Friday, February 23, 2018

Six of the Best 770

Otto English takes a look at the record of the 62 Conservative MPs who signed the European Research Group letter to Theresa May.

"The frenzied desire to ‘give the Jews a good kicking’ led the room to reject local MP Tulip Siddiq’s alternative offer of a report on her parliamentary activities instead. Apparently, as we seek a full-on return to the Dark Ages, the ritual ‘humiliation of the Jews’ must come before any competing business." Philip Rosenberg on the institutional racism in his local Labour Party.

"The idea that black people only inhabit urban areas, and that the English countryside has always been white, is a myth. Yes, many black and brown people who came to the UK settled in our larger cities, but not exclusively – there are a multitude of rural histories which are yet to be heard." Louisa Adjoa Parker uncovers some of them, from slavery to African American WW2 GIs.

Barney Ronay says Britain is choking on a toxic obsession with Winter Olympic medals

"During his stint, Orwell enjoyed a spectacular fall out with the editor which saw him nearly quit... and moaned about his rates of pay (although his weekly wages of 8 guineas - the equivalent of £220 today - would be a fortune with today's tight budgets)." Yakub Qureshi discovers George Orwell's three years on the Manchester Evening News.

Tim Worthington remembers Chris Morris's Blue Jam.

A Leicester ghost sign


Clarendon Park, actually.

Former Freemason, 51, found drunk and naked inside a huge pipe organ with a toy gun and remote-controlled police car says he got lost while trying to hand out cheeseburgers to the homeless




By general acclamation among my Twitter followers, the Daily Mail wins this blog's prestigious Headline of the Day Award.

Strictly speaking, the decision was up to the judges. But, hearing the mob baying at the gates, they soon caved in.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Remembering Jabberwocky



Jabberwocky in 1977 was Terry Gilliam’s first film as a solo director.

Here, 40 years on, Terry Gilliam, Michael Palin and Annette Badland remember making it.

The live-action remake of The Sword in the Stone

Disney's live-action remake of The Sword in the Stone appears to be happening.

A while ago it was reported that Bryan Cogman, a writer on Game of Thrones, was working on the script.

Now the Hollywood Reporter says the film may have found its director. It's Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, best known for 28 Weeks Later:
Fresnadillo’s hiring points to the direction in which the remake will head. The filmmaker is known for his dark tones. 
Which sounds distinctly promising.

The Sword in the Stone was the last cartoon issued by his studio in Walt Disney's lifetime. I have seen clips from it, which seem pretty good bar the young Arthur's American accent.

But I've never sought out a copy to watch all the way through - you can read about it on Reel History.

Other reports say the remake will not be released in cinemas but via a new television service Disney is planning as a rival to Netflix.

Why Vince Cable doesn't go to PMQs any more

Vince Cable, reports Isabel Hardman, has been to only three out of the six Prime Minister's Questions held this year. He does turn up when he has a question allocated, which is now around once a month.

And she also quotes Vince's explanation for his absence:
"There’s no point sitting there like a stuffed dummy every single week just to watch a Punch and Judy show when I can be doing more important work for my constituents and on policy. If there is a Prime Minister’s statement, then I always turn up because I get to ask a question."
Vince is right.

In part this decision is a function of the Liberal Democrats' diminished strength in the Commons, but it is also a comment on the gruesome spectacle PMQs have become.

They are pretty much the House of Commons at its worst, but unless you are a political anorak PMQs are all you get to see of it.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

A hard life: The Grange, Rothley


Once I had photographed the Saxon cross at Rothley I found myself running out of energy. It was the precursor to a nasty bout of man flu I have been down with this week.

But I did photograph another building, It looked as though it had at one time been noble, suffered a hard life and was now preserved (with a touch of the mortician's art being used).

I was more or less right.

The Grange began life as a farmhouse in the 18th century and was enlarged to become a large country house at the end of the 19th.

In 1950 it became the headquarters of Barrow Rural District Council - as in Barrow upon Soar. The authority proceeded to surround it with "tasteless modern outbuildings".

It was in this condition that it was taken over in 1974 by Charnwood District Council, a new authority centred on Loughborough. They leased space on to other statutory bodies.

In 2008 The Grange was bought from the council by William Davis, who converted it into flats and built some more around it.

Rothley Parish Council has some pleasing photos of the buildings in a derelict condition awaiting restoration and redevelopment.


Six of the Best 769

"The smaller party in a future coalition must be wary of sacrificing too many of its core values for the sake of government unity." Judi Atkins draws some lessons on how to make coalition work from Britain's 2010-15 experience.

"We live in an age of increasing polarisation and fraction with bitter conflicts between opposing groups, whether this is in the case of Trump, Brexit, One Nation or other extremist or populist movements. These results remind us that we should be wary of assuming that our followers are thoughtful and caring but their followers are brainwashed and hateful — not least because from their perspective the opposite is likely to be true." A University of Queensland press release quotes the psychologist Nik Steffens on how we see members of ingroups and outgroups.

Maya Kosoff on the problems facing Twitter.

Londonist looks at the chances of York Road station on the Piccadilly line north of King's Cross being reopened.

"The view comes courtesy of Britain’s growing rubbish problem from a boom in commerce through the 60s, 70s and 80s. You’re actually standing on one of the biggest rubbish tips in Britain." Helia Phoenix takes us to a favourite Cardiff viewpoint.

Anthony Teague celebrates 'Stand by Me' and Ben E. King.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Ben Bradley MP and his expensive education

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Ben Bradley, the accident-prone Conservative MP for Mansfield, has been in the news again today.

This time it was for tweeting a thumping libel of Jeremy Corbyn and then deleting it in the face of threatened legal action.

Those Conservatives who defend Bradley generally do so by accusing his critics of snobbery.

But is he really a local, working-class boy made good?

Go to Ben Bradley's website and you will find his biography begins:
Born in 1989 in Ripley, 28 year old Ben initially went to study Sports Science at Bath University, but after deciding the course wasn't for him, trained and worked as a Landscape Gardener. 
Why no mention of the schools he attended? If you are running as the local candidate there is nothing better than being able to say you attended local schools.

Go to the Ben Bradley entry on Wikipedia and the mystery is solved. Ben Bradley attended Derby Grammar School.

Despite its name, this school was founded in 1995 and has always been a private, fee-paying establishment.

And its current fees are £12,993 a year.

No wonder Ben Bradley doesn't mention it on his website.

I imagine Bradley's Conservative defenders have assumed that because he has a Nottinghamshire accent he cannot come from a wealthy family.

It's sad that people from the affluent South East of England often know so little about the country they live in.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Restoring the Thames and Severn Canal



The Thames and Severn Canal, which was finally abandoned in 1941, ran for 28 miles from the Stroudwater Navigation in Stroud to the Thames just above Lechlade.

Efforts have been underway to restore it since the 1970s and the Inland Waterways Association explains the progress that has been made:
Cotswold Canals Trust aims to restore the Thames & Severn Canal from its junction with the Stroudwater Navigation in Stroud through to the River Thames. 
With the Stroudwater Navigation, the restored canal would re-create an alternative through route between the rivers Thames and Severn from the Kennet & Avon Canal and one that would avoid the tidal Bristol Avon, which is unsuitable for inexperienced boat owners. 
Showpiece sections of the canal have been restored, including both ends of Sapperton Tunnel at the summit, to demonstrate the advantages of restoring the whole canal.
The film above shows the restoration of Wallbridge Lower Lock in Stroud, the first on the canal. Some of the photographs included demonstrate just how much had to be done to recover the canal there.

When making tea add the milk first

These days we all make tea in mugs with teabags, when you have to put the milk in last.

But for those civilised people who still use a teapot, the answer to the age-old debate is that you should put the milk in first.

An old press release from the Royal Society of Chemistry explains the science behind this conclusion:
Milk should be added before the tea, because denaturation (degradation) of milk proteins is liable to occur if milk encounters temperatures above 75°C. If milk is poured into hot tea, individual drops separate from the bulk of the milk and come into contact with the high temperatures of the tea for enough time for significant denaturation to occur. This is much less likely to happen if hot water is added to the milk.
Why did this question use to occupy us so much?

This is England, so it's no surprise that the answer involves class and snobbery.

Fortnum & Mason explain:
Putting the milk in last was considered to be the ‘correct’ thing to do in refined social circles, but the reason for this is often forgotten. In the early days of tea-drinking, poor-quality cups were inclined to crack when hot tea was poured into them, and putting the milk in first helped to prevent this. 
When finer and stronger materials came into use, this was no longer necessary – so putting the milk in last became a way of showing that one had the finest china on one’s table. 
Evelyn Waugh once recorded a friend using the phrase ‘rather milk-in-first’ to refer to a lower-class person, and the habit became a social divider that had little to do with the taste of the tea.

An important interview with Vince Cable

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Ned Simons from Huffington Post interviewed Vince Cable on Valentine's Day - the Lib Dem leader was planning to meet his wife Rachel at a "nice romantic restaurant down by the river" later.

They had a wide ranging and enlightening conversation. Here are a few of the more important things Vince said.

On Brexit:
Cable says had Theresa May gone for a soft-Brexit, by which he means keeping the UK in the single market and customs union, a lot of pro-EU voters would have gone along with it. 
“I think a lot of Remainers would have said ‘ok fine, we would rather not leave, but this is something we can cope with and it’s not going to cause a lot of economic harm’,” he says. 
“The fact they are pursuing a much more extreme and also very uncertain outcome means that these divisions are not going to go away. They are becoming more extreme and acute. People will want to have a fresh look at this when they know what the outcome is. 
On the Lib Dems:
“There are some good things happening,” Cable says of his party’s position. “We have this record level of membership, lots of enthusiastic young people. We are the youngest of the three parties, I’ve discovered, in terms of average age. You go around the country and lots of kind of idealistic young people, full of energy who want to do things and that’s really good. 
“I think the other thing that pleasantly, I’m not going to say pleasantly surprised me, but which is good - we’ve got a very good cohesive team. It would be nice to have a lot more than 12 MPs, but they are pretty harmonious and work together. They are very good and it has made my life a lot easier.”
On the Coalition:
Cable says being a minister was “constantly battling against internal things”. 
“We worked pretty well together and we got agreement, but it was hard work. It was tough. Very tough,” he says. 
“But you know. I survived the obstacle course. Being in opposition is almost by definition easier. I came in politics to do things. I don’t regret having been in government.”
Going back to Brexit, Vince mentions having heard someone say that there is a kind of non-violent civil war going on.

There are certainly parallels with the English Civil War when you look at divides like Court vs Country, but the Brexiteers do not have a Cromwell.

Boy do they not have a Cromwell.

Sasch Funke: MZ



"All these old records. Why don't you choose something for the young people?" Lord Bonkers asked me the other day.

So here is Sascha Funke, who:
likes to play unreleased sounds in DJ sets, which lately go beyond the average definition of techno and house and also present disco, wave, electro, cosmic, Krautrock and early electronic dance music.
I do like the combination of electro and piano that you get later on here, though it takes a while to get there.

It reminds you of the old classical music joke:

Knock knock.
Who's there.
Knock knock.
Who's there.
Knock knock.
Who's there.
Knock knock.
Who's there.
Knock knock.
Who's there.
Knock knock.
Who's there.
Knock knock.
Who's there.
Knock knock.
Who's there.
Knock knock.
Who's there.
Knock knock.
Who's there.
Knock knock.
Who's there.
Knock knock.
Who's there.
Philip Glass.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Saxon cross shaft in Rothley churchyard


Rothley has a station on a steam railway, a street once found to be the most expensive in the East Midlands and a hotel that used to belong to the Knights Templar where Mike Gatting lost the England captaincy by entertaining a barmaid in his room.

But today I wanted to see the Saxon cross in its churchyard.

Here is its billing on the Rothley Parish Council page:
The cross stands on a small, grassy mound close to the path. Geological experts believe the shaft stones are made from highly quartzose, millstone grit of a kind found in Derbyshire east of the River Derwent between Bamford and Cromford. 
Closer examination by visitors will reveal the intricate carving on all four faces of the shaft which are divided into four panels on each side. The entry in the Schedule of Ancient Monuments describes the carved decoration as "mainly of interlaced plaitwork and plant scrolls including whorls of foliage with elongated leaves. One panel on the south side is believed to include a carving of a winged beast or dragon with an interlacing tail". 
The south face is severely eroded which is a great pity as its lack of clarity involves not only a loss of artistic expression but also creates difficulty in giving a close date to the style of carving. 
There has been no recent evaluation of the monument and some academic doubt remains as to whether the carvings are 9th or 10th Century in origin. An "official" date given by English Heritage is mid 9th Century thereby placing them in the Saxon pre-Viking period of history.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Tom Baker reads Sredni Vashtar by Saki



As Chris Power once wrote in the Guardian:
What a strange bird Saki is. His stories, written between 1900 and his death at the Somme in 1916, bear the hallmarks of Oscar Wilde and Henry James, are as funny as Wilde, Wodehouse and Waugh, possess plotting exquisite enough to bear significant elaboration but rarely last longer than three pages, and are brought off with a wonderfully light touch, while presenting a disturbingly chilling portrait of humankind.

Adil Rashid gives up on red-ball cricket

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This blog has followed Adil Rashid since he made his debut for Yorkshire  - overhyping young English spinners is part of what Liberal England is about.

So I was sorry to hear that he has decided to concentrate on white-ball cricket and give the County Championship and even tests a miss.

But Tim Wigmore has argued - persuasively - that he is not the first to do so and will not be the last:
If Rashid is exceptional, it is only because he was an international T20 player who had still been attempting to play Test cricket too. Of the 22 players in the last World Twenty20 final only six have played Tests since. And only three - Root, Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali - have done so since 2016. 
The shift is being driven by money, of course: the huge financial rewards available in T20, especially for players from beyond the sport’s economic big three of Australia, England and India. 
With T20 leagues now ubiquitous, there is always a tournament, somewhere, to play in without players needing to be involved in the longer formats.

Tory Wandsworth to fine children for climbing trees, flying kites and playing cricket

A Bertram Prance illustration for The Neglected Mountain by Malcolm Saville (detail)

I have remarked before - when writing about Leicestershire's hated sprout police - that Conservative councils are very keen on petty regulations. Often it is Liberal Democrat and Labour councillors who argue for freedom.

Take Wandsworth, which always used to be seen as the Thatcherites' flagship borough in London.

According to the Evening Standard:
It has always been seen as one of the most innocent of childhood pursuits, a rite-of-passage physical challenge fondly recalled in adult life. 
But now killjoy councillors in London are threatening a clampdown on tree climbing in dozens of public parks - with the threat of a £500 fine to back it up. 
Children in Wandsworth clambering up an oak or a maple without “reasonable excuse” will face the wrath of park police under a new set of rules governing behaviour in its 39 open spaces. 
Along with tree climbing, such traditional outdoor pursuits as kite flying or a knockabout game of cricket - along with other pursuits considered “annoying” to others - could fall foul of the regulations.
How to explain this?

I am reminded of the insight of The Age of Insecurity by Larry Elliott and Dan Atkinson: Thatcher set money free but left people more constrained by regulation.

Oncw again, I am driven to the conclusion that the problem with British Conservatives is that they are not Conservative enough. Climbing trees, flying kites and playing cricket is precisely what a British Conservative should want children to be doing.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Parish Church of St Nicholas, Montgomery


This view of the town's Grade I listed church was taken from Montgomery Castle.

Councils, communities and a sense of place


A paper for the Local Government Information Unit by Janet Sillett looks at the elusive but important concept of 'a sense of place'.

She writes:
A place that works could be seen as one where the people who live there have a sense of affinity with it, and one where the past, the present and the future are connected: so that its history is part of what makes it special and the people who have lived there for a long time, but where it welcomes new people and communities, and embraces change. 
People can feel a sense of place about where they live physically, but also to a wider place such as a city or to their local community or even to organisations within it. People have attachments to their home, their neighbourhood and perhaps to their city, town, village and even to their region. 
As places globally become more like each other, preserving a sense of distinctiveness can be important. 
And she goes on to argue that by cultivating such a sense local authorities can facilitate a range of planning-related outcomes:

  • encouraging economic vitality
  • enhancing wellbeing
  • fostering engagement and a sense of belonging
  • enabling physical health

The paper is a long read, but I think this is an important subject and worth the time.

Of course, the question is how you reconcile the intangible concept of 'a sense of place' with the daily grind of planning decisions.

In Leicester I feel the council has shown too little concern for sense of place away from the city centre, allowing structures that help define their area - the Bowstring Bridge in Braunstone Gate; the Empire in Newfoundpool - to be razed without a contest.

If everything in the city beyond Richard III is student accommodation and supermarkets, there will be no sense of place at all.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Two lost Cheltenham stations


This short video from 1965 shows two lost stations.

Cheltenham Spa St James and Cheltenham Malvern Road were both closed to passengers and goods the following year.

Six of the Best 768

"I will be pushing as hard as I can for reform of our large aid agencies but I will defend what they do and the work of all decent aid workers with everything I’ve got." Peter Kyle talks sense on the Oxfam scandal.

Polly MacKenzie calls for an end to despair about British politics and for positive action instead.

"Once upon a time, I was a member of the Lib Dem's federal policy committee. I used to irritate Danny Alexander and other luminaries by claiming that Liberals had made no contribution to economic debate since John Maynard Keynes had breathed his last in 1946." David Boyle did - I heard him - but now he thinks things may be changing, if not in Britain.

Nicholas Thompson and Fred Vogelstein on the two years that shook Facebook: "the company ... realises now that it bears some of the responsibilities that a publisher does: for the care of its readers, and for the care of the truth."

"On the ground, the shockwaves of the mines were felt far more than heard, there was no bang, either on the Somme or in England as was claimed much later; but 8,000 feet above the battlefield the sound waves reached a pilot who had been warned to keep clear of La Boisselle but turned his machine to observe the detonations of Lochnagar and Y Sap." Simon Jones on the battle beneath no man's land in World War I.

Cinephilia & Beyond revisits David Lynch's dark masterpiece Blue Velvet.

Norman Baker has left the bus business

We have heard the latest about Norman Baker's music career, but what of the day job?

Brighton & Hove News tells us:
Just ten months after joining the Big Lemon, former Lewes MP Norman Baker is off to pursue a range of other interests including journalism, a music album and a top secret new book. 
Mr Baker joined the Brighton bus company in March last year, and says he has already achieved what he set out to do there. 
This includes winning new contracts, doubling the size of the team, helping launch the UK’s first solar-powered electric bus and winning Most Sustainable Business at the Sussex Business Awards.
It all sounds amicable as the website quotes the Big Lemon's founder and chief executive Tom Druitt:
“He has taken the organisation to the next level and we now have the opportunity to grow our impact far beyond what was previously possible. I wish Norman all the very best of luck in his future endeavours.”

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The pancake race at Olney


What with today being Shrove Tuesday, here is a photo of the finishing post from the pancake race held every year at Olney in Buckinghamshire.

A page on the history of the race says it dates back to 1445.

The film below shows the race in 1951 - no doubt still remembered as a classic. There is little evidence of pancake tossing: the women just pin back their ears and charge for the line.

But the history page says they must toss their pancake once at the start outside The Bull Inn and once at the finish by the church.

Stanley Baker, David McCallum and Violent Playground


Talking Pictures has just shown a film I have long wanted to see: Violent Playground from 1958.

Tipping My Fedora describes its genesis:
This story of juvenile delinquency in 1950s Liverpool was one of a series of topical dramas made by director Basil Dearden and producer Michael Relph from subjects ripped from the headlines. 
Since the 1940s they had alternated more commercial fare (including comedy vehicles for Peter Sellers and Benny Hill) with these properties that took on socially relevant themes with a (fairly) progressive outlook, shooting on location for a more realistic style. 
The best thing about Violent Playground is its star David McCallum, who went on to greater fame in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and other television series.

He is charismatic and dangerous. So dangerous that he ends up holding a school class at gunpoint. It was a surprise to see it on screen today and must have been shocking in 1958, even though the makers seem to have lost their nerve as two characters who might have died are both restored to health at the end.

The trouble is that the alternative presented to the delinquent lifestyle is so insipid. Athletics club with the headmaster after school just doesn't cut it.

Stanley Baker excelled as both criminals and tough cops in films of this era, but here is just made to look dull.

Besides McCallum the other great pleasure of the film are the Liverpool locations. It is a city that cannot take a bad photograph.

But not all is as it seems, as Getintothis explains:
All interior shots in the film were taken at Pinewood studios as were much of the exteriors but there are key Liverpool locations running throughout. As with many Liverpool movies, including Letter to Brezhnev (1985) and Waterfront (1950) the opening titles feature the iconic Mersey and the Liver buildings before the action moves further inland. 
Shots of typically working class kids playing around terraces and tenements dominate the sequence that culminates in a shot of the almost completed Anglican Cathedral towering over a bombsite.Truman’s investigations into small time theft by the local nippers puts him back on the trail of the firefly arsonist, the case we see him relieved of at the start of the film. His investigations take him to Gerard Gardens, home of Johnny Murphy played by David McCallum,
And:
 It is disappointing that so many of the key locations are actually shot in London, including the school despite the name Scotland Road School above the entrance. 
There are still enough Liverpool locations to spot however; in a sequence where Johnny leaps from a hotel window, the action takes place on School Lane. The window is on the first floor at the back of what is now Primark, facing the Bluecoat and has not changed. You can clearly see down School Lane towards what is now Liverpool One.
Gerard Gardens was the not the hatching ground for delinquency the film makes it seem. When it was built in the 1930s it was distinctly superior council accommodation and its residents fought a long rearguard battle before it was demolished in 1987.

Other pleasures in the film include John Slater as a police sergeant, foreshadowing his role as Sgt Stone in Z-Cars a few years later. Stratford Johns is also supposed to have a minor role in the film, but I failed to spot him.

And among McCallum's gang you will find Melvyn Hayes and a boy called Fred Fowell. After a spell in a minor Merseybeat band he emerged in the 1970s as the comedian Freddie Starr.

If you want to see Violent Playground then keep an eye on the Talking Pictures schedules. And - who knows? - you may even find the whole thing on Youtube.

Wittgenstein warns against grappling with donkeys on Twitter

A new Wittgenstein aphorism has been found in the margins of a book he used to own, Julian Baggini reported in a tweet yesterday.

It runs: “If you grapple with every donkey you easily become one yourself.”

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) was still the strongest influence on British philosophy when I did my degree at York, though his star has waned since then. His later work was rich in aphorisms of this sort.

Here he was foreseeing Twitter in this one and counselling us not to spend our time arguing with random strangers with foolish views.

I have stopped myself doing it. At most I will look at the replies to a tweet I strongly disagree with and like a few that have expressed my disagreement for me.

There are lots of sensible and interesting people on Twitter. Take the advice of Uncle Ludwig and spend your time engaging with them.