Friday, April 18, 2014

The Humber Stone, Leicester

This is the Humber Stone, which stands beside a roundabout on Leicester's ring road.

Some say the village of Humberstone got its name from the stone, but it may be that the stone's modern name comes from the village as it has had other names - Hell Stone, Holy Stone, Hoston and Holston.

This Was Leicestershire will give you the Humber Stone's geology and history:
So what is the Humber Stone, speaking geologically? It is probably an “erratic”; a large block of rock transported by the action of glaciers and plonked down, now out of place, when the ice retreated. This would have happened about 440,000 years ago, during the Anglian Ice Age, when Leicester was traversed by swathes of thick ice. The rock is syenite granite, the nearest source of which is Mountsorrel, five-and-a-half miles away.
A modern visitor to the Humber Stone will only see the top of the nine feet-high stone. The Humber Stone was fully exposed in 1881, for a geologist’s report, and the findings were documented by the British Association for the Advancement of Science. The Stone was described as being pentagonal in shape, with a heavily grooved top and vertical sides. The report states that the grooves were created after the block was deposited – by artificial as well as natural causes.
With names like the Hell Stone and the Holy Stone in the air, we could be in one of those 1970s supernatural children' TV series. So it is not a surprise that the website goes on to say:
“Boy drew creature that stood beside his bed” was a Leicester Mercury headline as recently as 1980, when a 10-year-old boy, living close to the Humber Stone, had constant “visits” from a devilish entity. It was, apparently, a creature with a goat’s head and long curving horns, a man’s body and cloven hoofs. After drawing it at school, the boy’s teacher asked what it was. “I don’t know, miss”, he said. “It’s the thing I sometimes see at the end of my bed”.
Getting from Humberstone to the Humber Stone proved harder than I had expected. There was no safe path beside the ring road and a couple of attempts to get there across the fields had to be aborted.

So I took a slight detour through the suburb of new Hamilton, which is named after a lost medieval village built over the last 20 years. It was pleasant enough, but there was no one about and, in particular, no children playing out. That was spooky too.

Incidentally, the construction of the ring road may have revealed and destroyed something significant. A comment on This Was Leicestershire recalls:
My late uncle who lived in the village told me that during the work for the new road and roundabout quite a few other large stones were simply tossed aside by the JCBs so we will never know if the Humber stone was actually part of a stone circle.

On the Record: The best opening titles for a political programme ever

On the Record was broadcast at Sunday lunchtime between 1988 and 2002.

You cannot beat Big Ben* turning into a crocodile and laying waste the country as a symbol of the political process.

The only thing wrong with these titles is that a member of the Dimbleby family turns up when they are over. And On the Record replaced an earlier programme in this slot, This Week, Next Week, which was introduced by the other brother.

Lord Bonkers writes exclusively for Liberal England: Long ago, the negatives of certain incriminating photographs of Lord Reith fell into the hands of Richard Dimbleby. We are still paying the price for his indiscretions almost 80 years later.

* I know, I know.

John Harris: London has become a citadel, sealed off from the rest of Britain

This John Harris article from earlier in the week is worth a read:
What is Nigel Farage's entire act if not a huge raspberry blown at the values and privileges of the more elevated parts of the capital, and most loudly heard from counties such as Sussex, Kent, Norfolk, Hampshire and Lincolnshire? 
Plenty of numbers suggest that people there are right to be angry. In Ukip's heartland of the east of England, for instance, people talk endlessly about the state of the roads and railways and how difficult it is to get around. At the last count annual transport spending there was put at £30 per head; in London it was £2,600. 
Think about all this and you begin to arrive at a political theory of everything. In Peter Oborne's prescient book The Triumph of the Political Class (2007), he nailed the cliques that have taken over the three main political parties as follows: 
"Their outlook is often metropolitan and London-based. They perceive life through the eyes of an affluent member of London's middle and upper-middle classes. This converts them into a separate, privileged elite, isolated from the aspirations and problems of provincial, rural and suburban Britain." 
Quite so, and if its insane cost of living makes London a closed shop to all but the most privileged, this will only get worse.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Leicestershire signpost

Taken at Laughton last May.

Austin Mitchell, Europe and Brian Clough

Austin Mitchell has announced that he will retire as MP for Great Grimsby at next year's general election.

The BBC describes him as a "veteran" MP, but I remember when he was first elected to parliament.

It was April 1977 and Margaret Thatcher's Conservatives were carrying all before them. On the same day, 28 April, they won a by-election in Ashfield, a seat which Labour had won with a majority of 22,915 at the previous election.

But Austin Mitchell managed to retain Grimsby for Labour, though the majority he was defending only 6,982.

One reason for this was the different reasons for the by-elections. Grimsby was called because of the death of Tony Crosland, who was the foreign secretary and a respected constituency MP. Ashfield was called because the sitting MP, David Marquand, had gone off to work for Roy Jenkins in Brussels.

Mitchell was also helped by his fame as a local television presenter, but the chief reason for his victory against the odds was the campaign he ran.

In a town that has been badly affected by the common fisheries policy, he ran an impassioned campaign against Britain's membership of the European Economic Community.

Not that this was less than two years after the British people had voted 2:1 to remain in the EEC in a national referendum.

It is a lesson to those who argue that a referendum would settle the question of Britain's membership of the European Union "once and for all". And it also supports the idea that UKIP's natural supporters today are Labour voters who have seen no benefit from globalisation.

Though his man of the people act was part of Mitchell's appeal in the by-election, he had spent eight years in New Zealand lecturing in History and Sociology.

In the late 1960s he joined Yorkshire Television were his finest hour was this confrontation between Don Revie and Brian Clough.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Thomas Tertius Paget in Laughton and Humberstone

A couple of years ago I visited Laughton, a village a few miles to the west of Market Harborough:
A large house across the road turns out to have been a Wesleyan chapel for a couple of decades in the 19th century. And I am pleased that my guess that the initials "T.T.P." in the brickwork meant that it had once belonged to Thomas Tertius Paget, Liberal MP for South Leicestershire (1867-8, 1880-5) and Harborough (1885-6), turned out to be correct.
Sadly, it turns out that I did not photograph the old chapel - just the initials.

I found two more instances of T.T.P. on Saturday. The first was on a cottage at the entrance to Humberstone Park: the second was in a cottage in the middle of Humberstone, next to its dismal 1960s pub.

More striking were the initials I found on some cottages on the other side of the ring road - they would once have been in fields beyond the edge of the village.

The Pager family had sold the Hall by 1926, but maybe they had retained ownership of the farms on the estate and G.W.P. was a descendant of T.T.P.

Later. If the letters are C.W.P. rather than G.W.P., then I suspect they stand for Sir Cecil Walter Paget. He is not a direct descendant of Thomas Tertius, but he is from the same Paget family.

The Discreet Charm of Cyril Smith

Thanks to Spotlight on Abuse for reproducing this letter from Social Work Today (10 May 1977).

The biggest fruitcake in the East Midlands?

This title is held by Roger Helmer - try his views on rape and the age of consent if you doubt me.

But a powerful challenger has emerged in the shape of one of his fellow candidates on the UKIP list for the East Midlands at next month's Euro elections,

Step forward Nigel Wickens...

That's right: he believes that Putin's attempt to reassemble Russia's crumbling empire is somehow the EU's fault.

Perhaps it something to do with being christened "Nigel"?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Cat of the Day

Today's winner is Teddy from Leicester, who makes good use of a bird table.

Nick Clegg on Cyril Smith: "It was like that when I got here"

Asked at his press conference yesterday about the allegations of serial child abuse against Cyril Smith, Nick Clegg said he had known nothing of them when he paid tribute to Smith on his 80th birthday as a "beacon" and an "inspiration" on his 80th birthday in 2008:
"Cyril Smith stood down as an MP 13 years before I became an MP. Many of the actions, the repugnant actions, which we now learn about took place well before the party I now lead even existed – in fact, took place before I even existed.
"Given those facts and that chronology, it is – as my party has made quite clear – not surprising that the Liberal Democrats, who were founded in 1989, two or three years before Cyril Smith stood down, were not aware."
Personally, I have known about the allegations against Smith since a considerably milder version of them appeared in Private Eye in 1979. As I once wrote, I have always assumed they were true.

Nick says he never heard them, and we must believe them. But the fact that there was no one in his inner circle to mention it to him does support the view (held by old farts like me) that he has surrounded himself with a group of bright young things with no great knowledge of the party.

I don't think Nick's response on Cyril Smith is successful, and the reason it doesn't tells us a lot about the problems he now faces.

During the television debates in the last general election campaign he could present himself as a young outsider without political baggage. He tries to do it here, but it does not work.

Nick Clegg is seen as a politician like any other who makes compromises and does not always tell the truth. The mishandling of tuition fees - I could never quite work out whether he was apologising for making that promise or for breaking it - hastened the process, but it was inevitable that it would take place.

And those of us who still like Nick now expect a bit more from him. He is a longstanding party leader and deputy prime minister. Answering with a touch of the petulance he is prone too and modelling your reply on Homer Simpson - "It was like that when I got here" - won't do any more.

Nick's failure to come to terms with this change in the way he is seen by the public was one of the reasons he did not do better in his debates with Nigel Farage. And unless he does come to terms with it, he will struggle if there are televised debates at the next election too.

As to Cyril Smith, it is not Nick Clegg who has hard questions to answer but David Steel, who was both chief whip and leader of the Liberal Party.

Over to you, Dave.

Police appeal after naked man browses in charity shop

Headline of the Day goes to This is Wiltshire.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Humberstone Park tram shelter, Leicester

You can find several of these large shelters scattered across the city. They were built at the far ends of Leicester's various tram routes.

There is even one, says Leicester Trams, that was put up to serve a line that was never built.

Six of the Best 432

The next Liberal Democrat leader must come from the party's left, says Leicestershire's own Mathew Hulbert on The Staggers, the New Statesman's rolling politics blog.

"Given that one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s stated reasons for invading Crimea was to prevent 'Nazis' from coming to power in Ukraine, it is perhaps surprising that his regime is growing closer by the month to extreme right-wing parties across Europe." Mitchell A. Orenstein writes for Foreign Affairs on the close links between Putin and the far-right in Europe.

The Needle has a guest post by Richard Scorer on his book on the English Catholic Church and child abuse.

Meanwhile in Shropshire, reports Andy Boddington, the funding for Ludlow's proposed Buttercross Museum is under threat.

Declaration Game visits the Cotswold Cricket Museum in Stow-on-the-Wold.

28DaysLater has some extraordinary photos from its exploration of the tunnel that takes the Willowbrook under the Midland Mainline north of Leicester station.

Konrad Adenauer invented the vegetarian sausage

My Trivial Fact of the Day comes from a BBC News feature on "10 inventions that owe their success to World War One".

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sensational Alex Harvey Band: Next

Alex Harvey was voted Scotland's answer to Tommy Steel and his band once opened for an early version of the Beatles, but he found fame as the front man of the Sensational Alex Harvey Band in the 1970s before his early death. The band is still going today without him.

Next is a Jacques Brel song - see him perform it here. It is best known to British audiences through the version by Scott Walker, but as Walker sounds like a god rather than a skinny recruit, you suspect he had nothing to worry about in the showers.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Michael Ignatieff: Academic philosophy and practical politics

Michael Ignatieff, a kinsman of Nick Clegg, is in the unusual position of having seen both philosophy and politics from the inside. He had a career as an academic and as a writer and presenter (in British arts broadcasting) before entering politics and going on to become leader of Canada's opposition. He lost heavily in the 2011 Prime Ministerial election.

In a Philosophy Bites podcast interview with Nigel Warburton he discusses the relationship between theory and practice in politics, the moral ambiguities, and the necessity of having dirty hands to be effective.

The giant redwoods of Humberstone

Pine Tree Avenue in Humberstone, a village that has become a suburb of Leicester, is not lined with pines. It is lined with sequoia gigantea - giant redwoods.

Some are currently under threat of replacement with a smaller species by the city council because of the damage they are said to be causing to houses and drives. Some residents welcome the plan and some do not. You can read about the controversy in the Leicester Mercury.

This remarkable avenue exists because Pine Tree Avenue used to be the drives to Humberstone Hall. The estate was sold as housing land by the Paget family after World War I, when they moved to Lubenham near Market Harborough.

Back in the 1970s, Humberstone chess club used to meet at the clubhouse of a tennis club around here and I remember playing some of my early league games for Harborough here. But when I looked for it today I found it had been replaced by a gated housing development.

But I cheered up when I found two cottages that look as though they are surviving outbuildings from the Hall.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Secrets of the Victoria Line

If you like This Sort of Thing then you may also enjoy the District, the Central, the Jubilee, the Northern, the Bakerloo and the Piccadilly.

Term-time holiday for head and fines for parents

The Leicester Mercury story about the head of a primary school who has been granted nearly one month off during term time to get married has hit the national press.

I don't feel outraged myself, but I do think, given the length of the school holidays, that she could have arranged her marriage to avoid the need for this.

But it seems some parents are outraged, and you can see why.

Take this Mercury story from November 2011:
More than 600 parents have been fined since September for failing to make sure their children go to school. 
All but seven of the 612 penalty notices handed out this school year relate to parents taking their children on holiday during term-time.
Add to this the feeling that schools now close at the first sign of bad weather, leaving parent to make childcare arrangements at short notice, and you can see why people are angry.

Labour brought in these fines because they felt there was little they could do about the economy and therefore preferred to concentrate on education. They also have an instinctive feeling that those who work in the public sector are morally superior and so entitled to mete out justice to the rest of us.

The Coalition has extended these powers - from the same lack of radical ideas on the economy and from the Conservative party's authoritarianism, which generally trumps their rhetoric about freedom.

I share the views of Karen Wilson, who wrote articles arguing against these fines for Liberal Democrat Voice in July 2013 and January 2014.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

"I. Harrison": A Leicester acrostic

The land behind what became The Empire in Leicester was developed by Issac Harrison.

And don't we know it!

Have a look at the initial letters of the names of the terraced streets in the map above. Their initial letters spell out "I. Harrison".

In which I am mentioned in Hansard three times

This morning Charlotte Henry tweeted that she would "officially give up" if Gareth Epps gets into Hansard. We can only hope that, however Gareth fares, she does not do so.

But her tweet did remind me that I was mentioned in the House of Commons three times in June 2003.

The first mention was by Angela Browning on 5 June. She asked John Reid, as Leader of the House:
Can we have a debate next week on the middle classes? I am sure that the Leader of the House will have noted that in Liberal Democrat News of 30 May, Jonathan Calder, who is a member of the party's federal policy committee, wrote an article about the Conservative policy of scrapping tuition fees. He says that it "has a lot to be said for it", but goes on to say:
"If the Conservatives do not speak for the stupid middle classes, who do they speak for?"
We should like to debate that rather old-fashioned concept with them.
And then on 23 June it was Tim Boswell in a debate on student finance said:
As my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford said, Liberal Democrat News provided a ringing endorsement of our policies in the shape of Jonathan Calder's article, which explained that my hon. Friend's idea of 
"getting rid of tuition fees, and financing the move by scrapping plans to extend the number of students even further, has a lot to be said for it." 
I agree. It is useful to have allies on occasion.
The member for Ashford was Damian Green, who had already intervened on Phil Willis, then our shadow education secretary, to say:
I feel that I should draw his attention to Liberal Democrat News of 30 May 2003. It is a publication that I read sporadically. This edition is particularly interesting because it makes the following thoughtful point: 
"Damian Green's idea of getting rid of tuition fees, and financing the move by scrapping plans to extend the number of students even further, has a lot to be said for it." 
I always welcome support from Liberal Democrat News, and I hope to get it from the Liberal Democrat Front-Bench spokesmen, as well.
Phil, characteristically, was unfazed by this.

How long ago it all seems! In those days the Labour government's policy was to have 50 per cent of young people going to university. That always seemed unrealistic to me, and I even heard someone at the last Lib Dem Conference applauded with reasonable enthusiasm for saying so.

Today, of course, we have less than half of young people going to university and tuition fees, but that is austerity for you.

I imagine that my column appeared in a briefing for Conservative MPs and that Angela Browning seized on the wrong phrase. I doubt the bright young things at Tory head office included it because of my joke about the stupid middle classes, but it obviously enraged her.

June 2003, towards the end of Iain Duncan Smith's leadership, was about the nadir of Conservative fortunes. The fact that three of their MPs thought they could help their party by quoting me, confirms that judgement.

Police hunt man who ate bus seat in Paignton

Thanks to a sharp-eyed follower on Twitter, the Torquay Herald Express wins Headline of the Day.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

London River (1940)

Thanks to Landscapism for tweeting the link to this short film the other day.

Six of the Best 431

Liberal Democrat MPs have tabled an early day motion in parliament lodging their protest against the ban on sending books to prisoners, reports Ian Dunt on

On the LSE's British Politics and Policy blog, Peter Sloman asks whether the Lib Dems' recent history should be seen as a revival of classical liberalism, a reflection of neoliberal influences or simply a recalibration of the party’s existing thought.

"The British government is making it easier for those in power to break the law – and it’s using a fantasy about left-wing pressure groups to justify it." Alex Stevenson dissects the coalition's move to curb people's access to judicial review for Index of Censorship.

Peter Golds, leader of the Conservative group on Tower Hamlets Council, writes on the media empire operated by the borough's mayor, Lutfur Rahman, for Conservative Home.

Self-Styled Siren pays tribute to Mickey Rooney.

The new Wisden is a stunningly inclusive affair that takes a strong line on cricket politics and reflects both the game's global diversity and England's woes, says Michael Billington in the Guardian.