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 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.
You 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.
And:
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.


Friday, January 12, 2018

Six of the Best 759

Jeremy Corbyn has always been in favour of taking Britain out of the EEC and then the EU, says Mark Pack - and he gives numerous links to prove it.

Tony Wright shows that we are increasingly being governed by people with little experience of the world beyond politics: "As I heard someone express this recently: 'if they have never had to worry about paying the gas bill how can they represent people like me?' This can easily become the perception that it is only the game of politics itself that they are interested in, and the rewards that go with it, rather than any wider purpose."

Melvyn Bragg writes about his 40 years of making the arts available to all. I learnt a lot from his Read All About It when I was at school.

"A half-century has passed since the bewildered college graduate Benjamin Braddock, played with star-making originality by a then largely unknown Dustin Hoffman, floated, directionless, in his parents’ glassy Beverly Hills pool, and was told (by someone of his Parents’ Generation) that the future lay in 'plastics'." Lisa Schwarzbaum on how The Graduate became the touchstone of a generation.

Meanwhile back in Britain, eurobutnottrash reviews a biography of Larry Grayson.

The Old Batsman reviews this winter's Ashes series: "For England there is an alien hostility to cricket down under that is starting to feel insurmountable. Australia's unrepentant mercilessness in everything from conditions to the media should chill them most of all."

Why the US does not own its Grosvenor Square embassy

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This Donald Trump tweet contains an extraordinary density of lies even for him:
The decision to move to a newly built embassy south of the Thames was taken in 2008 when George W. Bush was President.

And he didn't sell the Grosvenor Square building, because it is the only US embassy in the world that is not owned by the US government.

londinoupolis explains this anomaly. He says the Americans:
asked the Duke of Westminster, who owned Grosvenor Square, how much they would have to pay to buy the freehold of the land.  However, what they did not know is that the Grosvenor family never sell. 
Their vast wealth is based precisely on this simple fact; they own their 300 acres of central London including most of Belgravia and Mayfair, not to mention land holdings all over the world. All the houses and offices on this land are leased; their freeholds are never sold. 
When the Americans were told the news, they insisted that that was unacceptable, therefore petitioning to Parliament in order to force the Duke to sell. Nevertheless the Grosvenor family did not comply with any pressure.
The Duke did suggest a deal whereby the lands his ancestors lost in America at the time of Independence should be returned to him in return for the freehold of the Grosvenor Square site.

As those lands consisted of most of Maine and New York, his offer was declined

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Concern over Northamptonshire County Council's stewardship of the John Clare archive

There was a letter in the Guardian today from some of the literary great and good expressing concern at plans to downgrade Northampton's central library:
This library is home to many a unique resource pertaining to Northamptonshire history and culture, but we are specifically concerned about the John Clare collection – arguably the world’s greatest archive of the poet’s manuscripts, of his books, and of a wide collection of unique ephemera and publications by or about Clare. The collection is used by international scholars and artists of all kinds, and has been a hub and stimulus of activity in response to this increasingly significant poet for many decades. 
The collection at Northampton has always been maintained by expert, attentive, scholarly librarians, who do their level best with scant resources to make this publicly owned archive available to readers and researchers of all kinds. Our central concern here is that – given the size of the cuts planned, and the loss of staff and expertise delivered by all of the council’s options – there will be a permanently detrimental effect upon the care and curation of the Clare collection. 
John Clare's literary stock has been rising and rising for years. You can read all about him on the John Clare Society website.

All local authorities are facing enormous financial pressure, but it is notable that yesterday Sajid Javid announced an inquiry into the finances of the Conservative-run Northamptonshire County Council, which runs the library.

Meanwhile, a police investigation of a loan made by Northampton Borough Council (also run by the Tories) to the town's football club continues.

Two points on Tim Farron and Christianity


I made two points on Twitter about Tim Farron's recantation of his view on gay sex that seem worth repeating here.

The first is in that interview, as he often does, Tim told hid interviewers "what Christians believe".

But there are, says Wikipedia, more than two billion Christians around the world. They vary from the Russian Orthodox church to the Wee Frees of the Western Isles.

It is simply wrong to suggest that they all share the conclusions of Tim's slightly home-made Evangelical faith. 

Christians believe all sorts of things and, in Britain at least, many of them are more relaxed about gay sex than Tim appears to be.

The second point is that Tim said in the interview that Christianity is always "radical and counter-cultural".

Not in England it isn't. 

We have an established church and bishops sit in the House of Lords - and you can't get less counter-cultural than that.

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceAgain, Tim is talking about his particular variety of the faith, not Christianity as a whole.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

David Nobbs and Jonathan Coe discuss the writing of comedy


Skip the first five and a half minutes of this video and you will find a discussion between the British comic writers David Nobbs and Jonathan Coe.

It was recorded in Barcelona in 2014. David Nobbs died the following year.

Monday, January 08, 2018

Hope for St Saviour's, Leicester



I have long had a thing about this remarkable closed Leicester church, which stands in an area of the city with a large Muslim population.

A report in the Leicester Mercury from last summer tells you more about it before bringing some good news:
"St Saviour’s was completed in 1877. It was the last and greatest of four churches in Leicester by Sir George Gilbert Scott and is listed Grade II*. 
"It is a vast red brick church with a nave seating one thousand, the timber roof of which is outstanding. 
"The adjoining church rooms were constructed in 1883 and are the work of the distinguished Leicester architect Stockdale Harrison. 
"They are locally listed. 
"In 2006, St Saviour’s was closed and abandoned by the diocese of Leicester. There has been trespass and severe damage to the pulpit and window glass. 
"The church rooms are in a very poor condition. 
"Leicester Civic Society has been deeply concerned about St Saviour’s for the past 11 years and has had several meetings with the Church Commissioners. 
"But, as we have said previously, Leicester is a city of remarkable rebirths and we were recently invited to by the Church Commissioners to meet them and representatives of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) in St Saviour’s. 
"It is the intention of RCCG to purchase both the church and church rooms and restore them to their original functions, the latter being a new neighbourhood centre. 
"This is extremely welcome news and Leicester. 
"We wish RCCG well in their herculean task and look forward eagerly to yet another historic church being removed from the Historic England Register.”
The video above shows the church and gives more details of RCCG's plans.

Layla Moran says don't stop the music

An Oxford MP has backed a proposed law which could protect venues like the city's Cellar bar from harmful development. 
Layla Moran is supporting a bill which would force developers to take nearby small businesses into account in their plans. 
For music venues it could see housing developers made to pay for soundproofing at the venue to cut the risk of new neighbours complaining about noise. 
In cases like the Cellar, which faced eviction, the new law could force a landlord to offer compensation.
This, from the Oxford Mail, is a good local campaign for Layla Moran as she defends a music venue in the city.

But it is also an example of a much wider problem. A Guardian article from 2015 reported the closure of the Black Swan club in Sheffield:
It has joined many other famous venues, including Leicester’s Princess Charlotte, Leeds’ Duchess of York and Dudley’s JB’s, in shutting its doors. In central London, large-scale redevelopment projects have seen the closure of Madame Jo Jo’s and the Astoria and the relocation of the 12 Bar Club; Camden has witnessed the closure of the Purple Turtle and the Stillery. 
Several other Camden venues and Oxford Street’s 100 Club are said to be threatened. So, too, are a number of venues outside the capital, notably Southampton’s the Joiners, the Tunbridge Wells Forum, Exeter’s Cavern, Hull’s Adelphi and Manchester’s Band on the Wall. 
Reasons for the closures are manifold, but a common concern is the increasingly hostile environment for many venues. The pressure to build more housing has seen blocks of flats built next to clubs, causing a rise in noise-abatement notices that can cost thousands of pounds to contest.
The bill Layla is supporting is John Spellar's The Planning (Agent of Change) Bill. Read more about it on the Music Venue Trust website.

In which Liberal England is quoted (but not acknowledged) on the Today programme

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This morning's Today programme ended with an item looking forward to today's government reshuffle. (It starts at 1:23:44 on this recording if you are that interested.)

At one point, suggesting that the reshuffle would have little effect because most people know so little about politics, Tim Shipman from the Sunday Times says brightly:
"I was very struck the other day on an episode of Pointless..."
and then goes on to quote exactly the figures I blogged on Saturday.

Ideas can occur to people independently, as shown by the fact Alwyn Turner made the same point about Pointless more than four years before my first post on the subject.

So maybe Tim Shipman did come across a repeat of just that episode of Pointless on an obscure channel and carefully noted down the same figures.

But, Occam's razor and all that, I rather suspect he got them from this blog.

Thanks to the people on Twitter who alerted me to this.