was contaminated and when the family consumed the mussels, they were all killed. Moya, one of the daughters, did not join them for food due to a random (and lucky for her) family disagreement but O’Connor’s wife, his four other children, and one of their servants died shortly after the meal. The family is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery and their grave is massive and beautiful.

That brings us to another author of the period. The Facebook page for the cemetery says:

The Seapoint Tragedy, as it became known, shocked the people of Dublin and was spoken about for years. James Joyce, whose dad Stanislaus was at the funeral, immortalized it in his Ulysses when Bloom says: "Poor man O'Connor’s wife and five children poisoned by mussels here. The sewage."

It's a long way from Milton Keynes to Ulysses, but somewhere in here must be out Trivial Fact of the Day.

And to return to Father Dear Father, my readers may recall that its star, Patrick Cargill, was the uncle of the Surrey and England cricketer Robin Jackman.

Frank Lampard: "The most accomplished Latinist to play for England since C.B. Fry"

I'm an admirer of Frank Lampard, as both a Chelsea player and a Chelsea manager, so I liked this observation by Dan Jackson in a piece on the backgrounds of England's Euro 2020 squad:

Although the class profile of football supporters has changed a lot since the 1960s, the team itself seems as resolutely working-class as it ever was - there was no space in the squad for the genuinely posh Patrick Bamford of Leeds United (of the JCB digger dynasty), a public school footballer in the mould of Frank Lampard - whose A* in Latin GCSE probably made him the most accomplished Latinist to play for England since C.B. Fry.

Monday, June 13, 2022

Exploring Lincoln’s Inn Fields and Fleet Street with John Rogers

Time for another London walk with John Rogers. The YouTube blurb for this one runs:

This central London walk starts by entering Lincoln's Inn Fields via Great Turnstile Street. We then walk admire some of the buildings around Lincoln's Inn Fields including Sir John Soane's Museum, the Royal College of Surgeons, and the London School of Economics. We briefly go into Portsmouth Street before walking through the garden square to Lincoln's Inn. 

The route then goes along Carey Street, past the Seven Stars pub, Bell Yard and Star Yard to Chancery Lane where we admire The Maughan Library at King's College and the London Silver Vaults. 

Next we pick up the tour of Fleet Street at the Daily Telegraph Building, the Daily Express Building, and Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese before heading along Shoe Lane. Our walking tour ends at Dr John's House in Gough Square.

Great Turnstile was the address of the New Statesman when I was a teenage reader in the 1970s, and for a period in the following decade we put Liberator together on a Saturday in an office in Lincoln's Inn.

And John Rogers is write: you often saw filming taking place there. I'm sure I spotted the Liberator editorial collective in the background of a BBC Dickens adaptation one Sunday afternoon.

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

Sunday, June 12, 2022

A real stone tape? The Prince of Wales Inn, Kenfig


I have a memory of hearing an item on the radio about recordings made from the walls of a pub that revealed ghostly music. I date the memory to the 1970s and a BBC Radio news magazine programme, most likely the Today programme on Radio Four.

The recording featured music from something like a harmonium and was made, I thought, in the cellar of a pub in Sheffield.

Having tweeted about that memory this evening, I am pretty sure I did not imagine it.

Two people - Andy Lewis and Duncan Hill - immediately put me on to a doctoral dissertation by Melvyn J. Willin: Paramusicology: An Investigation of Music and Paranormal Phenomena.

Turn to section 5.4.6. and you will find this:

The final example of music allegedly being heard paranormally in a public house concerns the Prince of Wales, Kenfig in Mid-Glamorgan. In 1982 an electrical engineer, John Marke, and an industrial chemist, Allan Jenkins, undertook an experiment to investigate: ''the landlord's claim to have heard ghostly voices and organ music in the pub." (Bord, 1992, p. 191). 

They connected electrodes to a stone wall in the public house, hoping to obtain a recording of anomalous music and having fed twenty thousand volts through it, they placed tape recorders in the locked room for four hours overnight. They claimed that various sounds were recorded including organ music. 

This apparently amazing discovery was not brought to public attention until the organ music was played on the television programme Out of this World and the experiment was repeated with the involvement of various BBC sound experts. 

The alleged organ sounds bore very little resemblance indeed to any organ of my knowledge, but rather sounded like some form of electronic distortion. The BBC Workshop engineer, John Hunt, was suspicious of the various sounds he heard and referred to the organ music as sounding like feedback. 

Other factors for consideration were mentioned. There was an organ in an adjacent room to the public house and that room was used as a club room for a group who met regularly and played practical jokes on each other. Another public house in the neighbourhood also started claiming that spoken voices could be heard, but it was pointed out by the BBC engineer that these were almost certainly radio broadcasts that had been tampered with. 

The two original researchers were joined by another BBC engineer to conduct an experiment, but all they recorded were a few 'bangings' - as if someone was banging on the wall, floor or ceiling. There were no trained psychic researchers present to ensure tight controls. 

This must be the case I can remember, though it comes from Kenfig near Bridgend rather than Sheffield.

And I still think I heard it on Today, though it must have been in 1982 rather than the 1970s. As Duncan Hill said, this is just the sort of item that Today would run in those days but is much less likely to run today.

I headed this post "A real stone tape?" because the idea that buildings could make recordings was popularised by Nigel Kneale's television play The Stone Tape, broadcast on Christmas Day 1972.

Sadly, the theory does not survive scrutiny, but I am pleased to see the Prince of Wales Inn, Kenfig, is still going strong.

Anti-Nowhere League: We Are The League

The Anti-Nowhere League come from Tunbridge Wells and they are disgusting.

This is the title track from their first album. As it dates from 1982, you can see they were late to the punk party. Maybe that's why it has a heavier sound than the one you associate with the punk bands of five years earlier. I believe the young people call it hardcore punk.

The League disbanded in 1987, but reformed in 1992 and are still around today.

Friday, June 10, 2022

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Locks, bars and bolts

With Lord Bonkers back keeping an eye on his estate, things really have returned to normal.

And you know what this entry is? Topical satire, that's what.


Locks, bars and bolts

A working day on the Bonkers Hall Estate: the hedgerows are creamy with May blossom, the horse chestnuts are alight with candles and all is right with the world. 

When I call at one of my farms, the tenant is busy putting heavy-duty locks, bars and bolts on his tractor shed. He explains that of late he has been pestered by Conservative MPs, who hang about the place at night and try to force entry. I lend a hand and am confident that no one will interfere with his Massey Fergusons again.

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


Earlier this week

Kibworth Books in its new home

I visited Kibworth Books in its new premises today. You will find them at The Barn, 29 High Street, Kibworth Beauchamp, which is three times the size of the old shop.

That shop, at 52 High Street, will reopen soon as a secondhand bookshop.

There's more about Kibworth Books in the Harborough Mail.

Man may have jail term increased after calling judge 'absolute helmet'

Embed from Getty Images 

The Leicester Mercury wins Headline of the Day, though our judges were heard muttering about it being a story from Bolton.

There was talk of "clickbait" and tightening up the rules.

Thursday, June 09, 2022

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Useful for scaring off Conservative tellers at remote polling stations

My experience of parliamentary by-elections goes back to Birmingham Northfield in 1982, but that's nothing to Lord Bonkers.

Drawing on his experience, however, I have written to the ALDC sharing his top about the gorilla suit and remote polling stations.

Useful for scaring off Conservative tellers at remote polling stations

You can imagine how peeved I was when I discovered that I had missed a great Liberal Democrat victory: positively pea green with peevement. When winter fires burn low and talk turns to by-elections long ago, tales will be told of North Shropshire – of Wem and Ellesmere – and those of us who were not there will understand it is our part to fall silent.

I wasn’t having that a second time, so I quickly arranged a tour of our best prospects for May’s council elections: Richmond upon Thames, Montgomeryshire, Edinburgh and finally polling day in the Somerset Levels. 

Normally, I would have had my valet pack my gorilla suit for such an itinerary – I find it useful for scaring off Conservative tellers at remote polling stations – but in view of my recent misadventures I thought it wiser to let light tweeds suffice.

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


Earlier this week

The Joy of Six 1056

"On Monday evening, concerns were raised by the executives of the 1922 committee after several MPs reported the Tory whips were asking members to photograph their ballot papers to prove they had voted in favour of the PM. As a result, all mobile phones were confiscated from Conservative MPs in a bid to maintain privacy and democratic norms." Ava Evans on fear and loathing inside Boris Johnson's Conservative Party.

Tom Chivers explains why the NHS needs more managers, not fewer.

Girls tend not to want to study physics because of the maths it involves, Katharine Birbalsingh told the Commons science and technology committee. Rachel Oliver et al. set out the evidence, which suggests she is wrong.

Chris Meyns asks why modern philosophers don't talk about slavery: "Locke happily claimed that all people are naturally born free, while also co-authoring the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina (1669), of which article 110 reads: 'Every freeman of Carolina shall have absolute power and authority over his negro slaves.'"

"When the Crystal Palace was relocated from Hyde Park to South London in the 1850s, the sculptor Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins was commissioned to create 33 prehistoric animal statues to take up place in the parkland beneath the great glass structure." Richard Luck looks at how they, and fossil dinosaurs discovered in Belgium, are faring.

Literary Britain visits Hull: "Inside the station is what I’ve really come here to see: the marvellous statue of Larkin by Martin Jennings."

Are Pat Nevin and Terry Butcher cousins?

According to both their Wikipedia entres, which cite this Guardian column as a reference, Chelsea legend Pat Nevin is the cousin of the former England captain Terry Butcher.

I thought I had my Trivial Fact of the Days, but the judges were not convinced because nowhere on the net does it explain exactly how they are related.

Nevin has mentioned the connection a couple of times, but in a way that muddies the water.

In a Big Issue interview he describes Butcher as "my erstwhile cousin" and in an edition of the podcast The Totally Football Show he describes a week's trial he had at Ipswich Town:

Playing against Terry Butcher ... he didn't know he was playing against his kind-of cousin inverted commas. People who don't know me are kind of "What? You and Terry?" Terry and I know this."

Still the story is a chance to show Nevin scoring for Chelsea and honour this underrated tweet.

Wednesday, June 08, 2022

Lord Bonkers' Diary: "No one reads political books any more"

They always appear together and they have a different job every time we meet them. You know who Freddie and Fiona have become? 

Julian and Sandy, that's who.


"No one reads political books any more"

To London for a meeting with my publishers; inevitably, I find that Freddie and Fiona now work there. I show them the manuscript about my travels around Britain – the Elves of Rockingham Forest, Chesham and Amersham, my time in the zoo and my finding refuge at Camley Street. 

"No one reads political books any more," says Freddie. "But," continues Fiona, "we think magic realism is due for a revival, so we’d like your book to lead our autumn fiction list."

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


Earlier this week

Tory candidate in Tiverton and Honiton by-election goes missing

Embed from Getty Images

It's fair to say the Conservative candidate in the Tiverton and Honiton by-election is proving elusive. So much so that the Guardian political correspondent Peter Walker has been reduced to tweeting to ask if anyone knows where she might be:

Attn Tiverton/Honiton residents! Could you help me track down the Conservative candidate, Helen Hurford – more specifically if you happen to know where she might be tomorrow, when I'll be in the area? More formal attempts to establish contact have been.... inconclusive so far.

Still, Helen Hurford has emerged, blinking like a timid forest creature, to say the one thing that those producing the Lib Dem literature wanted to hear.

Radio Exe reports:
The Conservative candidate for the upcoming Tiverton and Honiton by-election is backing prime minister Boris Johnson, after he survived a vote of confidence by his own MPs – and says he has a new mandate to lead.

Helen Hurford says she “welcomed” the vote on Monday night, which the prime minister won by a margin of 211 to 148 to remain in office, as it “draws a line under what’s been happening.”
Elsewhere, she has declined to say how she would have voted in Monday's no confidence vote, but I think she's given us more than enough to work with.

They may not have a visible candidate in Tiverton and Honiton, but the Tories have been delivering leaflets.

The blogger Jack Montgomery describes receiving one of them:
It had ‘Thinking of Voting Liberal Democrat?’ in big, bold black letters on a yellow background. I don’t know why, but this time I opened it.

Inside were five points under a heading ‘Key Things to Know About the Liberal Democrats.’

The first was that they want to re-join the EU. At this point, I thought it was a leaflet from the Lib Dems.

The second point about voting against plans to strengthen borders didn’t change that view. But the third point, which referenced child murderers and sex offenders, had the alarm bells sounding and I realised I was supposed to be shocked and outraged at the previous points, not nodding in favour. 
And he concludes: 
as political leaflets go it was highly effective. It completely swayed me, but not in the way its author wanted.

I haven’t made up my mind who I’ll vote for in the Tiverton and Honiton by-election. But it sure as hell won’t be for anyone who produces leaflets like this.
If the Tories can't manage a decent nasty leaflet, what do they have left?

Polling day in Tiverton and Honiton is 23 June and the Liberal Democrat candidate is Richard Foord. His campaign offices are at:

118 High Street
Honiton
Devon 
EX14 1JP

and

8-9 Mountbatten Road
Tiverton
Devon
EX16 6SW

Please let the campaign team know if you are coming to help them plan ahead.

If Labour carry on like this they will lose the next election

Yvette Cooper is about the sharpest politician on the Labour front bench. I'm sure the Conservatives would fear her more as Labour leader than they fear Keir Starmer.

Yet her performance here is pitiful.

Marr's questions were perfectly fair and wholly predictable - Labour has had six years to sort out its response to the referendum result - yet Cooper had nothing useful to say in reply to them.

Come the next election, if they can't do better than this Labour will lose and deserve to lose.

Labour's moderate, sensible shadow cabinet should remember why Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour leadership. It was because the moderate, sensible candidates arrayed against him barely had an interesting sentence to say between them.

And they should remember how ineffective the moderate, sensible Remain campaign was too.

It's easy for those of us who oppose them to work ourselves up into a state where we believe the Tories' wickedness is bound to see them swept from power, but moral indignation will not be enough to win the next general election. Opposition parties will need to be able to answer uncomfortable questions too.

Tuesday, June 07, 2022

Lord Bonkers' Diary: A Whig in a wig

He made it! He's back at the Hall and all is right with the world, or at least with his little corner of Rutland.

Though to be honest, it's rather a large corner of Rutland.

A Whig in a wig

So here I am back at the Hall. I am delighted to find that a whole wing has been given over to Ukrainian refugees - before I departed I left firm instructions that this was to be done if the balloon went up in Europe - but, to be honest, I am just delighted to find the wing. 

I had not come across it for simply years and was beginning to fear it was the one I accidentally burnt down as a boy. (So large and rambling is the old place that no one noticed.) However, all is well with it and I am able to reacquaint myself with another wall of family portraits, a particularly fine one of my great-great-grandfather (a Whig in a wig) by the Dutch master Van Morrison among them.

When I call at the Bonkers’ Home for Well-Behaved Orphans the young inmates press upon me a newspaper cutting about a Rwandan orphanage that was cleared to make room for the poor people our own home secretary intends to traffic there. I put their minds at rest and assure them there is no question of it happening here in Rutland.

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


Earlier this week

Eric Ravilious: Drawn to War opens on 1 July

From the Dartmouth Films website:

Eric Ravilious: Drawn to War is a true story. Eric Ravilious is as compelling and enigmatic as his art.  Set against the dramatic wartime locations that inspire him, Margy Kinmonth’s film brings to life this brilliant but still grossly undervalued British artist. Caught in the crossfire of war 80 years ago, Ravilious’s legacy largely sank without trace, until now. 

Made with the blessing of the Ravilious Estate, this first full length feature documentary about Ravilious unfolds in his own words, through previously unseen private correspondence and rare archive film. 

Shot entirely on location in the UK, Portugal and Ireland, the film features Ai Weiwei, Alan Bennett, Grayson Perry, Robert Macfarlane with Freddie Fox, Tamsin Greig and many more.

The same page will give you an impressive list of cinemas that are showing the film from 1 July, including the Phoenix in Leicester.

Freda Jackson in Olivier's Henry V

My new favourite actress Freda Jackson didn't just play termagants like Mrs Joe (Great Expectations) or Mrs Voray (No Room at the Inn). Here she is as Mistress Quickly in Laurence Olivier's Henry V from 1944.

This is the scene following the death of Falstaff. With the lines "he's in Arthur's bosom, if ever man went to Arthur's bosom" and "a' babbled of green fields" we are close to the mystic Englishness of another wartime Freda Jackson film, Powell and Pressburger's A Canterbury Tale.

The other actors in the scene are Robert Newton as Pistol and two who were to be dead within months of shooting it: Frederick Cooper (with the nose) as Nym and Roy Emerton as Bardolph. The boy is unmistakably a young George Cole.

I saw this film at the cinema when I was only eight or nine. I remember it was judged that it would be too grown up for my sisters' friend's younger brother but not for me, which pleased me no end. What I made of it I can't recall, though I do remember the battle scenes.

Henry V was not a play I studied at school, so it remained a private enthusiasm.

Monday, June 06, 2022

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The little girl who asked for my autograph and then demanded I sing 'The Way I Feel Inside'

It looks as though Lord Bonkers has escaped from Camley Street Natural Park, but I won't relax until he's back at the Hall.

Incidentally, I once wrote an article about Camley Street for the New Statesman, but it's no longer on their website. "That's Socialism for you," as Lord B. would say. 

I miss the old brute.


The little girl who asked for my autograph and then demanded I sing 'The Way I Feel Inside'

I will not deny that I did well for myself. It’s not just that the visiting schoolchildren were generous with their sandwiches - I fear that more than one will have been marked down for listing a gorilla among the wildlife they spotted that day, though I rather fell for the little girl who asked for my autograph and then demanded I sing ‘The Way I Feel Inside’ - it’s that the neighbourhood proved to be thronged with pop-up restaurants that offered every cuisine known to man. So enticing were they that I had to have my costume let out twice during my stay there.

Then, one evening as I rolled home from a favourite eatery, I spied a familiar van: the fellow was delivering the East Midlands’ most prized product to an all-night delicatessen! We fell into conversation and it transpired that his grandfather had been a deputy in one of my own Stilton mines. He kindly agreed to give me a lift home as the Hall was not far off his route back to Cropwell Bishop. 

One thing worried me: "What about the smell?" I inquired. "Don’t worry, your lordship," came the reply, "it won’t affect the cheese."

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


Earlier this week

The Joy of Six 1055

"It is already clear (I fear) that the next round of the contest between imperial Russia and its reluctant Western adversaries will take place in the Baltics. The rule book for that tussle is being written now. Bold letters, in thick black ink, please." Ed Lucas argues that Ukraine is buying the West time and we must use it wisely.

"The government’s steadfast adherence to a policy that fails to achieve its objectives while devastating the population of a beloved native mammal with potential knock-on effects for the broader ecology indicates the stranglehold that 'simple' lethal controls have on public authorities." Mark Jones says the badger cull is not affecting the rate of tuberculosis in cattle.

Kelli María Korducki looks at the rise in the number of adults looking to be diagnosed with ADHD.

"What good is it making someone safer if it merely makes them miserable?" Celia Kitzinger attends a contested hearing in the Court of Protection.

Imogen West-Knights watches the slow-motion humiliation of Piers Morgan: "By trying to aim at a global audience, the show ends up being directionless: Morgan can’t get into detail about contemporary British political talking points, so he’s restricted to a tired deck of cards from the culture war starter pack."

Pamela Thom-Rowe on the history of morris dancing in the Shropshire hills: "According to the court records ... Nicholas Millichap and Thomas Chelmicke had gone to the village of Abdon to fetch the communion cloth from the church to use as a flag for the morris dance."

Sunday, June 05, 2022

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Refuge to the wanted gorilla

He's so nearly home. As long as the British Transport Police don't plug him with a tranquilliser dart he'll be holding court in the Bonkers' Arms tonight.

So I wrote last November, introducing the most diary entry from Lord Bonkers to appear on this blog. Would you believe that is precisely what happened?

The new Liberator is out (you can download it from the magazine's website - it's issue 413 - for free) and there you will find the old boy's first diary of 2022.

If you can't stand the suspense - will he get back to Bonkers Hall or not? - then read the whole diary in Liberator.


Refuge to the wanted gorilla

You left me at St Pancras station, dressed in a gorilla costume as it happens, enjoying a coffee in one of the many refreshment rooms there and looking forward to boarding the next train to Market Harborough after months away from the Hall discovering the real Britain – wandering in ancient woodlands with elves, helping win a parliamentary by-election…. You know the sort of thing. 

All at once the door burst open and a voice shouted “That’s him!” I recognised a customer who had left the establishment a few minutes before and I also recognised a rifle primed with tranquilliser darts in the hands of the officer of the British Transport Police who accompanied her. 

With characteristic quick thinking, I overturned the table to give myself cover and the act so disconcerted the police office that he missed his shot completely and winged the poor girl who was in charge of the espresso machine. Taking advantage of the resultant confusion (they were plying her with black coffee as I left), I made good my escape from the station, finally taking refuge in an area of wild country I found close by.

So it is that I have spent several months at what turned out to be Camley Street Natural Park. Apparently the site used to be a depot, served by the railway, from which London’s coal merchants would collect their wares. What with the Clean Air Act, central heating and so forth, the place fell into desuetude. Nature took it over and the local green types – fine fellows to man and, indeed, a woman – fought off the developers when they started slavering over it. Today it is a splendid place that can offer peace to the jaded Londoner, educational outings to school children and refuge to the wanted gorilla.

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