Friday, November 17, 2017

Alan Shearer: Football, Dementia and Me

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He is a bit awkward, doesn’t have Gary Lineker’s ease and wit. But he’s serious, engaged and engaging, and proves he can make the step up from Match of the Day punditry and go it alone.
Sam Wollaston gives a fair verdict on Alan Shearer's presentation of the documentary Dementia, Football and Me.

The dangers of brain damage posed by boxing have long been known, and in recent years more attention has been paid to football, rugby and American football.

These have been highlighted by the news that several members of England's 1966 World Cup team are suffering from form of dementia.

More research is needed - more research is always needed - but the pattern emerging in football is deeply worrying.

And if Shearer's documentary had a weakness it was that he rather backed away from the conclusions to which his investigations were leading him.

One of the saddest things in the programme was Shearer's meeting with Chris Nicholl, the former Northern Ireland centre back. Nicholl is clearly having serious memory problems.

When I lived in Sutton Coldfield for a year after university, I played for the town's chess club in the Birmingham league.

I was always being told how Nicholl had done the same when he played for Aston Villa between 1972 and 1977. In those days all the Villa players lived in Four Oaks, which is the expensive end of Sutton.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Should Jeremy Corbyn be doing better?

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If the Conservatives were trying to ensure that Jeremy Corbyn becomes prime minister, it is hard to see what they would have done differently since he became leader of the opposition.

Yet the Conservatives remain neck-and-neck with Labour in the opinion polls. The question “Should Jeremy Corbyn be doing better?” is beginning to be heard.

Some of his supporters will laugh at this. Weren’t they told that Corbyn would be a disaster? And didn’t he surprise everyone at this year’s general election?

They were and he did. In part this was because some of the factors that were supposed to make Corbyn unelectable – such as his proximity to Irish Republican terrorism – turned out to have happened too long ago to concern many voters.

But largely it was because his economic plans went unchallenged because of the unique incompetence of the Conservatives.

Can Labour really discard austerity and pay for all the extra spending without increasing tax for the average voter? It sounds unlikely, but thanks to the Tories we never found out.

Jeremy Corbyn cannot rely on such kind treatment if he fights another election. Nor will he face a Conservative leader so lacking in any of the qualities of leadership.

These are not the only reasons for suspecting that it may all be downhill from here.

There are the Remainers who will have had more years to contemplate Corbyn doing nothing to oppose Brexit.

There are the idealists who will have noticed that Labour is proposing to do more for the middle classes than the poor.

 And there are the voters who have grasped that winning a place in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet says more about your political loyalty than your ability – call it the Burgon Effect.

All of which suggests that it may all be downhill from here. And that means Labour should be worried that they are not in a clear lead in the opinion polls.

Coal Clough with Deerplay wins Ward of the Week

Clowbridge Reservoir is in Coal Clough and Deeplay ward - photo © Pete Chapman
The only high point of the resignation from the party of four Burnley Liberal Democrat councillors is that it has revealed the name of the ward represented by the group's leader.

Gordon Birtwistle, who is also the town's former Lib Dem MP, sits for Coal Clough with Deerplay.

And Coal Clough with Deerplay is our Ward of the Week.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Badgers stop play at Dudley Town FC

Spare a thought for Dudley Town FC: there last two home games have been called off because badgers have damaged the pitch.

The Express & Star quotes the leader of the local council's explanation of what has been going on:
"We are having problems with badgers, who are digging into the surface of the pitch at the Dell to get at earthworms and other insect larvae and causing damage."
While the club's chairman says:
"We have never experienced anything like this before. We have had problems with Canadian Geese and Foxes but we have lost our last games as a result of the damage it has caused."
Despite what Owen Patterson once claimed, there is no evidence that the badgers have moved the goalposts.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Christopher Plummer and James Mason as Holmes and Watson

A short clip from the 1979 film Murder by Decree, which sees Sherlock Holmes taking on Jack the Ripper.

Christopher Plummer and James Mason make a fine Holmes and Watson, and belong in a better film..

Murder by Decree uses the masonic and royal family conspiracy version of the Ripper murders, which was first glimpsed in this interview with Joseph Sickert.

Six of the Best 743

The Liberal Democrats should nurture their young candidates, says Sophie Thornton.

Joe Bourke welcomes the launch of the all-party parliamentary group on land value capture.

"The Today Programme is undeniably an institution - 60 years after Radio 4 broadcast the first edition, over one in ten people in the UK still tune in every morning. Unfortunately, I am no longer one of them." Neither am I, and for just the reasons that Ed Jefferson gives.

"I write, because in doing so, I learn how to articulate my thoughts; indeed, I learn what my thoughts are. I learn to comprehend the world, and to shape my view. I write because writing changes me." jfefleming explains why he blogs.

Garry Kasparpov on Bobby Fischer: "There is no moral at the end of the tragic fable, nothing contagious in need of quarantine. Bobby Fischer was one of a kind, his failings as banal as his chess was brilliant."

Backwatersman reconsiders the cricket writing of Neville Cardus.

The ghost trains from Sheffield to Cleethorpes

The Brigg Line Group, its website says, exists to promote services on the Sheffield - Worksop - Retford - Gainsborough - Lincoln line and on the branch line from Gainsborough via Brigg and Grimsby to Cleethorpes.

Northern Rail operates a daily serviceon the Sheffield - Lincoln route, but the Sheffield to Cleethorpes trains run on Saturdays only.

The Brigg Line Group argues that the Lincoln service needs to be improved and the Cleethorpes service should operate six days a week.

And I find that on Saturday I photographed a departure board showing one of these Cleethorpes ghost trains.

I travelled on this line a couple of times before it lost its daily service in 1993. If it were in the South East of England it would enjoy daily services and probably be electrified too.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Sid James sings and dances

Sid James was a linchpin of the Carry On films. He appeared in every British picture for 20 years after the war. But have your ever seen him as a song and dance man?

He was in the 1960s film musical Three Hats for Lisa. Note the presence here of Una Stubbs and, trying hard to be an "all round family entertainer" - an ambition that ruined more than one British pop career - Joe Brown.

The pleasingly acerbic lyrics are by Leslie Bricusse, who wrote all the words and music for the songs in the film.

Mind you, it's not very good.

Goodbye to Phil Reilly - and a note on Liberal Democrat history

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Phil Reilly has announced his decision to step down as the Liberal Democrats' director of communications in a post on Lib Dem Voice.

I wish him well for the future. If nothing else, the remarkably spirited reaction of the party press office to the straitened circumstances of the past couple of years has helped keep members cheerful.

However, in the post Phil repeats a version of party history that has long been popular in Nick Clegg's inner circle.

Writing of the first leaders' debate in the 2010 general election, he says:
That night changed the course of our party’s fortunes, but it also changed my life. I had joined the press office of a party that hadn’t been in national government for decades, with no expectation that would be changing any time soon. A few short years later I would be working in 10 Downing Street.
It is true that the Lib Dem vote did rise a little at the 2010 election - no doubt Nick's performance in the debates had a lot to do with that.

But we emerged from that election with a place in government because of the way the Labour and Tory votes divided and what that meant in terms of seats.

That outcome was a fluke, as evidenced by the fact that we went into that election with 62 MPs and emerged with 57.

But I am more worried that this account give the wrong impression of the Liberal Party and Liberal Democrats in the years before Nick Clegg became leader.

I was sure I had answered it before, and indeed I had.

That post led me to a post on Liberator's blog by Simon Titley. And Simon led me to one on Lib Dem Voice from 2013 by Nigel Lindsay.

Nigel points out, rightly, that David Steel, Paddy Ashdown and Charles Kennedy all faced the electorate with serious and detailed plans for government.

And he goes on to say:
Liberal Democrats were arguably more effective as a party of government before Nick Clegg became leader.  the decade from 2000 to 2010, Liberal Democrats were coalition partners in the governments of both Scotland and Wales.   The achievements of Liberal Democrat Ministers in those governments were far-reaching and radical. Significantly, they punched above their electoral weight and delivered effectively on their manifesto pledges. Fair voting in local elections, free personal care for the elderly, and no university tuition fees are just some of the party’s achievements in government in Scotland. 
Liberal Democrats also controlled major local authorities in most parts of Britain during those years. 
Finally, though Phil does not use this argument, I am always a little surprised by those who insist that Nick Clegg brought a new professionalism to the Liberal Democrats.

To me, a large part of Nick's appeal was that he had a quality of ingenuousness that is rare in leading politicians.

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Caron Lindsay writes on the motion in favour of gender-neutral school uniform passed by the Scottish Liberal Democrats yesterday, She reproduces the speech proposing it by 15-year-old Jess Insall.

Caroline Criado-Perez explains why women need to be seen and heard in public spaces.

"There is a certain type of woman popping up on the media all gung ho style and jolly hockey stick japes to tout a version of female machismo which, apparently, all women ought to have adopted or should adopt to fend off male harassment." Jane Chelliah says that adopting such an attitude to male harrassment is akin to being an apologist for it.

Ryan Holiday on the life-changing magic of taking long walks.

Get Carter, the great Newcastle film, was based on a novel set in Hull. Nick Triplow remembers its author: "Ted Lewis may well be one of the most influential writers you’ve never heard of. His best work centred on places he knew well: Scunthorpe; Barton; Hull; and the bleak Lincolnshire coast."

"If you don't go in with the wrong expectations, The Hellfire Club is an enjoyable enough swashbuckler. If you're in search of chills, look elsewhere." Richard Phillips-Jones has some notes on a 1961 British film - just the sort BBC1 used to show in the evening when I was a boy.

Phoebe Bridgers: Chelsea

This is about the New York hotel not the London football club.

It comes from Phoebe Bridgers first album Strangers in the Alps. NME says the album
is a less a collection of songs and more a collection of feelings, a luscious but deeply sad debut that sees the 23-year-old singer putting her heart on the line and calling for you to do the same.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Eric Ravilious & Co. in Sheffield

This morning I caught a train to Sheffield to see the exhibition Ravilious & Co: The Pattern of Friendship at the city's Millennium Gallery.

This is a major touring exhibition. First seen at the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne (Eric Ravilious's home town), it will be in Sheffield for the rest of 2017 and at Compton Verney, Warwickshire, in the spring of next year.

The Towner Gallery website describes it well:
Based on new research and telling a story that has never been told before, this exhibition of the artist and designer Eric Ravilious (1903-1942), coincides with the 75th anniversary of his death. It explores the significant relationships and working collaborations between Ravilious and an important group of friends and affiliates, including Paul and John Nash, Enid Marx, Barnett Freedman, Tirzah Garwood, Edward Bawden, Thomas Hennell, Douglas Percy Bliss, Peggy Angus, Helen Binyon, and Diana Low. 
The exhibition includes many of Ravilious’ key works shown alongside both well-known and less seen works by his contemporaries, including work by each artist that has never before been exhibited publicly, and focuses chronologically on key moments when the work and careers of these artists coincided, overlapped or was particularly pertinent to the others, such as their time at the Royal College of Art, the 1927 St George’s exhibition, their time spent at Furlongs and Newhaven in Sussex, and their various roles in the Second World War. 
The exhibition represents the wide range of media in which the artists worked, from watercolours to woodcuts, lithographic prints, book jackets and illustrations, patterned papers, and wallpaper and fabric design.
I find Ravilious and the other artists represented here immensely appealing. They offer a version of English pastoral that has been chastened by the war and is also interested in industry. Two of the best things in the exhibition are Ravilious's paintings of a Sussex cement works.

Ravilious's reputation, helped by an immediately recognisable style, has been growing and growing in recent years. But he  had an influence in his own era - he died on a reconnaissance flight off Iceland in 1942.

His ceramic designs, not represented in this exhibition, now have a distinct 1950s feel to them. This is not because he was "ahead of his time", which is about the silliest thing you can say about any artist, but because the next generation of designers knew and admired his work.

Anyway, I can thoroughly recommend Ravilious & Co to any lover of 20th century British art.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

The North Devon coast in 1954

Another film from the BFI's Britain in Film collection. Click on the still above to view it on their website.

That still is of particular interest, because it shows Lynmouth still suffering from the 1952 flood disaster there.

Otherwise the footage, which takes in a lot of the tourist spots along the North Devon coast and even ventures a little way inland, has a gentle Fifties feel to it.

Six of the Best 741

It's not clear that the government's 58 Brexit impact studies even exist. But if they do, would it be right for someone to leak them? Maria Farrell concludes that it would.

Mary Bousted says "teachers will only have real autonomy when the government allows them to say no to the latest stupid fad".

"My latest work has focused on the stories of the female heroes of World War I. They weren’t fighting on the battlefield but their contributions at home and abroad were nothing short of incredible." Lauren O'Hagan uses the inscriptions people left in books as a way into history.

Mike Allen talks to Sean Parker, the found president of Facebook, about how social networks exploit human psychology.

Digital Forensic Research Lab offers us 12 ways of spotting a fake Twitter account.

Fragement of Fear, a really good paranoid thriller has appeared on Blu-ray. Kultguy's Keep approves: "It does hold your gaze and interest throughout – thanks to Ossie Morris’ noirish cinematography - that makes atmospheric use of the Pompeii and London locations, and [David] Hemmings’ genuinely convincing performance as the former-junkie battling to hold his own."

Lib Dem shortlist for Cheltenham announced

Before 2015 being a Liberal Democrat blogger was easy. If you were short of a story about the party, you just googled "Lib Dems" or the name of a random Lib Dem MP and something new was bound to come up.

It's not like that now, but a search tonight does reveal the Lib Dem shortlist for the Cheltenham constituency.

As the seat was held by the party between 1992 and 2015, and as the Conservative majority earlier this year was only 2569, if any seat can be said to be promising for the party then this is it.

Anyway, Gloucestershire Live has the shortlist:
  • Elizabeth Adams (twice parliamentary candidate for Stratford-upon-Avon)
  • Chris Coleman (Gloucestershire county councillor and former parliamentary candidate for Devizes and the Forest of Dean)
  • Adam Hanrahan (councillor and organiser from Sheffield Hallam)
  • Sally Symington (former parliamentary for Hemel Hempstead)
  • Max Wilkinson (Cheltenham borough councillor and former parliamentary candidate for Stroud),
Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceGloucestershire Live says a hustings will be held on 25 November, followed by a vote of local members.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Guest blogger is Mentioned in Dispatches

In August Nigel Atter wrote me a guest post about his new book In the Shadow of Bois Hugo, which is a history of the incredible bravery of the 8th Lincolns at the Battle of Loos in 1915.

You can now hear him talking about the book in the latest edition of the Mentioned in Dispatches podcast.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

The historic factories of Leicester

A good slideshow showing some Leicester industrial history that now lies derelict and vulnerable to arsonists.

Six of the Best 740

"The solution in Catalonia seems obvious to me: both sides should engage in negotiations without preconditions and consider amendments to the Spanish constitution as proposed by the Socialist Party, which is supporting Rajoy against Catalan secession." Jonathan Powell on how to solve the current crisis in Spain.

Peter Franklin puts forward some ideas you might not expect to find on Conservative Home: "The Chancellor should announce a comprehensive review of land taxation. Rents extracted from the productive economy by property speculators and land monopolists are a drag on growth not a contributor to it. They should be taxed accordingly."

Politicians did not respond to a shift in public opinion on welfare benefits: they created it. Tom O'Grady has the figures.

Tom King says individual citizens should give money to homeless people without strings.

Adam Scovell reviews the exhibition of art inspired by W.G. Sebald  at Somerset House.

"I nearly lost one ghostwriting job because the subject ... saw I had written a book about fairies, and they weren’t his cup of tea. I never brought it up when I was working in the Cabinet Office. Perhaps that was just as well." David Boyle is away with the fairies.

Does Sarah Olney's departure mean the Lib Dems expect an early election?

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Yesterday the Richmond & Twickenham Times quoted Sarah Olney's explanation of her resignation as Vince Cable's chief of staff after only eight weeks:
"Commuting from the constituency to Westminster every morning, and talking to so many local people on that daily journey, convinced me there remains much to do in the constituency. Having lost by just 45 votes at the last election, I believe I can win the seat back and I am determined to fight for local people against a Conservative Brexit and Heathrow expansion. 
"I have only done the job for a short period but now Vince has so successfully established himself as leader of the party with a great team around him in his office and in Liberal Democrat HQ, I feel able to step aside."
Maybe that is spin to cover up an appointment that was not working out on one side or the other.

But it may be that it is true. In which case it means the Lib Dems want someone working full time in what is their second most promising target. (Only North East Fife has a smaller majority to overturn than the 45 votes Sarah lost by in June.)

And if they wants that, it suggests the Lib Dems think an early general election is a serious possibility.

Later. Guido Fawkes reminds us that Sarah has not yet been reselected as candiate for Richmond Park

Monday, November 06, 2017

Vince Cable was naughtier than Theresa May

The Boar, a student newspaper from the University of Warwick, has an interview with Vince Cable.

It ends as follows:
Finally, I asked the party leader about the naughtiest thing he had done as a student, to which he replied: “Well, I did quite a lot of naughty things, unlike Theresa May. 
"I wrote a personal biography called Free Radical in which I described an episode in my youth where I discovered an air rifle in the wardrobe and started playing Second World War snipers with my friend, aiming the air rifles at the windows of all our neighbours. We caused quite a lot of damage and eventually I was holed up in a police station and given a bit of a rollicking. So I think that was one of several escapades in my teens.”

Lib Dems Too set up

A new Tumblr site, Lib Dems Too, has been set up to share accounts of sexism and worse within the Liberal Democrats and useful links for taking action.

It describes its purpose as follows:
Sexism in UK politics is nothing new to those of us involved in it. Following the #metoo discussion and the Westminster allegations, we created this website inspired by the Everyday Sexism Project to detail some of the instances of sexism within our party and to help people find the support they may need. 
Too many brilliant people are driven out of politics through no fault of their own, and we are poorer for it. We must put an end to it now. 
This website is run by volunteers who are members of the party.

Happy Birthday Richard Jefferies

Richard Jefferies - nature writer, novelist and an a huge influence on later writing for children - was born at Coate Farm, Swindon, on 6 November 1848.

Today Coate Farm is home to the newly thriving Richard Jefferies Museum and the Richard Jefferies Society has been running since 1950.

I wrote my Masters dissertation on Jefferies in the 1990s and also gave the Richard Jefferies Society's Birthday Lecture in those days.

There are lots of posts on this blog's Richard Jefferies label.