Wednesday, August 31, 2022

The Joy of Six 1072

Salman Rushdie spoke about defending free speech in the face of fanaticism in a 2005 interview: "The thing I feared most after the fatwa was that there were a number of ways my writing could be derailed by that attack. In a literary sense, I was afraid I would write much more cautious books. Or alternatively, that I would become embittered and write more hostile books."

Despite growing awareness that children and teenagers can get depressed, substantial gaps remain in diagnosis and treatment, says Emily Sohn.

"In the end Geordie lost by seven thousand votes - remarkably close in a constituency the Liberals had not contested since 1929. We went on to win Ripon and the Isle of Ely later that year and then Berwick-on-Tweed in February 1974 by a whisker. Great days." Sandy Walkington remembers the Chester-le-Street by-election.

Thalia Verkade and Marco te Brömmelstroet look at how car culture colonised our thinking – and our language: "When we block traffic from a street, like for a sports event or a street party, we say that the street is 'closed'. But who is it closed for? For motorists. But really, that street is now open to people."

Paul Edwards says county cricket is about more than producing players for England.

"The island is a place of fairies: there’s a castle and a glen and a bridge, much smaller than the one taken to get to the island." Ailish Sinclair goes to Skye.

Lib Dems pick issues they will use to attack Liz Truss

Jane Merrick has a new leaflet she says the Lib Dems will use to attack Liz Truss when she becomes prime minister - albeit rather a cropped copy.

In her report she explains the thinking behind it:

Lib Dem strategists claim voters in Tory heartlands in southern England have voiced concerns on the doorstep about Ms Truss’ failure to offer more help with energy bills, her comments about “lazy” British workers and her commitment to British farming.

Voters in Blue Wall target seats have also expressed concern about reports Ms Truss presided over budget cuts at the Environment Agency when she was the minister responsible, leading to a doubling of discharges of raw sewage, the Lib Dems say.

People in rural communities have complained about Ms Truss pursuing trade deals with Australia and New Zealand when she was International Trade Secretary that have undermined British farming, the party claimed.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Lib Dems prepare for by-election in Michael Gove's constituency

The Liberal Democrats have brought forward the selection of a prospective parliamentary candidate for Michael Gove’s Surrey Heath seat because of rumours that he may resign from the Commons and trigger a byelection there.

A Lib Dem source quoted by the Guardian says:

"We are selecting a candidate and we are on high alert, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the byelection will happen. We are also preparing in other seats, for example in Mid Bedfordshire, if Nadine Dorries is given a peerage."

Gove had a majority of more 18,000 at the 2019 general election, but then the Conservative majority was greater than that in North Shropshire and in Tiverton and Honiton, both seats that the Lib Dems have won in a by-election within the last year.

You may think that making sure they have a candidate in place is a reasonable thing for the Lib Dems to do, but that's not how the Tories the Guardian has spoken to see it:

"Sadly this is yet another example of Lib Dem dirty tricks. They are more interested in playing politics than delivering for voters."

It is, of course, precisely because we want to deliver for voters that we are urgnetly selecting a candidate for a possible Surrey Heath by-election.

Britain's pubs and chip shops are under threat: Where are the culture warriors?

It's not just individuals and families who will be hit by the horrific rise in fuel prices: businesses will be two.

And among them are two types of business we like to think of as quintessentially British.

The Independent reports today:

Pubs and brewers across the UK are at risk of closure within months amid price hikes upwards of 300%, industry bosses have warned.

Bosses of six of the UK’s biggest pub and brewing companies have signed an open letter to the government urging it to act in order to avoid “real and serious irreversible” damage to the sector.

Greene King, JW Lees, Carlsberg Marston’s, Admiral Taverns, Drake & Morgan and St Austell Brewery all sounded the alarm on Tuesday.

You can find the full letter on the British Beer and Pub Association site:

Dear Prime Minister

As Chief Executives of breweries and pub companies who are experiencing first-hand the hugely damaging impacts of the energy crisis, we feel compelled to write to you to calling for urgent support.

Across our businesses we are witnessing price rises which are causing irreversible damage. Hikes can now be upwards of 300% on pre-pandemic energy bills, with the current average increase around 150% across the beer and pub sector, putting jobs and businesses at risk. As more fixed price contracts come up for renewal this is only worsening. The time to act is now.

A recent report from one licensee of a small community pub was of a £33,000 increase on their previous year’s energy costs. This is one of countless examples of stark energy quotes. These figures when compared to a venues profitability simply do not add up. Without swift and substantial  intervention from Government there is no doubt we will witness a huge number of pubs close their doors for good, leaving individuals without jobs during a cost-of-living crisis and communities without its social heartbeat. Breweries that supply them are equally facing eye-watering increases in energy costs.

Rising energy costs is an issue impacting the entirety of the industry’s supply chain, with major CO2 producer CF Industries announcing it will be ceasing production of what is a critical component in beer production and dispense in pubs, citing market conditions as a key decision driver. 

Additionally, energy price increases have come at a time when the pub and brewing sectors had just begun to piece together their recovery from the pandemic, with many venues still carrying debt accrued from this time. Without Government support, all of the positive work done to support the sector during the pandemic could be wasted, as unprecedented costs tip many pubs and brewers over the edge.

We urgently need the Government and the leadership contenders to outline a targeted support package for the sector. For example, along with a pause on levies, the introduction of an energy price cap for small businesses will go a long way to stop rocketing prices crippling pubs and breweries, and additional grant support will aid pubs before we lose them forever in communities across the country.

And the is was on BBC News last week:
Fish and chip shops are facing "extinction" amid rising costs, an industry body has warned. 
Some shops in the West of England say the soaring price of cod, sunflower oil and energy has left them struggling. 
The National Federation of Fish Friers is urging the government to cut VAT and help shops with energy bills.
What I want to know is this: why aren't the culture warriors all over this? Fighting off a threat to our chip shops and pubs should be what gets them out of bed in the morning.

But we have heard nothing from them on social media or in real life.

And, yes, I'm talking about you, Nigel Farage.

As Delia Smith once put it:
"Where are you? Where are you? Let's be 'avin you! Come on!"
Incidentally, I am well aware of the history of fish and chips in Britain. Anyone who tells me about it, here or on Twitter, will set off a loud QI-style klaxon.

Monday, August 29, 2022

Roman Leicester wasn't built in a day 2

Jim Butler looks at life in the Roman city of Ratae Corieltauvorum - or Leicester, as we know it today.

Part 1 of this video, which deals with the establishment of the city, has already appeared on Liberal England.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

The royal family should send their children to state schools

Embed from Getty Images

In the past year I have read two good books about the British and private education.

Sad Little Men: Public Schools and the Ruin of England by Richard Beard looks at what the experience of being sent to boarding school at the age of eight does to the psyches of those who grow up to lead us.

And Posh Boys: How English Public Schools Ruin England by Robert Verkaik looks at how these schools operate and how they have fought of all attempts to reduce their influence.

The other day Verkaik sent this tweet:

The BBC News report he was commenting on tells us:

William and Catherine want privacy and a rural setting for themselves and their three children - George, nine, Charlotte, seven, and four-year-old Louis.

All the children will be starting at nearby Lambrook School, a private co-educational school near Ascot in Berkshire.

The school's prospectus says it has "first-class teaching and superb facilities" - including a 25-metre swimming pool, a nine-hole golf course, an orchard with bees, chickens and pigs, as well as woodland where it says children can get muddy.

Sending their three children there as day pupils will cost more than £50,000 a year in total, presuming no sibling discounts.

The golf course sounds like something out of an absurdist comedy, but it's noticeable how private schools  now trade ("children can get muddy") on their freedom from the straitjacket imposed by the Gradgrinds at the Department for Education.

But why not send royal children to state schools? There are security considerations, of course, but if they can be overcome at private day schools they can be overcome there too.

I used to be fond of quoting a passage from We Should Know Better, a book by the former Conservative minister George Walden. It's just as relevant today:

In no other European country do the moneyed and professional classes - lawyers, surgeons, businessmen, accountants, diplomats, newspaper and TV editors, judges, directors, archbishops, air chief marshalls, senior academics, Tory ministers, artists, authors, top civil servants - in addition to the statistically insignificant but eye-catching cohort of aristocracy and royalty - reject the system of education used by the overwhelming majority pretty well out of hand, as an inferior product.

In no modern democracy except Britain is tribalism in education so entrenched that the two main political parties send their children to different schools.

It's not just that sending George et al. to a state primary would "send a signal", as people always say, it's that the wider experience of life this would entail would make them better able to do their job as royals later in life.

At present things are so bad that Charles and Diana's decision to send their sons to Eton - sparing them the absurdities of Gordonstoun - looked like a beacon of reform.

Green Day: Basket Case

It wasn't just British bands who were looking back in the Nineties.

When asked, Greed Day cited their influences as the Ramones, the Sex Pistols and The Clash. Sometimes they looked back further and named the Kinks and the Who.

Basket Case was one of the band's early singles and a hit in both Britain and the US.

Wikipedia tells us:

Green Day vocalist/guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong said Basket Case is about his struggle with anxiety; before he was diagnosed with a panic disorder years afterward, he thought he was going crazy. 

Armstrong commented that at the time, "The only way I could know what the hell was going on was to write a song about it."

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Tractor porn MP may split Tory vote in Tiverton and Honiton

Embed from Getty Images

There's encouraging news for Richard Foord, who gained Tiverton and Honiton for the Liberal Democrats in a by-election earlier this year.

It seems Neil Parish, the former Conservative MP for the seat who resigned after admitting to twice watching porn in the Commons chamber, is considering a comeback. 

A report in the I says he is thinking of standing in Tiverton and Honiton as an Independent at the next election. This could make it easier for Richard to hold the seat.

Parish is qoted in the report:

"I'll run as an independent if I think I can win," the 66-year-old farmer reveals.

"Am I trying to rehabilitate myself? Well, yes, it is partly that, but it’s also I do have a genuine desire to continue to fight for what I have done throughout my political career.

"I think I can do some good both for people, for food, for farming, for society.""

He rules out running for reselection as a Tory – "once you’re out you’re out” he notes, “I don’t think they would have me."

There's more good news for Richard Foord. 

The i says Helen Hurford, who stood for the Tories in the by-election and was generally thought not have been a strong candidate, has told BBC Radio Devon she will not be a "one-trick pony" and intends to fight the seat next time too.

The last news we had of Hurford came from Lord Bonkers:

Politics is a rough old business and it is easy to forget that for every winner there are many losers and that our opponents are but human. Take our recent triumph and Tiverton and Honiton: delighted as we remain at the victory of our own Richard Foord, it behoves us to spare a thought for his Conservative opponent. 

When she arrived at the count she was told by her agent that the game was up and took it very badly: she locked herself in a dance studio and refused to speak to anyone. I am told by my agents in the West Country that she remains in that studio to this day.

People slide pizzas and slices of Parma ham under the door to keep her going, but every day crowds of disappointed women in leotards and distinctly miffed little girls in tutus gather outside. 

The manager of the building is concerned that the latter, in particular, are getting restive and will have the door off its hinges one day soon.

Friday, August 26, 2022

Jacob Rees-Mogg's schooldays

Watching Jacob Rees-Mogg lounging on the government front bench it was easy to imagine he way recreating his glory days at Eton.

But, by all accounts, it wasn't like that for him. Marina Hyde told the story back in 2018:
acob was a sort of urban myth on Eton High Street, down which he liked to proceed clicking his flapping umbrella as though it were a cane. Collectors of arcane school rules may care to know that at School, you weren’t allowed to fasten up your folded umbrella until you had attained a certain level of privilege (privilege in the earlier sense of the word, obviously, not the modern one: everyone at School obviously already had that). 
As he made his stately progress among the locals, he would frequently be followed by boggling younger boys, who already regarded his shtick as ludicrously affected. (Honestly, Moggmentum supporters – how self-loathing are you? I can’t think of anything more beaten than rallying behind someone even 13-year-old Etonians could see through in the 1980s.) 
It may be fashionable to hail Rees-Mogg’s intellect now, but back then his contributions to the debating society were ironically cheered before they got under way, and consisted of the likes of not caring too much what homosexuals do to each other as long as they didn’t do it to him. One who sat through quite a few of these zingers recalled him wearily as “a posh Karl Pilkington”.
So Rees-Mogg isn't reliving his schooldays so much as compensating himself for them.

To achieve this fully, you feel, he would like to able to summon a fag to make him toast and then find a pretext for beating him after he had eaten it. But for now lounging on the front bench will have to do.

There's an element of compensation for his schooldays about Boris Johnson's act too.

Remember he was 11 before he was packed off to board at prep school. That must have been a hell of a shock to someone previously educated at the European School in Brussels - he speaks fluent French though he pretends not to - and the same North London primary school that the Miliband brothers attended.

There's even a theory that "Boris" was originally used to tease him when classmates discovered his middle name, and that he adopted the name and a new persona to spite them.

As the poet George William Russell ("AE") put it:
In the lost boyhood of Judas Christ was betrayed.

World War II munitions found on Pontesbury building site

Last time we visited Pontesbury this large village on the Shrewsbury to Bishop's Castle road there had been a snake on the lose.

This week Shropshire's snake problem has moved to the north of the county, with two boa constrictors being found near Baschurch.

If you live in North Shropshire and have snake problems, contact its Liberal Democrat MP Helen Morgan. I'm sure she'll be happy to handle them.

But that doesn't mean Pontesbury is in the clear. For the past two days military personnel have been in the village dealing with second world war munitions found on a building site there.

As far as I can make out from news reports, the site is at the very south of the village, across the road from the Horseshoe Inn.

A note on the pub's Facebook page assures us it is open as usual today. I'm delighted to see the Horseshoe is open at all. Last year it was up for sale and planning permission had been granted to replace it with houses.

But you will want to see some action...

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Write a guest post for Liberal England

The Liberal Democrat Conference is coming. The new Parliamentary season is common,

So this post is a reminder that I welcome guest posts on Liberal England. Not only that: I'm happy to publish ones on subjects far beyond the Liberal Democrats and British politics.

If you'd like to write something for this blog, please send me an email first so we can discuss your idea.

Ladybird Books and Constructing the Future Past of Modern Britain

I have an affection for Ladybird Books, not least because my mother taught me to read with their Key Words scheme before I went to school.

So when those books are misunderstood, as they often are today, I want to defend them.

In particular, Ladybird did not depict a twee middle-class neverland. They were far more interested in technological progress and the promise of the future.

Yesterday I found a YouTube recording of a symposium that makes this point for me.

Ladybird Books and Constructing the Future Past of Modern Britain was held at Conway Hall in October 2016. It was chaired by Samira Ahmed.

As the billing says:

Never mind the fairy stories, the much loved Ladybird Books of the 1950s to 1980s reflect much about post war aspirations and reality in new architecture, urban planning, social attitudes and the world of work.

In this lovingly illustrated evening, social and architectural historian and lover of postwar modernism John Grindrod (author of Concretopia) talks us through the dreams and the reality portrayed in the books over the decades. 

Social and cultural historian Helen Day documents the changing attitudes to gender race and class and Tim Dunn, transport historian, enthusiast and model village expert will discuss the social and design history revealed in the books From People At Work and Our Land In the Making and How It Works…to the changing reality around Peter and Jane.

The Joy of Six 1071

"I want to know how the government is going to help Britain through the winter. If it doesn’t, whoever wins the Conservative leadership will find themselves in the cold in 2024." Sam Ashworth-Hayes says Britain is not prepared for winter blackouts.

Nadeine Asbali warns that today’s boys are easy targets for Andrew Tate: "When the state fails to provide support, when adults are so absorbed in trying to live hand to mouth, when opportunities for social mobility are shattered, Tate offers a dangerous hand for them to cling on to. It’s time for schools, community leaders and families to step in and get there before he does." 

It's 10 years to the day since archaeologists from the University of Leicester found what proved to the the skeleton of Richard III under that Leicester car park. BBC News asks the people involved what has happened since.

Sara Papic offers a concise introduction to the work of the most infuential 20th-century philosopher: "Ludwig Wittgenstein was one of the most influential and multi-faceted thinkers of the 20th century. The Viennese philosopher went through several career-changes, fought in the First World War, and radically changed his own philosophical perspective mid-way through his life."

"There’ll be a public 'light well' at Sheffield station later this year so passengers can look down into the River Sheaf from platform five, and sections of the Porter are already being opened up on pathways near Decathlon and Matilda Street."  David Bocking on how Sheffield reclaimed its rivers.

Mark Bridge argues that Star Wars is bleak critique of democracy and US policy.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Christopher Hitchens on Salman Rushdie in 1989

Here is Christopher Hitchens on American television in 1989, the year that the Iranian leadership issued its fatwa against Rushdie.

Like Bertie Wooster, Bertrand Russell had a formidable Aunt Agatha

Bertrand Russell was married four times. He wed his first wife, Alys Pearsall Smith, in 1894, but decided he was no longer in love with her during a bike ride in 1901. Cambridge dons are like that.

The couple first separated in 1911, while Russell conducted an affair with Lady Ottoline Morrell ("As most people did in those days" - Lord Bonkers), and Alys allowed him a divorce in 1921 so he could marry his second wife Dora.

Like Bertie Wooster, Russell had an Aunt Agatha. And she proved to be of similar mettle in 1926 when Russell complained that she still had a picture of Alys on her mantelpiece.

Quirkality quotes the letter she sent in return:

You owe her everything since the separation. But for her, Dora would be Miss Black, and your children illegitimate – the slightest spark of gratitude in you would acknowledge what you owe to her since you left her, in so many ways that I cannot write of. Her conduct has been noble since the separation – I am very far from being the only one who thinks this…

It would have been more manly and chivalrous of you to write me not to withdraw friendship from the woman you brought into the family, the woman you once loved and had forsaken, though her love was unchanged… 

You now in these later times always speak of "pain to me", "giving me pain", etc. – Do you ever think of Alys's suffering – from her love for you… Yet she always speaks beautifully of you, wishing only for your happiness. 

Do not imagine for a moment that I ever forget, and did not feel most acutely, your own unhappiness… but to those who truly loved you, it is heart-breaking that you have not grown nobler, stronger, more loving and tender through suffering, but in every way the reverse.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Quirkality goes on to say:
Russell’s biographer, Ray Monk, notes that while Alys remained helplessly in love with Russell, following his public activities closely, and keeping a scrapbook of cuttings about him, Russell for his part scarcely gave her a thought. 
As for Aunt Agatha, Dora dismissed her as a "malicious old lady", Russell’s brother Frank labelled her an “acid old spinster” and Russell, the great humanist philosopher, hardly noticed her at all.
Bertie Wooster claimed his Aunt Agatha (not to be confused with his more genial Aunt Dahlia) ate broken bottles, wore barbed wire next to the skin and was strongly suspected of turning into a werewolf at the time of the full moon.

But I think Russell's Aunt Agatha was in the right here.

Russell, however, would probably have agreed with Wooster:
"It is no use telling me there are bad aunts and good aunts. At the core, they are all alike. Sooner or later, out pops the cloven hoof."

J.W. Logan MP on the sufferings of the rural poor in 1892

The first major speech my hero J.W. "Paddy" Logan made after winning Harborough for the Liberal Party in 1891 was on the Small Agricultural Holdings Bill the following year.

Take it away, Paddy:

In our villages we find men who, after working honestly and well for 50 or 60 years, and who during that time have done their utmost to save, are compelled to husband out life's tape by a pauper's pittance. In the Division I have the honour to represent the number of such cases is very great. 
If the House will bear with me I should like to mention one by way of illustration. Samuel Atkins, of Great Easton, was 75 last November. This man began work at the age of 7 and ceased at 72, having been in the employ of one farmer for 30 years. When he attained to man's estate he earned 7s. per week, then 10s., next 11s., and at last 12s., but never got higher than that. 
He is described to me as having always been a steady, industrious, careful man, who worked honestly and well for 65 years without a chance to save a penny; now he is rewarded by the parish with 2s. 6d. per week and a loaf, is called a pauper, and is, in consequence, deprived of some of the rights of citizenship. 
Out of his 2s. 6d. per week he pays 1s. for rent and 9d. for coal, leaving him 9d. and a loaf for a week's subsistence. 
Hon. Members may wonder how the old man manages to exist, and I will, Sir, with your permission, use his own words - When I get the loaf home I cut it into seven pieces, so that I may not eat too much on any one day. 
That is the reward of 65 years of incessant toil. Can the House be surprised that with such an object-lesson before them every young man of that countryside with a spark of manhood in him decides to try his fortune elsewhere?

I am reminded of the more radical writings of Richard Jefferies, another of this blog's heroes, who had died five years before Logan made this speech.

Monday, August 22, 2022

The Canterbury premiere of A Canterbury Tale

I've been looking at the contemporary reviews of A Canterbury Tale and it's fair to say they are not enthusiastic.

But the Faversham News and East Kent Journal has a nice account of the film's premiere, which took place in the city:

The Friars Theatre, Canterbury, was crowded out on Thursday afternoon, last week, when the new film "A Canterbury Tale" had its first showing. Incidentally, the occasion was a historic one in the film industry, for it was the first time a world premiere had been given in a provincial theatre. 

Music was played by the Band of The Buffs prior to the curtain going Up on the picture, in which, by the way, they appear.

To Kent people the film has a particular interest inasmuch as it was largely filmed in Canterbury and district and some beautiful glimpses are given of the countryside in the neighbourhood. There are also "Village pageant" sequences of Chaucer's pilgrims. 

For the rest, the story concerns the detection of a mysterious night assailant who resorts to throwing gum on girls' hair if he sees them with soldiers! 

Eric Portman figures as a magistrate bearing the name of a one-time prominent East Kent family—that of Culpepper. It will be recalled that it was while parts of this film were being shot ,in the Canterbury district that the famous screen actor paid a visit to the Odeon theatre at Faversham sortie months ago. Other leading figures in the cast are Sheila Sim, as a Land Girl, and Sergeant John Sweet, of the U.S. Army. and Dennis Price, as two soldiers. They are the three pilgrim "detectives." 

Mr. Michael Powell (who, with Mr. Emeric Pressburger, produced the film) was, at the conclusion of the showing, introduced by Mr. R. C. Overs, the , manager of the theatre, and had a great reception. lie apologised for the absence of Mr. Emeric Preasburger, his co-producer, and Mr. Junge, co-designer, and explained that they were aliens. There could not, he thought, be a finer tribute to the brotherhood of man, than that those two men, although aliens, should have collaborated in the making of this film. 

Mr. Eric Portman and others of the cast were afterwards introduced and received ovations.

The clip above shows Sheila Sim going to work for Freda Jackson, who is currently this blog's favourite actor.

Gaelic psalm singing under threat in the Hebrides

Gaelic psalm singing is a wonderful relic of a pre-literature culture. The precentor calls out the line, which the congregation then sings back to him.

Frances Wilkins, writing for The Conversation today, says:

Fifty years ago, Gaelic psalmody was a soundscape to a way of life in the Presbyterian Hebridean communities and the only form of musical worship heard in churches. In those days, churches were filled with hundreds of people gathered to take part in this singing tradition.

But today:

This singing, in its traditional context, has become critically endangered. Today, Gaelic services are few and far between in Hebridean parishes and those still taking place have reduced hugely in numbers. English language services tend to have predominantly English singing, although there may be an occasional Gaelic psalm or hymn among them.

Wilkins concludes:

Language is a way to express culture. The deep spiritual connection it has with its people and the role which music plays in this, must be recognised and supported into the future if we are to keep some of the most precious aspects of Gaelic culture alive.

The loss of this form of psalm singing would be sad indeed. As you can here on the video above, it is a strange, almost unearthly, sound, yet it conjures up the Hebridean landscape like nothing else.

One irony is that in Scotland it is the Presbyterian church that has done most to keep Gaelic alive, while across the Irish Sea the Ulster Presbyterians see measures to promote Irish Gaelic as a threat.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Lord Bonkers 30 years ago: Instructing Campbell-Bannerman to "eat my shorts"

Lord Bonkers pointed out at dinner this evening that I am yet to publish an excerpt from his diary for August 1992. He also assured me that you are all bursting to read it.

Whatever the truth of that, here is a glimpse of the then Liberal Democrat MP for Truro, whom Lord B. must have known even then was the great-grandson of his old friend Sir Percy Harris. (He was less sure in those days of Paddy Ashdown's correct name.)


Consider Master Taylor: once a sweet, biddable child, he now lolls upon our benches listening to some dreadful row upon his "Walkman" (and yet he assures me it is Radical, so perhaps it is sound in its way). As for his behaviour towards Ashfield,,, all I shall say is that I should never have dreamed of instructing Campbell-Bannerman to "eat my shorts" or "get outta my face".

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

The sewage in our rivers and on our beaches is a direct consequence of Brexit

Here's Andrew Adonis writing in October of last year:

Brexit is causing the treatment of sewage to regress from its already poor level. The Environment Agency, which lays down the rules on sewage treatment, has just issued emergency guidance exempting water companies and other undertakings from requirements to treat waste water where they can’t procure the necessary chemicals. 

Its new regulations on "water and sewerage company effluent discharges: supply side failures" begin: "You may not be able to comply with your permit if you cannot get the chemicals you use to treat the effluent you discharge because of the UK’s new relationship with the EU." 

So the "supply chain crisis" isn't only closing petrol stations and emptying supermarket shelves. It is now leading to raw sewage being pumped into rivers and coastal waters where that didn't happen before. 

This was widely reported at the time time Adonis was writing, so it's not clear why it has taken everyone by surprise this week.

Still, it's a good campaign and has the potential to hurt the Conservatives, so let's keep the pressure up.

Elvis Costello and the Attractions: Man Out of Time

There's a smell of decay about the Conservative Party and, far from refreshing things, its leadership contest is making that smell worse.

Which naturally leads to me to a song about political scandal and self-disgust.

Elvis explains:

A lot of songs are about the sort of disgust with your own self. There were a lot of things that I wasn’t very happy with during that time. I wanted songs to blow up the world. I had mad ambitions. Not mad as in "ambition to be famous". I never wanted that. That just came as an accident of it all. 
But somehow you look at yourself and you're not happy with what you see. I didn't want to write a self-regarding song, so I cast it in the clothes of political intrigue and what was going on in the world at that time. 
There was a famous political scandal in England going on then. It all sort of got wrapped up in the song. Sometimes a song will have a personal meaning and a public meaning. "Man Out of Time" is one of those.

There are many who name this as his best song. And Wikipedia says

The bulk of the song came from a one take performance that Costello later described as "among the best that the Attractions and I ever caught in a single take".

Saturday, August 20, 2022

The Joy of Six 1070

Jonathan Portes worked on the privatisation of England’s water in 1989 and concludes that it was "an organised rip-off".

"This is a dystopian vision, from a man who has gained the stature of a leading intellectual on the Conservative right. Its denial of evidence on climate change, on the complexity of modern economies and the underlying strains in Britain’s unequal society is extraordinary." William Wallace has been reading David Frost.

"It’s time to end the farcical privatisation that has left 92 per cent of England off limits to the public (and a whopping 97 per cent of its rivers). Right to Roam calls for people to respectfully explore the land hidden on their doorstep." Jon Moses makes the case for trespass.

Peter Gray makes the age for play involving children of different ages: "It is more nurturing, less competitive, often more creative, and it offers unique opportunities for learning. Throughout most of human history, age-mixed play was the norm. Only with the advent of age-graded schooling and, even more recently, of age-graded, adult-supervised activities outside of school, have children and adolescents been deprived of opportunities to play with others across the whole spectrum of ages."

The demolition of Nottingham's Broadmarsh Shopping Centre has given archaeologists the chance to undertake excavations in the historic part of the city, Scott Lomax tells us what they have found.

Tim Rolls itemises the rivalry between Chelsea and Leeds United (or "dirty Leeds" as we Chelsea fans think of them): "30 years later former referee David Elleray reviewed the match against the standards set by modern day refereeing. He concluded that Leeds should have had seven bookings and three dismissals (Giles, Bremner and Charlton), while Chelsea deserved 13 bookings, including three each for Webb, Harris and Charlie Cooke."

Tom Springfield died 10 days before Judith Durham

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When I chose Cloudy by the Seekers as my music video last Sunday I wrote about their producer Tom Springfield, who also wrote some of the songs they are best known for.

I mentioned that the folk-tinged Springfields, which also included his sister Dusty, were the first British group to have a top 20 hit in the US. And I also mentioned two great pieces of trivia:

  • His baptismal name was Dionysius O'Brien (Dusty's was Mary O'Brien)
  • Like Alan Bennett, Dennis Potter and Michael Frayn, he was a graduate of the Russian course at the Joint Services School for Linguists.

Today I found out that Tom Springfield was already dead when I wrote about him last weekend. He died on 27 July, some 10 days before Judith Durham.

The news seems to have just broken, so there have been no obituaries in the papers yet. I'll tweet any without a paywall that I see.

Friday, August 19, 2022

Malcolm Saville meets T.S. Eliot

On 3 May 1943 the Daily News reported:

Soho has a Mission to the Intelligentsia

What is described as "a kind of mission centre for the intelligentsia" is to be opened by the Bishop of London in Soho this week. 

Its quarters will be in St. Anne's House. Dean Street, the parish house of the famous church of St. Anne's. Soho. destroyed by enemy action. 

Two wardens. the Rev. Patrick McLaughlin and the Rev. Gilbert Shaw. have been appointed, available for interviews and inquiries. Meetings and discussions with well-known speakers are being arranged, dealing with religion. literature, drama and the arts generally. films. Journalism and broadcasting.

In this work the wardens are being assisted by a committee of the laity. Including Mr. T. S. Eliot. Mr. Maurice Reckitt. Mr. Charles Peake, Mr. Malcolm Saville, Mr Percy Rugg. the Baroness Ravensdale and Miss Helena Charles.

Malcolm Saville and T.S. Eliot? I've not heard of Saville moving in such circles before, though I believe he was a friend of Dorothy L. Sayers. The plot of his The Secret of the Gorge owes a lot to Sayers' The Nine Tailors.

Wikipedia tells us that St Anne's, Soho, was eventually rebuilt and also discusses the St Anne Society, which must be what the Daily News is talking about.

Though Saville does not get a mention there, many other names do besides Eliot. Among them are Charles Williams, Agatha Christie, Arnold Bennett, C.S. Lewis and Rose Macaulay.

The last named, a favourite writer of mine, was a churchwarden of St Anne's. And the website for St Anne's says Sayers was too.

During the war Malcolm Saville combined a day job as author and publicist with night-time duties as a fire warden. His wife and children had been evacuated to Shropshire, which inspired his first children's book Mystery at Witchend.

Kids For Cash: Inside the Pennsylvania juvenile justice scandal

Yesterday I posted on the latest developments in the scandal in Pennsylvania over judges locking up juvenile offenders in return for payment from the operators of detention facilities.

This video tells you more about that scandal. There are interviews with two of the (now adult) victims of the scandal and the mother of one who took his own life.

Then from 44:50 we hear from a lawyer who helped bring the corrupt judges to justice and from the director of a film on the scandal.

A final word from Ethics and Psychology:

The psychologist brother-in-law of disgraced former Luzerne County judge Michael T. Conahan has given up his license for “gross incompetence, negligence or misconduct” carrying out his past work evaluating juveniles in the county court system, state officials said Wednesday.

The Pennsylvania Board of Psychology said Frank James Vita, of Dorrance Township, “grossly deviated from ethical and professional standards” after reviewing 76 of the cases he had handled.

Vita once was linked to the county’s “Kids for Cash” judicial scandal in a civil suit that alleged he conspired with Conahan and fellow former judge Mark Ciavarella to perform evaluations that led to juveniles being incarcerated in facilities in which the judges had a financial interest.

We don't need no Oxford commas

Should there be a comma after Y in the phrase "X, Y and Z"?

A lot of people say there should - it's called the Oxford comma - but they're wrong. In most cases there's no need for a comma there.

Fans of the Oxford comma are fond of coming up with examples where you do need a comma after Y:

My heroes are my grandparents, Batman and Wonder Woman.

Yes, you do need one after Batman there to make it clear you don't come from a family of superheroes.

But this morning I came across an example where adding an Oxford comma had made the sentence confusing:

Steve Rotherham, the former Labour Leader of Leeds, and the former Chief Executive of Manchester are to take over control of Liverpool City Council from Liverpool Labour councillors.

When I read that I thought "I didn't know Steve Rotherham was from Leeds, I thought he was from Liverpool."

But he isn't from Leeds: this sentence is about three people. 

The comma after Leeds makes it read as though "the former Labour Leader of Leeds" is a subclause describing Steve Rotherham. Take that comma out and you read the sentence correctly first time.

Most questions about grammar and punctuation aren't a matter of right and wrong so much as of good style.

I find Oxford commas pernickety and prefer to do without them wherever possible.

And if a poor little comma is doing all the work of saving a sentence from nonsense, maybe you need to rewrite that sentence so it's clearer?

The Severn Railway Bridge at Sharpness

There used to be a railway bridge that crossed the lower River Severn just above Sharpness.

It was severely damaged in 1960 when two tankers laden with fuel oil and gasoline collided in thick fog and then drifted into it. Falling debris or a severed electrical cable ignited the fuel vapours from their cargoes, causing an explosion. Five men on the barges died in the incident, and two spans of the bridge fell into the river.

British Railways originally planned to repair the bridge, but further mishaps meant that it never reopened and was demolished in 1970.

This short video shows the bridge, with two light engines conducting a load test.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

I probably have ADHD

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Or so the results page of an online quiz tells me. It adds that only my doctor can know for sure, but I do exhibit a lot of ADHD symptoms.

I think it would have been hard not to be given that answer if you completed the quiz and suspect that was the point of it.

Because I have long been sceptical of the ADHD diagnosis in children and suspicious of what lies behind it. There are no physical tests for its presence: rather it is diagnosed through an adult assessing a child against a checklist of behaviours. 

As that checklist reads like an inventory of the things about children that irritate adults, I'm surprised more aren't diagnosed with the disorder.

Support for this scepticism comes from the fact that children who are young for their school year (i.e. born in the summer) are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than their older classmates. The obvious explanation for this is that it's because they are that much more immature.

But that hasn't stopped the rise and rise of childhood ADHD, because the pharmaceutical companies have a drug to sell to treat it: Ritalin. Though it is similar in its effect to speed and cocaine, it is prescribed extraordinarily widely. In the US, some six million children (10 per cent of all US children) are on Ritalin.

For a sceptical summary of the science of childhood ADHD, read The Scientism of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) by Sami Timimi.

Adult ADHD, which is being talked about and diagnosed more and more widely, appears to rest upon the assumption that most people are like model employees in a 1950s American corporation.

They always complete their tasks on time and in the right order and pay equal attention to tasks that interest them and tasks that do not.

But this vision of normality seems to me wholly unrealistic. Being more motivated to do things that interest you, as I have always been, is the human condition, not a disorder. 

I suspect that somewhere behind the rise of the concept of adult ADHD lies the increasing psychological demands of the modern workplace. The demand for longer hours and bottomless positivity, together with the demands of any hierarchy, is proving too much for a lot of people.

Rather than place the problem in the individual worker, by diagnosing them with a disorder, maybe we should be looking to change the workplace?

Enormous damages awarded to victims of Pennsylvania juvenile justice scandal

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It was back in 2009 that the Kids for Cash scandal broke in Pennsylvania, but this development appeared on AP News only yesterday:

Two former Pennsylvania judges who orchestrated a scheme to send children to for-profit jails in exchange for kickbacks were ordered to pay more than $200 million to hundreds of people they victimized in one of the worst judicial scandals in U.S. history.

U.S. District Judge Christopher Conner awarded $106 million in compensatory damages and $100 million in punitive damages to nearly 300 people in a long-running civil suit against the judges, writing the plaintiffs are “the tragic human casualties of a scandal of epic proportions.”

In what came to be known as the kids-for-cash scandal, Mark Ciavarella and another judge, Michael Conahan, shut down a county-run juvenile detention center and accepted $2.8 million in illegal payments from the builder and co-owner of two for-profit lockups. Ciavarella, who presided over juvenile court, pushed a zero-tolerance policy that guaranteed large numbers of kids would be sent to PA Child Care and its sister facility, Western PA Child Care.

Ciavarella ordered children as young as 8 to detention, many of them first-time offenders deemed delinquent for petty theft, jaywalking, truancy, smoking on school grounds and other minor infractions. The judge often ordered youths he had found delinquent to be immediately shackled, handcuffed and taken away without giving them a chance to put up a defense or even say goodbye to their families.

I don't know how they will raise the money - unless judges have to take out sentencing insurance. Ciavarella, 72, is serving a 28-year prison sentence in Kentucky, with a projected release date of 2035. Conahan, 70, was sentenced to more than 17 years in prison, but was released to home confinement in 2020 with six years left on his sentence because of the Covid pandemic.

Whenever I read of the way that commercial providers now run most British children's care homes, I think of this scandal. There is a danger that the profit motive will warp the debate on the care of vulnerable children, given the incentive to see more of them cared for away from their families.

Robert Aickman meets Market Harborough Urban District Council

Robert Aickman is celebrated by discerning readers as one of the modern masters of the uncanny. But he was also one of the pioneers of the revival of Britain's canals, becoming the first chairman of the Inland Waterways Association in 1946.

In 1950 the IWA held its first national rally, billed as a "Festival of Boats and Arts", on the Market Harborough arm of the Grand Union Canal. It attracted 120 boats and more than 50,000 visitors.

There was no national rally in 1951, but a story in the Leicester Mail (8 January 1952) shows that the IWA was hoping to hold one in Market Harborough in 1952:

Harboro' £300 appeal to secure water rally

A public appeal is being launched in Market Harborough today for £300 - the amount required to ensure that the Inland Waterways Association's rally and festival is held on the local canal this summer. 

The association last month asked the urban council for financial support, but the council has decided they could not go beyond making a public services [sic] available at the canal and helping to pay for advertising and publicity.

Mr R.P. Aickman, founder member of the association, told members of the council's Publicity Committee yesterday that unless the association received aid to the extent of £300 the rally could not be held In Harborough. 

The association wanted to know by the end of the month whether the money would be forthcoming. 

Coun. C.E.C. Vecqueray, member of the Publicity Committee and also of the Waterways Association, told The Evening Mail, "I consider the 1949 [sic] Festival was the best publicity Harborough has ever had." 

Meantime the public appeal in Harborough and district was launched today.

It seems the appeal failed, because there was not another IWA Festival until 1953, when it was held in Macclesfield.

I was surprised, incidentally, that the old urban district council had a publicity committee. There was nothing like that when I was elected to Harborough District Council in 1986. though we did take some tentative steps towards promoting the district while I was a member.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Tim Farron demands investigation after Avanti locks passengers in deserted station

Jealous of all the publicity the privatised power and water industries this week, Avanti North West have done its bit to put the railways back on the front page.

Last night passengers got of a late-running train at Oxenholme to find the station locked. Some tried scaling the seven-foot palisade fencing to gain their freedom: others looked for somewhere to sleep.

And one person had the best idea of all: ring Batman Tim Farron. The Liberal Democrat MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale got Network Rail to come and unlock the station exit.

BBC News reports: 
Mr Farron has demanded an investigation and said the incident was "just a further example of the failures by Avanti" which raised the question whether the firm was "fit and proper" to run the franchise. 
"We have seen a mass of cancellations of Avanti services, failures in the reservation systems, and now a locked station," the MP said, adding: "There are clearly systematic failures going on at Avanti and we cannot let it go unchecked. 
"What happened... could have very quickly become dangerous and I have already written to Avanti to demand an explanation for their oversight."
Avanti North West are clearly having huge problems. They have unilaterally slashed the number of trains they run and can't honour even that reduced timetable.

If they don't turn things around and quickly, then they should lose their franchise.

You may think that's unreasonable, but if you do it shows the railways can't be treated as just another consumer industry.

The baroque structure that privatisation created had to be replaced, but it was replaced by control from Whitehall. 

We need to put railway professionals back in charge. And if that means nationalising the franchisees as they come up, then so be it.

The best answwer, however, may be to allow Tim Farron to run the railways himself.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

The Joy of Six 1069

Chris Grey discusses what the Conservative leadership contest tells us about Brexit: "There’s a dated feeling to the entire contest, especially in the constant invocations of Margaret Thatcher, perhaps reflecting the age and political reference points of the selectorate that will choose the next Prime Minister. It’s reminiscent of the way Conservatives still argue about whether Thatcher would or would not have supported Brexit, still vying for the imprimatur of the Iron Lady, or perhaps just for mummy's approval."

Alona Ferber dissects Liz Truss's clumsy attempt to win the votes of Jewish Tory members.

"While celebrities like Elvis Presley legitimized the vaccine in the eyes of a previously sceptical public, a few fervent anti-vaxxers rose to prominence, some using the same combination of fear mongering, pseudoscientific speculation, and conspiratorial thinking common to the smallpox era – and common, once again, in the time of COVID-19." Josh Jones finds Jonas Salk and his polio vaccine were more controversial than we've come to believe.

"The apology offered in anger or frustration will often condemn the other person. The classic example of this is the apology that says, “I’m sorry you feel that way.” This is not an apology, but a condemnation." Ade Mullen on what happens when institutions try to apologise and how they could do it better.

"As the rain turned to sleet it was soon evident this couldn’t go on much longer. Sparks were flying from the electrical instruments and equipment. Manfred Mann were waiting to go on but they never made it. The plug was pulled." ITV News looks back 50 years to Krumlin - Yorkshire's answer to Woodstock.

Marcus Liddell explores Heathrow's pre-industrial hinterland.

A walk to the source of the River Lea

 From John Rogers' blurb on YouTube:

Our hike into the ancient history of Britain starts at Harlington in Bedfordshire and picks up the John Bunyan trail to the Icknield Way which then takes us through glorious countryside around the Sundon Hills to Sharpenhoe Clappers. 

We then head south for the outskirts of Luton and the source of the River Lea at Leagrave near the Neolithic henge monument at Waulud’s Bank, believed to be around 5000 years old.

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

Monday, August 15, 2022

My MP wants to turn Britain into "the grammar school of the world"

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I think I've found the most Tory tweet ever sent.

And it was sent by my MP - Neil O'Brien, the Conservative MP for Harborough - as part of a thread promoting an article calling for large cuts in immigration he has written for Conservative Home.

His argument is that the government must do this because voters thought that's what they had voted for in the European Union referendum.

Well, some did, but the arguments used to win the referendum were so varied and so contradictory that it's impossible to satisfy everyone who voted Leave.

O'Brien, for instance, is concerned that immigration from the EU had been replaced by immigration from further afield.

But this is what many people arguing for Leave said they wanted. I can remember being told that it was racist to favour immigrants from the EU.

Bangladeshi restaurant owners were targeted by the Leave side and told that if Britain voted Leave then they would find it easier to obtain visas for chefs trained in Bangladesh.

I'll leave others to debate the racial politics of O'Brien's article. What interests me most here is the assumption that the world's brightest and best will want to come to his global grammar school.

People who can choose where they work will go for countries where their rights are protected, where the legal system is independent from the government and where the rivers are not full of sewage.

I fear the brightest pupils will not choose a school with an old-fashioned curriculum, petty uniform regulations and overmighty prefects.

The Harborough Mail's only journalist retires

The journalist's trade website Hold the Front Page has an article on Red Williams, whose ability to inject drama into the Harborough Mail's reporting will be familiar to readers, as he retires.

What he says reveals something sad about the Harborough Mail and about local newspapers in general:

Via the Stamford Mercury, I jumped in to become the Harborough Mail’s reporter in August 2019.

Owner Johnston Press – now National World – had shut the historic weekly’s much-loved town centre HQ in 2012.

And the paper, founded in 1854, had seen better days after being effectively run remotely for eight months.

Working at home as a freelance three days a week, I pulled out all the stops to reconnect with the thriving community here. ...

It’s insane that as a part-time reporter I was trying to replicate what a fully-staffed up team had been doing.

As stalwart newspaper freelances everywhere will know, I’ve forked out for my own notebooks and pens as well as paying for my mobile and broadband.

I was paid less per day than I was earning shifting on a Saturday at the News of the World in London in 1989 – some 33 years ago!

He's right. The editor of the Harborough Mail was a considerable figure in town and would hold court in the Peacock (now Pizza Express), where I worked as a barman one student summer.

For some years now - and it's clearly not the fault of Red or anyone who's worked on the Mail in that period - the local community radio station Harborough FM has provided a better news service precisely because it has a base in the town.

I fear for the future of the Harborough Mail and other local newspapers, which appear locked into a downward spiral of cutting costs and providing a poorer product.

Still, Red is proud of breaking the story of The Great Market Harborough Bungalow Mystery.

Sunday, August 14, 2022

The Seekers: Cloudy

As I wrote when paying tribute to Judith Durham, her bandmate from The Seekers, Bruce Woodley, wrote three songs with Paul Simon. (Woodley is on the right of the group as you look at the thumbnail above.)

One of them, Red Rubber Ball, reached number 2 in the US singles chart when recorded by The Cyrkle. That band also recorded Simon and Woodley's I Wish You Could Be Here.

Their third collaboration was Cloudy, which appeared on the Simon and Garfunkel album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, where it was credited to Paul Simon alone.

I love Paul Simon's music more than is decent, but it wasn't a wholly a surprise to read that this had happened.

All three Simon and Woodley compositions were recorded by The Seekers, and here is their take on Cloudy.

If I have a criticism, it's that this version isn't cloudy at all. It's pure sunshine - a reminder of how good Judith Durham's voice was and how good the male members of the group were as instrumentalists and close harmony singers.

The tinkly line on the piano (if that is what is being used) was probably played by Tom Springfield, who had much to do with the group's success as a songwriter and mentor. (His own folk-to-pop group The Springfields were the first British group to have a top 20 hit in the US,)

In writing this I came across two great facts about Tom Springfield (who was Dusty's brother):

  • His baptismal name was Dionysius O'Brien
  • Like Alan Bennett, Dennis Potter and Michael Frayn, he was a graduate of the Russian course at the Joint Services School for Linguists.

And that's where he came across the Russian folk tune that he turned into The Seekers' best-selling single, The Carnival is Over.

Saturday, August 13, 2022

The danger of conspiracy theories

James Meek wrote in the London Review of Books (22 October 2020):

The danger of conspiracy theories is not that they promote action to tear down society but that they delegitimise, distract and divert: they divert large numbers of people from engaging in political action, leaving the field clear for the cynical, the greedy and the violently intolerant. 

They distract them from questioning authority about society’s real problems by promoting a gory soap opera as if it were real and the result of "research". And they delegitimise the idea that institutions – courts, parliaments, the education system, the salaried media - can be anything other than malign.

Remembering Stephen Lewis - Blakey off of On the Buses

This video is a short tribute to Stephen Lewis - Blakey in On the Buses - who died seven years ago today.

As he says, Blakey was the only character who cared about the passengers. To the modern viewer, this tends to make him the hero of the series. Not bad for someone who had just one line in the first episode.

The links between ITV comedy and Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop at Stratford East deserve more study. 

Stephen Lewis is credited as the writer of the 1963 film Sparrows Can't Sing, which grew out of a play produced there by Littlewood.

Friday, August 12, 2022

Local Conservatives expect to lose Cheltenham to the Lib Dems

Peter Walker, the Guardian's political correspondent, saw more of Cheltenham yesterday than the just the Conservatives' leadership hustings. What he found will encourage the local Liberal Democrats:

In 2019, the incumbent Tory MP, the former solicitor general Alex Chalk, held off the Liberal Democrats by just 981 votes, and one local Conservative conceded they expect to lose the seat by 5,000-plus votes next time.

And that's not all:

Another Tory activist said that while the 500 or so local party members who will help choose the next PM are receptive to talk of tax cuts, culture wars and curbs on immigration, most voters feel differently.

"My guess is Truss is ahead here, though only slightly," they said. "But I think we’re in big trouble whoever takes over. It’s all feeling very 1997 - death by a thousand cuts."

Nor is that all:

David Bartlett, a 49-year-old banker who describes himself as “a massive swing voter – I’ve voted Labour, Lib Dem, Tory and Green” – says he has now turned permanently from the Conservatives. He said: “I was so appalled by Boris Johnson I’ve even stepped back from following the leadership contest.”

I have, you may not be surprised to hear, used the best quotes for us. And you might say that if we can't gain Cheltenham next time then we aren't going to gain many seats at all. Still, this is good news.

What worries me more is the state of Labour, because they are going to have to make substantial gains at the next election if the Tories are to be defeated.

In 1997 Labour had a popular leader, was confident and had the skeleton of an impressive cabinet in place and .

None of this is true of Labour today and, unimpressive as I find Liz Truss, we cannot rely on the Conservatives continuing to sabotage their own chances for another two years.

Charles Dickens on Joan of Arc

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With Joan of Arc is in the news today I thought I would take a look at how Charles Dickens treated her in his A Child's History of England.

It should not surprise me, but I am pleased to find that he is wonderfully compassionate, has more insight into mental health than some modern professionals and is not jingoist in the slightest:

It was natural in one so young to hold to life. To save her life, she signed a declaration prepared for her - signed it with a cross, for she couldn’t write - that all her visions and Voices had come from the Devil. Upon her recanting the past, and protesting that she would never wear a man’s dress in future, she was condemned to imprisonment for life, ‘on the bread of sorrow and the water of affliction.’

But, on the bread of sorrow and the water of affliction, the visions and the Voices soon returned. It was quite natural that they should do so, for that kind of disease is much aggravated by fasting, loneliness, and anxiety of mind. It was not only got out of Joan that she considered herself inspired again, but, she was taken in a man’s dress, which had been left - to entrap her - in her prison, and which she put on, in her solitude; perhaps, in remembrance of her past glories, perhaps, because the imaginary Voices told her. 

For this relapse into the sorcery and heresy and anything else you like, she was sentenced to be burnt to death. And, in the market-place of Rouen, in the hideous dress which the monks had invented for such spectacles; with priests and bishops sitting in a gallery looking on, though some had the Christian grace to go away, unable to endure the infamous scene; this shrieking girl - last seen amidst the smoke and fire, holding a crucifix between her hands; last heard, calling upon Christ - was burnt to ashes. They threw her ashes into the river Seine; but they will rise against her murderers on the last day.

From the moment of her capture, neither the French King nor one single man in all his court raised a finger to save her. It is no defence of them that they may have never really believed in her, or that they may have won her victories by their skill and bravery. The more they pretended to believe in her, the more they had caused her to believe in herself; and she had ever been true to them, ever brave, ever nobly devoted. But, it is no wonder, that they, who were in all things false to themselves, false to one another, false to their country, false to Heaven, false to Earth, should be monsters of ingratitude and treachery to a helpless peasant girl.

In the picturesque old town of Rouen, where weeds and grass grow high on the cathedral towers, and the venerable Norman streets are still warm in the blessed sunlight though the monkish fires that once gleamed horribly upon them have long grown cold, there is a statue of Joan of Arc, in the scene of her last agony, the square to which she has given its present name. I know some statues of modern times - even in the World’s metropolis, I think - which commemorate less constancy, less earnestness, smaller claims upon the world’s attention, and much greater impostors.

To think that for much of the 20th century the most celebrated critics told us we should not bother with Dickens!

I was led to writing this post when I saw a letter in the London Review of Books taking a contributor to task for calling Henry VIII "Victorian England's hero". The writer of the letter pointed out that Dickens had called Henry 

a most intolerable ruffian, a disgrace to human nature and a blot of blood and grease upon the History of England.

Dickens had a more penetrating intellect than most of his contemporaries, but it's fair to say that the Victorians were far less Victorian than we moderns think. 

We'll have to find someone else to blame for our unhealthy obsession with Henry,