Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Hidden Nottingham: The River Leen

This is fun and a bit scary. We follow the last mile or so of the River Leen as it flows under canal and railway to join the Trent.

You can support these Trekking Exploration videos and get access to some more content by joining the channel.

Market Harborough schoolboy assaulted for not giving Nazi salute

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No, we've not been invaded. This story appeared in the Aberdeen Press and Journal on 14 September 1933:

English Schoolboy Assaulted

Nazi Attack Because He Did Not Salute

An English schoolboy, J. R. K. Preedv, Market Harborough, last night, in London', told remarkable story of an experience had in Germany on August 31 when Nazis brutally assaulted him because he did not salute Hitler's standard. 

1 was walking with some German friends along the Stresemannstrasse in Berlin, and met a column of Hitler's Jugend (young men), he said. 

On each side of them on the pavement were about eight or ten Nazis about eighteen years of age. They were put there for the purpose of seeing that everybody saluted, and I was told afterwards by my German friends that they would have attacked anybody who did not salute. 

Exempted by Order

I did not salute the standard as the others did, being English, and therefore exempted from it by an order of Hitler's. 

Suddenly I was attacked from behind by the Nazis on the pavement. 'Some held me while others kicked me. No great damage was done, but my glasses were completely smashed. It happened so suddenly that my friends saw little. I am claiming compensation for my glasses. 

The people he was staying with told him it was lucky he made no resistance, or he would have been severely beaten up. '

A search of other reports of this incident reveals that the lad's first name was John and that he was a pupil at Wellington - presumably the public school Wellington College. And after the war there was a medical researcher called J.R.K. Preedy with a number of publications to his name.

The reports also reveal that John Preedy was the stepson of the owner of Nevil Holt preparatory school, Frederick Phillips.

A post of mine, which still attracts worrying accounts of abuse from former pupils of the school, quotes a now-vanished Times Educational Supplement story about Phillips:

A headteacher who faked his name, age and qualifications to run a boarding school in Leicestershire for 40 years has been exposed as a fraud by his son.

Frederick Phillips cheated parents, pupils and his bank manager into believing he was a qualified French teacher and aristocrat with military honours in order to buy and run Nevill Holt preparatory school in Market Harborough. He died in 1982 ...

Swansea-born Frederick Phillips changed his accent and pretended he was a graduate from the Sorbonne to get a job teaching French at Nevill Holt.

He had, in fact, only attended summer school at Besancon university, France.

In 1927 he adopted the double-barrelled name Serille-Phillips and claimed he was the son of a gentleman (his father was a wheelwright) to secure a bank loan of £12,000 to buy the Grade I listed 13th century school building.

He said he was 30, to substantiate a lie that he was a former squadron leader, secret service agent and medal-winner in the First World War. In fact, he had only just completed his military training at Uxbridge. 

The Joy of Six 1175

Andrew Page asks what a 'free Palestine' would look like: "The complete absence of any clear vision for Palestine means it’s very difficult to know what is being called for, other than an end to the status quo (which can be a useful start with any protest). But it matters because there are competing visions out there, with very different ideas of what a future Palestinian state should be."

British police are testing women for abortion drugs and requesting data from menstrual tracking apps after unexplained pregnancy losses, reports Phoebe Davis.

"Believing in free speech is easy; practicing it is harder. A society in which people are free to say what they want isn’t always a nice place to live. It’s not like being in an eighteenth century Parisian salon, or a coffee house with Samuel Johnson and Ben Franklin: a place where exciting ideas and opinions are robustly debated with clever friends and the help of various stimulants. It means sharing spaces with appalling people saying appalling things." Ian Leslie says all companies, institutions and leaders should care about free speech.

David Beer considers the future of academic social media: "Might we be moving into a different period for social media? A period defined by a growing sense of disenchantment. A slipping enthusiasm. We may already be there."

"And these victims of the Witchcraft Act, which was in existence from 1563 to 1736, and were of all ages and backgrounds, never had any chance to argue their case, such was the rigidity of the law and the ferocity of public opinion weighted against them." Neil Drysdale wonders if celebrating Halloween ignores a long, dark chapter of Scottish history.

Charlie Largent compares two cinematic ghost stories: "If it’s possible for one movie to haunt another, then surely the spirit of Jack Clayton’s The Innocents walks alongside Alejandro Amenábar’s The Others."

Monday, October 30, 2023

Film stars don't die in Market Harborough: Susan Shentall

You can search the Internet Movie Database - IMDb - for actors who were born or died in a particular place. Look for deaths in Market Harborough and you will find a member of Showaddywaddy, a lady who filmed an exotic dance before marrying a Conservative MP, and Susan Shentall.

Shentall made only one film, but in it she played Juliet to Laurence Harvey's Romeo. This was in a 1954 adaptation of Shakespeare's play directed by the Italian Renato Castellani. You can see the trailer above, and the whole film is on YouTube.

Most of the publicity about Shentall at the time the film was made and released centred on the circumstances of her casting. Here's the Daily News for 17 March 1953:

Susan Shentall held her first Press conference. yesterday. And it is likely to be the first of many, because this girl, who has never played a more important role than the Angel in a Nativity play at school, has been chosen by the Rank Organisation to play Juliet.

This week she travels to Verona where Renato Castellani will direct a colour film of Romeo and Juliet. ...

A fortnight ago, she had never even given a thought to a film or stage career. Although as pretty as a picture, she had never had the schoolgirl's dream of being a star.

Then how was she chosen? For months Castellani searched for his Juliet - in Ireland, Italy, France.

Then Mario, restaurateur in London, saw Susan dining quietly with her parents. Mario told Mrs. Janni, wife of the film's producer.

Within a few days Susan was at Pinewood, having colour tests, reciting the balcony scene. And Castellani was presented with a Juliet.

The reception for the film was at first positive, with Castellani winning the Grand Prix at the 1954 Venice Film Festival, But, according to Wikipedia, there was widespread criticism of the liberties he had taken with the text and the plot of the play, and the consensus was that the film was chiefly notable as a spectacle.

Nor did it prove popular with audiences - one Australian observer of the British film scene described it as the 'unchallenged flop of the year'. I will admit I had not heard of this version of Romeo and Juliet before I came across the IMDb reference to Shentall's death in Market Harborough.

Reading the reviews of Shentall's performance in the British regional press, they are at worst respectful and at best enthusiastic. There is talk of interest in her from Hollywood.

But this was the only film she was to make. Shentall had returned to England and married a Philip Worthington as soon as filming ended. Perhaps she wanted to be a dutiful Fifties wife or perhaps she did not much enjoy making the film.

Philip Worthington was from Leicester and his father was the owner of the Worthington's grocery chain, which I have blogged about before.

So that is how a film star came to live and die in Market Harborough.

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Rolling Stones: Angie

I must have heard the Rolling Stones' hits in the Sixties, but I don't remember them the way I can remember hearing and liking Penny Lane and Eleanor Rigby.

So Angie, which reached number 5 in the UK single chart in the autumn of 1973 and topped the US chart, was my introduction to them.

Discover Music describes its genesis:

It was their 24th US single (18th in Britain) and over the years many have speculated that it was inspired by Angie, David Bowie’s wife, or even Keith’s daughter. Keith, who wrote the majority of the song’s music and lyrics, said in his autobiography that the name Angie came to him while in Switzerland detoxing from his heroin addiction. 

"I wrote 'Angie' in an afternoon, sitting in bed," the Rolling Stones guitarist wrote. "Because I could finally move my fingers and get them in the right place again…It was not about any particular person, it was a name, like 'Ohhh, Diana.'"

And Wikipedia explains the single's distinctive sound:
An unusual feature of the original recording is that singer Mick Jagger's vocal guide track (made before the final vocals were performed) is faintly audible throughout the song (an effect sometimes called a "ghost vocal"). Cash Box said that "Jagger is at his best - slurring words by the dozens to ring out the feeling of every important line."

Saturday, October 28, 2023

The remains of the railway to Snailbeach lead mine

What we need now is a silent film showing the remains of the narrow-gauge railway that served the lead mine at Snailbeach in Shropshire.

I know I spoil you, gentle reader, but you're worth it.

Vince Cable, Chris Huhne and Norman Lamb sue Sun and News of the World publisher over phone hacking

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Claiming an exclusive, the Guardian reports that three senior Liberal Democrat politicians, Vince Cable, Chris Huhne and Norman Lamb, are

suing the publisher of the Sun and the defunct News of the World, claiming that their phones were hacked for stories or to “exert political influence”, including when Rupert Murdoch was seeking approval for a takeover of BSkyB.

Journalists working at Murdoch’s newspapers are said to have unlawfully targeted the former business secretary Vince Cable as well as Chris Huhne, a former energy and climate change secretary, and Norman Lamb, a whip and sometime adviser to the then deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg.

The purpose of the attempts to access the men’s voicemail messages during their time in coalition with the Conservatives and to carry out other “unlawful information gathering” had been to source stories about them in order to “sell newspapers”, but to also influence political events, according to the claims lodged at the high court, which have been denied.

The report goes on to say that Vince Cable claims that between 27 July 2004 and 31 December 2011, a total of 383 calls were made by journalists at the Wapping headquarters of the Sun and News of the World, "the overwhelming majority of which he will infer were made for the purposes of unlawfully intercepting his voicemail messages".

Wellingborough Conservatives: "If you make enough dubious claims, fast enough, honest speakers are overwhelmed"

With a by-election on the cards in Wellingborough after the decision to suspend Peter Bone for six weeks, it's time to take a look at the town's Conservatives. What sort of candidate will they choose? What sort of campaign, if given their head party by the national party, will they fight?

We have a clue in the shape of a document circulated to Tory activists in the town in 2020 and leaked to the Huffington Post.

The website's report on it said:

In a section calling for grassroots campaigners of Boris Johnson’s party to “learn” from Trump, the document says the president successfully managed to “weaponise fake news”.

“Trump has learnt that a ‘lie can go round the whole world before the truth can get its boots on’,” it says.

“If you make enough dubious claims, fast enough, honest speakers are overwhelmed. If someone tweets ten dubious claims per day and it takes you a week to disprove each one, then you are doomed.

“Trump uses this tactic to dominate the news and to crowd out legitimate politicians.”

The local party then instructs campaigners to “say the first thing that comes into your head”.

It says: “It’ll probably be nonsense, but it knocks your opponent out of his stride and takes away his headline.

“You then have a few seconds (possibly minutes) to reword it, say that you mis-spoke, were mis-heard, or whatever.

“You may get a bad headline saying that you spoke something silly, but you can live that down. Meanwhile your opponent is knocked off the news-feed.

“It runs counter to everything that traditional politicians are taught – viz. never say anything that is not 100% accurate. The problem is that 100% right, two weeks late equals defeat.

“Sometimes, it is better to give the WRONG answer at the RIGHT time, than the RIGHT answer at the WRONG time.”

Telling voters to F*** Off didn't work in Tamworth, so maybe they will try to ape Trump in Wellingborough.

Friday, October 27, 2023

The Joy of Six 1174

"Like a partner in an abusive relationship, the BBC is desperate to be loved by those who despise it and everything it stands for. So, even as this tired and disgraced Government, reeling from a series of catastrophic by-election defeats, is limping timidly towards its reckoning with an increasingly hostile electorate, the BBC’s Director-General felt it necessary to abase himself before its baying backbenchers." Patrick Howse on Tim Davie's self-basement before the 1922 Committee.

Johnny Rich says the government is wrecking its own reforms of technical education.

"Young Deer’s version of the Osage tragedies opened just four months after the January 1926 arrests of William King Hale, Ernest Burkhart and John Ramsey - played by Robert De Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio and Tay Mitchell, respectively, in Scorsese’s film - for the horrifying murders of several dozen or more Osage Indians over their oil headrights." Angela Aleiss rediscovers the Native American filmmaker James Young Deer, who first told the story of Killers of the Flower Moon.

Iain Sharpe, who was one of the most interesting Lib Dem voices in the golden age of blogging, has revived his blog Eaten by Missionaries after 11 years. Here he explains why he was away so long.

"One of the things that has always struck me about the Narnia novel is how wildly and recklessly they borrow from other narratives.  Lewis blends together Classical myth with English folklore, adds bits of The Secret Garden and the Gospels, gestures to Rudyard Kipling and Thomas Malory, and sends the reader off to wander through this dazzling landscape." Jem Bloomfield introduces his new book, which untangles the literary roots of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Katy Alston is interviewed about her new map of medieval Ludlow: "I tried to ensure that everything on the map had been researched. For example, I wanted to add boats on the river but didn’t because Ludlow didn’t have a decent boat trade route. It was blocked intermittently and very unreliable. Artists have added trows ( boats) in the past, but this was apparently just artistic licence."

Cricket journalist Matthew Engel wins Golden Valley South

One of my favourite cricket writers, Matthew Engel, was this evening elected as councillor for Golden Valley South ward of Herefordshire Council.

He was standing as an Independent in a by-election caused by the death of the sitting Independent councillor Peter Jinman.

Later. Engel received over 60 per cent of the vote, beating Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem candidates, as well as another Independent.

Thursday, October 26, 2023

"Like something out of a zoo": Freda Jackson on Errol Flynn

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I've found a 2018 article about Freda Jackson in the Nottingham Post. It's headlined 'The railway porter's daughter from Nottingham who became a Hollywood star', but I don't believe she ever went to Hollywood.

It tells the story of Jackson's career in the theatre, films and television, but let's concentrate on what it has to say about her relations with Errol Flynn - they were in the repertory company at the Royal and Derngate Theatre in Northampton together:

You can understand why notorious womaniser Errol Flynn might have been attracted to Nottingham-born actress Freda Jackson.

Flynn, the dashing actor with matinee idol looks, and Jackson, a dark-haired beauty, shared many a scene together as they learned their craft with the Northampton Repertory Theatre in the years before the Second World War.

The pair reputedly had a relationship but how true that is we will never know - although judging by Miss Jackson’s comments about Flynn after they performed together in a 1934 production of Othello, the attraction might not have been mutual.

"He was not an intellectual man but he was very shrewd," she said in a 1984 interview. "He knew that his supreme good looks were not enough to get him where he wanted to go, so he came to Northampton to learn his job.

"He did learn a lot from us, including how to walk across the stage without looking like something out of a zoo. When he left, he did so in a cloud of unpleasantness after hitting the stage manager, who was a woman."

David Niven's judgement on Flynn, incidentally, was:

"You knew where you were with Errol Flynn. He always let you down."

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

8-Year-Old Makes Chess History: England's First World Youth Champion in 25 Years

Tarjei J. Svensen reports an extraordinary achievement for British chess:

British chess sensation WCM Bodhana Sivanandan made history today, scoring 10/10 to become England's first world youth champion in 25 years and complete a historic triple crown.

The eight-year-old prodigy is dominating the Girls Under 8 category of the World Cadet Championship in Egypt and clinched the title today with a round to spare.

And the story just gets more extraordinary. Bodhana already holds the rapid and blitz titles (for games played at faster speeds than in the tournament she has just won) in her age group, and in gaining these three titles she has won every single one of the 32 games she's played.

Even more remarkably than that, she won the British women's blitz title as the age of seven.

If you worry about there being separate titles for boys and girls, I think this is a genuine attempt to encourage female players when they are vastly outnumbered, whether for reasons of nature or nurture, by males in any tournament by males.

I don't know about junior chess, but at the British championship in Leicester this summer there was an open title and a women's title, with the best British women players opting to play in the open against the men.

But it may be significant that the strongest woman player ever is Judit Polgár, and her father never entered her in a girls-only tournament when she was young.

Anyway, you can see Bodhana in the video above. She is playing against Peter Lee, who was British champion in 1965.

Now Labour retreats on a right to roam for England

With every month that passes, the prospect of a Keir Starmer government grows a little less enticing. The latest radical policy to be jettisoned is a right to roam in England along the lines of the one that has operated in Scotland for 20 years. This is reported - sorry, 'revealed' - by the Guardian today.

The paper quotes the former Labour shadow nature minister Alex Sobel speaking in the Commons earlier this year:

"Labour’s approach, like in Scotland, will be that Labour’s right to roam will offer access to high-quality green and blue space in the rest of Britain. We will replace the default of exclusion with a default of access.

"Research shows that people with a stronger connection to nature were more likely to behave positively towards the environment. It’s quite simple: the more people engage with nature, the more likely they are to protect it."

Now all that has gone in the face of opposition from the NFU and the Countryside Alliance.

It's telling how the latter, set up to defend the life of the countryside as a distinct form of culture in the diversity-loving Blair years, switched to a full-blown "Get off my land" manifesto the moment the Tories took power.

This story matters, and not just because greater public access to the country is an important issue - read The Book of Trespass by Nick Hayes for more on this.

It matters because of what it tells us about what a Keir Starmer government would look like.

The really radical things that Tony Blair did were done in his early years as prime minister. The minimum wage. Assemblies in Edinburgh and Cardiff. Reform of the House of Lords.

If Starmer begins this timidly, what will he be like after four or five years at No. 10?

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Parts of the Brush works at Loughborough to be demolished

From the Leicester Mercury:

One of the most significant sites of Loughborough’s industrial heyday looks set to be changed forever, with the news that much of ‘the Brush’ could be bulldozed. The owners of the Falcon Works Industrial Estate hope to demolish a number of buildings on the Nottingham Road site, including parts of the former Brush plant, but intend to leave the iconic 1920s building referred to in planning documents as the Brush building, sometimes also called the Falcon Building, but known to former employees has ’24 shop’.

The Brush works is a large and sprawling site, and the best way to see it is from a train on the preserved Great Central (North) line.

As this line does not have a station in Loughborough, trains stop at the embankment above the Brush works and then reverse to go north again. This gave me the chance, a few years ago, to take some photos of the site - note the glimpses of rolling stock and a locomotive.

One day the gap at Loughborough will be bridges - work on this continues - and trains will be able to continue southwards to call at Loughborough Central and then continue to Leicester.

More than 1 million UK children experienced destitution last year

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The Guardian reports:

More than 1 million children experienced destitution last year – meaning their families could not afford to adequately feed, clothe or clean them, or keep them warm – according to a major study which reveals an explosion of extreme poverty in the UK.

Severe material hardship was “no longer a rare occurrence”, the study found, with rates of destitution more than doubling in the last five years as a result of benefit cuts and cost of living pressures, leaving struggling households increasingly reliant on regular charity handouts.

The study in question is included in the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report Destitution in the UK 2023. Its recommendations are:

Universal Credit should have an ‘Essentials Guarantee’ to ensure everyone has a protected minimum amount of support to afford essentials such as food and household bills. An independent process should determine the Essentials Guarantee level, based on the cost of essentials. Universal Credit’s basic rate would need to at least meet this minimum amount, and deductions would not be allowed to reduce support below that level.

Undertake wider reforms to social security, including: lowering the limit on deductions from benefits to repay debts; reforming sanctions so people are not left with zero or extremely low income; and ensure people can access disability benefits they are entitled to.

Ensuring cash-first emergency financial assistance is available in all areas, along with free and impartial advice services to address the crushing debt, benefits and housing issues that keep people destitute.

Enable everyone in our communities to access help in an emergency whether they have ‘no recourse to public funds’ or not – and resource local authorities to meet this additional need. Local authorities, charities, independent funders and housing providers should also work together to prevent destitution and homelessness for people with restricted entitlement.

L.T. Hobhouse isn't returning my calls, but I expect he would say: "Liberty without equality is a name of noble sound and squalid result."

Monday, October 23, 2023

Former MP David Mackintosh in court over donations made to Northampton South Conservative Association

From Wales Online:

A former Tory MP has appeared in court charged with failing to provide information in relation to political party donations totalling £39,000. David Mackintosh appeared at Northampton Crown Court on Friday, charged with offences allegedly committed under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act.

The offences are said to have taken place in 2014, months after Mackintosh was selected to fight the constituency of Northampton South at the end of the previous year and relate to nine donations. Mackintosh, was first elected as Northampton South MP in 2015, before later announcing he would not contest his seat in the June 2017 General Election.

The 43-year-old, who is also former leader of the now defunct Northampton Borough Council and co-defendant, property developer Howard Grossman, each face two allegations of failing to provide information in relation to donations to a registered political party, Northampton South Conservative Association.

As the report goes on to say, Mackintosh and Grossman were charged at the end of last year following an investigation by Northamptonshire Police. This was triggered by the disappearance of a £10.25m loan made in 2014 by the borough council to the local football club Northampton Town.

The case continues.

Steam locomotives and banking engines on the Lickey Incline

I posted this video on Liberal England years ago, but as babies have been born and raised families since I started blogging, I'm becoming less anxious about repeating myself.*

The Lickey Incline is the longest sustained main-line gradient in Britain. As Derek Cooper says, the climb is 1 in 37.7 for a continuous distance of two miles.

Such a gradient requires the use of banking engines to help trains with the climb - heavy freight trains have to be banked even today. But in steam days even short passenger trains needed help, leading to the wonderful footage here.

A mention too for the classic trainspotters we see early in the video - Cooper calls them 'loco spotters'. Trainspotting as a hobby is usually said to be a post-war phenomenon, fuelled by the publisher Ian Allen and growing working-class affluence.

But a friend's father remembered spotting before the war, when the only trains of interest were  locomotives with names - hence 'loco spotting', perhaps.

* To my knowledge two songs have inadvertently been featured twice as a Sunday music video here: A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall by Bryan Ferry and Paint It Black by the Rolling Stones.

The News Agents, Peter Kyle and Labour's Mid Bedfordshire by-election campaign

You may have heard Peter Kyle, mastermind of the successful Labour campaign in Mid Bedfordshire, on The News Agents podcast the other day.

He told a moving story about how Labour had won by being respectful to the voters and never mentioning the Liberal Democrats in their campaigning. Whereas the Lib Dem campaign, among many other things, was "filth".

Yet this Labour leaflet from the by-election campaign is almost comical in the way it copies Lib Dem literature. There are the inevitable three things to remember and a bar chart.

Though I haven't seen a Lib Dem bar chart as dodgy as this one for years.

The News Agents is one of the podcasts I follow. Shedding the BBC straitjacket has made Emily Maitlis, Jon Sopel and Lewis Goodall happier and more interesting to listen to.

But it's a shame they allowed Kyle to put over such a one-eyed account of the by-election campaign without challenge.

For a good analysis of the by-election and its consequences from a Lib Dem point of view, read Matthew Pennell - that post is also in my latest Joy of Six selection of links.

h/t @TruthMattersToo on Twitter.

The Joy of Six 1173

"On New Year’s Day 1953, he signed up to become part of the greatest churn of young football talent English football had yet seen, the Busby Babes. The young Charlton, fair-haired and bequiffed, threw himself into metropolitan, cosmopolitan Mancunian life, the cinemas, cafes and dances a world away from his colliery hometown of Ashington." John Brewin pays tribute to Bobby Charlton.

Matthew Pennell on what happened in Mid Bedfordshire and why it will probably never happen again.

"An unfounded accusation that I had 'been unkind' to a non-statutory government document should not have been a reason to attempt to cancel my presence at professional events. Beyond the impact on me personally, it removes my expertise and connections with expert practice around the world from England’s state education system. If this is happening daily across the UK’s ministries, it also paints a frightening picture of a narrowing of discussion and expertise in policy making." Ruth Swailes has been blacklisted by the Department for Education for being critical of its policies.

Errol Morris is interviewed about John le Carré and the film he has made about the author's life and work, The Pigeon Tunnel.

"These days it’s where giddy teens and grizzled pros purchase shiny guitars, but before that it played a founding role in the careers of The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Elton John, the Sex Pistols and more. But this history goes back even further. Before the Second World War, Denmark Street was home to music publishers, their windows piled high with sheet music." Peter Watts tells the story of Denmark Street.

Rail Engineer descends into the cutting at Edge Hill in Liverpool to find the site of the stationary steam engine that hauled trains up the gradient from Lime Street until the 1870s.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Lib Dem PPC for South Shropshire calls for action on flash floods

From the Shropshire Star:
Chris Naylor, the Liberal Democrat candidate for the new South Shropshire constituency at the general election, says the county needs to be better prepared for deluges like that that hit the area as part of Storm Babet. 
He said immediate steps that need to be taken are drain clearance and looking for ways to control the flow of water.
After meeting residents in Church Stretton affected by flooding from the A49, he told the paper:
"Yet again it has rained hard. Yet again there were flash floods that could have been avoided if the county had been better prepared. Floods at Minsterley, Ludlow, Church Stretton, Cleobury Mortimer and in many other towns and villages in the south of the county.

"I am saddened and shocked to hear that one man died in floodwater at Cleobury Mortimer."
And added:
He added: “The stark reality is that south Shropshire needs to be better prepared for these deluges. The science is straightforward. As the climate warms, the air will hold more water. Deluges, rather than the steady rain we are used to, will become more common.
South Shropshire is the successor to the Ludlow constituency that Matthew Green held for the Liberal Democrats between 2001 and 2005.

Since then it has returned a Conservative with large majorities, but in recent weeks two of the safest Tory council wards in the constituency have been gained by the Lib Dems with huge swings. Something is stirring among those blue remembered hills.

The Monochrome Set: The Mouse Trap

Lost in the mists of musical history, the Monochrome Set appeared in the hazy period just after punk and hung around for a good two decades, releasing clever albums full of hook-crammed melodies and coloured with a dark sense of humour. 
Frontman Bid's arch vocals gave the band a wonderful camp quality, and it was probably his lyrical smarts that alerted a young Morrissey to their presence; they were even one of his favourite groups before he formed the Smiths. 
Johnny Marr recalls first meeting Morrissey and flicking through his singles collection that Morrissey had whittled down to just 10 seven-inchs. Along with some girl groups and T-Rex, were the Monochrome Set. This must have impressed Marr, because they too were one of his favourite bands.

That from a Guardian review published in 2009, which is before everyone decided they never liked the Smiths anyway.

The review goes on to say:

Another Monochrome Set devotee was Alex Kapranos who, in his pre-Franz Ferdinand incarnation of Karelia, coaxed Bid out of semi-retirement to produce him. When Franz Ferdinand emerged in 2002 they were bizarrely compared to Gang of Four – a band they sounded nothing like – when their most obvious role model was the Monochrome Set.

And listening to this song, the band that first comes to mind - from the melody and even the style of singing - is the Divine Comedy.

Their first incarnation ran from 1978 to 1985, when they were feted by John Peel. The Mouse Trap is a track by the their 1990s version - it's a track from their 1995 album Trinity Road.

And they are still going today, with Bid - real name Ganesh Seshadri - at their heart.

Saturday, October 21, 2023

Oxford Lib Dems ready to run the city after more councillors resign from the Labour group

Oxford City Council's Liberal Democrats group is ready to take over running the council after the resignation in recent days eight Labour councillors. They have left the party over Keir Starmer's apparent endorsement of Israel's cutting off of water and power supplies to Gaza.

Chris Smowton, leader of the group on Oxford City Council, told the Oxford Mail:

"Oxford needs a stable administration, united to deal with the city's most urgent problems: to get on top of the city's spiralling housing costs, to decisively set Oxford on course to net zero, and to ensure much-needed affordable homes don't come at the cost of the city's parks and wilderness.

"Labour has lost its majority on Oxford City Council. If they can’t get a grip, then the Liberal Democrats stand ready to get on with the job of governing in the best interests of our city."

Smowton criticised Starmer for failing to "communicate that both terrorism and inhumane response to terrorism are unacceptable" and praised the approach of Layla Moran, MP for Oxford West and Abingdon and the Lib Dem foreign affairs spokesperson:

"I think  Layla Moran has set an excellent example here, consistently condemning terrorism, and also calling for innocent civilians in Gaza to be protected and for the delivery of humanitarian aid to be expedited."

Lily Gladstone and William Ewart Gladstone

Lily Gladstone, star of Killers of the Flower Moon, was interviewed about an earlier film - Certain Women - in the Guardian in 2017:

Gladstone was born in 1986 and grew up on the Blackfeet Reservation in north-western Montana, and, as her biography in the film’s press notes proudly elaborates, has "tribal affiliations that include Kainai, Amskapi Piikani and Nimi’ipuu First Nations". 
She explains: "I lived in the reservations until I was 11, when we moved for lack of economic opportunities."

But what wins her my Trivial Fact of the Day Award is another extract from that interview:

Gladstone then adds a postscript about her forebears, revealing that her great, great grandfather, on her mother’s side, was first cousin to William Gladstone, the British prime minister.

h/t to Marie Le Conte on Bluesky.

Friday, October 20, 2023

Fyfe Robertson on the Forth and Clyde Canal

I remember Fyfe Robertson from the 1960s. He often gave the impression that he was surprised to find himself on television, as though he had been having a quiet drink when someone pointed the camera at him.

In face he was a notable journalist and, before he turned his hand to television, had been with Picture Post in its glory years.

Click on the image above to go the BBC Rewind site and see him report on the imminent closure of the Forth and Clyde Canal on Tonight in 1962. 

It did indeed close the following year, but the good news is that it was reopened in 2001.

The Joy of Six 1172

"Short-form social content is great for punchy superficial gesture, but just terrible at containing any form of complex nuanced context. The volatile nature of the provocative issues embedded in this conflict are barely containable even face to face among close others with whom we disagree. Exchanging with strangers online is not only impossible, but tends to result in the hardening of positions and may even contribute to radicalisation." Aaron Balick explains why social media amplifies hatred in a time of unspeakable horror.

"There is too much emphasis on what connects with 'Middle England', and the blue wall in particular. How does that connect with someone in Caernarfon or Caerfyrddin? Through the consequences of Brexit, we have seen what appealing to strong feelings of Unionism can do and are doing. We need to move away from all that." Cheryl Williams says it's time to reinvent the Welsh Lib Dems.

Matthew England and Ruth Fox ask what the HS2 fiasco means for Parliament: "The Prime Minister’s decision to cancel the next stage of HS2 has given rise to criticism that once again the Government has ridden roughshod over Parliament. Just over 1,300 hours of legislative time have been spent on four HS2-related Bills over nine Sessions in the last decade."

Over half (58 per cent) of prison sentences given to women in 2022 were for less than six months, reports the Prison Reform Trust, despite a widespread recognition that short sentences are harmful and ineffective.

Daniel Callcut looks at the moral philosophy of Bernard Williams: "Williams had little time for the idea, associated with postmodernism, that all of reality is a cultural construction. Humans have dramatically reshaped the Earth but they didn’t create the planet they live on. Ethical reality is constructed via interaction with ‘an already existing physical world’ that is not a cultural product."

Alwyn Collinson on the extraordinary life of Johnny Smythe: "One of the first black airmen in the Royal Air Force. The man in charge of the historic voyage of the SS Windrush. A Krio who said that his skin colour saved his life when he was captured by the Nazis."

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Lib Dems gain another Shropshire seat with a huge swing

Another previously safe Conservative seat in Shropshire has fallen to the Liberal Democrats in a council by-election tonight.

Here is the result from the Alveley and Claverley ward:

Lib Dems         662 (58.7%)

Conservative   408 (36.3%)

Labour              55  (4.9%)

I make the swing from Conservative to Liberal Democrat an astonishing 34.6%.

Congratulations to the victorious Lib Dem candidate Colin Taylor and everyone who worked to get him elected. This is a large rural ward lying to the east of Bridgnorth.

It just goes to show that a leading Shropshire Tory was right the other day when he wrote that there are no safe Tory seats in rural Britain.

Sir Peter Soulsby criticises Keir Starmer over his stance on Israel's campaign in Gaza

Middle East Eye reports that Sir Peter Soulsby, Leicester Labour elected mayor, has criticised Keir Starmer for his uncritical backing of Israel's military campaign in Gaza.

The website quotes a letter from Soulsby to the Labour leader:

"The impression that has been given is that this condemnation of recent events extends to approving uncritically the Israeli government's response and of ignoring the decades of injustice and the oppression of Palestinians and the violations of their human rights," Soulsby wrote.

The mayor also said that he had visited the occupied Palestinian territories and believed that Israeli settlement activity, as well as Israel's treatment of Palestinians, had created a "breeding ground for despair and terrorism".

Soulsby said that he had spoken to Labour councillors and members who shared his concerns about Starmer's comments on the conflict.

This evening Taj Ali, the industrial correspondent of Tribune magazine, has tweeted that seven Leicester Labour councillors have

"unequivocally" distanced themselves from remarks made by @Keir_Starmer, endorsing the collective punishment of Palestinians. They have called on the Labour Party leader to apologise for his remarks.

He lists the seven as Hanif Aqbany, Misbah Batool, Mohammed Dawood, Mustafa Malik, Raffiq Mohammed, Yasmin Surti and Syed Zaman,

And Darshna Soni, communities editor of Channel 4 News, has tweeted that:

Labour councillors in Leicester warning that the Party is in danger of losing control of the city for the first time in 16 years, such is the strength of feeling over #IsraelGazaConflict. Keir Starmer’s HoC speech about need for humanitarian access seen as too late for some.

Sunak’s Covid start-up fund invested nearly £2m in luxury underwear firm linked to his wife

From the Guardian website this afternoon:

Rishi Sunak’s controversial fund to support start-ups during the Covid pandemic invested nearly £2m in companies linked to his wife, Guardian analysis has found.

Carousel Ventures, a company part-owned by Akshata Murty's venture capital firm, got an investment of £250,000 from the Future Fund to help fund its ownership of a luxury underwear business called Heist Studios, it can be disclosed.

It is the fourth business linked to Murty revealed to have received an investment from the fund set up by Sunak to support start-ups when he was chancellor during the Covid pandemic.

None of Murty's investments that benefited from the Future Fund appear publicly on Sunak’s register of ministerial interests.

This, the paper goes on to say, is just one of 17 shareholdings that have been held by Murty or her venture capital company Catamaran Ventures UK at during Sunak’s time as chancellor or prime minister. He has voluntarily disclosed none of them.

At best this shows a complete disregard for disregard the rules about the disclosure of financial interests. At worst it is corruption.

This is where 13 years of Conservative government - or, more accurately, the eight years since the end of the Coalition - have left us.

I am also reminded of P.G. Wodehouse's The Code of the Woosters. As Christopher Hitchens once wrote:

In the climactic scene of The Code of the Woosters, Bertie confronts Sir Roderick Spode, the sinister bully who is "founder and head of the Saviours of Britain, a Fascist organization better known as the Black Shorts." He reduces Spode to a jelly by disclosing that he knows the would-be dictator's ghastly secret - his ownership of Eulalie Soeurs, a female underwear consortium.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Podcasts: The Optimists of Nine Elms and Mike Brearley

ITV used to broadcast Clapperboard, a film magazine programme aimed at children and introduced by Chris Kelly. As I remember it, it was better than most film programmes for adults.

One item I remember in particular is a report from the set of the 1973 Peter Sellers film The Optimists of Nine Elms that featured him playing the ukulele, though I don't think the clip they showed is the the one above.

My reason for writing about the film tonight is that I've come across a really good podcast about it. It's an episode of Goon Pod, a podcast devoted to the Goon Show and the solo careers of the four original goons.

The blurb for it says:

Between 1970 and 1975 Peter Sellers made films which mostly fell flat commercially, and some of which didn't even get released, but there was the odd little gem and The Optimists of Nine Elms, directed by Anthony Simmons and based on his novel, is perhaps one of Sellers' most personal films. 

The task of embodying Sam, a washed-up old music hall entertainer, prompted Sellers to channel both his father and his great hero Dan Leno and look back to his youth, trailing around theatre after theatre with his parents, soaking up the patter and the hoary old routines, the songs and the stagecraft. 

There is also a rawness to the film, as in the scene above where the actors perform in front of a real throng of Fulham supporters.


As you have probably gathered by now, I'm a Mike Brearley fanboy. He spent the summer doing the rounds of podcasts talking about his new book Turning Over Pebbles, and the best interview I have heard from that tour is the one with Gideon Haigh on Cricket, Et Cetera.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

The Joy of Six 1171

"Heaving, oversubscribed, besieged by lobbyists and engulfed by the scent of power wafting from around the corner, the Labour conference this year was unlike any other I have ever attended. It was also the most mind-numbingly boring one yet." Jonn Elledge went to the Labour Party conference.

Rob Parsons reviews Johnson at 10: The Inside Story by Anthony Seldon and Raymond Newell.

"Young people are often excluded from decisions about mental health research and interventions. They tend to be seen as simply participants in research projects developed by academics who are often much older than they are. As a result, young people who have experienced a problem lack opportunities to influence the development and design of interventions that aim to help." Alex Lloyd and Manveer Sadhra argue that young people should have a say in the development of the mental health interventions they receive.

Imagine what Afghanistan could do if they played international cricket regularly, says Abhishek Mukherjee.

"A Venice that has less in common with Canaletto than with the slightly grubby canvases of Francesco Guardi, Don’t Look Now's locations are one of several things that’ll come to mind when asked to recall Roeg's masterpiece. Other elements include a terrifying sequence where John is almost killed when the scaffolding in the church he’s repairing collapses, and the abrupt, brutal finale which I won’t spoil through either discussion or dissection." Richard Luck marks the 50th anniversary of Nic Roeg's film Don't Look Now.

Andy Marshall on photographing the churches of Romney Marsh.

How Stanley Unwin and Uncle the elephant won the war

Before he became a performer, Stanley Unwin worked on the technical side of radio:
In 1940, Stanley successfully applied for a job at the BBC working on transmitters as a 'key thumper'. The Second World War was now underway and the Corporation desperately needed Morse operators across the country so he went off to do his bit at the Borough Hill transmitting station in Daventry.
Writing the foreword to the history of the station - Daventry Calling the World - in 1998, Unwin remembered that:
All of us at Daventry belonged to the Home Guard, having daily drills and rehearsals for potential air raids. A password was given each time a shift changed.
And there were air raids:
In 1942 a daylight raiding German plane strafed the buildings where we were ensconced, causing me to dash under the desk in the transmitter room. Mr Bill Gilbert, of Middlemore Farm, Daventry, informed us that it was a Dornier 215 fighter bomber. 
During the blitz on Coventry the drone of the raiding bombers accompanied the sound of the BBC monitored programmes as the incendiary bombs illuminated the horizon. Even the buzz of falling shrapnel from the anti aircraft fire could be heard on the transmitter site.
But Stanley Unwin wasn't the only giant of the British nonsense tradition at Daventry during the war. 

Stella Martin Currey writes of her father, the Rev. J.P. Martin, the author of the Uncle books:
With the beginning of the second world war he was minister in Daventry to the BBC engineers who were transmitting to the Empire at war and across occupied Europe.  Before the war they had secret experiments in the development of radar, the weapon which enabled the Spitfires to win the Battle of Britain. German planes crossed his Northamptonshire skies to destroy Coventry and its cathedral. ...

My mother Stella with my brother Andrew and myself was evacuated at three hours notice because Colchester was the initial target for Hitler’s Operation Sealion for the invasion of Britain in 1940. We were the most fortunate of refugees in Daventry with Nancy and J.P Martin. As a child one was always being told Uncle stories which J.P. Martin had dreamed up in the night.

It was exciting to see J.P. Martin collected in a jeep as a chaplain to conduct services at the army munitions depot at Weedon, which had been built in the Napoleonic wars. He was preaching again to men who again were fighting for freedom, dying in yet another war. Little did he think when he had volunteered as a chaplain in 1918 that he would be talking to his own sons, both born in the first world war and now of an age to be killed for their country.
Did Unwin and the Revd Martin meet? Were they friends? I'm sure they would have got on.

Monday, October 16, 2023

The breathtaking remains of the Leominster Canal

I once had bed and breakfast in the Teme valley near Tenbury Wells, and was told that the track running behind the house used to be the Leominster Canal.

Paul Whitewick goes looking for more substantial remains, and what he finds is nothing short of extraordinary.

There's more about this waterway on the Friends of the Leominster Canal site. There's more from Paul and Rebecca Whitewick about their railway and canal explorations on their website.

North Northamptonshire Lib Dems' statement on Peter Bone

Here's the local Liberal Democrat reaction to news of the recommendation by the Independent Expert Panel that Peter Bone MP be suspended from the Commons for six weeks:

Like many others we are shocked at the content of the allegations against Mr Bone. We believe these are a clear breaking of the bonds of trust and confidence between him and the constituency, and that Mr Bone’s position is untenable. 

We echo the call from Liberal Democrat Chief Whip Wendy Chamberlain MP that Mr Bone must resign rather than subject his constituents to the drawn-out recall process, and that Local Conservatives and the Prime Minister must ensure the whip is removed. If not, we will be fully supporting the recall effort. Whether it is through a by-election or a General Election, the people of Wellingborough and Rushden deserve to get their say on a fresh start away from Conservative Party sleaze and scandal.

We also want to stress that our thoughts and concerns are with the staff member who made the complaint. We hope that they are receiving the support they deserve from the Conservative Party and the Commons authorities.

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Matthew Goodwin and his 'new elite'

This passage from a Kenan Malik article published earlier this year in the Guardian sums up the weaknesses of Matthew Goodwin's concept of 'the new elite' economically:

For Goodwin, though, the new elite are the "people who really run Britain", having largely displaced the old ruling class of "upper-class aristocrats, landowners and industrialists". 

The idea that Gary Lineker or the US-based British journalist Mehdi Hasan or Sam Freedman, a fellow at the Institute for Government thinktank (all of whom Goodwin has namechecked as key members of the new elite) shape our lives more than Rishi Sunak or Andrew Bailey, the governor of the Bank of England is, to put it politely, stretching credulity. 

Similarly, the suggestion that those who have been responsible for austerity, anti-trade union laws and the imposition of real-terms wage cuts on nurses and railway workers are not the ones who really have power over our lives is bafflingly myopic. 

It exposes the postliberal concern for the working class as being as performative as the antiracism of the 'new elite'.

Or as Calder's Fifth Law of Politics holds:

No argument that involves expressing indignation on behalf of a third party is to be trusted.

There is some explanation of an earlier formulation of this rule on this blog.

Agnetha Fältskog: If I Thought You'd Ever Change Your Mind

The wonderful Agnetha Fältskog, without whom ABBA would just have been ABB (or possibly just BBA), was interviewed in Friday's Guardian by Alexis Petridis.

I didn't realise what a big star she was in Sweden before ABBA were formed, enjoying a run of hit singles as a teenager:

So the Triumph Spitfire-driving Fältskog was young, successful and famous, but she says today that if she could go back and give her advice, it would be “don’t be so worried all the time. Try to relax and have fun. You know, I was a little worried person about everything, so that’s the advice I would give her: try to have fun and enjoy yourself.”

Is she different now? She laughs. “No, I’m the same. I think a lot. When I do things, I worry a lot for many days before. I’m just that sort of person. It can be good, because you want to do things right. I have a lot of humour, but I’m also a very serious person when it comes to different things and sometimes it’s not so funny. Things happen in the world and I think everything affects you.”

This seems a very Fältskog answer. Behind the Svenska Flicka image, she was the member of Abba who seemed to most embody the deep strain of melancholy that ran through a lot of their music. Her favourite songs were always the sad songs, primarily The Winner Takes It All, which seems surprising, given that it is often depicted as less a song than an act of cruelty: Ulveaus impelling his ex-wife to sing a song he had written about their recent divorce from her point of view: “But tell me does she kiss, like I used to kiss you?”

If I Ever Thought You'd Change Your Mind comes from her ninth solo album, My Colouring Book, and reached number 11 in the UK singles chart in 2004.

But it's an older song than that, written by the British film composer John Cameron and first performed by the folk duo Edwards Hand in 1969. I came across it because it's a track on the Kathe Green album Run the Length of Your Wildness that I wrote about recently, and there's also a Cilla Black version, which benefits from her not attempting to use the 'big' voice with which she murdered so many songs.

And another thing I didn't know about Agnetha Fältskog is that, before ABBA, she was a songwriter. Alex Petridis writes:

There is a fabulous moment in an old Swedish interview around the time of Abba’s formation, where the journalist lauds Fältskog’s skill as a dependable hit-maker then adds, almost dismissively, that Ulvaeus writes songs too “with his friend Benny Andersson” and that one of them has done quite well in Japan.

Saturday, October 14, 2023

The Joy of Six 1170

"Liverpool has a long history of political turbulence. Despite Labour’s current supremacy, the party’s control of the city came late: for more than 100 years, until the second half of the 20th century, the Conservatives were dominant. Since then, Labour’s grip has been intermittent and often marked by conflict and controversy." Brian Groom questions the claim that Liverpool is a Labour city.

Katharine Pindar argues that the Liberal Democrats have nothing to lose by being bold.

Joanna Moncrief is interviewed about her research review that threw doubt on the idea that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain.

"The blast on October 14 1913 killed 439 men and boys, with another dying during rescue operations. It was, and remains, the worst coal mining disaster in British history and also the sixth worst in the world." Ben Curtis on the Senghenydd colliery explosion.

"Whitfield would always have to put up with 'difficult' male performers (she had grown used to having to get through scenes stroking Frankie Howerd's hair without horrifying him by dislodging his wig, and she had to spend all of The Blood Donor episode - and all of the subsequent others - trying to interact with Tony Hancock whilst he stared blankly over her shoulder reading his cue cards)." Graham McCann says that. because she was a woman, June Whitfield never received the respect she deserved as a performer.

A London Inheritance mourns the death of the city's telephone boxes.

Mike Brearley comes up with another fine index

We know that Mike Brearley wider intellectual interests give rise to the best indexes going - see his On Cricket and On Form. I bought another Brearley book, Spirit of Cricket, today and am not disappointed by the pairs of names its index contains:

Archer, Jofra
Aristides the Just

Bedi, Bishan
Beethoven, Ludwig van

Gaskell, Elizabeth
Gatting, Mike

Jardine, Douglas
Jesus Christ

McCullum, Brendon
Machiavelli, Niccolò

Muralitharan, Muttiah
Murdoch, Iris

Titmus, Fred

Wittgenstein, Ludwig
Woakes, Chris

Friday, October 13, 2023

A signed copy of Bryan Magee's Men of Ideas with a Market Harborough connection

I've blogged before about my discovery that the broadcaster Bryan Magee, who died in 2019, was evacuated to Market Harborough as a boy and lived literally around the corner from where I did as a teenager.

His television series Men of Ideas, in which he interviewed leading contemporary philosophers about the discipline's greatest figures, was broadcast while I was having my interviews for a university place to read philosophy, so it was wonderful preparation.

In his Growing Up in a War, Magee describes his time in Harborough. For most of it he lived in Logan Street (yes, it's named after this blog's hero J.W. Logan MP) with the Toombs family - like Norman Bowler, he was one of those children who were happier in their new home than back in London.

And his special friends was the Toombs's daughter Kath. Which probably explains this signed copy of the book of the Men of Ideas series that I got from a Market Harborough charity shop some years ago.

It wasn't my discovery. Someone I used to work with at Golden Wonder was volunteering in the shop and put it (and a couple of other signed Magee books) aside for me. And I'm very pleased I own it.

Later. Since I wrote this I've remembered my mother talking about a woman called Kath, whom she knew at least to say hello to. I think it's the same Kath.

Conservative peer: There are no safe Tory seats in rural Britain

Shropshire Liberal Democrats have turned themselves into a mighty vote-winning machine. And there's not just Helen Morgan's victory in North Shropshire to prove it: look at the succession of council by-elections they have won.

The most recent of these was in the Worfield division, just to the east of Bridgnorth. And it's the subject of an article on Conservative Home by the hereditary peer Gavin Hamilton - Lord Hamilton of Dalzell - who is the president of Ludlow Conservatives:

The recent Worfield by-election in Shropshire serves as a sobering wake-up call for Conservative councils and formerly safe Shire seats. This division, previously a Conservative stronghold returning 75 per cent and 77 per cent of the votes for the Conservatives in the previous two elections, was lost to the Liberal Democrats by eight votes, a swing of 30 per cent against the party. This was despite a well-run campaign with an excellent candidate, no scandals with the previous councillor, and few issues with Shropshire Council. 

To avoid catastrophic defeats in future Council and General Elections, it is crucial to understand the malaise affecting the party and its supporters  - and the dearth of Conservative principles at national level which caused this unexpected result. The omens for the future of the Conservative Party are depressing.

I'm not sure the victory was so unexpected to Shropshire Lib Dems, but I take this to be a coded attack on the Tories' lurch to the right and preference for fighting culture wars rather than tackling the many real problems the country faces.

Do read the whole article, if only to be cheered by its conclusion:

The outcome of the Worfield by-election carries significant implications for the Conservative Party. It was one of the safest divisions in South Shropshire (formerly Ludlow). Losing there, with such a strong swing against and no impediments to the campaign goes further than the lessons from North Shropshire that there are no safe seats for the Conservatives in rural Britain.