Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Write a guest post for Liberal England

I welcome guest posts on Liberal England. Not only that: I'm happy to publish posts on subjects far beyond the Liberal Democrats and British politics.

I'm also happy to entertain a wide variety of views, but I'd hate you to spend your time writing something I really wouldn't want to publish.

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

To give you some inspiration, here are the last then guest posts published here on Liberal England:

Chunk of pork makes a surprising 'thud' as it falls from the sky and lands in woman's garden

I think this was foretold in the Book of Revelation, and it's certainly won the Leicester Mercury our Headline of the Day Award.

Monday, February 27, 2023

The Joy of Six 1113

"By 2015, it was becoming normal for 12-year-old girls to spend hours each day taking selfies, editing selfies, and posting them for friends, enemies, and strangers to comment on, while also spending hours each day scrolling through photos of other girls and fabulously wealthy female celebrities with (seemingly) vastly superior bodies and lives. The hours girls spent each day on Instagram were taken from sleep, exercise, and time with friends and family. What did we think would happen to them?" Jon Haidt says there is an epidemic of mental illness among teenage girls and social media has been its major cause.

Andy Boddington mourns the death of BBC local radio as we know it.

Callum Mason on the warning from the Association of School and College Leaders that Department for Education guidance is taking away schools’ ability to make exceptional decisions on pupils’ leave of absence and damaging trust with parents.

"Useful idiots on the right were tricked into thinking that the risk of Twitter mismanagement was 'woke shadowbanning,' whereby the things you said wouldn't reach the people who asked to hear them because Twitter's deep state didn't like your opinions. The real risk, of course, is that the things you say won't reach the people who asked to hear them because Twitter can make more money by enshittifying their feeds and charging you ransom for the privilege to be included in them." Cory Doctorow explains 'enshittification' - the process by which commerce kills social media platforms.

Lizzie Dearden reports that armchair sleuths were a threat to the police investigation of the disappearance of Nicola Bulley, 

The Monks Wood Wilderness experiment is now 60 years old. Richard K. Broughton says that, as a rewilding study before the term existed, it shows how allowing land to naturally regenerate can expand native woodland and help tackle climate change and biodiversity loss.

What Betty Boothroyd endured as a woman candidate in the 1950s

Betty Boothroyd, the former Commons speaker, has died at the age of 93. 

She was a warm and popular figure - my mother once suggested that, with her faux posh voice, there was a little bit of Mollie Sugden about her.

Boothroyd was defeated in four different constituencies before she held West Bromwich for Labour in a 1973 by-election. The first of these was the old Leicester South East seat, which included Oadby, where she stood in a 1957 by-election.

If you want to see what women politicians had to put up with in the Fifties, see how here selection as Labour's candidate for the seat was reported by the Leicester Evening Mail on 31 July 1956:


In South-East Leicester 


She is Miss Betty Boothroyd, private secretary to Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas, MP. 

Her adoption is subject to endorsement by the party's National Executive Committee. Contesting the Conservative stronghold, held by Capt. Waterhouse, she will be making her entry into parliamentary elections though at 21 she contested in borough council elections. 

Vital statistics 

A parliamentary candidate's vital statistics are usually the last general election figures, writes The Evening Mall Lobby Correspondent but Miss Boothroyd has others that are also worth quoting: 38-28-40. 

This attractive Yorkshire lass should create a stir on election platforms. 

Ever since she left school and became a secretary to the Road Haulage Executive, Miss Boothroyd has been in politics. 

She was chairman of the League of Youth in Dewsbury, and later went to Transport House to work on 'Labour's Challenge to Britain.' 

Within a few months she had landed the job as secretary to Mr, de Freitas.

Betty Boothroyd made history by becoming the Commons' first female speaker. But she had already achieved much by getting to Westminster despite the way women politicians were treated in her era.

Tory group leader on Blackpool Council resigns after row with Tory MP, but that's not the most interesting thing about him

BBC News reports:

The leader of Blackpool Council's Conservative group has resigned from the role after falling out with one of the town's Tory MPs.

Councillor Tony Williams has led the Tory group for the past eight years.

He said he signed a letter of no confidence in Blackpool South MP Scott Benton and was then suspended from the Conservative party, so he subsequently stood down.

The letter, which was signed by a number of other Tory councillors, asked the controversy-hungry Benton to stand down at the next election.

But I don't want to tell you that.

Tony Williams grew up in Blackpool, played in a number of groups there and unsuccessfully auditioned to join the town's most famous group, Jethro Tull, in 1968.

He was to play with them on a US tour 10 years later after Tull's bass player John Glascock became to ill to continue. (He died the following year.)

In between these two encounters with Jethro Tull, Williams was a member of a number of groups. In 1972 he joined Stealers Wheel, which had been formed earlier that year in Paisley by Gerry Rafferty and Joe Egan.

And it was the line up with Williams that recorded the band's self-styled first album. Which means (as Discogs confirms) that he played bass on Stuck in the Middle with you.

Perhaps showing an early talent for resignation, he had left the band by the time it was released as a single.

Later. And here he is being introduced to the crowd at Madison Square Garden in 1978 by Ian Anderson.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Motors: Forget About You

We're used to thinking of pub rock as the John the Baptist of punk, and the Motors did have edgier singles than this.

But it's not hard to imagine Forget About You being a hit for someone like the Dooleys in this era and played on Radio  2. Which means, I suppose, that it's a good song.

At least the boys are making clear their for Top of The Pops by making fun of the miming the show requires of them.

The piano player (who has remembered his PE kit) decides he'd rather share lead vocals and the guitarist has to fill in for him at short notice.

That piano player is Bram Tchaikovsky. He had such a cool name that his next band was named after him.

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Charfield: Conjuring up the ghosts of children who never were

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On 13 October 1928 the night mail from Leeds to Bristol ran through a danger signal at Charfield in Gloucestershire. It collided with a goods train that was being shunted out of its way and then another that had halted on the neighbouring tracks. 

The night mail's passenger coaches were lit by gas, and this caught fire after the collision so that the wreckage burned fiercely for hours.

If you read the official report on the accident it says there were 16 fatalities, though modern accounts seem to agree on a total of 15.

There us a mass grave of victims of the accident in the churchyard at Charfield, which names ten people and 'two unknown'.

A story grew up that these were the bodies of two children whom no one had claimed after the accident. And people told of a woman dressed entirely in black who visited the monument regularly and left flowers there.

But it proved difficult to identify anyone who had seen here themselves, and in any case her visits are said to have ended in the early 1960s.

It seems accepted now that these unidentified children never were. The reality is is that 10 identifiable bodies were buried in the mass grave, along with two small boxes containing human remains that could not be identified.

This is the story favoured by Punt PI episode The Woman in Black (a good introduction to the affair), but that has not stopped the legend growing.

I have recently come across two web articles - Mystical Times and The Line Up - which suggests the ghosts of two children have been seen standing hand in hand at the site of the accident.

The accounts are sketchy - more floating the possibility of the children's ghosts being seen that reporting sightings - but I have no doubt that if the story spreads these ghosts of children who never were will be sighted.

Friday, February 24, 2023

Lord Bonkers 30 years ago: He backs the ordination of women

What was Lord Bonkers saying 30 years ago? Or, to be precise, what was Lord Bonkers saying 30 years and one month ago? Because this is a diary entry from Liberator 210, which is dated January 1993.

I've long forgotten what the story about John Selwyn Gummer's pond was, but from this Independent profile of 1995 it's clear that there was one:

Throughout his two-and-a-half decades in British politics Mr Gummer has had little difficulty making headlines. He is, for example, remembered for the hamburger he fed to his daughter during the mad cow scare, for the row over the 'freebie' pond built in his back garden and his opposition to women priests.

And, given that it has never accepted the front-foot no ball law in cricket, I am agreeably surprised to find that the Church of Rutland was taking such an enlightened view on the ordination of women back in 1993.

More recent issues of Liberator can be downloaded free of charge from the magazine's website.


To St Asquith's for Divine Service. What a load of nonsense is talked about women priests! Would anyone think the less of the Reverend Hughes if he were not a chap? I hardly think so. 

Having been married for many years to the first Lady Bonkers, I rarely speak of the gels as the 'weaker sex, and I can see nothing but good coming of their introduction to the pulpit, The nation's choristers will be considerably relieved, and Nancy Seear will make a splendid Archbishop of Canterbury. 

Best of all, it will discomfort that ridiculous little man Gummer. I hear that he is talking of crossing the floor to become an RC, but he may well find the Vatican is less inclined to fund improvements to his garden pond. Indeed, I suspect he has been confusing Anglicanism and angling all along.

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

This is the blog that forecast turnips would replace tomatoes

I'm not the Wise Woman of Wing - and Chris Grayling has fallen by the wayside - but this post does date from 2017.

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Dame Barbara Cartland was a friend to the Gypsies

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Time for another post about Barbara Cartland, the liberal Conservative and social reformer.

Four years ago the BBC screened a documentary by Damian Le Bas about the experience of Romany Gypsies in its series A Very British History. (There's a page for the programme on iPlayer, but you can't view it at present.)

The Welwyn Hatfield Times published an article about it at the time, and Dame Barbara featured prominently:
Going into the 1960s, the travelling way of life was still there but by the end more and more gypsies were becoming 'settled'. 
Large numbers were forced to abandon their nomadic lifestyles for a more settled existence - a painful transition for many. 

Focusing on the Home Counties, Damian draws on his own Romany family background, and a rich film archive, to show how Romany Gypsy people faced becoming outlaws in their own land.

New legislation led to tighter planning laws and a further erosion of traditional stopping places, but some councils did provide a handful of official caravan sites.

Barbara Cartland, who was a county councillor at the time, led the fight to secure a permanent site for Gypsies on the outskirts of Hatfield. That fight was won after a public inquiry and the site became known as Barbaraville Camp in her honour. 

In the programme, Damian Le Bas spoke with Ian McCorquodale, one of Cartland's sons:

Damian says to Mr McCorquodale: "People offer all sort of reasons why they don’t want a gypsy site near them.

"You’ve referred to it as old-fashioned racism, and your mother compared it with the situation in the south of the United States of America."

Mr McCorquodale replies: "It was definitely prejudice. It was really, really nasty."

He adds: "My mother had a lot of hate mail and people were rude to her, but she persevered.

"She was not one to be deterred my mother in any way. She stuck to her guns."

Breakthrough legislation in 1968 finally compelled councils to provide permanent sites that gave hope to many - but at the cost of losing a freedom, which was closely tied to their identity.

Now freedom to roam is even more tightly controlled and councils do not overexert themselves to provide sites.

It makes you nostalgic for the variety of Conservatism espoused by Barbara Cartland, who was also a champion of education for Gypsy children.

Julian Sands was in The Box of Delights

There has been no news of the actor Julian Sands since he disappeared last month while walking in the San Gabriel Mountains in California. It seems we have to fear the worst.

Late last year, the Guardian published a piece on the making of The Box of Delights. In it the director of the series, Renny Rye, recalled:

Julian Sands also loved the story and wanted to be involved, even though he’d just finished The Killing Fields and I’d already cast most of the parts. He just has one line as a Greek soldier. 

Devin Stanfield, who played Kay Harker, was also interviewed:

I got on well with the adult cast. Pat Troughton was charming, kind and patient. I remember waiting with him for hours until we were needed on a night shoot with hundreds of extras in the grounds of Hereford Cathedral. We had an in-depth discussion about how his being impaled with a lightning rod was achieved in The Omen.

Davey's on the road again

Caron Lindsay reports on Lib Dem Voice:

Ed Davey heads out on the road today. He’s doing a 25 stop tour of Blue Wall seats ahead of the local elections and starts in the Lib Dem stronghold of Three Rivers. The Council has been in Lib Dem hands for decades, but the parliamentary seats have so far eluded us.

His tour will take in Dominic Raab’s constituency of Esher and Walton, John Redwood’s seat in Wokingham, and other ultra marginal Blue Wall seats from Cheltenham to Cheadle.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

William Butterfield's All Saints, Margaret Street

In London yesterday, I visited the extraordinary All Saints, Margaret Street - a mid-Victorian church in Fitzrovia.

I have always found it a difficult building to photograph satisfactorily, so here is a video about it and its history instead.

It's worth emphasising that Butterfield didn't just find room for a courtyard and church on this restricted urban site: he also fitted in a vicarage and a choir school (which lasted until 1968 and once counted Laurence Olivier amongst its pupils).

The Joy of Six 1112

Tony Heron and Gabriel Siles-Brügge argue that the decision to ditch the UK’s Department for International Trade is a tacit acknowledgement that attempts to seize Brexit 'opportunities' through trade have been a failure.

"The 'grassroots' backlash to a traffic reduction scheme in Oxfordshire is being boosted by an international network of established climate and Covid science deniers and amplified by right-wing media." Adam Barnett, Michaela Herrmann and Christopher Deane reveal all.

"His claim to fame, or rather infamy, will be that of being a man who once wrote a PhD thesis on the links between the political and economic dimensions of a currency crisis, who was himself being fired for causing a currency crisis." Charles Sirey says Kwasi Kwarteng should have read his own book War and Gold.

James Butler reviews three books on the crisis in social care.

"When Striplings (1934), the first volume, appeared in America, it was acclaimed as a comic masterpiece. 'A rare combination of Wodehouse and Rabelais!' declared the president of the American Booksellers Association. Reviews were so enthusiastic the book went into five printings in less than a month." Neglected Books introduces us to the Biff and Netta trilogy by Nina Warner Hooke.

A London Inheritance sets off on a tour of Hampstead.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

The importance of Auden to English literature

Today has been W.H. Auden's birthday. He was born in this house on Bootham in York on 21 February 1907.

Edward Mendelson's introduction to W. H. Auden: Selected Poems (1979) captured his importance to English literature:

Auden was the first poet writing in English who felt at home in the twentieth century. He welcomed into his poetry all the disordered conditions of his time, all its variety of language and event. 

In this, as in almost everything else, he differed from his modernists predecessors such as Yeats, Lawrence, Eliot or Pound, who had turned nostalgically away from a flawed present to some lost illusory Eden where life was unified, hierarchy secure, and the grand style a natural extension of the vernacular. 

All of this Auden rejected.

Monday, February 20, 2023

A preserved stretch of the Glamorganshire Canal near Cardiff

I once blogged about a wonderful film from 1945 of the derelict Glamorganshire Canal, which used to run from Merthyr to the sea at Cardiff Docks.

Most of the route has been lost to road schemes and redevelopment, but stretches do survive.

Bob's Rail Relics found one of them in Forest Farm Country Park in the northern suburbs of Cardiff and posted this video.

He has another video about a gloriously unexpected survival right in the centre of the city, and I shall post that here another day.

You can subscribe to Bob's Rail Relics on YouTube.

Charles Masterman on Richard Jefferies and nature

 The Condition of England, which was published in 1909, is probably Charles Masterman's best-known book.

It is best known for its analysis of the different social classes, but also contains a chapter on literature and progress. And in it, Masterman discusses the thought of Richard Jefferies in some detail.

I quote some of it here because Masterman's account of Jefferies is accurate and illuminating:

There is more hope in the way of the Life Worshippers like Jefferies than of the Nature Worshippers like Wordsworth. Wordsworth assumes a Nature benignant and responsive, a spirit whose dwelling is the light of setting suns and in the mind of man. The result is a kind of refined and sometimes too rarefied Pantheism, which is compelled often to shut its eyes to the Nature which is 'red in tooth and claw,' and equally bestows increase and destruction. 

Jefferies wove from his dawns and sunsets no roseate scheme of natural religion. He acknowledged the "blunt cruelty" of natural things. He always confessed no intelligence in human affairs: outside, a Nature not so much hostile as utterly indifferent to all the ardours of mankind. 'The sea, the earth, the sun, the trees, the hills, care nothing for human life.' 

He had no specific "humanitarian" teaching, and in early days delighted in the work of devastation and of slaughter. He was bored by the claims of science, and thought nothing of the jargon of 'Evolution.' The strength of his position rests in his association of these realities with the overmastering "passion of life." ...

He did not find a Presence which disturbed with the joy of elevating thoughts. He found a Glamour - inimitable, inexplicable - which excited to passionate emotion. Others have demanded Order, Understanding, evidence of Purpose or Compassion. He asked only for Beauty. And that Beauty is not denied to the supplicant.

The Seasons pass in their procession; Birth and Death weave their webs of being ; men are seeking, and in vain, for sympathy and pity behind the veil of visible things. Enough for him that here the sunlight flickering on the stems of old trees, the sap creeping up through a million tiny stems, the changes of expanding petals and of withered autumn leaves, can reveal a magic and a mystery which time shall never dim nor age destroy. 

Most writers who bring together politics and the natural world search the latter for lessons about how the former should be conducted. 

But in his Wood Magic, Jefferies uses the amorality of human politics as a metaphor to help us understand the war of all against all that is the natural world. Despite what Masterman says about Jefferies' impatience with the 'jargon' of evolution, he had clearly absorbed the lessons of Darwin's work or come to the same conclusions from his own observations of nature.

In The Condition of England, Masterman concludes his discussion of Jefferies with:

This unquestioning love of the Earth and the children of it is perhaps the most hopeful element for future progress. In a century of doubts and scepticisms it may serve to bridge the gulf between the old and the new. 

Whilst men are still confused concerning the purposes of Nature, and still doubtful concerning any definite or intelligent progress towards a final end, it is much that inspiration and contentment can be found in its present beauty and appeal. 

The "glory of the sum of things " may thus come to be interpreted in some particular sense-given experience, untroubled - in that present - by inquiry concerning a past that is dead or a future that is not yet born.

Except that today we are painfully aware of our own impact upon the natural world and that 'present beauty' is not guaranteed an extended future.

Sunday, February 19, 2023

GUEST POST 100 signs that Conservative morale is low

If you want to know which parties are up and which are down, look at the changes of allegiance in council chambers, says Augustus Carp.
It looks like an important political event took place in Britain last week. No, not that lady in Scotland who gave up a government job and a nice house in Edinburgh: rather, Cllr Afzal Ahmed of Valley ward, Waltham Forest District Council, became the 100th Conservative councillor to quit the party since the May elections last year.  

Serious political hacks like us get excited by the goings-on in local government, but perhaps we pay too much attention to by-elections and not enough to some of the other indicators of party strength and morale.  

It’s widely accepted - if only by Liberal Democrats - that a strong local organisation is (usually) essential for parliamentary success. A new councillor means one more dedicated deliverer, canvasser and polling day worker, or so we assume.  

Of course, councillors can be notoriously self-important, grandiose and up themselves. But, generally speaking, it’s safe to assume that councillors will try to pull their weight in the next general election, even if it’s impossible to extract them from their own wards.

Good by election results are good for party morale, and that’s true for all parties. But there’s another barometer of morale which has not received nearly as much attention, and that’s defections from council groups.  

Every week, the excellent Thorncliffe Local Councils website lists the latest by-election results, but they also report changes of allegiance in council chambers, and that list is usually about half as long again.  

In analysing the numbers of councillors reidentifying away from the group they joined when first elected, we can see more evidence of subtle political changes taking place, particularly in areas where there aren’t many by elections.

Obviously, caution is needed, if only because the Thorncliffe site cannot go into all the machinations of personality disputes, warped egos, ideological rifts, scandals and sheer bloody mindedness manifested in every elected authority in the land.   

The reasons for defections are many and various, and probably impossible to catalogue effectively. For example, in some areas, it seems that mayors move to being Independents after their mayoral year, in the expectation that they will be standing down at the end of a glorious civic career.  

Nevertheless, in looking at the figures since May 2022, the changes of allegiance look significant.  For whatever reason, since May 2022, a net total of 100 councillors elected as Conservatives no longer identify as such.  

For Labour the figure is -64, for the Lib Dems -13 and for the Nationalists -4. The Greens have made a net increase of three; the balancing figure is an increase of 178 independents, widely defined for convenience to include Residents, Ratepayers, Unaligned, Reform, Socialists etc.  

Anecdotally, some Independents really are independent, whereas others are known sympathisers or undercover agents of established political parties. Frankly, trying to monitor subtle changes in the composition of most 'Independent' groups on most councils would be futile in the extreme, particularly as they rarely stand in parliamentary candidates.

Since May 2022, defections from the Conservatives have usually happened in ones and twos, but it’s consistent: every week more leave. Occasionally, someone returns or joins them from another political group, but the general move away from them is inexorable.  

Derbyshire seems to be a particular hot spot – six lost in Amber Valley, three in Derbyshire Dales, three more in Erewash and another four in North East Derbyshire. Although there has been a net gain of one in Plymouth, the churn there has seen six councillors join and five resign.  

Movements in Bournemouth - down six net - seem impossible to rationalise, but the six losses in Tamworth in August were simultaneous. Wakefield (-4) and South Norfolk (-3) must add to Conservative woes.

For the Labour Party, there have been some block defections, with evidence of selection/de-selection battles and general group disharmony in some councils. Stroud, where they have lost nine councillors by some reckoning, has been well-documented, but Hyndburn (-7) might be worth closer analysis.  

For the Lib Dems, three councillors elected in May 2022 in Powys have now left.  

It’s not always certain that an ex-councillor will withdraw their support from their parliamentary candidates at the next general election, but it must be a reasonable to assume that most will no longer be active participants.

Something has upset them enough to go public with a change of allegiance; being seen to support the old brand at a general election might cause some of their supporters to question their judgement or even their integrity.  

Some notes on methodology – these figures come from a rough-and-ready examination of the data available There may be some double counting (where one individual resigns from both a district and a county council group) and no particular care has been taken with the initial date of election. Some are notionally independent before publicly proclaiming their new allegiance, so it can be difficult to  time-stamp all moves precisely.

Comparisons are with the last local government elections, as presumably that would have seen a clear-out of most of the disenchanted. So, errors and omissions excepted, and do your own research, but do pay a bit of attention to political defections in local government - they may be telling us more than we realise.

Augustus Carp is the pen name of someone who has been a member of the Liberal Party and then the Liberal Democrats since 1976.

Work halted on HS2 after mystery pool of bubbling foam appears


The Guardian wins our Headline of the Day Award for this disturbing effort.

The Walker Brothers: Orpheus

The Walker Brothers were an American act put together to appeal to the British market of the Sixties. Fronted by Scott Walker's glorious baritone, they had two number one hits: Make It Easy on Yourself and The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore.

This track from their 1967 album Images, with its appealing melody, changes of mood and allusive lyrics, shows us the path Scott Walker was about to take on his solo albums.

The Walker Brothers would not record together again until 1975.

Roald Dahl's books are being edited for commercial reasons - just as they were during his lifetime

Successful children's writers generally get a couple of decades in the sun. My own favourite as a child, Malcolm Saville, published his first book in 1943 and got a little longer, but in his last years (he died in 1982) he was painfully aware that he had gone out of fashion.

Enid Blyton's reputation has not declined to that extent, but there has been a price to pay. Because, for decades, her books have been edited and re-edited so that they can still be sold. So much so that these days you have no idea how many of the words in a book with her name on the cover she actually wrote.

I don't like this process: I would rather publishers allowed books go out of print gracefully than mucked them about in this fashion. But it is inevitable, because publishers and writers' estates aren't going to slaughter a cash cow.

So if you want to understand why Roald Dahl's books are being re-edited, don't hunt for woke snowflakes but follow the money and read The Hollywood Reporter:

Netflix has been in the Dahl business for the past three years, having paid a reported $1 billion to acquire rights for animated series and specials based on 16 of Dahl’s stories, including Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, The BFG, The Twits, George’s Marvellous Medicine and The Enormous Crocodile.

And if all that goes ahead there is a lot of money to be made from tie-in republication of the books. And those books will have to be acceptable to today's trade and today's buyers.

Dahl was happy to bow to commercial forces during his own lifetime, When the success of the film of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory threw new light on the book, he made significant changes to it. 

As the Telegraph article which has started this row off admits:

This is not the first time his books have changed to reflect contemporary mores, or around Hollywood interest. 

In the first edition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964), the Oompa-Loompas were black pygmies, enslaved by Willy Wonka from "the deepest and darkest part of the African jungle" and paid in cocoa beans. Dahl rewrote the characters in the late 1960s to "de-Negro" them, in his words.

For Mel Stuart's 1971 film starring Gene Wilder, the Oompas became green-haired, orange-skinned figures. By a 1973 edition of the book, they had become "little fantasy creatures".

That article is behind the paper's paywall, but that quote begins an excellent Twitter thread on the subject by Tabitha McIntosh. I encourage you to read it.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

The Joy of Six 1111

Neither Scottish nationalism not unionism is strong enough to vanquish the other, argues Tom McTague.

Mark Hooper looks at recent developments on Dartmoor and asks if England’s right of way laws are fit for purpose: "The government and the rich landowners that prop them up would prefer it if we define this issue along typical, easily ridiculed lines: a 'Crusties vs The Rule of Law' dichotomy. But the truth is far more nuanced.

Owen Whooley analyses psychiatry’s cycle of ignorance and reinvention: "There is no overarching narrative of progress here. What you see is the cyclical replaying of the same problems over and over. We see this with treatments and with theories around mental distress."

"It was going to school that I slowly started to absorb the fact of who my father was, and then later on who my mother was. And of course it’s only in the last few years that it’s really accelerated. And the fact that the importance of my mother is now coming to the surface, because she was very important; she was very important to my father." An interview with Richard Blair, who was adopted as a baby by George Orwell and his wife Eileen O’Shaughnessy.

"His present-day vocal sound has been called many things, most of them unflattering. 'A consumptive death rattle' being just one of the kinder descriptions.  His new way of singing alienated many older die-hard fans and, whether they admitted it or not, some young converts found it heavy going, too." Stuart Penney no longer listens to Bob Dylan.

Dottie Tales visits Thomas More's Hertfordshire estate.

Friday, February 17, 2023

Ladybird Books remembered in Loughborough

Between 1915 and 1973, Ladybird Books' printing plant was at Angel Yard in the centre of Loughborough. 

The small format for which the firm became famous was developed there during the second world war because of the difficulty in obtaining paper.

In 1973 they moved to larger premises elsewhere in the town and the Angel Yard area was redeveloped.

Today the firm is remembered there by a plaque and by a sculpture of a child reading a book in the nearby Carillon Shopping Centre.

The sculpture was designed and created by Loughborough University Fine Art student Paula Riley and put in place to celebrate the centenary of Ladybird Books in 2015.

Riley, who goes by her artist name Priley Riley, said:

“I’m absolutely delighted that I was chosen to design and create the sculpture, I have wanted to be an artist ever since I was a child so this is an absolute dream come true.”

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Brave the angelfish and give it both barrels

Judging by the vacant expressions of my younger readers, I had better explain that the idea of having to get into the fish tank and sing Jerusalem because someone has said a certain word to someone else comes from the Monty Python sketch Buying a Bed.

As I first came across it on an LP of theirs I got for Christmas in 1973, it must be at least 50 years old. It's as though, when I joined Liberator 10 years later, the magazine had a column that required a knowledge of comedy from the 1930s. 

I always say that the problem with this Diary is not that Lord Bonkers is getting old, but that I am getting old.

Be that as it may, this entry ends our week at Bonkers Hall.


To the new Liberal Democrat HQ in Vincent Square (or that may be the name of the helpful chap on the desk – I got caught in the rain on the way back to St Pancras and my notes have run rather). 

I arrive to find the place in turmoil: our own dear leader, Ed Davey, has placed a bucket over his head and is resisting all entreaties to take it off. Vincent Square (if that is his name) explains that someone has just mentioned the European Union to Davey, and that the only way to persuade him to remove the aforementioned pail is for us all to climb into the ornamental fish tank that dominates the entrance lobby and sing ‘Jerusalem’. 

So your diarist, Vincent Square, the lovely Sarah Green MP and a bicycle courier who arrived at the moment juste brave the angelfish and give it both barrels. Sure enough, our leader is soon bucketless.

Conversation turns to what we shall do if another MP mentions the EU (perhaps quite innocently) while Davey is seated in the chamber. I suggest keeping a collapsible canvass tank behind the Speaker’s chair so that backbench Lib Dem MPs can leap into it at a moment’s notice to sing. 

“But how would we fill it?” asks one Bright Young Thing. “Oh,” I airily reply, “through the usual channels.”

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Two more Lib Dem gains in yesterday's local by-elections

It was another good Thursday for the Liberal Democrats, with two of the four local by-elections seeing us making a gain.

The first was a Cambridgeshire County Council by-election in a ward previously held by the St Neots Independent Group.

And the second was a Cornwall County Council by-election in a ward previously held by the Conservatives. 

This is a particularly encouraging result, as the Long Rock, Marazion and St Erth ward is in the St Ives constituency, which represents our best hope of winning a seat in Cornwall at the next general election.

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The Moosetrap

This is just the sort of gentle humour at the expense of foreigners that I've always been a little too fond of.

It could be worse though. Jerry Sadowitz was once knocked unconscious by a member of a Montreal audience after starting his act with "Hello Moosefuckers!"


The morning post includes a gratifyingly large cheque drawn on a Toronto bank. I have long been a patron of the arts, and from time to time have dabbled on the creative side of things too. You will know of my part in the Rutbeat movement of the Sixties and perhaps of the success of my film studios and its ‘Oakham Comedies’ in the immediate post-war years. 

What you may not know is that I also wrote what has turned out to be the most successful play ever produced on the Canadian stage: The Moosetrap. 

In the construction of this whodunit I made the great Agatha Christie my study, and played about with the conventions of the genre (as we theatrical folk say) just as she did. In particular, I presented the audience with a cast that Did Not Include A Butler, thus leaving them in the dark as to who had committed the murder until the end of the play.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Nick Cohen visits Mike Martin in Tunbridge Wells and sniffs a political earthquake

Nick Cohen takes us to Tunbridge Wells in his latest substack Writing from London:

Mike Martin is the sort of chap who used to be a natural Tory.  He served in Afghanistan, where the army put his knowledge of Pashto to good use, and is a visiting fellow at the Department of War Studies at King’s College, London. ...

His grandmother was a Conservative constituency chairman. His parents met at a dance at the Richmond-on-Thames Conservative Association, and his father went on to be a Conservative candidate in the 1983 general election.

Unsurprisingly, Martin has taken up the family tradition of going into politics. This hard-headed realist, however, is fighting to remove the Conservatives from power.

He will be the Liberal Democrat candidate for the Royal Town of Tunbridge Wells at the next election.

But does he stand any chance at the next election?

Cohen clearly thinks he does, citing the flight of the liberal middle classes from London and its property prices that is turning the town of Tunbridge Wells 'progressive'.

And if the Tories think the surrounding villages will save them, they may be disappointed:

Martin canvasses them as well. He walks up the long drives of country homes worth between £1 and £2 million, and thinks “I’ve no chance here”.

Only when he notices that the cars parked by the double garages are electric, does he think again.

Their owners cite climate change as the issue that worries them most. “It has really surprised me how much it has come up,” Martin told me.

The Tories, Martin says, can't tackle the climate crisis "because they are trapped by their libertarian fringe".

That's true and, more generally, being Tory MP, even a Tory minister, is today more about striking absurd 'anti-elitist' attitudes than it is about solving the problems voters face in their everyday lives.

Meanwhile, opinion polling suggests that Conservative voters are embracing the environmentalist agenda more and more warmly.

And why shouldn't they? Good stewardship used to be at the heart of Conservative thinking.

Cohen quotes Mike Martin's own grandmother as asking, when he renounced his family's commitment to the Tory party, what will happen to the Conservatives if they carry on losing educated and public-spirited young people like her grandson.

And he concludes:

In Tunbridge Wells, and in many other formerly safe seats, the Tories will soon find out. I doubt the verdict will please them.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

The Joy of Six 1110

"Such framings privilege the killer’s narrative over the victim’s. She’s dead, she can’t speak. But he still has a voice – the voice that says she made me do it, she was a nag, she was a cheat, she hurt me, she consented to the sex game gone wrong." Sian Norris analyses the widespread desire to pin the blame on women who are killed by men.

Human Rights Watch talks to Clive Baldwin to mark the 50th anniversary of the final forced deportations of the inhabitants of the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean so the US could establish military facilities on the largest island, Diego Garcia.

Leela Jadhav says government policy is that children should only be remanded in custody as a last resort, yet they now make up 45 per cent of the youth custody population - almost double the proportion 10 years ago and the highest on record.

Nina Bea looks at the career of Carol White up to he appearance in Cathy Come Home: "The close-up camerawork makes a voyeur of the viewer, one complicit in the breaking of Cathy. White’s demeanour captured the fall of a positive young woman into the depths of emotional hell."

"That night, telegraph communications around the world began to fail; there were reports of sparks showering from telegraph machines, shocking operators and setting papers ablaze. All over the planet, colourful auroras illuminated the night-time skies, glowing so brightly that birds began to chirp and laborers started their daily chores, believing the sun had begun rising." Christopher Klein on the 1859 'Carrington Event - a massive solar storm.

James Rippon marks the 25th birthday of the Angel of the North.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Committing arson in His Majesty’s dockyards

I first met his lordship in the Bonkers' Arms:

“I’ll have a pint of Dahrendorf lag…”

“Don’t have that,” came a commanding voice from the corner. “I tried it once and I was going off like a pop gun all night.”

I looked over to see a brisk, ruddy figure in tweeds. Something about him was familiar. Was it from that cavalry raid on the Conservative committee room?

Got it! This was Lord Bonkers.

“Give the chap a pint of Smithson & Greaves instead,” he said, “and pull me another while you are at it, my dear.”


Scandal has engulfed a further three cabinet ministers. Their offences vary: one has been accused of selling the greater part of Wiltshire to Russian oligarchs; a second appears to have been doling out the chairmanships of government committees in return for the loan of twenty pounds till Friday; and the third is widely suspected of committing arson in His Majesty’s dockyards. Yet the airwaves are choked with Conservatives maintaining that there is no need for any of them to resign. 

Well, I beg to differ, and I find this evening that the balance of opinion in the public bar of the Bonkers’ Arms favours my side of the argument.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

People don't have to agree with you to vote for you

Important words of wisdom from the Lib Dem Podcast people. 

Indeed, my impression is that you get more respect from voters if you stand up for what you believe.

Important rider: don't lecture people. This seems to me the most irritating tendency of the left, online at least,

Boy from Thai cave rescue dies after being found unconscious at Market Harborough college

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Duangpetch Promthep, one of the 12 boys rescued from a Thai cave in 2018, has died in hospital after being found unconscious at Brooke House College, Market Harborough. 

Aged 17, he was studying at the college after winning a scholarship to its football academy last year.

BBC News says he died yesterday after being found unconscious 'in his dorm' on Sunday, but the college owns student accommodation spread across the town.

The BBC report also says:
It is not known how the teenager died, but Leicestershire Police said his death is not being treated as suspicious. Reports in Thailand said he suffered a head injury.
This tragic story has only just made the local media and was being reported in Asia before the British press picked it up.

Later. Harborough FM says Duangpetch Promthep was found in his accommodation at the former Grove Motel in Welland Park Road.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

"We're doomed!" With Private Frazer to the South Pole

This is fun. Chris Green looks at the Service careers of John Laurie and of Private Frazer, whom he played in Dad's Army.

Jimmy Perry and David Croft, it seems, gave all their characters a full backstory.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: "A drop of What-killed-Aunty"

You see? They don't call the Wise Woman of Wing 'wise' for nothing.

And I am indebted to Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch for the expression 'What-killed-Aunty'. (For some reason I omitted the hyphens and capital letters in the version I sent to Liberator.) It occurs in the opening chapter of True Tilda.

So thank you, Q.


To the village, where I find the queue for Mr Patel’s shop wrapped three times round the green before it disappears into the churchyard of St Asquith’s and the fields beyond. Who should I find surveying the scene with satisfaction but my old friend the Wise Woman of Wing? 

“It’s this new energy drink I’ve produced with the Elves of Rockingham Forest,” she explains. “It’s an old recipe of mine, and they’ve added some of their secret herbs – and a drop of What-killed-Aunty, I shouldn’t wonder. Whatever they’ve done, it keeps the punters coming back for more.” 

When I inquire into the business side of the project, she becomes animated. “I’ve had my solicitor go through the contract with a nit comb, dearie. There isn’t going to be any nonsense about High Elven Law meaning they’re entitled to an extra twenty per cent this time. It’s strictly fifty-fifty all the way.”

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Monday, February 13, 2023

The tunnel under the Peak District that brings water to Sheffield

Extraordinary landscape and extraordinary engineering. The Rivelin Tunnel takes water from Ladybower Reservoir in the Derwent Valley and delivers it to the reservoirs on the River Rivelin that supply Sheffield.

This video crosses the hills in between to trace its route and on the way relates the history of its construction.

You can support these Trekking Exploration videos via their Patreon page.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The Rest is Under the Table

I never cease to be impressed by the old boy's willingness to move with the times. Two months ago it was Monster: now he's into podcasts.

No wonder he got into Bakelite and wireless telegraphy early on.


Have you come across podcasts? They are like the wireless, except that the people talking will wait for you if you want to use the thunder box or recharge your tumbler of Auld Johnston, that most prized of Highland malts. 

Among the most popular, I am told, are ‘The Rest is Politics’ and ‘The Rest is History’. Inspired by their success, I have started a snooker podcast under the title ‘The Rest is Under the Table’.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

John Curtice: The Tories' general election losses could be greater than any we’ve seen before

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Here's an encouraging story for a Monday. John Curtice says that, according to a large opinion poll carried out for the Telegraph, the Conservatives may face unprecedented losses at the next general election.

That poll shows the Tories are down 22 per cent on their performance at the last election. That, of course, suggests they will do very badly next time round.

But the news for them is worse than that headline figure suggests:

There are 90 seats in which the Conservatives won less than 22 per cent of the vote in 2019 and thus where it is arithmetically impossible for the party’s support to fall by 22 points. Consequently, the party’s support must be down by more than 22 points in some places where it performed better last time. 

That is likely to include constituencies the party is trying to defend, resulting in a greater loss of seats than the conventional calculation would anticipate.

Further analysis of the results suggest that the higher the Tory vote was in a seat last time, the greater is likely to be its fall next time:

On average, Electoral Calculus estimate the party’s vote in its 120 strongest seats is now as much as 30 points down on 2019 – and by 27 points in the 120 next strongest.

Which is why the Telegraph poll suggests the Tories could win as few as 45 seats next time round.

Curtice sayswe should be a cautious about forecasting the consequences of the Tories' current unpopularity because we have never seen a major party experience such a collapse in support. And it is, of course, possible they will stage a recovery before the election.

But his conclusion is clear:

One thing though is certain. Unless the Conservatives can haul themselves out of the electoral doldrums, the party will be a much diminished parliamentary force after the next election.

Sunday, February 12, 2023

The Joy of Six 1109

"Yes it’s been applied all across Europe but it’s as British as a stick of Blackpool rock or a carefully constructed Chris Tavaré half-century. If you hate Britain, if you hate what Britain stands for and what makes Britain special, if you hate what other Britons value then you probably hate the National Trust, the NHS and the BBC. You’ll also hate the European Convention on Human Rights because a swivel-eyed libertarian Think Thank told you so." Matthew Pennell identifies the six British heroes who gave us the ECHR.

"The two-year study, conducted 2018-2020 in the Netherlands with students aged 5 to 13, monitored carbon dioxide levels in classrooms and collected data on student test scores. The results were clear: the higher the CO2 levels, the lower the scores on standardized tests." Want to increase children's test scores? It could be as easy as opening the window, argues Brandon Kochkodin.

Samir Jeraj asks if it's last orders for British curry houses: "The £4.2bn industry as a whole is in labour crisis. In recent decades, the children and grandchildren of pioneering Bengali restaurateurs have opted not to join the family business, going instead into professional jobs supported by access to university."

Sophie Atkinson discovers why George Orwell hated Sheffield.

"Kind words from US celebrity critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert also proved helpful.'It's one of the rare movies that has the courage to admit that some teenagers can be immature and insecure,' enthused the latter. 'It remembers adolescence, it observes it lovingly with sympathy and good humour and, with what teenage boys probably need most, compassion.'" Richard Luck celebrates the unlikely triumph of Gregory's Girl.

James Wright descends the West Mine under Alderley Edge in search of locations from The Weirdstone of Brisingamen.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: I set off with the Well-Informed Orphan

It always snows at Christmas in Rutland, or at least on the Bonkers Hall Estate, which makes me think that it must be part of 'the old England' described by T.H. White.

And BBC Radio 4 used to broadcast a humorous play, Crisp and Even Brightly, which starred Timothy West and claimed to portray the real events behind the carol Good King Wenceslas. It may have given me the idea for this diary entry.

Follow the link and you'll find the whole thing on YouTube.


There I was at my Home for Well-Behaved Orphans on Boxing Day with a sack of presents (chocolate for the inmates, gin for Matron), when I happened to glance out of the window and spied a fellow whom I did not recognise gathering winter fuel. 

A passing orphan, who proved not only Well Behaved but also Well Informed, told me that the aforementioned scavenger lived in the Rutland Alps near the forest fence (erected, no doubt, by my ancestors to stop the environment getting out) and next to a fountain (which must be Very Handy). 

What with it being Christmas and all, I sent to the Hall for cold drumsticks, a bottle of my second-best claret and some pine logs. When they arrived I set off with the Well-Informed Orphan to deliver them.

The snow was deep and crisp and even, and the WIO found the going rather heavy. Luckily, I was wearing my patent Steam-Heated Boots for Winter Focus Delivery, so I advised him to tread in my footsteps. He reported that heat was in the very sod I had printed – at least, I think that’s what he said. 

We found the fuel-gatherer by the fountain and, I am pleased to report, the cold chicken and wine were well received. Unfortunately, the pine logs had all been used to fuel my boots.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Vashti Bunyan: Rose Hip November

Vashti Bunyan appeared on the London music scene in 1965 and was identified at once as 'the next Marianne Faithfull'. But her single flopped and she and her boyfriend Robert Lewis decided to join a commune that Donovan was setting up on Skye.

Aimee Ferrier takes up the story:
The pair sold their only valuable possession, an old grandfather clock, which earned them enough to buy a wagon and a black horse named Bess. Now the couple could stop living in fields and take to the road, determined to live away from modernity with minimal possessions. 
When Bunyan started her journey, she walked barefoot through the streets of swinging sixties-era London wearing a vintage nightgown with unbrushed hair. She asserts that her decision “was not a statement of any kind”. Bunyan wanted to escape her current life: “I wanted to get back that feeling of childlike wonder, to remember what it was like to find the world extraordinary, about there being so much to learn.”

Throughout Bunyan’s journey, she gained new pets, friends, and eventually children. Once the couple arrived at Donovan’s Skye commune, they realised that living there would be more complicated than they anticipated. 
Taking a break from her trip to visit home, Bunyan met Joe Boyd, best known for recording with Pink Floyd, Nick Drake and Fairport Convention. He promised to record an album with her once her travels were complete, and by 1970, her debut album, Just Another Diamond Day, was released. Most of the songs had been written during her travels, referring to them as “the dreaming in verges of grimy roads”.
Rose Hip November comes from that album. It was the opening track side 2 - not a place where you hide one of your weaker songs.

Just Another Diamond Day went almost unnoticed and Bunyan dropped out of music. 

The late 1990s saw a growing interest in her work and her album was re-released in 2000, finding particular with New Weird America artists such as Devendra Banhart, who became her friend and collaborator.

Since then released two more albums and published a well-received memoir.

Me? I first discovered her when a T-Mobile TV commerical used the title track of Just Another Diamond Day in 2006.

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Lib Dems to highlight Lee Anderson's remarks in blue wall blitz

Tomorrow's Observer reports:

The Liberal Democrats are to launch a digital advertising blitz in 'blue wall' seats held by leading cabinet ministers to highlight the new Conservative party deputy chair Lee Anderson’s enthusiastic backing for capital punishment.

The party believes that recent remarks by Anderson, who was promoted to the post last week by Rishi Sunak, will prove 'toxic' among Conservative voters in dozens of south-eastern constituencies, including those held by the chancellor of the exchequer, Jeremy Hunt, and deputy prime minister, Dominic Raab.

The digital posters will also feature Anderson’s statements about wanting to send people who arrive in England in small boats back to Calais on a Royal Navy frigate the same day, and his claims that nurses who visit food banks must have their own financial problems.

The image, which presumably forms part of this 'blitz' here has been tweeted by Anderson himself today. He added the words: 'Please drop me 48,000 off and I will deliver them myself in Ashfield.'

They might go down well in Ashfield, though Anderson here is playing up to elite caricatures of voters in the Midlands and the North. And social conservatives who do like his opinions may not appreciate his way of expressing them.

But this campaign isn't aimed at Ashfield: it's aimed at Conservative seats in the South of England where there is good evidence that people like Anderson play badly.

Liberal Democrat canvassers in the Chesham and Amersham by-election reported many Tory voters who were disgusted with Boris Johnson and wanted him gone.

Anderson is not corrupt in that way, but his views and language do represent a corruption of our political discourse. So I expect our social media campaign will go down well with its target audience.