Saturday, August 19, 2017

Groucho Marx sings Lydia the Tattooed Lady



In honour of Groucho Marx, who died 40 years ago today.

Great as he is here, it's Harpo you watch.

The Old Men's Hospital and Bishop Beveridge House, Barrow upon Soar


Sometimes it is more fun if you don't research a place before you go there.

This morning, on a whim, I caught the train to Leicester and then to Barrow upon Soar in the north of the county.

There, rather to my surprise, I came across two striking medieval buildings. Having consulted Pevsner when I got home, I now know what they are.

The first, which you can see above and immediately below, is the Old Men's Hospital, which dates from 1694. (I may see if they can fix me up or take me in.)

Below you can see Bishop Beveridge House. This dates from the same era and, rather improbably, forms a pleasing group with a 19th-century Baptist church that was substantially rebuilt in the next century.

William Beveridge was Bishop of St Asaph from 1704 to 1708, and his grandfather, father and older brother were successively vicars of Barrow upon Soar.

The obvious question is whether William Beveridge of Beveridge Report family was related to this family. I can find no evidence that he was, but he certainly should have been.




Friday, August 18, 2017

Alexei Sayle's Comic Roots 3



We've had part 1 and part 2. What better way to finish Alexei Sayle's Comic Roots and the pub crawl of which it consists than with part 3?

From Labour to Tory to Father Christmas

I know it's the silly season, but the Leicester Mercury reports:
A former Labour councillor who defected to the Tories is plotting a return to red - with a new job as a Santa for hire. 
Ex-county councillor Leon Spence says he is seriously looking at an unlikely career shift for the festive season.
Spence represented Whitwick on the county council. He left the Labour group to sit as an independent before May's elections and has since joined the Conservatives

He has been busy tweeting the sort of things that will appeal to his new friends. He also writes for the Universe and the Coalville Times.

I had been expecting Spence to re-emerge as a Conservative candidate before long, but maybe no one gives away presents in politics any more,

The death of Market Harborough's Victorian goods shed


When it became clear that the Victorian goods shed at Market Harborough station did not figure in the plans to straighten the line and build a new car park, I went to photograph it. You can see it above.

The demolition men moved in on Wednesday and this was the scene when I arrived home from work in Leicester:

I usually work from home on Thursdays and was getting on happily when a possible crisis blew up and I had to go in to the office.

So I was able to take this picture mid morning:


And this one in the evening:


When I arrived back in Harborough tonight the death throes were over:


At least another favourite feature on that side of the line has survived so far.

Outrage in Tunbridge Wells over sex festival in the woods

Embed from Getty Images

We have our Headline of the Day.

The judges congratulate the Guardian, though they do suggest that the emotion the townspeople are experiencing is more likely to be disgust

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Alexei Sayle's Comic Roots 2



I am not feeling inspired this evening, so here is part 2 of Alexei Sayle's Comic Roots. (I posted part 1 yesterday.)

It begins with a reminder that in 1982 Fleet Street was still Fleet Street.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Playing for a draw: The Oval test of 1975



If you wonder why the pundits grumble about modern batsman not being able to play for a draw, consider the Oval test match of 1975.

It was the last test of a four-match series, so the authorities had decreed that it would last six days.

Australia batted first and made 532-9, including this century by their captain Ian Chappell. In reply, England could only manage 191.

Wikipedia takes up the story:
Chappell asked England to follow on; with two-and-a-half days of a six-day Test remaining, defeat seemed almost inevitable. Still further resistance from Edrich (96) and Steele (66) saw England close the fourth day on 179/1; after Lillee dismissed both in quick succession the following morning, England continued to resist. 
Bob Woolmer (149, his maiden Test century) defied Australia for more than eight hours, sharing partnerships of 122 with Graham Roope (77) and 151 with Alan Knott (64) as England held out for 14 hours to reach 522/5. Only a spell of medium pace from Doug Walters eventually conquered England's lower order. In the limited remaining time, Australia reached 40/2.
That is how you play for a draw.

As a result of this rearguard action England lost the series only 1-0. After the carnage of the previous winter, when Lillee and Thomson had run amok, that felt like a considerable achievement.

The test England lost was the first, which took place at Edgbaston. Mike Denness controversially put Australia in and later got the worst of the weather.

I was there on the first day as a 15-year-old - this was an era where you could just turn up to a test and have a reasonable chance of getting in.

But what really interests me in this clip is the England bowling attack.

The opening bowlers were my hero John Snow and Chris Old. That latter always seemed to me one of those bowlers (Steve Watkin was another) who seemed much faster in the flesh than on television.

The third seamer was Bob Woolmer, though Tony Greig may well have come on first with his seamers as he was the better and faster bowler.

And then there werer  three spinners. The great Derek Underwood, Greig with the off spin that had won a test in the Caribbean 18 months before and Phil Edmonds in his blond Adonis period.

Enjoy.

Nick Clegg to reveal how to stop Brexit

Embed from Getty Images

He will do it in a book to be published by Bodley Head on 5 October, reports the Guardian:
How to Stop Brexit (And Make Britain Great Again) will, said the publisher, see the former leader of the Liberal Democrats show that there is "nothing remotely inevitable" about Brexit – and lay out how readers can help to stop it. 
"He argues that it is the democratic right of voters to review Brexit and to change their minds if they wish to," said the publisher on 15 August. 
"Clegg explains precisely how this historic mistake can be reversed and how the country can be reunited in the process. At its heart are simple, practical, effective measures, including step-by-step plans, which the reader can take to ensure this happens. The book offers readers of every political allegiance non-partisan ways to pull together in response to the greatest crisis in a generation and prevent disaster."

Six of the Best 717

Jonathan Fryer calls for a patriotic front against Brexit.

"A heavily bureaucratic process known as a carnet was required. This meant the machines had to be shipped back to France every year (“for a holiday”, as my director put it) and updated models returned. We were unable to carry out work for our Bull customers while the lengthy process of satisfying customs regulations took place." Tim Holyoake remembers life before the European single market.

Steven McCaffery reviews two new books about the Troubles in Northern Ireland that should sound alarm bells about the future.

The benefits system should be a lifeline for care leavers, but too often it fails them. Sam Royston on a new Children's Society report.

"For a time in the late 1960s, the name of Hywel Bennett ranked alongside that of David Hemmings as the epitome of the ultra-fashionable leading man," says Andrew Roberts.

Danny Gibbs thinks England leg spin prospect Mason Crane has the potential to be special: "Crane bowls in a very natural, fluent motion, where the ball looks like it glides out of the hand, even though there are significant revolutions on the ball itself. Upon reaching its apex, the ball drops very sharply. Only natural wrist spinners can flight the ball like this."

Monday, August 14, 2017

"What the's bleeding time?" Farewell to Richard Gordon



I am always pleased when I find out that someone I had assumed was dead is still alive.

The only trouble is that they tend to die soon after you make that discovery.

A couple of years ago it was the England cricketer Bob Appleyard. (What I didn't say in that post was that I was using his name as part of a password at work at the time he died and therefore felt partly responsible for his death.)

Today came news that another such figure had left us: Richard Gordon.

A doctor himself (his real name was Gordon Ostlere), Gordon published a novel based on his experience of medical training, Doctor in the House, in 1952.

It was filmed two years later with Dirk Bogarde in the lead role, and a further six Doctor films were made from Gordon's series of books.

And in 1969 and 1970 Doctor in the House became a London Weekend Television comedy series starring people like Barry Evans, Robin Nedwell and Martin Shaw.

The clip above ends with the most celebrated joke from the Doctor in the House film. It cracked them up in 1954.

Left and right unite to shift the blame from American Nazis


So what are the hot takes on events in Charlottesville?

Brendan O'Neill is in no doubt about who is to blame.
The events in Charlottesville are the logical consequence of the politics of identity. One of the nastiest trends in Western politics in recent years has been the relentless racialisation of public life and political debate. Everyone has been forced, often against their will, into a racial box. 
It's all "Dear White People", black lives matter, white lives matter, Asian lives matter, racial re-education on campus, warnings against "cultural appropriation", where everyone from the white dude who wears dreadlocks to Beyonce in a sari is branded a racial thief.
This, of course, is O'Neill usual contrarianism-by-numbers. "The problem is no the Nazis but the people who protest against them."

And, while his picture of modern political argument may have some truth on campus and social media, little of that approach has reached the newspapers or broadcasters. Most of us could go through life and never come across it if we chose. And I imagine most people do.

When I do come across this style of argument I am a little exasperated myself. This is not because I question the existence of racism but because I find it typical of a certain self-obsession in the young all those selfies.

Approaching a debate by talking about your own "privilege" does tend to give the impression that, deep down, you think it is really about you.

But none of this begins to form an argument that the left is responsible for events in Charlottesville.

The Nazi march and violence is the fault of the Nazis. To argue anything else is grotesque.

And from the left comes Laurie Penny:
This isn't really about Charlottesville at all. It is about the politics of the left in Britain.

It attempts to paint anyone who does not support the hard-left Labour agenda - be they Liberals or working-class voters who supported Leave because of their worries about immigration - as Nazis or at least the abetters of Nazis.

But if you call everyone a Nazi it means you are pretty bad at reacting when real Nazis appear - social media will be giggling about Godwin's Law as the tanks roll down Whitehall.

No, the Nazis are not the fault of the left or centrists or the working class. They are the fault of the Nazis.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

A day on the Great Central at Loughborough


Class 37 diesels already seemed ugly and old-fashioned by the 1970s, yet they have outlasted pretty much every other class of locomotive that was around in those days.

There is at least one passenger service (Norwich to Great Yarmouth) still hauled by them.

I also came across a preserved one on the Great Central at Loughborough a couple of Saturdays ago.








Elvis Costello and The Attractions: All This Useless Beauty



There has been a meme going around Twitter inviting people to confess their unpopular opinions.

I was going to tweet that I regard the Beatles as no better than half a dozen other British bands of their era, but I am not sure how unpopular that would be today.

So let me say instead that "The Beatles" was a really lame name for a band.

I could also say that I listen to Elvis Costello often but never list to Elvis Presley, but I suspect I am not alone in that in my generation.

And people much younger than us probably don't listen to either.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The life and career of Neil Postman


I once wrote that I could "never work out whether Christopher Lasch was a left-wing thinker who sounded right wing, or a right-wing thinker who sounded left wing". (Sadly, the video I was writing about has since disappeared from YouTube.)

Another such figure was Neil Postman, who is interviewed here.

Do we regard his strictures on television and speculations on the effect of the home video recorder as amusingly dated, or do we regard the title of his book Amusing Ourselves to Death as an uncanny anticipation of the net and social media?

His son, Andrew Postman, takes the latter view.

The 1983 general election campaign in Bolsover


The Labour candidate was, of course, Dennis Skinner and Stuart Reddish stood for the SDP Alliance.

Reddish received 16.8 per cent of the vote, compared with the Liberal Democrats' 2.9 per cent this year.

The Conservative candidate was Sam Roberts, the son and grandson of Conservative MPs. Today he is Sir Samuel Roberts Bt (though the 4th Baronet and not the 9th as the Eastern Daily Press fancies). He does not appear to have fought another election.

Click on the still of a youthful Michael White above to view it on the British Film Institute website.

Friday, August 11, 2017

The remains of Irthlingborough station


In Irthlingborough we have seen the church tower that may also have been an inland lighthouse, the sparse remains of the Nene Park stadium where Rushden & Diamonds once flourished and the two bridges across the river.

Take the older of those two bridges and you will come to the site of Irthlingborough station. It stood on the line from Northampton to Peterborough, which often appears on lists of lines that should never have been closed.

Certainly, both settlements are rapidly expanding, but to get from one to the other by rail involves a circuitous route taking in towns like Nuneaton and Melton Mowbray.

There is not a great deal to see at the station site today - the most substantial remains must be of something like a cattle dock and not the old passenger platforms.

But I was delighted to find there were still rails in the road where the level crossing used to be.

Disused Stations has photos of Irthlingborough station both in its prime and in picturesque decay.

After the station, the landscape is given over to edgeland occupations like car breaking and keeping fierce dogs, so that was the end of Irthlingborough.




Tim Gordon resigns as Liberal Democrat chief executive


Liberal Democrat Voice reported the news on Wednesday, quoting Tim Gordon's statement:
It has been an honour to work for the Party for the past half decade. These have not been easy years but I am proud to have worked with both Nick Clegg and Tim Farron who so clearly and eloquently articulated the Liberal voice that Britain needs. 
We now have a great new leader and deputy in place and after the challenges of the past few years this feels like an appropriate moment for a change. There are other opportunities that I have delayed pursuing for long enough and I want to give my successor as much time as possible to prepare before what could be yet another snap General Election.
It also posted the email we all received from Sal Brinton:
Yesterday Tim Gordon announced that he was resigning as Chief Executive of the Liberal Democrats, after five years service. On behalf of the party I want to place on record a huge thank you to Tim for his all his amazing hard work over what have been some often very gruelling years. 
He has run the party machine during extremely demanding times with the Liberal Democrats in coalition government, then two general elections and the EU Referendum. 
After the setback of the 2015 General Election, Tim immediately set out to make sure that the party’s finances were secured, and provided the structures that have allowed the party to recover.
As it was dear old Lib Dem Voice, we were told Tim has done a great job and it is great that he is going. No doubt his successor will be great too.

For a more jaundiced view of this episode you have to go to Guido Fawkes:
Gordon was appointed by Tim Farron in 2011, and after weeks of internal speculation in LibDem circles that Vince Cable wanted him out, the party boss has fallen on his sword. 
A LibDem source says “he jumped before he was pushed”, the move is being seen as a Cable power grab.
Where does the truth lie? For that you will have to wait until the next issue of Liberator.

Six of the Best 716

"There is no doubt in my mind that Brexit will leave the country poorer, and sadder, and it will hurt the vulnerable among us the most. As I see the thinkpieces and columns start to trickle out about how we must rally behind Corbyn even if we oppose Brexit, I find myself surer than ever: I will not vote purple just because it’s half red." Katie has seen through Jeremy Corbyn.

Dan Atkinson takes us back to the summer of 1975 when retired generals were drilling their private armies in case, as they saw it, they were needed to restore public order.

Samira Ahmed on the way Britain feels about Joe Orton: "The house on the Saffron Lane estate is gone. Joe’s sister Leonie told me she’d pleaded with the council to keep just that one house. The replacement bungalow has a tiny shabby blue plaque easy to miss and almost too high to read. As I look at it I think with frustration of the lucrative tourist industry around Paul McCartney’s National Trust owned council house in Liverpool. I wonder why the councillors of Leicester didn’t see that too?"

Kevin Keegan is something of a forgotten figure, but Barney Ronay shows that he blazed the trail for today's football multi-millionaires.

Brass Eye's satire holds up 20 years on, argues Tom Gatti.

"Garner’s novel doesn’t learn from history or its landscapes, it becomes such history and landscapes." Adam Scovell celebrates the 50th birthday of Alan Garner's novel The Owl Service.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

"Wicked practise & sorcerye": The Witches of Belvoir


Before I went off to Shropshire for a week - hence my break from blogging - we visited the tombs of the Earls and Dukes of Rutland in Bottesford church.

There I wrote that one of the tombs has some dark history attached to it.

That tomb is the grandest one in the church: the tomb of Francis Manners, the sixth Earl, and his two wives and children.

And you will see above that the inscription on the tomb attributes the deaths of two of those children to "wicked practise & sorcerye".

Witchcraft tells the story behind this:
The Witches of Belvoir were three women, Joan Flower and her two daughters, Margaret and Philippa, who were accused of witchcraft in eastern England around 1619. The story has many classic elements of witchcraft trials, and much of the evidence revolved around various alleged familiar spirits. 
A Bottesford woman named Joan Flower and her two daughters, Margaret and Philippa, were employed as servants by the Earl and Countess of Rutland at Belvoir Castle near Grantham, Lincolnshire. 
Joan Flower in particular was unpopular and feared in the local community. She was an unkempt woman, with sunken eyes and a foul mouth, who boasted of her atheism, and of consorting with familiar spirits. 
Margaret was dismissed from the castle for stealing and, not long after, the Earl’s whole family became sick, suffering extraordinary convulsions. Although most of the family recovered, the eldest son, Henry, Lord Ross, died, and the Earl and Countess became convinced that Joan Flower and her daughters were to blame. 
All three women were arrested at Christmas of 1617 (or 1618) and were taken to Lincoln jail, where they were examined.
Joan Flower died in prison and her two daughters were tried, convicted of witchcraft and hanged.

A dreadful tale of the sort I came across some years ago at Husbands Bosworth.

The only positive factor I can see is that Joan's familiar was a cat called Rutterkin. And you have to admit that is a terrific name for a cat.


Expensive new trains on the Midland main line will be slower than the current diesels


You may recall that it was announced last month that plans to electrify the line from St Pancras to Sheffield have been scrapped.

The line is currently electrified to Bedford. That will be extended to Kettering and Corby, but no further.

Services to Leicester, Nottingham, Derby and Sheffield will be provided by new bi-mode trains that will take power from the overhead lines as far as Kettering and use diesel engines north of there.

Then the other day there was this story from Chris Doidge, BBC Radio Derby's political reporter:
BBC Radio Derby's learned that the government's decision to scrap the electrification of trains between Derby and London will mean slower journeys. 
Three weeks ago, the government said its new bi-mode trains - that run on electric and diesel - would mean "quicker journey times", but now it's admitted that's not quite the whole story. 
Journey times will reduce - because lines are being straightened and junctions improved. 
The trains will actually be slower than the electric ones the government has scrapped.
Today I met an old friend who knows far more about railways than I do. He explained why this may be the case.

The overhead electrification from St Pancras to Bedford was erected to serve commuter trains not faster long-distance services.

As a result, the maximum speed for trains using it is 100mph. So, unless a lot of money is spent to upgrade this electrification, that will be the maximum speed of the bi-mode trains using electric power on this section of the line,

Yet the diesels currently providing the service can travel at up to 125mph.

I suppose the bi-mode trains could use diesel power throughout, but then there is not much point paying extra for them.

Mind you, as Chris Doidge went on to say:
The group which represents rail operators says the bi-mode trains are heavier, less powerful and more expensive to buy, more expensive to maintain and more expensive to operate than their electric cousins.
And that is not the bottom of this mess.

As I said in my post when electrification to Sheffield was cancelled, a great deal of work has already been carried out along the line to raise bridges to make room for overhead wires.

The Leicester Mercury has also reported this and quoted my old friend Simon Galton, leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Leicestershire County Council:
"We have already had the road closure and the disruption and for what – for the Government to scrap the scheme almost everyone else says is vital to the region. 
"The money that has already wasted adds insult to injury. 
"It would not surprise me if £50 million at least had been spent."
This whole affair has highlighted how hopelessly inefficient and centralised our current way of running the railways is. The Department for Transport is intimately involved in every decision.

In fact, the railways had far more autonomy when they were nationalised under British Rail.

Liberal staffer Barrie Macmillan resigns over lobster with alleged mobster

Our Headline of the Day Award goes to the Australian newspaper The Age.