Thursday, April 18, 2024

Malcolm Saville and Asa Briggs were neighbours in Winchelsea

I've just got back from three days in Hastings. While I was there I made the pilgrimage to Winchelsea and Malcolm Saville's house there.

I went to look for the blue ceramic plaque that the Malcolm Saville Society installed there. I think I was at the ceremony back in the Nineties, but it still took me a while to find the right house.

And the house next door now has a plaque too. It's in honour of the historian Asa Briggs, who lived there.

Were Saville and Briggs neighbours for a time? It seems they were.

This was where Malcolm Saville lived for some years before his death in 1982 - his office was on the second floor.

And the particulars for Brigg's house on an estate agent's site say that he lived there until 1981. 

The Joy of Six 1222

"What they got was a journalist with access to the upper reaches of the Government, with a determination to get on air and tell everyone the whispers that she had heard from ministers, advisors and officials – before Sky or ITN. What the BBC needed was someone who could take a step back, away from the scrum, and tell audiences when they were being lied to." Laura Kuenssberg has been a catastrophic failure as the BBC's political editor, argues Patrick Howse.

Jonn Elledge asks if the Tories are deliberately posting terrible social media: "It's worth noting, though, that the most damning comment I heard from anyone while reporting this piece came from a Tory strategist: 'The conspiracy theory I’ve always liked the most is the one that presumes that behind something inexplicably dumb there must be some grand plan or deep rooted super secret scheme designed in these smokey backrooms of government. It’s terrifically flattering,' they explained. 'My god, I wish it were true. I mean, have you met us? We really are just this shit.'"

Andrew Kersley meets the parents of truant children hit by the single justice procedure: "Imagine receiving a letter through the post, informing you that you’re about to be prosecuted for a crime you did not commit. Your defence and plea of not guilty won’t be considered. Instead, you will be found guilty in a private ruling, with only a single judge present in the room. There’s no prosecution, no defendant, no press, and no witnesses. And after all that, you will be left with a criminal record that could cost you your job."

"In Thinking to Some Purpose, Stebbing took on the task of showing the relevance of logic to ordinary life, and she did so with a sense of urgency, well aware of the gathering storm clouds over Europe." Peter West on the neglected British philosopher Susan Stebbing.

Jessica Kiang celebrates Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation, which was released 50 years ago.

"The poet W.H. Auden (1907-1973), an undergraduate at Christ Church in the mid 1920s, would bring visitors here to show them what he considered to be the embodiment of 'The Waste Land' described in TS Eliot's poem of the same name, of which he was a great admirer." Local History in South Oxford takes us to St Ebbe's Gasworks.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Oxford to Market Harborough by water in 1950

Another transport video that I've posted before and is overdue a repeat.

This colour film shows a journey from Oxford to the National Festival and Rally of Boats held at Market Harborough held at 1950. 

Enjoy footage of the old railway swing bridge over the canal at Oxford and then the canal through city, with the campanile of St Barnabas easily recognisable. 

Then it is on to some some broad locks that must be on the Grand Union somewhere near Braunston. This part of the film is then repeated, but no one will mind, I am sure.

After that it is on to Watford locks, Foxton locks and the canal basin here in Market Harborough.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Forget abandoned railways: this is an abandoned Sheffield road

Another outing with Trekking Exploration - find out how to support this channel.

Dominic Guard on The Go-Between

Another video that is worth another posting.

The Go-Between was filmed in 1971 by Joseph Losey. In this video, Dominic Guard, who played Leo, talks about the experience of making the film.

It's required listening for anyone who admires the film or the novel. And, as Guard grew up to be a child psychotherapist, it has things to say about the issues they raise.

Monday, April 15, 2024

The last days of Melton Mowbray North

I posted this video on Liberal England a decade ago: it's so good I should repost it every six months.

Melton Mowbray North was the town's station on the Great Northern and London and North Western Joint line. From it you could catch a direct train to Market Harborough and on to Northampton. 

The Joint line carried lots of freight, notably iron ore destined for the steel plants of South Wales.

Regular passenger services were withdrawn 1953 - I once quoted John Baldock MP mourning them in the Commons - though summer specials from Leicester Belgrave Road to the East Coast resorts survived until 1962.

This film, YouTube says, features Mr Lilley, the last signalman, and his grandson Nigel. It was shot by Nigel's father, and he must have done so shortly before goods facilities were withdrawn in 1964.

There's a wonderful picture on Flickr of the decaying station taken in 1966.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

The Joy of Six 1221

Matthew Pennell still says no to ID cards (and so do I): "I’ve always noticed that those who advocate for ID cards are exclusively white British males living in Britain who in pretty much every respect are in the cultural mainstream, nothing would mark them out as being part of any social group on the fringe of society. Such people would not feel threatened being approached by a police officer or would never have to talk to other arms of the state, such as a housing officer, to avail themselves of certain public services." 

Many of us have the mistaken idea that previous experience of poverty makes it easier for someone to take further hard knocks, argues Nathan Cheek.

Remember Amazon's 'just walk out' grocery stores? As James Bridle explains, they were not what they seemed: "An employee who worked on the technology said that actual humans - albeit distant and invisible ones, based in India - reviewed about 70 per cent of sales made in the 'cashier-less' shops as of mid-2022."

Charlie Clinton on the campaign to defend small music venues.

Anne Billson presents six films from the 1980s that should be better known: "Mike Hodges’s offbeat gothic thriller isn’t so much a film that has fallen into obscurity as a a film that never got a decent shot in the first place." 

"The Trip stands in Brewhouse Yard which was part of Nottingham Castle until the 17th century when the present building and caves were created. The earliest reference to its use as a pub, called the Pilgrim, comes from 1751. By 1799 the name had been changed to the Trip. The earliest mention of the Trip as the oldest pub in England comes from around 1910 when the landlord drummed up trade with new signage." James Wright goes in search on the oldest pub in England - it's clearly not the one shown here.

Ruby Turner, Steve Winwood and the Jools Holland Big Band: Something's Wrong With My Baby

This is from a hootenanny long ago.

The Ronnie Scott's site tells us about Ruby Turner:

Ruby Turner began a successful run as a solo artist in the late 1980s, landing a chart-topping hit with "It's Gonna Be Alright," and releasing numerous respected albums and singles over the coming years that traversed soul, gospel, and pop. She became a frequent collaborator with Jools Holland and performed with an array of high-profile stars from Mick Jagger to Steve Winwood.

Her debut album, Woman Hold Up Half the Sky (1986), was a critical and commercial success, and she went on to release another 13 albums over the course of the next three decades, including 1989's Paradise, which peaked at number 39 on the Billboard R&B chart. She also charted eight singles throughout the '80s and '90s, the most successful of which was "I'd Rather Go Blind," which made it to number 27 in England in 1987.

On 4 June 2012 Ruby performed 'You Are So Beautiful' with Jools Holland at the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Concert outside Buckingham Palace in London. In autumn 2012 Ruby was a guest judge on BBC 'The Choir: Sing While You Work with choirmaster Gareth Malone' and in 2013 Ruby was a guest judge on BBC 'Songs of praise gospel choirs competition.  In June 2016 Ruby was awarded an MBE.

Ruby Turner was born in Montego Bay, Jamaica, and in 1967, at the age of nine, moved with her family to Handsworth in Birmingham. She has also enjoyed a substantial acting career.

Steve Winwood may be familiar to regular readers of this blog.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

A day at the cricket: Leicestershire vs Sussex

On Friday I went to see the first day of Leicestershire vs Sussexc in Division 2 of cricket's County Championship.

I had planned it as a sort of existential protest against starting the cricket Championship so early to make room for The Hundred in midsummer. I expected to be wrapped in woollens and sipping a thermos of Bovril. As it turned out, the forecast was for a dry and sunny day.

The weather didn't quite live up to that - the morning was lovely, but it clouded over after lunch and eventually the floodlights came on - yet I've been much colder at cricket matches later in the year than this.

And I met my old council colleague Mark Cox on the gate. It turned out that, just as it was when I was 13, it you're not a member you have to walk down a dismal alley and pay at the other end of the ground.

I don't begrudge county members their privileges: they may be the only people who resist the England and Wales Cricket Board's plans to get rid of half the first-class counties, Leicestershire and Sussex included.

Leicestershire won the toss and batted, with their opener Rishi Patel making a stylish 87. After he was caught behind for 87 early in the afternoon, they found scoring much harder. Sussex did well to keep up their intensity, because the pitch didn't appear to be doing very much. The ended with the game evenly poised: Leicestershire were 326/8, with the stubborn Liam Trevaskis not out on 82.

I went to the cricket here twice in 1973. I saw the a day each of Leicestershire vs Derbyshire and Leicestershire vs Middlesex.

To be honest I don't remember the Derbyshire game at all, beyond speculating with the friend I went with about whether Fred Trueman, who had turned out in the Sunday league for Derbyshire, might be playing, He wasn't.

I must have seen the second day of the Middlesex game because I remember seeing Mike Smith - M.J. Smith- score a century before lunch. It was also one of John Emburey's first games for the county. Despite Smith's feat, Leicestershire went on to win the match comfortably. 

In 1973 Leicestershire were as strong as any county, and their attack was dominated by spin. In the Derbyshire game they fielded two England off spinners - Ray Illingworth and Jack Birkenshaw - and two left-arm spinners - John Steele and Chris Balderstone.

Sussex used only one spinner: Jack Carson from County Armagh.

Robb Heady: History's unluckiest hijacker

Embed from Getty Images

When it comes to American mysteries, second only to 'who shot JFK?'* comes "Did D.B. Cooper get away with it?"

In November 1971, during the 'golden age of hijacking', D.B. Cooper** hijacked an internal US flight and demanded $300,000 and two parachutes. He got them, leapt from the plane at altitude and was never seen again.

Nine years later, some of the money he had been given was found buried in the banks of the Columbia River in Washington State.  This may suggest that the rest of the money and Cooper's body lie somewhere nearby, but there are good reasons why the mystery refuses to die.

The first is the Cooper demeanour throughout the hijack. He remained perfectly cool and in command, suggesting to many that he had a background in special forces. For them, even the knowledge that it was possible to jump from the rear steps of a Boeing 727 in flight suggests he had been involved in operations in Vietnam.

The second is that Cooper inspired a dozen copycat hijackings, and the perpetrator of everyone survived the parachute jump.

One of the copycats was Robb Heady:

On June 2, 1972, Robb Heady, a 22-year-old former Army paratrooper and Vietnam War veteran, hijacked United Airlines Flight 239 from Reno to San Francisco. Carrying his own parachute and using a .357 revolver, he demanded $200,000 in ransom money. Because the hijacking occurred at night while banks were closed, FBI agents were forced to secure the ransom money from two local casinos in Reno. 

Once he had received the ransom, Heady directed the pilots on a very specific flight path. However, the pilot intentionally altered the flight path by half a degree, causing Heady to miss his drop zone. Heady was captured the next morning. 

The money bag containing Heady's ransom was jerked from his grasp when he pulled the ripcord and was recovered by FBI agents two days later. In September 1972 Heady pled guilty to aircraft piracy and was sentenced to serve 30 years in federal prison

What that Wikipedia account omits is how Heady was recaptured. The FBI worked out from the flight path he had demanded where he had intended to land and searched the area. There they found a car parked in a remote area that was of particular interest to them, so they kept it under observation.

Sure enough, a man eventually arrived at the car, retrieved the keys from beneath a nearby rock and let himself in. The man was Robb Heady.

And what had drawn the interest of the FBI to the car? A 'Member of the U.S. Parachute Association' bumper sticker.

Which makes him history's unluckiest - or most careless - hijacker.

* If, like me, you wonder why more has not been made of Lee Harvey's time in the USSR and visit to Cuba, read the guest post by Jack White.

** The hijacker actually gave his name as Dan Cooper, but for some reason this faulty newspaper transcription stuck.

Friday, April 12, 2024

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Fish and chips by Walmgate Bar

More biting satire: I find it hard to see Ed Davey holding on to the leadership after this. It's a good thing this entry marks the end of this visit to Bonkers Hall.

How strange it is that Lord Bonkers should have discovered my student haunts in York! When I went back some years ago, I found that Jimmy's Fish Bar had become Jenny's Fish & Chips. I don't know if the business is in the same family, but in my day Jimmy was a small Italian and Mrs Jimmy was a large Yorkshirewoman. We speculated that she had captured him at Anzio.

Also new was the security on the pubs' doors. When I knew them, they all had fierce landladies who everyone was a little scared of and there was no trouble.


What a pleasure it was to be in York for our Spring Conference! Though I devoured the debates and speeches, I will admit that I made the time to visit the pubs of Fossgate and enjoy some fish and chips by Walmgate Bar. 

And a good thing I did. While I was sampling said delicacy among the daffodils, Freddie and Fiona turned up with an orange bulldozer and then set about painting a stretch of the city’s celebrated walls bright blue. 

“What are you two up to now?” I called across. “It’s a stunt for after Ed’s speech. Liberal Democrats knocking down the Blue Wall. The media will love it.” “Well the Lord Mayor and the good people of York won’t. Wash that paint off at once and then take the bulldozer back to where you hired it.” 

I cannot resist adding: “Perhaps Ed should have thought about this first?”

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

Earlier this week...

Flooded farms in England refused compensation as ‘too far’ from river

By some distance, the Guardian wins our Headline of the Day Award.

Well done everybody in showbiz North London.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

The Joy of Six 1220

"People who are gender non-conforming experience stigmatisation, marginalisation, and harassment in every society. They are vulnerable, particularly during childhood and adolescence. The best way to support them, however, is not with advocacy and activism based on substandard evidence. The Cass review is an opportunity to pause, recalibrate, and place evidence informed care at the heart of gender medicine." Kamran Abbasi has written a British Medical Journal editorial on the Cass review.

Charlotte Tobitt reports that newspaper editors have come together in a bid to improve Labour MP Wayne David's Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation Bill, which has reached its committee stage.

"There’s no doubt that many academics are feeling very pressured, highly anxious, and deeply insecure about their profession and its prospects. For some, suffering perhaps worse than others, a feeling of desperation, of being cornered, is setting in. Why is this happening, and what can we do about it?" Glen O'Hara on the crisis of morale among academic staff in our universities.

Jennifer Gerlach advises us not to try to resolve a conflict by texting.

Taylor Dorrell argues that it was his encounters with Britain’s labour movement that inspired Paul Robeson's socialist and anti-imperialist politics: "The American, who was treated as a second-class citizen by many of his countrymen back home, came to be summoned for a Royal Command Performance at Buckingham Palace and was befriended by Members of Parliament. It was also in London that Robeson befriended anti-colonial leaders, such as Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya and Jawaharlal Nehru of India."

"The collected letters also hold human qualities that field notes and published books do not. They reveal humor and uncertainty and, notably, a willingness to discuss ideas with people of many walks of life." Faye Saulsbury hails the transcription and publication of more than 15,000 items of Charles Darwin's personal correspondence.

Harold Wilson's estate owes Roy Wood a fortune

It was the first record to be played on Radio One and reached number 2 in the UK singles charts, but the Move's single Flowers in the Rain didn't earn its writer Roy Wood a penny.

Because, in one of the stunts for which he was famous, the band's manager Tony Secunda issued a postcard promoting the song that showed a naked Harold Wilson, the prime minister of the day, in bed with his political secretary Marcia Williams.

Wilson sued, won his case and the High Court ordered that all royalties from the song be donated to a charity of Wilson's choice. They are still being donated today to a range of good causes chosen by the Harold Wilson Charitable Trust.

While yesterday's revelation of Wilson's affair involved another lady and took place some years after the Flowers in the Rain affair - stay with me - it still paints his character in a different light to that which must have been deployed in the High Court.

I'm not calling for the good causes to repay the money, but shouldn't the meagre royalties on Wilson's books be made over to Roy Wood until he has received his due from Flowers in the Rain?

With thanks to Stuart Whomsley on Twitter.

Reform UK sorry for not knowing York candidate had died

Of course BBC News wins our Headline of the Day Award, but the judges drew this paragraph in the report to my attention:

The spokesperson said: "The simple fact is that we have removed upwards of 50 candidates for complete inactivity and I know those who had been removed for disciplinary measures."

This suggests that Reform UK are not going to able to fight much of a ground war come the general election.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: There were extra buns for tea

Our prime minister always seems to come off second best when encountering children and games. His visit to the Bonkers' Home for Well-Behaved Orphans was no exception.

I suspect the little inmates' facility at cards owes something to Beachcomber's Narkover.


Did you see that picture of the prime minister shaking hands on a bet with the detestable Piers Morgan? Hardly statesmanlike behaviour, was it? You’d never have caught Mr Gladstone having a Yankee on the Berlin Conference on Africa, the Anglo Egyptian War, the Naval Estimates and the Panjdeh incident, would you? 

In truth, though, I have long been aware of a certain innocence in Sunak when it comes to gambling. When he was a newly elected MP, I invited him to visit my Home for Well-Behaved Orphans, and then made the mistake of leaving him alone with the young inmates. By the time I rescued him he had lost all his spare change at three-card brag and was about to surrender his shirt. Of course, I had to pretend to be furious, but there were extra buns for tea.

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

Earlier this week...

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Hear Asquith promote the People's Budget of 1909

I don't think I've heard Asquith's voice before. This is him speaking on the People's Budget of 1909: presumably this recording was intended for distribution as a gramophone record.

It is remarkably clear, and we even catch what sounds like a "Will this do?" at the end.

Football fan accused of role in post-match brawl at station was 'visiting Santa's Grotto'

Embed from Getty Images

The Shropshire Star wins our Headline of the Day Award.

At the insistence of the judges, allow me to point out that the case continues.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Mountains of unsold Stilton

There are those who claim that Lord Bonkers has built up large stocks of Stilton to enable him to withstand a strike by the miners, but I'm sure that's not true. Lord B. does indeed like his Stilton gamey, but that is a taste that export markets have yet to acquire.


You may have noticed – if you’ve had the window wound down you can hardly have failed to – the mountains of unsold Stilton beside the Great North Road in the Far East of Rutland. 

They have accumulated because Liz Truss failed to negotiate a trade deal with Canada that would allow exports to continue after Brexit; their size is a testament to how much the brave Mounties and lusty lumberjacks once enjoyed their Stilton sandwiches. We have tried promoting them as a venue for winter sports with, if I am honest, limited success. 

I can say now that I had my doubts about La Truss from the start. It took me hours to convince her that, however hard she wished and however sparkly her wand, she would never be a real princess. The very next day, in a fit of pique, she strode to the Conference rostrum to demand the instant abolition of the Royal Family.

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

Earlier this week...

Tuesday, April 09, 2024

Raymond Williams: The Country and the City

Because I wanted to read again what he had to say about Richard Jefferies, I ordered a secondhand copy of Raymond Williams's book The Country and the City.

It arrived the other day with no index and an introduction by Tristram Hunt. We live in barbarous times.

Williams's treatment of Jefferies is as good as I remembered and still the best I have come across. I have also rediscovered his exposure of the way that "traditional country values" recede further into the past the more you try to pin them down. His excoriation of great English country house is a pleasure yet to come.

A recent article on Williams in Dissent describes the book well:

The Country and the City, which appeared in 1973, brings Williams’s critical acuity to the idea and reality of farm and village life, holding in a single vision the literary traditions of pastoral and counter-pastoral, the political inheritance of country radicalism, the material history of grinding exploitation, and the inhabited feelings of love, grief, hope, and defeat of the often invisible rural poor who were his people. 

His critical eye spares nothing, yet the book is animated by charitable, patient attention. A landscape, he showed, was “not a kind of nature but a kind of man,” a way of living on and seeing a region and terrain. He invited his readers to see the great country houses, in so many minds the defining features of rural England (just think of Downton Abbey), as monuments to the labour that was stolen to build them—not gracious ornaments on the land, but “barbarous” in their “disproportion of scale” to the lives that surrounded them. 

Living on land, in place, fulfilled a deep human appetite, but the ordinary condition of that appetite was to be denied satisfaction—dispossessed by enclosure, uprooted by new technology and new markets. Adding insult to injury, there were always rural squires willing to appoint themselves the voices of country virtues, praising the candor and integrity of the village against London cheats. Their conceits, however, rested on “the brief and aching lives of the permanently cheated,” who worked their lands and never saw London unless they’d come as refugees.

Williams declined to see the tradition of rural radicalism as a true alternative. Too often it was just sentimental longing for an intact world that might never have existed, and in any case had no future. In writing of the sweet and good countryside that had been stolen, “a human instinct was separate from the society . . . turning protest into retrospect, until we die of time.” 

The more properly political radicalism of land reformers, critics of enclosure, and opponents of industrialization struck him as poignant and sincere (unlike the landlords’ moralizing) but trapped in its own paradoxes. People who had managed to live decent lives within a temporary order for a generation or two tried desperately to make it permanent, usually by picking and choosing bits of feudal order and bits of liberal freedom. 

Most rural radicalism was “an idealization, based on a temporary situation and a deep desire for stability,” and “served to cover and evade the actual and bitter contradictions of the time.” By refusing to look clearly at their past or their present, nostalgic populists kept themselves from working toward a viable future.

The video above is of a programme based on the book that Williams made in 1979, six years after its publication. And this is his own recording of it off air, which is somehow wonderful.

GUEST POST A book that explains why Britain voted for Brexit

Peter Chambers argues that Brexitland by Maria Sobolewska and Robert Ford provides a model that explains why Leave was able to win the referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union.

"All models are wrong, but some are useful" - George Box, statistician 

Brexitland describes political processes leading up to the Brexit referendum of 2016 and since. Unlike most Brexit books, it is not a journalistic narrative. It is based on data from social surveys and  analysis done by the authors, so is rigorous. 

They propose a compact model of the changes in our society that led to Brexit, and explain why our political class missed what was going on. 

The authors are clear what they omit. Economics, class, right/left and authoritarian/liberal are all held to be secondary to the factors that drove the shock. 

The two proposed drivers are: 

  • the rise of mass higher education;
  • mass immigration, leading to significant minority populations 

To many of us who are politically involved today, it is difficult to imagine Britain in 1945. Then  Britain was approximately 0 per cent minority, rather Christian and 3 per cent degree education. Most people  left school at 15 and started work right away. Degrees were for clerics, professions and the upper classes. 

The most recent census shows 20 per cent minorities (and rising), while the official Higher Education  Initial Participation Rate (HEIPR) is around 50 per cent. It was 35 per cent in 2010 and 15 per cent in the 1980s. 

The compact model in Brexitland is there are three broad viewpoints. Necessity identity liberals are the minorities who believe that majority should not discriminate against them (so 20 per cent of  voters). 

Conviction identity liberals are graduates and believe that discrimination is always wrong. They are modelled as the HEIPR fraction of the 80 per cent white voters. Other work has shown  that higher education is the best predictor of voting Remain. 

The third group is the identity conservatives, who are mostly non-graduates, older and non-metropolitan. They are ethnocentric - this is a belief that there is an in-group (us) and an out-group (them) - though this is not always about ethnic origin. 

Member of this group tend to disengage from mainstream politics. Their drive is to protect the in-group from perceived threats from the out-group. When scarcity looms, the in-group has first call on resources, with the out-group being served later. Inequality is seen as legitimate. 

The identity conservatives have been targeted by right-wing populists in the UK, as the AfD has done in Germany. There is value in persistent engagement with many ordinary  people, as our community politics work showed back when we used to practise that. It may be  worth reinvesting in participatory democracy. 

As time passes, the fraction of graduates in society tends to the 50 per cent that Tony Blair wanted and a service-based economy needs. This means that a modelled end-state is 20 per cent necessity identity  liberals, 40 per cent conviction identity liberals and 40 per cent identity conservatives. 

The tipping point between a majority of identity conservatives and identity liberals was reached in the 2010s. During that decade voting patterns were indeed a "50-50 deal": someone feels under siege. 

The linkage between ethnocentrism and the EU is partly an artefact of culture around the Conservative Party, and partly of the failure of attempts to reduce headline immigration rates because of Freedom of Movement. Indeed, unrestricted immigration from the "Accession 8" states  during the New Labour era caused the issue to become salient for a time. This was unintended. 

Once all this was in place, there was a narrow window when identity conservatives could be activated for a one-time campaign against Freedom of Movement and the European Union. 

Peter Chambers is a Lib Dem member from Hampshire.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The noted woman crime novelist Dame Agatha Mousetrap

I once asked the old boy about Agatha Mousetrap. His verdict: "An ingenious woman. She often wrote novels without a butler in them, so it was simply impossible to know who the murderer was."


An advantage of owning a large Estate is that one has the odd cottage tucked away in a remote spot where someone can lie low if they have need – I once put up the noted woman crime novelist Dame Agatha Mousetrap while Fleet Street’s finest were looking for her, and Violent Bonham-Carter made use of the same cottage on more than one occasion. 

Would you believe that when the time came to leave, Violent’s boys wiped down every surface in the cottage? No wonder Violent was popular with my domestic staff! 

In the Sixties, there seemed an endless supply of pop groups wishing to ‘get it together in the country’ and I was happy to accommodate them too. Listening to their efforts, I sometimes thought privately that they would have done better to keep it apart.

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

Earlier this week...

Monday, April 08, 2024

Leader of Leicester City Council Conservative group rejoins Labour only 18 months after leaving

From the Leicester Mercury:

The leader of the Conservative opposition on Leicester City Council has returned to Labour. Councillor Deepak Bajaj became the Tories' second sitting member when he defected from the Labour Group in September 2022.

At the time, he called out the Labour-run council saying it “continuously blocks support from reaching those who need it within our city". The authority needs leadership that "upholds the highest standards of democracy and honesty, and unfortunately the current administration is not that," he added.

Now, a little more than 18 months later, he has announced his return to the fold. He accused the Conservative Party both in Leicester and nationally of being “more interested in their own psychodrama” and “leaving local people to face the cost of their chaos”.

Of course, he could have been speaking the truth both 18 months and today.

Exaggerated concern about the over rate will be the death of cricket

Imagine you were in the crowd on the last afternoon of weather-ruined county game. England's best young batsman has just reached his hundred.

What would you like to happen next?
  1. Harry Brook goes on batting until the umpires call play off;
  2. Yorkshire declare and hurry though a few meaningless overs to get their over rate up.
I think we'd all vote for 1., but 2. is what happened. And it happened because the game's authorities have convinced themselves that what spectators really care about is the over rate.

When I was a boy, the moral panic in English cricket was about the bowling of no balls. Just as with slow over rates, most of the solutions proposed would have done more harm to the game than the original problem,

And they would have harmed it in much the same way: by discouraging fast bowling and encouraging medium pace trundling.

What spectators there were at Headingley today will remember seeing a Brook century. They won't remember what the over rate was.

Lib Dems were targeted too, but not a single one of us took a photo of his penis and sent it to a random stranger

It seems that people attending last autumn's Liberal Democrat Conference were targeted by a fake Grindr profile asking for political gossip.

I'm happy to report that the Lib Dems involved saw through this trick and, in particular, that not a single one of us took a photograph of his penis and sent it to a random stranger.

If only Conservative MPs could say the same.

The story is in the Express:

Attendees of the conference have revealed to the Express they were messaged by an account on the app, posing as a man in his late 20s who asked at least six activists for political intelligence about MPs.

Unlike Mr Wragg, however, many saw through the advances of the account, with one sleuth-like LibDem member discovering that while the conference was taking place on the south coast, the account was in fact sending messages from North London.

At least six conference attendees received messages from the account, which began by asking “flirty questions” before requesting “salacious gossip” about the conference, MPs and Lords.

One such question was “What’s the worst thing you’ve heard an MP has done”.

Other messages included requests for intimate photos of MPs, and claims he wanted to have sex with MPs and well-known individuals in politics including journalists.

One member has now revealed that “at least five gay men” received messages from the same account on September 23 last year, with some of those individuals receiving fourth messages up to three months later.

The account was later deleted, however screenshots from two recipients seen by this paper confirm the account sending the messages was the same.

Unlike Mr Wragg, who engaged with the advances of a mysterious individual, the young LibDem members quickly worked out that the account was unlikely to be a journalist without breaching media rules, and was more likely to be a honeytrap or malicious individual.

While concerns about the approaches were shared between members and some journalists at the time, no further action or reports to the official party machinery were made.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The Cricklewood Crinkles and the Wolverhampton Wotsits

I'm no great fan of the way the cricket season is currently organised either. Out of fairness, however, I should say that I'm planning to a trip to Grace Road on Friday, to thwart the England and Wales Cricket Board's desire to destroy the County Championship in general and Leicestershire in particular, and the forecast is for a lovely warm day.

I can't see Lord Bonkers writing 'inuit', but I feel sure he would disagree with Homer Simpson's contention that "Vampires are make-believe, just like elves, gremlins and Eskimos".


A bitingly cold day at Uppingham as Rutland begins its campaign In the County Championship. These days, fixtures in domestic cricket’s premier competition are played in early spring and late autumn so that The Hundred can be contested in high summer. Who could forget last year’s final between the Cricklewood Crinkles and the Wolverhampton Wotsits? (Me for one.) 

Adapting to this schedule, we have this year recruited two slow-medium Eskimos to bolster our attack, and today they skittle Westmorland before lunch. This could be our year.

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

Earlier this week...

Sunday, April 07, 2024

More photographs of what Desborough lost when it demolished its own high street

This slideshow gives a clear sense of what Desborough lost when the town's urban district council 'redeveloped' - i.e. demolished without replacement - its high street in 1970.

It also shows us some of the Desborough's lost factories. quarry railways and water tower. There's even a shot of the Midland Pullman at the railway station.

The Joy of Six 1219

Andy Boddington, a Lib Dem councillor in Ludlow, explains why he won't be signing a petition on Gaza organised by a Shropshire resident: "How can you be a peace campaigner when you accuse people who won’t sign as having extreme views without knowing their views or reasons for not signing. Mr Robbins should withdraw his reckless attempt to name and shame councillors and to put them in danger. He should work towards peace in the Middle East not towards creating conflict in Shropshire."

"When I explained my situation to my manager, they said I had just two weeks off on full pay. After that, I’d get what is known as statutory sick pay from my employer, paid at just £109.40 a week. I could hardly believe it." After experiencing the financial blow that being diagnosed with cancer also brings, Danny Berry has joined the Safe Sick Pay campaign.

"The point is - there were no pro-slavery societies. People who wanted to carry on benefiting from slavery for as long as possible counseled delay and inaction - that was the only realistic course. It would not have been tenable for Dundas or any other public figure to argue in favour of slavery. In that sense, there are analogies with climate change." Jackie Kemp looks at the different ways the story of slavery is represented by Edinburgh's monuments."

Historic England considers Cornwall's under-researched queer literary history.

"Eight new villages were planned for the Forest, Kielder itself would be the largest - 'new village communities of estate workers, adequately and compactly housed, and enjoying a high standard of local amenities'." Municipal Dreams on a postwar experiment in rural housing.

Stephen Wagg likes Kenneth More far more as an actor than I do, but I still enjoyed his discussion of the sudden decline of More's career: "More ... received an offer from David Lean to play the lead in an adaptation of Richard Mason’s interracial romance novel, The Wind Cannot Read. He says he turned it down, unsure if the public would accept him in a 'Rupert Brooke-style' part; More later called this decision his biggest professional mistake."

Lord Bonkers' Diary: “Ed doesn’t approve of thinking"

Question the Liberal Democrats' targeting strategy or the leadership's reluctance to mention Brexit outside party conferences and you risk being accused of wanting to "turn the party into a think tank". 

I'm with Lord Bonkers on the importance of thought and never tire of retailing his judgements on Russell and Wittgenstein. Whether his readers feel the same, I don't know.

He's right about T.H. Green too.


There I was the other day at Vincent Square – that’s our party’s London headquarters and not an unkind nickname for the former Member for Twickenham – entertaining the younger members of staff with recollections from my long career in politics. 

Conversation had turned to the great philosophers of the 20th century and I was giving my impressions of them – Bertrand Russell: “Terribly Clever”; Ludwig Wittgenstein: “Terribly Clever but Rather Hard Work” – when Freddie and Fiona hurried in. “Can you change the subject please?” one asked: “Ed doesn’t approve of thinking,” the other explained. 

I wasn’t going to upbraid them in front of everyone, but what immortal rind! That pair have been in and out of think tanks ever since I first met them. At one stage they had one each. Besides, if we’re going to get ourselves out of this jam, then we’re going to have to think jolly hard. No one told L.T. Hobhouse not to think, did they? 

I draw the line at T.H. Green though: one paragraph of his and I’m out like a light. I much prefer his brother T.H. White.

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

Earlier this week...

Teach-In: In the Summernight

The 1975 Eurovision Song Contest was not a classic. I remember the British entry, Let Me Be the One by the Shadows, as a tired song by a tired band, and the title of the winning effort from the Netherlands, Ding-a-dong, tells you all you need know about it.

Yet I have always remembered a different song by the winning band Teach-In. In the Summernight had already been a hit for them in a few countries, and the fact that I heard it at all suggests it was released or re-released in the UK later in 1975. If so, the song failed to trouble the singles chart.

It's Europop with a touch of the Caribbean, but in those days that still meant steel drums rather than a reggae rhythm.

Saturday, April 06, 2024

Lib Dems reveal Environment Agency chief's free hospitality from water industry

From the Shropshire Star:
The chairman of the environment watchdog met with water company lobbyists for a near-£100 dinner days before proposals for a major bill hike were reported.

Environment Agency chief Alan Lovell accepted a £96 dinner from Water UK, the industry body representing Britain’s water firms.

The dinner, which took place on June 20 last year, came a week before reports suggesting water companies were pushing for a 40% rise in bills to improve the UK’s water infrastructure.

The regulator and water firms were accused of having a “chummy relationship”, by the Liberal Democrats, who revealed the hospitality and gifts received by Mr Lovell in a freedom of information request.
The paper goes on to quote our environment spokesperson Tim Farron:
"This will rightly stink to the public. Government officials shouldn’t be accepting a penny from a disgraced industry which pollutes our rivers whilst hiking bills."
I see what he did there.

The Lib Dems also revealed that Lovell accepted a £200 dinner and hotel stay from Yorkshire Water, as well as a £60 dinner from Severn Trent Water.

William Wragg gives advice on how to deal with blackmailers

Nothing here about panicking and then passing on the contact details of friends and colleagues to God knows who.

h/t Haggis_UK, who tweeted a version of this earlier today.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The former headquarters of the Association of Liberal Councillors

The start of a new week finds Rutland's most celebrated fictional peer in sunny mood. Perhaps it's from meeting the lovely Hazel Grove again?

Incidentally, having studied the local geography, I have moved the Spring of Immortal Life from a hillside above the Birchcliffe Centre to one below it.


Home from a tour of our best prospects in the coming general election – insiders think it most likely to be on a Thursday, incidentally – I allow myself a lie in before tackling the eggs and b. 

My closest companion for the past fortnight has been the new edition (which is considerably fatter than the last) of Wainwright’s West Country Marginals, but I have visited many other parts of the country. In Stockport I came across my old friend Hazel Grove; she does not look a day older than when she was in Parliament 14 years ago. 

From there I headed to Hebden Bridge for my yearly bathe in the Spring of Immortal Life that issues from the hillside below the former headquarters of the Association of Liberal Councillors. The Elves of Rockingham Forest and their elixir are all very well, but one likes to make doubly sure. 

After breakfast I pore over Wainwright, my own notes and the latest Timeform bulletin and come to the conclusion that we Liberal Democrats can look forward to an enjoyable evening whenever the election is called

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

Friday, April 05, 2024

The alternative London HS2 terminus sites that were rejected

Jago Hazzard looks at the many HS2 stations in London that might have been but weren't.

You can support his videos via his Patreon page.

Looking back at Simon Titley's writings for Liberator

The new issue of Liberator was posted on the magazine website this morning. You can download it free of charge from there - it's Liberator 422.

As well as Lord Bonkers' Diary, which I'll start posting here tomorrow, it includes an article by me on Simon Titley and his writings. The photo here was taken during our lunch in Melton Mowbray.

Does a decade make a difference?

Simon Titley was fond of claiming that he joined the Liberator editorial collective in the 1980s because it was the only way of ensuring that his articles were pasted down in the correct order. Whatever the truth of that, his individual take on politics soon became central to the magazine. He was well informed about machinations inside the Liberal Party and then the Liberal Democrats, interested in new thinking from well beyond those parties and aware of the continuing importance of social class in British politics, when a more common view among his fellow Liberals and Lib Dems was that, yes, class existed, but it was rather bad manners to mention it.

Now that, incredibly, it is approaching ten years since Simon’s death, this seems a good time to look back at some of his contributions to the magazine. You can find a collection of them on the magazine’s website and I’ll give the issue number of those I mention so you can read more for yourself.

Let’s start with a characteristic article. In Liberator 351 Simon looked at Liberals’ fondness for the words ‘liberty’ and ‘freedom’ and asked what they mean to us in concrete terms. He begins by quoting Ralf Dahrendorf’s account of being held in solitary confinement by the Nazi regime as a teenager and how he had found himself feeling “a visceral desire not to be hemmed in, neither by the personal power of men, nor by the anonymous power of organisations”.

It is that feeling, Simon goes on to say, that Liberal Democrat talk of ‘freedom’ consistently fails to convey:

It is because the Liberal Democrats have such difficulty talking about freedom in meaningful terms that I have been regularly referring to the concept of ‘agency’ in my writing. By ‘agency’, I mean the capacity of individuals to make meaningful choices about their lives and to influence the world around them. I define freedom in these terms because it is better to think of freedom as a practical ability than as a theoretical abstraction. Unfortunately, ‘agency’ is jargon in some professional circles but I shall stick with it because it encapsulates the meaning I seek better than any other word I can think of.

Defining freedom in these terms forces us to realise the extent to which the maldistribution of power is at the root of most of our political ills. It also forces us to realise the relationship between exercising freedom and wellbeing. We can then incorporate freedom as an integral part of our policies across the board, rather than tack it on as an afterthought or omit it altogether.

An insistence on agency also counteracts the classical liberal argument that market forces are the only legitimate means by which people may exercise power.

This emphasis on the importance of the lived experience of abstract ideas can also be found in an article about social class that Simon contributed to Liberator 345. In this case the experience was his own:

Rarely have I encountered worse snobbery than within the Liberal Democrats. The symptoms are wearily familiar; the snide put-downs, the supercilious smirks, the casual discounting of one’s skills or arguments. The low point came when a ‘fellow’ party member once addressed me as “your sort”.

My own experience is more benign. If I transgress the unwritten rules in something I write online, then I’m generally told a particular comment “is unworthy of me”, with the implication that I pass muster the rest of the time. I’ll admit the speed with which public school and Oxbridge ranks close is impressive, but it tells us much about why British society is the way it is.

Sometimes Simon chose less ostensibly political subjects. Here he is in Liberator 331 on the tyranny of ‘cool’, and in particular the British middle-class take on the concept, which gives us:

A world where it is no longer permissible to have hobbies or intellectual pursuits. A world where enthusiasm or erudition earns contempt. A world where, if you commit any of these social sins, you will immediately be slapped down with one of these stock sneers: ‘sad’, ‘trainspotter’, ‘anorak’, ‘anal’ or ‘get a life’.

The phenomenon of ‘cool’ has been examined thoroughly in a pioneering book, Cool Rules: Anatomy of an Attitude by Dick Pountain and David Robins. Cool is essentially about narcissism and ironic detachment. Its modern origins can be traced to American black culture of the 1940s, when young black men adopted a defiant posture as a means of defence. It was then picked up by rebellious white icons of the 50s such as James Dean. During the 60s, ‘cool’ began to be exploited by advertisers as a means of selling consumer goods and in the 70s it moved from the counter-culture into the mainstream. But while ‘cool’ people today affect an air of rebellion, in reality they are conforming to commercially-driven norms.

Because he moved back to Lincoln a couple of years before he died, I was able to meet Simon three times in the East Midlands before he fell ill. Our last meeting was at a very Titleyesque event – the Melton Mowbray Food Festival – and it will be no surprise to anyone who knew him that one of his last articles for this magazine (Liberator 354) was concerned with the decline of the dinner party, suggesting that a turn taken by some television cookery programmes might be in part to blame:

The BBC’s Masterchef (“cooking doesn’t get any tougher than this”) promotes the mistaken idea that, for any dinner party host, nothing less than Michelin-starred restaurant standards will do. It makes people feel ashamed to offer a homespun casserole, even though that is much more practical for a domestic dinner party than Masterchefs labour-intensive, chefy food. Another disincentive is provided by Channel 4’s ‘Come Dine With Me’, which creates the impression that the average dinner party consists of incompetent cooking shared with a bunch of arseholes.

If you want to see Simon’s approach to politics summed up in a single piece of writing, then I recommend ‘Really Facing the Future’ (Liberator 349), which he wrote with another of the party’s original thinkers, David Boyle. It was written in response to ‘Facing the Future’, a paper from the Liberal Democrats that had failed to live up to its title. David and Simon described their article as:

an attempt to encourage Liberal Democrat policy makers to think more radically – partly because the challenges that lie ahead require more radical thinking and partly as an antidote to the idea that party policy is at its most effective when it tentatively suggests a few tiny changes that don’t threaten the status quo. 

Liberal Democrats believe the opposite is true. The justification for the party’s existence is to think radically, to force the political establishment to recognise the real world, and to put radical change into effect. If the party does not do that, it will find that people lose interest and the supply of committed activists begins to dry up.

The Simon Titley articles I enjoyed most were the ones that revealed the machinations of those on the right of the Liberal Democrats who saw political success much as Jeffrey Archer’s novels see success in business. To them, it was the result, not of new thinking and hard work, but of a clever trick, a new alliance or a bit of clever positioning. As many of these people work in public relations, as Simon did himself, he knew whereof he wrote.

So his review of Mark Oaten’s forgotten memoir Screwing Up gives us a pretty brutal portrait of the author:

Oaten … appears to have no fundamental political values but merely jumps from one bandwagon to another. In the 1980s, he joined the SDP but can justify his choice only in terms of it not being Labour or Conservative. In the 1990s, he was an ├╝berchampion of the Blairite ‘Project’ but can justify this only in terms of admiring Paddy Ashdown’s leadership. In the 2000s, he became defender of the classical liberal flame when he founded Liberal Future and the Peel Group, but can justify this only in terms of opposing the ‘nanny state’ (having presumably taken the opposite view in the SDP). In a Guardian interview on 8 January 2005, he admitted “I only really got a philosophical belief about three years ago” (i.e. nearly five years after being elected as a Liberal Democrat MP).

But Simon also discusses the book’s strange failure to mention Paul Marshall or Gavin Grant, who were important backers of Oaten’s varied projects. He also reminds us of the name of the Guardian journalist who penned a succession of articles which questioned the competence of various Liberal Democrat MPs while praising Oaten as a ‘rising star’. Who can have briefed her?

Simon also contributed a telling account in Liberator 339 of the reaction of some to the outbreak of Cleggmania that followed the first leaders’ debate in the 2010 general election campaign:

As Lib Dem opinion poll ratings soared, one cheerleader for the right-wing cabal running the campaign wrote on Facebook: “So... 26-34% in the polls, almost all the boost down to media skills and leadership not leaflets and target seats... I’ve got to ask... anyone missing Rennard...?” The complete collapse of the ‘surge’ to 23% on polling day, just 1% more than the party won in 2005, suggests there was no basis for such conceit.

To end, let’s go back to 2001 and the very first article by Simon on the magazine’s website (issue 277). Not for the last time, we find him asking why Liberals are so fond of apologising for being Liberal:

Liberals are often pilloried as timid and petty-minded. We sit on the fence and wring our hands. When we rebel, it is through self-indulgent individualism (for example, calling ourselves ‘Jedi Knights’ on the census forms) rather than confronting what matters. 

We have only ourselves to blame for acquiring this reputation. Why are Liberals so embarrassed? Why do we lack the courage of our convictions? One of the main reasons is our faith that everyone is reasonable like us. All we have to do is sit round the table and eventually we can reach agreement. If only that were so. In fact there will always be many people, probably a majority, who are not Liberals, who will never be Liberals, and whom we must confront. Beyond that, however, are groups so violent in their hostility that to tolerate their behaviour is to invite our own demise.

The contempt for Jedi Knights is an authentic Titley touch, but beyond that, I don’t know whether to be depressed or lost in admiration that his words are needed just as much today as they were all those years ago.

Aldbourne: John Barleycorn was there before Mr Magister

Last time we were in Aldbourne we saw Jon Pertwee get the better of The Master, or Mr Magister as he was known in this Wiltshire village.

But before the Doctor was in Aldbourne, another BBC camera crew had been there. Click on the still above to watch Desmond Hawkins's meditation on changing attitudes to the countryside and whether village life can still exist in 20th century.

Early on there is much talk of the downs and the ancient bones buried on them. This put me in mind of "the man in the hill" in Richard Jefferies's Wood Magic:

"There never was a yesterday," whispered the wind presently, "and there will never be a tomorrow. It is all one long today. When the man in the hill was you were too, and he still is now you are here."

Jefferies duly gets a namecheck, but the film soon moves on to look at social change in the village. New houses, newcomers, changing farming methods and a groovy Sixties chick.

We see the Aldbourne Carnival, and the parish council meets in the hall where I once gave the Richard Jefferies Society's Birthday Lecture.

But the eeriness has not quite done with us. The film ends with an old boy singing John Barleycorn Must Die.

Thursday, April 04, 2024

Turning Over the Pebbles: Another Mike Brearley index

They don't just have the Hallaton Helmet in Harborough Museum. Among many other things, there's a nice little exhibition about Ladybird Books and the world of work.

And in the library I found a copy of Turning Over the Pebbles, Mike Brearley's latest book, which I need to read for a thing.

A Mike Brearley book, of course, means another post here about its index. Because Brearley's habit of discussing his careers as a philosophy lecturer and psychoanalyst alongside his cricket career leads to some striking juxtapositions in the index.

There's less cricket in Turning Over the Pebbles than in previous books, but its index still still has its moments...

  • Bede, Venerable
    Bedser, Eric

  • counter-transference
    Cowdrey, Colin

  • Fletcher, Keith
    free association

  • Hendrick, Mike

  • Hume, David
    Hutton, Len

  • Locke, John
    Long, Arnold

  • pleasing others
    Pocock. Pat

  • Ramsey, Frank
    Randall, Derek

  • Snow, C.P.
    Snow, John

  • Trueman, Fred
    Trump, Donald

Wellingborough man pleads guilty to theft of £4.8m golden toilet from palace

Embed from Getty Images

It didn't take the judges long to decide this one.

The Northampton Chronicle & Echo walks away with our Headline of the Day Award. And the photo above is of that very toilet.

The Joy of Six 1218

"He is the large container ship threatening to ram into the foundation of European security established after the Second World War - the NATO alliance. Trump was reportedly only narrowly dissuaded from pulling out of NATO during his first term in office." Alexandra Hall Hall says Baltimore’s Francis Scott Bridge is a perfect metaphor for the crisis Europe may face if Trump is re-elected.

Daniel Goyal exposes the agenda behind the rise of physician associates in the NHS.

 Annina van Neel on her fight to honour the Africans buried on St Helena: "Between 1840 and 1872, more than 25,000 enslaved Africans were brought on to St Helena from slaving voyages intercepted by the British Navy. About one-third died shortly after and were buried on the island in unmarked graves."

If we want children to spend less time online then we must make space for them in the real world, argues Gaby Hinsliff: "As a society we nag kids to get off their phones into the real world, but won’t make room for them here; we put adult convenience first, and are then surprised when children don’t flourish. The tech giants could and should do vastly more to create a healthy environment for children. But in that, they’re very much not alone."

For two and a half years, cinematic treasure hunters have made repeated trips to Brazil in search of the fabled lost, longer cut of Orson Welles's The Magnificent Ambersons, reports Ray Kelly.

The Hex Blog looks at the career of Ferenc Puskas. "In 1952, Puskas captained his country to Olympic gold in Helsinki and Gusztav Sebes’ side arrived at the 1954 FIFA World Cup undefeated in four years. Their most resounding victory came on 25 November 1953 at the 'home of football', the historic Wembley Stadium, where England had never lost to a team from outside of the British Isles. Hungary emerged emphatic 6-3 victors in a contest that would go down in history."