Sunday, May 27, 2018

There's Dark and then there's Darker Street


There's Dark and then there's Darker Street. Blake would have understood.

You need a drink at The Salmon afterwards.








Friday, May 25, 2018

Stand By Me is not a good film

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I felt a little guilty after I posted TISM's (He'll never be an) Ol' Man River. Hadn't River Phoenix died tragically young and hadn't I enjoyed Stand By Me when it came out?

But I was going through a phase in connection with my own childhood at the time. Though it's now overlain by two levels of nostalgia - the baby boomer nostalgia in which it was steeped by its makers and the nostalgia of today's parents, who first saw it when they were children - Stand By Me is not a good film.

If you doubt me, listen to the Deja Review podcast.

It is particularly strong on the nonsense of the film's plot and the awfulness of Corey Feldman.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Home for Penitent Females, Stoneygate Road, Leicester


I have more than once noticed and photographed this official-looking building on the corner of Aber Road and Stoneygate Road in Leicester.

Today it is occupied by a Montessori school, but what was it originally?

A tweet from the Stoneygate Conservation Area Society today gives the answer:


The journal is a big pdf to download, but the article Rescue and Redemption: Saving Leicester’s
Fallen Women 1846 to 1900 by Shirley Aucott makes it worth the effort:
Local architect, William Beaumont Smith, was commissioned to design a red brick Gothic style building, and in October 1881 the management committee eventually achieved its ambition to move to premises away ‘from the associations of the town’ and the ‘narrow, dark situation in Blue Boar Lane. 
This position, near to green fields, they thought would be of great benefit to the inmates, as they were now beginning to understand that ‘a healthy moral life depended upon a healthy physical one.’ 
The accommodation was much more spacious as it contained a work room (used as a chapel on Sundays), a kitchen, a dining hall and dormitories. All of this came at great expense causing the management committee to go deeply into debt for several years, despite generous donations from such people as Mrs Perry Herrick who had donated £1,000 towards the overall cost which was somewhat in excess of £7,000.
For another Leicester institution of this period, read about the Children's Receiving Home in Mill Hill Lane.

Vince Cable: Lib Dems will be running Sheffield within five years


The Sheffield Star has an upbeat report on Vince Cable's visit to the city yesterday, when he called in at the party's HQ to congratulate activists and councillors on their gains in the local elections:
There is a sense of optimism in the room - spurred on by ongoing public anger at the lack of transparency on offer from the authority’s ruling Labour Cabinet, on matters from tree-felling to the group’s dealings with Chinese investors. 
But there is also a feeling that the Lib Dems are on their way back, after Nick Clegg’s disastrous dealings with the Conservatives took the party almost to the brink.
The paper quotes Vince:
“Five years from now we will have had a general election and I am sure we will have a Liberal Democrat MP representing Sheffield again in Parliament, and I would be very disappointed if we weren’t running the city by that stage as well,” he said. 
“We took three seats back this year and will make more progress next year throughout the city. We want to run Sheffield and we will again, but it doesn’t happen overnight. 
“The Labour cabinet are not making any friends over this toxic issue with the trees - it’s just no way to run local government.”
If you follow me on Twitter you will know all about Sheffield Labour's war on trees. If you don't then read this primer on the issue.

Vince also gave a well-deserved hoofing to the Labour MP for Sheffield Hallam, Jared O'Mara, who has managed the difficult feat of being both controversial and invisible.

But as the Lib Dems won every ward in Hallam in this month's elections, O'Mara will not be resigning any time soon.

Why I don't care about the over rate in test matches



It began with Simon Mann, but now the whole Test Match Special team is obsessed with the over rate.

If a day's play does not include the regulation number of overs, they are up in arms on behalf of the paying public.

I just don't get it. When I have been to the cricket I have no idea what the over rate has been and I don't much care.

What you remember are individual shots and catches, and brief, intense passages of play. If the day contains none of those you will probably have left before the end anyway.

If you care about the over rate above all else then you might do better to go and watch public schools cricket, where the boys are scurrying about to please the games master.

I don't want to see the players hurrying through test matches. Isn't seeing the fielding captain hold up play to move a fielder or have a word in the bowler's ear part of what make the game enticing?

Besides, as Tony Cozier used to say, you would rather watch a dozen overs of Holding and Roberts than 18 overs of medium pace.

The demand that the public should get  value for the large sums now charged for test match tickets is an honourable one, but you do not measure entertainment just in terms of the number of overs bowled.*

This attitude reminds me of the great actor in the Monty Python sketch who measures the difficulty of a Shakespeare role purely by the number of words they contain.

I have added that sketch above. It contains the word "coon", which surprises me even though it is from the 1970s.

Let's be charitable and say they are mocking the way old actors then talked.


* There is a joke to be made somewhere around here about "a lot of balls".

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Six of the Best 793

Darren Hughes on the lessons of this month's voter ID trials: "Aside from showing a worrying distrust for voters, the ID trials are riddled with flaws. They must not be a fait accompli for a national roll-out."

"The fact that I have lost contact, irrevocably, with so many of the people with whom I grew up tells me we are not doing enough to ensure the future of care leavers. People who feel loved and cared for, who are full members of society, do not simply drop off the map." Daniel Lavelle sets out to trace the people he grew up with in care.

Miriam Mirwitch, the chair of Young Labour, explains why she is calling for a Labour Conference vote on Brexit.

Rory Cormac lifts the lid on Edward Heath's dirty war in Ireland.

"More than 100 years after the villages of Musa Dagh waged a successful resistance and survived the mass killings of Armenians during World War I, Vakifli is the last remaining Armenian village in Turkey." Kirsten McTighe on a remarkable story of survival.

Jenny Uglow visits the Tate Britain exhibition 'All Too Human: Bacon, Freud and a Century of Painting Life'.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Kenneth Clarke and Tom Brake to speak on Europe in Spalding

Kenneth Clarke and Tom Brake will be two of the panel at a meeting on Europe to be held at the South Holland Centre, Spalding, on Friday evening (7.00pm, 25 May).

It is organised by the European Movement under the title "The Brexit Dialogue: Explaining the Facts, Exposing the Myths, Exploring the Options."

The other speakers will be Amelia Womack, deputy leader of the Green Party, and James Torrance, one of the founders of the new party Renew. (Me neither.)

It will be chaired by that excellent Liberal Democrat George Smid, who chairs the European Movement in the East Midlands.

For free tickets, says Spalding Today, go to the South Holland Centre booking office or phone 01775 764777.

Or you can reserve tickets for a small charge on the South Holland Centre website.

Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to receive £38k grant


Good news from the Shropshire Star - and an excuse to use one of my photographs of the area from the 1990s.

Jeremy Thorpe on a 1974 Liberal Party election poster

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This poster comes from the February 1974 general election, when Jeremy Thorpe was the Liberal Party's chief asset.

For the second general election of that year, held in October, the Liberals fought under the less felicitous slogan "One More Heave".

Monday, May 21, 2018

Leicester before the King Power Stadium


Taken in 1927, the photograph shows Leicester Power Station. Leicester City's King Power Stadium now occupies the site.

You can also see the Filbert Street stadium where City used to play and the Aylestone Road ground where Leicestershire Country Cricket Club used to play.

The bridge over the river carries the line to Coalville, Ashby and Burton upon Trent, which is still open to freight. The sidings and wagons belong to the vanished Great Central main line.

James Johnson wears bra and fills hotel bath full of potatoes during 'bizarre' binge


The judges, while not convinced Mr Johnson is famous enough to merit a mention in the headline, were happy to award the Southern Daily Echo Headline of the Day for this effort.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Two Kettering ghost signs


Bass in Bottle and Ace Petrol Pumps can be found on the same town centre building.


Mike Hancock fails to assist European inquiry into his conduct

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From the Portsmouth paper The News:
Former Portsmouth MP Mike Hancock faces censure after not taking part in a vote-rigging corruption inquiry. 
The former Portsmouth South representative, who was resigned from the Lib Dems, faces losing his ‘honorary associate’ title at the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (Pace).
He also faces being denied access to its buildings.
That's an odd way of putting it: "was resigned from the Lib Dems".

What happened is spelt out in this 2014 BBC News report:
Liberal Democrat Mike Hancock has resigned from the party, officials have confirmed. 
The Portsmouth South MP, who had faced allegations he sexually assaulted a constituent, handed in his resignation earlier in the week. 
The news was only revealed in answers to questions posed by the Independent newspaper on Thursday. 
In June, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg told the BBC Mr Hancock had "no future" in the party and he would be expelled. 
Mr Hancock had already had the whip removed and is expected to remain in the Commons as an independent.
Hancock fought Portsmouth South as an independent at the 2015 general election but received only 716 votes.

The News report does not make it entirely clear, but it seems the inquiry has been instigated by the Council of Europe:
An independent investigation was set up to look into allegations of paid-for favourable votes for Azerbaijan’s government at Pace. 
The report said another investigation had said others and Mr Hancock ‘had been seen as friends and frequent guests of (the Azerbaijan capital) Baku’ and had ‘defended’ the autocratic country’s record. 
It found Mr Hancock was among the most ‘prominent apologists for Azerbaijan’. 
Mr Hancock was investigated in the report for speaking to journalists outside a polling station before the election had finished.
According to The News, Hancock says he chose not to get involved with the inquiry because of poor health.

I blogged about Hancock's record of support for Putin's Russia and Azerbaijan twice in early 2014:
There you will find details of his extraordinary actions and opinions, right down to denial of the Armenian Genocide, and of his habit of employing beautiful young Russian women as assistants.

Listen to a podcast about On Liberty to celebrate Mill's birthday

Let us pass rapidly over Richard Reeves spell as chief of staff to Nick Clegg and instead celebrate him as a leading scholar of John Stuart Mill, whose birthday it is today.

You can hear Reeves talking about Mill and On Liberty in a short Philosophy Bites podcast.

The point he makes that the Harm Principle is not what is most interesting or important in the essay cannot be made often enough.

I once wrote an article for Liberator on why John Stuart Mill is the greatest Liberal that owed an indecent amount to Richard Reeves' ideas.

Richard and Linda Thompson: The Dimming of the Day



A track from their third album Pour Down Like Silver, which was written shortly after they had converted to the Sufi strand of Islam.

The Wikipedia entry for Pour Down Like Silver talks about the effect this had on their music.

It says of Dimming of the Day:
The understated and elegant "Dimming of the Day" was sung by Linda Thompson on this album, but Richard Thompson has continued to feature it in his own live shows for many years - an indication of its deep personal significance. This song is an example of Thompson writing in a centuries-old Sufic tradition of expressing divine love in earthly terms. 
On the album "Dimming of the Day" segues into a solo guitar performance of Scots composer James Scott Skinner's "Dargai" that perfectly matches the mood of the song and serves to bring the album to a contemplative conclusion.
Now listen to Richard and Linda Thompson sing A Heart Needs a Home.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

St Michael and All Angels, Kettering


I did not make this discovery through urban wandering but by reading Pevsner. He says Kettering's St Michael and All Angels dates from 1907 and "has distinct charm".

He is right. In today's sunshine and with a garden planted around it, this corrugated-iron church - to be found not far from Harry Potter House - had more appeal than many conventional urban churches of the period.







Six of the Best 792

"The fact that the Windrush generation is not our outgroup du jour means that they are available to be treated as a human interest story of the type that sells newspapers and enables (some of) us to feel good about ourselves, without (probably) actually changing anything." Rob Parsons tells it like it is.

Tim Holyoake says our political discourse is being poisoned by childish name calling.

"One reason the film's ending seemed so odd to its first critics is that - in what is ostensibly a mystery-story - it denies the mystery-story's need for punishment and retribution. Instead its ending is full of blessings; and at the end of a pilgrimage, sin is swallowed up in grace." Eleanor Parker penetrates deeper into the magic of A Canterbury Tale.

Cynthia Ozick reviews William Trevor's final book of short stories.

Lionel Nimrod's Inexplicable World, a radio comedy from the 1990s that starred Stewart Lee and Richard Herring, is celebrated by Tim Worthington.

"I don’t think that I have ever seen a side as affected by a result as Leicestershire were by this one. Carberry looked in a terrible state, and some of the younger players seemed on the verge of tears." Backwatersman watches that rare thing: a Leicestershire victory in the county championship.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Pedestrian crossing at Braybrooke


I took this on a soft day in the early 1980s.

A few years ago this pedestrian crossing was replaced by an overengineered footbridge. I suspect that few people use it.

In search of the Tower Hamlets Neighbourhoods of 1986-94



We Liberals say we believe in local control, but no one has done more to put that ideal into practice than the Liberal and then Liberal Democrat administration that ran the London Borough of Tower Hamlets between 1986 and 1994.

As LCC Municipal explained at the end of last year:
in 1986, the Liberals took control of the Borough, with a one vote majority. Their manifesto “Power to the Hamlets” proposed a radical new form of decentralised local government. 
Seven Neighbourhoods were to be created: Bethnal Green, Bow, Globe Town, Isle of Dogs, Poplar, Stepney and Wapping. Each would be run by an autonomous local committee. 
Each would be given its own Chief Executive and almost all services, and a number of “back office” functions would be devolved down to Neighbourhood level.
That post includes some valuable links to academic evaluation of the experiment, though its account of history can be questioned. The BNP's success on the Isle of Dogs owed much to Labour's talking up its prospects in an attempt to hold a difficult by-election - one in which I delivered for the Lib Dems.

But it's all a long time ago, parts of the borough have changed out of recognition and its politics have been taken over by characters who make Eric Flounders, who led the Liberal administration, look like Mother Teresa.

The point of this post is to send you to a second LCC Municipal article that sets out to see what traces of the Tower Hamlets Neighbourhoods remain today. It find a surprising amount.

Rather than steal any of its photographs, I have posted here a favourite video of mine. I delivered for the Lib Dems in that controversial Isle of Dogs by-election and really liked the area.

There is more about it in Patrick Wright's A Journey Through Ruins. At least I think there is - I am too busy cooking to go and check.

Sir Edward Lord Garnier has always been an opponent of Brexit

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Sir Edward Garnier, who was Conservative MP for Harborough until he stood down at last year's election, is included in the list of new peers announced today.

I suppose, following the pattern set by Tennyson, he will become Sir Edward Lord Garnier.

The Guardian report says the peers have been appointed to "bolster her party’s fragile position in the House of Lords".

Yet Sir Edward Lord Garnier has always been an opponent of Brexit.

The day before the referendum he said:
The Conservative Party has built its reputation on economic stability that will be the foundation of our ability to govern successfully over the next four years. We cannot afford to put the British people's hard-won economic security at risk by leaving the EU. A vote to Remain is about safeguarding jobs and our nation's prosperity. 
Nor is it easy to imagine him as lobby fodder in the Lords.

Here he is quoted in the Harborough Mail in November 2016:
Harborough’s Conservative MP Sir Edward Garnier says he is “surprised and disappointed” at his own Government’s reaction to the High Court ruling on Brexit. 
Sir Edward, also a prominent lawyer, said judges were perfectly entitled to make a decision on whether Parliament should discuss and vote on how the UK starts the process of leaving the European Union. 
He added he welcomed a Brexit debate in Parliament. 
“The court expressly said we are not here to discuss whether it’s a good or bad idea to be in or out of the EU” explained Sir Edward. 
“The ruling was to do with Parliamentary approval. The court reached the conclusion that the Government alone can not, through use of the Royal Prerogative, change statute law. 
“It needs to be approved by the whole of Parliament. The whole point of the Civil War (Crown versus Parliament) was to do with that!” 
It would be entirely characteristic of Theresa May's hapless premiership to appoint someone to bolster their position only for him to turn out to be an effective critic of its central policy.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

By Slip Coach to Bicester



This extract from the BBC television series Railway Roundabout shows the very last slip coach to operate on Britain's railways, which dates the filming to 10 September 1960.

Read all about slip coaches on Mike's Railway History.

A Very British Scandal begins on Sunday



In the days when we Liberal Democrats still imagined we might come out of the Coalition alive, I wrote in the Leicester Mercury:
Crisis? What crisis? When I joined the Liberal Party in the late 1970s we were finishing behind the National Front in parliamentary by-elections and our former leader was about to go on trial at the Old Bailey for conspiracy to murder. That’s a crisis.
As it turned out, Jeremy Thorpe did less harm to the party's long-term prospects than did Nick Clegg.

The extraordinary story of Thorpe and the conspiracy to murder which he initiated is to be told in a three-part BBC drama A Very British Scandal. The first part goes out on Sunday at 8pm.

Russell T. Davies, who has written the series, is interviewed on the We Are Cult website:
There are a lot of books written about Norman Scott and Jeremy Thorpe and they’ll tell you what happened – but as a writer, I thought I’d tell you why they happened. If I have a career as a writer it’s through understanding people, having psychological insights and being able to understand why characters and people do the things that they do. That’s what I brought to it. 
Norman Scott is still going strong and is not entirely happy with the was Davies has portrayed him.

A Very British Scandal is based upon John Preston's book of the same name, which I reviewed briefly a couple of years ago.

I occasionally see promises of startling revelations in the Thorpe Affair, but really the full story has been known for decades.

Even the fact that Team Thorpe had first approached another potential hitman was revealed by Auberon Waugh as long ago as 1981.

Still, I suspect the story will startle many viewers and I shall certainly be watching.

Liz Kendall's Leicester West constituency party grows restive

From the Leicester Mercury:
Grassroots Labour members in Leicester have called on Liz Kendall to send a letter of support to party leader Jeremy Corbyn. 
The Leicester West Constituency Labour Party (CLP) passed a motion to applaud the Labour leader’s "long track record of opposing all forms of racism and anti-Semitism". 
CLP members agreed to write to Mr Corbyn expressing their support for him in the anti-Semitism row. 
And they requested that the Leicester West MP - who in 2015 ran for the party leadership against Mr Corbyn - do the same.
The Mercury says Liz Kendall attended the meeting but was not invited to speak on these motions. It also quotes her as saying, albeit between the lines, that she will not be writing any such letter.

An anonymous Labour member told the paper that the motions were not an attempt to oust Liz Kendall but that the constituency party does want her to be more supportive of Corbyn and the Labour front bench.

I have never quite bought Liz Kendall's ubermoderate act. I suspect she thought she had identified a gap in the market at the last Labour leadership election, only to find the gap was much narrower than she expected.

Nevertheless, these events in Leicester West may come to be typical of tensions between moderate Labour MPs and their newly expanded and more left-wing constituency parties.

Meanwhile, I have to confess that Mr Corbyn's long track record of opposing anti-Semitism has rather passed me by.