Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Skin Too Few: The Days of Nick Drake



Thanks to Dangerous Minds for posting this video.

He writes:
Other than a few childhood home movies, no film footage of Nick Drake exists. So director Berkven had to create a sense of Drake through other means. That he succeeds is quite remarkable. 
He is enormously helped by Nick’s mother Molly. Her own music uncannily evokes her son’s and creates a deeply emotional dimension to A Skin Too Few.
I blogged about Molly Drake a couple of years ago.

Alistair Carmichael doesn't quite rule out a leadership bid



BBC News has a report headlined:

Alistair Carmichael rules out Lib Dem leadership bid

But when you read Alistair's quote below it, you can detect a little wriggle room if you want to:
"I have got a family that still includes school age children. And the commitment that it takes to be party leader in modern politics is enormous. 
"My family already miss out on a lot just by virtue of the fact that I'm an MP and I'm a minister and I'm away from home every week . 
"At least I feel that they miss out on a lot, they might feel differently."
So perhaps there was something in Lord Bonkers' tip after all?

Wellington to Craven Arms disused railway 2


Part 1 took us from Wellington to Buildwas. This second part takes the journey on to Much Wenlock.

Which recalls the old joke:
"My wife comes from Shopshire." 
"Much Wenlock?" 
"I get my share."
I once wrote about the Wenlock Olympian Games in the New Statesman.

Friday, February 27, 2015

"There are more ways than one of getting close to your ancestors"



Eric Portman and Sheila Sim in a scene from Powell and Pressburger's A Canterbury Tale.

Why haven't tuition fees deterred young people from going to university?


This tweet, which I sent from platform 2 at Leicester station this morning, has received an extraordinary (for me) number of retweets. I think that is in part because Owen Jones was one of the first people to retweet it.

But this is not the argument that was most often deployed against introducing and then increasing tuition fees.

Those who opposed them said that fees would deter young people from going to university. But today we are told that there are more students in British universities than ever and, in particular, more students from poorer backgrounds.

So why have tuition fees failed to deter people from going to university?

I can think of three possible reasons, though no doubt there are more.

The first is that young people are optimistic. Even if tuition fees are a burden, they assume that they personally do well, get a good job and have no money worries.

The second is that the new system really is better than the old one and young people have realised this and gone to university without a care.

The third is that it is now next to impossible to get an interview for many jobs without having a degree. So however bad the system is, young people have to put up with it.

I fear this last reason may be the most powerful and that the phenomenon of graduates in non-graduate jobs will becoming an increasing problem in future years.

What prevented the press from exposing Jimmy Savile's crimes

Former Sunday Mirror editor Paul Connew explains on The Drum:
It was a disastrous combination of Britain’s draconian libel laws (generally so beloved of celebrities with unsavoury secrets and lawyers well aware of ‘star-struck’ juries), victims intimidated by Savile's celebrity status and powerful connections plus police indifferent to (or themselves intimidated by) allegations against the rich and powerful ... that conspired to protect Savile and other VIP abusers.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

An early Adam Curtis documentary on system building



Thanks to Dirty Modern Scoundrel for pointing us to this video. It dates from 1984.

As the blog says:
The documentary itself is a rather straightforward forerunner to his more complex classics such as A Century of the Self and the Power of Nightmares. 
It's lacking his voice (it's narrated instead by reporter David Jones) and his trademark crazy soundtrack but otherwise many of the Curtis tropes are here: suspicion of those in high places and the whiff of institutionalised corruption and conspiracy. But the style feels more like an episode of Panorama rather than his later authored pieces. 
Still, there's great interviews with T. Dan Smith, Kenneth Campbell and particularly Cleeve Barr, and some amazing archive footage.

National Union of Boot and Shoe Operatives building, Leicester


I read in the Leicester Mercury last week:
An iconic symbol of Leicester’s industrial past and radical working class traditions has been given listed-building status following a campaign to preserve it. 
The former Boot and Shoe Operatives Union Building, in St James Street, off Humberstone Gate, has been designated as a Grade II-listed building. It follows a campaign by the Leicester Group of the Victorian Society. 
The 103-year-old building, designed by city architects Harrison & Hattrell in the final year of Queen Victoria's reign, survives largely intact. 
Dr David Holmes researched the city’s boot and shoe industry as part of the Victorian Society's application to conservation watchdog, English Heritage. 
He said: “The building was threatened with conversion to flats which would have destroyed its fine interior. 
"We are particularly pleased because it is unique in Leicester as being the only major national trade union headquarters in the city."
So on Saturday I went to photograph it. It is a pleasing building, very much of its era. You can find it off Humberstone Gate in Leicester, behind Sainsbury's and across the road from the Spiritualist church.

The fact that the headquarters of the National Union of Boot and Shoe Operatives was in Leicester probably explains a bit of local political history.

In 1945 the Harborough constituency was won for Labour by Humphrey Attewell, who was a full-time official with the union.

I remember a comment by John Shaw, who was a Labour councillor from Lutterworth while I was on Harborough District Council.

He is still going strong, unlike many people from those days who have since died and had roads named after them.

John told me that his own father, also a Labour activist, had said to him in 1945: "Well. son, that's the first and last time you'll see a Labour MP elected for Harborough,"


Why Nick Clegg will hold on to Sheffield Hallam

© Ashley Dace

I have long argued that there is no prospect of Nick Clegg losing his seat. Most recently here:
 I am not worried that Nick Clegg will lose Sheffield Hallam. This is not so much that I believe Nick is immensely popular as because I cannot picture Labour winning a prosperous suburban seat like this.
More recently still, Lord Bonkers has scotched the idea.

Now I have come across an exhaustive analysis of political geography of Sheffield Hallam that supports my view too. It is on the All That's Left blog:
Sheffield Hallam is far from the highrise towers and former steelmills of the Steel City. Whilst not all the seat is not rich ... overall Sheffield Hallam is one of the most affluent constituencies outside of the South East and it has the 70th highest median income of the 650 in the country – that is wealthier than Tunbridge Wells or David Cameron’s Witney. It has the lowest level of child poverty of any constituency in the land. 
It is certainly one of the most highly educated seats in the nation: 60% of those of working age have a degree – that’s more than Cambridge. In 2001, the constituency had more people classified as professionals of any in the UK.
But what about the disaffected student vote? Surely that will cost Nick dearly?

All That's Left continues:
A lot of the Liberal Democrats’ success here since 1997 has been put down to the student vote. Whilst there is a fairly large student population ... this is less than before the 2010 boundary changes. Those changes removed Broomhill ward, which includes the main campus of the University of Sheffield, and replaced it with Stannington ward to the north. 
Now, it is Sheffield Central next door that is the student hotbed: 39% of adults there are in fulltime education.
That's blog's conclusion ("with some regret") is that Nick "looks likely to continue to be Hallam’s MP".
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
My conclusion is that most commentators forecasting a Labour win in Sheffield Hallam have never been there.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Wellington to Craven Arms disused railway 1



Part 1 takes us from Wellington to Buildwas. As you will see, part of this stretch is still in use.

Pauline Pearce selected as Liberal Democrat candidate for Hitchin and Harpenden

The Evening Standard has the news that Pauline Pearce has been selected as Liberal Democrat candidate for Hitchin and Harpenden:
Announcing her selection on Facebook, she said: "I would like to announce officially that I am the selected PPC candidate for Hitchin and Harpenden. 
"Thank you to all the members who attended tonight, for their kind and very warm reception. I look forward to working with you all." 
She added: "To my friends and family who encouraged me to keep going and have always got my back I love you all, but it's only just begun because I need your help now to knock some doors and help me on the campaign".

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Disused railway stations in Bedfordshire



Last week it was Devon: this week it is Bedfordshire.

Note the huge sheds next to Cardington station. They once housed the airships R100 and R101.

In his novel Dead Long Enough, James Hawes calls them "the Bedfordshire Pyramids".

Ilkeston railway station: Newts cause further delays

BBC News wins our Headline of the Day award.

Monday, February 23, 2015

A railway poster for the new Coventry Cathedral



Getty dates this British Railways poster to 1957, but the new cathedral was started only the year before that so I suspect it dates from the early 1960s.

As I once revealed, the model for the statue of St Michael ion the wall of the new cathedral was the economist Wynne Godley.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: It might be worth sticking half a crown on

Lord Bonkers concludes his survey of Liberal Democrat prospects at the next general election.

Orkney and Shetland

If the Liberal Democrats were to win only one seat at the next election, this would be it.

There is, of course, not the remotest prospect of that happening, but it might be worth sticking half a crown on Alistair Carmichael as our next leader just in case.

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

Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers' Diary
  • "Top Secret: Burn Before Reading"
  • The mint cake workers of Kendal
  • There can be no doubt that he was Terribly Sorry
  • The Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey Railway
  • Armed with pitchforks and flaming brands
  • He was never one to resort to underhand methods
  • I have no doubt she will hold her seat
  • Abuse inquiry into former Leicestershire home for sick children

    Last summer there was an investigation into an allegation that Jimmy Savile had abused a child at Roecliffe Manor, a convalescent home at Woodhouse Eaves in Leicestershire.

    That investigation could not substantiate the allegation, but suggested that sexual abuse probably had taken place there.

    Now comes news that a police investigation into the home, which closed in 1969, has been launched.

    There is a danger, I suppose, that Savile will become a sort of folk devil, supposed to have turned up at homes and hospitals all over the country and abused people. As today's news suggests, there was plenty of abuse where he was not involved.

    But it should be remembered that turning up at homes and hospitals is one of the things that the BBC paid him to do in a programme called Savile's Travels.

    Malcolm Rifkind is not fit to chair the intelligence and security committee

    A couple of days ago everyone hated the Telegraph. Now its sting operation on Jack Straw and Malcolm Rifkind, at least, is being celebrated.

    And rightly so. Not so much because it shows these two in their true colours as because it reveals how British politics works.

    Just as Chris Morris and Brass Eye revealed how celebrities and backbenchers endorse causes they know nothing about, so the Telegraph shows what often lies behind windy talk of "public service". Greedy men looking to fill their boots,

    But when we have finished being outraged or laughing at these two boobies, there is a serious point that must be addressed at once.

    Malcolm Rifkind is chair of the Commons and Lords' joint intelligence and security committee, yet he is happy to accept money from a Chinese company without having the most basic checks carried out on it.

    This is an act of such monumental folly that he must be removed from that role at once.

    Pompous, not half as clever as he thinks, a lowland Scot... Fans of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy will recognise Malcolm Rifkind at once.

    He is not George Smiley. He is Percy Alleline.

    The Garden Street Island, Leicester


    The Garden Street Island, a block of shops and a cottage on Belgrave Gate in the centre of Leicester. It was due to be pulled down for redevelopment, but after a campaign the city council has served a issue an Article 4 Direction.

    This means that the historic status of the buildings has been acknowledged and planning permission will have to be sought for any alterations.

    The Evington Echo explains the Garden Street Island's importance:
    This group of shops, cottages and outhouses were built c1815-30 and are typical of Leicester in the early C19th century. Although they are not architectural masterpieces, these buildings are an important part of Leicester’s social history. 
    What makes the Garden Street Island special is that it includes slums that escaped demolition in 1931. These one up one down cottages are on Garden Street and the former Garden Street Square (Court C, Garden Street). Apart from Cramant Cottages in King Street, these are the last surviving slums in Leicester. They are the only ones remaining which face onto a street. 
    The shops on Belgrave Gate are also an important part of the street scene and their demolition would also be a particular loss to the individual character of the City and its history. Linnett’s hairdressers and perfumery at 124 –126 Belgrave Gate was in business in 1835. Next door was the long defunct Brewer’s Arms.
    I went to photograph the properties on Saturday, and here they are in all their glory.

    Sunday, February 22, 2015

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: I have no doubt she will hold her seat

    Lord Bonkers continues his survey of Liberal Democrat prospects at the general election. Today he offers a short but optimistic post.

    Hazel Grove

    She is a delightful woman and I have no doubt she will hold her seat (wherever it is).

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

    Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers' Diary

  • "Top Secret: Burn Before Reading"
  • The mint cake workers of Kendal
  • There can be no doubt that he was Terribly Sorry
  • The Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey Railway
  • Armed with pitchforks and flaming brands
  • He was never one to resort to underhand methods
  • Joe Jackson: Breaking Us in Two



    A Sunday music video that is shot on a preserved railway. I think we have reached peak Liberal England.

    I have chosen two Joe Jackson tracks before: the wonderful It's Different for Girls and the quasi-classical Nocturne no. 4.

    Breaking Us in Two comes from his 1982 album Night and Day. It was a bigger hit in the US than the UK. I have always regarded it as a companion piece to the uptempo Steppin' Out on the same LP.

    The railway is the Keighley and Worth Valley. More than that, the video was shot at Oakworth , which was the station in Lionel Jeffries' film of The Railway Children.

    "Right away, Mr Jackson."

    The last moments of the New Walk Centre, Leicester


    With thanks to the Leicester City Council.

    Saturday, February 21, 2015

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: He was never one to resort to underhand methods

    Lord Bonkers continues his survey of Liberal Democrat prospects at the next general election, perhaps becoming a little sidetracked in the process.

    Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross

    Caithness, the most northerly part of this most northerly of mainland Scottish constituencies, was once the seat of Sir Archibald Sinclair. It is an area best known in recent decades for the Dounreay atom plant, with its habit of spilling nuclear waste on to the neighbouring beaches.

    Sir Archibald, the grandfather of the current member, was a gentleman, a fine leader of our party and a friend of mine; certainly, he was never one to resort to underhand methods to deprive the bookies’ favourite for Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party Moustache of the Year 2014 of his rightful prize.

    I am not saying that John Thurso used atomic waste to make his moustache grow so luxuriantly, but shouldn't he come forward and clear the matter up once and for all?

    That said, I have no doubt that he will win again this time.

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

    Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers' Diary

  • "Top Secret: Burn Before Reading"
  • The mint cake workers of Kendal
  • There can be no doubt that he was Terribly Sorry
  • The Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey Railway
  • Armed with pitchforks and flaming brands
  • Six of the Best 495

    Eric Avebury, the Liberal Democrat peer, writes movingly on the campaign to legalise assisted dying and his very personal interest in the subject.

    The Telegraph has a chief executive, but what it needed was an editor, says Peter Preston.

    "A recent panel for Smith College alumnae aimed at 'challenging the ideological echo chamber' elicited this ominous 'trigger/content warning” when a transcript appeared in the campus newspaper: 'Racism/racial slurs, ableist slurs, antisemitic language, anti-Muslim/Islamophobic language, anti-immigrant language, sexist/misogynistic slurs, references to race-based violence, references to antisemitic violence.'" Wendy Kaminer on the progressive ideas behind the lack of free speech on American campuses.

    Good sense on cycling safety from Scotland: "My name is Alexander and I am 10 years old. I live in the countryside and the roads around my home are single track with passing places. I would like something to slow cars down because when I go on my bike and I hear cars coming they don’t slow down even though there is not much room. I usually stop and get off my bike and stand on the grass verge but they still don’t slow down."

    Ian Sample fears noise pollution is making us oblivious to the sound of nature.

    "If London’s roads had been 'futureproofed' in the 1970s to cope with anticipated demand today, some of the capital’s most popular neighbourhoods simply wouldn't exist today." 853 on the campaign against the Silvertown Tunnel.

    Leicester's New Walk Centre will be blown up tomorrow


    The New Walk Centre, the two Seventies office blocks that until recently housed the offices of Leicester City Council, will be demolished tomorrow.

    I cannot find the exact time of demolition online, but a wide exclusion zone will be in force between 6am and 6pm.

    The Leicester Mercury promises a live feed of events on its website.

    I went to photograph the Centre today. It is not coming down for aesthetic reasons but because it is so unsafe that no one will insure it any more.

    With the windows all taken out, it looks rather like a multi-storey car park - perhaps the effect to which much architecture of its period aspired.

    Still, I shall miss the old place, not least because we do not yet know what will replace it.

    The last photograph below shows the New Walk Centre in happier days.

    Friday, February 20, 2015

    Bob Symes: Liberal candidate



    Thanks to Malcolm Baines for telling me that television presenter Bob Symes, who died last month, fought the Mid Sussex constituency for the Liberal Party in the two general elections of 1974.

    He finished a respectable second each time though, like most Liberal candidates, he did a little better in February than October.

    His Telegraph obituary says that Symes was later a Conservative candidate in an election for the European Parliament.

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: Armed with pitchforks and flaming brands

    Lord Bonkers continues his survey of Liberal Democrat prospects at the next general election.

    Oxford West and Abingdon

    All this talk of holding seats is a little dull: why should we not gain a few?

    Take OXWAB, as my younger friends are given to calling it. Whilst I bow to no one in my admiration for Dr Evan Harris, it has to be admitted that his habit of grafting the heads of rabbits on to humans to form an army of Focus deliverers proved controversial, efficient as they were (at least in my experience).

    So much so, indeed, that on election night the locals, armed with pitchforks and flaming brands, drove him from his laboratory in the surprisingly mountainous country between Oxford and Abingdon and elected a Conservative.

    I trust the more emollient Layla Moran will recapture the seat for the forces of progress, even if she does not own a Bunsen burner.

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

    Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers' Diary

  • "Top Secret: Burn Before Reading"
  • The mint cake workers of Kendal
  • There can be no doubt that he was Terribly Sorry
  • The Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey Railway
  • Thursday, February 19, 2015

    The Stamford to Seaton shuttle in 1966



    A glimpse of the Stamford to Seaton shuttle and Morcott station in 1966, the last year of the line's operation.

    You can find some recollections of those days on the Rutnet site:
    My family moved to Morcott early in 1960 when my father became Rector of Morcott and South Luffenham, and almost at once, the railway became part of my life. 
    Previously, we had lived a few miles south of Northamapton, close to the main line from Euston to Scotland, and there, I had developed an interest in trains. Now, I was to travel every day to school in Stamford by train. 
    The train was a tank locomotive (BR Standard or Ivatt 2-6-2T for the technically-minded) and two corridorless coaches. Boys and girls travelled in separate compartments in the front coach and everyone else travelled in the back coach. 
    It was also an unspoken rule that everyone had their own space on the bench-like seats stretching across the width of the coach. New boys were 'strapped' with the thick leather strap that lowered or raised the window. 
    The train was well used every day with people travelling to work in Stamford, as well as the school pupils, and the wooden platform at Morcott was always busy at 8-20 each morning. One boy even cycled from Glaston to catch the train at Morcott. 
    On the way home in the afternoon, it was possible to either wait at Stamford or travel on an earlier Leicester-bound train to Luffenham, and join the Seaton train there. I often did the latter, and once, got into a compartment at Luffenham with two girls returning from Oakham. Even at the tender age of 10, I was told pretty sharply by the station staff to get out and go to the boys' compartment! 
    On another occasion, the other boys wouldn't let me onto the train, and the driver told me to get in his cab. I had a never to be forgotten ride on the footplate from Luffenham to Morcott! 
    Apart from journeys to school, I spent a lot of time watching the trains at the station and got to know the station master – Mr Veazey – well. There was one freight train each day which ran through soon after 11 am. 
    It only stopped if there were wagons to pick up or drop off, and was busiest during the 'beet season' in the autumn when wagonloads of sugar beet were send off to the sugar factory in Peterborough. At this time, the train could be very late, having shunted wagons at every station from Rugby.
    Last year I found the platform at Stamford station that this service must have used.

    Ukip reinstates "ban drivers on benefits" candidate

    Remember Lynton Yates?

    He was the Ukip parliamentary candidate and Leicestershire county councillor who put out a leaflet calling for people on benefits to be banned from driving.

    The party suspended him, but today comes news that he has been reinstated and will stand for Ukip in the Charnwood constituency at the general election.

    Thanks to Mum Juice for the image of the leaflet.

    Kebabgate could see former Leicester Labour whip jailed

    Barbara Potter, who used to be the whip of the ruling Labour group on Leicester City Council, has been found guilty of intending to pervert the course of justice.


    This Leicester Mercury report gives a flavour of the case:
    Leicester Crown Court heard that Potter, of Winslow Green, Netherhall, drove to the city’s Keyham Lane police station and told officers her car had been spat on when she left it outside a friend’s house in Steins Lane on August 8, 2013. 
    Potter said she had just seen Mr Taylor, with whom she had split up with in 2010 after an 18-year relationship, driving past her car in his van. 
    She signed a statement saying she had seen Mr Taylor at the wheel and heard a “flobbing” sound before he smirked at her and drove off. 
    The police investigated and established Mr Taylor was more than 40 miles away working in Birmingham at the time Potter stated she had seen him in Leicester. 
    DNA testing of the spitle on Potter’s windscreen showed it belonged to a Simon Birch. 
    Potter said she had no idea who Mr Birch was but he told officers he had previously fallen out with the defendant after she had thrown a kebab at him.
    "After the jury's verdict the judge told Potter:
    “Perverting the course of justice is a serious offence. It is often met with an immediate sentence of imprisonment. You must understand that may be inevitable in this case."
    Potter has taken to Facebook to proclaim her innocence, but she has in the past been known for her robust views on punishment.

    Asked for her opinion on the return of the death penalty in 2011, she replied:
    "Bring it on. Give these murderers the option of the noose, the electric chair or lethal injection. I think the vast majority would back this campaign. People are disgusted and appalled by those who murder vulnerable people such as children, or those who work to try and protect the public, like the police."

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: The Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey Railway

    Lord Bonkers continues his survey of Liberal Democrat prospects at the coming general election.

    Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey

    Whilst our own Danny Alexander is known elsewhere as a champion of austerity, things look rather different when looked at from his own constituency.

    There is not a corner of this chunk of the Highlands that has failed to benefit from government largesse. There you will find ski lifts, subsidised fuel and the electric broadband internet. Above all there is the new railway with its solid gold carriages.

    Its name, if I recall correctly, is the Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey Railway. Isn't that a coincidence?

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

    Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers' Diary
    • "Top Secret: Burn Before Reading"
    • The mint cake workers of Kendal
    • There can be no doubt that he was Terribly Sorry
    • Ukip candidate calls public meeting... in the wrong constituency

      In recent years Northamptonshire's Conservative MPs have been drawn chiefly from the fruitcake wing of that party, which presents something of a challenge to Ukip.

      How do they find a fruitcake who is even fruitier?

      Easy. Step forward Jonathan Munday, the Ukip candidate for Wellingborough.

      Dr Munday, who is a GP, has already came to wider notice last month after accusing a Twitter user of contributing nothing to the NHS except piles and STDs.

      Now he has called a public meeting at a school in Irthlingborough and accused the Conservative and Labour candidates for Wellingborough of cowardice for declining to take part.

      But their reluctance to attend may have something to do with the fact that Irthlingborough is in the Corby constituency.

      On a similar note, David Burrows, the Conservative MP for Enfield Southgate, has been spotted canvassing for support in neighbouring Edmonton.

      Wednesday, February 18, 2015

      Six of the Best 494

      "At its best liberalism means the defence of the weak and the promotion of universal human dignity. At its worst it can be camouflage for avoiding difficult choices. In the face of the lethal threat posed by Mr Putin, please let it be the former." Wise words from Matthew Green.

      Frankie Boyle offers unexpectedly wise words too: "We have given taking offence a social status it doesn't deserve: it's not much more than a way of avoiding difficult conversations."

      It doesn't take a genius to realise that Christian Grey is a domestic abuser, says Beth Penny.

      Musings of a Young Londoner writes on the threat to the English National Opera.

      Londonist explains how the city's sex comedies saved British cinema.

      But that didn't stop Kathleen Wood publishing Escape to London, a terrible warning to girls tempted to run away to the capital, in 1977. London Sound Survey will tell you all about it.

      Lord Bonkers' Diary: There can be no doubt that he was Terribly Sorry

      Lord Bonkers continues his seat-by-seat discussion of Liberal Democrat prospects at the next general election.

      Sheffield Hallam

      We can, I trust, also be confident that our leader will retain his seat. Some reason that he has upset the student vote because, after waving that wretched pledge of his at everybody last time round, he stung them for a small fortune when he got the first whiff of power.

      However, given that the polls closed as early as 10pm, one has to question how many students actually made it into the booth to vote for him last time.

      Besides, Clegg has since apologised. Whether he was apologising for making his pledge or for breaking it was hard to tell, but there can be no doubt that he was Terribly Sorry.

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

      Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers' Diary

      • "Top Secret: Burn Before Reading"
      • The mint cake workers of Kendal
      • Ukip candidate libels leading libel lawyer

        If you were taking on a sitting MP who is a barrister specialising in libel, you would be especially careful over what you said about him, wouldn't you?

        Not if you were a Ukip candidate, it seems.

        Over to the Leicester Mercury:
        A UKIP General Election candidate has agreed to pay £1,000 to charity after making false accusations against Harborough MP Sir Edward Garnier QC. 
        Clive Langley alleged in a tweet that the former Solicitor General and prominent libel lawyer had made an improper claim for a “very expensive desk”. 
        In a second tweet he alleged that Sir Edward may have made improper claims for staff expenses to the tune of £133,000. 
        But Sir Edward said: “My office desk is not mine. It belongs to the House of Commons. The desk at home I inherited from my late mother-in-law. He said the staffing expenses had been authorised and could be seen on line. 
        He told Mr Langley in a letter: “Both allegations are false and calculated to sow suspicious about me in the minds of the publishees.”
        I'm not sure what 'publishees' is doing here, but I guess that is why I am not a leading libel barrister like Sir Edward.

        A startling feature of this affair is that the libelous tweets were drawn to Sir Edward's attention by the Labour candidate Sundip Meghani.

        No one likes a tell-tale, and I am sure there is someone in Harborough Conservatives capable of following Clive Langley on Twitter.

        That said, they have not always been  at the forefront of technology. I recall the Tories' incredulity when I produced a pocket calculator at the count in Market Harborough in 1985.

        As it turned out, we gained the town ward on the county council with such a large swing that I could have done with a mainframe to compute it.

        Tuesday, February 17, 2015

        Disused railway stations in Devon



        Beware: there are videos like this for many different counties.

        Lord Bonkers' Diary: The mint cake workers of Kendal

        Lord Bonkers looks at the Liberal Democrats' prospects in a number of seats at the next general election. Today...

        Westmorland and Lonsdale

        Some readers, I know, are anxious about the forthcoming election, so let me begin with a seat where we can look forward to it with every confidence. Whilst I suspect Farron of wanting to rip the pews out at St Asquith’s and having everyone sing ‘Shine, Jesus, Shine’ as soon as my back is turned, he remains extraordinarily popular in the Lakes, enjoying a particular following amongst the mint cake workers of Kendal.

        A definite Liberal Democrat hold here.

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

        Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers' Diary

        Lord Mackie of Benshie has flown his last mission

        Sad news today. Lord Mackie of Benshie - farmer, war hero, Liberal MP and peer - has died at the age of 95.

        As his Guardian obituary says:
        The whole of his life had been coloured by the war, and like many other participants in that terrible conflict, the experience made him a passionate believer in European unity. 
        Much of his political life was devoted to that idealistic concept, including membership of the Council of Europe and a brief spell in the European parliament before it became a directly elected body. He spent many years on House of Lords committees charged with examining EU legislation.
        As George Mackie he sat for Caithness and Sutherland between 1964 and 1966. At the time of his death, he was the longest surviving former Liberal MP.

        Who holds that crown today?

        George Mackie held the crown even when I blogged about it back in 2009. And the silver and bronze medalists then - Clement Freud and Emlyn Hooson - have both died too.

        So by my reckoning the three oldest former Liberal MPs are now
        1. James Davidson (b. 10 January 1927)
        2. Elizabeth Shields (b. 27 February 1928)
        3. Eric Avebury (b. 29 September 1928)
        James Davidson was MP for West Aberdeenshire between 1966 and 1970. Elizabeth Shields was MP for Ryedale between 1986 and 1987. Eric Avebury, as Eric Lubbock, was MP for Orpington between his famous by-election victory in 1962 and 1970.

        Unless, of course, you know better.

        Later. Thanks to Greg Stone for pointing me to Elizabeth Shields' date of birth.

        Monday, February 16, 2015

        The Isle of Dogs in the 1980s

        Copyright © Mike Seaborne
        Mike Seaborne introduces his 80sIslandPhotos site:
        In 1983-6 I undertook an extensive photographic project on the Isle of Dogs in East London to document the area prior to its redevelopment. This involved not only photographing the streets and buildings but also inside factories, schools, community centres and other social spaces. 
        The aim was to make a record of the Island before ‘big money’ moved in and transformed both the landscape and the people who lived and worked there. This project was undertaken in conjunction with the Island History Trust whose aim is to collect and interpret the history of the area for the benefit of both local people and anyone else with an interest in the area, past, present or future. 
        During 2013, with the aid of a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, approximately 1500 photographs (all black & white) have been archivally printed, captioned and put into albums arranged by subject. These are available for viewing in person at Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives. 
        However, the photographs have also been digitised and are presented on this website as a series of online galleries which reflect the physical albums in the collection.
        All the photographs on the site are covered by a Creative Commons license. This means that they may be copied and used for non-commercial purposes provided they are correctly credited - as above - and are not altered or cropped.

        Now over to Queenie Watts,,,

        Liberal Democrats ahead of Ukip in latest opinion poll



        Last month, commenting on a some brave predictions from Stephen Tall, I wrote:
        Looking at recent opinion polls, I too have been wondering whether the Lib Dems might not outpoll Ukip. It has to be said, though, that this has more to do with the steady slippage of Ukip support than any great surge for us.
        Further evidence that this may happen came this afternoon in the shape of an opinion poll from ICM.

        You can find the results on the Guardian website, though it does not find the fact that the Lib Dems have stormed to third place worthy of comment.

        The figures are:

        Conservative - 36
        Labour - 32
        Lib Dems - 10
        Ukip - 9
        Green - 7
        Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
        It's just one poll, of course, but let's not forget that, despite the party's triumph at the last Euro elections, many commentators expected Ukip's vote to collapse in the run up to the general election. Maybe it will after all.

        Lord Bonkers' Diary: "Top Secret: Burn Before Reading"

        The latest issue of Liberator is on its way to subscribers, so it is time to spend some time with Rutland's most celebrated fictional peer.

        The description of winter here owes a lot to T.H. White, "Top Secret: Burn Before Reading" came from overhearing an old boy in a pub in Llanfair Caereinion reminiscing about a friend from his Army days who was given to annotating documents in that fashion.

        Introduction

        Winter has come to Rutland. Polar bear have been shot as far south as Barleythorpe and the drive to the Hall remains blocked by head-high drifts – at least they were head high for the Well-Behaved Orphans who were trying to clear them this morning.

        The snow lies on my roof like the icing on one of Cook’s delicious Christmas cakes – I happen to have a slice before me as I write this. Long icicles hang from the eaves. As this is just the worst time of the year for a journey, I pass my days watching the skaters enjoy the frozen expanse of Rutland Water or dozing by the Library fire.

        This morning the postman struggled to my front door with a bundle of letters. Here is a request to donate a prize for the tombola at a fete to raise money for the Home for Distressed Canvassers in Herne Bay. Here is an estimate from a builder for repairs to the roof of St Asquith’s – it is a little on the eyewatering side so, come the spring, I shall no doubt find myself up there directing operations. Here is a package with a Yeovil postmark marked ‘TOP SECRET: BURN BEFORE READING’. I suspect it will turn out to be from Paddy Ashplant and contain his latest plans for the general election campaign.

        So, rather than offer you my usual diary, let me give you the benefit of my experience and assess our prospects in a number of seats at this year’s general election. (Those in the know, incidentally, expect it to be held on a Thursday early in May.)

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

        Sunday, February 15, 2015

        More on The Lone Pine Club play

        Last week I blogged about the exciting news that the Pentabus Theatre Company is planning to put on a play called The Lone Pine Club by Alice Birch.

        The project has a JustGiving page, which tells you more about it:
        'SCUSE ME, WHAT IS THIS PROJECT ABOUT? 
        We’ve put together an adaptation of the Lone Pine Series. We are a registered charity and are producing this play in order to reach young people with quality theatre. We want to share with them a tale of adventure and daring and empower them to be brave in exploring the countryside on their own. 
        Above all, we want them to have a great time. And in doing so, we hope to bring a new generation of readers to these brilliant books. But we need your help to pull it off. ... 
        ACKSHERLEY I’D LIKE TO KNOW A BIT MORE. 
        Pentabus is the nation’s rural theatre company. Based on a farm in Shropshire, over the last 40 years we’ve produced 150 new plays and toured to half a million audience members. We make quality professional theatre inspired by the rural world. Our Artistic Director, Elizabeth Freestone, loved the Lone Pine books when she was a child. 
        Over the last two years we’ve been working closely with Malcolm Saville’s family and playwright Alice Birch to bring the Lone Pine Club to life. Alice is one of the UK’s most exciting young playwrights. She recently won the George Devine Award for her play Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. She’s written a funny, raucous play that perfectly captures the energy and characters we all know and love. 
        Our play is called The Lone Pine Club because it’s not an adaptation of one particular book. Rather, it’s a play inspired by and based on the main characters that crop up across the whole series. Our hope is that young people in the audience will go away inspired to do two things – play outside and read the Lone Pine books for themselves. ...
        IT ALL SOUNDS BRILLIANT. WHAT DO WE NOW? 
        Make a donation at the level that feels right for you. We promise to honour our pledge and give you something in return. And we’ll look forward to seeing you on tour!

        No gritting for White Grit


        Heather Kidd, the Liberal Democrat councillor for Chirbury and Worthen, has been making waves in the Shropshire Star.

        According to the paper, she has:
        accused the authority of overlooking the county's hillier rural parts where the recent snow had lingered once the ice had melted in towns. 
        She said in particular the village of Priest Weston had not seen a school bus for three weeks due to a combination of roadworks and a lack of arrangements to grit the roads. ... 
        Councillor Kidd said: "The recent blast of wintery weather came and went quite quickly for most of the county. 
        "But for much of the Bentlawnt, White Grit and Priest Weston area the snow and ice lingered much longer. 
        "Unfortunately the council seemed to have forgotten much of the area when it came to gritting."
        I knew this photograph would come in useful one day.

        Robert Palmer: Some Guys Have All the Luck



        He helped to define that odd era in the Eighties when pop stars wore suits, but Robert Palmer had been around for a long time.

        In particular, in the early Seventies he had been a member of the highly regarded band Vinegar Joe along with Elkie Brooks.

        This song made no. 16 in the UK charts in 1982. It was a complete reworking of the original song by the The Persuaders, clearly carried out by someone who had listened to a lot of Bowie.

        Robert Palmer died in 2003 aged only 54.

        Saturday, February 14, 2015

        England's cricketers are not the problem: it's the people who run the game



        Nich Hoult writes harshly bur fairly about England's disarray against Australia today:
        At the moment it fells like they are making it up on the hoof, as teams do when they dither over sacking a captain and leave it until a few weeks before a tournament. 
        Here they dropped Ravi Bopara after 11 consecutive games to replace him with Gary Ballance, who had not played a one-day international for nearly six months. He batted at three too, a position Taylor had occupied with occasional distinction since November. He in turn was demoted to bat at no 6 for the first time in his England one-day career and made a mockery of that move. 
        England tinkered with the bowling as well. Chris Woakes had taken the new ball in 15 of his last 16 one-day internationals. This time it went to Stuart Broad for the first time for nearly a year.
        Let us remember that in order to give England the best possible chance at the World Cup, the England and Wales Cricket Board asked for two Ashes series to be rearranged.

        The result was that England played home and away series against Australia back to back. Among other things, this led to a poisonous atmosphere between the teams as slights and hatreds festered through the two series rather than being given time to die down.

        It also finished the careers of at least two of England's best players: Matthew Prior and Graeme Swann. As the latter was the best spinner we had found in 50 years, this was no small matter.

        More and more, I am convinced the problem is not the England players (who are doing their best) but the people who run the game in this country.

        The same novelist wrote Planet of the Apes and Bridge on the River Kwai

        Thanks to Will Howells for giving me my Trivial Fact of the Day.

        The films Planet of the Apes and Bridge on the River Kwai were both based on novels by Pierre Boulle.

        This reminds me of an incident from my days as a student at York. A lecturer used an incident from Bridge n the River Kwai to illustrate a point of moral philosophy, but the seminar rapidly descended into an argument about which actors had been in the film.

        Why everyone always receives a great reception on the doorstep

        Nothing is more tedious than those tweets telling you that campaigners from every party have just received "a great reception on the doorstep".

        Why do they do it?

        Because of what happens when you tell the truth.

        Let me to take you back to a Guardian account of the Hartlepool by-election of 2004 and what happened to the Liberal Democrat candidate Jody Dunn:
        On August 27, Dunn had written in her blog about a dispiriting evening out canvassing with Simon Hughes. "It didn't just rain last night, it poured," she wrote. "In fact the evening became one of the more farcical moments of the campaign. We'd picked what appeared at first to be a fairly standard row of houses. As time went on however, we began to realise that everyone we met was either drunk, flanked by an angry dog or undressed."
        We have all had evenings of canvassing like that. But the account goes on:
        The blog had continued with a joke about how Dunn looked like Worzel Gummidge in the rain. Ed Fordham had checked the copy as usual before posting it online. Nothing he read had sounded alarm bells. 
        The Labour printing machines turned again, and this time Hartlepool woke up to the news on its doormat that Dunn had accused them all of being "either drunk, flanked by an angry dog, or undressed".
        And given the opportunity, other parties would no doubt behave just as Labour did.
        Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
        So it's much safer always to say you have received a great reception on the doorstep than tell the truth.

        Friday, February 13, 2015

        Thomas Cromwell: "Myself for Launde"

        © Stephen Craven
        From English Buildings back in 2008:
        Launde Abbey was originally an Augustinian priory founded in the 12th century. Beautifully sited in this dip, it must have looked inviting with its church and group of stone buildings. 
        Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s minister who organized the survey of England’s monasteries that eventually led to the dissolution, certainly thought so. When the religious houses closed in the 1530s, of all the monasteries in England, Cromwell bagged Launde for himself. ‘Myself for Launde,’ he wrote in his journal. 
        The Cromwell family built themselves a house at Launde, incorporating the priory’s church into the new fabric. The house has been altered quite a bit since, and it’s not known how much of the Cromwell house actually remains, although it shares the site and the inviting prospect afforded by the monastery.
        Launde Abbey is in Leicestershire, 17 miles from Market Harborough.

        The Kidnapping of Tony Stephens from Earl Shilton







        Earl Shilton is a fairly nondescript village in Leicestershre ... But in 1959 and 1960, suggests this startling film from the British Pathé collection, it was in the headlines ...  
        This film ... shows the return home to Earl Shilton of 12-year-old Tony Stephens after having been kidnapped and kept on the Continent for 15 months. 
        The commentary says that the boy's father, a milkman, gave up his job and searched Europe for him and the film shows an art master, Kevin Tracey, being taken off to Hinckley to be questioned.
        So I blogged about this case after discovering the film five years ago,

        Now The Needle has published some cuttings to do with the affair, including this one from The Times about the subsequent court case.

        A biography of Moura Budberg

        Back in 2007, I wrote a short article about Moura Budberg for the New Statesman website. Moura may or may not have been a Soviet spy: she was certainly Nick Clegg's great great aunt.

        Now comes news that a biography of her is on its way. A Very Dangerous Woman by Deborah McDonald and Jeremy Dronfield will be published in May.

        On her website, Deborah McDonald writes:
        This is the first book to make use of the Freedom of Information Act to evaluate the woman who was Moura. MI5 files, Lockhart’s unpublished diary, letters and extensive interviews with those who knew her help create a detailed and vibrant picture of one of the most fascinating women of the 20th century. 
        As her lover H G Wells wrote, ‘But the Moura who was never really there has vanished now for ever and nothing in earth or heaven can bring her back.’

        Thursday, February 12, 2015

        Demolition of the New Walk Centre, Leicester



        Leicester City Council has announced that its former headquarters at the New Walk Centre will be demolished on Sunday 22 February.

        The council's website has details of the exclusion zone that will be established on the day and this simulation of what the process will look like.

        Horse wins national award after dedicating his life to 'teaching' children

        The Leicester Mercury wins Headline of the Day.

        The judges particularly appreciated the fine editorial judgement here. The idea of a horse teaching needs scare quotes, but the idea of a horse dedicating its life is unproblematic.

        That Liberal Democrat manifesto front page in full


        Well, it made me think of the Blair Witch Project.

        Wednesday, February 11, 2015

        Steam at Shrewsbury in the 1960s



        Because Shrewsbury station has changed so little in 50 years, there is something ghostly about this footage of steam locomotives there.

        Six of the Best 493

        "I’m not going to claim that previous Lib Dem general election campaigns were examples of unalloyed genius in political campaigning, but they at least gave people something positive to latch on to as a promise of better days to come. Now, there’s no one doing that, and instead the election is threatening to turn into a series of dull people reading out PowerPoint slides comprised entirely of the dullest buzzwords possible, then wondering why all the audience has slipped out to go to the pub." Where is the hope? asks Nick Barlow.

        Catherine Bearder shows that Ukip's position on halal and kosher meat is about stoking division, not animal welfare

        Shropshire Council is right to face down government and developers on affordable housing rules, says one of its Liberal Democrat members Andy Boddington.

        Kristie Dean visits Fotheringay, the birthplace of Richard III.

        While Tom Bolton visits Ratcliff, one of the many lost hamlets of London.

        Charlie Brooker and Chris Morris’s 2005 TV series was a comedy about a ludicrous ‘self-facilitating media node’ in east London. But, argues Andrew Harrison, 10 years on, it looks more like a documentary about the future,

        Richard III's reburial to be marked in York

        The city of York has announced its plans to mark the reinterment of Richard III at Leicester Cathedral on 26 March.

        As the Yorkshire Post reports:
        A Solemn Choral Evensong will be held at York Minster, starting at 5.15pm, at which are all are welcome. Following the service at 6.20pm, a procession led by the civic party and senior clergy will walk from the Minster’s South Door, across the Piazza, along Stonegate to St Helen’s Square and which will end outside the Mansion House. 
        The public is invited to line the route to pay their respects to the king. The Lord Mayor of York, Coun Ian Gillies, will address the procession. 
        On March 27 a new display on Richard III will open at the Yorkshire Museum, in York, looking at the myths which have shaped modern views of the king.

        Charlie Hebdo in Presteigne

        © Colin Smith
        There are reports that several newsagents selling copies of Charlie Hebdo have been approached by police.

        One of the places where this has taken place is Presteigne in Powys - not a town noted for its inter-faith tensions.

        Fashion may have moved on, but a few years ago it was where the cool kids who had decided to settle on the Welsh border went to live.

        According to the Guardian:
        Paul Merrett, 57, the owner of a newsagent in Presteigne, Wales, said a detective and a police community support officer from Dyfed-Powys police spent half an hour asking his wife Deborah, 53, about the magazine. 
        “They wanted to know about Charlie Hebdo. They came in unannounced and we had customers,” he said. “There were questions asking where we got the Charlie Hebdo copies from, did we know who we sold them to – which we didn’t say. We were a bit bemused because it was out of the blue.” 
        “My wife said, ‘Am I in trouble?’ because she thought she was in trouble for selling them. They said, ‘No, you’re not in trouble’ but just continued with their questioning for half an hour.” 
        Merrett added: “It was all about Charlie Hebdo. I guess they wanted names and addresses of people we sold them to, which we didn’t tell them anything like that. We sold 30 copies. 
        “My wife was a bit worried with the questioning but she certainly wouldn’t have given any names to the police. I’m shocked they asked. They wanted to know where we got the copies from, how did we let the customers know that we had them.”
        Dyfed-Powys Police have issued a statement confirming shops in the town were visited but denying that customers' names were requested:
        "Dyfed Powys Police can confirm the visits were only made to enhance public safety and to provide community reassurance."
        You can be sure that when the last of our liberties is removed it will be done "to enchance public safety". And, while I am not sure exactly what "community reassurance" means, I suspect this intervention failed to provide it.

        But why Presteigne of all places?

        There may be a clue in a recent story on the Hereford Heckler ("Anarchist news and views from Hereford and beyond"):
        A barmy local vicar has compared satirical cartoons in the French anti-racist magazine Charlie Hebdo with the anti-Semitic blasphemy of Nazi Germany. 
        Writing in Presteigne’s parish magazine, Revd Steve Hollinghurst called it ironic that the west condemns the murder of Jewish people under Hitler’s rule but defends “to the hilt the right of others (cartoonists in this case) to ridicule and offend people of faith and their beliefs”. 
        The vicar goes on to ask readers, “didn’t the holocaust begin with vile anti-Semitic cartoons? Is there that much difference?”
        That post goes on to tell the story of the police's trawl of shops in the town and ends by asking:
        So which of these two stories more accurately portrays life in Nazi Germany: The one where satirical journalists poke a bit of fun at all religions but ultimately promote a message of love and tolerance; Or the one where the strong arm of the state harasses a newsagent and demands to know details of customers who have bought copies of a legally published magazine?
        Thanks to John for introducing me to the Hereford Heckler.

        Exclusive Picture: Harriet Harman's women van visits Stevenage