Monday, July 31, 2023

Jim Parker, John Betjeman and A Shropshire Lad

The composer Jim Parker has died - you can read his obituary in the Guardian.

He was a hugely successful composer of music for television, but I remember him for two of quirkier projects. The first, Captain Beaky and his Band, was briefly a cult in the early Eighties and explains why the Gloucestershire fast bowler David Lawrence, after first being nicknamed Syd Lawrence after the bandleader, came to be known as Hissing Syd Lawrence.

More substantially, Parker composed the music to which John Betjeman read his poems on four LPs, beginning with Banaba Blush, between 1974 and 1981. As Jon Wilde wrote in 2013, it was not cool to like these at the time, but they have turned out to have a cult following:

In music circles, Betjeman has his disciples. Morrissey referenced Betjeman's 1937 poem Slough on Everyday Is Like Sunday and chose Child Ill for his 2004 NME compilation Songs to Save Your Life. Nick Cave, Suggs and British Sea Power have all cited Betjeman as an inspiration, whereas dance producer Andrew Weatherall has covered his music. Jarvis Cocker is known to play selections from Banana Blush on his BBC 6 Music show.

This setting of A Shropshire Lad can be found on Banana Blush and I can remember it getting some radio plays in the Seventies.

I was once minded to choose it as a Sunday music video, but allowed myself to become annoyed by Betheman's idea of a Shropshire accent. So I ended up choosing the recording of A Shropshire Lad by John Kirkpatrick, which uses Parker's tune and the correct accent for the part of the county the poet namechecks.

But here is Betjeman himself, reading his poem to that tune.

Court of appeal rules that wild camping is allowed on Dartmoor

Good news from the Guardian:

Wild camping is once again allowed on Dartmoor after the national park won a successful appeal against a ruling in a case brought by a wealthy landowner.

Camping had been assumed to be allowed under the Dartmoor Commons Act since 1985, until a judge ruled otherwise in January. It was the only place in England such an activity was allowed without requiring permission from a landowner.

The case hinged on whether wild camping counted as open-air recreation, leading to a long debate in the court of appeal.

That question gave rise to some top judging by Sir Geoffrey Vos:

He said a walker who lay down for a rest without pitching a tent would be present for the purpose of open-air recreation. It was the same if that walker fell asleep. It made no difference if the walker rested or slept on a plastic sheet to prevent the damp, or in a sleeping bag to protect from the cold, or under a tarpaulin or in an open tent or in a closed tent to protect from the rain. The fact that a tent was closed rather than open could not convert the wild camping from being an open-air recreation to not being one.

Richard Foord, the Liberal Democrat MP for Tiverton and Honiton, was a strong supporter of this appeal by the Dartmoor National Park Authority and the Open Spaces Society.

Still no reopening date for the Bridgnorth Cliff Railway

Bridgnorth's rare inland funicular railway, which has been closed since just before Christmas when problems were found with a wall beside the line, seems no nearer reopening. 

A report in the Shropshire Star earlier this month said:

While one section of the wall has now been repaired, work is yet to start on an second section that needs to be fixed before the attraction can open safely.

Bridgnorth Town Council are awaiting the signature from the operator of the railway to authorise the works.

Owner of the Railway Malvern Tipping said the delay is due to his insurer's solicitor needing the time to review the documents.

He said: "The wall diverts away from the Cliff Railway at an angle and is nowhere near the Cliff Railway property. Yet, it is the issue of signing off paperwork with respect to that section which has caused weeks of delay.

Malvern Tipping also told the Star:

"The legal process is a slow one, which means that we need to allow it to run at its own pace. However, this case becomes ever more frustrating for us, because the longer this case goes on, the more the Cliff Railway will be depleted of reserves, which in turn places the viability of its future under greater stress.

"We are anxious that the works to the Town Council’s retaining wall are now completed expeditiously so that we shall be able to re-open and our staff may then resume their places."

It's worth pointing out again that this railway isn't just a tourist attraction: it also an important amenity for local residents.

And Malvern Tipping had some good news:

"The top station ticket office has been undergoing a complete refurbishment. The ticket booth has been painted green, whereas it was previously brown, but in keeping with its art nouveau heritage.

"I am so pleased that the Cliff Railway’s manager, Karl, has replaced the old strip lighting with something much more suitable for the period.

"He has replaced it with copper piping and electric bulbs which look as though they had come straight out of the late Victorian era.

"They very much resemble what one sees in the carriages at the railway museum at the Mid-Suffolk Light Railway close to where I live. I am sure that this upgrade will appeal to local passengers and tourists alike."

Sunday, July 30, 2023

The Joy of Six 1149

"As a liberal I believe that we should all have equal access to decent facilities which we can use if we choose to. You should be able to walk to the pub or the school of the mosque within easy reach providing roughly the same standards of service whether for need or pleasure. The whole point of neighbourhoods is about enabling and not enforcing." Richard Kemp says we must destroy the '15-minute city' myths.

Josh Self decodes the Nigel Farage playbook: "He rails against 'the elite', ever-evoked but rarely defined by the privately-educated former stockbroker who spent 25 years working as an MEP. And he displays real skill in galvanising and directing sections of the British public at his unfortunate foes."

Anna Funder discovers that George Orwell's first wife Eileen has been written out of his life, not least by Orwell himself.

"Birmingham’s Trocadero was once the meeting place of the city’s Surrealists: Conroy Maddox, Emmy Bridgwater, brothers John and Robert Melville, Oscar Mellor and Desmond Morris. Between 1935 and the 1950s, these artists brought the strangest of all modern art movements to the Second City." Ruth Millington traces Birmingham's sites of Surrealism.

Joni Mitchell's surprise appearance at the 2022 Newport Folk Festival, 53 years after she first played there, marks another twist in her chameleonic career, says Annie Zaleski.

Jane Chelliah has been to see Barbie.

The Tymes: Ms Grace

I tweeted this week:

The 1975 is an odd name to choose for your band. The charts were rubbish that year - full of novelty records. Glam was dead and punk was still slouching towards Soho to be born.

There were those who defended some of the year's number ones, and others who rightly pointed out what a great year it was for LPs. But I was a poor boy from the back streets of Market Harborough and had to rely on Radio One and Radio Luxemburg for my music.

Still, I thought I would look at the charts for 1975 and choose a single from the charts to post today. And this is what I came up with.

The Tymes were a black American vocal group who enjoyed success on both sides of the Atlantic. Ms Grace, which reached number one in January 1975.

They had been founded as long ago as 1956 and first charted in the UK in 1963. But then a lot of the Black vocal groups of the Sixties and Seventies look rather mature to modern eyes. 

Maybe that's why their music leant towards the sad and the wise, though Ms Grace is joyous.

Back to my tweet on 1975. The best reply was from @bigboyted:
Or as that not so well known NME journo Gramsci put it 😉

"The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born: now is the time of monsters."

Saturday, July 29, 2023

Stuart Broad announces his retirement from test cricket

At close of play at The Oval today, Stuart Broad announced his retirement from test cricket. He's not out overnight and has one more innings to bowl in, but his test figures currently stand at 3656 runs and 602 wickets.

You can see his finest hour above. He always was a bowler who, if he took one wicket, was likely to get two or three more in short order.

At one time he looked likely to develop into a genuine test all rounder, but he rather lost his confidence after being struck in the face. As bowler or batsman, he was always entertaining.

He was first mentioned on this blog in 2007, when he was still playing for Leicestershire. I described him then as Stuart "Should have been picked for the Ashes" Broad, referring to the 2006/7 tour of Australia.

Fortunately, he was picked for the Ashes after that. Remarkably, the last home test against Australia that he didn't play in was the final test of 2005, when Kevin Pietersen's innings secured a draw and the Ashes. He is one of the immortals.

Bobby Henrey, his parents and wartime London

The Soho Bites podcast bills itself as 'a show about movies set in Soho, the beating heart of bohemian, cosmopolitan London". But its latest episode is about a film that isn't set in Soho but had its genesis there: Carol Reed's The Fallen Idol.

I've written before about this film, which contains one of the great child performances. The actor, Bobby Henrey, now a retired accountant and hospital chaplain, spoke about the experience of making the film in a video I posted on here a few years ago.

But the podcast talks first about his life before the film, and touches on some fascinating social history. As a child in London he lived in a flat in Mayfair, not because his parents were rich but because they were short of money. The rich had fled central London because of the Blitz, so the rents for such properties had collapsed. 

And he talks about the books his parents published on London life under the shared pseudonym 'Mrs Robert Henrey'. It was seeing Bobby's photo on the jacket of his parents' A Village in Piccadilly that led the people making The Fallen Idol to offer him an audition.

Roger Greaves, Soho Bites tells us. is writing a study of the Mrs Robert Henrey books. By the sound of them, they contain a lot of interesting social history. I did once quote one of them about London just after the war:

There is, perhaps, no better example than Chesham Mews of the way the well-to-do, unable any longer to keep establishments worthy of their station, have descended upon the accommodation which their forebears allotted to the groom and to the coachman. 

The clerks and typists of the Ministry of Education filled the noble rooms of the former aristocratic mansions in the Square, while the aristocrats slept in hay-lofts over their cars for which, in another month, they would no longer be given any basic allowance of petrol.

And for this podcast, Bobby Henrey - except he has always been Robert Henrey as an adult - was interviewed on his eighty-fourth birthday about something he did when he was eight. Child stardom is a strange phenomenon.

Friday, July 28, 2023

Bank closes the account of Gina Miller's political party

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From BBC News:

Anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller was told a bank account for her political party would close without explanation.

Monzo initially refused to tell Ms Miller why her "True and Fair" party account would be closed in September.

After the BBC contacted the bank about the case, it said it did not allow political party accounts and had made a mistake in allowing it to be opened.

To which I can only reply: I told you so. How the people who've spent the last fortnight telling us that banks must be allowed to act precisely as they choose will react to this, I don't know.

Debanking is a huge problem for those affected - as the first article in my latest Joy of Six shows - and I can see it becoming a political weapon if the government does not act.

You young people won't remember it, but when we lived among the ruins of the Liberal Democrats' performance in the 2015 general election, there were those who wanted Gina Miller to be our next leader, even though she wasn't an MP (or a Lib Dem, come to that).

There's nothing as odd as the recent past.

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Working narrow boats on the Black Country canals in 1965

The Sixties were the decade when commercial traffic more or less died out on England's canals. And this precious footage of the Birmingham Canal Navigations in 1965 reveals that the boats and the infrastructure were both in a pretty shabby state by then.

There are more films on this blog's Canals label.

The Joy of Six 1148

Amy Taylor reminds us that banks have been denying people accounts for years: "For my client, there was no accusation of fraud, no prosecution, and no knowledge of any fraud, just a registered possibility of risk, which left her without banking facilities at an extremely vulnerable point in her life. No amount of pleading or explaining her situation worked. The banks turned her away."

Sarah Dyke the 35th woman elected to Westminster under the Liberal or Liberal Democrat banner. Stephen Williams lists them all, and adds the women who have been elected to national parliaments and the European Parliament.

Danny Finkelstein on the rise of RFK Jr: "His presidential campaign is highly unlikely to be successful, and he won’t be the Democratic nominee, but he is doing better than many thought he would, because conspiracy theorists can be found on the left as well as the right. And everywhere they are found, they are a danger to Jews."
"For reasons that have never been clear to me, my mother’s money ran out after one year and, at age 4½, I set off on my own. I headed south, sometimes living in the streets, sometimes joining gangs of other homeless children, sometimes living in orphanages, and most of the time being hungry. My recollections of those four years are vivid but not continuous, rather like a series of snapshots. Some of them are brutal beyond description, others more palatable." Mario Capecchi, a Nobel Prize winner in the physiology of medicine, recalls his extraordinary wartime childhood.

Ian Mansfield shows that Belsize Park was home to many important figures in the Modernist movement in British art.

"Jonson’s statement concerning Shakespeare’s alleged ignorance of Greek and Latin might be the single most misunderstood and misinterpreted line of English poetry ever written: it means the opposite of what most people think it means." Tom Moran argues that William Shakespeare knew Classsical languages far better than we imagine. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

When a young David Bowie played a venue opposite the derelict Leicester Belgrave Road station

One of my favourite Twitter threads is one from The Chisit on gigs at unlikely venues in and around Leicester.

It reveals, for instance, that Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon both played Ye Old White Swan, a vanished pub that used to occupy a corner of the Market Place.

But it is the thought of David Bowie playing an obscure venue in Leicester as early as 1966 that really intrigues me, though not just for musical reasons.

The venue was The Latin Quarter in Belgrave Road and The Bowie Bible says Dave Bowie and the Buzz played there on Friday 12 August 1966. 

A few weeks ago I went to photograph it, and you can see my photo above.

Bowie played with The Buzz in 1966 and 1967. His first band, The Lower Third, had split with him because of a dispute with the management over pay. During their time together, The Buzz played on Bowie's fourth single You're Holding Me Down, which is a record that has not found its way on to YouTube.

The opening of The Latin Quarter was announced in a feature that took up the best part of a page of the Leicester Daily Mercury on Friday 27 May 1966, which announced:

New Teenage Night Spot

Opening Tomorrow

The Latest in Coffee Clubs and Restaurants 

A special all night live music session opens the Latin Quarter on Saturday night with local groups playing from 8 pm through till 6 am Entrance is in Belgrave Road by the lights junction with Abbey Park Road The tunnel of wicker hurdles through which grow ferns and down the stairs under the baleful watch of Pagan masks 

Not only is this to be a restaurant by day but will provide the ultimate in the city as a dusk-’til-dawn coffee club complete with most up-to-date Rock-ola Grand Prix Juke Box with stereophonic sound Meals will be served on occasional tables and diners on Design Centre chairs of a brilliant 'flame' colour.

The feature also promised:

Continuous Music by Local Groups

Every evening at eight ... that is the motto of the Latin Quarter for your entertainment entertainment that we know you will like all the best in the local groups provided by PS Promotions.

And to be fair to PS Promotions, among the bands announced for the venue's first week are The Farinas, who were soon to become Family, Leicester best band of the era.

The Latin Quarter was clearly meant to be a big deal - the feature has notices from its suppliers wishing well. I was intrigued to see that all the internal design work was by Derrick Knightley Associates of Leicester, because Derrick Knightley was an Independent member of Harborough District Council when I was a councillor.

All of which makes it rather sad that I can find no reference to The Latin Quarter after 1966. Among the non-Leicester bands who did play it that year were Bluesology, whose young keyboard player was Reg Dwight. He was to make a stage name from those of two other musicians who were members of the band: Elton Dean and Long John Baldry.

What interested me as much as The Latin Quarter is what was on the other side of Belgrave Road.
It doesn't look much today, but in 1966 this store and car park were the site of Leicester Belgrave Road station, the Great Northern Railway's old terminus in the city.

It had closed to passengers - by then it was mainly used for holiday trains to the Lincolnshire coast - in 1962, but the last railway buildings on the site were not demolished until 1985. The photo before shows the station many decades before that

So I like to think that David Bowie popped out for a fag and discovered the old station as a haunt of pigeons with its masonry stained green by leaking gutters and plants forcing their way from every crack and cranny they could find.

If I had a time machine, I might well set it for the evening of 12 August 1966.

Investigation into how warehouse worker became trapped under hundreds of blocks of cheese is drawing to a close

Once again, the Shropshire Star wins our Headline of the Day Award.

I'm pleased to say the trapped worker walked away unscathed. So I can end with a joke...

"I had a terrible weekend. I went to a wedding, and we were all having our photos taken afterwards when a lorry drove past the church. A huge cheese fell of it, rolled into the churchyard and crushed the photographer.

"We all tried to warn him."

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

John Russell's maiden speech in the Lords

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John Russell after making his maiden speech yesterday (Are you sure about this? Ed.)

As Mark Valladares says on Lib Dem Voice, until yesterday, it was a long time since there had been a maiden speech by a Liberal Democrat peer.

That changed thanks to John Russell, the younger son of Conrad Russell, who now holds the title Earl Russell and recently won one of those odd by-elections for hereditary peers they hold in the upper house.

Here are a few highlights from his speech:

"Thank you for the kind words I have received about my father, Conrad. I know he is still remembered, particularly for his unique historical and constitutional knowledge. If I might share with your Lordships: one of his proudest moments was when, during one very late-night sitting, he out-quoted the Bishops one by one with the Bible."

"I am passionate about the environment. My commitment and care come from my personal experience of adventure, long-distance walking and a love of wild places. Climate change is happening now. It is real and it is truly frightening. No longer the stuff of dystopian films, it is our present reality."

"The questions of what to do and how we fight for our common survival must be addressed and solutions found and implemented with utmost urgency. We have to adapt our ways of life, our cities, our transport systems, simply for our society to continue to function and survive. We must have hope and inspire confidence that change is possible."

"Big companies and businesses must adapt: they will be part of the solutions we need for a functioning society. The biggest polluters must be held accountable. We must give nature and the ecosystem an economic value and assign it worth. We need a new economics and a global green economy." 

You can read the whole speech on They Work for You.

Claire Young chosen to fight Thornbury and Yate for the Lib Dems

Claire Young, the Liberal Democrat leader of South Gloucestershire Council, has been chosen to fight Thornbury and Yate for the party at the next general election, reports the Gazette. 

Thornbury and Yate covers much the same area as the old Northavon constituency, which Steve Webb held for the party between 1997 and 2010.

Claire, a Cambridge mathematics graduate who has worked in the software industry, told the Gazette:

“I am delighted to have the opportunity to stand at the next election and win this seat for the Liberal Democrats.

"I know local people are really fed up with this government’s mishandling of the economy and the NHS and want a change.

"Only the Liberal Democrats can beat the Conservatives here. 

"Living locally and running the council I know just what is needed in the area - it’s time for an MP who speaks up and delivers.”

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Sarah Dyke is battling the forces of darkness

Marcus Trescothick retired in 2019 after a remarkable 25-year career with Somerset and England. But when I first mentioned the Well-Behaved Orphans' summer holiday in the pages of Liberator, he was a 14-year-old playing alongside his father for the Keynsham club in Bristol. In those days the WBOs went to a different Cornish resort: Trebilcock Bay.

A prize (in a very real sense) for the first Liberal England reader to tell me where that name came from.

Anyway, this entry brings us to the end of another week with Lord Bonkers. I see the old boy was right about Somerton and Frome.


Soon it will be high summer and time to take the Well-Behaved Orphans on their annual holiday at Trescothick Bay in Cornwall, but before I see to that happy duty I have another to fulfil: a whistle-stop tour of current by-elections.  First Selby, where a contest has been called following the resignation of one Nigel Adams – I know no more about him than you do. Then it will be off to Uxbridge, where I am told the locals are still celebrating the departure of Boris Johnson, before I call in at Somerton and Frome. Here our own Sarah Dyke is battling the forces of darkness. With a little strategic advice and practical help from you diarist, I fully expect her to triumph.

Finally, I shall hang my hat in Mid Bedfordshire, where a by-election has long been promised but has yet to materialise because the aforementioned Dorries refuses to make good her solemn oath to resign. If she does finally cop for the Chiltern Hundreds, then whichever Conservative is selected will face the unhappy task of defending their party’s widely disliked, at least in Bedfordshire, ‘Do Your Number Twos in the Great Ouse’ campaign.

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

Earlier this week...

Monday, July 24, 2023

Book Review... Ma'am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret by Craig Brown

Playing herself at the Borsetshire Fashion Show on The Archers in 1984, she sounded curiously flat and uninvolved, almost as though she couldn’t get to grips with her own character. After the first run-through, the producer, William Smethurst said: “That’s very good, Ma’am, but do you think you could sound as if you were enjoying yourself a little more?”

“Well, I wouldn’t be, would I?” replied the princess.

Craig Brown noticed Princess Margaret's ubiquity when researching an earlier book of his. Open the biography of any public figure from the second half of the 20th century and she will be there in the index. Usually you will be directed to an anecdote about her where she appears haughty or rude.

Brown has turned these brief appearances into a study of Margaret. The tale is familiar: the failure to marry Group Captain Peter Townsend, the marriage to Lord Snowdon, the years of fun and scandal on Mustique, the decline in her health from too much tobacco  and alcohol, the death a few weeks before that of her mother.

Yet I learnt plenty that was new from Ma'am Darling. Margaret's wish to marry the war hero Townsend alarmed the royal family and court because he was divorced from his first wife. She was persuaded to abandon the idea and him by pressure that went all the way up to threatening to cut her off without a penny. Today's public would be more concerned that Townsend was 16 years older than Margaret, who had been only 13 when they met. After parting from Margaret, he went on to wed an even younger woman.

The happiest time in Margaret's life seems to have been the early years of her marriage to Lord Snowdon, when they were London's most fashionable couple - this was a few years before it began to Swing - and moved in glittering social and artistic circles, But their relationship soon soured, and Snowdon treated her with calculated cruelty.

Later she sought solace in the millionaire's paradise of Mustique with the amusing (Roddy Llewelyn) and the criminal (John Bindon). Then her health began to decline and she was seen about no more. She died in 2002, aged 71.

It was not a happy life, and reading about it strengthened my belief that a strong argument against having a monarchy is the impossible lives members of the Royal Family are forced to live.

Ma'am Darling has no index - I took the story about Margaret's appearance on The Archers, which is in the book, from a Guardian article - but I think I'm right in saying that the book omits the one wholly creditable story I have heard about Margaret.

This time I am quoting BBC News on Joan Littlewood's play Oh! What a Lovely War:

Littlewood gave the show a new political bite, as befitted a nation growing tired of deference. The family of Field Marshal Douglas Haig wanted to stop the show reaching the West End, claiming the portrayal of him was a crude caricature.

But Spinetti recalls a useful royal visit when the play was still in Stratford. "One evening Princess Margaret came with Lord Cobbold, who as Lord Chamberlain was also the theatre censor.

"Afterwards Princess Margaret came backstage and said 'Well Miss Littlewood those things should have been said many years ago - don't you agree, Lord Cobbold?' He gave a thin smile and said 'Oh yes ma'am'. And Joan knew that was our permission to go into the West End."

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Lynched during the lunch interval

I am pleased to see such a clear condemnation of what happened at Lord's. As to the widely publicised reason for the closure of the Bonkers Hall Safari Park, Lord Bonkers has suggested on more than one occasion that "those nuns were the authors of their own misfortune".


To St Asquith’s for Divine Service, with the happy consequence that I am not at Lord’s to witness the appalling scenes in the Long Room. Reports are still coming in, but it seems the Australians’ physiotherapist and reserve wicket keeper were lynched during the lunch interval. By all means let us play our cricket hard, but this was Going A Bit Far. 

Lord’s should not be allowed to host another test until the MCC has proved it can control its members. If an alternative ground has to be found, then we need look no further than my own here at the Hall. I will even undertake to have the grounds thoroughly searched for big cats – ever since the sudden closure of my safari park there has been a tendency for boundary fielders to disappear when the bowling is from the Pavilion End.

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

Earlier this week...

Sunday, July 23, 2023

The Joy of Six 1147

"This mess was, of course, both predictable and predicted. That’s why I’ve been struck, visiting the UK this summer, by the curious political taboo against discussing how badly Brexit has gone, even among many who voted against it." Michelle Goldberg has found that no one in the UK wants to talk about the disaster of Brexit.

Neil Schofield-Hughes warns Wales to be beware of Keir Starmer's attack on devolution in London over ULEZ.

Mark Lilla says we need a post-identity liberalism: "By the time ... [students] reach college many assume that diversity discourse exhausts political discourse, and have shockingly little to say about such perennial questions as class, war, the economy and the common good."

I have long been more interested in Karl Popper theory of knowledge than his philosophy of science.  Steven K. Graham looks at its implications for the education of younger children.

Andy Boddington is pleased that Ludlow is not too posh for Rag’n’Bone man: "A few complaints from people that live a mile from the castle. The topography of Ludlow means that sound travels to unexpected places. Expected places too. There were good crowds on Whitcliffe Common which could perhaps remarket itself as the Ludlow Amphitheatre."

This weekend's weather in Manchester has been no laughing matter, though John Arlott used to claim it's the only city where they have lifeboat drill on the buses. The Mill looks into the fairness of its reputation for rain.

Black Box Recorder: The English Motorway System

Consisting of Sarah Nixey, Luke Haines (of The Auteurs), and John Moore (formerly of The Jesus and Mary Chain), Black Box Recorder were an indie band who flourished around the turn of the century. The English Motorway System is a track from their 2000 album The Facts of Life. 

Jude Rogers tells us what's going on here:

Another Ballardian beauty from the band, taking Kraftwerk’s love of the autobahn and capturing its peculiar hypnotic qualities as we find them on home turf. 

A song about a couple about to break up, it also perhaps the band’s most tender and least blackly comic track, ignited by atmospheric ahhs and their most lovely chorus yet. "It’s going to be there forever", Nixey says, mythologising the tarmac, "it’s never going away".

But I dream of motorways lying derelict with thistles forcing their way up though the concrete. Meanwhile, enthusiasts give up their weekends to keep short stretches the way they used to be.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Sporting on its shore in animal skins

Back in 2004, before Tony Blair had won his third election, I blogged:

Conrad Russell died last week, an irreplaceable loss to the Liberal Democrats and to Liberalism in general. There were worthy obituaries in the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian. I remember his saying once, rather overgenerously, that I did for the party what Matthew Parris does for the country. 

I also remember his asking me, as his wife had always wondered, why Lord Bonkers talked about Earl Russell and his Big Band. I explained that as there were band leaders called Count Basie and Duke Ellington... When I was studying philosophy as an undergraduate, I never dreamed that I would have this conversation with Bertrand Russell's son.

And if you read the whole post you will find that there really was an Earl Russell, Big Band, or at least an Earl Russell Orchestra.


How splendid to have a Russell on the Liberal Democrat benches in the Lords again! Earl Russell won the by-election among hereditary peers, casually giving a member of the Lloyd George clan one up the snoot in the process. 

My only worry is that he has mentioned more than once his dream of getting his father’s big band back together and asked if I know what became of them. 

It happens that I gave them sanctuary on an island in Rutland Water after Conrad’s death. From time to time I see them sporting on its shore in animal skins and playing upon rude instruments, and I know Meadowcroft rows out for the occasional jam session, but few others know of their presence. 

Will they thank me if I shatter their idyll? Can I continue to change the subject when my newest colleague broaches the matter?

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

Earlier this week...

Saturday, July 22, 2023

Want to win public support for green policies? Learn to present them more clearly

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I was still playing chess in the county league in the 1990s. Many of the matches took place in school classrooms in the evenings, and if I was on top in my game, I would copy my hero Garry Kasparov and prowl the room while I waited for my opponent's next move.*

This gave me the chance to read the children's work that had been pinned up on the walls. It was often about the environment, and it usually revealed that the issues of greenhouse gases that cause global warming and chemicals that damage the ozone layer were tangled together in the children's minds.

As their teachers thought this work worthy of being honoured, I assumed that the issues were entangled in their minds too.**

I thought of those days when I read this in a report on the Guardian website this morning:

Tom Burke, the co-founder of the green thinktank E3G, predicted that those within Labour who are antagonistic to green measures will seize this moment. He said: "There will be pressure inside Labour – some people will take fright from this.” Some trade unions have deep reservations about the transition to a low-carbon economy, and some in the party are fearful over Tory attacks on climate policies.

But Burke warned that Starmer should not listen to these concerns. He said: "They should be very careful in generalising from this to climate policy more generally. What Starmer should do is not attack his own side, but communicate far more effectively what the consequences will be of climate policy failure. That’s what’s missing from this debate."

Because ULEZ isn't about climate change: it's about reducing air pollution London and so reducing its serious effect on health - children's respiratory health in particular.

If Labour*** had presented ULEZ to voters as a health measure it might well have won more support, because threats to your children's health are urgent. But most voters probably assumed the measure was something to do with climate change, which seems a more distant threat.****

So campaigners need to do what those children and their teachers didn't do: untangle these issues so they are better understood by the public.

* In his Chess for Tigers, Simon Webb advises you to keep an eye on an opponent who is having a long think while you prowl. If they start shifting in their seat as if they are about to move, you should, he says, go back to the board and make a show of thinking hard about the position. This will make them think even longer about their move and increase the chances they will lose the game on time. I tried this several times and it works.

** In case you see this as political indoctrination, the idea that children should be interested in nature and care about it was central to 20th-century children's literature. And no one would call Enid Blyton woke.

*** Yes, I know it's a policy of the Conservative government.

**** The psychologist David Smail used to talk about 'proximal' and 'distal' threats. I think this is useful jargon.

What Somerton and Frome means for the Lib Dems

Somerton and Frome is important, not just because of the size of the swing to the Liberal Democrats, but also because of where it is, argues Katy Balls:

In 2015, part of the Tories’ success in winning a surprise majority was winning seats off the Liberal Democrats in the South West. Taking Somerton and Frome is being heralded as proof by Liberal Democrats that they could finally mount a resurgence here. If they manage it, it’s a big problem for Sunak.

There are 15 constituencies in the West Country with smaller majorities than the one that was overturned on Thursday. If the party can take seats from the Tories both in the Blue Wall and the South West, it could be very bad news for the Tories indeed.

And Conservatitve MPs are aware of the danger:

“I would rather have a majority of 10,000 in the North than a majority of 20,000 in the South,” says one Northern MP. They argue that the success of both the Lib Dems and Greens in the local elections suggest their Southern colleagues will have the tougher fight on their hands next year.

The next edition of one of Lord Bonkers' favourite books, Wainwright's West Country Marginals, should make encouraging reading.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Charabanc trips to the coast have been booked

Lord Bonkers' magnanimity towards our Conservative opponents is legendary. By this I mean that many people have heard of it, but few have seen it - rather like the Rutland Water Monster.


Spare a thought for local Conservative associations planning outings for their members: where can they take them nowadays? The Isle of Man lost its attraction when birching was abolished, while the Jack Straw Memorial Reform School, Dungeness, which also used to be a popular destination, is to be repurposed as a ‘skills boot camp for the over-fifties’. 

The more affluent might think of Rwanda, but it looks unlikely that they will find any asylum seekers to gloat over when they get there. I am told that charabanc trips to the coast have been booked in the hope that the hulks will soon be in place, but most Tory branches are likely to fall back on that old favourite: allowing their members to crawl on their bellies across the lawn of their nearest Old Etonian MP.

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

Earlier this week...

Friday, July 21, 2023

Huge landslides in Somerset and Dorset last night

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News from Dorset Live:

Walkers and beachgoers are being warned of the dangers of straying too close to cliff faces after a vast overnight landslip on the coast of Dorset. Many thousands of tonnes of material has collapsed onto the beach at Seatown.

The privately owned beach is a favourite with anglers, fossil hunters and walkers. The huge landslip occurred overnight and Dorset Fire and Rescue Service have urged visitors to the area to take extra care.

Meanwhile, over the county boundary in Somerset, Sarah Dyke won back Somerton and Frome for the Liberal Democrats. Congratulations to Sarah and all who were involved in the campaign.

The seat was previously held for the party between 1997 and 2015 by David Heath.

A Lib Dem revival on this scale in a West Country seat suggests that being a Leaver is not longer central to so many voters sense of political identity.

Brexit has delivered none of the benefits its proponents forecast, and even in 2019, I suspect many heard Boris Johnson's "Get Brexit done" as "Make Brexit go away" and voted Conservative in the hope they would stop hearing so much about it.

Inevitably they were disappointed.

Britain Elects has tweeted the figures:

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Ofwat, Ofgem, Ofthis, Ofthat

I find this entry interesting. Lord Bonkers, I know, was a leader of the campaign against Labour's ill-fated nationalisation of the Stilton industry after 1945, yet here he is criticising the privatisations of the Thatcher government.


When the Conservatives sold off our public utilities we were assured the new private operators would live in fear of their regulators. The mere mention of them, we were told, would send non-executive directors home to live quietly with their mothers. The reality has been that the regulators - Ofwat, Ofgem, Ofthis, Ofthat - have been treated by the operators with contumely and derision: I would be hard put to say which is the more disagreeable.

This morning, as I walk by the shores of Rutland Water, the answer comes to me. We need a new regulatory body to monitor the performance of the regulators. I spend the rest of the day writing a paper for the Federal Policy Committee on my proposal for an Ofof.

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

Earlier this week...

Thursday, July 20, 2023

The Joy of Six 1146

Matthew Pennell expects the Conservatives to look to the US Republicans when devising their strategy for the next general election. The good news is he doesn't think it will work.

"For mandatory reporting to work effectively, a law needs to ensure reporting of reasonable suspicions. But the lack of any criminal penalty for non-reporting undermines both the impetus to do so, and the cover for those who want to report." Richard Scorer fears the recommendations of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse may not be enough to protect children from abuse in religious settings.

"Thirteen months after first making the allegations in front of the committee, Rafiq says: “All that’s changed really is my family have been driven out of the country.” Incredibly, Lord Patel, who was hired to help Yorkshire recover from the scandal, faced so much abuse that it contributed to him leaving the UK, too." Leila Latif on the reaction to the Commission for Equity in Cricket’s report.

John Read reveals that research shows UK patients are not being told about the serious risks and limited benefits of electroconvulsive therapy.

"These books are deliberately, self-consciously challenging, in content and in form. They are also hard, beautiful, powerful, and brilliant. That account of their greatness and difficulty, especially of the way their greatness and difficulty are entwined - they are great because they are difficult, and difficult because they are great - is a story that was itself invented." Johanna Winant reminds us that last year saw the centenary of The Waste Land, Ulysses and Wittgenstein's Tractatus. 

Nicola Chester debates the pros and cons of a rural childhood.

Charles and Camilla greeted by alpacas and a hungry goat

As so often, the Shropshire Star supplies our Headline of the Day.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: One of Violent Bonham Carter’s boys

It's remarkable how the London gangs of the Sixties - the Krays, the Richardsons, the Bonhams Carter - continue to be of interest today. Lord Bonkers' own He Never Touch Kids or Nothing: My Years with Violent Bonham Carter has proved to be one of his best-selling publications.


I see the coming Labour man Wes Streeting is putting it about that his grandfather was a member of the London underworld in the Sixties. All I shall say on the subject is that if the old geezer was one of Violent Bonham Carter’s boys, young Streeting would do well to keep schtum. His grandmother, incidentally, once shared a cell with Christine Keeler, who always struck me as a Terribly Nice Girl.

This afternoon I turn down an invitation to attend a ‘fireside chat’ by Danny Alexander at the National Liberal Club. Strictly between me and my diary, I am afraid the fire will go out. Then I ring my accountant and ask him to explore whether there would be tax advantages if the Well-Behaved Orphans did identify as cats.

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

Earlier this week...

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Film of York in the 1970s

Gentle footage of the city as it was when I started at the university there in 1978.

I remember in particular two long-vanished bookshops: Godfrey's in Stonegate, which you could get lost in, and Pickering's in The Shambles, with its invaluable tray of pamphlets on obscure chess openings.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The other animals would lay their disputes before the kangaroos

Liberator 418 is out. You can download a pdf of the magazine free of charge from its website.

Which means it's time to spend another week in the company of Rutland's most notorious peer. 

Lord Bonkers' ordeal in the gorilla costume came about because I had to miss an issue of Liberator because I was caring for my mum. She was amused when I told her where I had parked the old boy.


Alarmed by tales of children identifying as cats, I telephone the headmistress of the village school and Matron at my own Home for Well-Behaved Orphans. Both assure me that there is nothing in the story: in short, it’s Perfect Rot. 

I turn instead to my editorial for this week’s High Leicestershire Radical and decide to give beans to those calling the Commons Privileges Committee a ‘kangaroo court’. 

I make two points. The first is that respect for Parliament lies at the heart of our democracy. 

The second is that when, a couple of years ago, I had the misfortune to be confined in a zoo for some weeks – you may recall I wore a gorilla costume throughout my ordeal – I was impressed by the way the other animals would lay their disputes before the kangaroos. Somehow their antipodean informality (“She’ll be right, mate”) and mastery of courtroom procedure allowed these engaging marsupials to arrive at resolutions that both parties found fair. 

If I were Nadine Dorries (which I admit is unlikely) I should not relish facing the class action that the kangaroos of Queensland are bringing over certain of her dietary preferences in that programme where everyone is stranded  in the jungle.

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

Coutts should not have closed Nigel Farage's bank account

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Nigel Farage has been a wholly malign influence on British life. His championing of Brexit has made us poorer and less free. He's an admirer of the genocidal Putin and the treasonous Donald Trump. For all his claims to be a patriot, we wouldn't have seen his froggy green arse for dust if his media career in American had worked out.

But I'm uneasy with the enthusiasm for Coutts's decision to close his account.

Because, despite what right-wingers believe, the banks are not part of a woke blob. They are conservative organisations, and if they start refusing people accounts because of their politics, then it is left-wingers who will suffer more.

And I can see government and right-wing activists putting pressure on the banks. Why do Just Stop Oil activists have accounts with your bank? Ban them!

You can argue that companies have a right to decide who they do business with, except liberal have cheered on cases brought under human rights law to prove that is not the case.

It's impossible to function in modern society without a bank account, so everyone should have one. Even Nigel Farage.

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Listen to Gabrielle Drake talk about her brother Nick Drake

Nick Drake has been everywhere recently because of the publication of Richard Morton Jack's Nick Drake: The Biography.

Morton Jack was interviewed about his book on BBC Radio 4's Front Page last month, along with the actor Gabrielle Drake, who is Nick's sister.

Click on the image to go to the interview.

If you want to hear more about Nick Drake, listen to Morton Jack in a recent Word in Your Ear podcast.

The risk Starmer runs by backing the two-child benefit cap

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Labour's self-elected sensible tendency has been busy today praising Keir Starmer's decision not to scrap the Conservatives' two-child benefit cap.

Leading it has been Polly Toynbee, who made her name as a journalist by revealing the reality of living in poverty.

The favourite tactic of Starmer's cheerleaders has been to accuse anyone who questions his decision of wanting to promise the voters that an incoming Labour government will reverse every cut the Tories have made.

This is a classic example of a false dilemma. In reality, there exists a vast territory between overturning everything the Tories have done and overturning nothing. And I suspect that somewhere within lies the best approach for Labour to take.

My worry is that Starmer and his supporters have overestimated his achievement. My impression is that he has failed to cut through with the public and is seen by them as 'just another lawyer'.

Labour's poll lead is less an achievement of Starmer's than of the last three Tory prime ministers. The government has been a shambles for three years and the voters have looked elsewhere because of it.

The real danger to Labour of Starmer's decision on the benefits cap is not the voters they may lose to the Greens and the Liberal Democrats, though there will be some.

It's that the a growing sense that Labour are no better than the Tories would give the worldly 'they're all as bad as each other' type of Tory voter an excuse for drifting back to their old allegiance.

So far the Tories' flip-flop campaign against Starmer has failed to hurt him. It's too childish - maybe too American.

But it remains true that Starmer won the Labour leadership on a policy platform he appears not to have believed a word of.

Tony Blair used to rail against 'cynicism' when he generally meant scepticism, which is a healthy instinct. Keir Starmer needs to be careful that cynicism about his approach to politics does not become more widespread.

Monday, July 17, 2023

A report from the shooting of Running Scared at Braunston in 1971

Running Scared, David Hemmings' first film as a director, did not receive a general release. The consensus at the time seems to have been that it was too consciously arty for a popular audience, with Hemmings heavily influenced by Antonioni, who had directed him in Blow-Up.

This report from the making of the film appeared in the Coventry Evening Telegraph on 23 July 1971:

Hustle and bustle replace the quiet of a Rugby village. All of a sudden it is a hive of activity as strangers with sinister-looking equipment mingle with the locals.

Braunston has become the focal point of a film crew's activities. The international star David Hemmings is directing his first picture, a thriller called "Running Seared." and the canal (above) at Braunston is one of its principal locations. 

Hemmings is pictured left having a word with the actor Robert Powell who plays a leading role. Powell is better known for his role as Tobias Wren in the television series "Doomwatch." 

Chosen to double for Powell during the making of the film is Robert Smee of Braunston. They are pictured together below. 

In the bottom picture, the camera crew prepare for another take - and so the demanding business of making a movie goes on.

I have borrowed one of the photos mentioned: it shows David Hemmings and Robert Powell. You will see that Hemmings still favours white jeans some years after Blow-Up.

Among the family photographs is one of a canal holiday from the summer of 1971, when we passed through Braunston. I must have a careful look at them.

Sarah Dyke: "I’ve been dealing with a lot of David Warburton’s casework over the last year"

Peter Walker has been to Somerton and Frome for the Guardian and talked to the Liberal Democrat candidate:

Sarah Dyke sometimes feels as if she gets treated like the de facto local MP already.

"I've been dealing with a lot of David Warburton’s casework over the last year because people haven’t known where to go," Dyke says of the Conservative incumbent, who resigned last month after a parliamentary investigation into allegations of harassment and drug use. ...

"Everybody that I’ve spoken to has said they've tried to email him, they've tried to write to him, they've tried to knock on his office door, and every single route came up with a blank," Dyke says. "So they turned to me."

Meanwhile the Conservative candidate Faye Purbick claims that Warburton and his record are not a prime concern for voters:

"It’s not a conversation I’ve been having with people.”

This reminds me of Peter May's time as chairman of the England cricket selectors. A journalist put it to him that some people thought he was out of touch. His reply? 

"I've not heard that."

There's still plenty of work to do in Somerton and Frome before the polls close on Thursday night. The Lib Dems' by-election headquarters is at Unit 3, Station Approach, Frome BA11 1RE.

Helpers coming from west of Frome are asked to go to Hilton's, Duck's Hill, Huish Episcopi, TA10 9EN.

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Labour warns activists that Mid Bedfordshire is not Twitter

The Guardian reports from Mid Bedfordshire:

Labour activists campaigning before a byelection in a safe Conservative seat have been told to leave if they feel unable to be respectful to Tory voters, as the party attempts to tackle the assumption that it cannot compete in true blue heartlands.

That's what happens when attitudes nurtured on social media collide with the real world.

On Twitter at least, your political opponents are all stupid and wicked, and the left has a particular fondness for lecturing them about that wickedness. I can't see that going down really well on the doorstep.

I'd like to think we Liberal Democrats are better, but I'm not convinced we are. Because, if you want to get really monstered on Twitter, tell us you voted Leave but have since changed your mind.

The Guardian report also suggests that Labour is going to fight a serious campaign in the Mid Bedfordshire by-election (if it ever comes) in the hope of demonstrating it can win seats in the South of England.

Labour has won vanishingly few seats like this one in recent decades, and Lib Dems will grumble about a strong Labour campaign being the Tories' best chance of holding on or ask how Labour are different from the Tories now. But Labour are allowed to fight Southern by-elections if they are want to.

Besides, it's not unknown for by-elections in Tory held seats to turn into two-horse races between Labour and the Liberals.

This is what happened in Brecon and Radnor in 1985 and Littleborough and Saddleworth in 1995. And we won both.

So a Labour intervention in Mid Bedfordshire does not mean the Tories are safe.

Police alert over 'chubby teenager' and 'suspicious' large white van in Telford

Thanks to the Shropshire Star, we have our Headline of the Day.

The judges did point out that if the teenager is sufficiently chubby then he will need a large van, which perhaps makes it less suspicious.

The Migil Five: Mockin' Bird Hill

My big Christmas present in 1973 was a cassette recorder, and I remember taping a run down of the best-selling singles of the year

I can remember stopping the recording when Welcome Home by Peters and Lee came on because I hated it so much.

But Lennie Peters turns out to have been a more interesting figure than he had become by 1973.

Blinded in two separate accidents by the time he was 16, Peters still built a career as a singer and pianist. By 1960 he was a member of the Migil Five - some sources even describe them as his backing group.

Peters left to try his luck as a solo artist, but the Migil Five kept going.

There career highlight was reaching number 10 in the UK singles chart in 1964 with Mocking' Bird Hill. As you can hear, it was an early example of a white British band attempting to play something like ska - or 'bluebeat' as it was called in those days.

I've seen film of the band playing this, and they looked more like a trad jazz band than one at the cutting edge of pop, but in their way they were.

Early in their history, a drummer called Charlie Watts played some gigs for the Migil Five. In fact, it's sometimes claimed - not least in several Wikipedia entries - that Lennie Peters was Charlie Watts' uncle.

I can't find an authoritative source for this, and if it were true I think we would have heard more of it in 1973, when Peters and Lee became the first act since the Beatles to top the UK album and singles chart in the same week.

That didn't prevent me from pressing Stop though.

Later. Thanks to Richard James for telling me that Lennie Peters was married to Sylvia Eaves, whose sister Lilian Eaves was Charlie Watts's mother. So an uncle, but not a blood relative.

Saturday, July 15, 2023

Stratford Johns listens to the son of Walter Sickert and his Jack the Ripper story

Stratford Johns's Charlie Barlow was the most famous detective on British television from the early 1960s to the mid 1970s, appearing successively in Z-Cars; Softly, Softly; Softly; Softly: Task Force; and Barlow at Large.

His most interesting spin-off, however, was Jack the Ripper, in which Johns and his perennial sidekick, Frank Windsor's John Watt, investigated, in character, the notorious East End murders of 1888.

The series ran to six parts and included reconstructions of the inquests of the murder victims so the viewer could hear the contemporary evidence being given as well as Barlow and Watts's assessment of it.

What I didn't realise until now is that this series appeared three years before Stephen Knight published his Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution, which treated Sickert's story as the explanation of the murders. That story has been discredited by more recent research and it appears that Joseph Sickert was not even the artist's son.

The video above will show you Joseph Sickert and a little of Barlow and Watt's discussion afterwards. If you want to watch the whole series, episode 1 is here and YouTube will offer you the rest.

Commons intelligence committee questions Danny Alexander's role with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank

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From this morning's Guardian:

David Cameron’s appointment as vice-chair of the £1bn China-UK investment fund and Sir Danny Alexander’s appointment as vice-president of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank [AIIB] were in part engineered by the Chinese state, parliament’s intelligence and security committee found.

Their appointment was to lend credibility to Chinese investment as well as the broader Chinese brand, according to confidential evidence given to the intelligence watchdog.

The report goes on to quote the evidence to the committee of Chris Patten, the last governor of Hong Kong:

"I think they [China] probably think we are not entirely reliable useful idiots … I think they regard us as an economic opportunity and as an opportunity to, through elite capture, through the cultivation of useful idiots, through playing on things like the ‘golden age’ of British-China relations, getting us by and large corralled into doing the sort of things they would like us to do."

And it reminds us that, despite opposition from Washington, the UK played a big part in the creation of the AIIB. Good relations with China were seen as a particular enthusiasm of George Osborne.

Danny Alexander was appointed to a role with it after losing his seat at the 2015 general election. 

At the time this was attributed to the influence of Osborne, whose number two Alexander had been at the Treasury under the Coalition. I was reminded of a younger son being sent out to the Empire to make his fortune.

The Guardian also mentions the dramatic resignation last month of the AIIB's global communications chief Bob Pickard. He said on Twitter at the time.

The bank is dominated by Communist party members and also has one of the most toxic cultures imaginable. I don’t believe that my country’s interests are served by its AIIB membership.

Happy to be gone from that cesspool. The Communist party hacks hold the cards at the bank. They deal with some board members as useful idiots. I believe that my government should not be a member of this PRC [Chinese] instrument. The reality of power in the bank is that it’s CCP from start to finish.

Danny Alexander was quoted by Reuters as saying Pickard's allegations that the Chinese Communist Party has undue influence on the bank "are without any foundation whatsoever".

You can read the intelligence and security committee press release about its new China report online, but the full report does not seem to be on its website yet.