Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Hunted (1952): Another children-and-bombsites film

Embed from Getty Images

Robbie (Jon Whiteley), an orphaned 6-year-old boy in care, escapes into the London streets and takes shelter in a derelict bomb site, where he stumbles across Chris Lloyd (Dirk Bogarde) and the body of a man Lloyd has just killed. Aware that Robbie is the only witness to his crime, Lloyd realises that he will have to get out of London and that he has no option but to take the boy with him.

Yes, it's another children-and-bombsites film for my collection.

Hunted was released in 1952. It's one of Dirk Bogarde's best early films, while Jon Whiteley gives a wonderfully natural performance. 

This opening scene is all we see of bombsites in the film, but later on there are some striking industrial landscapes in the Potteries to enjoy.

According to my chronology, by 1952 British cinemas was pretty firmly against the idea that children should play on bombsites - Hue and Cry already seemed a long time ago.

So much so that Jon Whiteley wandered on to a bombsite in two films - Hunted and, from four years later, The Weapon - and got caught up with a killer in both of them.

A clutch of behind-the-scenes photos from Hunted has just appeared on Getty Images, and the one above shows Whiteley and Bogarde on their bombsite.

Tony Blair on Britain and the EU in 1996

 Brendan May tweeted this video today, adding:

Some of us remember how Opposition leaders trying to become Prime Minister used to actually lead. This despite strong euro scepticism in his own party. 

Watch & weep. This was 1996. A year later, a landslide and 3 terms. Leadership, not pandering to fear.

The Joy of Six 1135

"For all that countless artists, musicians and writers from the 50s to the 80s saw government as the enemy and thought they were mavericks railing against the system, the flourishing culture of the period was very much a product of the welfare state and its nurturing social infrastructures." Alex Niven says Britain’s harsh welfare system means that now only the rich can afford to make art.

Alastair Campbell argues that the Metropolitan Police's decision to stop responding to mental health call-outs is a very dangerous development.

Mark Boylan condemns the Department for Education's culture of secrecy and expediency over forced academisation.

"Since the birth of written history, we’ve been complaining about being bored - the Roman philosopher Seneca talked about boredom as a form of nausea, and the huge amount of graffiti preserved from those days suggests that teenagers have long been tormented by the same impulses." Luke Ryan maintains that a little boredom is good for children.

"Over the three days, the festival gradually descended into a hellish scene. Much like Woodstock 1999, food and water were in short supply, having a significant hand in people resorting to their base selves. Demonstrating this Hobbesian state of nature that played out, a truck that delivered food was hijacked, looted and burned by a group of attendees." Arun Starkey on the the Bull Island Rock Festival, which has gone down as the worst music festival of all time.

A Clerk of Oxford reveals that, from the Middle Ages until the early 20th century, the period around Whitsun was the principal summer holiday of the year.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

The lost branch lines to Wisbech

Not for the first time on this blog, we follow the derelict lines from March to Wisbech and from Wisbech to Watlington.

The former line is a prime candidate for reopening, but there is little sign of progress.

After the Brexit referendum there was an enthusiasm for such schemes and even talk of 'reversing Beeching' - I suppose it was seen by a certain sort of Conservative as another way rebelling against the modern world. But little came of it.

Lib Dems say Market Harborough needs a banking hub

Today the HSBC branch in Market Harborough closed its doors for the last time. This means Lloyds will soon be the only one left with a presence in the town.

Phil Knowles, the Liberal Democrat leader of the new coalition running Harborough District Council, is backing the establishment of a banking hub. You can hear him talking about the idea on the Harborough FM website.

I'm pleased he is, because I've not heard any minister mention this loss of high street banks. The Conservative's default response to any political issue is now a shrug.

The banks' case for these closures is that everyone banks online these days and the high street branches see few customers. But I have never seen that HSBC branch empty when I have gone in there.

And when I had to obtain a power of attorney over my mother's financial affairs in her last year, it was a godsend that her bank had a branch in town. It meant I could sit down with someone there and talk through the process. 

That branch closed earlier this year,

Someone from HSBC told Harborough FM:

"The decision to close a branch is never easy or taken lightly, especially if we are the last branch in an area, so we’ve invested heavily in our 'post closure' strategy, including providing free tablet devices to selected branch customers who do not already have a device to bank digitally, alongside one-to-one coaching to help them migrate to digital banking."

Yet I cannot recall receiving any communication from them about the closure of their Market Harborough branch.

If this is a more realistic picture of what goes on when a branch of bank closes, it is a worry.

As the Harborough FM story says:

Age UK is warning many older or vulnerable people are struggling with online banking and its research has found four in 10 older people with a bank account in Britain – equivalent to more than four million people – are not managing their money online and could be at risk of financial exclusion.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: A mob of excited Midlothian wifeys

The rites of the Church of Rutland, beyond its belief in the back-foot no-ball rule and uncovered wickets, remain a closed book to me, but it's good to end another week with Lord Bonkers in the pews of St Asquith's.


Inspired by yesterday’s event, I bring some of my treasures for the Revd Hughes to bless during Divine Service at St Asquith’s. Mr Gladstone’s rosette (snatched from his breast by a mob of excited Midlothian wifeys), a signed first edition of  L.T. Hobhouse’s Liberalism (though quite who signed it is a mystery) and two of A.J. Mundella’s toe bones, which have been credited with bringing about more than one miraculous by-election victory. 

After this weekend, I am more convinced than ever that, as a county and as a country, we are ready to face the future, whatever it may lob at us.

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

Earlier this week...

Monday, May 29, 2023

Woman wins UK cheese rolling race despite being knocked unconscious

Embed from Getty Images

The Guardian wins our Headline of the Day Award for this tale of life in Gloucestershire.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The Archbishop of York, two page boys and the gospel choir

Australian tours of England really did use to begin with a one-day fixture at Arundel against the Duke of Norfolk's XI. And 1953 was an Ashes summer, so this exchange could well have happened just as Lord Bonkers reports it.


To Westminster Abbey for the Coronation of Charles III and to swear my allegiance (provided he keeps his hands off the Ancient Liberties of Rutland, of course). I also swore at his mother’s Coronation, but only because the Duke of Norfolk trod on my heel after I offered some pithy observations on the XI he had selected to play the Australians in their tour opener at Arundel that year. 

The Duke was a left-footer. I don’t mean he was a Roman Catholic (though he was, as are many of my friends - including the Pope, incidentally): I mean that he trod on me with his left foot. 

A woman called Mad-Aunt appears as a warrior princess – I don’t recall any such character in 1953, though the first Lady Bonkers did hurry from rehearsing Brünnhilde at Covent Garden to join me at George V’s Coronation. I am relieved this time that no one has given Liz Truss a sword: she would surely have taken out the Archbishop of York, two page boys and the gospel choir.

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

Earlier this week...

Sunday, May 28, 2023

An A-Z Guide to British and Irish Railways on Film

Here's a discovery: a website that bills itself as An A-Z Guide to British and Irish Railways on Film.

It tells you where the railway scenes in each film were shot, has plenty of screen captures and appears to be reasonably comprehensive.

In effect, it's an online version of Horton's Guide to British Railways in Feature Films, which I keep by me when watching Talking Pictures TV.

The image above (borrowed from another site) comes from the minor Ealing comedy The Magnet (1950). It shows Stephen Murray (the great uncle of Al Murray) and a very young James Fox on the platform of a station on the Liverpool Overhead Railway. The A-Z Guide suggests it is Canada Dock.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: A chain of beacons would bring news of Liberal triumphs

We used to count overnight in Harborough's local elections, but this year the powers that be waited until the next day. I think that was a shame. 

When I was on the council here, the officer in charge of our elections said he would like to see the parliamentary elections here count overnight too, but they were in the hands of Oadby and Wigston council who preferred to count on the Friday even then.

I sense that Lord Bonkers would agree with him.


I can remember when every council for miles around counted its votes overnight. A chain of beacons would bring news of Liberal triumphs and Liberal defeats: an unexpected victory in Brixworth; a slew of gains on Wigston Urban District Council; disaster at Ashby de la Zouch. I was once convinced we had taken Holland County Council, only to find I was watching the distress flares from a Liberian-registered tanker on Rutland Water. 

Nowadays most councils count the next day, and this year the results are worth waiting for: Oadby & Wigston and Hinckley & Bosworth are held; gains are made in Harborough and Leicester. Above all, we are now the largest party in Rutland, having polled almost half the popular vote. 

The editor of Wainwright’s West Country Marginals rings to tell me that it is now possible to walk from the Tamar to the tidal Thames without leaving territory governed by the Liberal Democrats. I observe that, given the state to which the Conservative enemy has reduced our railways, this may well be the quickest way of getting there.

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

Earlier this week...

Frank Zappa: Montana

Time for some more Frank. And there's a special reason for choosing Montana, because the backing vocals are sung by the Ikettes, including Tina Turner.

Wikipedia quotes Zappa's memory of recording the song:

”It was so difficult, that one part in the middle of the song "Montana", that the three girls rehearsed it for a couple of days. Just that one section. You know the part that goes "I'm pluckin' the ol' dennil floss..."? Right in the middle there. And one of the harmony singers got it first. She came out and sang her part and the other girls had to follow her track. 
"Tina was so pleased that she was able to sing this that she went into the next studio where Ike was working and dragged him into the studio to hear the result of her labour. He listened to the tape and he goes, 'What is this shit?' and walked out."

She did well to escape from Ike, even if others have shared his view of Frank Zappa.

Saturday, May 27, 2023

My first column for the Journal of Critical Psychology, Counselling and Psychotherapy

I am told this column appeared in the Winter 2022 issue of the JCPCP, possibly under the title Sighcology.

Henry VI founded Eton to provide free education to 70 poor boys. If you want to read how it and the other public schools wriggled out of their charitable obligations in the nineteenth century, read Posh Boys by Robert Verkaik. If you want to know what being sent away to boarding school at a tender age does to Britain’s ruling class, read Sad Little Men by Richard Beard.

As Beard told an interviewer when the book came out: "At private school you are taught not to snitch, and my book is 250 pages of snitching."

These schools tailored there regimes so they produced self-reliant men to run the British Empire in distant outposts, but they went on turning out such types long after the Empire had gone. And Beard’s argument is that a child of eight who is sent away from home into such an atmosphere has to develop a false personality to survive.

So when he opens the diary he kept at prep school he finds: "Instead of insights into my thirteen-year-old self, the diary reads like another layer of hiding, a place where I can practise lying about my feelings."

Beard finds that he used "the elaborate vocabulary rote learned in English lessons" and made sure to "show off my rhetorical devices, especially alliteration". When you add in the Latin tags and his inability to fulfil his ambition of avoiding "verbal atrocities and general waffleness," his judgement on his young self sounds fair: "Aged thirteen, my diary reads as [Boris] Johnson speaks now, in his mid-fifties."

But then there’s an element of overcompensation about the shtick of our most prominent Old Etonian politicians. Boris Johnson was first schooled with the children of Eurocrats in Brussels and then at the same North London primary school the Miliband brothers attended. He was not packed off to boarding school until he was eleven.

You suspect - or at least, as a fully qualified armchair psychologist, I suspect - that that his career since has been an attempt to live this down, to prove that he belongs in the circles he came to move in. I’ve even seen it suggested that he was originally teased for his unusual middle name, only to turn ‘Boris’ into a new persona who was everything he wanted to be.

Similarly, Jacob Rees-Mogg is said to have been a figure of fun at Eton and Oxford. The first time the broadcaster Matthew Sweet heard him speaking at the Oxford Union, he genuinely thought it was someone doing a comic turn to send up the politicos.

So when you saw him sprawled on the government front bench, Rees-Mogg was not reliving past glories but compensating himself for all that he had missed. Ideally, he would have been able to summon a fag to make toast and then find a pretext for beating him, but sprawling would have to do. 

Incidentally, Beard gives us a delightful trivial fact. It’s not surprising that he cites the work of Erving Goffman on total institutions, but it is a surprise to learn that Goffman’s sister Frances Bay played the Fonz's grandmother in Happy Days.


I almost certainly have ADHD - or so an online survey told me the other day. 

The worry used to be that the concept was medicalising childhood. Children were measured against a list of behaviours (and it looked very like a list of the things children do that most irritate adults), diagnosed and medicated. Articles were written asking if Huckleberry Finn and Richmal Crompton’s William would be put on Ritalin today.

It’s worse than that now: the whole working population may soon go down with ADHD. That survey I completed was predicated on the belief that, to prove yourself free of the condition, you must behave like a model employee of a 1950s American corporation, allocating just the right amount of attention to each task and approaching all with maximum enthusiasm.

I don’t believe anyone is like that: what the ADHD doctors are offering to treat is the human condition. Or maybe it’s the vacuum where workplace activism used to be?


I was clearing my late mother’s house when I heard the Queen had died. I’m not a great monarchist, but it was hard to resist the feeling that there were no grownups left to tell us what to do.

In his memoir War Doctor, the surgeon David Nott, who has worked extensively in war zones and the aftermaths of natural disasters, recalls being invited meet the Queen:

I don’t know why it happened then, or why it should have been the Queen who breached the dam. Perhaps it was because she is the mother of the nation, and I had lost my own mother. My bottom lip started to go and all I wanted to do was burst into tears.

The Queen, he later told an audience at the Hay Festival, sensed his distress, touched his hand and then whispered something to a member of her staff. A moment later, six corgis ran into the room. "They ran all the way around the room and they were barking and shouting, and two or three of them went under her legs." The Queen picked up a biscuit, broke it in two and handed half to Nott. "I thought, 'Do I eat it?', and she said, 'No, no, they’re for the dog.'"

The two then spent 20 minutes petting and feeding the corgis, bonding over their love for dogs. "There," the Queen said eventually, "that’s so much better than talking, isn’t it?"

This story was widely retailed after the Queen’s death as an example of her humanity and wisdom. Some disagreed, seeing it as yet another example of the fatal British stiff upper lip - see Beard passim - and in particular of our unwillingness to talk about mental distress.

But surely there is a role for comforting too? As clients or professionals, we can’t always be engaged in heroic therapy.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: My tenants arrive at the Hall to collect their Good Morning leaflets

Everyone is 'humbled' when they win something these days. Even Lord Bonkers.


When nominations closed last month, I discovered that, once again, I was the only candidate for the Bonkers Hall Ward. Remembering the precepts of my old friend Tony Greaves, however, I leave nothing to chance today: we run a full polling-day operation, from five in the morning when my tenants arrive at the Hall to collect their Good Morning leaflets, to the final knock up as the bells of St Asquith’s strike ten. 

I am humbled to be declared the victor – you will be able to read excerpts from my acceptance speech in next week’s High Leicestershire Radical (which I happen to own).

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

Earlier this week...

Friday, May 26, 2023

An online event to mark the republication of Malcolm Saville's Jane's Country Year

This online event from early last year marked the republication of Malcolm Saville's 1946 book Jane's Country Year by Handheld Press.

Taking part are:

  • Mike McGarry, co-author of Malcolm Saville, An Illustrated Bibliography
  • Hazel Sheeky Bird, author of the introduction to Handheld Press's edition of the book
  • Graeme Bowerman, grandson of Bernard Bowerman, the book's illustrator
  • Kate Macdonald from Handheld Press
As Mike McGarry says early on, this was Malcolm Saville's own favourite among the many books he wrote for children.

It is also one of his three early books that mentions Bevis by Richard Jefferies, and it even borrows an episode from that book - the visit to the witch's cottage.

The Joy of Six 1134

Tom McTague argues that Keir Starmer is adopting the Tory tactic of accepting past change and promising to curb the agitation for more: "Will it work this time? It worked for Peel and, eventually, for Disraeli after he reluctantly accepted free trade. It also worked for Churchill and Eden and Macmillan when they accepted Labour’s welfare state. Each reform was popular. Today, the big difference is that Brexit no longer is."

The Conservative Party in West Sussex was hit by a political earthquake, says James Walsh.

"The DWP’s messaging ... is part of a wider pattern of anti-welfare rhetoric that has a long history in the UK. The idea that benefits claimants are 'scroungers' or 'cheats' makes it less likely that people will access the resources they need (and are entitled to), resulting in even higher levels of poverty." Leo Woodend on the government's revival of the scrounger stereotype.

Peter Simons discusses research into the way the concept of ADHD is presented as a disease rather than a description of behaviour.

"Over the past few years, a fascinating narrative about forests and fungi has captured the public imagination. It holds that the roots of neighbouring trees can be connected by fungal filaments, forming massive underground networks that can span entire forests - a so-called wood-wide web. Through this web, the story goes, trees share carbon, water, and other nutrients, and even send chemical warnings of dangers such as insect attacks." It's a lovely story but, ask Melanie Jones, Jason Hoeksema and Justine Karst, is any of it true?

A London Inheritance takes us to Bread Street near St Paul's Cathedral, which was devastated in the Blitz. 

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Who’ll look silly then?

If you're surprised that Lord Bonkers knows about emails, you really haven't understood him. From the steam-driven Shuttleworth press to the EARS trumpet, he has been at the forefront of harnessing new technology to help the Liberal cause.

Characteristically, he was the first man to have a telephone in Rutland. (It proved something of a disappointment, as it never rang.)


My electronic inbox is full of green-ink emails complaining about fifteen-minute cities – apparently they are the work of the devil, George Soros, the Word Economic Forum and, no doubt, the Elders of Zion too. 

It happens that I live in a fifteen-minute village: though the drive of Bonkers Hall is fashionably long, with a following wind I can still reach Mr Patel’s shop within that time. If I use the secret passage that comes out in the cellar of the Bonkers’ Arms, I can arrive even sooner. 

But what shall I do about these vexatious correspondents? Making a brisk perambulation of the village green this morning, I have a brainwave. 

Some years ago, I became intrigued by the fate of the Spanish Armada and the legend that several of its ships sank in Rutland Water. I organised an archaeological investigation - the strong tides were a particular problem - but we found nothing beyond the occasional bemused whiting and I found myself left with several dozen pairs of lead diving boots. I hurry home and offer them for sale to those correspondents. 

Rather naughtily, I write: "Wearing these beauties, it will take you several hours to walk to the corner shop. Who’ll look silly then?"

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

Earlier this week...

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Penny Mordaunt, Andrew Bridgen and the decline of the cuckoo

From the Leicester Mercury:

Andrew Bridgen has been labelled the “first cuckoo of spring” after claiming the BBC has repeatedly spread Covid-19 misinformation. The North West Leicestershire MP was also met with heckles of "shame" in the House of Commons before he was rebuked by its leader Penny Mordaunt.

Mr Bridgen, who now sits as MP for actor Laurence Fox’s Reclaim Party, spoke out after the BBC launched its new BBC Verify service this week, with the Leicestershire MP insisting the corporation had been behind much misinformation surrounding the pandemic.

Mordaunt is right about Bridgen: he is cuckoo. But she is behind the times when it comes to the way we regard the bird.

Fifty years ago the distinctive call of the cuckoo was a commonplace sound of the English countryside in spring and summer. When I was a boy you reckoned on hearing one every time you went for a walk.

Then people did write to the newspapers to claim they had heard the first cuckoo of spring: now they are likely to write if they hear the bird at all.

And our impression that the bird has become much rarer is correct. A page on the British Trust for Ornithology site says:

Since the early 1980s Cuckoo numbers have dropped by 65 per cent. The reason for this decline is not known, but it has been suggested that declines in its hosts or climate-induced shifts in the timing of breeding of its hosts could have reduced the number of nests that are available for cuckoos to parasitise, resulting in cuckoo declines. 

The main hosts in the UK are the dunnock, meadow pipit, pied wagtail and reed warbler. 

A passing dunnock replies: To be honest, I'm quite relaxed about this decline.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Much fun may be had from a pig sty

A welcome reappearance by Albert, who long ago wandered into these diaries from A.A. Milne's Toad of Toad Hall. And if this satire is crude, then so is the government it is satirising.


Nowadays the average Conservative is interested in but one thing: money. This allows those of us who are more liberal-minded to have sport with them. 

All you need do is securely tie a fiver to a length of string and wait in the saddle until a Tory happens along. Then, having made sure he has sighted your fiver, you set off across country at a brisk trot: your victim is sure to follow. 

Lead him across ploughed fields, over stiff thorn hedges or into a bog as the fancy takes you. Much fun may be had from a pig sty and even more from the many rivers stuffed with sewage by Thérèse Coffey. 

As my loyal carthorse and habitual mount for this purpose, Albert, remarked the other day: "It’s better than the pictures."

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

Earlier this week...

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Spurn Point and the people who lived there in 1965

I'm pleased with this find: a report about the community on Spurn Point, the peninsula that curls into the Humber Estuary from its north bank, that Julian Pettifer made in the snow for the BBC's Tonight programme in 1965.

Tory MP Nick Fletcher wants pronouns taken out of all schools: ‘We’re confusing people’

Embed from Getty Images

Congratulations to Pink News for winning our coveted Headline of the Day Award.

The judges have gone for a lie down as they're getting one of their headaches.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: We no longer teach even the half Opik

The new issue of Liberator has been posted on the magazine's website, so hurry there to download it for free - it's issue 417. But before you do, it's time to read the first entry in another week's Lord Bonkers' Diary.

Jokes about Liberal Democrats and pointing are commonplace these days, but to leaven this entry I have included a tweet of mine which shows the very pothole the old boy is talking about.


Like all responsible landowners, I pride myself on keeping my farms, fences and roads in tip-top condition; you will find but one pothole on the whole of the Bonkers Hall Estate. That pothole, let me explain at once, has been intentionally left so that Liberal Democrat activists from across Britain can come to Rutland for their advanced pointing training. 

It is here that they learn such specialist techniques as the Single Chamberlain, Double Chamberlain, Reverse Morgan (with and without twist) and Full Carmichael - this last is invaluable on single-track roads with passing places. (In the light of the latest advice from Harley Street, we no longer teach even the half Opik.) 

For months our courses have been fully booked, but as polling day is almost upon us, no activists will arrive for a week or two. I spend the day auditioning Jack Russell terriers to deliver my new letterbox training, provisionally titled 'How to deliver Focus and live.'

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

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

The Malton and Driffield Junction Railway

A slice of Yorkshire railway history from Hull History Nerd, who has a Patreon page to help finance his videos.

This 20-mile line opened in 1853 and closed to passengers in 1950 and to freight in 1958. The video explores its remains in the Wolds.

You can read about Alfred Dickens, the brother of the novelist, on Wikipedia. And there's more about the Yorkshire Wolds Railway and its designs on Wetwang on its website.

Lib Dems take control of Rutland County Council

Last night the annual meeting of Rutland County Council elected the Liberal Democrat Gale Waller as its leader. It also elected a cabinet of six, all of whom are Lib Dem councillors.

Gale Waller won her vote by 15 votes to 12, which suggests the Lib Dems have the support to run a stable minority administration.

Following the elections earlier this month, the party standings on Rutland are as follows:

Lib Dems         11

Independents    7

Conservatives   6

Labour               2

Greens              1

Let's leave the final world to Uppingham Lib Dem councillor Stephen Lambert...

Monday, May 22, 2023

"I'm not on the train": Government to end free wifi for passengers

Is there no end to this government's determination to make life in Britain worse? 

As the Guardian reports:

Wifi for train passengers in England may be axed as the government seeks to cut costs. The move is being pushed by the Department for Transport in order to cut costs as it looks to "reform all aspects of the railway" and provide "value for money".

This story comes from the latest edition of Christian Wolmar's Calling All Stations podcast.

Behind this penny pinching lies the fact that privatisation left Britain's railways working under a horribly complex system that leaks public money at every join. That system has little to do with the free market, but the Conservatives are too blinded by their ideology to change it.

The Long Mynd and Stiperstones shuttle bus is back

Good news from the Shropshire hills: the coming weekend sees the return of the shuttle bus that takes visitors to the Stiperstones and the Long Mynd. It will run every weekend through the summer: the last day of operation is Sunday 8 October.

There's more good news: the buses will stop near the lead mine at Snailbeach after missing them out last summer and, by serving Hamperley, they will take you to the heart of Malcolm Saville country. There are also better links with service buses on the Ludlow and Bishop's Castle roads.

The bad news is that all this is being accomplished with just one bus, so you will have to plan your day more carefully than in the past. There'll be no more waiting an hour for the next bus if you are having a good time at The Bog visitor centre or the Stiperstones Inn.

But we all know the pressures on bus services at the moment, so I'm pleased this is one is running at all.

You can read more on the Shropshire Hills AONB site and also download the tables from there. I have borrowed the rather impressive map above from the same source.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

The Joy of Six 1133

"Thatcher, like her contemporaries in all parties, thought the job of politicians was not so much to sheepishly follow public opinion as to shape it. In her 1975 speech opposing the EU referendum, she approvingly cited a letter to the Evening Standard pointing out that if it had been left to the will of the people, 'we would have no Race Relations Act, immigration would have been stopped, abortions would still be illegal and hanging still be in force'." Chris Dillow on politicians who appeal to 'the will of the people'.

Michael Rosen counters Nick Gibb, the Conservative education minister, and his claim to have "won the phonics war and got England reading".

"For reasons that are a little bit unclear - declining religiosity, the rise of social media, maybe - for a long time now, Americans have been reporting more time spent alone, smaller social networks, and fewer people they can confide in. Isolation is not a trivial thing, but a serious threat to survival, coming with increased stress, insomnia, suicide risk, and hypertension." Angie Schmitt asks what urban planning can do to counter an epidemic of loneliness.

Cal Newport wonders if a four-day week is a radical enough solution to the problem of burn-out in office workers.

Neil Drysdale celebrates the 40th birthday of Bill Forsyth's film Local Hero.

"On a peaceful hillside thousands of Sheffield’s citizens lie at rest, some with graves marked by grand memorials, others unseen beneath the trees and undergrowth. After a period of post-war neglect and uncertainty, the Sheffield General Cemetery is now a celebrated part of the city’s heritage." Caroline from Flickering Lamps shows us around.

Write a guest post for Liberal England

I welcome guest posts on Liberal England. So if you'd like to write for this blog, please send me an email so we can discuss your idea. 

As you will see from the list below, 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 please get in touch first.

These are the last then guest posts I have published:

Mika: Grace Kelly

Why does Britain do so badly in Eurovision these days? The Iraq War? Brexit? Or is it because we pick weak songs and give them to performers who lack experience? My money's on the last of these.

I chose Grace Kelly for reasons of trivia: a number of sources suggest that the little girl sitting on the piano is Mae Muller, who grew up to finish last but one in this year's contest.

But then I got to wondering why we can't have a Eurovision entry as good as this song. The singer was even part of the presenting team when it was held in Italy last year.

Mika - real name Michael Holbrook Penniman Jr - has a cosmopolitan background, but he lived in London as a teenager and attended Westminster School. He also sang as a boy with the Royal Opera at Covent Garden.

An expensive private education new seems a prerequisite of a career in music. Those who - rightly - are concerned about this point to the decline of music teaching in schools.

But one thing I notice from the biographies of the stars of the Sixties is how many of them had sung in church choirs as boys and got their musical education doing so.

Another common influence was that many of them had fathers who played in jazz bands, which meant they grew up with Black American music and understood the blues, which became the basis of British music in that golden age.

But now most of the church choirs and jazz bands have gone, which may be another reason why we do so badly in Eurovision these days.

Friday, May 19, 2023

Ossington Buildings: Early social housing in Marylebone

I was down in London to see some Liberator friends yesterday, and took the chance to visit Chess and Bridge in Baker Street. (Yes, I'm getting hooked on chess again.)

After that I explored Marylebone and, because I've never thought of it as a poor area, was surprised to come across nine blocks of 19th-century "improved dwellings". These were early essays in social housing, provided in slum areas of London.

And West of Marylebone High Street, a draft chapter of University College London's survey of South East Marylebone, tells me all about them:

Most of the Grotto Passage area was redeveloped with blocks of improved dwellings from the late nineteenth century, leaving the old essentially pedestrian street layout. The process began with what is now 8 Garbutt Place, built privately in 1881 in the normal course of lease renewal. 
But the major campaign was over a 15-month period in 1888–9, when some 100 workmen were engaged by Wall Brothers of Kentish Town in building the first seven blocks of Ossington Buildings, on the sites of Conway and Grafton Courts, together with a communal steam laundry in a separate building. Initially called the Portland Industrial Dwellings, these were swiftly renamed in honour of the aged Lady Ossington, co-owner of the Portland estate, though strictly speaking the new name applied only to the north–south street formerly called Grafton Court. 
Two further blocks, on the east side of Grotto Passage, replacing Harrison’s Place, followed shortly after; they were tendered for by Walls, who lost out to Staines & Son. 
The nine blocks, of four storeys plus basements, were the joint work of the architects Alfred Robert Pite and Charles Fowler, the estate surveyor. Although wellbuilt, with fireproof floors and artificial stone staircases, they provided only the most basic accommodation and were at first let by the room, almost all the rooms being fitted with stoves or small ranges. Water and two WC’s were provided on each landing.

The blocks of Ossington Buildings were modernised long ago, but it doesn't surprise me to learn that the facilities here were originally very basic.

In The Yellow Balloon, one of my children-and-bombites-in-postwar-London films, Andrew Ray and his parents live in similar accommodation - one of the blocks on Chelsea's Sutton Estate.

Looking for something good to do before he asks his mother for sixpence, the young Ray lugs a pail of water up the stairs from the half-landing below.

Anyway, here are some photographs from yesterday. If you want to know more about this quarter of Marylebone, The Gentle Author was there long before me.

Oh, and the monogram over the door is PIDC, standing for Portland Industrial Dwellings Company.

Alan Bennett once delivered chops to T.S. Eliot's mother-in-law

The video of a recent British Film Institute event with Alan Bennett has appeared on YouTube.

So far I've watched just the first few minutes, but it was enough to give me my Trivial Fact of the Day. Play the clip above to hear it.

Ed Davey, Zoe Williams and our Letter of the Day

Ed Davey's Guardian interview with Zoe Williams created quite a stir. If you've not read it yet, it will repay your time.

It also features in our Letter of the Day, which comes from today's edition of that paper:

Zoe Williams’ interview with Ed Davey had a most unusual impact on me: I finished reading it and joined the Lib Dems.

Dr Elena Liquete, Corsham, Wiltshire

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Cadbury's Dairy Milk and the supersonic Seventies

As I remember it, this is where the Seventies began. There were no more flower children or village green preservation societies: we had landed in a new decade of supersonic air travel, traffic and pollution. (I seem to recall another Cadbury's commercial, using the same tune, that mentioned "the supersonic Seventies", but I can't find it online.)

"Like it always will be?" Cadbury's was sold to the US firm Kraft Foods after the Gordon Brown's government declined to intervene.

And supersonic travel is no more. As Jonathan Meades has pointed out, the future happened briefly in 1969. It seems Cadbury's was already too late.

GUEST POST Will compulsory ID at polling stations break our model of canvassing and knocking up?

Will requiring voters to produce photographic ID at the polling station spell the end for political parties' current polling-day methods? Augustus Carp reports on his experience of telling in this month's local elections.

We all know the game, and a lot of us rather enjoy it. We spend hours canvassing the electorate, and make detailed notes on the register, some of which are accurate. Then, on polling day, we sit outside the polling station and collect the voters’ numbers, send them back to the Committee Room, where someone crosses them off the marked register. Anyone whose name is not crossed off gets a friendly reminder through the process known as 'knocking up'.

As a technique for winning closely-fought elections it’s tried and tested. The Labour Party believe that Ian Mikardo MP first used the 'Reading System' in the 1945 General Election, and no Liberal Party Committee Room would have been complete without a badly written set of Shuttleworth pads. 

These were strangely coloured sets of no-carbon-required paper, on to which the marked ledger had been (badly) transcribed, which enabled activists to cross off names as the numbers came back from the polling station, with the agents able to send out knockers-up three or four times, depending on how brutal they chose to be.

Some of these quaint old traditions have been modernised. The numbers are still written on to slips of paper with 44 boxes, but are now photographed and transmitted by WhatsApp. (Why 44 boxes per sheet? No one knows. It’s tradition.) Some people even enter their numbers electronically from their devices. Knocking up is done from lists sent to mobile phones, so there’s no longer a chance for the knockers up to pop back to the Committee Room for a rest and a cup of tea.

But is it all becoming pointless? I ask because of my experience earlier this month collecting numbers outside a polling station in a neighbouring borough.

The first thing I noted was that everyone (bar two voters) turned up proudly waving their photo ID but without their polling cards. In the past, most people carried these - admittedly rather pointless - talismans with them on their way to vote, which made collecting the numbers very easy. 

No card means no number, but photo ID seems to have replaced the polling card in the popular imagination as the thing to be seen with on polling day.

The second thing I noticed was rather more worrying - the outright hostility from some voters to the tellers. There were three of us, working in tolerable unity and harmony as tradition requires, and we all faced abuse and contempt from the voters. 

Two complaints were made to the Polling Officials about us being 'aggressive' in our number-collecting endeavours. I cannot speak for myself, but I can assure you that my two colleagues were the epitome of good manners throughout. Any aggression was coming from the voters: it was 'a plague on both your houses' made manifest through acts of spite.

On one of my telling pad sheets I recorded only 16 out of a possible 44 numbers. The rest either didn’t have numbers or refused to disclose them. The advice from the committee room was, of course, 'Just ask them for their name and address' or 'Just ask them to get the clerk to give them the number and tell you on the way out.' Believe me, in the circumstances, that was not good advice.

Add in the increasing number of postal votes, and I wonder if there’s any point in a polling day operation any more. Certainly, for local elections, the combination of postal votes, numberless hordes, refuseniks and the low turnout make the exercise seem futile. 

In this case I was told we were testing systems prior to the general election, so perhaps some good came of it, but I wonder if I would have done as good a job by just sitting outside the polling station, wearing a rosette and smiling a lot.

Augustus Carp is the pen name of someone who has been a member of the Liberal Party and the Liberal Democrats since 1976. He claims to have worked on more than 50 polling day operations in that time, "some of which were successful".

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

The Joy of Six 1132

Robert Hutton has been to the National Conservatism Conference: "The country is in a terrible mess, and Rees-Mogg is just trying to find the guys who did this. He denounced the Budget and the failure to scrap EU regulations. He even denounced Voter ID, a policy he shepherded through Parliament, as a failed attempt to rig the vote. It wasn’t clear whether he had always been against it because of the rigging, or simply was now because it hadn’t worked."

"Between 1946 and 1950 ... around 35,000 Ukrainians came to the United Kingdom as part of the European Volunteer Workers scheme. This intended to address labour shortages by providing jobs to displaced people." Historic England provides a history of Ukranians in England.

"A great film and a rare example of one that improves on its written source, it also takes its place in the distinguished line of UK dystopias stretching from The War of the Worlds to Day of the Triffids to The Drowned World." Simon Matthews watches Alfonso Cuarón’s 2006 film Children of Men.

Isaac Butler says it's long past time to retire the anti-historical search for who 'really' wrote Shakespeare's plays: "Trutherism abuses the liberal public sphere by using the values of liberal discourse - rational hearing of evidence, open-mindedness, fair-minded skepticism about one’s own certainties, etc. - against it. Once the opposition tires of this treatment and refuses to engage in debate any longer, the truther can then declare victory, and paint the opposition as religious fanatics who are closed-minded and scared of facing the truth."

Lisa R. Marshall takes to the wild green hills of Worcestershire with Jonathan Meades and A.E. Housman.

There's been controversy about Sussex giving the Australian captain Steve Smith a short-term contract before this summer's Ashes series. Ben Gardner asks if the decision is hurting Sussex as well as England.

The railway line across Anglesey that's waiting to be restored

Wikipedia explains:
The Anglesey Central Railway (Welsh: Lein Amlwch, Amlwch Line) was a 17.5-mile (28.2 km) standard-gauge railway in Anglesey, Wales, connecting the port of Amlwch and the county town of Llangefni with the North Wales Coast Line at Gaerwen. Built as an independent railway, the railway opened in portions from 1864 to 1867. 
Due to financial troubles the railway was sold to the London and North Western Railway in 1876, which invested significantly in the infrastructure. Operation continued under various companies during the 20th century, but passenger services were withdrawn in 1964 as part of the Beeching Axe. Industrial freight services continued until 1993. 
The railway's tracks remain and local groups have demonstrated an interest in restoring services as a heritage railway.
This video explores the substantial and surprising remains of the line and the industry it served, and discusses the possibility of reopening it as a commercial or a heritage line.

Monday, May 15, 2023

I've found another fan of No Room at the Inn

It can be difficult to keep all your rabbit holes in the air, and it's high time we went back to No Room at the Inn.

This is the film that introduced me to the wonderful actress Freda Jackson. The play on which it is based was in part inspired the death of the foster child Dennis O'Neill in Shropshire in 1945, which was the case that led Agatha Christie to write The Mousetrap. (Those first three links are to labels on this blog, so scroll down for plenty of posts each time.)

I recently came across an article on No Room at the Inn by Meredith Taylor, whose chief interests here are Daniel Birt, the film's director, and Dylan Thomas, who co-wrote the screenplay.

After writing about Birt's previous film, The Three Weird Sisters, he turns to No Room:

A sense of the Gothic also infiltrates No Room at the Inn set in the early months of 1940. We witness atmospheric blitzed streets by the railway bridge next to a rundown house that’s definitely on the wrong side of the tracks: all lorded over by Mrs Agatha Voray (Freda Jackson) doing her damn best not to properly look after three young girl evacuees. 

The children live in squalor and suffer mental and physical abuse under the care of this coarse woman who invites men (local councillors and shopkeepers) for casual sex and bit of cash to bolster her shopping allowance of ration coupons. 

This is good, though Voray is looking after a boy as well as the three girls, and the film is set in motion by her taking in a fourth girl. Indeed, it's Voray's punishment of the boy the precipitates the film's climax.

Taylor continues:

The character of the schoolteacher Judith Drave (Joy Shelton) is remarkable, for we have ... a force for truth-seeking that refuses to be silenced. 
A powerfully written and acted moment occurs when Miss Drave, who has complained about Mrs Voray's behaviour, is asked to give evidence at a town councillors’ meeting. They dislike Ms Drave’s assertive manner. When Mrs.Voray has her right to reply she adopts the manner of a humble woman struggling to do her best during wartime restrictions. 
The schoolteacher sees right through her performance. But the council members (half of whom have flirted with Voray) believe her account of things over the teacher’s. I love Dylan Thomas’s writing here. His social concern is angrily targeted at bureaucratic corruption and ineptitude.

I don't have a copy of the film - it's easy to buy a copy online, but these are significantly shorter than the version Talking Pictures TV has shown more than once. And that is the copy I would want.

It would be interesting if I had that copy to see how much of Joan Temple's original play survived into the screenplay. Often the original source of a film goes unrecognised - the extraordinary atmosphere of Charles Laughton's Night of the Hunter is all there in the original novel by Davis Grubb.

Taylor rightly identifies a Dickensian bringing together of different moods as one of the roots of the film's strange power:

Like The Three Weird Sisters there are fascinating if disconcerting alterations of tone – such as the beautifully written bedtime story scene in the room of the young girl evacuees. 
Norma Bates (yes, not Norman, though the film has its moments of Hitchcockian darkness) who is played by Joan Dowling, re-interprets the Cinderella story in a ripe, savagely Cockney manner. She comforts the children who are desperate to escape the mean house and its mean housekeeper. 
It’s a spellbinding moment of Dylan Thomas poetics: a joyful spin on Cinderella, beautifully shot and executed. And its lyricism is made more poignant by intercutting with Mrs Voray in the pub getting drunk with the sailor father of one of the evacuees. 

You can see that bedtime story scene in the video above.

Taylor is critical of the ending of No Room at the Inn, and I would add that the film's prologue, which involves one of the children being caught shoplifting some years later, just isn't strong enough to sit with the darkness of the rest of the film.

This structure of a present-day prologue followed by the rest of the action taking place as a flashback is taken from the play, but that began with the police arriving to find Mrs Voray dead and the play then showing us what had led up to this.

The censors meant that her death in the film had to have been caused by falling downstairs, but in the play she is smothered, more or less accidentally, in a drunken sleep by one of the children. The girls are trying to get her keys off her so they can rescue the boy, who has been locked in the coal store on a freezing night.

I should add that Taylor avoids this big spoiler, but I am not so considerate when a film is 75 years old.

But we can end in agreement as he praises the two best performances in the film:

Freda Jackson brings a full-blooded intensity to the role of the selfish and uncaring Aggie Voray. She was a sensation in the play and that’s why they made a film version which launched her considerable career on stage and in the cinema. 
Jackson probably became a role model for actors portraying more authentic working class women. I wonder if Pat Phoenix (Elsie Tanner) of Coronation Street was influenced by her?
As for all of the child actors in No Room at the Inn well they’re brilliant -especially Joan Dowling who’s street-wise confidence cannot hide her emotional damage. She deserved a prize but unfortunately the BAFTAs didn’t begin until 1954.

Later. It's worth adding that it easy to find a DVD of the film for sale online - it was even on YouTube for a while. That version runs for about 60 minutes, but the one that has been shown more than once by Talking Pictures TV is significantly longer.

Work begins to save the last working bell foundry in Britain

Campaigners have not given up on reopening Whitechapel Bell Foundry, but its closure in 2017 left John Taylor's of Loughborough as the only working bell foundry in Britain.

Taylor's buildings are not in good condition, and there have been efforts for some years to put together a package of funding to secure the enterprise's future and make it more attractive to visitors.

So it's good to read in the Leicester Mercury that:

Work to save Loughborough's historic Taylor's Bellfoundry - the last of its kind in the UK - has begun. The work aims to protect and enhance the Grade II*-listed bellfoundry buildings and on-site museum.

The project is being led by the Loughborough Bellfoundry Trust, which is working in partnership with John Taylor and Company, which has made bells in the town since 1859. The Trust was set up in 2016 to begin the work of restoring the bellfoundry’s buildings to protect the ancient craft of bellmaking for generations to come, and redevelop the site’s museum.

Dr Chrissie Van Mierlo, director of the foundry museum told the paper:

"We are thrilled to see work getting underway. This project has been years in the making and will help preserve and protect our historic buildings for generations to come. Our vision has always been to create a place where people of all ages can visit and learn about the craftmanship and art of bell making, as well as the history of the Loughborough site. 

Thanks to generous funders, and National Lottery players, we can now address the most urgent repair and conservation works to bring our vision to life."

Britain needs the Lib Dems, says the Washington Post

Here's an encouraging article from an unexpected source:

The Lib Dems count for more than their current low representation suggests. Next year, the centre party will become political kingmaker if, as seems highly likely, neither Labour nor the Conservatives win a majority in the general election. It’s a role it has played for more than a hundred years. 

The centrists also matter in other ways beyond raw electoral calculation. At Westminster, the party stands for important but unfashionable causes - the defence of civil liberties and constitutional change - that don’t find a natural home with either of the two bigger parties.

Lib Dem influence may have already ensured that the Tories will be ejected from office. In last week’s local elections, tactical voting for opposition candidates brought about the Conservatives’ huge loss of more than 1000 council seats. 

According to modelling for the Times newspaper by Ben Ansell, an Oxford University professor of politics, tactical voting now makes it "very, very, very hard  for the Conservatives to win an outright majority."

That source is the Washington Post.

And there's more:

There is a traditional place for a Liberal voice in UK politics. The party was the first to champion British membership of the European Community and the last to accept Brexit. It is resolutely internationalist in outlook. It consistently advocates decentralization of the overmighty UK state, too, and challenges knee-jerk law-and-order legislation passed in the wake of populist outrage.

Personally, I have little time for environmental extremists who block the roads and make it impossible for commuters to go about their daily business. Nor did the republicans who attempted to disrupt King Charles III’s coronation elicit my sympathy. 

But it is hard not to feel a twinge of anxiety at the battery of legislation passed to limit the rights of demonstrators. As one of those arrested last weekend complained, "the police have dreamt up a new offence  - 'being in the vicinity of protesters'." The Lib Dems give voice to our doubts.

Lib Dems, Labour and Greens reach agreement on running Harborough District Council

From Harborough FM:

A deal has been struck between political parties to run Harborough District Council.

The Greens, Liberal Democrats and Labour have reached an agreement to work together, after the authority was left in no overall control following the local elections.

Liberal Democrat councillor Phil Knowles will be put forward to become leader of the council at tonight’s annual council meeting.

Well done to everyone who has brought this agreement about, and congratulations to Phil, whom I first met almost 40 years ago.


In a statement to the Harborough Mail the three groups said: 

We have been working hard since the election to seek a solution in the best interests of the residents of Harborough District.

Voters sent a message loud and clear that they were dissatisfied with the Conservatives. With no single party having an outright majority, we can confirm that the Labour Party, Liberal Democrats, and the Green Party have an agreement to work together.

Angus Wilson: Skating on Thin Ice

I have started reading Ma'am Darling, Craig Brown's book about Princess Margaret, and it is every bit as good as the reviews said it was.

The book's genesis, Brown says, lay in the way Margaret cropped up in the index of every biography from her period that he opened. 

Here is a little run he gives from Margaret Drabble's biography of Angus Wilson:

Margaret, Princess

Marie Antoinette

Market Harborough

Given my love of a good index, I found this immediately appealing, and here I am left wondering what Angus Wilson's connection with Market Harborough was.

And it has led me to think about Angus Wilson too. He was a novelist and writer of short stories whose work was held in high regard when I read it avidly back in the Seventies, along with his critical studies of Charles Dickens and Rudyard Kipling. Yet he has since fallen out of print.

This 1991 BBC film as broadcast in 1991, the year he died, tells the story of his success and eclipse late in life.