Thursday, August 31, 2023

We've Come Back: The bombsites of Canterbury in 1945

A sweet little film that shows the bombsites of Canterbury in 1945. Like Sheila Sim in my favourite film, young John struggles to recognise the city's old street pattern among the ruins.

But We've Come Back shows you the real thing. Study the bombsites in A Canterbury Tale closely and you realise that a lot of matte painting and model-making has gone into producing them.

Labour suspends its Leicester East party and a councillor resigns

Yesterday I blogged about the emergence of a new political party in Leicester. So what's been happening today?

Here's the Leicester Mercury (or Leicestershire Live, as it calls itself online):

The Labour Party has suspended its entire Leicester East branch. The national executive (NEC) is investigating the troubled constituency Labour party (CLP) over concerns around its operation, according to an email seen by Leicestershire Live.

All branch and constituency Labour party meetings will be stopped 'until further notice' and all CLP and branch officers have been 'relieved of their positions and duties' while an internal investigation takes place, the email says. It has not been confirmed specifically what prompted the suspension.

A Labour Party source said in reaction: "The NEC has a duty to safeguard the integrity of CLPs, to ensure that they are properly run in line with the party’s rules and procedures and can operate fully, inclusively and democratically."

Leicester East is the seat Keith Vaz represented for many years, and it's fair to say it became something of a personal fiefdom. Who knows what the national party has found there?

Its current MP is Claudia Webbe, who was elected in 2019 after being parachuted in by Labour's then Corbynite leadership. She has sat as an Independent since November 2021, when she was suspended by and then expelled from the Labour Party after being convicted of harassment.

Also today came news, again in the Mercury, that the Leicester Labour councillor Diane Cank has left the party and will sit as an Independent. 

In what the paper describes as a letter 'to Labour', she wrote:

This is the second time that the Regional Office has unilaterally trampled on the democratic rights of party members in just four months. The last time Labour suffered its most catastrophic loss of seats ever.

From having just one seat, the Tories now have 17, thanks to Mr Oliver and the Regional Party. There was never any inquiry into what actually happened, what is the point of paying for your membership when you have no rights of decision-making and accountability? ....

Mr Oliver should resign. As with the decision in April to remove 19 Labour councillors and impose others, this will have severe consequences across the city.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of these affairs, it's clear Leicester Labour is not a happy ship.

The Joy of Six 1158

"Basic Income was proposed by Paddy Ashdown as a fundamental component of his Radical Agenda for the 1990s, a book published in the late 1980s. It is liberal because it recognises the agency of the individual and their contribution to society. A Basic Income, he said, 'gives security to each individual', and will also 'liberate power in the hands of the citizen'." Jane Dodds is encouraged by the success of a Basic Income in Wales and dismayed by Liberal Democrat backsliding on the policy.

Richard Sanders on the way the 2017 general election has been written out of Labour Party history because it does not fit into the narrative promoted by the party's current leadership.

"A very senior insider told me that there ‘has never been any proper management and accountability of the project. There have been constant changes to the specification with no understanding of the cost implications’. Remarkably, there is no overall budget, the business case has not been reviewed despite the changes in specification and rises in costs and the accounting is carried out, bizarrely, in '2019 prices’ - a subterfuge to disguise the soaring expenditure." Christian Wolmar explains why HS2 is costing so much.

Sarah Bakewell recommends five book on existentialism.

"Last year, I joined a group of intrepid plant hunters descending into the depths of the last remaining bomb site in the City of London. We climbed all the way down into the hole until we reached the level of the platforms of what was formerly part of Aldgate East Station, until a V2 bomb dropped nearby in the Second World War." That was The Gentle Author blogging in 2018.

"Typically set in a sprawling country house and populated by a cast drawn from the landed gentry and the well-to-do, 'Golden Age' detective fiction is not the most obvious genre in which to find two of the country’s leading socialist intellectuals." The Society for the Study of Labour History recalls G.D.H. and Margaret Cole, whose 28 detective fiction novels and four collections of short stories helped the publisher Collins achieve great success with its Crime Club imprint.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Art heist at Bonkers Hall?

HFM News reports:

Five men have gone on trial accused of stealing rare art work worth over £1.5m from a stately home near Market Harborough.

The paintings, including two worth half-a-million pounds each, were stolen from Nevill Holt Hall near Medbourne in April 2019. 

The property’s owner - millionaire David Ross - was on holiday at the time. 

As Nevill Holt Hall is regarded by most scholars as the principal inspiration for Bonkers Hall, I was naturally alarmed. But Lord Bonkers assures me that both his own Sunset Over Bonkers Hall and the priceless The Circumcision of the National Liberals are safe.

Kate Cronin reported the first day of the trial for the Northamptonshire Telegraph:

A gang stole £4m of 'high value' loot during a two-year spree that began with an art smash-and-grab at a stately home, a court has heard.

Among their alleged haul – taken in 22 separate raids – were 319,000 NHS facemasks taken during lockdown, Range Rovers, JCBs, piles of goods from Amazon, pallets of Joules clothing and 540 solar panels.

During an astonishing opening day of the trial at Northampton Crown Court, a jury heard details of how each of the organised crime gang was a 'willing and enthusiastic participant'.

Adel Chouhaib, Barry and Robert Mitchell, William Castle and Suray Hamdi are said to have run a plot that involved many others across Corby, around the country and across the world. They deny all the charges against them.

Leicester has a new political party: One Leicester

The former senior Leicester Labour Rita Patel has announced the formation of a new political party: One Leicester.

Patel was one of the Labour elected mayor Sir Peter Soulsby's assistant mayors until March of this year, but left Labour after being suspended by the party for questioning whether the city should continue with the mayoral system.

She then stood against Soulsby on a platform of abolishing the post of elected mayor in May's election for that role, but failed to prevent his winning a fourth term.

Patel told BBC News:

"Our politics, not just in Leicester, but in the rest of the country is broken. Recently one of Westminster's youngest MPs quit politics because she said parliament was toxic.

"I can tell you, this isn't just unique to parliament. Coming from different political strands we believe that it is important that we should have a new approach to politics in the city, one that is not party political based or structured in class-based ideology, and not opposing everything that the others do.

"But one that is based on local issues designed to help local people. I believe very passionately that this is the way forward for our city." 

Though Labour still runs the city council as well as having the elected mayor, the party in Leicester has been demoralised by the control freakery of first Soulsby and then Keir Starmer. Before this May's council election 19 sitting Labour councillors were barred from standing again by the national party.

And the Conservatives are making a comeback in the city by targeting the Hindu vote - some claim even at the cost of widening religious divisions. Commentators even see the Tories as favourites to win Keith Vaz's old seat of Leicester East at the next election.

Add in a modest revival for the Liberal Democrats, and a new party that may attract its voters is the last thing Labour needs.

I welcome more organised opposition to the city having an elected mayor. The best traditions of local government are collegiate, and the wish for a single leader who will bang heads together to get things done goes against them.

Isabella Tree talks about her experience of rewilding at Knepp

I included an interview with Isabella Tree in a recent The Joy of Six because her book Wilding is such an inspiration:

It tells the story of the daring wildlife experiment that Isabella and her husband Charlie began in 2000: rewilding their 3,500 acres of unprofitable farmland at Knepp Estate in West Sussex.

In less than twenty years the degraded land has become a functioning ecosystem again, wildlife has rocketed and numerous endangered species have made Knepp their home. What has happened at Knepp challenges conventional ideas about nature, wildlife and how we manage and envisage our land. It reveals the potential for the landscapes of the future.

Wilding leaves you with faith in nature's power to restore and regulate itself. Tree tells of an episode where their land was invaded by creeping thistle, which crowded out other species and gave rise to grumbles from neighbouring farmers.

One day, out of nowhere, a flock of tens of thousands of painted lady butterflies descended on Knepp. Their caterpillars feasted on the thistle and damaged the plants to such an extent that they have never regrown. The butterflies have never reappeared either.

Tree says that while middle-aged visitors tended to be disapproving of the 'untidiness' of their farm, children loved the abundant wildlife and older visitors said wonderingly that this is what farms used to be like when they were young.

You can hear Isabella Tree talking her about her ideas and experience at Knepp in the video above.

Tree, incidentally, is the adopted daughter of one of the sons of Ronald Tree, who was Conservative MP, who was Conservative MP for Harborough from 1933 to 1945.

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Tory MP Siobhan Baillie did not create the Natural History GCSE

Siobhan Baillie, the Conservative MP for Stroud is in not water. The Stroud News & Journal has the story:

Stroud MP Siobhan Baillie has issued an apology and says it was never her intention to claim sole credit for creating a Natural History climate change GCSE.

She said in a Conservative Party leaflet and in a video on her website that she had created the qualification.

But Mary Colwell, the writer and conservationist who led the campaign for the Natural History GCSE since 2011, says the MP played no active role in this and that she has never met her.

The non-partisan conservationist said it took her 11 years, along with Caroline Lucas and Tim Oates from Cambridge Assessment.

I'm  pleased to say this blog played a small part in that campaign. In 2019 I asked Mary Colwell to write a guest post for Liberal England on Why we need a GCSE in Natural History.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain: a political Ealing comedy

There's something amusing about a tiny socialist party that finds it has become rich by sticking to its principles. It's the stuff of a political Ealing comedy.

BBC News reports:

A tiny socialist party which fights for a moneyless society has amassed reserves of more than £2.6m, newly-published accounts reveal.

The documents, released on Wednesday, show that the Socialist Party of Great Britain holds over £400,000 in cash and a further £800,000 in investment funds.

The party also owns a property in south London, bought in 1951 for £4,000, which is now worth £1.3m.

In the past year it received a £400,000 inheritance from a member who had died.

And the Socialist Party of Great Britain (SPGB), not to be confused with a dozen other parties with similar names, really is part of British political history.

It was founded in 1904 as, says Wikipedia, a split from the Social Democratic Federation (SDF):

to oppose the SDF's reformism and as part of a response to that organisation's domination by Henry Hyndman (which also led to the SPGB's aversion to leadership). This split was also partly a reaction to the SDF's involvement in the Labour Representation Committee, which went on to found the Labour Party. ... 
The founders of the SPGB considered themselves to be part of a wider impossibilist revolt within the Second International. When in 1903 most of SDF members in Scotland broke away to form the Socialist Labour Party without contacting their fellow impossibilists in London, those impossibilists chiefly in Battersea branch decided to break away and form their own organisation, which they did the following year. Unlike the Socialist League, the SPGB advocated the revolutionary use of the ballot box and parliament.

The SPGB's use of the ballot box has not proved very successful. At the last election it fought two seats, receiving a total of 157 votes.

Yet you will still find it's little shop, sandwiched between two bars, on Clapham High Street today. I have stolen the BBC's Google Street View capture of it to stick it to the man. 

As I shall be tweeting this, I'd better make it clear I accept that anyone claiming to be left wing who does not live in a shoebox and make their children go barefoot is a hypocrite.

Monday, August 28, 2023

The Joy of Six 1157

"The never-not-mentioned 'slick campaigning machine' of the SNP was true in about 2006-11, but after the landslide 2011 election and especially after the referendum, complacency allowed it to dwindle." And that's just one of the Scottish Nationalist Party's problems, according to Robert McAlpine.

Matthew Pennell says an overarching health and wellness policy for children must include play.

"[Devon Malcolm] and his England colleague Phil DeFreitas - who received death threats from the Nazi National Front - successfully sued Wisden Cricket Magazine in 1995 for an article titled 'Is It In The Blood?', which accused England’s foreign-born and black players of being insufficiently committed." Andrew Stone goes deeper into the recent finding that racism, sexism and elitism are "baked into the structures" of cricket.

"In 2013 the late Labour MP Paul Flynn told the Commons that a Brethren campaign for charitable status was 'the most egregious example of intensive, million-pound lobbying by hundreds of people that I have experienced in my 25 years in the House'." Pippa Bailey takes us inside the Exclusive Brethren sect.

Travis Elborough watches No Two The Same, a 1970 film essay on Pimlico by the architectural writer Ian Nairn.

Howard Williams considers the Saxon church at Brixworth in Northamptonshire as a 'landscape of memory': "The later medieval sculptural fragments (many from tombs) are given no pride of place and stacked out of the way without heritage interpretation in a side-chapel at the east end of the south aisle."

Tony Miles vs Bent Larsen in The Master Game, 1981

This may look dated now, but it in its day it was groundbreaking. When the BBC tried to sell The Master Game, a series of televised chess tournaments, to other national broadcasters, they were told: "We've tried doing chess on television, but it doesn't work." Then the representatives of those stations  heard the players apparently voicing their thoughts during the game and bought the programme.

Those thoughts were recorded immediately after the game, though not every player was as eloquent as these two, who were both heroes of mine.

Tony Miles was the first English grandmaster. Only a few years before he secured that title in 1976, the notion that anyone from this country could achieve the title had seemed fanciful. Bent Larsen had been the strongest Western player after Bobby Fischer throughout the 1960s. As happens with your youthful heroes, they are now both dead.

And this is a great game. Larsen gets what looks like a winning attack with his home-made opening, only for Miles to stay in the game thanks to a series of precise defensive moves. Miles then goes on to win with an idea straight out of a composed chess problem.

One of the best things about The Master Game was the way it showed grandmasters were human. In the West we had grown up believing they were superhumans who always saw 20 moves ahead, but both Larsen and Miles admit at various points here that they're not sure what is happening in the game. That made club players like me feel less inadequate.

And if the analyst Bill Hartston, who was briefly England's top chess player at the start of the Seventies, looks familiar, it's because he appeared on Gogglebox for many years.

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Bessie Smith: Back-Water Blues

Bessie Smith (1894-1937) was the Empress of the Blues. She was the highest-paid black entertainer of her day and had her own railway carriage. This thread will tell you all about it, and the part Southern racism played in her decision that she and her troupe should travel that way.

Gwen Thompkins says of her on the NPR site:

She was big and brown and built high off the ground - "a hell of a woman," men called her, but most women said she was "rough." And while there were other blues singers in the first half of the 20th century = some who shared her surname - none could be mistaken for Bessie Smith. Not Mamie Smith or Clara or Trixie or Ruby or Laura.

None of the others could sing with her combination of field holler and Jazz Age sophistication. None could throw her voice from the stage - without a microphone - and make a balcony seat feel like the front row. None made such an artistic impression on her contemporaries in jazz, or her disciples in rock 'n' roll. That's because she was the "Empress of the Blues" - and empress is, by definition, a solo gig.

Back-Water Blues was Smith's own composition, inspired by floods that struck Nashville on Christmas Day 1926.

And the pianist here is the influential James P. Johnson, who had Fats Waller as his student.

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Richard Murdoch left his appendix in Market Harborough

I've long known that the comedian Richard Murdoch had family connections with Market Harborough, and that he had his appendix out at the cottage hospital here. You can see it (the hospital, not the appendix) in the photo above. But this rabbit hole has proved to be more interesting than I expected.

Let's start with a story from the Market Harborough Advertiser and Midland Mail for 17 February 1939:

Richard Murdoch's Huge Fan Mail

Every day large boxes of chocolates. letters and other gifts are arriving at the Market Harborough and District Hospital for Richard "Stinker" Murdoch, BBC "Band Waggon" comedian and nephew of Dr C.T Scott, Market Harborough. who a week to-day underwent an appendicitis operation at the Hospital.

The letters are coming from Mr. Murdoch's admirers from all parts of the country. and in addition scores of telephone calls have been made to the Hospital inquiring as to Mr. Murdoch's condition. 

Mr. Murdoch, the 'Advertiser and Midland Mail' is informed, is making satisfactory progress.He has a specially fitted wireless set in his private ward, and on Wednesday night he of course listened-in to the broadcast "Band Waggon" show. High light of the programme was an imaginary telephone conversation with Mr. Murdoch by his partner. Big Hearted Arthur Askey. 

While Mr. Askey was telling listeners that Mr. Murdoch was having a great time in the hospital. Mr. Murdoch was laughing heartily in his hospital bed. "I had no idea Arthur was going to put an imaginary call through to the Hospital." Mr. Murdoch said afterwards, "but it was certainly a fine show. 1 shall be glad when 1 am back on the air again with him."

I've read somewhere  that crowds of children besieged the hospital demanding to "see Stinker" and that he entertained them by putting his feet up on the window sill and waggling his toes. Simpler times.

What interested me in this report was that Murdoch was Dr Scott's nephew. Scott was still remembered in the town when I came to Market Harborough in the Seventies and my mother worked at the doctors' surgery.

I had understood that Murdoch was Dr Scott's son-in-law, but a check on Wikipedia shows that Richard Murdoch's mother was born a Scott, which is consistent with Richard being the doctor's nephew.

Murdoch's mother (and Dr Scott's sister) was the daughter of the Revd Avison Scott, who served as vicar of Tunbridge Wells and as Archdeacon of Tonbridge. He was also a cricketer, playing for Cambridge University and for Cambridgeshire at the end of the brief period (1857-71) when the county enjoyed first-class status.

And Avison Scott's uncle, and therefore the great uncle of Dr Scott and his sister, was George Gilbert Scott, the architect of the hotel at St Pancras station.

When I was in holiday in Blakeney years ago, I was told to look for a memorial to Dr Scott's son.

I found the memorial by Blakeney Harbour, and you can read more about it in an article in the Blakeney Area Historical Society Newsletter no. 42 (January 2017). This reveals that the memorial has been replaced with a new one as the lettering had become hard to decipher.

Peter Avison Scott, Doctor Scott's son, died in an air crash in Essex. He is remembered at Blakeney, says an Eastern Daily Press report, because it has many connections with the Scott family. The report also says the tablet and clock were originally sited at the Church Rooms in the village.

We've come a long way from Market Harborough Cottage Hospital, which was demolished a few years ago apart from a memorial to all the men of the town who served in the first world war.

After 78 days' suffering the relief is incredible: Nadine Dorries has resigned as an MP

Nadine Dorries has resigned as the MP for Mid Bedfordshire, more than 11 weeks after she announced that she was to do so 'with immediate effect'.

Her resignation letter attacks Rishi Sunak viciously:

Since you took office a year ago, the country is run by a zombie Parliament where nothing meaningful has happened. What exactly has been done or have you achieved?

You hold the office of Prime Minister unelected, without a single vote, not even from your own MPs.

You have no mandate from the people and the government is adrift. You have squandered the goodwill of the nation, for what?

But it's not Sunak who promised her a peerage and then failed to deliver. It was Boris Johnson. 

So now all roads lead to Flitwick.

Later. The Daily Mail has the full text of her resignation letter, which can fairly be described as barking mad.

Friday, August 25, 2023

Geoffrey Wheatcroft: The Tories are suffering from 'long Boris'

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Geoffrey Wheatcroft writes in today's Guardian:

For a century and a half the Tories had a plausible claim to be “the natural party of government”. Today, they barely look capable of governing at all. Forty years ago Thatcher brimmed with ideas, some of them right and some of them demonstrably wrong, but the Tories now have no idea at all. They have run out of time, run out of excuses - and maybe run out of purpose.

Well, that's encouraging.

Wheatcroft locates the reason for this malaise in the party's recent history:

If the fall of Thatcher, or the way it was done, poisoned the party for years, the recent poison was inflicted by the cynicism behind the rise of Johnson. As Dominic Lawson, an intelligent Brexiter, has said, "Boris Johnson was never in favour of Brexit, until he found it necessary to further his ambition to become Conservative leader."

Since the Tories knew that, their relationship with him was always transactional. He was useful for a time, but he was dumped as soon as he became more liability than asset. And yet the Tories are suffering from 'long Boris', a grievous affliction that could still prove terminal.

More good news. And as he goes on to say, the continuing civil wars in their party have left the Tories with one of the most unimpressive cabinets in history.

I am less convinced by another chapter of his history:

In 2002 Theresa May told the party conference they were in danger of becoming “the nasty party”, but this was a misunderstanding. They have always been that, and as Lee “fuck off back to France” Anderson shows, they still are. 

But nobody ever voted for the Tories because they were "nice". Their success was founded not on amiability but on competence, and that’s what has been destroyed by the farcical recent turbulence, with five prime ministers in the past seven years.

But a lot of people who vote Conservative like to see themselves as nice. Thatcher's nastiness was accompanied by a promise of national renewal, but today's Tory nastiness is nastiness for its own sake. It's now as much part of their identity as self-pity or a belief in conspiracy theories.

That's putting off habitual Tory voters - the sort we might call Amersham Woman following canvassers' reports from the Chesham and Amersham by-election.

We can though rejoice when Wheatcroft writes:

After a torrent of scandals and a string of byelection defeats, this August finds polls in which the Tories are looking at a wipeout in next year’s election. Eighteen years ago I published a book called The Strange Death of Tory England, and was later mocked in the rightwing press when the Tories staged a revival. But maybe that title was only premature.

Isle of Wight Lib Dems continue their fightback with another local by-election victory

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Redrup on the up - Lib Dems secure controversial Wootton Bridge seat

ran the headline on the Isle of Wight Radio website.

I welcomed news of another Liberal Democrat local by-election gain, but wondered why Wootton Bridge is 'controversial'.

It turns out that that problem lies not with the ward but with its former councillor. Daryll Pitcher, who had represented it for the Vectis Party, resigned from Isle of Wight Council three months into a sentence for child sex offences.

You can read more about Pitcher and the Vectis Party, which he led, in the archives of the On the Wight site.

The Vectis candidate in yesterday's by election, incidentally, was Pitcher's mother. Maybe she's a formidable local politician in her own right, but I was reminded of something my late mother used to say.

If the wife of a disgraced politician was filmed 'standing by' her husband, my mother would say she was behaving more like his mother than his wife.

Anyway, congratulations to Sarah Redrup, the victorious Lib Dem candidate. In a happier family connection, her father is already a Conservative member of Isle of Wight council.

At the 2019 general election, the Lib Dems did not field a candidate here, standing down in favour of the Greens. Yet, in a reminder to those who fantasise that parties can deliver their votes en bloc to someone else, the Green vote went down.

But the Isle of Wight was held by the Liberal Party between 1974 and 1987, and by the Lib Dems between 1997 and 2001. And this is our second council by-election gain there is recent months.

The island will be split into two constituencies at next year's general election. I don't think we'll be stepping aside in either of them.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

The Epic That Never Was: The abortive attempt to film I, Claudius

BBC4 is currently repeating the wonderful 1976 dramatisation of Robert Graves' I, Claudius on Wednesday evenings, three episodes at at time. The first six are now up on iPlayer.

I've been staying up to watch them because they are so good and also because watching them now reminds me of watching them when I was a teenager. It's a way of pretending I'm still young.

Yesterday I discovered a video called The Epic That Never Was. It's a 1965 documentary about an earlier, abortive attempt to adapt I, Claudius for the screen. This was a British film that began shooting in 1937, but was never completed.

People rave about the 1976 cast, but the 1937 one looks enticing too: Charles Laughton, Flora Robson, Merle Oberon, Emlyn Williams, Robert Newton.

The Epic That Never Was includes substantial selections from the rushes, interviews with cast members and on-screen narration by Dirk Bogarde. There are also glimpses of Denham Studios in decay - this is where Carol Reed, David Lean and Powell and Pressburger made many of their great films of the 1940s.

Wikipedia quotes Roger Greenspun's verdict on this documentary:

Something in the controlled modelling of light over the faces of Merle Oberon and Emlyn Williams suggests that this might have been a superb film and that its loss is real and very sad. … 

By an admirable trick of fate the 1937 von Sternberg footage has ascended into timeless light, while the style of the surrounding 1965 documentary has dated like crazy. If you have to lose your best project, maybe this is the way to do it.

The Joy of Six 1156

"Last year the large tortoiseshell butterfly, thought to be extinct in the UK, formed a breeding colony at Knepp. The estate is also home to all of the UK’s five owl species, 13 of its 17 bat species and breeding populations of a dozen birds on the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds’ Conservation Concern Red List." Elizabeth Fitt talks to Isabella Tree about the rewilding of the Knepp Estate in West Sussex.

David Rowland challenges the way the we are rapidly coming to expect to pay for our healthcare: "Remember the infamous law which mandated that people should have to sell their homes to pay for this type of care?  Well, it was never passed.  Instead, incrementally and over a period of two decades, a discretionary charging regime introduced by local authorities became national policy."

Rebecca Leek argues that the establishment of multi-academy trusts leads to silo thinking, where trust schools end up becoming insular and working only with themselves, regardless of whether the geography makes sense or not. 

"The decision to cancel this summer's Masterpiece art festival in London is seen as an example of the detrimental impact post-Brexit paperwork was having on the industry in the UK. Organisers of the festival, which was due to get underway in late June, said new red tape was partly to blame, telling Sky News that the number of galleries based in the EU which had applied to participate in this year's showcase was down 86 per cent compared with 2018." Adam Payne on the adverse impact Brexit has had on the visual arts.

"I’m a badger, I love cricket. So, to see a day dedicated to African-Caribbean cricket was brilliant. Two great games took place, but for me it’s the bits in between the matches that captures the imagination. Enthused young kids embracing the game and people reconnecting over cricket. It’s fantastic." Mark Alleyne took part in the African-Caribbean Cricket Festival held in Northampton earlier this month.

John Nunn looks at the life and games of Vera Menchik, who was the strongest woman chess player in the world from 1927 until she was killed in London by a V1 bomb in 1944.

Prigozhin didn’t go to Moscow, but maybe somebody else now will

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Anne Applebaum writes for The Atlantic about the mood in Putin's Russia following the murder of Yevgeny Prigozhin:

Everyone who is still part of the inner circle already hires bodyguards and, if they can, sends their family abroad. Those who can afford it already have private armies. 

Anyone associated with Prigozhin now has new reasons to fear for their safety too. One general close to Prigozhin was relieved of his command today. He had not been seen in public for many weeks. Prigozhin’s deputy, Dmitry Utkin, died today on the plane along with him.

Applebaum points out that many people in Moscow knew Prigozhin, worked with him and benefited from his businesses, both military and criminal. She asks if they will now wait passively for the violence to consume them:

Prigozhin didn’t go to Moscow. Maybe somebody else now will.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Jim Laker's 19 for 90 against Australia at Old Trafford in 1956

The best bowling figures ever recorded across the two innings of a test match are Jim Laker's 19 for 90 for England against Australia at Old Trafford in 1956.

This short film tells the story of the match and includes interviews with some of the players who took part.

I've heard other accounts of this test that said the more desperate England's other spinner Tony Lock became to get among the wickets, the faster he bowled and the less he turned the ball.

England were so strong in the 1950s that, earlier in the decade, they could have fielded another pair of spinners, Johnny Wardle and Bob Appleyard from Yorkshire, who were every bit as good as Lock and Laker.

What was the last time England played a pair of spinners throughout a home series. I suspect it was John Emburey and Phil Edmonds, also against Australia, in 1985.

One reason for posting this is to pay my respects to one of the players interviewed - the England opener Peter Richardson.

He was the team's joker and in the habit of sending match reports from invented public schools to the snobbish E.W. Swanton at the Daily Telegraph, hoping to fool him and have them appear in the paper.

Richardson, like Trevor Bailey and Alan Oakman, is no longer with us, but Australia's Neil Harvey is still alive at the age of 94.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Three lesser-known gems in Jamie Graham's top 65 British films

Jamie Graham has drawn up his list of the top 65 British films. When I saw that he had A Canterbury Tale at number 2, I feared for him. I have learnt to my cost that this is not a film you should slight in any way.

Then someone explained that the films are listed in chronological order and that, with a few gaps early on, there is one choice for each year from 1939 onwards

The usual way of reviewing such lists is to complain about the omissions. Why is there room for X but not Y? Why no It's Grim Up North when room has been found for Carry on Concorde?

But the way this list has been chosen, which also includes a decision to allow each director only one film, means that would take some research. So let me just flag up three a few films in Jamie's list that you may not be familiar with.

Sapphire (1959) an early treatment of racial tensions in London. Sapphire is a mixed-race girl who discovered  she could pass as white and is found murdered at the start of the film. The obvious suspect is her white boyfriend, but the worldly detective Nigel Patrick is not so sure. There is some lovely colour footage of a London still recovering from the war, and the treatment of the Caribbean community is sympathetic. Perhaps the mystery Patrick solves is no more difficult than those tackled by Inspector Lewis several times a day on ITV3, but it keeps you watching. And Sapphire does indeed obey the first law of that channel: any group of children seen playing in the woods at the start of a film will discover a body.

Guns at Batasi (1964) also catches Britain at a point of change: this time it's the end of the Empire. It deals with a fact-finding delegation to a newly independent African nation, whose members include Flora Robson as a Labour MP, the pop star of the day John Leyton and Mia Farrow. The star is Richard Attenborough, who has great fun playing a martinet of a regimental sergeant major. When the country's democratic regime is overthrown by the army, Attenborough organises the defence of his base against the rebels, only to receive orders from London to surrender. The head of the army, who is loyal to the democratic regime and so arrested when it is overthrown, is played by Earl Cameron, who was a doctor and Sapphire's brother in the film above.

Deep End (1970), like Blow-Up, gives us a Continental director's take on London in the days when it was swinging or at least still trying to. Here it is the Pole Jerzy Skolimowski and the results are unnerving. The Sixties child star John Moulder-Brown plays a hormonal young teenager who becomes obsessed with a radiant Jane Asher, who is in her twenties and out of his league. The situation begins comically, including an unforgettable cameo from Diana Dors, but ends in tragedy.

You can see Richard Attenborough as the RSM in Guns at Batasi in the video clip above. In fact,  whole of that film and of Sapphire are to be found on YouTube, but don't tell them I sent you.

Government announces support for British chess

The heavily trailed announcement about government support for chess has been made this morning - you can read the press release online.

Forget the stuff about chess tables in parks, which dominated discussion on Twitter when these ideas were first discussed. The meat of the announcement is the support for schools and the funding for elite players.

Malcolm Pein, the English Chess Federation's director of international chess is quoted in the release:

The unprecedented grant funding will be transformational for English chess, helping to train more grandmasters and beginning the process of regaining England’s former status as a force in international chess.

The funds will enable us to support a training programme and pipeline for our growing pool of young talent as well as assist our elite players, seniors, visually impaired and deaf players to compete for top honours in their respective international competitions. The funding will also enable the ECF to revitalise the chess tournament circuit here at home.

In the 1980s England was second only to the Soviet Union at chess and at one point had three players (Nigel Short, Jon Speelman and John Nunn) in the world top 10.

I once blogged about those days and the reasons they came to an end, and also wrote a piece for the Guardian website on the Armenian government's support for chess in schools.

Monday, August 21, 2023

The Joy of Six 1155

Robert Buckland, the Conservative MP and former justice minister, makes the case against withdrawing from the European Court of Human Rights: "This is a profoundly mistaken view, which misunderstands the true nature of our membership of the Convention and the wider political and legal context, not to mention the UK’s international reputation. In a nutshell, this is not serious politics."

Something must be done about the problem of convicted criminals refusing to attend court for their sentencing hearings, or so everyone suddenly seems agreed. The Secret Barrister sees problems with the idea.

David Edgerton reviews a new global history of sugar: "We could always have done without sugar and today could have all the sweetness we want without it. Yet many of the poorest people in the world depend on it to make a meagre living and to make more bearable the sour realities of everyday life." 

A group of teenage Indian chess players has the potential to dominate the game. Indraneel Das looks at the sacrifices required to become that good that young.

"A taboo-lacerating work, Performance was made more beguiling still by its back-story. A film that so disturbed leading man James Fox that he quit the industry for a decade, Roeg and Cammell’s film also sowed the seeds of discontent between the Rolling Stones. The on-set presence of real-life 'chaps' such as John Bindon and David Litvinoff also lent the picture an authenticity completely at odds with the cockernee swagger of The Italian Job." Richard Luck on the allure of Performance.

Iain Burnside explores how Shakespeare's words have inspired countless musicians and pieces of music.

How Rishi Sunak's people treat regional journalists

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The journalism trade website Hold the Front Page has a story about the prime minister's visit to the East Midlands last week:

Regional journalists were banned from photographing or filming Rishi Sunak – with one even being denied access to the toilet – when the Prime Minister visited their patch.

Reporters in the East Midlands were subjected to the "genuinely troubling" restrictions during a visit by Mr Sunak to Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire.

Nottingham Post agenda editor Oliver Pridmore was shut in a football club changing room, along with three other journalists, for more than an hour while waiting for more than an hour to interview the PM in West Bridgford on a "baking" hot day on Wednesday.

They were then given one question each, rather than the total 10 minutes apparently promised to them, and were barred from taking pictures.

Sunak's official Twitter account gives the impression that it is run by 12-year-olds high on Monster, and it seems the team around him on official visits is no more professional.

Because treating the regional press in this way is not good politics, as you will learn if you read between the lines of Pridmore's own account of the day in the Nottingham Post:

It was a great shame, as we had also wanted to question Mr Sunak on what his response would be to the operator of Nottingham's trams, which has claimed in recent weeks that the Government's £2 cap on bus fares means it is operating on an "uneven playing field." 

We were also planning to ask him for a response to our campaign to scrap all existing smart motorways, why his Government has delayed the full upgrade of the Queen's Medical Centre beyond 2030 and whether he could commit to East Midlands devolution being delivered on schedule.

And things had been no better in Leicestershire earlier that day: 

There, despite the BBC's East Midlands Political Editor Tony Roe hoping to film the Prime Minister's answers for that evening's TV news programmes, he was told that Rishi Sunak would not be speaking to him on camera. He would only be interviewed on microphone.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

The Gladstone family is right to apologise for its links with slavery

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From today's Observer:

The family of one of Britain’s most famous prime ministers will travel to the Caribbean this week to apologise for its historical role in slavery.

Six of William Gladstone’s descendants will arrive in Guyana on Thursday as the country commemorates the 200th anniversary of a rebellion by enslaved people that historians say paved the way for abolition.

Charles Gladstone, whose family will travel to the Caribbean this week to apologise for its slave-owning past.

The education and career of William Gladstone, the 19th-century politician known for his liberal and reforming governments, were funded by enslaved Africans working on his father’s sugar plantations in the Caribbean.

As well as making an official apology for John Gladstone’s ownership of Africans, the 21st-century Gladstones have agreed to pay reparations to fund further research into the impact of slavery.

The Gladstones are from being the only landed family whose fortune was founded in enterprises built on slavery, but I have not come across another one acting in this principled way.

Another piece in the Observer reminds us that the Conservative MP Richard Drax inherited and controlled one of the biggest plantations in Barbados where his ancestors were the driving force behind plantation slavery. They also owned slave ships. The MP for South Dorset, who is worth about £150m, refuses to apologise for his ancestors' role or offer reparations.

But the Gladstones are clear:

Charlie Gladstone, 59, who lives in Hawarden Castle, the north Wales home of his great-great grandfather William, said: "John Gladstone committed crimes against humanity. That is absolutely clear. The best that we can do is try to make the world a better place and one of the first things is to make that apology for him.

"He was a vile man. He was greedy and domineering. We have no excuses for him. But it’s fairly clear to me that however you address it, a lot of my family’s privilege has stemmed from John Gladstone."

When looking at Britain's past we tend to be selective in what we are associate ourselves with. It's a territory thick with irregular verbs: we defeated Hitler, but I have nothing to do with slavery.

And as Eric Williams, the first prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, observed:

The British historians wrote almost as if Britain had introduced Negro slavery solely for the satisfaction of abolishing it.

So I salute the Gladstones for what they are doing. You can read about the Demerara Rebellion in the Observer too.

Peter and Gordon: The Magic Story of the Park Keeper and his Fairy Godmother

"What the dickens am I listening to?" I hear you ask.

Jakartajive, who posted this on YouTube, explains:
With Peter Asher and Gordon Waller, you know you're getting classy pop music - that's a given.  But you also know - at least you might expect - that, after sixteen albums between 1964 and 1967 (let's see today's groups produce like that) and hit singles like "A World Without Love" and "I Go to Pieces", you'll be getting squeaky clean, early British Invasion sounding pop music, and that's that.  

So by 1968, the Peter and Gordon sound would seem to be rather outdated, at least among the Carnaby Street and Haight/Ashbury crowds. So what's a couple of clean-cut nice young boys with a knack for pop to do? Does the world expect them to drop a couple tabs of acid in their English tea and try their hands at this new "psychedelic" sound? 

Well, that's pretty much exactly what they did on this, their final 60's album, "Hot Cold and Custard". Now don't go expecting Peter and Gordon's "Saucerful of Secrets" -- but with all the backwards instruments, George Martin-esque orchestration and whimsical Carnaby Street arrangements, this really does sound right in line with the Hollies "Butterfly" and "Evolution", the Kinks "Something Else" and "Village Green Preservation Society", and any of the much-revered 1967-1968 Beatles long players.  

Popsike fans shouldn't be shocked that the songs here are so great -- Asher/Waller have always been the Lennon/McCartney of the pure pop hook -- it's just that here, finally, they've managed to trip out their pop sensibilities with a little bit of the "hip", psychedelic flavourings.
All I need add is that Peter Asher once left a couple of comments on this blog.

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Mavis Nicholson talks to J.G. Ballard

Was Michael Parkinson the greatest chat show host on British television? He certainly has a strong rival for that crown, and one who was active during his Seventies prime.

Here's Mavis Nicholson talking to J.G. Ballard and on afternoon television too. If you search YouTube you will find a goldmine of her interviews, with subjects from James Baldwin to Elvis Costello.

Maybe it's no coincidence that she and Parkinson began in the era before no one appeared on a chat show unless they had something to sell. Intelligent conversation with celebrities was, I think, more easily achieved in those innocent days.

I may be related to a Tollesbury Cannibal: I am definitely related to a Tollesbury Pirate

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I don't know what your family's like, but it looks like I've got a cannibal and a pirate in mine.

In June I made the worrying discovery that I may be related to one of the Tollesbury Cannibals. He was Thomas Dudley, the captain of the the yacht Mignonette, which foundered on her maiden voyage from that Essex village to Australia in 1884.

The crew took to an open boat and killed and partly consumed the 17-year-old cabin boy. After they were rescued, two of the survivors, including Dudley, were tried for murder and the third gave evidence against them. Dudley was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death, but the service was commuted and he served just six months in prison.

My reason for thinking we are related is that Dudley's mother was a Susannah Carter from Tollesbury, and my mother's mother was also a Carter from Tollesbury. This, incidentally, also suggests the possibility that I may be related to the snooker player Ali Carter, who grew up in the village.

The Tollesbury Pirates were a group of five fishermen from Tollesbury and Mersea Island who found themselves charged with piracy after a clash with fishermen from Burnham-on-Crouch. The latter, the Pirates thought, were damaging the oyster beds at the mouth of the River Blackwater.

As, according to an article in The Essex Family Historian, the judge began proceedings by saying of the case, "it seems to me a very great waste of time", it was perhaps no great surprise when they were all acquitted. The verdict was greeted with applause from the Tollesbury and Mersea fishermen who had packed the caught.

One of the acquitted men was Stephen Appleton and I remember meeting an Appleton relation in Tollesbury when in was a little boy. [Later. After a little online research, I believe she was Stephen's granddaughter.] Appletons married into both the Carter family and the Gurton family - that was my grandmother's mother's maiden name - so I have no doubt that I am related to him.

Incidentally, my Gurton great-grandmother may have been brought up as one of the Peculiar People, but I think that's enough family peculiarity for now.

Friday, August 18, 2023

Proof that private schools exaggerated their pupils' ability during the Covid pandemic

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The Tory worldview holds that private schools care about high standards while teachers in the state sector want all to have prizes whether they have earned them or not.

A point picked up in a Lib Dem Voice article by my fellow graduate of the Philosophy department at York, Mary Reid, proves that this is the opposite of the truth:

As it happens, Universities were aware that grades would be returning to “normal” this year so adjusted their offers accordingly, which should mean that the transition to Higher Education will be smooth for most students. 

In fact, 79% of students who applied to University this year achieved the grades to get into their first choice, compared with 74% in 2019 – so that left more students happy with their results than pre-pandemic.

Whilst that is the overall picture, there is one striking anomaly. The Guardian article mentioned above includes this statement: “Independent and grammar schools had the largest drop in top grades compared with last year”. 

Put another way, the students who benefited most from the temporary assessment processes used during the pandemic were those in selective and fee paying schools – the very pupils who are already advantaged by our skewed education system.

Private schools trade on their exam results - they're no longer instilling character in boys so they can go out and run a non-existent empire - so don't be surprised if a few ethical corners are cut.

If this happens in less blatant ways in more normal times, perhaps extra help with coursework, it may be one reason why, at university, state school students outperform those from private school with the same A-level grades.

The history of the cinder track in Welland Park, Market Harborough

When I posted a USAAF aerial photograph of Market Harborough during the war, I noted the large oval in Welland Park and asked if it was a long-vanished cycle track.

The answer to my question is yes. There was a cinder track laid out in the park and both runners and cyclists has plans for it, but they appear to have come to nothing.

Here's the Market Harborough Advertiser and Midland Mail for 9 February 1934 reporting on a meeting of the urban district council:

The Welland Park Scheme

The Clerk said the Surveyor and he attended the Ministry and from what happened there he thought there was a chance of getting the application for the Welland Park through, and he thought it would be as well to pass a resolution that the matter go forward. 

The Surveyor (Mr. Barlow) said he had prepared plans and estimates which he described. The plans included a cinder running track (five laps to the mile). This would not expensive be an job as it could be made largely with clinkers from the destructor. 

The ministry in question was the Ministry of Health and 'the destructor' would have been apparatus used to burn domestic refuse collected by the council.

Then on 4 June 1937 the same newspaper's Sports Gossip column by R.H.O. reported:

I hear that several enthusiastic sportsmen would very much like to see an Amateur Athletic Club formed in Market Harborough. They are willing, providing there is sufficient interest in the project, to set about getting a club formed right away. 

With an officially recognised A.A.A. track in the Welland Park there would be no difficulties regarding facilities for holding trials and training. Already the Urban Council has been approached with a view to having the track banked and widened and there seems no reason why a club should not be run on successful lines. 

We have rivalry in cricket and football between the factories in the town  - why not include running, walking and cycling? Personally. I am pretty certain that we have some really useful athletes in Market Harborough. 

I have been asked not to divulge any names this week, but it can be taken from me that the sportsmen interested in the project are willing to spare no effort to get a club going. They are anxious to get the feeling of the youth of the town, and anyone wishing to give them support should drop a line to this office. A meeting is to be called shortly.

But on 2 July R.H.O. had to report:

With enquiries still coming in it is no exaggeration to state that within a few weeks the newly-formed Market Harborough and District Athletic and Cycling Club, will be able to boast of a membership of something like 70.

Members of the temporary committee of the Club inspected the track in the Welland Park this week. The track in its present condition is not very suitable for athletics. and could be very much improved. 

The main path leading from the Farndon-road entrance of the Park, which cuts through the track at two points, needs diverting and on top of this the track not wide enough.

And if you study the photo in my earlier post you will see the path doing just that.

I can find no report suggesting that any improvements were carried out, and then came war. On 7 March 1941 the newspaper reported a meeting of the council's water and markets committee. The committee's chairman and the chairman of the council had inspected Welland Park:

They recommended that all the area inside the running track be ploughed and used for growing potatoes, and it was recommended that this be done, and that the seed potatoes be purchased without delay.

The report was adopted.

There was to be no post-war renaissance of the track. On 10 December 1948 the paper's In and About Harborough column recorded:

It was news to me - as it may be to you - that there is (or perhaps was) a cycle racing track in Welland Park, Market Harborough. 

According to some of the cyclists who were attending Welland Valley Wheelers' annual dinner at Harborough on Saturday, the track was laid out. but was used only once - for the Coronation sports rather over ten years ago. 

They think the track could be restored and banked with very little expense - cinders and other waste could be used they sav - and that it could be put back into commission if a path in the park were slightly diverted.

For the last reference I can find to the track came only a week later, in a long letter about the town's sporting facilities by Benny Foster:

When the Welland Park was laid out, a running and cycle track was included, now sadly overrun by weeds, and to all intents and purposes merely a footpath.

Benny Foster, incidentally, was not just a writer of letters to his local paper. He became manager of the British international cycling team and brought the world cycling championships to Leicester in 1970.

The track may have come to nothing, but I want to end by paying tribute to foresight of the old urban district council in providing such a park for the town. When I came to Harborough in 1973, there were still parkkeepers employed there and two putting courses.

The photo at the top shows the bandstand and tearooms in the park, which now houses a café again after many years. When the sun shines you can see what an attractive example of Thirties architecture it is.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Drowned villages rise from the waters of Ladybower Reservoir

The Derbyshire villages of Derwent and Ashopton were demolished and then drowned when the Ladybower reservoir was constructed in 1944.

In dry summers their remains are revealed by the receding waters, and Martin Zero and friends went to see them last summer.

The Joy of Six 1154

"Both ideologies involve a shocking indifference to evidence and data. They reflect a bulldog belief that Britain will always be better off pursuing its own path, rather than engaging with supranational negotiations and institutions. They share a distaste for 'experts' - economists in the case of Brexit, the world’s scientists in the case of climate change. In many instances, Brexiteers and ecosceptics express the same paranoid suspicion of 'global elites' and 'globalist conspiracies'." Tory Eurosceptics are becoming ecosceptics, says Matthew d'Ancona.

Peter Wrigley thinks delusions about Britain's standing in the world mean we aren't tackling the many political and economic problems we face.

"A first-time reader of the Investigations may be struck by the frequency of the appearance of children. It is possible to read the Investigations as a reflection on how time spent in the hustle and bustle of a working schoolroom transformed his conception of what language really is - and therein what we really are. And even, then, as a kind of confession." Calum Jacobs sees Wittgenstein's experience of teaching in schools and at Cambridge as central to the development of his later philosophy. (Margaret Masterman, mentioned as one of his favourite pupils,was the daughter of this blog's hero Charles Masterman.)

Linda Flanagan looks at what young people gain from studying ethics in school.

Herbie Russell uncovers Southwark residents' memories of the lost Grand Surrey Canal: "Children would salvage debris from the blitzed ruins of houses and warehouses and make rafts to sail up and down the canal: 'Where the bombed houses were, we used to take the doors off and put them on the canal and use a bit of wood for a paddle and away we went… we had quite a good time in there!'"

Kenneth More's best work was seen in the theatre and on television rather than his films, argues Stephen Vagg.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

A wartime aerial photograph of Market Harborough from the new USAAF collection on the Historic England website

United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) reconnaissance aircraft flew hundreds of sorties over England during the Second World War. The Historic England Archive holds a USAAF collection of over 20,000 photographs that records airfields, military bases, towns and countryside in England between 1943 and 1944.

Today Historic England made over 3600 of these photographs available on its website, together with a clickable map and some background material on the USAAF collection.

The photograph here shows Market Harborough and Little Bowden, with south at the top. The striking thing is how few of the roads to the north of the town centre - which made up my old council ward - had been built by this date. 

You can see the canal coming in from the right and the canal basin clearly, as well as the prisoner of war camp in the Farndon Road (on the far right of the photo a little above the centre). And Welland Park is laid out for us, but what is that large oval? A long-vanished cycle track?

I can see my own house among a jumble of cottages, most of which are no longer there.

And it's notable how the railways dominated the town at this time. The line from Leicester (having been joined by lines from Melton Mowbray and Peterborough north of this photo) comes in at the bottom and departs to St Pancras in the top left-hand corner.

The line to Northampton leaves the picture at the top, but further to the right, and the line to Rugby leaves from the right-hand side of the photo.

There's hours of fun to he had from these photos.

Sarah Dyke and Ed Davey say Save Our Cider

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During the Somerton and Frome by-election campaign Sarah Dyke and Ed Davey visited Burrow Hill Cider Farm and listened to the concerns of its owners.

It must have been a memorable visit because the two have written to Jeremy Hunt calling on him to cancel a planned tax increase on cider.

Somerset Live explains:

Somerset cider farmers are facing a crisis following the introduction of a tax hike on their products which could wipe out thousands of jobs and acres of orchards. ...

From August 1, the cider industry is facing a hammer blow tax hike, the Lib Dems say, due to the government’s reform of alcohol duty. It means an 11p hike on alcohol duty for a 500ml bottle of traditional cider with a typical 6.5% ABV.

And quotes Sarah Dyke:

"I will make it my mission to stand up for the rural communities in the West Country and give them the voice that so many of this region's Conservative MPs have completely failed to do. That starts by telling the Chancellor that if he cares about the cider industry here in the West of England, he must get rid of this damaging levy."

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

A disused railway in Derbyshire is being turned into a canal

One of my favourite stretches of canal is the five miles from Cromford to Ambergate in Derbyshire's Derwent Valley. I first came across it in 1977, which was when our English teacher had wangled the funds to take his A level set on a field trip to D.H. Lawrence country and we camped beside the river at Whatstandwell.

At that time those five miles of canal were in navigable condition and the Cromford Canal Society ran popular horse-drawn trips along them. But round about 1990 the society broke up in the midst of a scandal whose details I cannot remember and the canal returned to desuetude.*

It has since been taken over by the trust that looks after Arkwright's Mill at Cromford,** and improvements are being made.

But when those five miles are fully restored, the Cromford Canal will still be cut off from the main inland waterways system. Because Ambergate is nearly 10 miles from Great Northern Basin, which marks the other end of the Cromford Canal.

Great Northern Basin is at Langley Mill in Derbyshire and is the start of the Erewash Canal, which is navigable all the way to the Trent at Long Eaton - I have visited the other end of it at Trent Lock there.*** A disused portion of the Nottingham Canal that joined the surviving stretch at Lenton in the city began there too - there were so many canals there because of the lucrative coal traffic.

A start at restoring the first mile or so of the Cromford Canal out of Great Northern Basin is being made. As this video explains, there are considerable challenges in this: part of the route has been lost to a road scheme and opencast mining.

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

The solution is to dig a new route for the canal, making use of an old railway track. Importantly, the track has a bridge under the new road because trains were still running along it when the road opened.

This is great news, but there are still formidable obstacles to be overcome if the whole of the Cromford Canal is to be restored. Chief among them is the partially collapsed Butterley Tunnel.

If you are interested in this canal and the prospects for its restoration, there are a couple of posts on this blog with videos that may interest you:

* hem hem

** I've blogged about my proposal before. As the years go by, it looks more and more reasonable.

*** I like the picture at the top of that post so much that it's the wallpaper on my laptop.

IFS says local government funding system is not fit for purpose

The most deprived 20 per cent of local authorities are getting a smaller share of local government and police funding than they need, while the least deprived 20 per cent are getting a larger share then they need.

That's one of the conclusions of, a new report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies. You can download the report from the IFS website.

The Guardian story about it says:

The government’s levelling up plans for England are being hampered by a funding system that is 'not fit for purpose' and deprives the poorest areas of the financial support to match their needs, a leading thinktank has said.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies said that the method for allocating money to pay for public services is out of date, based on inadequate data and skewed in favour of the better-off south-east.

Calling for urgent reform, the thinktank said the funding system was doing a 'poor job' in ensuring money was being spent in the parts of England where it was most needed.

This does not come as a surprise. At the heart of Conservatism is the belief that the people and areas doing very nicely thank you out of the current system should continue to enjoy that status.

In his lucid moments, Boris Johnson grasped that the party needed something more than this to appeal beyond its heartlands. But the very name 'levelling up' should have come as a warning - as if you can divert spending to one area without taking it away from others.

h/t Peter Black, as we used to say when blogging was a thing.

Monday, August 14, 2023

The Joy of Six 1153

Mathew Pennell looks at the new Liberal Democrat policy document on housing: "I have a vision for housing, I hope it’s based on the most important aspects of the housing crisis - housing is unaffordable, the UK is lopsided when it comes to homes, jobs, opportunities, infrastructure, a lot of social housing is in a terrible state, a lot of new build housing is signed off despite bad planning and placemaking."

John Oxley has good news for Liberal England readers: the Conservatives are heading for electoral evisceration.

 "The marks of restraint are clear on the child’s arm, the bruises that outline a ‘hold’. In normal, everyday language, this means that a member of the teaching staff in a school will have laid their hands on a child who they felt needed to be restrained. In some, but not all cases, that can leave visible injuries. In most cases the memory will stay with them, a psychological mark that will never fade away." Katharine Quarmby fears corporal punishment is returning to classrooms in the guise of restraint and seclusion.

"Take the phrase ‘ghost children’, for example. It seems to have been coined by Robert Halfon, MP in response to Centre for Social Justice figures on pupil absence. Now, it has a life of its own spooking the public and politicians alike." Gemma Moss asks if the concept warrants the attention it is getting.

James Auton defends Britpop against critics who are too cool for school.

"But there, in a Northamptonshire cowfield ("Beware of the bull") that is forever England, reality seemed an awfully long way away. The field sloped down to a dark, dank corner where, secreted by an overgrown thicket, quite hidden from the world, real or otherwise, sat a quiet and algae green pond. We scrambled over some barbed wire and through a tangle of willow and found, with a deep sense of satisfaction, the source of our river." Eric Wark discovers the source of the Great Ouse, which flows into The Wash below King's Lynn.