Monday, February 29, 2016

East Midlands Trains is phasing out its quiet coaches


I learn from a conversation on Twitter that East Midlands Trains is in the process or phasing out the quiet coaches on its services.

The reason given - "because our onboard team were unable to enforce this rule" - sounds a bit wimpish. What would the team do if a passenger took it up on its constant urging to report "unusual" behaviour?

But I find it hard to be outraged at this decision, because it is ages since I chose to sit in a quite coach.

They sounded a good idea, and for the most part people respected the rule about being quiet in them.

The problem was that every now and then someone - and it was usually a suit who thought such rules did not apply to people like him - shattered the peace with a conversation on his mobile.

Because it took place in a quiet coach, that conversation was rendered infuriating rather than mildly irritating, as it would have been in any other coaches.

So, for a calm journey, I took to travelling in those other coaches again.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Look at Life: Down London River



This film from 1959 shows London poised uneasily but attractively between tradition and modernity.

More about the Look at Life films on Wikipedia.

The Boy in Striped Pyjamas vs I am David

The Boy in Striped Pyjamas is a 2006 children’s novel by John Boyne that was made into a film two years later.

I imagine that anyone who wanted to read the book or see the film has done so by now, but I had better point out that what follows contains spoilers.

The book and film tell the story of nine-year-old Bruno, whose father is made commandant of Auschwitz. He befriends Shmuel, an inmate of his own age. The two boys concoct a plan to smuggle Bruno into the camp to help look for Shmuel’s father – Shmuel brings a set of prison clothes and Bruno leaves his own outside the fence.

While Bruno is in the camp, the two boys are rounded up and gassed.

I thought the film was good, but found the book (perhaps unexpectedly for a modern children’s novel) excessively wordy and did not persevere with it.

There was some criticism of the story’s morality. Wikipedia leads us to a review of the film by Rabbi Benjamin Blech which points out there were no nine-year-old boys in Auschwitz (anyone who could not work was murdered on arrival) and expresses the fear that viewers may conclude that the camps can’t have been as bad as all that if a German boy could form a friendship with a boy of the same age.

What struck me about The Boy in Striped Pyjamas is how it contrasts with a favourite book from my own childhood – Anne Holm’s I am David, published in 1963.

The young hero, with cooperation from the authorities, escapes from a labour camp behind the Iron Curtain (in Bulgaria, if I have got my geography right) and makes his way across Europe to find his mother in Denmark.

I suspect that, along with an early reading of Oliver Twist, this book helped form the paranoid libertarian strand of my politics. To the young David, anyone in uniform is one of Them and wants to kill him.

I am David was made into a film in 2003. Despite the presence of the wonderful Joan Plowright, it was deeply disappointing to those of us who had grown up on the book.

The contrast between the two stories seems to me to tell us something about the changes in our thinking over the four decades that separate them.

The Boy in Striped Pyjamas reflects the modern belief that moral education involves the young being taught about the Holocaust and being able to recite the correct lessons from it. It also reflects the high status we give to victimhood.

In short, there can be no more moral character than one who dies in a gas chamber.

I am David was written in a different era. It is not about death, but about escape, moral growth and the finding of happiness.

Schooled in a labour camp (and Holm is also in danger of making it seem not so bad), David is a strange, even scary, creature. He is morally innocent and lethal, along the lines of the hero in an Alexander Mackendrick film.

But you are on his side and want him to find happiness. Today those hopes seem harder for us to entertain.

Six of the Best 577

Tim Holyoake says remaining in the European Union is the proud, patriotic choice: "Why would we want to throw away all of the advances we’ve made as proud Britons over the last few decades? Why would we choose to leave the EU and sacrifice our security, prosperity, freedom and sovereignty to an uncertain future in an uncertain world?"

"A ... recent Canadian academic study ... found not just that architects disagreed with the public on what was an attractive building but that they couldn’t predict what the public would like." Nicholas Boys Smith argues that we need to make new homes more popular.

Gabriel Rosenberg examines how preserving the 'family farm' became central to American politics.

Mimi Matthews on Jane Eyre's encounter with the legendary gytrash.

"Of the many bridges that span the River Thames in London, Hammersmith Bridge must certainly rank as one of the most picturesque." Flickering Lamps looks at its history.

Anders Hanson visits Wakefield.

Income inequality was unchanged over the Coalition years

John Rentoul eats humble pie in the Independent:
Nick Clegg: an apology. I may have given the impression that the Liberal Democrats were a waste of space, and their crushing in the general election was a merited humiliation. Statements such as “Clegg was a fool to have gone into coalition with the Tories” and “the Lib Dems got nothing in return for ministerial posts that David Cameron didn’t want to give them” may have led the reader to believe I thought the whole business a diversion and the resumption of single-party government a welcome simplification. 
If so, there has been a misunderstanding. I now realise, reading Clegg’s interview with The Independent’s Andrew Grice last week, that I agree with Nick. 
For all the overheated language from the left about inequality, the record of the Coalition was surprisingly good. New figures from the Office for National Statistics last week confirmed that income inequality was unchanged in the 2010-15 period. This is something of an achievement at a time when the Government was cutting public spending, and Clegg is justified in claiming to have tried to balance the books “in the fairest possible way”.
It's good that we are starting to read views like this, but there is a need to enter a couple of qualifications.

First, income inequality tends to decline when the economy is doing badly and to increase when it is doing well and employers have to compete for skilled labour.

Second, as I once blogged, the Lib Dems won't flourish in 2020 by blaming the voters for 2015.

What these figures do show is how dishonest the Labour Party was throughout the Coalition years.

But that dishonesty did not just harm the Liberal Democrats: it harmed Labour too.

It encouraged a mind-set under which Labour and other left-wing activists spoke only to themselves, became increasingly outraged and steadily distanced themselves from the sort of voters they need to win over.

The natural outcome of that process was their choice of a leader who appealed to them and few others people.

Step forward Jeremy Corbyn.

Jordan: Rule Britannia



When I was young a top British recording star would be named to sing for us at Eurovision, but the choice of song was left to a public vote. In those days, incidentally, voting involved sending a postcard.

This year we have the public vote back, but no stars. Joe and Jake (me neither) will be singing 'You're Not Alone' for us in Sweden in May.

This video would have been my choice.

It comes from Derek Jarman's 1978 film Jubilee, which I saw at a university film club that year. (Those were the days when teenagers went to university to encounter dangerous new ideas, not demanding that they be protected from them.) It has not been much seen since, but deserves a viewing if only as a historical curiosity - I am going to order the DVD.

Stuart Jeffries once described Jubilee thus:
The film's framing device has Queen Elizabeth I consulting her court astrologer Dr John Dee (played by Rocky Horror Show creator Richard O'Brien). Dee shows his queen a vision of her realm 400 years hence. It is over-run by roving gangs of girl punks and thuggish police. Dorset has become a fascist state within a state where the rich luxuriate behind barbed wire. The old Queen Elizabeth (played by Jenny Runacre) is horrified. 
It's likely that Elizabeth II, whose silver jubilee celebrations are mocked in the film's ironic title, wouldn't have cared for Jarman's vision of her kingdom either. She especially wouldn't have liked Jordan dressed as a punk Britannia, miming to a souped-up reggae version of Rule Britannia and lifting her skirt to show her bum. 
In a sense, Jarman was expressing similar nihilistic views to those of Johnny Rotten in God Save the Queen. Neither believed in the English disease that the political philosopher of Britain's decline Tom Nairn described as "the glamour of backwardness". Jarman told the Guardian's Nicholas de Jongh in February 1978: "We have now seen all established authority, all political systems, fail to provide any solution - they no longer ring true."
You will also read more about Jordan in that article. Here real name is Pamela Rooke and her character in Jubilee is called Amyl Nitrate. She was interviewed in the Guardian in 2004.

I don't know what the Europeans would make of it, but combining punk and patriotism ticks a lot of British boxes.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Scout hut, Stoughton Road, Leicester


I first noticed this Scout hut when my mother was in Leicester General Hospital a couple of summers ago and the bus there whizzed me past it. The hut stands on Stoughton Road, close to Stoneygate Shops and The Real Ale Classroom.

The Ninth Leicester South Group website boasts that it has been at these premises since 1931. Yet the front looks as though it belongs to an electricity substation and the building behind does not match it. To strengthen this theory, there is a small modern substation next to it.

Whatever its origins, I took the chance to photograph it on Saturday.

The Mandela Effect and the social production of knowledge


As short a time ago as February, the Ministry of Plenty had issued a promise (a "categorical pledge" were the official words) that there would be no reduction of the chocolate ration during 1984. Actually, as Winston was aware, the chocolate ration was to be reduced from thirty grammes to twenty at the end of the present week. All that was needed was to substitute for the original promise a warning that it would probably be necessary to reduce the ration at some time in April.
George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

There has been some discussion on Twitter today of the Mandela Effect website. I tweeted a link to it myself.

Nick Barlow describes what you find there:
The Mandela Effect falls into that confused territory between conspiracy theory and weird belief system that you often find in these corners of the internet. It’s named after some people’s belief that they have memories about how Nelson Mandela died in prison, so never got to be President of South Africa and everything else that happened after his release. They believe that either history was changed, or that they slipped into a parallel universe where that event happened before coming back to ours where they were confused to find that it hadn’t.
He also offers a critique of it:
Like any conspiracy theory, the Mandela Effect is interesting for what it reveals about those who believe in it. We want to believe our memories are perfect records of our histories because they’re an important part of what we are, so when we discover that we’ve been remembering something wrongly, we can either admit our fallibility, or adopt the position that the universe must be fallible instead.
All true. But we should not overlook the extent to which what we know is subject to social confirmation.

Two examples. First, when their was widespread discussion a few years ago of the practice of sending children from British institutions out to Australia, I read letters in the newspapers from people who had come across those children. One had been a ship's barber who had cut the boys' hair on the voyage out to Australia.

I don't suppose they had talked much about this experience in the intervening years because the sending of children from homes to Australia had dropped out of public memory. It was never a secret - at one time it was a widely discussed public policy: it was just forgotten.

Second, in 1971 my father returned from a business trip to South Africa and (illegally) Rhodesia, he brought with him the news that Tony Greig was an epileptic.

I never heard anyone else mention this, and if I raised the subject I was met with scepticism. Years later Greig chose to talk about his condition and I could console myself that I had known this all along.

But had I? It seems there is an inescapable social element to what constitutes human knowledge. It was for this reason that the French philosopher Michel Foucault talked about "power/knowledge".

I am a Liberal, not because I am confident the human spirit will overcome any social pressure, but because I fear it may not.

Stewart Lee and Will Self



Good news. A new series of Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle starts on BBC2 at 10pm on Thursday 3 March.

Stewart Lee is interviewed on the Guardian website today (and in tomorrow's paper?) by Will Self:
On stage, Lee is apparently an embittered, envious, self-lacerating man, caught in a ferocious double-bind: if he’s unsuccessful it’s because his audience are stupid shits who don’t get his jokes; and if he’s successful it’s because he’s a stupid shit churning out jokes that confirm his audience in their prejudices. So convincing is this act – if indeed it is an act – that I became intrigued: was the “real” Lee quite as prickly as his performance persona? In order to find out I asked him over for a serious sit-down.
It's good stuff, but I wish someone would tell Self to stop saying "self-reflexive".

Six of the Best 576

"An idea that was floated at one point (which thankfully never materialised) was placing gigantic, inflatable MPs arses in town centres for passersby to kick. There was a sense of enforced “fun” about the whole thing at all times that was exhausting to be around." More and more, the Leave campaign resembles Yes to AV, says Nick Tyrone. And he should know.

Michael Wilson argues that we must defend free speech on campus.

"She began by saying 'You all know me in here…' (I didn’t), I was thrown to discover that the first guest speaker at a Labour Party pressure group was a member of the Socialist Workers Party." Labour member Joe Cox attends a Momentum meeting and finds it is not for him.

Jennifer Wilkinson on the prison memoirs of the suffragette Constance Lytton.

"The exact location and nature of Ravenserodd is open to some debate, but it is often believed to have been located to the east of the present-day Spurn Point and was said in the fourteenth-century Chronica Monasterii de Melsa to have been 'distant from the mainland a space of one mile and more'." Caitlin Green explores the lost settlements of the Lincolnshire coast.

Thom Hickey reminds us of the forgotten talent of Helen Shapiro.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Two lost Glasgow termini: St Enoch and Buchanan Street stations



St Enoch station closed in 1966 and was demolished in 1977. Buchanan Street station was also closed in 1966 and was demolished the following year.

Council to sell Market Harborough's Settling Rooms


These are the Settling Rooms in Market Harborough. They stand in the car park that marks the site of the town's cattle market and were once the offices where purchases made at the market were paid for.

The Harborough Mail reports that they are to be put up for sale by Harborough District Council.

Its story quotes understandable concerns:
For the Liberal Democrats, Cllr Dr Sarah Hill said she was concerned about the existing tenants at The Settling Rooms - Voluntary Action South Leicestershire (VASL) and Shopmobility. 
"Both offer important services to the community - where will they go?" she asked.
But there may be a deeper concern about this move.

I was on the council when the cattle market site was redeveloped. We decided to keep the Settling Rooms as a sort of ransom strip to ensure that we could any future development of the site.

Without them, will the council and, through it, the people of the town have enough say when a second redevelopment is proposed?

A sneak preview of tomorrow's Liberal Democrat Voice lead story

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Offie and Clarendon Books, Leiceser


My exploration of the more pleasant shopping streets of south Leicester on Saturday took in an established off licence as well as a new pub.

The Offie in Clarendon Park Road stocks 500 beers from around the world, as well as ciders wines and spirits.

And, as you can see, it sits next door to a secondhand bookshop. There used to be one of those among the Stoneygate shops too, but it closed some years ago.

Sebastian Baczkiewicz's Pilgrim

Of all the tales told on these islands, few are as strange as that of William Palmer. Cursed, apparently, on the road to Canterbury in the spring of 1185 for denying the presence of the other world by the king of the grey folk – or Fairy – himself, and compelled to walk from that day to this between the worlds of magic and of men, and subsequently known in all the strange and wonderful lore attributed to the mysterious William Palmer, as Pilgrim.

My sleeping pattern has been all wrong this week. I have gone to bed early, fallen asleep and then woken again to be fully alert in the small hours.

The only upside of this is that I have heard a lot of Sebastian Baczkiewicz's fantasy series Pilgrim, which Radio 4 Extra has been broadcasting through the night.

You can find many episodes of it on the BBC iPlayer at present and it is well worth listening to.

Bid to reopen the Northampton to Bedford line


From the Northampton Chronicle & Echo today:
Rail campaigners fighting for a link between Northampton and Bedford have launched an online petition. 
The English Regional Transport Association wants to ensure that the land and track that would be used for the link are protected and is calling for the route to be re-opened. 
The group says the route would link Northampton and Cambridge, which it says has been identified as a priority in local growth plans.
This sounds a good idea but, given the amount of redevelopment currently taking place in the relevant part of Northampton, I fear the campaign may have come too late.

Anyway, you can visit the English Regional Transport Association blog and sign their petition if you wish.

If this line ever is reopened, trains will run again across the Bridge Street level crossing in Northampton. It is shown in the photo above, though I believe the rails were removed from it last summer.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Disused Railway Stations in Caithness, Sutherland and Ross and Cromarty



A short and sweet selection. People who favour places that end in -ster will find it particularly enjoyable.

Why quoting facts does not convert people to our way of thinking



"When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do, sir?" asked Keynes.

And there is no greater praise in modern politics than to call a policy "evidence-based".

But does political argument really work like that? I think not.

An article on the British Psychological Society's Research Digest blog today analyses a study published in the journal Discourse Processes:
The researchers assessed 120 student participants for their prior knowledge and attitudes to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and their need for dietary purity, measured by items like “I often think about the lasting effects of the foods I eat.” 
This was the key variable of interest because it was intended to tap into how important food purity was to the participants’ sense of identity. The researchers specifically wanted to find out whether this identity factor would influence how people felt when their beliefs were challenged, and whether they would comply with, or resist, the challenge. 
After the researchers gave participants scientific information worded to directly challenge anti-GMO beliefs, those with higher scores in dietary purity rated themselves as experiencing more negative emotions while reading the text, and in a later follow-up task, they more often criticised GMOs. Crucially, at the end of the study these participants were actually more likely to be anti-GMO than a control group who were given scientific information that didn’t challenge beliefs: in other words, the attempt to change minds with factual information had backfired.
The blog suggests that such fact-based arguments are most likely to backfire when people's sense of identity is threatened.

I am reminded of something Richard Rorty says in his Irony, Contingency and Solidarity:
All human beings carry about a set of words which they employ to justify their actions, their beliefs, and their lives. These are the words in which we formulate praise of our friends and contempt for our enemies, our long-term projects, our deepest self-doubts and our highest hopes. They are the words in which we tell, sometimes prospectively and sometimes retrospectively, the story of our lives. ... 
A small part of a final vocabulary is made up of thin, flexible, and ubiquitous terms such as “true,” “good,” “right,” and “beautiful.” The larger part contains thicker, more rigid, and more parochial terms, for example, “Christ,” “England,” “professional standards,” “decency,” “kindness,” “the Revolution,” “the Church,” “progressive,” “rigorous,” “creative.” The more parochial terms do most of the work.
And it is these thicker, more parochial concepts that can be threatened when another cites facts in disagreeing with you.

What to do?

Three years ago I blogged about a couple of studies that, in effect, appealed to people in their own thick, parochial vocabulary to change their minds. That post was helpfully summarised in an article on Wired:
Jonathan Calder on his politics blog, observed that LGBT groups in America won over voters by discussing their quest for equality not in aggressive demands for equal rights, but with language conservatives would refer to their own marriages: love, commitment and family. 
Similarly, a press release from The Association for Psychological Science found that talking about climate change in terms of 'purity' and 'sanctity' of Earth could win over those with conservative morals, traditionally unconcerned with climate change.
The implication of all this, I suspect, is that if we want to persuade people who are tempted to vote Leave to vote Remain, we should frame our arguments in terms of concepts like patriotism and the continuity of British history and not laugh at them and call them "fruitcakes" - as this blog is prone to doing.

Cat named after Nottingham Forest legend Brian Clough becomes celebrity – by visiting his local pub

The Nottingham Post wins our Headline of the Day Award by a distance:
The feline takes himself down to the Blue Bell pub in Sandiacre at around 7pm each night and has become such a hit with regulars and staff that he has his own stool and a stash of kitty treats behind the bar. 
Brian particularly enjoys Monday's quiz nights and Wednesday's darts – where he helps himself to the leftover cheese cobs and pork pies. 
Now the seven-year-old moggy has even got his own Facebook page, with a helping paw from his owners.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Douglas Slocombe (1913-2016)


Douglas Slocombe - Behind the Camera from BSC on Vimeo.

The great British cinematographer Douglas Slocombe died this morning at the age of 103.

As this tribute shows, he photographed the classic Ealing films, the Indiana Jones trilogy and many outstanding films in between.

Lembit Opik with his new face on



The Shropshire Star reports on Lembit Opik's appearance on This Morning talking about the surgery on his jaw, which was broken in a paragliding accident 18 years ago. (Lord Bonkers visited him in hospital, according to his Diary at the time.)

He told Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield:
"It’s given me space to think. I’m 50 now, I feel like I’ve been given a second life, perhaps because I feel so confident about being symmetrical."
My title is, of course, a reference to a 1968 Spencer Davis Group LP.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Real Ale Classroom, Leicester


I spent yesterday exploring to pleasant suburban shopping streets in the south of Leicester. They were the Stoneygate shops and Queens Road in Clarendon Park.

Though the former has probably seen better days, there is something pleasing about finding quality shops set in a red-brick terrace.

One reason for going to Stoneygate was to try The Real Ale Classroom.

A write up in the Leicester Mercury last year began:
Two teachers have taken inspiration from the classroom and mixed it with booze to create a new educational ale house in Stoneygate. 
Steven Tabbernor, 40, from Clarendon Park, and Ian Martin, 41, from Rutland, are hoping to bring real ale-ducation to the masses with a new micropub set to open next month. 
The Real Ale Classroom, in Allandale Road, was successfully granted a liquor licence last week and now the race is on fit out the unit in time for Christmas.
The compact bar will stock a selection of beers, ciders, stouts, ales and perrys from around Leicestershire - as well as bordering counties - with educating drinkers on the finer points of locally brewed booze as its main aim.
I tried a bitter brewed somewhere near Melton, but they had just tapped a cask of Citra from Oakham Ales (actually brewed in Peterborough) so I had a taste of that too.

The Real Ale Classroom is like a smaller version of Market Harborough's own Beerhouse, which makes it well worth a visit if you are in Leicester.

Geordie: All Because of You



Last Friday BBC4 broadcast a documentary on The Easybeats to AC/DC: The Story of Aussie Rock. You can watch it for on BBC iPlayer for the next three weeks.

You can see The Easybeats on this blog, and the documentary was so thorough that you saw Angus Young when he was in long trousers.

AC/DC's first lead singer was Bon Scott, who was found dead in his car in East Dulwich in 1980. The Guardian once did its best to turn it into a mystery along the lines of Brian Jones' death, but the cause was clearly acute alcohol poisoning.

Scott's replacement in AC/DC was Brian Johnson. Before AC/DC he was with the British band Geordie.

This was there most successful single, reaching no. 6 in the British singles chart early in 1973. It has lasted better than a lot of the other hits of the period.

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Lark Ascending and Snailbeach lead mines



Now do you see why I am always going on about this place?

Channel 4 News microsite on the Tory election expenses story










An open letter to Stephen Fry on mental health

The clinical psychologist Richard Bentall has written an open letter to Stephen Fry on the BBC's In the Mind season. It was launched by a programme about Fry's own mental health problems.

Bentall writes:
Conventional psychiatry tends to decontextualise psychiatric disorders, seeing them as discrete brain conditions that are largely genetically determined and barely influenced by the slings and arrows of misfortune, and it was this perspective that was uniquely presented in your recent programme The not so secret life of a manic depressive ten years on
According to this ‘brain conditions’ view, psychiatric disorders occur largely out of the blue in individuals who are genetically vulnerable, and the only appropriate response is to find the right medication. Even then, it is usually assumed that severe mental illnesses are life long conditions that can only be managed by continuous treatment. 
However, research into severe mental illness conducted over the last twenty years (not only by me, although I have contributed) tells a more complex story.
He goes on:
Of course genes play a role in making some people more vulnerable to psychiatric disorder than others, but the latest research in molecular genetics challenges simplistic assumptions about ‘schizophrenia’ and ‘bipolar disorder’ being primarily genetic conditions. 
The genetic risk appears to be shared across a wide range of diagnostic groupings – the same genes are involved when people are diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, ADHD and even, in some cases, autism. 
More importantly, genetic risk is widely distributed in the population with hundreds, possibly thousands of genes involved, each conferring a tiny increase in risk.
By contrast:
Recent epidemiological studies have pointed to a wide range of social and environmental factors that increase the risk of mental ill health, some of which I am guessing you may be familiar with from personal experience. 
These include poverty in childhood and early exposure to urban environments; migration and belonging to an ethnic minority (probably not problems encountered by most public school boys in the early 1970s) but also early separation from parents; childhood sexual, physical and emotional abuse; and bullying in schools. In each of these cases, the evidence of link with future psychiatric disorder is very strong indeed – at least as strong as the genetic evidence ...
And of course, there are a myriad of adult adversities that also contribute to mental ill health (debt, unhappy marriages, excessively demanding work environments and the threat of unemployment, to name but a few). Arguably, the biggest cause of human misery is miserable relationships with other people, conducted in miserable circumstances.
I have seen other psychologists making the same criticism of programmes in the In the Mind season.

If you want to know more about Richard Bentall's research you can watch a video I posted here in 2013.

He also gave an engaging interview to The Psychologist a couple of years before that.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Six of the Best 575

Photo: Andreas Trepte
"This government is a bullying government. It preaches localism and practices centralism. As a localist I defend local decision making and local accountability." Richard Kemp on the government's intention to ban local councils from having ethical investment policies.

Labour MP Jonathan Reynolds explains how he learnt to stop worrying and love Basic Income.

John Field visits Osea Island, home to a government work camp and a retreat for wealthy addicts.

"I’ve tried to imagine how the view towards the Minster might look from the A59 end of Water End, where the road crosses the railway. Somewhat blighted, I suspect." York Stories examines plans for a major redevelopment in the city.

"Curlews are long-lived birds, they can reach the grand old age of 30. It seems that our British population is ageing and not reproducing, making the future look dire. As the UK holds 25% of the breeding population of the Eurasian curlew, this is an alarming state of affairs." Mary Colwell-Hector on the threat to this wonderful bird.

SlideShare introduces us to Mike, the cat who guarded the British Museum between 1909 and 1929.

Godfrey Bloom wants his bottom spanked

Having had a go at Emma Thompson for her foolish remarks on the European referendum the other day ("cake-filled" ... "grey" ... you remember), it is only fair that I call out the ludicrous Godfrey Bloom.

Here is his response to Emma Thompson:
My first reaction is that I would like to see him try. Emma has always been a strapping girl and would, I imagine, be the bookies' favourite in a fight with Bloom. It is far more likely that she would spank him.

Given the effort that Bloom has put into portraying the sort of Blimpish Englishman who was out of date before be was born - and given Emma's fondness for playing nannies - you cannot exclude the possibility that, deep down, that is what he wants.

Vince Cable looks back on the tuition fees debacle



Vince Cable spoke to Times Higher Education this week after taking up an honorary professorship at the University of Nottingham.

Asked about the Coalition decision to increase tuition fees, he said:
"It was politically very traumatic, but it was actually good policy. One of my colleagues, I think, came up with the phrase that we got 8 out of 10 for the policy but 2 out of 10 for the politics.
"The problem was that we made this pledge about not increasing student tuition fees – it was disastrous, it was not deliverable. ... 
"We got hammered for it – loss of trust, all those things. But it wasn’t deliverable in the financial climate of the coalition. 
"My job was to try to make the best of a bad job and produce a system which was genuinely progressive. It is. Nobody pays fees; they pay a form of graduate tax when they leave, depending on their income. 
"The universities as a consequence are now quite well funded, unlike most other bits of what you could broadly call the public sector."
You can see the heart of the Liberal Democrats' problem in the photo above - and I don't mean Nick Clegg.

We pledged to vote against any increase in tuition fees in the next parliament and to pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative,

As was pointed out (I think by Polly McKenzie) in the debate I posted the other day, this took it for granted that we would not be in government after the 2010 general election.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The making of Gregory's Girl



John Gordon Sinclair, Dee Hepburn and Clare Grogan reminisce about the making of this 1980 film in a discussion recorded last year.

If this were the Daily Mail I would be astounded that they look a lot older 35 years on.

Tragic Magic: The Life of Traffic's Chris Wood

Way back in 2008 I blogged saying that Dan Ropek was writing a biography of Chris Wood from Traffic.

Thanks to someone who has found that old post and left a couple of comments, I can tell you that Tragic Magic: The Life of Traffic's Chris Wood has now been published.

The book's blurb says:
Traffic was the most enigmatic British band of their day. Formed in early 1967 by Chris Wood, Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi and Dave Mason, they rejected the bright lights of London in favor of a run-down, supposedly haunted, cottage in the country - a place to live communally and write music. 
With Chris especially intent on channeling the vibes of England's landscape into their sound, days would be spent getting high, exploring, playing and working in varying proportions. Against all odds, this eccentric model paid off - songs such as "Dear Mr. Fantasy" and "John Barleycorn Must Die" would lift Traffic into the upper echelons of the rock world. 
As they brushed shoulders with Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, and the Grateful Dead, and with Dave dropping in and out of the band, Traffic's music evolved from a synthesis of Steve's innate musicality, Jim's atmospheric lyrics and Chris's special brand of congenial mysticism. Record sales boomed and tours carried them back and forth across the Atlantic, everything seemed to be going to plan - a dreamlike fairy tale come true. 
But for Chris, a toll would be exacted. 
Amid the clashing egos, wearing road trips, stressful break ups and a complex personal life, he vacillated precariously between bursts of exquisite creativity and torrents of self-destruction; a paradoxical dance which continued until his death in 1983. For a man who found artistic expression everything, and for whom suffering for it was an expectation, Chris would stare fully into the Medusa's face of the music industry, paying a higher price than perhaps any of his contemporaries. 
Researched and written over a ten-year period, "Tragic Magic" offers the only definitive account of Traffic's story and Chris Wood's quietly extraordinary life.

One-legged animal porn pervert told he has “walked into trouble”

Our Headline of the Day competition sees a victory for Lincolnshire and the Gainsborough Standard.

Like all the best headlines, it was nominated by a reader. Thank you.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Great Western Railway poster for the Wye Valley



This poster dates from 1946 and the artist is Frank Newbould.

Boudicca Rising wins Name of the Day

A cat yesterday
We had a phone call at work today about the worrying case of the Croydon Cat Killer. What would make a person do something so terrible?

Googling the case I came across the excellent organisation South Norwood Animal Rescue and Liberty (SNARL), which is leading a campaign to catch a suspected attacker, and its organiser Boudicca Rising.

She wins our coveted Name of the Day Award.

Emma Thompson shows how not to win the European referendum

If we want the forces of light to win the referendum on British membership of the European Union then we have to get away that it is a project of the elites.

Which may be a problem. While professionals arrange the harmonisation of qualifications across the continent to make it easy for them to take up agreeable employment abroad, the rest of us are faced with an influx of people who will work harder and expect lower wages.

That, incidentally, why it is bizarre that David Cameron's demands centre on benefits for people from Poland. It is the Poles in jobs that British workers are afraid of.

But if you are trying to dispel the idea that Europe is an elitist project then you don't want someone like Emma Thompson describing Britain as:
"a tiny little cloud-bolted, rainy corner of sort-of Europe, a cake-filled misery-laden grey old island."
It is possible to love Britain and be in favour of our membership of the EU, but you wouldn't grasp it from her words.

And I don't understand what is wrong with cake. With the success of The Great British Bake Off, it is all the rage these days and isn't a love of curry as much a marker of Britishness these days anyway?

Perhaps we should look at John Carey's The Intellectuals and the Masses, where he dissects the horror of the likes of the Bloomsbury Group at the food of the workers. My dear, tinned food!

Let me end by quoting my review of Phil Norman's A History of Television in 100 Programmes:
The essay on The Magic Roundabout called to mind the family legend that my father was a school friend of Eric Thompson. My mother says he would occasionally smile at the airs Thompson later gave himself, given the humble home he came from. Goodness knows what he made of Emma.

Paedophile activist suspended from the Labour Party

Last night The Times broke the news that Tom O'Carroll, the public face of the Paedophile Information Exchange around 1980, had joined the Labour Party.

To Labour's credit, he was suspended today.

But his brief presence was in line with the Corbynistas' attempt to return Labour to the early 1980s.

When I worked in Birmingham in 1981 and 1982 it was possible to find literature from the PIE among that from other municipally approved good causes in the city's central library.

The idea that the professional left was the scourge of child abusers did not arise until some years later.

Charles Sydney Buxton and Eric Avebury were cousins



When I blogged about the Liberal flyer from the first 1910 general election I bought on Sunday, I said Charles Sydney Buxton and Eric Avebury were kinsmen.

A little research shows that they were cousins - or half-cousins, if there is such a relationship - as they had the same grandfather.

That grandfather was John Lubbock, 1st Baron Avebury, who had 11 children from two marriages.

Charles was the son of his eldest child Constance Mary Lubbock. She was the daughter of John Lubbock's first wife Ellen Frances Hordern.

Eric Avebury was the son of his youngest child, Maurice Fox Pitt Lubbock. He was the son of John Lubbock's second wife Alice Fox-Pitt.

When I set off for the antique fair on Sunday I had just heard of Eric Avebury's death - just one of those odd coincidences.

It is striking to come across cousins who died more than a century apart and also strking that Eric Avebury eventuallly inherited his grandfather's title despite being born to the youngest of his 11 children.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Disused stations in Nottinghamshire



The Nottingham London Road here is the vanished Higher Level station. The Lower Level one is still there, now occupied by a health club and spa.

There are lots more of these videos on this blog. Find them on the Disused Stations label.

Rabbit hutch stolen from Shropshire field - but the rabbit is left behind

Our Headline of the Day comes from the Shropshire Star.

The judges were unanimous, but I can't help thinking this is rather embarrassing for the rabbit.

Write a guest post for Liberal England


This is a reminder that I welcome guest posts on Liberal England.

And as you can see from the list of the 10 most recent guest posts below, I am happy to consider a wide range of subjects.

If you would like to write a guest post yourself, please send me an email so we can discuss your idea.

  • The perfect Christmas gift for a carer - Jon Pollard
  • Politic360: Mending online political discussion - Jason Brown
  • A new hole in the safety net - Anonymous
  • Memories of Snailbeach in the 1950s - Christina Samson
  • We are all the poorer for soundbite politics - Tony Robertson
  • A few thoughts on walking - Phil Smith
  • The mad, mad world of Maghull Town Council - Tony Robertson
  • What the US can do to end the Gaza conflict? - Daphne Holmes
  • "You're all the same" - Katie Barron
  • The trouble with Seamus Milne - Tim Hall
  • Sunday, February 14, 2016

    Charles Sydney Buxton (1884-1911)


    I went to the antiques market in Market Harborough this morning. The best thing there was a table of ephemera. On it I found this little piece of Liberal Party history, which obviously dated from one of the 1910 general elections.

    Charles Sydney Buxton, it turned out, fought Woodbridge at the January 1910 election. It had been gained from the Conservatives in the landslide of 1906 by Robert Everett (a veteran fighter for farmers' interests against the landlords).

    Charles proved unable to hold it and the Woodbridge division remained Conservative until it was abolished after the 1945 election. The prominent Liberal journalist Roger Fulford managed a second place there as late as 1929.

    Charles's father, grandfather and great grandfather were all Liberal MPs. His father served in the cabinet under both Campbell-Bannerman and Asquith.

    His mother was Constance Mary Lubbock, which makes him a kinsman of Eric Avebury who died today.

    Charles did not live to contest another election. He died from peritonitis in 1911 aged 27.

    Not so long ago he would have been described as a forgotten figure. But thanks to the internet you can read all about his short life.

    Go the University of Toronto website and you will find a PDF of a book about Charles commissioned by his father - Charles Sydney Buxton: A Memoir by H. Sanderson Furniss:
    I had thought of calling this last chapter "The End," but on thinking it over I changed the title to "Plans for the Future"; for it was not the end. 
    In the Sussex Memorial scheme, founded to bring education to the agricultural labourers in the Sussex villages ; in the Buxton Memorial Scholarship, which brings each year an agricultural labourer as a student to Ruskin College; in the annual scholarship, founded in his memory and provided by past and present students of the College; in Buxton Cottage on the Chiltern Hills, bought by the Workers' Educational Association and opened in his memory as a resting-place for those who are devoting their lives to working-class education; above all, in the hearts and lives of those who were inspired by his example, Charlie still lives.

    Holly Macve: The Corner of My Mind



    I heard Holly Macve on Radio 3's Late Junction the other evening.

    They thought she comes from Liverpool, but the Bella Union site tells a different story:
    Bella Union have recently signed the exciting talent of Holly Macve. Boss Simon Raymonde says "Little is known of Holly other than she is a 20 year old from Yorkshire who appeared out of nowhere in Brighton late last year. I had a tip-off to go to a basement bar where she was playing. In a room full of beery boys chatting across all the music beforehand, the minute Holly opened her mouth the room fell silent. Hers is a rare gift."
    She is currently writing and recording in the North-East of England with Paul Gregory (Lanterns On The Lake).
    Whatever the truth of it, she sounds as though she comes from somewhere rural in America.

    Six of the Best 574

    Eric Avebury, the Liberal Democrat peer and Liberal victor in the famous Orpington by-election, has died. Lib Dem Voice has an interview about his life that he gave to his son John and Seth Thevoz last year.

    Emran Mian says we should not harangue Google for paying so little tax in Britain but globalise taxation.

    "At Petworth we can walk through the realised dreams of the landlords: a glorious country estate that projects the power, prestige, even the seeming naturalness, of the aristocracy. The history of our more humble ancestors ... are smoothed over, buried, obscured." Mark Hailwood goes for a walk in the country.

    Nicholas Whyte has been to the Royal College of Physicians' exhibition on John Dee - "scholar, courtier, magician".

    "John Perry was heard crying out for assistance in the garden. When help arrived, he was found alone but in a state of some agitation. He claimed that, while working in the garden, he had been unaccountably set upon by two men dressed in white, who had assaulted him with their swords." Alwyn Turner examines what sounds very like a 17th-century UFO abduction.

    Historic England presents nine breweries of architectural distinction.

    Saturday, February 13, 2016

    A glory-hunter's guide to supporting Leicester City



    With Leicester City five points clear at the top of the Premiership, the club will be attracting a lot of new supporters - particularly former Manchester United fans from Surrey.

    So the Leicester Mercury is timely in producing its 'A glory-hunter's guide to supporting Leicester City':
    "Interesting fact for you," tweeted Jason Manford. "As a rule of thumb, if you can't place someone's accent, they're from Leicester." 
    Unplaceable it may be, but it's there. Even though the council tried to kill it off it the 1950s with elocution lessons in schools. 
    It's arguably the first proper accent you hit when you drive north from London. 
    Somewhere just south of Market Harborough a barrrth becomes a bath, and as you approach the city, magical things happen to the endings of words. 
    The quickleee of RP English becomes quickleh. Less-terr becomes Lestuh. It slows things down a little when there's a run of them altogether, so if you have cause to ring 999 for instance and say: "quickly, quickly, it's an emergency, there's a dire fire at Leicester Snooker Centre," well, there's a good chance there will have been casualties by the time you've finished raising the alarm.
    And, as the Mercury says, if you want to understand more about the city's culture, listen to the song above.

    The Homophobic Monk can deliver his leaflets again

    Clarendon Park: a shining city on a hill

    The Homophobic Monk was back in the Leicester Mercury on Friday:
    A 'monk' who delivered homophobic leaflets to homes in Leicestershire has had a ban that curbed his activities overturned. 
    Damon Jonah Kelly (54), had earlier pleaded guilty to harassment after a married lesbian couple objected to him putting a leaflet through the letterbox of their Clarendon Park home in October, 2014. 
    He became aggressive and abusive when the women challenged him about the leaflet's content, saying: "We used to burn people like you. I'm doing God's work." 
    Although the wording of Kelly's leaflet was not illegal in itself, he committed the offence of harassment when he returned to the couple's home a few days later and posted an offensive letter, with distressing content, specifically addressed to "the witches".
    The report in the Mercury is not entirely clear. As I understand it, the ban on his distributing leaflets has been lifted, but his conviction for harassment was upheld with a more lenient penalty.

    Sell George Osborne

    If George Osborne ever hits a target, it will look something like this...



    Thanks to Jeremy Corbyn and the rabble around him, George Osborne must think himself invulnerable. Hence his trip to California at the expense of Google to watch the Super Bowl.

    But it is noticeable that in recent weeks more articles critical of the Chancellor have been appearing in Conservative newspapers.

    At the end of January there was a vicious piece in the Sun:
    George Osborne’s hopes of becoming PM have been severely dented by the Google tax shambles, Tories claim - as a senior minister branded him a "social cripple like Gordon Brown". 
    Top Conservatives are increasingly worried the Chancellor does not have what it takes to succeed David Cameron, with another minister saying voters see him as "weird" like Ed Miliband.
    And this morning Peter Oborne wrote in the Mail:
    Mr Osborne has always been a part-time Chancellor. He is often not at the Treasury, because he is, in effect, the Government’s chief strategist and party manager as well as being Chancellor. It’s he who decides on promotions and sackings. 
    He has taken charge of negotiations with the European Union and will manage the campaign to keep Britain in Europe once the referendum is called. 
    In addition, he is running his personal campaign to succeed David Cameron as Tory leader, and is particularly assiduous in wining and dining Tory MPs in order to get their support. 
    Let’s try a mental experiment. Let’s imagine that Britain was a public company and the finance director also ran human relations, marketing, PR and strategy — all the while intriguing to take over as chief executive. 
    There would be an almighty row. Shareholders wouldn’t allow it. They would insist the finance director focused to the exclusion of all else on making certain that the accounts were properly maintained.
    Maybe this has something to do with his colleagues' growing awareness that David Cameron will not be Conservative leader for ever.

    If so, George Osborne is still the bookies' favourite. But I would suggest you sell George Osborne.

    Friday, February 12, 2016

    Vanished Leicester: Butt Close Lane

    Copyright © Dennis Calow

    Butt Close Lane is still there and is home to The Salmon, one of the city's finest pubs.

    These buildings on the corner of East Bond Street, however, have long gone. They were photographed in 1965.

    Work begins on bridging the gap at Loughborough


    Last summer I wrote about the project to bridge the gap at Loughborough that separates the Great Central Railway and the Great Central Railway - Nottingham.

    There is good news on the latter's website:
    One of the biggest projects in railway preservation is about to get underway. A new bridge will be built in Loughborough to carry the tracks of the award winning heritage line, the Great Central Railway over the Midland Main Line. The new bridge is part of a chain of infrastructure which will ultimately allow two halves of the Great Central Railway to reconnect, creating an eighteen mile heritage line between Leicester and Nottingham. 
    After three years of planning and fundraising, contractors will start on site in mid-February. A traditional Victorian style 'turning of the first sod' ceremony (which took place at the start of the many railway construction projects) will take place on Friday the 12th of February at 1pm. The ceremony will be carried out by the Nicky Morgan who is MP for Loughborough. 
    "This is a very exciting moment," said Bill Ford, Managing Director of the Great Central Railway. "We have cherished this vision for decades, so to finally make a start on the ground is very important for us. So many people around the world and in the local community have donated money which has given the project life. Today’s start of work is a tribute to their faith. We know they'll be watching as the work progresses!"
    I look forward to the gap being bridged - the photo above shows its southern edge. At present the Great Central Railway - Nottingham is a bit of a mystery to those of us in Leicestershire. Rather like the Eastern Roman Empire.

    A peacock for Lady Jane Grey


    Lady Jane Grey was executed on this day, 12 February, in 1554 after a reign of nine days as Queen of England.

    She was born and spent most of her life at Bradgate, her family's estate in Leicestershire.

    Today the ruins of the house can be found in Bradgate Park. The estate was privately purchased from the Grey family and given to the people of Leicestershire by Charles Bennion in 1928.

    Here, in her honour, is a peacock climbing on those ruins.

    Thursday, February 11, 2016

    The Croxley Green branch today



    Last month I publish a video of Watford West in its final days.

    This one from Londonist shows that station and the whole branch as they are today, awaiting revival as part of the Metropolitan line.

    Jonathan Meades in Nazi Germany and Shoreditch

    Time to catch up with one of this blog's heroes,

    At the start of the month Jonathan Meades had an article in the London Review of Books reviewing two books on Nazi Germany:
    Unlike many earlier authors, neither Kitchen nor Meades tries to exonerate Speer of his crimes. Meades writes
    Speer’s earliest war crimes were largely restricted to evicting Jews from properties that Nazis coveted or which might provide shelter for bombing victims. He also effected the demolition of many homes to make way for the bloated white elephant of Germania, Hitler’s new capital. 
    These clearances were paltry put beside the consequences of his work on concentration camps. He had no part in running them but it was part of his brief to get them built, to quarry and fire the materials. He was close to Himmler and enthusiastically subscribed to the Reichsführer SS’s dauntingly simplistic policy of Annihilation through Work.
    Turning to Hitler at Home, he writes of the construction of the Führer's public image:
    The note that ... dutifully credulous journalists struck was remarkably consistent and testifies to the manipulative efficiency of Hitler’s publicity machine. The same words recur: destiny, toil, youth, culture, music, authentic, sacrifice – oh the sacrifice. 
    That publicity machine was also sedulous in courting useful idiots, none more useful than Lord Rothermere, who happened to own a newspaper and whose potential as messenger boy to the British establishment Hitler exploited, just as he exploited the New York Times Magazine, which on 20 August 1939 enthused about his love of chocolate and of gooseberry pie and his rapt attention to the petitions of ‘widows and orphans of party martyrs’.
    Then came news that in April Jonathan Meades is having a one-man show of treyfs and artknacks at the Londonewcastle Project in Shoreditch.

    Treyfs? Artknacks? You will have to follow the link to find out.

    A fascinating panel debate on the British General Election of 2015



    To mark the publication of The British General Election of 2015, Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) hosted a panel debate on the election and its consequences at the Mile End Institute on Tuesday.

    Professor Philip Cowley from QMUL, one of the authors of the book, was joined by:
    • Tim Bale, Professor of Politics, QMUL (chair)
    • Matthew d'Ancona, Evening Standard columnist and chair of Bright Blue 
    • Lord (Spencer) Livermore, Director of Labour's 2015 election campaign 
    • Polly Mackenzie, former special advisor to the Deputy Prime Minister
    The Liberal Democrats featured more prominently that you might expect and there were telling observations about all the parties.

    This video is well worth your time.

    Wednesday, February 10, 2016

    Kenneth Branagh and Rupert Everett in Another Country



    In the autumn of 1982 I was unemployed and living in Market Harborough. To cheer myself up I went down to London to stay for a few days with an old friend from university.

    One of the things we did was go to see a play called Another Country at the Queen's Theatre. Which means that I saw the West End debut of Kenneth Branagh.

    It was a tribute to him that, though Rupert Everett was a more flamboyant actor playing a more flamboyant role, it was Branagh we talked about afterwards.

    You can see the two of them in this Newsnight report.

    Incidentally, though the film of Another Country was good, the play was much better. In it, all the sex and the beating took place off stage, which made them all the more powerful.

    Six of the Best 573

    Mark Valladares asks if using your preferred definition of liberalism a means to suppress reasoned dissent.

    "According to a 2015 Prison Reform Trust review, children and young people who are, or have been, in care were more than five times more likely to be involved in the criminal justice system. The most recent inspection report of Medway in 2014, which houses 12 to 17-year-olds who have been remanded or sentenced to detention, found 45% of youngsters there had care histories." Jameel Hadi writes on institutional abuse.

    Patrick Barkham reports that more than 10% of children in England haven’t been to a natural environment in past 12 months.

    "Trees in Leicester reduce concentrations of road traffic emissions in the city by up to 7% and have a “regionally beneficial impact on air quality”, results from an academic research project have found." Important (and more widely applicable) research from Michael Holder.

    Twitter just killed its own product, says Austin Rathe.

    Curious British Telly on the short Blue Peter career of Michael Sundin.

    David Cameron has worked out how to deal with Jeremy Corbyn's emailed questions



    Election campaigns throw up characters who are famous for a day and then forgotten.

    Remember Gillian Duffy or Jennifer and her ear? Only just.

    The US Presidential campaign of 2008 produced such a figure in the shape of Joe the Plumber.

    He was Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, who questioned Obama's economic policies at a neighbourhood meeting in Ohio.

    The Republicans and the media painted him as the epitome of blue-collar America and he was often mentioned during the campaign.

    In November 2008 I blogged about the way that Barack Obama dealt with this:
    This is how you win elections. 
    In today's Spectator Fraser Nelson describes how Obama dealt with Joe: 
    "Joe’s cool," Mr Obama said. "I got no problem with Joe. All I want to do is cut Joe’s taxes. But Senator McCain isn’t working for Joe the Plumber. He’s working for Joe the Hedge Fund Manager."
    Today David Cameron used the same tactic at prime minister's questions when Jeremy Corbyn used one of his emailed questions. It came from Rosie who was forced to live with her parents because she could not find or afford her own place to live.

    As Lloyd Evans tells it for the Spectator:
    He co-opted Rosie’s identity and began putting words into her mouth. Rosie wants this, Rosie wants that. He said ‘Rosie’ half a dozen times. Rosie wants a strong economy. Rosie wants lower tax thresholds. Rose wants a prosperous Britain where the young can purchase their homes thanks to the help-to-buy ISA. 
    Rosie – the way Cameron told it – is such a passionate supporter of Tory policy that she might as well declare herself a leadership candidate.
    I think we may see fewer emailed questions at PMQs in future.