Friday, September 30, 2011

How Bishop's Castle was won


The ALDC explains the efforts behind Charlotte Barnes's victory last night:
Bishops Castle is a geographically large rural division on the Welsh border of Shropshire Unitary authority. Newton and Welshpool in Montgomeryshire are closer than either Shrewsbury or Ludlow. 
We won it 20 years ago after the hard graft of Peter Philips whose resignation caused the by-election. Peter suffered a pulmonary embolism on election day so a resignation for health reasons was always likely. He put it off to complete some major political projects dear to his heart, the local BioMass project and saving his local school. Once they were achieved he stood down. 
Bishops Castle was lucky that we had such a good candidate to replace Peter. Charlotte Barnes is a businesswomen, local campaigner, a local Parish Councillor and a parent governor at Bishop's Castle Primary School. Sometimes by-elections struggle to get help in, not this one. Help came from Herefordshire, Montgomeryshire as well as from across the county. Even Tim Farron and Vince Cable found time to help. The glorious weather on polling day may have helped. 
We delivered four leaflets in the three months before the election was called and then out shone all the other parties in quality, variety, content and volume of literature. Every house was canvassed by the candidate and or the outgoing councillor twice and in some cases three times. 
We relentlessly squeezed Labour (standing their first candidate since 1985 -“ what do you do with the numbers?” she asked our tellers!) and the Greens. Despite the massive turn out for by-election 51%, we got the green vote down from 186 to 74. 
Key again in this was posters – and not just window bills but stake-boards and even super-boards. In the current climate it’s even more important to give voters the clear message from posters that we can win.

Traditional End of Month Lolcat

funny pictures - Doctor Who: Episode 1  Land of the Giant Cats
see more Lolcats and funny pictures, and check out our Socially Awkward Penguin lolz!

Liberal Democrats hold Bishop's Castle

Congratulations to Charlotte Barnes, who won yesterday's Shropshire council by-election in Bishop's Castle.

I will post the figures here when I get them.

Later. They are now on the Shropshire County Council website:

BARNES, Charlotte Ann (Liberal Democrats) - 801 votes
ELLIS, Georgiana Louise Dacre (The Conservative Party) - 544 votes
GRAY, Jean (The Labour Party Candidate) - 80 votes
TUCKER, Michael Richard (The Green Party Candidate) - 74 votes

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Sporting Headline of the Day

From the Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard:
Challenge issued for Sherston Mangold Hurl
Read all about the "increasingly popular root vegetable-based sporting extravaganza".

With thanks to a reader.

Bishop's Castle in the 1970s



Earlier today Clive Pownceby left a comment on an old post of mine about Ronnie Lane in Shropshire that paints a visit picture of the town in that decade:
Lots of 'head shops,' rainbows, tie-dyes, hippie chicks n' dogs around. Used to see Ronnie in the Three Tuns in Bishops, either playing darts in the public bar or deep in conversation with people looking suspiciously like poachers and horse-traders. Wish I'd had the bottle to go up and chat. He seemed at ease and in his element.

Six of the Best 190

Terrific stuff from David Boyle on the New Economics Foundation site as he points to the relevance of William Cobbett's opinions to modern Britain: "He believed that Britain was run not so much by a government, but by a financial system which had 'drawn the real property of the nation into fewer hands … made land and agriculture objects of speculation … in every part of the kingdom, moulded many farms into one … almost entirely extinguished the race of small farmers … we are daily advancing to the state in which there are but two classes of men, masters and abject dependants.'"

Caron's Musings has the video of Ewan Hoyle's impressive speech moving the successful motion on drugs policy at the recent Lib Dem Conference.

"Any objective observer would agree that Mr Putin has a controversial record - it is a record that deserves significant scrutiny and challenge. Yet this scrutiny and challenge is precisely what the Russian people will not be allowed to undertake." Cicero's Songs writes on Vladimir Vladimirovitch Putin's ambitions and style of government.

Meat Trade News Daily exposes the deadly consequences of the overuse of antibiotics in American agribusiness.

Children in care have failed to make the agenda of any of this year's major party conferences, notes Roy Williamson on the CommunityCare Children Services blog.


A Walk in the Garden explores Dungeness: "One of the largest expanses of shingle in the world and home to many species of plant and bird."


Monday, September 26, 2011

Headline of the Day

Thanks to a reader for this...

Time for Tim Farron to make an unpopular speech

The late Fred Titmus once said of a promising young batsman: "I'd like to see him make a bad fifty."

By which he meant that anyone with a reasonable amount of talent can make runs when he is in form and the wicket is good and the bowling not too formidable. The real test of a professional cricketer is to be able to make runs when your are out of form or the wicket is bad or the bowlers are on top. Think of Paul Collingwood, whose batting often looked ugly but could be invaluable to England.

The same is true of politicians. Anyone can sound good arguing a popular case: the real test is making a speech that a lot of people are going to disagree with.

Which brings us to Tim Farron.

Tim has rapidly become one of the most prominent Liberal Democrat MPs, though the closeness of the result in the last election for the party's President suggests that he would not have won if Susan Kramer had organised any sort of campaign.

He is clearly a formidable campaigner, having turned Westmorland and Lonsdale into what looked very like a safe Liberal Democrat seat until the Boundary Commission got hold of it. He is young and personable, and he has other attributes that may be useful to someone standing for the leadership of the party in the future. He is Northern, did not go to public school and has not held ministerial office under the Coalition.

So my feeling is that we should take Tim Farron very seriously.

My impression of Tim is that he is very good at saying things people agree with. So in Cumbria he is against second homes and in favour of farming subsidies and Kendal mint cake.

And he is just as good at convincing party audiences that he is on their side too. Take the opening of his speech to the Birmingham Conference last week:
So, well done - you all got past security clearance! 
Incidentally I’m very grateful to the police, they’ve now provided me with all the detailed personal information on party members that I need in order to conduct a Stalinist purge. 
Basically anyone who actually passed security clearance without sign of being a subversive will be erased.
I am sure that this went down well in the hall, got him a laugh early on and made the audience feel he was in sympathy with them.

But hold on. The accreditation row at Birmingham was a serious issue. And Tim Farron is the President of the party.

As I see it there are two lines you can take on the accreditation row.

You can say that this level of security is something we will have to live with in future, particularly if we are in government, and that the Federal Conference Committee (FCC) did an honourable job in making that security as low key as it could.

If you take this view, then you would be looking to the President to stand should to shoulder with FCC and support its decisions.

Or you can take the view (as I do) that it was an outrage. There is no provision in the Liberal Democrats' constitution for the central party to tell constituencies who they can and can't send as representatives to federal conferences.

If you take this view, then you would be looking to the President, as the ultimate defender of members' rights, to speak up - preferably well before the conference.

Either way, a few jokes on the subject really should not satisfy anyone.

Now that Tim Farron is being spoken of as a possible party leader, he needs to risk the odd unpopular speech. Someone in that class cannot always be telling people what they want to hear. Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Gordon Ramsay's dwarf porn double Percy Foster dies in badger den

"Even the Shropshire Star would struggle to beat this," said the reader who sent it to me.

You can see his point, though this is a sad story when you read it. Still, the Herald Sun is a clear winner of our Headline of the Day award.

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Olly Grender says farewell to blogging (for now) on the New Statesman site as she takes up her position at Downing Street as the government's Deputy Director of Communications on a maternity cover. Incidentally, I had a dream last night in which both Olly and Lembit Opik featured - in separate scenes, I hasten to add.

Edd Bauer, an elected sabbatical officer at Birmingham University, is spending his second weekend on remand after being charged with hanging a banner from an over bridge in the city during the recent Liberal Democrat Conference. Gareth Epps says: "we should be speaking out and using our influence in Government to defend the right to peaceful protest and freedom of expression". He's right, you know.

Mark Pack thinks it is very odd that would-be Liberal Democrat candidates in the Merton and Wandsworth London Assembly constituency have been banned from calling on party members. And he's right too.

Maurice Glasman, the founder of New Labour, is not the Messiah but a very naughty boy, argues The Yorkshire Ranter.

io9 links to a film report about Pyramiden. Once a model Soviet settlement on the Norwegian archipelago of Spitsbergen, it now stands abandoned.

A little closer to home, Unmitigated England visits The Four Shires Stone, which once marked the spot where four counties - Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Oxfordshire and Warwickshire - met.

Lord Kitchener: London is the Place for Me



This was used in last night's BBC documentary about the Festival of Britain, but I have had it in mind for some time.

London is the Place for Me was also used as the title track for a collection of Trinidadian calypsos that was issued some years ago.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Liberal Democrat Voice and machine guns

When I sat down to put together my latest Six of the Best on Thursday I went first to an article by Maureen Rigg about intrusive security at the last week's Liberal Democrat Conference in Birmingham. But when I clicked on the link it no longer worked.

Jolly mysterious.

Had Maureen been nobbled? Was it perhaps the work of Percy Alleline or Toby Esterhase?

Then this afternoon, just as mysteriously, that article - or one very like it - appeared on Liberal Democrat Voice.

What is going on here? I am glad the editors of Lib Dem Voice like it too, but wouldn't it have been better if the original post had stayed on Maureen's blog and they had linked to it. Isn't that how blogging works?

Still it is a very good article. Maureen writes:
This year at Birmingham I saw something new again – machine guns being carried by police outside the conference. This wasn’t by officers patrolling the streets outside the secure zone. No, it was inside, where people had already come past three separate checks that the face on the badge was similar to the face on the wearer – I say similar because passport standard photos are notorious for not looking like the real thing! Having passed those checks we then went through an airport style security gate and bags went through X-ray. 
Then, and only then, were we confronted by armed police. They didn’t look very fierce, though they certainly looked young and strong and I wouldn’t have liked to have seen them in action. 
I asked them why we had armed police inside the security zone. “It’s about your safety, Ma’am,” was the response. “But I don’t feel particularly safe having to walk past men with big guns to get into the building” said I. “It’s all about keeping you safe” was the response.
It seems that political conference now take place in Britain only with the indulgence of the security services.

Blue Peter goes to the dogs

Yesterday's Guardian reported that, as part of Blue Peter's move to Salford, the producers are to phase out the show's pets:
BBC insiders say there has been concern about whether the programme's agenda is keeping pace with the changing interests of its target age group of six- to 12-year-olds.
Nostalgia is always a danger when considering a programme that survives from your own childhood. And when I wrote about the litter of puppies that the programme's dog Petra had, I recognised that much had changed since 1965:
It all sounds like an aristocratic family: Patch stayed at home as the heir and the other dogs were found respectable careers
But however much times have changed, I don't believe that children are any less interested in animals today than they were in the 1960s. And if people do believe this is the case, shouldn't they be doing something about it?

Absent from this report, as it is from so much discussion of what we make available to children these days, is any consideration of what we might want them to learn from us or what we might want them to be like.

In the 1960s Blue Peter's presenters were undoubtedly on your side, but they knew lots of interesting things that you didn't and shared them with you. You don't make good children's television simply by giving children what they think they want - you end up with Tiswas if you do that.

Today's Blue Peter producers put me in mind of Outnumbered, whose scripts will one day be studied  as a key text in the uselessness of middle-class parenting in the early 21st century:
What these modern middle-class parents are saying to their children is: "You are on your own. I have nothing to teach you, no wisdom to impart. You are already much better and cleverer than I am." It is not listening, but a total abdication of their responsibilities.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Johnny Rotten gets it together in the country

Though Steve Winwood was barely older than some of the leading lights of Punk, he was very much the sort of musician that the movement was aimed against. He had been part of the first supergroup, he had a big house in the country and Traffic went in for live 10-minute tracks on their albums.

And only a couple of weeks ago his eldest daughter married Camilla Parker Bowles's nephew.

So it rather a surprise to find that the singer of "God Save Queen" getting it together in the studio on Winwood's Cotswold estate. For Johnny Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols) has been recording there with his band Public Image Ltd.

The Australian quotes Winwood as saying:
"He's a very interesting fellow and I like him a lot. We were enemies, so it's ironic that he ends up out in the country recording. You wouldn't have thought we'd have much common ground but we did."

Alex Petridis on the Glee Club and the Liberator Songbook

From today's Guardian:
To the impartial observer ... it simply represents an opportunity to have your mind repeatedly blown: if you thought the general air of positivity at the conference was a bit unreal, then the Glee Club is on hand to teach you that "unreal" is very much a relative concept. You don't even have to go to get the effect of being subject to an intense hallucinogenic experience. You just have to pick up the songbook, which is the best £3.50 you could spend at the Lib Dem conference, Liberal Image's enticing selection of badges featuring MPs notwithstanding. 
For some reason, I'd expected it to largely consist of 19th-century political songs: The Land, stirring stuff about free trade and Gladstone. They're certainly present, but they're pretty much dealt with by page six. It's what's in the remaining 52 pages that knocks you sideways, not least when you get to the song about the coalition set to the tune of Making Your Mind Up by Bucks Fizz: "You gotta Lib it up and then you gotta Con it down, coz if you believe that our coalition can hit the top you've gotta play around." ... 
There has been some discussion at conference about the necessity for the Liberal Democrats to convince the British public that they're different from the other parties. If all else fails, they could always show them this. In the corner, a lobbyist looks on, wearing the kind of frozen, aghast expression that makes me think of the first-night audience at Springtime for Hitler in The Producers.

Jo Swinson and Duncan Hames named as rising stars

The New Statesman was selected its "20 under 40" rising stars in the Commons, and there are two Liberal Democrats among them.

Jo Swinson:
Her dedication to issues outside the mainstream - such as a recently launched campaign about body image, not forgetting those Easter eggs - suggests that she is not simply a ruthless careerist. Last year, Red magazine named her as one of Britain's most influential young female politicians, noting that "she is renowned for speaking up on national issues that other MPs shy away from".
And her husband Duncan Hames, who gets a much shorter profile - apparently he is "hugely ambitious".

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Sky Sports wins Stupid Opening Sentence of the Day

And Sky Sports wins it for:
Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas admitted his side had practised penalties after their Carling Cup win over Fulham.
"Admitted"? Wouldn't "confirmed" or "boasted" make more sense?

Somewhere in the thinking behind this choice of words lies the explanation of why England generally lose in penalty shoot outs

More barking animals from Shropshire

Yesterday it was parrots. Today it is a sheep.

Max Atkinson looks at Nick Clegg's speech

Max Atkinson detects one plus and two minuses in Nick Clegg's speech to the Liberal Democrat Conference in Birmingham.

The plus is that he abandoned his attempt to imitate David Cameron's walkabout, apparently unscripted style of delivery: "If you want to look more like a statesman than a management guru, that's the way to do it."

And the minuses are his decision to have people in the background as he spoke and his line "not easy, but right", which Max thinks sounded too like "right wing".

Max also looks at the evolution of the staging of these events:
Back in the 1970s and 80s, party leaders used to speak from a platform, surrounded by colleagues all around them - until, that is, Harvey Thomas (former impresario for Billy Graham's UK crusades) got involved in staging Conservative Party conferences, where Mrs Thatcher was set apart from the rest so that any signs of audience dissent or doziness couldn't be seen by viewers at home. 
Neil Kinnock quickly followed suit - and with very good reason. I have another video from one of his earliest leader's speeches, in which Dennis Skinner and Joan Maynard (aka 'Stalin's aunty') sat behind him eating sweets, shaking their heads and generally looking very cross.

Six of the Best 188

Exciting news from politics.co.uk: "A poll of branding experts carried out by EMR declared Nick Clegg's party, currently gathered for the Liberal Democrat conference in Birmingham, to have by far the best logo of the three main parties."

Jennie Rigg (aged 33¾) tell us what she did at Liberal Democrat Conference.

"We know that Liberal Democrats are for drugs reform, but as Conservatives, we should be too," writes Joshua Lachkovic on Conservative Home.

Living on Words Alone thinks people are making too much fuss about the proposed childrens' cage fight in the Greenlands Labour Club in Preston.

The British Psychological Society's Research Digest says we underestimate the benefits of contact with the natural world.

Prompted by the news that the band is splitting up after 31 years, Carl Minns chooses his top 10 REM songs.



Market Harborough's war memorial is 90 years old

The Harborough Mail reports:
A service will be held on Sunday to mark the 90th anniversary of the war memorial cross being unveiled in Harborough. 
The cross was given to the town by the War Memorial Committee in honour of the men who died during the First World War. 
As well as the fallen, the cross serves as a tribute to all those from the town and the Bowdens who served in the war. The memorial bears the names of 248 soldiers from Harborough who died in the war.
Elsewhere on the newspaper's website, you can find film of the dedication of the memorial in 1921.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Barking parrots win News Story of the Day

From the Shropshire Star:
A pair of protective parrots are proving effective guard dogs for a Telford security firm – after learning how to bark. 
‘Guard Parrots’ Elvis and Cilla have been stationed outside RMP Guarding in Stafford Park by bosses Trevor and Louise Bate. Signs around the firm’s premises warn would-be thieves that ‘these premises are being patrolled by RMP Guarding security’. 
But the ferocious barking beasts are merely the two green winged Macaws squawking away from their perches.
This story also gives the answer to the age-old question "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" It is: "Barking parrots, of course."

Liberal England: Up 24 places to no. 38

The Total Politics poll results have finally come to an end with the publication of the list of the top political blogs in Britain.

Since you ask, Liberal England is at no. 38 (up from no. 62 last year). Other Lib Dem blogs I have spotted in the top 100 are Liberal Democrat Voice (12), Caron's Musings (25), Andrew Reeves Running Blog (44), Stephen's Liberal Journal (63), Mark Pack (65) and Liberal Vision (72).

The results go all the way to no. 300, so I am sure there will be a lot more Lib Dem blogs included in the list. Anyway, you've all done very well.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Nikolaus Pevsner at Brompton Road station



Brompton Road station on the Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton Railway (as it was then called) opened on 15 December 1906. Situated between Knightsbridge and South Kensington, it was convenient for the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Brompton Oratory, as well as the shops of the Brompton Road But traffic levels were disappointing, and within a few years a practice arose of running some trains through the station without stopping to speed up the service.

As the Brompton Road website (to which I am indebted for this whole account) says:
This practice also obtained at several other stations on the Piccadilly line, indeed it still does nowadays between Hammersmith and Acton Town, but for whatever reason, it stuck in the minds of Londoners in the case of Brompton Road, so much so that the words “Passing Brompton Road” (which the guard would call out at Knightsbridge or South Kensington to forewarn passengers that the train would not stop at the next station) became the title of a West End farce by Jevan Brandon-Thomas, starring one of the famous actresses of the time, Marie Tempest, which enjoyed a run of 174 performances at the Criterion, though the play’s success was attributed more to Miss Tempest’s fame that any merit in the script!
Brompton Road closed briefly in 1926 because of the General Strike, but reopened after a few months by local demand (despite its supposed unpopularity). By the early 1930s, its then owner, by then London Electric Railways (which became part of the London Passenger Transport Board on 1 July 1933) was looking at ways to speed up journey times on the Piccadilly tube, which was becoming more popular for long distance commuting.

The trains of those days could not accelerate away from stations so quickly as modern trains, so it was decided to close three of the less busy stations to speed up the service for the benefit of longer distance passengers. Brompton Road closed on Sunday 29 July 1934.

But the building survives - it is now the headquarters of the University of London's Air Training Squadron, having served as the headquarters of London's air defences during Word War II - and last Friday Brompton Road station was the setting for the launch party for Susan Harries' biography Nikolaus Pevsner: The Life.

Until Friday I knew Susan only online - she recently wrote a guest post about Pevsner in Leicestershire and we first "met" because I mentioned Pevsner in a post about a chapel in Rothwell. In person she is charming and her biography has received uniformly complimentary reviews. I bought a copy from Waterstone's, Market Harborough, on Sunday and will no doubt review it here in due course.

At the party I met Nikolaus's son Dieter and also Sarah, the widow of the novelist John Fowles. I was able to tell her that her husband's introduction to the Oxford Classics edition of After London (which appeared in 1977 or thereabouts) led directly to my completing a Masters dissertation on Richard Jefferies nearly 20 years later. She said that John Fowles re-read Bevis every year - as all sensible people do.

Incidentally, the entrance I used for the party is not the one shown in the photograph but was around the corner. The one you see here was being used by people from a Danish trade delegation. I have read enough John Le Carré recently to know what that really means.

The new Liberator Songbook

A year ago, sitting in my hotel bedroom on Fifth Avenue, I wrote:
Far away across the grey eternity of the North Atlantic, my fellow Liberal Democrats are preparing to enjoy this evening's Glee Club. 
As ever, we at Liberator have produced a new songbook for the occasion, complete with an introduction from Rutland's most popular fictional peer. 
You can find last year's introduction and links to Lord B's earlier essays in this genre elsewhere on this blog.
This year I have to write "over the Warwickshire border", but otherwise all that holds true this evening too.



Bonkers Hall
Rutland
Telephone: Rutland 7

Welcome to the Glee Club – surely the most enjoyable part of any Liberal Democrat Conference? After all, it is much more fun than the Leader’s speech, though we did all roar the year that Charles Kennedy said “I won’t let you down.”

However, you may have noticed some changes to the security arrangements for this evening’s entertainment. In the past, if you were unlucky a particularly officious steward might have a Hard Look at your badge. I remember one year having some trouble convincing one fellow that my likeness had been taken whilst my moustache was benefiting from the lush pastures of the Welland Valley.

This year, I fear, your experience will have been very different. You will have been asked to show your passport, to recite your National Insurance number, to provide your mother’s maiden name, to open your bag, to submit to a pat-down search and quite possibly to remove all your clothes while members of the Federal Conference Committee pulled on rubber gloves with an intimidating snap.

When I queried these new arrangements with the bigwigs at Cowley Street (as it then was) I was told that if we, as a party, wish to fight against the database state and the infringement of individual rights, then we must insist that our members suffer every possible indignity and packed off to Guantanamo bay in orange jumpsuits at the slightest excuse.

Well, I am a Liberal and, in the immortal words of Clarence “Frogman” Wilcock, I am against This Sort Of Thing. I expect you are against This Sort Of Thing too. And the best way for us to fight This Sort Of Thing is to sing ‘The Land,” “Jerusalem” and “Lloyd George Knew My Father” as loudly as possible.


Bonkers

Paul Waugh reads the new Liberator Songbook

From PoliticsHome:
I've got my hands on a copy of the 2011 Liberator Song Book that accompanies the event and I see there's one new song. 
Set to the tune of My Guy, it's called He's Our Nick. It kinda reflects the mood of this conference: gallows humour combined with dogged loyalty.
"Kinda"? And I resent the implication that a fresh edition of the Liberator Songbook would only have one new song. Lord Bonkers' foreword to the new Songbook will appear on this blog later this evening.

"Suits you, sir!" A libertarian pictures the future

"I'm free!"
I recently quoted a neat skewering of a certain sort of socialist written by the great cricket and music journalist Neville Cardus:
I lost sympathy with Socialists the more I met them. Their creed or system was obviously not to be a means to an end but an end in itself; I could not discover what manner of rich, imaginative life they were planning for the world after poverty had been abolished. More and more Socialism, apparently.
Much the same holds true of modern libertarians. It is hard to discover what manner of rich, imaginative life they envisage for themselves after the state has got out of their way. We know they will enjoy smoking in public places, but beyond that it's a bit of a mystery.

So we should be grateful to Tom Papworth, who rather grandly styles himself "Director of Policy" for the blog Liberal Vision, for giving is an insight into libertarian thinking on Liberal Democrat Voice:
Monday night’s Channel 4′s coverage of the Liberal Democrat conference ended with Michael Crick interviewing Ann Treneman and Michael White about the general feel amongst Lib Dems. 
Among the usual sniping from a reactionary sketch-writer and the doyen of the urban intellectual elite came a lament that the Liberal Democrat conference did not feel like a Liberal Democrat conference. People were too on message, they moaned; there was not enough rebellion; nor enough eccentricity. Michael White in particular bemoaned the absence of beards and sandals. Lib Dem conference, they felt, had become boring. 
Too right. 
We are not in the 1970s, when you could fit the parliamentary party in a black cab and conference delegates looked like they’d drifted in from a Prog Rock festival. Nor are we so marginal that we need policy motions on goldfish and the potential dangers of asteroid attack. 
Over the last 20 years the Liberal Democrats have seriously professionalised as a party. And it shows. As we have acquired suits and ties we have acquired 25 seats.
For a libertarian, he sounds remarkably conformist. If the state does get out of everyone's way, it seems it will be only to allow the ethos of big business to complete its takeover of the world.

If you want a picture of the future, imagine someone wearing a suit - forever.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Second Annual Social Good Summit



A year ago, thanks to Oxfam, I was in New York, where the Millennium Development Goals Summit was taking place. I was based at the 92nd Street Y, in the digital media lounge of the first Social Good Summit.

This week the second summit is having to rub along without me. According to its website:
The Summit unites a dynamic community of global leaders to discuss a big idea: the power of innovative thinking and technology to solve our greatest challenges. It ignites conversations between a live audience in New York City and thousands around the world participating via Livestream. 
The most innovative technologists, influential minds and passionate activists will come together this September with one shared goal: to unlock the potential of new media and technology to make the world a better place.
You can watch many of the sessions on the website - the agenda is also on the site. (The time difference is five hours.)

Policing the Liberal Democrat Conference

PC Richard Stanley gives us a different perspective:
Whilst on the cordons themselves there’s not a great deal to do so I watch the delegates float about and try to spot the ‘celebs’ of the Liberal Democrat party, or at least people who I think look sufficiently like them for me to cross them off my list.
I also watch the other police units move about their business and it is only by doing so that I get an idea as to how big an operation policing the conference is. Planning takes the best part of the year and I’ve seen involved search teams, firearms officers, dog units, the helicopter and a range of other ‘secret squirrel’ units that even I don’t know what they’re there for.

The decline of small family dairy farms In Wisconsin

Six of the Best 187

The winners of this year's Liberal Democrat Voice Blog of the Year Awards can be found on Lib Dem Voice. Congratulations all round.

But, as Liberal Burblings points out, most of the previous winners are no longer blogging, or at least no longer blogging in their own right. It seems the Curse of the BOTYs (which I can claim to have discovered) is still in operation. I have some ideas why this is so, which I may share in a separate post some time.

A link to David Boyle and Simon Titley's Really Facing the Future - on sale from the Liberator stall at Birmingham - can be found on Living on Words Alone.

Velvet Glove, Iron Fist considers the poison pen of Johann Hari.

Did Charles Dickens have a real-life model in mind when he created the Artful Dodger? The Sun suggests that he did. (Don't worry about enjoying this article: it's the Daily Mail you have to be snobbish about these days.)

Sibling of Daedalus reveals that Gillian Hills played the juvenile lead in both the film Beat Girl (1960) and the 1969 television adaptation of Alan Garner's The Owl Service. Not only that: she found time to appear in Blow-up and A Clockwork Orange too.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Welton's, Great Bowden


This is Welton's in Great Bowden, which bills itself as "Market Harborough's best kept secret". I like to think of myself as that, but never mind, because Welton's is worth a visit.

As well as being the village post office and newsagent, it is a high-class delicatessen and tearoom. And it proudly says it is open every day except Christmas Day.

Last time I was at Welton's it had been struck down by the same power cut that had affected Wartime Housewife's sale at the Village Hall across the road. Today it was back to its best.

The Rassoodocks: Let's Go



Someone was trying to send me messages through the ether today. I heard Billy Joel's "An Innocent Man" playing in two different establishments with an hour today. But I had already decided to choose a song by the Rassoodocks.

Here they are playing Let's Go at the Musician in Leicester earlier this year.

The band's name, of course, comes from the opening of Anthony Burgess's novel A Clockwork Orange:
There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar trying to make up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening.
And my interest from them stems from Phil Beesley's recent guest post on Liberal England about Anthony Burgess in Leicester.

Remember you're a Wimble

Our Councillor of the Day Award goes to David Wimble from Lydd.

This is Kent explains why:
The head of community radio station RMFM has admitted it was "a big mistake" to falsely claim his Lydd Airport poll was carried out by a leading market research firm. 
David Wimble, who is also a Tory district and town councillor and owner of free magazine The Looker, has been accused of "scandalously misleading" people over the opinion survey carried out by the radio station he holds the licence for. 
In March, Mr Wimble claimed in The Looker that the survey was "an independent poll carried out by Ipsos MORI". 
But Ipsos MORI – the second largest market research organisation in the country – has since confirmed it had nothing to do with it.
More about the issue behind this from the Lydd Airport Action Group.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy from 1979



Having weighed the new film against the television adaptation from 1979 and found it wanting, I had better show you a glimpse of the version I prefer.

Here are Alec Guinness as George Smiley, Ian Richardson as Bill Haydon and a little bit of a splendidly pompous Michael Aldridge as Percy Alleline. You can buy the whole thing if you like the look of it.

Bus shelter, Kettering General Hospital


I went to see the Dowager Lady Bonkers in hospital today. She has had a second knee replacement operation and is Terribly Well considering.

On the way home I was very taken with this bus shelter across the road from the hospital.

Max Atkinson's party conference prize competition

Max Atkinson is running a prize competition on his blog to coincide with the party conference season:
All you have to do is to suggest a PowerPoint slide (or PowerPoint show of no more than 3 slides) that any of the three main party leaders could use to impress the audiences during their 2011 conference speeches.
Full details on Max's website. There are two good prizes - three if you speak Russian.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

When I decided to see the new film of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy today I was determined not be to begin my review by saying that it was not as good as the book or the TV series. But...

It's not as good as the book or the TV series.

The film has many strengths and I would urge you to see it, but there are too many clunky lines and too much is made obvious. The makers seems to think we need to see a murdered body at regular intervals to remember that the Soviets are the baddies. The staff of the British secret service seem able to take documents home whenever they wish. And the idea that, after they had been sacked, Control and Smiley would walk out of the office in sight of everyone is just silly.

And Colin Firth, playing Bill Haydon, is made to bring his bicycle into the office to show he does not care for protocol. Ian Richardson, playing the same part in 1979, was allowed to do that just with his eyebrows and tone of voice.

And the industrial look of the Circus (the headquarters of British intelligence) surely comes from more recent film and television fashion rather than any attempt to recreate the cramped office accommodation of the 1970s and Le Carré's book. You half expect an angry Trevor Eve to turn up and start writing on glass screens.

They did manage to get the whole of the novel's plot into the film, which even in two hours is quite an achievement. However, Roy Bland might as well not have been there and, more importantly, the critical incident in which Jim Prideaux visited Czechoslovakia is mishandled. It is moved to Hungary (which does not matter but seems pointless) and turned into a shooting outside a cafe.

Yet the whole point of this incident in the book is that the Soviets and Czechs make it look like a barmy attempt to kidnap a General, and that ends Control's career. Here it is hard to see why it should do so.

And then there is the cast. My feeling is that almost everyone looks 10 or 20 years too young. The film is set in the 1970s, but the plot has its roots in World War II and even the 1930s. You would not think it from looking at the principal actors.

Comparing the current cast with the cast from the television adaptation is a bit like choosing a joint team from the last Ashes series. It would consist of 10 Englishmen and Michael Hussey - and even then you would wonder how much we would miss Paul Collingwood's close catching.

Here it is the 1979 cast that would get almost all the places. Even the fashionable Benedict Cumberbatch makes a less convincing Peter Gwillam than Michael Jayston from 1979. It's not that he is a lesser actor: it's just that he does not convince as a man of action.

And then there is Gary Oldman as George Smiley.

Having watched the TV series twice recently, I suspect that the legendary status of Alec Guinness's performance had something to do with the fact that it was the first major television drama he had appeared in.

When Oldman speaks he is very good and very convincing, even if his voice does owe something to Guinness's Smiley. The trouble is that he is made to stay silent for a long time at the start of the film.

As a result you start wondering, with his moon face, grey hair and glasses, whether Oldman's Smiley reminds you most of John Birt, John Major or Sven Goran Eriksson.

And you wouldn't want any of them running the secret service.

Still it is a good film, even if it does not deserve the praise that has been rained on it. I am probably too close  to the story at the moment, as I am going through something of a John Le Carré period.

I will be interested to know what those who are not familiar with the book, and not familiar with the 1979 television version in particular, make of the 2011 film.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Thank you! Total Politics top Lib Dem blogs poll


Liberal England has come in as the no. 3 Liberal Democrat blog in the Total Politics poll this year.

I think this is the highest position I have ever occupied in this poll (and its earlier equivalents), so many thanks to everyone who voted for me.

Sometimes I wonder if all those photographs of churches are self-indulgent, but they do not seem to have put readers off. Maybe they give people who do not share my politics something to look at?

Talking of polls, Liberal Democrat Voice has the nominations for its Blog of the Year awards this year. Congratulations to everyone on those lists. In the words of young Mr Grace, you've all done very well.

Later. I see I am also no. 4 in the Total Politics list of Lib Dem bloggers (as opposed to individual blogs). Thanks again!

Leicester's only Lib Dem councillor cleared

Just when you think Leicester politics cannot get any crazier, along comes a story like this:
A city councillor has been cleared of breaking data protection laws after a seven-month investigation. 
Aylestone councillor Nigel Porter was reported to Leicester City Council's standards board in February, weeks after passing on council spending documents to the Mercury. 
The documents listed all monthly payments over £500 made by the council – something the coalition Government had ordered all councils to do. Despite the papers being marked "for publication", senior officers at the authority flagged up the issue with his Tory group leader, Councillor Ross Grant. 
Coun Porter was suspended by the city's Tory group, and when he later showed the documents to regional party chiefs in an effort to clear his name, he was reported to the council's internal investigation body. 
This week, he was told he had been cleared of breaching council rules.
And quite right too. It all sounds a remarkable waste of officers' time.

The complication is that today Grant and Porter (now, not surprisingly, a Liberal Democrat) are the only opposition councillors in Leicester. The prospects of their working together must be pretty slim.

Labour blogger Vijay Singh Riyait asks if Ross Grant will now be apologising to Nigel Porter. He goes on to say:
I’ve also learnt that the there has been a bit of a mass exodus from the top of the Leicester Tory Party. It remains a local conservative association in turmoil with little purpose and no real strategy and abandoned by its Central Party!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

John Le Carré interviewed by Democracy Now


I have been going through something of a John Le Carré phase recently, watching the BBC adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy again and reading the novel. Tomorrow I hope to see the new film of it in London.

John Le Carré has made a remarkable journey, beginning his career in intelligence and as a novelist in the era when the Soviet Union was our enemy. Today capitalists, sometimes Russian capitalists, are the enemy in his books.

Except that you suspect he has not moved at all. He has held his ground as a decent man without illusions. We would be a better country if more people had held steadfast to his sort of Englishness.

Le Carré (or David Cornwell) gave this interview to Democracy Now! last year. He talks about writing, globalisation, Tony Blair and much else.

Today's Daily Telegraph: A glimpse of the day job

It is not often I buy the Telegraph, but I was involved in two stories on the front page of today's edition.

Early risers get ahead of the game began as one of my press releases.


Sorry if this seems vain, but a blog can be useful as a diary and as somewhere safe to store links.

Leave Those Kids Alone: How Official Hate-Speech Regulation Interferes in School Life

From the Manifesto Club website:
Following on from our report, The Myth of Racist Kids, we have now published an in-depth investigation of the hate-speech reporting systems that brand 34,000 children 'racist' or 'homophobic' every year. 
Leave Those Kids Alone, by Adrian Hart, shows the extent of ‘hate speech’ reporting systems imposed on schools by local authorities. The report gives examples of the kinds of petty playground spats that have been marked up as ‘hate speech’ incidents – which could have consequences for the child later in school life. 
The report argues that these reporting systems are an inappropriate intervention into school life and children's play, and undermine teachers' ability to set a moral example to their pupils. Surveying and monitoring children’s speech is no route to an equal and tolerant society. 
We call on the government to issue a definitive statement on ‘hate speech’ reporting, and make it clear that this is no longer a statutory duty for schools.
You can download Leave Those Kids Alone from the Manifesto Club website.

Really Facing the Future by David Boyle and Simon Titley

From the Liberator website:
Really Facing the Future has been written by David Boyle and Simon Titley as an alternative to the Liberal Democrats’ policy development agenda, Facing the Future, (which was published in August 2011 and intended to set out the party's values, highlight the main challenges and summarise policy development priorities for the remainder of the current parliament). 
The authors believe that Facing the Future fails to face the future. It lacks political imagination, it lacks a coherent analysis of the challenges we face and it lacks passion, seeming to have been approached as a dry academic exercise. 
Really Facing the Future sets out ten new directions for policy. They are not exhaustive or definitive. They represent the views of two Liberal Democrats (albeit with 68 years of membership between them). But they are an attempt to encourage Liberal Democrat policy makers to think more radically – partly because the challenges that lie ahead require more radical thinking and partly as an antidote to the idea that party policy is at its most effective when it tentatively suggests a few tiny changes that don‟t threaten the status quo. 
If the Liberal Democrats want to face the future, they must look at the real world as it is – not as it seems from the peculiar prism of Westminster – and respond. That is what Really Facing the Future tries to do.
You can download Really Facing the Future from Liberator's website.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

David Steel on the need to accept responsibility

I have never been the greatest admirer of the former Liberal leader, but these words of his from 1978 have a strong contemporary resonance.

The Rassoodocks are horrorshow

Phil Beesley, who wrote a guest post on Anthony Burgess and Leicester earlier this week, points out that there are flyers for a band called the Rassoodocks all over the city's Victoria Park.

Rassoodocks? See the Nadsat lexicon.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Spurting Man at Arts Fresco 2011


As I said when writing about Arts Fresco 2011, The Spurting Man deserves a post all of his own.

The act is described well by the Avanti Display site:
The show dissects the unequal relationship between a famous speciality performer, "The Spurting Man", and his downtrodden assistant. Performed to Ravel’s Bolero without a spoken word this show is meticulous to character and detail. The pompous “Spurting Man” shows his tricks whilst his assistant, dominated and undervalued, is given no credit for the role he plays. The assistant despises his master. The master ignores the assistant. The bizarre and unequal relationship lays the basis for a series of comic interactions. 
Each trick the “Spurting Man” performs culminates in a display of squirting water until, finally crowned and, on top of his pedestal, the grand finale takes place and “The Spurting Man” cascades fountains of water from his body.
Even before the great man appears, the act is entertaining as his hangdog assistant recruits children from the audience to help him prepare the set. And no show that ends with the front two rows of them dripping wet can be all bad.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: J.K.s I have known

Another visit to Bonkers Halls draws to a close.

For many years, my favourite pair of opening bowlers were J.K. Galbraith and J.K. Lever; I was happy whenever I could persuade them to turn out for my XI together. Galbraith’s height and his talent for exposing the inadequacies of laissez-faire economics with witty apercus, together with Lever’s ability to bring the ball back in to right-handers, made them a fearsome combination indeed.

These days, the only J.K. I know is J.K. Rowling, and her only appearance for me proved that she cannot bowl for toffees. I once tried reading one of her books, but could get nowhere with it. As I remarked to the Well-Behaved Orphans at the time, who wants to read about children who live in a vast gothic institution?

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South-West, 1906-10.

Earlier this week

Six of the Best 186

As Liam Fox exults in Britain's role as a major arms exporter, Obliged to Offend looks at the contradictions of David Cameron's foreign policy.

Brain Pickings directs us to two films on democracy and despotism made by Encyclopedia Britannica immediately after World War II.

Richard Littlejohn recently claimed that the Great Train Robbery was "like a military operation, carried out with immense precision and chutzpah". Zelo Street demonstrates that this is nonsense: "the sheer amateurishness of the heist is the stuff of legend".

"The fact that they're cute is a decided advantage, and farmers are being encouraged to make provision for them, leaving grass margins around fields, allowing the vegetation around ponds and rivers to grow a bit taller, that sort of thing." The View from Creeting St Peter on the appeal and prospects of the harvest mouse.

Blue Tinted considers the enigmatic relationship between Chelsea and Vitesse Arnhem.

"'The Knights Templar were warriors,' Teabing reminded, the sound of his aluminum crutches echoing in this reverberant space." The Daily Telegraph selects the 20 clumsiest sentences in the Dan Brown oeuvre.

David Boyle on his new book Voyages of Discovery

Over on the History Today site you can listen to a recording of an interview with David Boyle about his new book Voyages of Discovery.

Opening Sentence of the Day

The Leicester Mercury wins with its:

A ram named after former Leicester Tigers star Lewis Moody had a lucky escape when the car towing it burst into flames.

Monday, September 12, 2011

GUEST POST Anthony Burgess in Leicester

Phil Beesley on his discovery that the novelist once lived in the Leicester suburb of Aylestone and set his novel The Right to an Answer there.

Over a pint of Tiger, somebody told me that Anthony Burgess used to drink in our pub. The story sounded implausible -- that Burgess had been a familiar face at the Black Horse, Aylestone in the 1950s - but I filed it away mentally.* The legend was that Anthony Burgess got drunk in the bar, chatting with the landlord, Bernard, while, his wife was keeled over in the lounge. 

Burgess's real life is difficult to follow, thanks to his vivid imagination when being interviewed. Every story about him needs to be taken with a grain of salt. The snippets that I have heard about him came from people who were around at the time. 

****

Burgess started his writing career whilst working in Malaya. In autumn 1957, he left Malaya, moving to Leicester with his wife. In 1958, Burgess got a new job in Brunei but was forced to return to the UK in the following year owing to illness. Incorrectly diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour and spending long periods in hospital, Burgess still managed to write several novels. Recuperated, Burgess moved to Sussex and then London.

In later years, Burgess claimed that his productivity at the start of the 1960s was motivated by the desire to support his wife, Lynne, financially. Incidental evidence suggests that his Leicester novel, The Right to an Answer was already well formed.

For five months or so in 1957/58, Anthony and Lynne Burgess shared her father's home at 2 Franklyn Road, Aylestone. Franklyn Road is a brief hop from the Black Horse on Narrow Lane. Biographer Andrew Biswell describes it as a "back-street drinking den", but those who frequented it at the time regarded it as a typical Leicester pub. The description, however, seems appropriate for Burgess who despised almost everything about England.

Even the brief journey from home to the Black Horse (Mucky Duck or Black Swan in the novel) offended Burgess:
The Black Swan stood in a pocket of decaying village, the dirty speck round which the pearly suburb had woven itself. The village had shrunk to less than an acre. It was like a tiny reservation for aborigines. From the filthy windows imbeciles leered down at the weed-patches; cocks crowed all day; little girls in pinafores of an earlier age shnockled over stained half-eaten apples; all the boys seemed to have cleft paletes.
Probably unknown to Burgess, Sanvey Lane in Aylestone was formerly called Mad Lane.

The Black Horse landlord was Bernard Tomlin (Ted Arden in the novel) and a bizarre friendship was established. Years later, Burgess was sending postcards to his old drinking mate in Aylestone. And Bernard had his inscribed copy of The Right to an Answer. In the manner of Ted Arden, we can assume that Bernard looked after such trophies. 

I can recall Bernard visiting the Black Horse post retirement for a Guinness or mild, with a vodka chaser. Fencing swords were still mounted on a beam in the lounge when Bernard died, but the rest of his armoury, which features prominently in the novel, had been removed. Today the most violent relic in the Black Horse is a wooden butter churn.

Black Swan regulars and staff are treated less sympathetically than Ted Arden, so it would be unkind to try to identify them. An exception might be the nattily dressed barman whose real name sadly escapes me.

St Andrew's, Aylestone: "'They say the church spire interferes with their 
bloody television reception,' he [the vicar] said."
We can unquestioningly accept that the Black Horse was only one of the Leicester drinking establishments familiar to Burgess. J.W. Denham, narrator of The Right to an Answer, introduces readers to the members-only Hippogriff Club in the city centre. Perhaps a reader may be able to suggest a venue on which it may have been modelled?

Leicester legend is that the oldest curry restaurant is the Taj Mahal on Highfields Street which opened in 1960. This doesn't quite tie in with the period when Burgess lived in Leicester, so Denham's fictional dining review may be based on experience elsewhere:
I had a sudden longing, like a pain, for the hot smelly East, and remembered that Everett had said something about an Indian restaurant. I asked the barman, a hot-haired Irishman, and he asked one of the business-men (who, I saw now, was a Pakistani) and then was able to tell me that the Calicut Restaurant was on Egg Street, by the Poultry Market. I went there and ate insipid dahl, tough chicken, greasy pappadams, and rice that had congealed to a pudding. The décor was depressing - brown oily wallpaper, a calendar with a Bengali pin-up (buff, deliriously plump, about thirty-eight) – and it was evident that the few Indian students were eating the special curry prepared for the staff.
There are other identifiable references. Denham describes a taxi journey from the city to Aylestone which passed a cricket ground. That would be the Leccy cricket ground which last hosted a county championship game in 1957, not Grace Road. And the Leicester Mercury became the Evening Hermes.

****

That's a quick review of the Leicester that Burgess perceived, not the book. If the novel interests you, I suggest that you buy a copy on Abe Books to read it in full. Ignore the reviews on the web which fail to capture Burgess's bitterness and insight. The Right to an Answer is a very black novel.

With thanks to Ken Beck, Paul Rose and Big Harold.


* I waited impatiently for more information in the 2002 biography by Roger Lewis. Alas, Lewis had fallen out of love with his subject and the biography informs the reader more about its writer than Burgess. Fortunately, Andrew Biswell was writing another biography, The Real Life of Anthony Burgess (2005). Biswell made the effort to investigate Burgess in Aylestone and Leicester, as you might hope of a University of Leicester graduate, but he should have spent more time in the Black Horse.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Butler hacking

All technologies have their drawbacks, of course. Make no mistake: I welcome the development of the mobile telephone and I am pleased to see that the latest ALDC guidance recommends its use over the conventional field telephone in all but the most compact urban wards. With it, however, has come the development of “phone-hacking” – an unlovely phenomenon, even if it has led to the welcome demise of the News of the World.

There is, however, as I once observed in one of my more philosophical essays for the High Leicestershire Radical, “nothing new under the sun”. Those of us called to bear the heavy burdens of public life used to go in fear of “butler hacking”. In those days, members of the yellow press would make it their business to find out the public house in which a chap’s butler drank when he was not butling, buy him a pale ale or three, and quiz him as to one’s diary and opinions. More than one cabinet minister was obliged to resign after having his butler hacked.

I, too, fell victim to this practice – not at the Bonkers’ Arms, where anyone poking his nose into what does not concern him would have the dogs set on him – but at another, less well conducted, establishment. Many fair-minded commentators have argued it was the publicity given to my views on Asquith that persuaded him not to include me in his first Cabinet.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South-West, 1906-10.

Earlier this week

Leicester Labour disciplinary round up

Where to start?

We have seen the former Labour leader on the city council, Ross Willmott criticising Leicester's elected mayor Sir Peter Soulsby. The other day the Leicester Mercury reported that he could now face disciplinary action.

You may also enjoy the encounter between Willmott and Soulsby that took place on BBC Radio Leicester the other day. You have another three days to listen. The part of the programme in question starts at about 2:25.

While the issue at stake is ostensibly the city's need for a new gallery for contemporary art, you can hear the passions seething just under the surface. It's a shame it's not television: the body language would have been fascinating.

Then there were the two Labour councillors who called for the return of the death penalty. They, says the Mercury, have been "censured" for expressing their views publicly.

I don't agree with their views, and Barbara Potter's words "Bring it on. Give these murderers the option of the noose, the electric chair or lethal injection" were crass. But surely they should be allowed to say what they think on an issue that has nothing to do with the council?

Meanwhile, we are waiting to hear what will happen to the Lord Mayor in parkingticketgate.


Cocaine, dominatrix linked to phone hacking scandal

1233 ABC Newscastle takes our Headline of the Day Award by a distance.

Judges' note: Having taken legal advice, we are not providing a link to today's winner.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Arts Fresco 2011 in Welland Park



I spent the afternoon at Arts Fresco, the Market Harborough Street Festival that is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.

The picture above shows Until Now, "a beautifully improbable acrobatic adventure with a little magic and a few surprises," but for me the day's highlight was The Spurting Man, who certainly deserves a post of his own.

I met Hazel Cook and asked why the festival had moved from the High Street to Welland Park this year. It's not just that the town centre is still being dug up at the moment: she said that the costs of closing the town to traffic were eating into the budget for acts. So it looks as though Arts Fresco will be in the park in future.

The photograph below shows Hazel photographing someone we thought was probably Julian White (Leicester Tigers and England).


Lord Bonkers' Diary: Evan Harris and the Rutland Fencible Cavalry

Our week at Bonkers Hall continues...

Back in the 1960s, when I served for some years on Party Council, I often found myself out of sympathy with majority opinion. Notably, when public disorder broke out, I frequently found it difficult to find a seconder for my proposal that we should send for the Rutland Fencible Cavalry. So I was pleased to see from the electric Twitter that Dr Evan Harris is now of my opinion.

I have been wondering why this should be so when he is otherwise to be found on the Advanced side of every question, and I think I have put my finger on it. Whenever he is on the point of making a scientific breakthrough – creating artificial life, as it may be, or putting the atom back together – the local peasantry turns up with pitchforks and flaming brands to drive him from his laboratory, before hurling his retorts, test tubes and Bunsen burner into the nearest stream.

Is it any wonder that he is every bit as keen as I on calling out the militia? After all, the Reverend Hughes’s ping pong club does sterling work in keeping the local youth occupied, but there are times when only cold steel will do.


Earlier this week

Zombies: Old and Wise



The Alan Parsons Project was just that: a project put together by Alan Parsons, a sound engineer and record producer, with the help of his manager and fellow composer Eric Woolfson. Tired of having groups reject his ideas, Parsons took control and recruited individual musicians to work on his concept albums.

Some players were regulars, and a sort of Alan Parsons house band soon emerged. This was based around former members of the Scottish group Pilot, which had been relentlessly promoted by BBC Radio 1 in its time, perhaps because two of its members had escaped from an early version of the Bay City Rollers.

But what was really different about the Alan Parsons Project was the number of different vocalists who sang on its albums. One of them, who sang this track from its 1982 album Eye in the Sky, was the former Zombie lead singer Colin Blunstone.

Was the Alan Parsons Project any good? BBC Music does not think so saying that Eye in the Sky was supposed to be
an album 'about belief systems', although you would be forgiven for thinking it was about wet, FM-friendly rock.
Still, I rather like this song, if only for Blunstone's voice. I was going to give you the original version, but I find that it is not possible to embed it. So here is Blunstone singing "Old and Wise" with the Zombies at Market Harborough Leisure Centre ("Rural South Leicestershire's premier rock venue") earlier this year.

All concept albums had this sort of guitar solo. I think it was the law.

Bizarre News Writing of the Day

A win for the BBC:
Twenty-four men suspected of being held against their will have been found during a raid at a travellers' site.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Toby Young, Latin and the nature of elitism

The charge of "elitism" is often thrown about by people on the left when someone disagrees with their views on education. It's usually hard to know what they mean by it, but if the concept has a clear meaning it must be the idea that certain sorts of education should be confined to children from the upper or middle classes.

So it was very puzzling to read in the Guardian this morning that Toby Young's West London Free School
has faced accusations of elitism, partly for making Latin compulsory up to age 14.
It seems to be that requiring all children to study Latin is precisely the reverse of elitism. It is the left-wing demand for "relevance" that often means that an academic curriculum, and everything it opens the doors to, is denied to children from poorer families.

It happens that I went to a comprehensive in Hertfordshire where everyone did Latin in the second year (or Year 8, as I think the young people say these days). It had recently ceased being a grammar school - and a very traditional grammar school at that, because we were still wearing school caps in the early 1970s - but it was a comprehensive and one that was to produce no lesser figure than Dr Richard Grayson a few years after me.

And I am grateful that I did study Latin there, because when I got the chance to take Latin O level up here in Leicestershire a few I jumped at it. And studying it taught me the grammar I was not learning in English and awakened an interest in the Classical world, two factors that led to my studying Philosophy at university.

So I am very keen on requiring all children to study Latin.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Pointing it at Sandy

A second day at Bonkers Hall

As loyal readers will be aware, I have long been at the forefront of new technology. Was I not the first person in Rutland to have a telephone? (I have to admit that it proved something of a disappointment as it never rang. When I enquired about this failure, I was told it was because no one else in Rutland had a telephone).

Similarly, I was something of a pioneer of television, as I could often be seen casting a fly or gralloching a stag on the popular Bonkers Country programme broadcast from Alexandra Palace before the last war. By popular demand, or at least by my own demand, this show was resurrected when I won the independent television franchise for Rutland in 1955.

Ever one to move with the times, as I flatter myself I have established, I have long been enjoying the test cricket on Sky. I did not pay for a satellite dish, but rather set up a receiver of my own using a wire coat-hanger (Nanny is always throwing them out, saying that only wood will do) and a wok that Cook had taken against (“Nasty foreign thing.”) However, this digital television is another matter entirely, so I decided to call in an expert “aerial erector” (as his business card describes him).

When he arrives at the Hall this morning, he turns out to be an engaging young man. He exclaims over the size of the old place (“I couldn’t be doing with all that dusting”), but does admire my dado in the Breakfast Room. He is also adamant that his is a skilled trade: “It’s not just a matter of pointing it at Sandy and hoping for the best.”

Earlier this week

Friday, September 09, 2011

Bash Street Theatre Company opens Arts Fresco



I am just back from the (hem, hem) VIP Reception that opened Arts Fresco.

After the wine and nibbles there was a performance of Cliffhanger! by the Bash Street Theatre Company. It was a live performance done in the style of a silent movie, complete with piano accompaniment. It was all great fun and is well worth seeing if you get the chance.

The clip above comes from a outdoor performance of this play. The one tonight took place in the big top in Welland Park, where this year's Arts Fresco is taking place.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: How we should conduct ourselves in coalition

This year the Conference issue of Liberator has been mailed out to subscribers before the event itself. My own copy has arrived in the post, which means that it is time to spend some more time with Rutland's most popular fictional peer.

In a few short days, we shall meet in Birmingham – home of municipal Liberalism, metal bashing and the Clement Davies Group. Moreover, we meet as partners in a coalition government. Moreover (if one is allowed to say ‘moreover’ twice), we meet as partners in a coalition government with the Conservatives.

Every day, letters arrive from worried young activists, asking me how we should conduct ourselves in our unwonted situation. I generally reply that we should maintain our nerve – or "Keep Calm and Carry On", in the words of the poster campaign I devised during the dark days of the last war.

In other words, we should maintain our principles while accepting the inevitable compromises of office – and give the Tories one up the snoot when they are not expecting it.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Arts Fresco, Market Harborough, 9-11 September


The East Midlands' largest street theatre festival takes place in Welland Park, Market Harborough, tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday, with a big top show, an enchanted evening promenade, talking statues and much else. See the Arts Fresco website for full details.

Hazel Cook, the festival's director, wrote a guest post looking forward to the event a few weeks ago.