Sunday, October 22, 2017

Six of the Best 736

Chairman Meow
Chris Dillow explains why a new centre party would likely fail: "Political parties are powerful brands that have been built up over decades. This loyalty doesn’t only attract millions of voters. It means that members stick with the party through thick and thin, even if they profoundly disagree with their policies and leaders."

Good news. Cicero's Songs is back with a post on Estonia.

Nicole Vassell on the experience of the few Black students who do make it to Oxford or Cambridge.

The Pledge of Allegiance in American schools was promoted by a man who made a fortune selling pricey flags to schoolchildren, reports Andrew Belonksy.

"There’s books and biographies. Friends of friends of someone who knew them and they’re the ‘experts’ that write about John’s life. After John died, stories about our family became wild and he’s no longer around to do anything. I thought I’ve got to do something." Kelly Maile talks to Julia Baird, John Lennon's sister.

The Pub Curmudgeon tours the pubs of Leicester and even meets Chairman Meow.

The shorter Sajid Javid

We don't encourage reliance on experts, particularly foreign experts, in this school. We will now sing the national anthem and if I catch any boy not singing loud enough he will be beaten.

Jon Boden: All the Stars are Coming Out Tonight

M Magazine interviewed Jon Boden last week:
‘The future of folk is hanging in the balance, and is in danger of turning into just another branch of the performing arts… passively consumed by the audience rather than being a participatory social art form,’ warns Jon Boden, ex-frontman, composer and arranger with Bellowhead. 
As a leading light in the British folk scene, over the years he’s added to our nation’s canon while also exhuming forgotten works for contemporary audiences. 
It’s an endeavour that has seen him pick up many plaudits along the way, not least from the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, which has bestowed him with 12 statues for his efforts.
Since Bellowhead’s official split last year, Jon’s been working on the follow-up to his 2009 solo album Songs From the Floodplain,  with the stunning results landing on 6 October. 
Called Afterglow, it’s a concept album – and part of a trilogy inspired by post-apocalyptic literature and a post-oil future.
Post-apocalyptic and post-oil were very much in the air in the late 1970s. You can find them, for instance, in Jethro Tull's 1979 LP Stormwatch - the third and least remembered of their folk-rock trilogy.

All the Stars are Coming Out Tonight is my Sunday music video. It comes from Boden's new album Afterglow.

I have chosen it, not only because it sounds good, but also because Boden told M Magazine:
Literary inspirations were many and various! After London by Richard Jefferies is a touchstone...

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Railway Mania Bar at the Royal Station Hotel, York

One of my watering holes when I was a student at York was the Railway Mania Bar at the Royal Station Hotel (now called The Principal York for some reason).

After a day out on the railways, we would retire there to drink keg Old Peculier. I have never found it being served anywhere else.

Years later I stayed at the hotel in the course of my day job. I found that the bar, which was in the basement and reached by external stairs, had long since been converted into a gym.

Put it down to privatisation: the Royal York Hotel was run by the publicly owned British Transport Hotels until 1983. It was a different world, kids.

But the Railway Mania Bar is not quite forgotten. A short segment of Anthony Burton's 1980 television series was filmed there.

It's a wonder I am not to be seen in the background.

Stephen Reicher on the psychology of authoritarian populism

This an audio recording of Professor Stephen Reicher's lecture on the psychology of authoritarian populism that I attended last month.

As I blogged when I got home that evening:
Professor Reicher's argument that if we are to understand the appeal of Donald Trump (and of other authoritarian populists) we have to get away from the idea that the people who voted for him are merely wicked or stupid.
It is worth taking the time to listen to it. His arguments are obviously relevant to winning the debate on Brexit.

Matthew Engel on the existential crisis of cricket (and me on the President of the MCC's buttocks)

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Matthew Engel has a magnificent polemic on the state of cricket in today's Guardian:
This is not the game that enraptured me when I was six years old. Nor the game I have written about happily for much of my adult life. 
I don’t care about the St Lucia Zouks. And I won’t care about whatever names the 12-year‑olds in marketing invent for the new made-up teams when the existing English Twenty20 is engulfed by yet another new competition in the years ahead. 
This wretched idea was sold to the county chairmen by bribery – an annual £1.3m sweetener per county – with a tacit undercurrent of threat.
My only interest – in common with many other cricket lovers – is the hope that the damnable thing is a total flop and that we can somehow save the game I once adored, and still love more than the people who have seized control of it.
Do read the whole thing.

You can argue that Twenty20 has led to batsmen being more aggressive and even inventing new shots. And leg spin has returned - if only because every bowler gets caned now.

But there have been greater losses. Few batsmen now seem equipped technically or mentally to play a substantial defensive innings. And I have heard Graeme Swann say that a spinner who has grown up keeping things tight in limited overs cricket has no idea how to take wickets if he is thrown the ball in the fourth innings of a first class match.

At the heart of cricket's crisis - and Peter Tinniswood's Brigadier did once accuse Engel of fomenting revolution in concert with Vic Marks - is money.

As I wrote in my Liberal Democrat News column as long ago as 2004:
People think the cricket authorities are stuffy, but really they are the most shamelessly commercial administrators of all. There are now logos on the players' clothing and painted on the field of play. For the right price you could probably get your company's slogan tattooed on the President of the MCC's buttocks.
Engel asks:
When did you last see a group of children (public schools and Asian community partially excepted) playing cricket without an adult?
For me, I think it was in the summer of 2005 as England finally won back the Ashes and the authorities decided to sell the rights to screen future tests to Sky.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Lauren and Giles Cheatle

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The things you discover when you Google obscure county cricketers from the 1970s:
In many ways, Lauren Cheatle’s life is like that of a typical Australian teenager: school, study, exams, friendships. 
Except Cheatle’s life during the six months since she burst onto the international cricket scene in late January has been anything but typical. 
The 17-year-old has logged plenty of frequent flyer points since that first Twenty20 at the MCG in late January, with the left-arm quick travelling to New Zealand and India with the Commonwealth Bank Southern Stars and attending a training camp with the Sydney Thunder in Dubai.
Lauren Cheatle is the daughter of the former Sussex and Surrey left-arm spinner Giles Cheatle.

Norman Baker's new electric bus - and a Reform Club song

The former Liberal Democrat MP and transport minister Norman Baker, you may recall, is now the managing director of Brighton's Big Lemon bus company.

The city's newspaper The Argus caught up with the firm last month:
The Optare Solo EV has spent the last month on trial with Brighton-based bus company Big Lemon. 
Big Lemon MD Norman Baker has praised the new electric bus. 
He said: “Our mission is to enable everyone to get around their community in an affordable, enjoyable and environmentally-sustainable way and it would seem the Solo EV has delivered just that. 
“We have been extremely impressed with the Solo EV and all our drivers have loved driving it. 
“The feedback from passengers has been extremely positive with many commenting how quiet, comfortable and smooth the Solo EV is.”
Time for a song from Norman Baker and his band The Reform Club. I wonder who this song is about?

Leicester City legend Gary Lineker WILL wear pants after nude ad row

The Leicester Mercury wins our Headline of the Award.

My paparazzo photograph shows an uncharacteristically fully clothed Gary Lineker at Leicester station.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Crosskeys Bridge at Sutton Bridge, Lincolnshire

I have had an affection for the Crosskeys Bridge at Sutton Bridge in Lincolnshire ever since we won the Ashes there in 2009.

This is a good video of it in operation with an equally  good backing track - Human by Rag'n'Bone Man.

Six of the Best 735

Arron Banks, the self-styled ‘bad boy’ who bankrolled the Leave campaign appears to have exaggerated his wealth. So, ask Alastair Sloan and Iain Campbell, how did he pay for his Brexit spree?

David Boyle on the way monopolies no longer seem to concern us: "I'm not sure why the forces of Liberalism worldwide should have abandoned their most important economic doctrine."

"I have been speaking and writing about misogyny in Tower Hamlets for a long time – now feels like the right time to put something more comprehensive on the record," says Rachael Saunders.

"I really wish it was clearer that I am just one among many of the ‘unseen’ and smart people, who get these programmes onscreen." Mary Beard reminds us who really makes a television documentary.

Tristin Hopper on Up Against It, the film script Joe Orton wrote for the Beatles. Commissioned at the band’s height, it featured the Fab Four assassinating a female PM, sparking a brutal civil war and engaging in group sex.

Clare Wadd searches South London for a scene painted by Camille Pissarro 146 years ago.

Jonathan Meades after dinner

The Times Literary Supplement has published a speech Jonathan Meades gave in the summer to the annual dinner of the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

A couple of morsels:
The last time I attended this dinner, thirteen years ago, the speaker was the late Robert Hughes. In contrast to Casson he was supremely indifferent to whether or not he was liked. Hughes evidently considered that a writer who is not causing offence is a writer who is not doing his or her job. The volume of disconsolate muttering that Hughes provoked in this room might be taken as a sign that he was doing his job.
Satire is not to be confused with parody, which is a mere lark. Satire is didactic. It’s a sharp jolt. It’s often cruel. It’s meant to hurt. As Swift said, it is intended to vex rather than divert. It is, if you like, secular blasphemy.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Vince Cable: Government must tackle personal debt crisis

The Liberal Democrat leader has written an article for the Independent calling on Theresa May to act on the level of personal debt in Britain.

He writes:
Weak growth and falling real wages mean living standards are only being maintained through personal borrowing, growing by 10 per cent a year. 
Recent Bank of England figures show unsecured debt (credit card spending and personal loans) growing at four times the rate of mortgage debt, while the household savings rate is at a historic low. 
Hence the recent news that total unsecured debt has surpassed £200bn, the amount it climbed to just before the financial crisis a decade ago. 
High levels of personal debt increase the vulnerability of financial institutions to economic shocks, as the Governor of the Bank of England has warned, and when interest rates rise again, many individuals will struggle to cope. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

St Pancras in the 1960s

Some precious footage of this great London station.

Though passengers for the East Midlands are no longer its first concern, the restoration of St Pancras seems like a miracle to those of us who knew it 20, 30 or 40 years ago.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Vince Cable says the government has left pubs in the lurch

The Sun quoted Vince Cable's condemnation of the government's failure to provide the business rate relief it has promised them the other day.

The Liberal Democrat leader was commenting on the party's own research showing that 4500 pubs across England have been left out of pocket and lacking any funding from the government since the revaluation of rates.

Vince said:
"Thousands of pubs faced with crippling tax hikes are being left in the lurch by this government. 
"This rushed scheme has been plagued with problems from the start. Local councils have had to deal with software glitches, a lack of clear guidance from ministers and little time to prepare. 
"Pubs form the bedrock of local communities across the country, but many now worry they will have to close their doors. 
"Instead of this temporary sticking plaster, we need to properly protect pubs by capping business rate rises at 12.5 per cent."
Many voters who supported Brexit did so because they had a sense that British culture was somehow under threat.

One of the most valuable institutions of that culture is the pub, yet this Brexit government appears perfectly happy to allow it to perish.

Which suggests that Brexit will not provide its supporters with what they wanted from it.

The railways want you to travel to London and nowhere else

Melton Mowbray station - a long way from Cambridge
On Saturday I had an enjoyable day in Cambridge with some old Liberator friends.

But if anyone doubts that the railway network in England is dominated by the needs of London, they should try making a journey from West to East like this.

Market Harborough and Cambridge are 48 miles apart. To get there from there you first have to travel north to Leicester and then take a train to Cambridge.

Because that train takes a circuitous route via Peterborough and the connection at Leicester is not very good, the journey takes two hours and 40 minutes. That is an average speed of 18 mph.

After an hour you are at Melton Mowbray station and further from Cambridge than when you started.

In fact it would be as quick to reach Cambridge via St Pancras and King's Cross, though you would travel more than twice the distance.

There used to be better cross-country alternatives, but none survived Doctor Beeching.

There was a line from Rugby to Peterborough via Market Harborough, but that was closed because it did not go through any other places of any size.

There was a branch from Kettering that reached Cambridge via Thrapston, Huntingdon and St Ives. You can see trains on the final stretch between St Ives and Cambridge elsewhere on this blog. Today the trackbed is occupied by a guided busway.

And there was a line from Bedford to Cambridge, which may one day be reopened as part of the East West Rail project.

My conclusion: if you have to travel across country in England, take a good book with you.

Scenes from Brexit Britain 1

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It's 2023 and members of the Grayling Youth are growing vegetables to save the need for expensive imports.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Railway poster for a forgotten county

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Reviewing Engel's England, I concluded:
Local boundaries have been rubbed out or redrawn in a way that would be simply unthinkable in the more federal United States. My jigsaw, for instance, can be dated to between 1965, when Huntingdonshire absorbed the Soke of Peterborough, and 1974, when it was itself absorbed into Cambridgeshire. 
Some counties have resisted their erasure from history, notably Yorkshire (the largest) and Rutland (the smallest). Elsewhere Berkshire is fading from memory and no one seems to have heard of Huntingdonshire at all. 
Soon it will be as lost as the Cotswold county of Winchcombeshire from the 10th and 11th centuries.

Trivial Fact of the Day with Winston Churchill

One of the great tweets from James there.

Sir Peter Tapsell (who is still with us) was Conservative MP for Nottingham West between 1959 and 1964, and for Horncastle (1966-83), East Lindsey (1983-97) and Louth and Horncastle (1997-2015). He was Father of the House between 2010 and 2015.

William Wither Beach was also a Conservative. He sat for North Hampshire between 1857 and 1885, and for Andover between 1885 and 1901.

He too was Father of the House, dying while holding that title when he was run over by a cab.

Six of the Best 734

Will Dyer was the Liberal Democrat candidate for Bethnal Green and Bow at this year's general election.

One of the last interviews the philosopher Richard Rorty gave was to Robert Harrison for the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Talking of philosophy, Peter Worley believes it should be at the centre of education: "So, what is a suitably philosophical spirit and how can it be taught? I would suggest that it is not merely responding to a problem or question but doing so reflectively and using reason to progress."

"Everybody now spoke as though at last, after decades of shock therapy, debilitating or addicting drug treatment and a stigma that psychoanalysis had done little to dispel, the late twentieth century had simply discovered a cure for depression." Brian Dillon remembers the central place Prozac briefly held in our culture.

"We Are the Martians is everything we hoped it would be and possibly even more." Folk Horror Revival reviews a tribute to Nigel Kneale.

Rob Baker on Ted Lewis, his Brit Noir novel Jack’s Return Home and the film Get Carter.

Robert Wyatt: Heaps of Sheeps

Robert Wyatt is a sort of Gandalf of the music scene, but I find a little of his voice goes a long way.

I prefer, for instance, Elvis Costello's version of Shipbuilding to Wyatt's, though I'm not sure the cool kids would agree with me.

This track I do like though. It comes from Robert Wyatt's 1997 album Shleep, It is a collaboration with Brian Eno.

Trivial note. Robert Wyatt is the half brother of the actor Julian Glover, Their mother Honor Wyatt, a friend on the novelist Barbara Pym, adapted several of Malcolm Saville's children's books for BBC radio.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Friday, October 13, 2017

Six of the Best 733

"Being female in a culture that sexually objectifies the female body has effects. Girls and women are socialised into internalising the outside view of their bodies." Clinical psychologist Jay Watts on what men like Harvey Weinstein do to all women.

Eduardo Porter explains why big cities are thriving and smaller ones are being left behind: "Opportunity in the information era has clustered in dense urban enclaves where high-tech businesses can tap into rich pools of skilled and creative people."

Flo Clucas explains why we need more statues of women.

"If more women walked alone, then we wouldn’t be alone. Let’s regender our community spaces by doing something shocking: taking a walk." Romany Reagan likes walking alone in cemeteries.

"A load of OAPs came to the first recording thing thinking it was a circus, and they saw sketches with a dead body in a binbag and undertakers and God knows what, the atmosphere was amazing!" We Are Cult talks to Barry Cryer about being Monty Python's warm-up act and much else.

Matt Brown visits the various candidates for the source of the Thames.

Philip Hammond should remember who his real enemy is

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It may have been a slip of the tongue or it may have been an attempt to placate the headbangers who now dictate Conservative policy.

Either way, calling European negotiators "the enemy" has made the claim that Hammond is the sole grown up in a cabinet of muppets and vegetables less convincing.

And he should remember who his real enemy is.

One of my favourite pieces of political wisdom goes something like this:
A keen new Conservative MP was sitting in the house, staring intently at the Labour benches. 
"What're you doin', young Tompkins?" asked an old buffer, sitting down next to him. 
"Staring at the enemy, sir." 
"No, that's the opposition. The enemy is on this side."