Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Fresh light on the siege of Weston-under-Redcastle

Many thanks to a reader for sending me the image below and alerting me to this video.

I blogged about the siege of Weston of Weston-under-Redcastle a few years ago and attracted some interesting comments from people with family connections to the events of 1968 in the Shropshire village.

The newsreel commentary here makes it sound more serious than the article I quoted in that first post as it tells us the gunman had his wife and four children with him for the 17 days of the siege.

We used to think that not rushing into such situations with guns blazing was the British way of doing things and thus superior.

In 1975 the authorities spent a week persuading a Provisional IRA gang holed up in a London flat to give themselves up and release their hostages.

Then in 1980 the BBC interrupted the snooker to show us the SAS storming the Iranian embassy and the modern world was born.

Why Enid Blyton is responsible for Brexit

When someone tried to blame Ladybird Books for the rise of Daniel Hannan, I waded in to defend them. Because Ladybird were probably the most progressive publishers of children's book of their era.

I ended that post with:
There are other children's books you can blame for the Brexit cast of mind - see my own exposé of Enid Blyton's proto fascism on the Guardian website - but Ladybird Books are innocent (in more than one sense of the word).
But Ella Risbridger had already pinned the blame for Brexit in an article for Prospect:
The Famous Five rarely face any kind of consequences. For anything. The Famous Five do what they want. The Famous Five go where they like. Footpath signs are nothing to them. They just turn up; sometimes pay the farmer a courtesy visit to inform him they’ll be building fires and trampling his heather into beds; ask the farmer’s wife (always the wife!) for a bag of buns and a bottle of ginger beer; and on they go. Sometimes they pay for the buns. More often the farmer’s wife is so happy to see such cheerfully-entitled little prodigies that she hands the buns over free of charge. 
In exchange, the Five will chase any other trespassers off the farmer’s land, or out of the mysterious mines, or wherever they happen to be. “Trespassers”? I mean: “gypsies,” “tinkers,” swarthy-looking strangers, people who work for the circus, people with non-RP accents, people who don’t speak English, foreigners in general. That sort of thing. 
We can go anywhere, you see, but we’ve got to keep the foreigners out. The political parallel is so glaringly obvious, when you look at it, that you can’t stop looking at it.
And she concludes:
White, middle-class English people in their fifties grew up on Blyton’s portrayal of a world built exclusively for them, and grew into a world far more diverse, difficult, and interesting. You see where the disconnect comes from: a sense of unfulfilled entitlement, subsequent resentment, and dangerously flawed leaps in logic. If the diverse world lacks this kind of childhood, then the diverse world is to blame; if we made the world less diverse, we would be enabling that kind of childhood.
I grew up on the books of Malcolm Saville, who offered a more benign, one-nation Tory version of that world.

He did not, for instance, share Enid Blyton's racist take on gypsies. As I once blogged:
It is not just that the Gypsies Reuben and Miranda are good characters in the early Lone Pine stories: it is that you can tell other characters worth by their attitudes towards them. Good characters like the Gypsies, but the baddies hate them.
So thanks a bunch, Enid.

Lib Dem peers swear the most

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Something from the i newspaper to make us all proud:
Lib Dems are the most foul-mouthed peers in the House of Lords on Twitter, according to new research revealed exclusively to i. 
Six of the top 10 “sweary peers” are Lib Dems, with Baroness Sarah Ludford leading the pack with 51 profanities in 2017. 
It’s a pretty admirable feat given that peers only managed to score 287 swears between them across the whole year.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Cutting access to Latin affects social mobility

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Sad news from the Yorkshire Post:
A North Yorkshire school where Latin has been on the curriculum for more than 600 years is to stop teaching the classical language for the first time in its history due to funding restrictions. 
Latin will be notably absent when Richmond School – which was founded as Richmond Grammar School in the 14th century – announces its new GCSE programme on Tuesday.
Sad,, because as I once wrote:
It happens that I went to a comprehensive in Hertfordshire where everyone did Latin in the second year (or Year 8, as I think the young people say these days). It had recently ceased being a grammar school - and a very traditional grammar school at that, because we were still wearing school caps in the early 1970s - but it was a comprehensive ... 
And I am grateful that I did study Latin there, because when I got the chance to take Latin O level up here in Leicestershire a few I jumped at it. And studying it taught me the grammar I was not learning in English and awakened an interest in the Classical world, two factors that led to my studying Philosophy at university.
English grammar is taught formally these days, but I suspect there is something in the words of the school's former lead teacher for Latin and classics, as quoted by the Post:
"Cutting access to Latin affects social mobility. It is very hard to get access to Latin and the classics anywhere outside of London and the south east of England. That has a knock-on effect on access to university degrees, especially at the leading universities."

Northamptonshire woman launches new wedding venue where guests can have pictures taken with llamas

Our Headline of the Day Award goes to the Northampton Chronicle & Echo.

Sorry about the illustration. It was the best I could do.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Six of the Best 762

Rob Marchant says the Labour Party needs to talk about Momentum and antisemitism: "Moderates everywhere should be concerned, not least because they are now at the start of a long process of being gradually squeezed out, constituency by constituency."

In America the far right is using cyberharassment against academics. Joshua Cuevas will tell you all about it.

"Within six years Salford had 200 play streets. The pilot was so successful that they were passed into English law and 700 were created across England and Wales by the 1950s. But by the 1980s they were all but forgotten."  Neal Keeling rediscovers the play streets of Salford.

Andy Boddington, in an extraordinary post, writes about his stroke and stay in hospital.

"When I was growing up in a little terraced house in Leicester, there would be beamed into our living room telly a glimpse of an impossible glamorous world filled with fast cars, frightening gangsters and one unimaginably stylish and exotic central character – Jason King." Sean O'Grady pays tribute to Peter Wyngarde.

Simon Brackenborough explores the music and troubled life of Malcolm Arnold.

Middlesbrough fan arrested for allegedly urinating in QPR keeper's water bottle

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ESPN wins our coveted Headline of the Day Award.

Doop: Doop

Back in the 1990s there was an ITV rival to Top of the Pops in the shape of The Chart Show.

It was screened on Saturday mornings and - for better or worse - I associate it with this record, which reached number one in the UK in 1994..

Doop were a Dutch techno group and I remember an interview at the time where they said the record grew out of their noticing how close mellow house music was getting to 1920s dance music.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Quiraing, Skye

Taken on a holiday in 1999.

Wikipedia explains:
The Quiraing (in Gaelic: A' Chuith-Raing) is a landslip on the eastern face of Meall na Suiramach, the northernmost summit of the Trotternish on the Isle of Skye, Scotland. 
The whole of the Trotternish Ridge escarpment was formed by a great series of landslips; the Quiraing is the only part of the slip still moving - the road at its base, near Flodigarry, requires repairs each year.

The bass player Jim Rodford has died

Jim Rodford, a founder member of Argent, a member of The Kinks for many years and a member of The Zombies in recent years, has died.

Rod Argent writes on The Zombies facebook page:
It is with deep sadness that I learned this morning that my dear cousin and lifelong friend, Jim Rodford, died this morning after a fall on the stairs. More details are not yet known about the exact cause of death. 
Jim was not only a magnificent bass player, but also from the first inextricably bound to the story of The Zombies. An enormous enabler for us. He was actually the first person ever to be asked to join the band, way back in 1961. 
Because he was in the top St.Albans band of the time (The Bluetones), he turned us down at first, but from day one helped us chart our course. He loaned us The Bluestones' state of the art gear for our very first rehearsal, arranged the rehearsal space, and even showed Hugh the first kick and snare drum pattern our original drummer ever learned. 
He was responsible for the first song I ever wrote (for The Bluetones - which they recorded); the person who organised most of our early gigs, and the very first person outside the group ever to hear - and pass judgement on - our first record, "She's Not There"(he loved it). 
Years later, he became founder member, with me, of Argent; and then, for eighteen years, throughout a hugely successful American period for them, was bass player for The Kinks. ... 
Jim was a wonderful person, loved by everybody. When Colin and I, shocked and hardly able to talk, shared the news this morning, Colin said " I've never heard anyone say a bad word about him..." 
He will be unbelievably missed. Goodnight and God Bless dear friend. - Rod x
I heard Jim Rodford play when the Zombies came to Market Harborough in 2011. He is in the centre of the rather indistinct photograph above.

Listen to Hold Your Head Up by Argent.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Jeremy Clarkson, Mitch Mitchell and Jennings

You may know the radio quiz The Unbelievable Truth, in which the panelists try to smuggle facts past their fellow contestants in the middle of an apparently comic or nonsensical talk.

It's enjoyable enough, though those taking part are generally drawn from the Radio 4 blokey comedians list. The chair, inevitably, is David Mitchell.

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The other day I spotted one of the facts: Jeremy Clarkson had taken part in radio adaptations of the Jennings books when he was a boy.

I was sure that I had featured it here as a piece of trivia, but it seems it has not.

A BBC News profile of Clarkson tells the story (and also has a photo of him with Anthony Buckeridge from this time):
Clarkson first worked for the BBC aged 12, playing the role of Atkinson in the radio adaptation of the Jennings novels, Anthony Buckeridge's tales of life at the fictional Linbury Court preparatory school. The role did not last long. 
"Why did it come to an end?" Top Gear co-host Richard Hammond once asked in an interview on LBC Radio. "He will have done something stupid, obviously." The truth was actually more prosaic. Clarkson's voice broke. Uttering schoolboy slang like "wizard" and "blinko" did not work in baritone.
The photograph above is taken from an earlier television adaptation of the books. Jennings (on the left) is played by John Mitchell.

As we have seen before, he grew up to be Mitch Mitchell of the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

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Six of the Best 761

"What do those of us who support Remain offer the Left Behind?  Remember that the highest votes for the Leave campaign came in England’s declining industrial towns, and in the county and seaside towns that have also lost out from economic and social transformation." William Wallace asks an important question.

Lucy Johnson pays tribute to her grandfather Gruff Evans (Lord Evans of Claughton).

"It is hard now to imagine any circumstances under which Trump, who reportedly hoped to ride with Queen Elizabeth II in a gold-plated carriage, could travel to London without inciting massive protests." Isobel Thompson on the American President's feud with Britain.

"Gather round and pay attention my Millennial friends while Grandad takes you on a trip into the past. Yes you’ve seen Friends and decided it’s shit, but back then Central Perk wasn’t at…. well.. the centre of the known universe – Britain was.  Even the Americans admitted it." Otto English writes in praise of the 1990s.

Andrew Hickey argues that "if we want social media to be fun again, there needs to be a concerted effort to rebuild the web, and to make it once again a collection of independent sites producing idiosyncratic, individual, pieces of writing or images that can be linked to and discussed".

The case for landscape punk is made by Gary Budden.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Watch the amazing dancing straw bear

I saw the straw bear dance and caper, led by his keeper and followed by musicians playing his own loping tune.
So I wrote on Saturday night after attending Whittlesey's straw bear festival. In this short clip from the 2015 festival you can hear the turn for yourself.

What I have not worked out is why the bear sometimes has two little bears with him and sometimes only one.

I suppose with all that dancing he must get peckish.

Will the collapse of Carillion kibosh rail improvements at Market Harborough?

The straightening of the railway through Market Harborough and the improvement of the station were in the hands of a company called Carillion. You may have heard of them.

So far they have demolished an old goods shed and got a long way with constructing a new car park so that rails can be laid across the land occupied by the current one.

How will Carillion's collapse affect the project?

The Leicester Mercury reports that a Network Rail spokeswoman was "unable" to comment on Market Harborough.

It does, however, quote a general statement on the planned Midland main line improvements that gets slightly less encouraging every time you read it:
Carillion’s work for Network Rail continues for the time being as Network Rail works with the official receiver and special manager to ensure the continuity of its project work. 
Passengers can be reassured that their services will be running as normal today as Carillion’s work for Network Rail does not involve the day-to-day running of the railway. 
Our aim is to ensure, as far as possible, that this news has as little impact as possible on our projects to grow and expand the railway network.
More and more, I feel that the problem the railways face is not so much that they were privatised as the baroque structure that privatisation left them with.

If he was determined to sell off the railways, then John Major's initial instinct to recreate the Big Four railway companies that existed between 1923 and 1947, and owned both the trains and the track, was surely the right one.

Oadby and Wigston councillor resigns the Conservative whip

From Anne Bond's Facebook page:
Just to remind everyone, I resigned the Conservative Whip on Oadby and Wigston Borough Council.I shall be sitting as an Independent Councillor till May 2019. 
This saddens me as I worked over 40yrs for Harborough Conservative Association, unfortunately I had to do this as there are certain people who are part of Association who I do not trust, and I cannot live my life wondering what she will do next, or who he will listen to, its a shame they refused to do the decent thing and meet me to discuss the issues!!
Anne Bond sits for the the Oadby St Peters ward. Her resignation of the Tory whip means Oadby and Wigston Borough Councillor now has 20 Liberal Democrat members, 4 Conservatives and 2 Indpendents.

We gained what had been the only Labour seat in a by-election last September.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Mark Gatiss: "I rather like being a freak"

Mark Gatiss, says the blurb on the British Film Institute YouTube channel, talks to the Radio Times's Alison Graham about growing up with ghost stories, revamping Baker Street for a new generation and how his obsession with the grotesque is really just a love for humanity in all its wonky forms.

Six of the Best 760

Peter Wrigley asks some pointed questions on the collapse of Carillion.

"Families who have never worked a day in their lives having 4 or 5 kids and the rest of us having 1 or 2 means it's not long before we’re drowning in a vast sea of unemployed wasters that we pay to keep!" Alex Spence introduces us to Ben Bradley, the new Conservative MP for Mansfield.

Mark Little welcomes the end of news in the Facebook news feed.

Gavin Stamp, architectural historian and campaigner died at the end of 2017. Here, in an article published in July, he discusses what we can learn from the homes architects designed for themselves.

"It does seem, from the outside, as though this warped dynamic is no accident, that it is designed to be unstable and that managers are not meant to get too comfortable in the dugout." Game of the People asks if the constant instability at Chelsea is there by design.

Farran Smith Nehme pays tribute to the French actress Michèle Morgan.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Whittlesea station: Alight for the straw bear

Whittlesey does not just have the straw bear: it also has a rather desolate railway station with staggered platforms, a signal box and a level crossing. It also favours the older spelling of the town's name.

As Wikipedia says:
All the original station buildings are long demolished, and only the two platforms remain. Unlike many railway crossings, the gates are not automatic and are still opened and closed by hand by a person who sits in a small hut-like building by the crossing.
Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceYou can see the station in more prosperous days in the Peterborough Images Archive.

At least it did a good trade on Saturday.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Going North? St Pancras

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A 1910 poster for the Midland Railway by Fred Taylor.

Will the next Lib Dem leadership election be between two women?

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Tom Peck of the Independent has noticed the impact that Layla Moran, the newly elected Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, has made:
That it is Layla Moran’s name and no one else’s doing the rounds is because she is articulate, extremely intelligent, easy company, and she absolutely screams Lib Dem ... 
She is young (she’s 35), she’s a teacher, she’s got a constituency full of academics in Oxford West and Abingdon, she has a Palestinian mother and a father who was a diplomat for the EU
The article talks up Layla's credentials as a future Lib Dem leader. Given that Vince Cable's heir presumptive up to now has been Jo Swinson, this does raise the prospect that the party's next leadership election will be between two women.

That would be immensely welcome given our poor record on gender equality in the past. There were no women Lib Dem cabinet minsters in the Coalition, for instance.

Me? I voted for Jackie Ballard back in 1999.

Anyway, Tom Peck spoke to the inevitable "leading party insider", who comes to much the same conclusion:
He said the party faithful is “crying out for a woman leader” and that it would be a “straight fight” between Moran and the current deputy, Jo Swinson, though first one or the other would have to decide if they want it. 
“She is telegenic, she is articulate, she is young. She has brought fresh ideas, vigour, dedication, she is a proper campaigner. She has taken a seat that very few people thought we would win in 2017 – against a pretty good Conservative ...
“And don’t forget, roughly two thirds of Lib Dem members now are post 2016 joiners. They will have seen Layla rise, from being one of them, to being one of the most high-profile people in the party. 
“They don’t want some ex-Spad [special adviser]. Some London person. They want one of their own. That is what Layla is.”

The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band: Smell of Incense

Wonderful stuff from 1968 that turned up on BBC Radio 6 Music the other day.

"Despite the heady atmosphere," says Wikipedia, "the group insists the recording, along with their other self-penned material, was not composed under the influence of LSD."

Read more about The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, one of whom went on to produce the Osmonds.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Cambridge to Oxford by train in 1967

There are great hopes that the railway line between Cambridge and Bedford will be reopened as part of the East West Rail project.

This film shows the line in 1967. We follow a train from Cambridge to the old Bedford St Johns station. Missing out the stretch to Bletchley, which remains open to passengers, we then see a few shots of the train reaching Oxford. That stretch of the line remains open to freight.

This line was not recommended for closure by Beeching and had recently received investment in the form of a flyover across the King's Cross main line at Sandy.

After that the video shows the death throes of the Great Central - a working between the forgotten stations of Rugby Central and Nottingham Arkwright Street.

I posted some photographs of the remains of Leicester Central in 2015.

Shropshire suffers under Conservative cuts

The sacked health minister Philip Dunne was booed and heckled at a local meeting recently, for hiding behind his ministerial role as a pretext for abandoning constituents (of whom I’m one) to the ravages of NHS cuts. His callous comments on Monday, undermining the NHS beds crisis by suggesting sick patients can sit on seats in A&E, came as no surprise to me.
"Let them eat cake" was an old joke in 1789 and history has unfairly attached it to the traduced Marie Antoinette. But Philip Dunne really did say that.

The paragraph above comes from a powerful Guardian article by Tess Finch-Lees.

She goes on to write about the effect of government cuts on Shropshire:
Babies are dying avoidable deaths in this affluent county. Last year, Jeremy Hunt ordered a review of a cluster of baby deaths. At least seven babies’ deaths between September 2014 and May 2016 have already been ruled avoidable. The tragic, heartbreaking loss of little lives before they’ve even begun. The parents of some of those babies have told me they despair that cuts to maternity services means lessons are not being learned and more babies could die unnecessarily as a result.
If a pensioner has a fall on the streets of Ludlow, it is not unusual to wait more than an hour for an ambulance, whatever the weather. Then it’s another hour to A&E. Assuming you’re still alive, there may (or may not) be a chair for you to sit on. 
Worst-case scenario, you’re dead on arrival, in which case, you’ll be taken directly to the onsite mortuary which has benefited from a £1.4m investment. This should have coincided with the axing of one of the county’s A&E units ... They tried to play us off against each other: “Choose one or the other.” We united as a community, across political and geographical boundaries and replied: “Both.” If both A&Es are already drowning and unable to cope, how can removing one be safe?
On a similar theme, see my 2013 post Ludlow: Hunger in the foodie capital of England.

Watching the straw bear dance through Whittlesey

Last year I read an account of the Straw Bear Festival in Whittlesey that described the bear as seeming to draw the winter sun along behind him. I had to see that for myself.

But there was no sun today - just a damp, Fenland cold that enters the bones. I shouldn't be surprised if I have caught the ague.

Yet I am pleased I went to Whittlesey (the festival website prefers the older spelling Whittlesea), which is a small town near Peterborough.

I saw the straw bear dance and caper, led by his keeper and followed by musicians playing his own loping tune.

And it turned out that Whittlesey, like Play School, has a big bear and a little bear.

Beyond that the day is a festival of dancing. There were the inevitable morris dancers, but also clog dancers (almost military in their noise and precision) and mysterious molly dancers.

The festival is a modern revival of a Plough Monday tradition that was suppressed around the turn of the 20th century.

I am all in favour of inventing ancient traditions: the Victorians did it all the time.

Anyway, the history page on the festival site will tell you more about this. It also appears from Twitter that there was a stabbing during the event/

I got out just in time.