Friday, March 31, 2023

A reminder that the UK already uses restraint on children in the care system

There has, rightly, been an outcry against the Home Office announcement that child asylum seekers will be forcibly restrained if they 'resist deportation'. But we shouldn't forget that restraint is widely used on children living in the care system.

In July 2021, Children & Young People Now reported:

Dozens of MPs have joined forces to call on the government to ban the use of handcuffs on children in care.

Ministers are backing the Hope Instead of Handcuffs campaign, launched by Emily Aklan, chief executive of children’s social care provider Serenity Welfare, which is calling for legislation allowing a child in care to be handcuffed during secure transportation to be scrapped.

It is currently legal for private transport providers to physically restrain children at their discretion without the accountability of regulation or monitoring of restraint.  

The magazine quoted the Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy, who had tabled a parliamentary motion stating that a child who has not committed or is not suspected of committing a crime should not be placed in handcuffs or any other form of physical restraint:

"The rising use of restraint against children in the care system reflects a whole series of policy failures and wider lack of early intervention. If we're going to keep children safe, we need transparency about how they're being treated. 
We must shine a light on practices which have been allowed to stay in the dark away from public knowledge for far too long and start acting to stop the social care system causing further harm to already vulnerable children and young people."

Emily Aklan, who launched Hope Instead of Handcuffs, said:

“I’ve seen far too many children with red marks around their wrists with massive distrust towards the system which is supposed to be helping them. 
But with no need to monitor and report any use of handcuffs and safeguarding issues preventing children from being able to share their stories, it’s been incredibly difficult to prove just how widespread this issue is.”

Concern over the lives of children in the care system does break out now and then, though it tends not to last long, but there was some good news last year.

As I blogged at the time, Wales became the first UK nation to protect children from being handcuffed or restrained when being transported between care settings.

The new Lib Dem Code of Conduct for Members and Registered Supporters is announced

The Liberal Democrats approved a new Code of Conduct for Members and Registered Supporters at their spring conference, which was in York earlier month.

It was announced to those members and supporters last night in the briefest of emails - though it still managed to misspell the name of the party.

Most members don't attend conference and probably weren't expecting this new code, so it would have been good to have received an email that explained why it has been produced and what it is designed to achieve.

The code is potentially draconian, but it would be wrong to condemn it before there is a body of case law to show how it is being interpreted in practice.

Last September, Liberator reported a trenchant preliminary ruling from the party's Federal Appeals Panel (FAP):
Among a series of robust comments, it states: "A Liberal party cannot be in the business of policing the thoughts or beliefs of its members", and "no person has a right never to be offended by other people’s speech, or to have others agree with their point of view".
It called compelled speech "an affront to freedom of conscience and expression, and contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights", and went on to say the party "may not compel its members to express beliefs (including about gender) that they do not hold, nor to use language or grammar that they do not wish to use".

The report concludes: "The Liberal Democrats' formal disciplinary process is not set up to punish people for being unsympathetic or unkind characters. Nor is it designed to deal with 'political' policy disagreements, personality clashes, inadequate job performance or skills, or minor slights or discourtesies."
But things did seem to be improving:
The document does show the complaints process is not now being used for denunciations and score settling on a scale reminiscent of Stalin’s Russia. Complaints peaked at more than 300 in 2020, but are now "consistently under 100, and still declining". 
In the past year 184 complaints were received of which 133 were dismissed and just eight upheld, although 10 of those dismissed received warnings.
Let's hope the new code of conduct will see this trend continue.

Thursday, March 30, 2023

The Joy of Six 1121

"Talented Tory politicians are no longer gossiped about as potentially the next Prime Minister, but as the next Leader of the Opposition. Others are standing down early rather than go through the motions of waiting for voters to kick them out." Asa Bennett says the real battle for the future of the Conservative Party will begin when they have lost the next election.

Michael Walzer talks to Dissent about his new book The Struggle for a Decent Politics: "A liberal is someone who’s tolerant of ambiguity, who can join arguments that he doesn’t have to win, who can live with people who disagree, who have different religions or different ideologies. That’s a liberal. But those liberal qualities don’t imply any social or economic doctrine."

Joanna Blythman says we must take a stand against the farmed salmon industry.

"In the first months of the Covid-19 pandemic, some experts worried that children confined at home would be vulnerable to abuse ... But the evidence suggests that in some parts of the United States, including New York City, those dire predictions were wrong: while the coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc across the country, the epidemic of child abuse never arrived." An accidental experiment during Covid lockdown suggests too many children are removed to foster care, reports Tracy Tullis.

"Ray looks worried even when he is promising to love you all day (and all of the night). Dave looks like he’s won the pools even when he’s singing about an alcoholic clown expiring alone." Gareth Roberts celebrates 60 years of The Kinks.

Curious British Telly remembers Not With a Bang, a postapocalyptic sitcom from 1990.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Could this be the reason I have a strong interest in Edwardian Liberalism? This is me in a sailor suit

Paddy Logan. Charles Masterman. Lord Bonkers. These are my political heroes.

But why am I so keen on Edwardian Liberals?

Browsing through the family photo albums, of which I'm now the custodian, I have found a possible answer. 

Because this is a photo of me in a sailor suit.

I'm not sure how common they still were in the early Sixties, but maybe the fact my mother has been in the WRNS and my father in the Royal Navy was an influence.

I remember my mother saying I used to get excited when she got it out because I knew that meant we were going somewhere.

Ed Davey launches Lib Dem local elections campaign in Berkhamsted

The tractor of Liberalism demolishes the blue bales of Tory privilege.

From BBC News:

Speaking ahead of the launch, Mr Davey said: "People are having to wait hours for an ambulance, weeks for a GP appointment or months for urgent cancer treatment as the NHS crisis spirals out of control.

"The local elections in May will be the final chance before the next general election to send a message that enough is enough.

"People are turning to the Liberal Democrats because they know we work hard for our communities, we hear your concerns, and we never take you for granted."

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Row brewing over repairs to wall beside Bridgnorth Cliff Railway

Good news: repair work on the wall that closed the Bridgnorth Cliff Railway began yesterday.

Bad news: a row is brewing over who will pay for it.

The wall in question is the one on the left-hand side of the photograph above.

BBC News reports

The owner of a cliff railway has said he will walk away if he is asked to pay for repairs to a nearby wall.

Dr Malvern Tipping, who has run the railway in Bridgnorth, Shropshire, for 12 years, said the wall is the responsibility of the town council and he could not afford the likely costs.

And the Shropshire Star has photos of the work being carried out.

Monday, March 27, 2023

Follow Stephen Sondheim and Hal Prince as they prepare the first West End production on Sweeney Todd

I first posted this in 2010 after watching the film, where "Johnny Depp sounds like David Bowie and you fear little Toby may break into a tap dance at any moment".


In those days this wonderful early edition of The South Bank Show was on YouTube in seven parts. Today you can enjoy the whole thing in a single video.

We follow Stephen Sondheim and Hal Prince as they prepare the first West End production of Sweeney Todd, which stars Daniel Massey and Sheila Hancock.

Am I getting nostalgic - I watched this when it was first broadcast in 1980 - or do you just not get arts programmes this good on British television any more?

Whatever the truth of that, let's pause a moment to give thanks for Melvyn Bragg.

Most Leicester councillors deselected by Labour's NEC are from minority ethnic backgrounds

From the Leicester Mercury this morning:

Nineteen sitting councillors have been told they cannot stand as a Labour candidate in the coming May election, after party heads decided to take the decision out of the hands of local members and placed the national executive committee (NEC) in charge.

But both deselected councillors and their constituents are questioning the party's motivations after it was revealed that a majority of those deselected are from a minority background. 

Fifteen out of the 26 BAME Labour city councillors have been removed from their positions compared with just four of the 22 white Labour councillors.

Sunday, March 26, 2023

The Joy of Six 1120

"We live in a global, interconnected community and it is ridiculous to think that if we only act in our own self interest, there will not be consequences to our ability to engage internationally. It’s not as if we are anywhere near the top of the league table of countries where refugees flee." Tim Farron says that if Rwanda can support the wellbeing and integration of refugees, then so can the UK.

Pam Jarvis argues that changes to education have created a toxic environment of overbearing discipline, 'zero tolerance' and the rote learning of a narrow curriculum.

Lucinda Dickens Hawksley, Charles Dickens' great-great-great-granddaughter, talks to the Mirror: "The gap between the rich and poor in Dickens' time was huge, and in recent years the gap has grown again. We have never been so like the Victorian age in terms of the haves and have-nots. People lived hand to mouth, they weren’t saving to buy a home. They were trying to cover their rent - there is similarity today." 

"Wolves are making a dramatic comeback across mainland Europe, but the controversial prospect of their return to the UK remains unlikely for the foreseeable future. Instead, the growing focus here is on the lynx, a much less well-known predator, but one that many believe could prove less challenging to live with. So, how realistic is a lynx reintroduction and what might it mean for us, should we find ourselves sharing familiar spaces with this unfamiliar cat?" Hugh Webster asks if we could learn to live with the lynx.

Pitchfork choses the 50 best Britpop albums.

"It’s nearly 10 years since I last visited the ruins of Ruperra Castle, in the county borough of Caerphilly, but, to judge from photographs, this magical and unexpectedly sequestered ruin between Newport and Cardiff has only grown more melancholy with the passage of the years." John Goodall makes the case for saving Ruperra Castle.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe: When I First Sought the Lord

It's high time we heard more from the wonderful Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

We've seen her singing Didn't It Rain? on the platform of Wilbraham Road station in suburban Manchester in 1964. Here she is more than a decade before singing, playing the guitar and reminding us that black American religious music was part of the mix that produced rock.

I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. (Psalms 34:4)

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Work to allow Bridgnorth Cliff Railway to reopen starts on Monday

Good news from the Shropshire Star. Work to allow the Bridgnorth Cliff Railway to reopen will start on Monday.

There had been problems establishing who owned an unstable wall beside the line, but these must have been overcome:

When the railway was closed in December due to the discovery of a serious fault in a retaining wall to the funicular railway, 14 of 16 of its staff members were made redundant.

But following the news that repair work is due to start on Monday, the Cliff Railway workers are celebrating.

"We are over the moon," said Peter Bridger, 77, who was laid off in January after seven years of ferrying passengers from Low Town to High Town. ...

"I honestly thought HS2 would be finished before the Cliff Railway was, but this is great news."

The 9th Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon

This weekend Terence Towles Canote is running a 'blogathon' - what we used to call a blog carnival in the days when blogging was a thing - on his A Shroud of Thoughts blog where people write about their favourite television episode on their own blogs.

There are 16 posts listed, and all except mine on Softly, Softly: Task Force are about episodes from American television series.

Subjects dealt with so far include Scooby Doo, Falcon Crest, Moonlighting, The Golden Girls and The Twilight Zone.

Softly, Softly: Task Force and the history of police on television

This post is written for the 9th Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon on Terence Towles Canote's blog A Shroud of Thoughts.

It’s 1968 and downstairs I can hear the theme music for Softly, Softly playing. But it’s eight o’clock and I'm only eight years old. Not suprisingly, I long to watch the programme.

A couple of years later, when I could watch it, Softly, Softly had metamorphosed into Softly, Softly Task Force and it is an episode of this latter series - Copper Wire, first broadcast on 1 December 1971 - that I shall be writing about here.

But to set it in context, we need a bit history of first - the history of police series on British television, or at least on the BBC.

The fall and rise of PC Dixon

That history really begins in the cinema. Ealing Studios released its police drama The Blue Lamp in 1950. It dealt with the murder of a London policeman who’s coming up to retirement, PC George Dixon played by Jack Warner, and the capture of his killer.

As in many British films of that decade, the villains are much more sharply drawn than the good characters. So the young hoodlum who shoots Dixon after robbing a cinema of its takings, Dirk Bogarde, still seems sexy and dangerous today. But James Hanley as the new constable who lodges with the Dixons and acts as a sort of surrogate son comes over as a wet haddock.

But then The Times critic of the day complained that: 

There is an indefinable feel of the theatrical backcloth behind their words and actions ... The sense that the policemen they are acting are not policemen as they really are, but policemen as an indulgent tradition has chosen to think they are, will not be banished.

That didn’t stop George Dixon rising from the dead to become nearly immortal.

In 1955 the BBC began to screen Dixon of Dock Green, a police series featuring several characters from The Blue Lamp, including a resurrected PC Dixon - again played by Jack Warner.

Warner was to go on playing him until the series ended in 1976, by which time he was 80 himself.

Dixon of Dock Green is written off in the TV history books as being ridiculously dated long before its 21 years on screen were up. 

I remember watching it as a small boy in the Sixties - it was shown at Saturday teatime, so no bedtime issues arose - and each episode began and ended with a homily delivered straight to camera by Dixon himself. 

These generally ran along the lines of “Young Johnny wasn’t a bad lad, but he fell in with the wrong crowd.”

Before I move this history on, I should add that, out of curiosity, I watched a 1970 episode of Dixon of Dock Green and found it wasn’t dated at all. 

Yes, Jack Warner was visibly at least two decades past retirement age – even his son-in-law Andy Crawford, the equivalent of Jimmy Hanley’s character in the film, must have been disappointed not to have made it past Detective Sergeant at his age. 

But the rest of it felt like 1970 and there was good use made of then-derelict Dockland locations.

Even Dixon’s opening monologue, which was about how you could work with someone for years but never really know them, was haunting rather than cosy.

Enter Barlow and Watt

In 1962 the BBC embarked on a new police series set in a new town in the North West of England.

The first episode of Z-Cars began with Detective Inspector Barlow (played by Stratford Johns) and Detective Sergeant John Watt (Frank Windsor) meeting by the graveside of another version of the original PC Dixon – an old constable gunned down by a young hoodlum.

While the makers of The Blue Lamp could only suggest more bobbies on the beat, Barlow and Watt have a modern answer to the problem. 

Watt says:

“If we had crime patrols like other divisions, Reggie Farrow would be alive today. If we had crime patrols in Newtown, when the burglar alarm went at the factory it would have been two tough commandos that tearaway met instead of old Reggie and his bicycle.”

And the rest of the episode shows them assigning suitable officers to these new motorised patrols.

The original run of Z-Cars between 1962 and 1965 – it was one of the last British TV dramas to be screened live – had a strong impact and was hailed as presenting the police as they really were.

When it returned in 1968, it was without Barlow and Watt, who had become the dominant characters in a new show. These later years of Z-Cars was never as ground-breaking as the original series, and scheduled like a soap on two evenings a week, it was in danger of turning into a soap.

Still, the Z-Cars theme tune remains one of the greats.

I finally get to watch Softly, Softly

Barlow and Watt had moved on to Softly, Softly. This new drama series again tried to keep up with developments in British policing by covering the work of a regional crime squad – in this case in a fictional region called Wyvern located somewhere near Bristol.

The series took its name from the motto of Lancashire Constabulary Training School: ‘Softly, softly, catchee monkey.’

In 1969 Barlow and Watt, by now promoted to Detective Chief Superintendent and Detective Superintendent respectively, moved to a new series called Softly, Softly: Taskforce. Set in the fictional town of Thamesford (and filmed in the Medway towns in Kent), this concentrated on a team of uniform and plain-clothes police establish to carry out large operations.

It was this series that I got to watch as a boy.

Copper Wire

I’ve chosen Copper Wire for two reasons: the first is what it tells us about policing in 1971 and the second is the quality of the acting.

To get a result, the Task Force relies on either catching the criminals red handed or getting a confession out of them. There is little mention of forensic science beyond fingerprinting - the analysis of blood groups could eliminate suspects but not convict them.

And to get catch criminals in the act you needed a tip off, either from police intelligence – another force hearing rumours that one of their regular customers is planning a job in Thamesford – or from an informer. Every detective has his informers and their identities are jealously hidden even from superior officers.

If you wanted a confession, then Barlow was your man. This was the age before the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, but I can’t remember an episode when he beat it out of a suspect. He could be a bully, and he was sometimes shown bullying the innocent, but he also used cunning and psychology. In Copper Wire he resembles a priest hearing confession.

Barlow is being driven home by his sergeant from a dinner where he has drunk too much. Listening in on the police radio for entertainment, he hears a name he recognises from his days in the North West. Partly out of mischief and partly out of nostalgia, he inserts himself in the investigation.

What follows in the second half of this episode is a wonderful two-hander between Stratford Johns as Barlow and Peter Kerrigan as Tiger Mulholland.

Stratford Johns was a mighty actor. Before Z-Cars he had been with the Royal Court in its glory years and he would later shave his head and play Daddy Warbucks in the first West End production of Annie. When he left Softly, Softly: Task Force in 1972, initially to play Barlow in a series of his own, it was never as good.

But Peter Kerrigan is marvellous here too. In what could be a stereotyped Liverpudlian role, he underplays beautifully. Kerrigan had been a docker on Merseyside and was later to appear in many of Alan Bleasdale’s television plays.

Not that good acting in Task Force was a surprise. Thamesford’s Chief Constable was played by Walter Gotell, whose granite face and gravelly voice made him a regular Bond villain. And the dog-handler PC Snow was played by Terence Rigby, who was one of Harold Pinter’s favourite actors.

Frank Windsor devoted much of his career to playing John Watt, but when the series ended he went back to the stage and won warm reviews for his comic acting.

My favourite Task Force character as a boy was Inspector Harry Hawkins, played by Norman Bowler. I was later to learn that Bowler had been a member of the Soho set in the 1950s - here he is talking about the artist John Minton.

To end, and to prove there was some humour in Task Force, here from another episode is a short exchange between Inspector Hawkins and PC Snow, who is gently breaking in his new police dog.

Friday, March 24, 2023

A blogger re-reads all 20 of Malcolm Saville's Lone Pine stories

The writer of Life Must Be Filled Up set herself the task of re-reading all 20 of Malcolm Saville's Lone Pine stories, from Mystery at Witchend (1943) to Home to Witchend (1978). 

She reports that she enjoyed the experience more than she had expected to, and sets out her conclusions in three posts - on character, the strange behaviour of parents and romance.

Her conclusions on David Morton, the captain of the Lone Pine Club are brutal but only a little unfair. She finds him:
thick and very dull indeed with no sense of humour (there’s very little humour in the books). Far from being ‘annoyingly steady’, he’s often the one who refuses to get help from the police or adults when the Lone Piners realise they are in trouble.
The good news is that she has warmed a little to the Morton twins:
Many people are unable to read these books because they find the twins so irritating with their put-on baby talk and constant complaints about the others having secrets from them. Their propensity to get locked up in ruined cottages by villains gets rather wearing. 
Surprisingly, on this reading, I found them more tolerable, especially Mary, who is very observant and often understands other people’s feelings before any of the others do.

This time it's the previous geneations of Mortons in the firing line:
I really don’t understand the Morton parents. The children are all at boarding school, so they see little enough of them, yet they are permitted to gad off to Yorkshire, Dartmoor and Rye, when their parents must know that no good ever comes of these holidays. In Seven White Gates, they are allowed to camp at a place owned by people they don’t know. 
The Mortons put far too much responsibility on poor old David, expecting him to keep the twins safe but in Lone Pine Five and The Elusive Grasshopper they are in great danger.
All true, but then I always liked the books where the twins were in great danger best.

Home to Witchend ends with David Morton getting engaged to Peter (Petronella) Stirling, and Tom Ingles to Jenny Harman.

But, as the Call Me Madam blogger observes, there is no third engagement. Why not Jon and Penny Warrender too?
I’ve read somewhere that, as first cousins, Jon and Penny regretfully decided they didn’t have a future together. I can’t find any such reference in the texts, so I wonder where it came from?
I can help here. I've not seen the sources, but I've been told that it was Malcolm Saville himself who was worried by the prospect of cousins wedding. He discussed his doubts in letters to friends and fans of the books.

He even considered pairing Penny instead with Dan Sturt, the young West Country journalist from Saucers Over the Moor and Where's My Girl?, though there is no trace of this in the books.

So if Jon and Penny did tie the knot after the close of Home to Witchend, Malcolm Saville wasn't there to record the occasion.

If you've enjoyed this post, you may like Read Martin Crookall on Malcolm Saville's children's fiction.

Mystery Surrounds How Cow Made Its Way Into Market Harborough Tennis Club

Sorry to have two Market Harborough stories today, but I suppose it proves that the judges are autonomous. Because they have given Harborough FM our coveted Headline of the Day Award.

For myself, I can only see this as a positive moo-ve. If British tennis is to prosper, it will have to shake off its image as a middle-class preserve and appeal to a wider population.

Cows' money is as good as anyone else's, so I say let them join.

Market Harborough is one of the best places to live in the country

Not content with recently being voted the second coolest place in Leicestershire, Market Harborough has now been included on the Sunday Times's list of the best places to live in Britain.

The Leicester Mercury quotes the Sunday Times pen portrait of the town:

'With so many beautiful old buildings, it’s hard to avoid history in Market Harborough, but it’s a town with plenty of modern, practical attractions, too.

'Rail connections to London and elsewhere are impeccable, schools are good and the town centre is a good mix of useful chains and interesting independents – none more inspiring than the Eco Village, a lively hub of mini-businesses that offers an environmentally friendly alternative to supermarket shopping.'

Bishop's Castle in Shropshire and the county of Rutland are also on the list.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Four East Devon Independent councillors to stand for the Lib Dems in May

Four Independent councillors on East Devon District Council  - the leader of the council and three cabinet members - are to stand for the Liberal Democrats in May.

They are council leader Paul Arnott and the cabinet members Nick Hookway, Geoff Jung and Marianne Rixson.

Since 2019, the council has been run by the East Devon Alliance, comprising Lib Dem, Green and Independent councillors.

A spokesperson for the four told Devon Live:

"The historic election victory of Richard Foord MP last summer was a watershed moment. In order to grow a progressive, centrist East Devon – with Homes, the Environment and Economic Growth at its heart – we believe that by standing as Lib Dems we can help guarantee this for the future."

When the Walker Brothers lost their shirts in Market Harborough

This is a cutting from the Leicester Daily Mercury for Monday 6 September 1965, so the concert must have taken place on 4 September.

I see newspapers were still giving 'pop' scare quotes, but I like the wiggly line around the item. I used to do a similar thing with a black felt pen when I included press cuttings in Focus and we pasted the artwork down. Letraset and Cow Gum, isn't it? Marvellous. 

Where did the concert take place? A Scott Walker timeline gives the venue as 'Embi Hall', which must mean the Embi Club.

Cinema Treasures says this was the old County Cinema on The Square, which was originally the New Hall, where the Liberal Party held its public meetings. 

I like the idea that two of my heroes, J.W. Logan MP and Scott Walker, performed on the same stage. (More prosaically, New Look and Superdrug occupy the modern building on the site.)

Another Leicester Daily Mercury cutting, this one from 18 May 1968, reports a break in at the Embi Club, but gives its address as 55 St Mary's Road. 

This would have been the old Oriental Cinema, so if Cinema Treasures is right the Embi Club changed venue at some point. 

Yet another club, the Frolickin Kneecap, was still using a venue on The Square that year, which must have been the old County Cinema.

Can any reader confirm where the Walker Brothers concert took place?

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

The Joy of Six 1119

"'It's time​ for the police to stop virtue-signalling and start catching robbers and burglars,'’ the home secretary, Suella Braverman, said at the Conservative Party Conference last autumn. 'More PCs, less PC.' It’s not surprising that the government’s most committed culture warrior would use her speech to launch an attack on wokery. What’s strange is that anyone could think that the main problem with the British police is a surfeit of political correctness." Daniel Trilling reviews two books on the problems facing British policing.

Heidi Siegmund Cuda explores how Russia joined forces with our own anti-vaxxers to wage biological warfare by proxy against the West: "In this undeclared cognitive warfare - where the human mind is the battlefield - a global pandemic becomes weaponised and too many people have no inoculations against disinformation."

The UK government’s attempt to frighten people into protecting themselves against Covid was at odds with the scientific advice it was receiving, say Stephen Reicher et al.

"Something sinister is going on with cuteness. Over the last five years, we’ve seen the sudden appearance of cute Facial ID Recognition surveillance, cute government health messaging, cute military propaganda, cute identity wars and even cute robotic elder care." Ewan Morrison on the rise of cute authoritarianism.

John Grindrod on the conundrum that is the green belt: "within it lie some of the most curious buildings in Britain, ghosts of long-lost ways of life, thwarted plans and the secrets of a nation running out of places to hide them."

"Without doubt Steve Winwood stole the show with Ginger a close second.  Winwood sang every song (he wrote most of them, too) and his keyboards dominated throughout."  Stuart Penney was at Blind Faith's Hyde Park debut and he remembers it.

Leicester man loses dad's ashes in Tesco bag for life during pub crawl

Our Headline of the Day Award goes to the Leicester Mercury. The judges were particularly pleased the paper had found a clickbait story that had local relevance "unlike most of the stuff it tweets these days".

I asked the judges if, deep down, this wasn't a sad story. They replied that most of our award winners are if you think about them for more than a moment.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

In search of Birchinlee, the lost village that built the Derwent dams

It's time for another trip to the valley of the wonderful Derbyshire Derwent with Trekking Exploration.

This time we go in search of the Bamford and Howden Railway, which was used in the construction of the Derwent and Howden dams between 1901 and 1916, and of Birchinlee, the abandoned village where the labourers lived.

If you want to go deeper, you can find some photographs of the railway in operation on Public Transport Experience. That site also has a photograph of a building in the nearby village of Hope that was taken there from Birchinlee.

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

Thomas Hardy had nothing to do with The Hardy Tree and its legend dates from the late 20th century

When The Hardy Tree in Old St Pancras churchyard came down last December, I dutifully repeated its accepted history:

When the Midland Railway built it's line from Bedford to St Pancras, part of the churchyard of Old St Pancras Church was sacrificed to make way for it.

The man in charge of clearing the burials in the path of the line was a young Thomas Hardy. It's no wonder his novels turned out like they did.

Hardy had some of the redundant gravestones piles around the base of an ash tree in the remaining portion of the churchyard, and its roots later spread amongst them. It is this tree that has fallen.

But the current issue of Fortean Times suggests that Hardy had nothing to do with the tree and that this story dates from the late 20th century.

In support of its scepticism, the magazine cites an article on The London Dead:

There is no evidence that Hardy had anything to do with the tree named after him but even so I had, like most people, assumed that the gravestones had been arranged around the tree in the first place. 

It was with something of a jolt therefore that I came across a photograph of "St. Pancras churchyard and it’s disturbed gravestones" in 'Wonderful London' a book edited by St. John Adcock and published in 1926. 

The caption to the photo mentions the Midland railway Company obtaining an Act in 1863 allowing them to build a viaduct over the churchyard and says "the rockery made of tombstones is a result of the headstones being removed and 'dumped'". 

The photograph shows the familiar circular arrangement of headstones but with one significant difference; there is no tree! 

In 1926 the Hardy tree did not exist. The tree, presumably self-seeded, has grown since the late 1920’s and is less than one hundred years old.

The article goes on to quote an account by Hardy of his work at Old St Pancras that makes it clear he was not in charge of the exhumations but merely dropped by in the evenings to keep an eye on progress.

So where does the legend of Hardy and his tree come from?

The London Dead says:

In ‘Lights Out for the Territory’ Iain Sinclair tells us that he was working on a long London poem provisionally entitled RedEye and gives an extract from the abandoned work (‘May 16, 1973: at St Pancras Old Church. Drawn against the repetitive boredom of the pavements to investigate the building - its slight eminence....’) which goes onto to mention Hardy and his supervision of the exhumations and "his ever-recurrent interest in churchyards".  

Later he describes the photographer Marc Atkin’s fascination with the Hardy tree "with its cluster of surrounding headstones - like a school of grey fins circling the massive trunk, feeding on the secretions of the dead." 

This was in 1997 which is as close as I can get at this stage to the naming of the Hardy tree - sometime between 1978 and 1997.

It isn't just Sinclair and Atkin who had a deep interest in Old St Pancras in those years: Aidan Dun published a visionary poem about this corner of London, Vale Royal, in 1995. Like Sinclair's early books, it was published by Mike Goldmark in Uppingham.

And in 2007 I quoted a post on BLDG Blog:

I think it's from Dun – but I don't actually know; I just associate this with him - maybe I made it up? - that I heard a legend claiming that St. Pancras Old Church, stranded on its small hill behind the train stations next to the old London Hospital for Tropical Diseases, is actually the secret burial place of Christ.

The church, obviously, was built much later, as a means of marking the site - at the same time keeping silent its little secret.

I suspect The London Dead is right, and the legend of The Hardy Tree originated somewhere in this neo-Blakean, psychogeographic, Sinclairian school of literature. And the idea that his experiences at Old St Pancras had a profound on Hardy and thus his novels does seem to date from 1997 and Iain Sinclair's Lights Out for the Territory.

Maybe the dead do speak to us, but in their own way

As Lord Bonkers might put it, the dead are Terribly Dead. I've had no sense of my mother's presence since she died, even though I've had a couple of naps in an armchair in the room where it took place.


I was in Melton Mowbray last month and looked for the café where I had met Liberator's Simon Titley for the last time before I visited him as he was dying in hospital.

For a short while I couldn't locate it. It's on the first floor and I was confused because the shop below it is currently empty. But I soon found it and was glad I had.

Then as I turned the corner, the bells of St Mary's began to ring out See, the Conquering Hero Comes!

One of the hymns I chose for my mother's funeral was Thine Be the Glory. I chose it because it's sung to that tune, which she loved.

So maybe the dead do speak to us, but in their own way.

Now 19 Leicester Labour councillors are told they can't stand again in May by the national party

We now go over live to the Leicester Labour Party.

From the Leicester Mercury:

Labour members have responded with fury after 19 sitting councillors were told they will not be able to defend their seats in May’s elections. The decision has been slammed as undemocratic, an attempt to silence members, and a demonstration of "utter contempt" by those not selected.

The choice of who can and cannot stand in May’s election was taken out of the hands of local party members after national Labour figures decided to take control. They announced the decision to overrule any local decision making in February, saying "power struggles and organisational issues" could damage Labour candidates' prospects in both the local council and city mayoral elections.

That decision was widely condemned by local members at the time as undemocratic. The national party has now made its decision – and 19 Labour councillors, some of whom have served their wards for decades, will be deselected and not be able to stand for Labour.

Already Patrick Kitterick has said he will stand for the Greens in May, while Rita Patel will challenge Sir Peter Soulsby as an independent in the mayoral election.

Now the Mercury says more of the 19 councillors have

declared they will be standing as independent members for their wards, while others are considering joining with other political groups.

What with the influence of the mayor on a council with a huge Labour majority, and the national party taking control of selections, there doesn't seem much room for democracy in the party in Leicester any more.

Monday, March 20, 2023

"Jennifer Anne and her way with hedgehogs": Joyce Grenfell skewers Enid Blyton

When the editing of Roald Dahl's books was in the news, I wrote:
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.
Now it's Blyton in the news, which gives me an excuse to post this wicked parody of her approach to writing for children by Joyce Grenfell.

h/t Chris Brosnahan on Twitter.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Suspended Labour councillor to challenge Sir Peter Soulsby in Leicester mayoral election

Rita Patel, one of the four Labour councillors suspended by the party for supporting the abolition of Leicester's mayoral system, is to stand against Sir Peter Soulsby for the post in May.

You can watch her video here and read more further down the Twitter thread.

I am encouraged by her intention to abolish the city's elected mayoral system. As Sir Peter has so ably demonstrated, it concentrates too much power in the hands on one person.

Meanwhile, Patrick Kitterick, who has left Labour and joined the Greens, for whom he will stand as a council candidate in May, has been talking to the Leicester Mercury:

"I believe the Labour Party has changed for the worse, and, being on the inside, I realise just how bad it’s got in terms of the crushing of any dissent or opinion,” he said.

"Debate has been curtailed. It’s becoming apparent that anyone who stands has to sign a loyalty oath to the city mayor, and the reality is my loyalties are to the people who elect me, not to one man.

"It seems the party is going down a route where you either unquestioningly agree with the city mayor or you leave. So I’m leaving."

He also criticised the decision to bring in national party members to select candidates for the May elections, saying local members were being cut out of the decision.

"I’m just disillusioned with what’s going on in the Labour Party both nationally and locally,” he said. “It’s been setting in for a few years now, but the case of local members being cut out and us being vetted by an outside panel for the elections was a tipping point."

For Mother's Day

It will soon be a year since my mother died.

One of the things I promised her I would keep when I cleared her house was the family photographs. So I thought I would post one of her as a teenager - though I'm not sure they had teenagers in the late 1940s.

She is one the right here, with a friend from the Wrens.

Did Ed Davey take a page from Paddy Ashdown's playbook?

So let me shout it, yet again: if you want to boost our economy, you have to repair our broken relationship with Europe.

Conference, you don’t need me to tell you what a disaster the Conservatives’ botched deal with Europe has been for our country. You see it every day in your communities: The businesses strangled by red tape. The farmers, fishers and factories, unable to sell to their customers on the continent. The empty shelves in local supermarkets. 

It’s why we campaigned against it. Why, when Boris Johnson brought his terrible deal to Parliament, when even Labour supported it, Liberal Democrats stood alone and voted against it.

And why now Liberal Democrats are the only ones with a real plan to fix Britain’s trade. To tear down the Conservatives’ trade barriers, rip up their red tape, and rebuild the ties of trust and friendship with our European neighbours.

I'm not sure about that "yet again": Ed Davey has been notably quiet on Europe. And there's nothing here that he couldn't or shouldn't have said when he became leader in 2020.

But I'm glad he said it today. The rapturous response in the hall tells you that this is what the party wanted to hear.

In fact, I suspect a deft piece of party management here.

I am reminded of my first Liberal Party Assembly at Bournemouth in 1984. Paddy Ashdown, the dashing new MP for Yeovil, had already made a name for himself by opposing the deployment of US cruise missiles in Britain.

But in the run up to the assembly there had been strong rumours that he had agreed a compromise position with the party establishment.

So when he rose in the hall to speak against cruise, there was an ecstatic reaction.

You can read about that assembly and the defence vote in the New York Times.

I am pleased to see that the Times report mentions Liberator, because Bournemouth 1984 was our finest hour. 

We were the lead item on the BBC evening news because, under the heading 'Should Steel go?', we had printed betting odds on who would become the next Liberal leader, along with a pithy description of each MP.

And the bit about 'Liberal delegates arriving in Bournemouth' was illustrated with footage of me and Stewart Rayment strolling along the sea front.

Iona Zajac: Red Corn Poppies

The Skinny interviewed Iona Zajac last year when Red Corn Poppies was released as her second single:

Your new single Red Corn Poppies is beautiful. What’s it about?

Everything is dry and dead and unclean
And love spits for information’
(Hannah Sullivan, Three Poems)
I kept returning to Hannah Sullivan’s collection when I was living in Woodlands, Glasgow in November 2018. The streets were a mass of wet cardboard and browning curtains, getting anywhere felt like trudging through wet wool. 
One evening I went into a local fruit and veg shop after a very long day, to find everything inside had gone off, just filled with mouldy vegetables and wilting flowers. But for some reason I couldn’t leave without buying something – I think I salvaged a single plum. 
Red Corn Poppies is about the thing that wills you forward when all you want to do is sit down on the pavement, and let it all go.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

A tribute to Neal Ascherson on his 90th birthday

Last October one of my favourite journalists, Neal Ascherson, turned 90. To mark the occasion, he was interviewed by Tim Adams in the Observer:

There are certain writers who seem singled out to bear witness to their times. Neal Ascherson first had a graphic inkling of that fate when he was a small boy in Peterborough, where his father, a naval officer, was stationed at a factory making torpedoes. 

"It would have been the summer of 1940," Ascherson says, "and I was coming back to the village where we lived, from school, on the bus. I must have been seven. This aircraft appeared as I was walking back to our house. Like all small boys I knew my bomber planes and I recognised it as a German Dornier, flying low. I didn’t hear it firing, but my mother did. She was watching for me from a window and almost died of horror. 

"Some fucker in the belly turret of the plane let off some machine gun rounds at me. I was the only person in the whole landscape, a little boy with a school bag. The noise of the engine was so loud I didn’t hear anything, and obviously he missed, but afterwards the trees all along the road had these white scars where the bullets had gone in."

Ascherson is telling me this story, with a characteristic twinkling smile, from his sofa in the tall terrace house near Highbury Fields in north London where he has lived for 40 years with his second wife and fellow journalist, Isabel Hilton. 

The previous night he had celebrated his 90th birthday at the Polish Hearth Club in Kensington where his old friend, the playwright Michael Frayn, a youthful 89, had toasted him as a man of “rare charisma, like a 19th-century romantic hero, with a kind of nobility that has always seemed a kind of human gold standard”. 

Ascherson wears those traits lightly, but you glimpse them all the same. In some ways, that near-miss from the Luftwaffe established the pattern of his life: if European history was happening, he was never far away.

And my graphic? Yes, it was Neal Ascherson who said that and not Tony Benn.

The Joy of Six 1118

It's become evident to some of Putin's propagandists that they may face charges in a war crimes tribunal, but their own words are still strengthening the case for the prosecution, reports Julia Davis.

"Our research is ongoing, and it’s still early. But so far, we have found that these short bursts of independence have led to reduced anxiety in kids and their parents, increased self-esteem and willingness to try difficult things, and more free time for parents, who don’t have to spend every waking moment chasing their kid." Clinical psychologist Camilo Ortiz outlines a new approach to helping anxious children.

Mark Bridge on research suggesting that a harrowing anonymous account by an 18th-century slave trader was written by John Newton, who wrote the hymn Amazing Grace.

"Rod McKuen sold millions of poetry books in the 1960s and 1970s. He was a regular on late-night TV. He released dozens of albums, wrote songs for Sinatra, and was nominated for two Oscars. He was a flashpoint in the battle between highbrow and lowbrow, with devotees revering his plain-spoken honesty and Dick Cavett mockingly calling him 'the most understood poet in America.' Every year on his birthday, he sold out Carnegie Hall." So why, asks Dan Kois, has he been completely forgotten?

Andy Boddington says Shrewsbury bus station is a disgrace: "Whatever the future plans for redevelopment, we can’t wait years for a better bus station in our county town. Shropshire Council should smarten up the bus station and make it an attractive place to wait for a bus and a welcoming place for people coming to Shrewsbury and Shropshire."

Explore a "haunted landscape of abandonment" in rural Leicestershire with Christopher Somerville.

Friday, March 17, 2023

The miraculous remains of the Somerset Coal Canal

The Somerset coalfield is forgotten now, but the last mine there did not close until 1973. And at the start of the 19th century a canal was dug to serve the industry there.

Running from the Kennet and Avon Canal at Limpley Stoke near Bath, the Somersetshire Coal Canal headed 10 miles south west to Paulton and Timsbury. A branch was built from Midford, near the northern end of the canal, to the mining town of Radstock, but this was soon replaced by a tramway.

Paul and Rebecca Whitewick visit the remains of the canal at Combe Hay, and what they find is stunning. The flight of locks there has been closed since the end of the 19th century, yet the masonry from which the lock chambers are constructed is in perfect condition.

So it's no surprise that restoration work is taking place along the length of the canal - see the webpage of the Somersetshire Coal Canal Society for details.

At the start of this video, Paul Whitewick points to the Camerton railway branch line. This is where much of The Titfield Thunderbolt was filmed, but you'll find no mention of coal traffic in the film.

There's more from Paul and Rebecca Whitewick about their railway and canal explorations on their website.

Senior Leicester Labour councillor to stand for the Greens in May

One of the four Labour councillors suspended by the party in Leicester has announced that he will be standing for the Green Party in the city council elections in May.

In a tweet sent at lunchtime today, Patrick Kitterick said:

Ever since being elected as a councillor for Castle Ward, I have always sought to do the right thing. I have now taken the decision to leave the Labour Party and will stand as a Green Party candidate for Castle Ward in the upcoming City Elections.

Kitterick was suspended, along with his fellow councillors Rita Patel, Ross Willmott and Jacky Nangreave, for moving or seconding council motion that would have ended Leicester's mayoral system of local government.

The suspension means they will not be able to stand for Labour in May's all-out elections.

Patel and Willmott have spoken to the Leicester Mercury about their suspension, with Cllr Patel saying:
"I think the suspension [feels] illegal because it breaches our human rights in terms of having the freedom to speak. 
"Councillors are elected to speak up for their residents, and if we can’t do that it begs the question of what are we doing? You can talk all you like about timing, but actually it's a really important debate.

"It’s about real democracy in this city. We’re a democracy; if people feel differently to others they should be able to voice that.

"We’ve had the mayoral system for the last 12 years. We’ve given it a go. I really feel we need a debate [on whether it should be kept]. It’s not working in terms of the concentration of power in one position.

"It’s making councillors almost redundant. They become glorified case workers more than people who are really involved in decision making and being able to feed in the concerns people have and then go back out and let people know how things are changing in response to those concerns.

"We’re being gagged on the city council from speaking up and saying what needs to be said on behalf of the people who vote for us. I’m elected to represent the people in my ward and make sure their voices are heard."

There has been disquiet at the dominance of Sir Peter Soulsby, who has been the elected mayor for 12 years and will be Labour's candidate in May's mayoral elections, among party members in Leicester for years.

It's clear that it exists among Labour councillors too, and these heavy-handed sanctions will do nothing to reduce it.

This is very much a Leicester problem for Labour, but it will be interesting to see if other councillors from the city or beyond follow Patrick Kitterick into the Greens.

Keir Starmer's strategy is based on the belief that he is free to concentrate on wooing swing voters because his internal critics have nowhere else to go. That belief may turn out not to be wholly true.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

More notes on children and bombsites in British films

It's time to add a few more notes about children and bombsites in post-war British films.


I watched The Blue Lamp from 1950 again the other week, this time with an eye to any bombsites that might appear.

And there were bombsites: early on we saw a car chase across one. Later on, a small girl is shown playing with a gun there, though it turns out she found it in or by a nearby canal.

The film also makes the bombsite, which is half flooded, look unappealing, and the children we see on it are grubbier than in the other films with this theme.

As the screenplay of The Blue Lamp was by T.E.B. Clarke, who also wrote Hue and Cry and was inclined to be indulgent towards children who played on bombsites, this confirms my judgement that by 1950 the tide was turning against the idea that they might do so.


Another film I need to watch again is Hunted, a superior Dirk Bogarde film from 1952. Jon Whiteley (who did find a gun on a bombsite in The Weapon four years later) is running away from harsh foster parents when, if I call recall rightly, he goes on to a bombsite and stumbles across Bogarde hiding the body of his wife's lover.


If awful things befell adults on bombsites, there was always the chance they would be rescued by a boy out of Hue and Cry.

At least that's what happened to William Franklyn in Pit of Darkness in 1961. You can see the scene above.

The Joy of Six 1117

"We have obtained an excoriating letter sent to the BBC chairman, Richard Sharp, by the co-directors of the BBC Singers. The letter mentions aggressive acts and inaccurate statements by senior BBC officials, all of whom are named within. It appears that only one member of the BBC executive ever heard the BBC Singers perform before a decision was taken to abolish the ensemble." Norman Lebrecht uncovers fear and loathing at the BBC.

Advocacy groups and human rights organisations have written to Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, and to Stephen Watson, its chief constable, to ask them to investigate discriminatory police practices in the wake of the conviction of ten young Black men who have become known as the Manchester Ten, reports the Open Rights Group.

Zach Boren on the government's decision to ignore the counsel of its nature advisers to be more ambitious in its targets for nature recovery.

"Her alternative proposition is that there is sufficient evidence to suggest that 5th- and 6th-century Britain evolved through a process of adaptation and innovation from a late Roman base, not as a result of imported cultural practices imposed by Germanic elites on a subject people." Chris Catling reviews Susan Oosthuizen’s new book The Emergence of the English, which questions what we think we know about England after the Romans.

Alwyn Turner offers an episode-by-episode guide to Endeavour: "Written by Russell Lewis, it’s been an entertaining and witty show, with a great soundtrack and some jokey cultural references. It’s also provided a potted history of Britain between 1965 and 1972, when society wasn’t as decent and liberal as we are now."

Jim Perrin takes us to Llanfihangel Cefnllys in Powys - a remote church in a long-lost borough.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Aksel Rykkvin at the National Liberal Club

Aksel Rykkvin's voice had already changed by the time I discovered him on YouTube. As I wrote when choosing an aria by him as one of my Sunday music videos:

Though he could do angelic if you wanted it, what really set him apart was his maturity as an interpreter of song. Try the recording of Schubert's Der Hirt auf dem Felsen he made shortly before his voice changed.

As one reviewer of his album said: "I am running out of superlatives."

Last night Aksel gave his first public recital as a baritone in the UK, appearing at the National Liberal Club in London.

He is just as impressive as he was as a treble. Perhaps because is still young to be singing professionally as a baritone, he has maintained the wonderful clarity he had as a boy and the same dignity. There is no overacting about his performance: he allows the poets' words to speak through him.

You can hear him above singing Schubert a few months ago.

Eric Thompson knew my father

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Long ago, my mother told me that my father had been a schoolfriend of Eric Thompson - the actor, director, narrator of The Magic Roundabout and father of Emma.

I wasn't able to ask my father about it - he walked out when I was 11 and I never saw him again - but eventually they invented the internet and it became possible to check such things.

It turned out that he had been to the same secondary school as Thompson, but was a year younger than him. This made me doubt the story, as a year means a lot at that age.

But while I was clearing my mother's house recently, I came across a piece of paper right at the back of a drawer.

Quite unexpectedly, it turned out to be my father's School Certificate - the qualification pupils took at 16 before 1951.

And, reading it carefully, I found that he had taken it at 15. He had been put up a year and could easily have been in the same class as Eric Thompson.

Then, the other day, I turned to the British Newspaper Archive to see if it could tell me anything more about my father at secondary school - I was taking more interest in his schooldays than he had in mine - and I struck gold.

Before reproducing the cutting, I must explain that his name was Peter Booth. I started using Calder as a surname at 13, not so much to cut him out of my life as to make what I hoped would be a new start after two thoroughly miserable years.

So this is what I found in the West Sussex County Times for Friday 27 December 1946: a review of the Collyer's School Drama Club production of The Ascent of F6 by W.H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood.

It begins by saying the club could not be accused of a lack of ambition:

To have chosen a play as difficult in form as 'The Ascent of F6' for their Christmas production on Friday and Saturday showed a lot of courage.

That the production was so successful is high praise to the work of both the young actors and their producer, Miss Margery Lee.

And then, after praise for the portrayal of the lead character Michael Ransom by one John Hempstead, comes this paragraph:

Peter Booth was convincing as David Gunn, happy-go-lucky member of Michael's expedition, as were Eric Thompson (Ian Shawcross), Geoffrey Lesser (Edward Lamp) and Michael Williams (Dr. Potter).

The slightly eerie thing about this is that I discovered Auden's poetry when I was about 30 and developed a strong affection for another of the plays he wrote with Isherwood - The Dog Beneath the Skin. I had even tweeted a few lines of it shortly before I discovered this cutting.

But then, one of the books I've saved from my mother's house is a pocket edition of A Shropshire Lad. I'd always assumed it was hers, but when I studied it I found my father's name and 'Horsham, 1951' on the flyleaf.

Squirreling away in the BNA, I also found that, a month after the play, my father had been announced as the new youth columnist for the same newspaper. But as far as I can see, only one of his columns appeared and it's too dull to be worth quoting.

So there you have it: a discovery at the back of a drawer and an electronic newspaper cutting have made a family legend look a lot more likely to be true.

A forgotten canal tunnel in the centre of Cardiff

Here's the "gloriously unexpected survival right in the centre of the city" I promised you when posting another video from Bob's Rail Relics. That showed a short stretch of the long-abandoned Glamorganshire Canal that is still in water.

The city in question is Cardiff, and the survival is a canal tunnel that today acts as a pedestrian underpass. I think what got me so excited was that you can still see the grooves worn there by the narrow boats' towropes.

Cardiff Council, incidentally, has ambitions to create a 'canal quarter' by uncovering another artificial waterway in the city. This once fed water to the docks so that vessels could leave them even at low tide. 

I don't know if it linked with the Glamorganshire Canal or was used for navigation, but it was also closed during the second world war.

You can subscribe to Bob's Rail Relics on YouTube, and don't forget the remarkable footage showing the canal lying abandoned in 1945 that I have linked to before.

Monday, March 13, 2023

Richard Jefferies, Bevis and ice hockey: A mystery solved

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It did freeze and hard. The wind being still, the New Sea was soon frozen over except in two places. There was a breathing-hole in Fir-Tree Gulf about fifty or sixty yards from the mouth of the Nile. The channel between New Formosa and Serendib did not “catch,” perhaps the current from Sweet River Falls was the cause, and though they could skate up within twenty yards, they could not land on the islands. Jack and Frances came to skate day after day; Bevis and Mark with Ted, Cecil, and the rest fought hockey battles for hours together.

This passage comes from the very last chapter of Bevis: The Story of a Boy by Richard Jefferies, which was published in 1882.

One of the reasons I like Jefferies so much is the way he drops in unexpected observations - here it is village lads playing ice hockey in Victorian England. The 'New Sea' here is the boys' name for the reservoir at Coate in Swindon, where Jefferies was born.

Since posting this passage for the first time, I have looked for other references to the game in 19th-century England but failed to find them.

This evening I have found out why.

I'm listening to the second instalment of The Curiously Specific Book Club podcast on The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers. And, discussing the sport of speed skating that used to flourish in the Fens, they mention that there was also a game called bandy.

Google bandy and you will find all sorts of references, including a Wikipedia entry. Bandy was a precursor of modern ice hockey codified in Britain in the year Bevis was published, though it is still widely played in its own right in Scandinavia and Russia.

So the game Jefferies called hockey in 1882 was probably then called bandy by most people and references to early varieties of ice hockey will most likely be found under that name.