Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The remains of Derby Friargate station

Leicester is not the only East Midland city with the site of a major railway station lying derelict.

This slideshow illustrates the remains of Derby Friargate, the old Great Northern station, which closed to passengers in 1964.

There is now hope that the Grade 2 Listed warehouse will be restored.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: A chilled Don Foster sherry

Even when he stays at home in Rutland, Lord Bonkers is hard at work.


The morning’s post brings a letter from a young reader asking how he can break into radio comedy. In reply I say there are two sure ways of getting your own series on BBC Radio Four. The first is to go to Cambridge and take part in the Footlights show. The second is to join the Socialist Workers Party.

A lady asks which drink she should serve her guests before they go into dinner. I recommend a chilled Don Foster sherry.

Finally, a Liberal Democrat MP who lost his seat in 2015 asks me for help in finding a room. I promise to put in a good word for him at the Home for Distressed Canvassers, Herne Bay.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

A Bishop's Castle doorway

One more glimpse of my favourite Shropshire town.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The sycamores are looking distinctly nervous

The Bonkers Hall Estate is noted for its coverts and hangers, so it is no surprise that Lord Bonkers should take a dim view of Labour policy in Sheffield.


To Sheffield to weigh our prospects of regaining the Hallam Division at the next election. I am shocked at the scenes of desolation I find: street after street with stumps but no trees. Oak, ash and thorn are all felled, and the sycamores are looking distinctly nervous. Squirrels tug at my tweeds as I pass and beg for nuts.

"I expect the socialists have decided that trees are bourgeois." I say to a sound woman with a placard. "Or have the larch and firs been heard giggling at Jeremy Corbyn?"

She tells me that it is all down to some agreement the council has made with a private company – a 'PFI'. Anything that gets in the way of repairing tarmac – trees, parked cars, children on the way to school – is for the chop.

“I’m not surprised no one buys PFI furniture anymore,” I tell her as we part.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Local papers shed more light on the resignation of Blake Pain

Last night Blake Pain, the Conservative leader of Harborough District Council, announced his intention to resign his position at the end of a full meeting of the council.

The Leicester Mercury quotes my old friend Simon Galton, a Liberal Democrat councillor:
"It was bizarre the way it happened. It got right to the end of the meeting and then the chairman said there was one more bit of urgent business - a statement from the leader. And then he resigned. I think only one or two people knew about it in advance. 
"He said the Tories want a change of direction so I looks like he didn’t want to go."”
But it is the Harborough Mail that gives us a clue to the politics behind his resignation:
Signs of strain within the ruling Conservative group on the council were evident in July, when half a dozen Conservative councillors criticised their own leadership in a public meeting. 
They claimed that council funds were distributed unevenly round the district, with Market Harborough getting more than its fair share. A council team is now looking into the claim.
You heard the claim that all the money is spent in Market Harborough back when I was a member of the council.

In part that is because you hear such charges in many of the large rural districts the Conservatives created in the early 1970s. Their reorganisation yoked together many communities that had no particular connection with one another.

And in part it was because the rural councillors, or at least the rural Conservatives and the rural Independents who were Conservative Party members on the quiet, were not very good at organsising themselves to press for the spending they wanted.

They tended to wait until something was planned for Market Harborough and then complain that it was not being built in their ward.

Anyway, it's good to see such an informed report in the Harborough Mail.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Lord Bonkers' foreword to the new Liberator Songbook

Down in Bournemouth the Glee Club at the Liberal Democrat Conference is underway. So it is time to share with you Lord Bonkers' foreword to the new Liberator Songbook.

Bonkers Hall
Tel. Rutland 7

What with so many people joining the Liberal Democrats in the past year, it occurs to me that many of you will be attending the Glee Club for the first time.

So let me address myself to you ‘virgins’ in particular. Don't worry: It's Meant To Be Like This.

If you wish to enjoy the evening to the utmost, my advice is that you should buy a songbook from the amusing young people at Liberator magazine, furnish yourself with a pint of Smithson & Greaves' Northern Bitter and join in the singing lustily.

You may see impressionable young journalists wandering around the hall. If you do, please be gentle with them.

Newspapers publish horrified exposés of the Glee Club ever year. I think there must be some sort of legal requirement upon them, so it is best not to worry about it too much.

A particular feature of the evening will be comic turns by our MPs and other party bigwigs.

I recommend these as a good opportunity to go to the bar.

Finally, a word on health and safety, which is such a concern nowadays. (I am currently engaged in correspondence with the local authority, which has decided the unfenced mineshafts of Stilton country are a hazard. What nonsense!)

I would, however, counsel you to note where the exits are, given that we are meeting beside the sea in Bournemouth.

How well I recall an early Aldeburgh Festival! Halfway through the concert, the hall was inundated by the North Sea because of an unusually high tide.

Having looked about myself in the way I have just recommended to you, I was able to snatch up a passing double bass and paddle my way to safety – accompanied by Benjamin Britten on the piano.


Blake Pain, Tory leader of Harborough District Council, resigns

At a meeting of the council this evening, Blake Pain has resigned as leader of the ruling Conservative group.

It sounds as though he jumped before he was pushed.

Here are tweets from two Liberal Democrat councillors at the meeting:

The Ghost of Jimi Hendrix at Stokesay Castle

Jimi Hendrix, aged only 27, died on this day in 1970.

Eighteen years later John James published a slim pamphlet of poems with the irresistible title The Ghost of Jimi Hendrix at Stokesay Castle.

Irresistible to me at least. I bought his Collected Poems just to get hold of the poems it contained:
you can't believe everything you see & hear can you
the old heroes of desire sleeping where Handel slept
it's a long way from the surf
& the sign for victory equals peace
the River Onny & its mood of total calm 
when you're dead you're made for life
James may be the first poet since A,E. Housman to mention the River Onny. Unlike Housman, he spells it correctly.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Burying Matron in the sand

Shooting in Rutland sounds more challenging than elsewhere. Perhaps we should introduce the Rutland partridge to North America?


I did not take part in the Glorious Twelfth this year as it clashed with the Well-Behaved Orphans’ annual holiday at Trescothick Bay in Cornwall. Bathing, running barefoot across the sand, burying Matron... I had a high old time of it.

In any case, shooting grouse is not to my taste as the activity is now so commercialised. Grouse are bred in enormous numbers, overfed and then have little lead weights tied to their feet so they cannot fly too high.

I am happier here on my own moors. Open fire at a Rutland partridge and it will take cover and fire back at you. Now that’s what I call good sport!

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Mountain rescue plea after man's Snowdon climb in pants

BBC News wins our Headline of the Day Award.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The wacky decoration of houses in Bishop's Castle

One of the things that made Bishop's Castle perfect when I first visited it was that it wasn't too perfect.

Yes, there were fine Georgian houses, but there were always a couple of them patched up with corrugated iron. My mother says Bath was like that in the 1950s.

Time moves on and the town has grown neater. There is now a fashion for decorating those houses' external plaster in a wacky fashion.

The bubbles have been there for years, but there was a lot that was new this summer.

The trailing creeper is rather lovely and the jigsaw pieces are witty, but I thought the zip fasteners are in danger of going too far.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Night-time cricket against the Elves of Rockingham Forest

Lord Bonkers sees history made at Edgbaston and gives us a further insight into his uneasy relationship with some prominent local inhabitants.


Here in Rutland night-time cricket is well established thanks to the Elves of Rockingham Forest and their torches, even if I will swear they shine more brightly when the Elves are batting. Still, it is best not to fall out with these fellows, as I found when I suggested they were achieving reverse swing by underhand means. ”High Elven Magic” my foot! They were using a bottle top to lift the seam.

Where was I? Ah yes, it is best not to fall out with the Elves: last time I did it took simply ages to persuade them to turn my gardener Meadowcroft back into Meadowcroft from being a frog.

Day-night cricket is, however, a new venture for the England test team, so I thought myself something of a pioneer when I had myself driven to Edgbaston for its first such test. I was delighted that a whole row in the Hollies Stand was dressed as me, complete with false moustaches, even though I was in dressing gown and pyjamas myself. I was proud to lead them in many choruses of… well, of the songs played by my stables carillon, as it happens.

The only trouble is that I could have sworn the ball was a lurid pink, which clearly cannot have been the case. I have therefore made an appointment to have my eyes examined. (Could it be that Nanny was right after all?)

The general view was that I should see an optometrist, so that is what I am going to do this afternoon. It will be a pleasure to meet someone who always looks on the bright side of things.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Timon: Now She Says She's Young

From this 1968 track, a later version of which was released as a single under the title And Now She Says She's Young, you would think Timon was a star child - a sort of Liverpudlian Nick Drake - who faded with the decade.

Not a bit of it.

In the early 1970s Timon, born Stephen Murray and by then known as Tymon Dogg, move down to London and became a part of the underground scene. He shared a Westbourne Grove squat with and went busking with a young Joe Strummer.

Tymon Dogg played on a couple of Clash tracks and was later a member of Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros.

And he is still around today. Here is Tymon Dogg at a 2012 William Blake festival.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Inside the old Dainite factory, Market Harborough

Don't try this at home kids.

There are some notes about the building on the Historic England site.

Six of the Best 725

Will Tanner dissects the Conservative Party's problem with young voters.

"Across the country, students are being taught a narrow version of economics where real-world economic issues barely feature." Ten years on, Laura Bannister and Daniel Lapedus wonder if today’s economics graduates could predict and prevent another Northern Rock.

Sarah Carr and Danny Taggart ask if we need a truth and reconciliation process for psychiatry.

"The Holodomor has become a totemic symbol in Ukrainian nation-building efforts; Russian oppression has consolidated a nation once internally divided by dialect, political culture and religion. For the first time in history, Ukraine (however corrupt and impoverished) seems a viable state." Donald Rayfield reviews Anne Applebaum's book on the Ukranian famine.

adragonsbestfriend describes the launch of the Cambridge women’s branch of the Young Liberals’ League in 1910. It elected Eglantyne Jebb as its first president.

"Historians are at a loss to explain why the village suddenly appeared, much less why it was equally as suddenly deserted." The Abergavenny Chronicle on the mystery of a lost village on the slopes of the Sugar Loaf.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Muhammad Ali vs Tubby Anstruther

Today the old boy remembers his success as a boxing promoter.


Did you see the fight between Mayweather and McGregor? While it was not as one-sided as the pundits predicted, I was painfully reminded of the night I arranged for Muhammad Ali to fight the heavyweight champion of Rutland, Tubby Anstruther.

That one didn’t go the distance either, but it did put the Empire Pool, Oakham, on the map as a venue for boxing.

What great nights they were! Henry Cooper. Alan "Boom Boom" Minter. Vanessa Redgrave.

Above all I remember Sugar Ray Michie, a tasty welterweight who later won Argyll and Bute for the Liberals. We Liberal Democrats could do with some of her fighting spirit today.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Friday, September 15, 2017

Half Teletubbies, half The Prisoner: The Wintles, Bishop's Castle

Half Teletubbies, half The Prisoner, The Wintles stands on the edge of Bishop's Castle. It was developed by a decade ago by The Living Village Trust:
We thought the best way of proving that it is possible to design a new village with the ambiance and attractiveness of a well loved place was to build it. We were very clear that we didn’t want to create a pastiche of an old village which would be a pointless exercise. We wanted to build a contemporary village with a very human feel to it.
It is not a village. It is part of the town - Bishop's Castle is too small to have suburbs.

And wandering around the town to kill time before for dinner, I explored The Wintles. It came on to rain, so I spent a while there sheltering.

In all that time I saw no one. It was the summer and people will have been on holiday, as I was.

But there was something odd about it's quietness. I had the same experience and feeling in Leicester's new suburb of Hamilton.

Maybe I just grew up in an age where children played out and have lived into one where they do not..

I can remember there being signs up in Bishop's Castle protesting against the development at The Wintles, though it may not have been this scheme in particular the writers had in mind.

Looking through my files I do not have photos from that era, but - as the last one here shows - I do have photos of these houses being built.

How I foresaw the European referendum campaign (with some help from Stanley Unwin)

There has not been a Liberal Revue at the Liberal Democrat Conference for a while now, but in a couple of its later appearances I did a Stanley Unwin tribute act.

The first of these explained Vince Cable's taxation policy when he was our shadow chancellor.

The second tackled Ming Campbell's call for a referendum.on Britain's membership of the European Union.

I forget why he made it - it's all a long time ago.

Anyway, my explanation went something like this.
I have been asked – all polite and requesty – by Ming the Merciflold to explain to you our new polytito on the European Unibode. 
Though confdentimost, conference, if there’s a mercifold one in that marriage, it’s Elspeth. Indeedy-ho! 
Now historibold, which is of the oldest, we have the European wars. Schlesswig versy Holstein. Alsace versy Lorraine. And all huffalo dowder until the Congress of Viennit with the replay at Villy Park next Tuesday. 
In 1945 there is a new thorcus. All the natiomost of Europe join together in a peacy.
And from this we have the joy of the Eurovision song contest. All boom and bangit with Sandy Shore, Cliff Richibold – there’s a falolloper – and the Bucksy Fizz. 
This, of course, is the home of the Norveige nul points – and sulky up the fijord ever since. 
Fundamold to this new Europe is the swap and trade it. At first we have it all back and forward across the borders with “please have your passy portit open for inspection”. 
And this is of a great waste of time, with estimate have it and 20 billion Euro a year – and that’s without the countit and the declimly point in the wrong place! 
Unfortumost – all shame and sobit – the Britly people are not keen and soldy. What they ask of the Britly passport? What of the pound and perch and of the Queen and reignit herself? 
Hear their cryimost: give me bendy bananas or death and end it! 
For this Ming has a new thorcus – ingenimost though it is. We have the referendium. 
A refererndium – moreover and extramost – not on the Constitutioner but on the whole goddam Euroimost shooting match. 
In or out, matey? That’s the question. We can’t shakeabout any longer, despite the poply song with the knees up and bunting. 
So how is run and work it, this referendium? All puzzlibod, I hear you. 
Here in Britly we have a tradition of the firsty past the post. Or as we say, the cross and stuffit. 
We Libby Dems have a prefer of the PR. And not only that, but the single and transfer it in the multimember too. 
Here we have the long ballot and the placey of the one with the favourite and two and threep – and add 07 if you want Brian to stay in the kitchy, indeedy ho! 
With the referendium the words on the bally paper – the precise and askit of the question – becomes of the importimost. 
And conference I can reveal to you – alone and exclusimost – the verbatim and word for word of it. 
And I quotey: 
“Have you stopped beaty of the wife and stay in Europe. Or do you want to lose your job and employit with the folly of a no?” 
If we don’t mention of the bendy banana we’ll be home and squeakit with that one. 
No questions? Deep joy.
And that was pretty much how the campaign turned out. Except that someone did mention bananas and we lost.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Instead of Big Ben

The arrival of a new Liberator does not just mean a few tempting morsels from Radical Bulletin. It also means it is time to spend another week in the company of Lord Bonkers.

I'm very sorry, but there is nothing I can do about it.


When I heard that Big Ben was to be silenced for four years, I wasted no time in telephoning the Director General of the BBC to suggest they broadcast the chimes from St Asquith’s instead. Their tone is certainly distinctive and, though the clock is apt to run a little slow, that can easily be remedied by adding pennies to the pendulum (or is it by taking them off?)

I fear, however, that I received short shrift from the DG: "It’s not in London, is it?" After giving him my opinion of Simon Mann’s cricket commentaries and John Humphrys’ disinclination to retire, I put the phone down on him.

Incidentally, a more radical choice would be the stables clock here at the Hall. It is complete with a small carillon and plays tunes such as 'The Land,' 'Woad' and 'Hurrah for Lord Bonkers!' on the quarter. (The horses seem to like it.)

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

Thursday, September 14, 2017

A flythrough of the bone crypt at Rothwell

I have never found the courage to enter it, but the crypt is open to the public on Sundays from 2.30pm to 4.30pm from Easter to the end of September.
That's what I wrote a year ago in a post about the slightly unnerving news that some of the bones in the crypt under the church in Rothwell, a small town between Kettering and Market Harborough, date from as recently as 1900.

But now you don't have to travel to the church to view its bone crypt. You can just watch this flythrough of a 3D model produced by the University of Sheffield.

Understanding the appeal of Donald Trump

Embed from Getty Images

I have just got back from London and a lecture by Professor Steve Reicher. It was a joint event put on by the British Academy and the British Psychological Society.

Professor Reicher's argument that if we are to understand the appeal of Donald Trump (and of other authoritarian populists) we have to get away from the idea that the people who voted for him are merely wicked or stupid.

An audio recording of the event should appear on the British Academy site soon. I will post the link when it does.

In the mean time, I recommend an article Steve Reicher wrote for the Scientific American with Alex Haslam, which covers much of the same ground.

They conclude:
When we put it all together, these figures tell us something important about leadership in general and about the 2016 leadership contest. They underline the point that leadership is never about the character of individuals as individuals. 
This is the "old psychology of leadership" that our own theoretical and empirical analysis has called into question. Instead leadership is about individuals as group members -whose success hinges on their capacity to create, represent, advance and embed a shared sense of "us." 
Reflecting on the implications of this analysis for the specifics of this election, we can see that many Trump voters knew full well that their man was a reprobate, that they deplored his crudities and that they saw him as a risky choice. 
And yet in a world where the system is seen to be against "us" and where things appear to be driven in the wrong direction by "them," the really irrational thing to do is to vote for the conventional candidate who represents sticking with that system.

Liberator on the departure of Tim Gordon and other party gossip

The new Liberator has arrived, so it is time for a taste of the gossip in Radical Bulletin.

There is a piece on tensions in London between new Liberal Democrat candidates, who thought their job was to increase the Lib Dem vote in their own seats, and the party's ruthless targeting strategy.

And one on the departure of Tim Gordon:
His political experience extended little beyond having unsuccessfully contested an Islington council seat in 2006, and while Gordon won genuine plaudits for his financial management - keeping the party afloat while it might well not have - his touch was less sure on political matters. 
Among the problems at HQ were that Tim Farron never put his stamp on it. It has largely been run by Clegg-era holdovers without any sense that Farron had his own people there to deliver what he wanted.
You can subscribe to Liberator online or by going along to our stall at the Lib Dem Conference.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

James Fox and Richard Ayoade

As a senior member of a theatrical dynasty, James Fox has an unofficial role as father-in-law to the stars - Billie Piper for a while and Richard Ayoade.

The other day I found this film that Fox and Ayoade made for a development charity. It shows Fox sending himself up admirably.

Campaign to save former railway weighbridge at Bishop's Castle

I have read that nothing remains of Bishop's Castle station - the terminus of a wonderfully eccentric line that ran from Craven Arms and necessitated reversal halfway through the journey.

But when I was in the town a few years ago I thought that this building looked as though it might have been something to do with the railway. It was in just the right part of the town too.

And I was right, because the Shropshire Star reported last month:
A drive to save one of the only remnants of an ill-fated Shropshire railway line is to be launched. 
The former weighbridge building in Bishop's Castle is one of the only signs that there was ever a railway line linking the town with nearby Craven Arms, which was closed and mostly torn up in 1935. 
Today that building is crumbling, but now a historical society want to get a campaign underway to save it for posterity, with a meeting to whip up interest scheduled for next week.

The Lib Dem establishment does not want an anti-Brexit motion debated at Conference

A post on Liberator's blog yesterday began:
After 400+ party members signed a petition to trigger a special conference to debate a Stop Brexit policy, the powers that be in the Liberal Democrats agreed to a compromise where they would enable the policy to be debated at autumn conference in Bournemouth in exchange for the petition being withdrawn. 
But now, at the last minute, it seems that the party’s Federal Conference Committee (FCC) has broken a promise to remain neutral in a crucial conference vote this Saturday and will now oppose the attempt to suspend standing orders to allow a Stop Brexit policy motion to be debated in place of a scheduled “consultation” session on Brexit.
You can read the full story in a post by Andrew Hickey on his blog Sci-Ence! Justice Leak!

What all those members who joined the Lib Dems because they are against Brexit will think, I tremble to think.

It seems that even with our opinion poll rating in single figures (and low single figures across much of the country) the party establishment is still most concerned with not upsetting the votes by being too controversial.

Dancing around in a bra in front of your neighbours may be weird but it's not a crime, court rules

The Daily Telegraph wins our Headline of the Day Award.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

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.

Moonraker, Dolly's braces and the Mandela Effect

Do you remember the scene in Moonraker?

Dolly helps Jaws out from wreckage of the ski-lift. He looks at her showing his metal teeth. She smiles back, showing the braces on her teeth.

His heart is softened and he is eventually redeemed by his love for her.

Except... that scene never happened. When Dolly smiles she shows nothing more than her teeth.

I thought I remembered seeing braces, but I was wrong.

Equally, I thought that Brian Dennehy, the American actor who starred in Peter Greenaway's The Belly of an Architect in the 1980s was dead. But he is still with us.

Both these are favourite examples of the Mandela Effect. This is the idea that our memories do not always fit the public record, not because they are faulty, but because that record is somehow falsified.

The Mandela Effect gets its name from the fact that many people were convinced that the death of Nelson Mandela had been announced many years before he was released from prison.

It seems pretty clear that this is because people's memories of the death of Steve Biko have somehow become muddled up with their memories of Mandela.

I suspect this is an American phenomenon. Opposition to Apartheid was central to the British left when I was young - I even heard Biko's friend Donald Woods speak when I was at university - and Britain has many historic links with South Africa.

Dolly's nonexistent braces seem to have lodged themselves in our minds because the scene would have been wittier if she had worn them.

And there was a false report of Dennehy's death in the US, though I have no idea how I came across it.

I have seen it suggested that the Mandela Effect is a creation of the internet. Once, if we looked something up and found our memory was wrong, we would probably have accepted it.

Today, we can go online and find a community of people who have just the same memory as us.

And that must prove something really weird is gong on, right?

Chess world is rocked by row over player's shorts

Embed from Getty Images

From the Toronto Star:
Canada’s chess federation has filed a formal complaint over the treatment of a Canadian grandmaster at a signature event just minutes before he was to play one of the biggest matches of his career. 
Anton Kovalyov, 25, said in a Facebook post he pulled out of the World Cup in Republic of Georgia last weekend because an organizer complained to him about his shorts and called him a gypsy. 
The Chess Federation of Canada has protested against Kovalyov’s treatment to FIDE, the World Chess Federation, as well as to the organizers of the $1.6-million event. 
Kovalyov said an organizer berated him about his shorts just minutes before his third-round match. 
The Ukrainian-born Montrealer, currently a university student in Texas, had worn the shorts in previous rounds without incident. 
"The issue were not the shorts, but how I was treated," he wrote.
I have a soft spot for the the organiser in question, Zurab Azmaiparashvili, because he was one of the last people to play my favourite opening, the Modern Defence, at the top level. But is fair to say he is a controversial figure.

Oh, and the Daily Telegraph reminds us that a Hungarian player complained about Nigel Short's shorts at an event in Serbia in 1987.

Six of the Best 724

Craig Dalzell reviews Alternative War by J.J. Patrick: "[The] claim that the Russian media proudly uses local experts, willing or unwitting, to create a layer of authenticity on top of a more manipulative message is something which gave me pause for thought, especially in light of my own appearances on outlets such as RT."

"Motorway barriers might provide safety, but they are hostile and ugly reminders of past incidents. Instead, our safety measures should commemorate lost lives and take a stride into the future." Jack Sallabank says we should beat terror by making London’s bridges bloom.

Without conversation, philosophy is just dogma, argues Nigel Warburton.

Hilary Green on CSS Shenandoah, the Confederate ship that surrendered at Liverpool. "It was not until they encountered a British owned ship as they sailed south again and were shown newspaper accounts of the surrender that the terrible truth came home to them. For the last three months they had been committing acts of piracy."

"As might be expected from the country’s least-pedestrian pedestrian, some extreme hoofing is involved." Alan Moore reviews Iain Sinclair's The Last London.

What happened to the young starts of the St Trinian's films? Sarah Miller Walters investigates.

Monday, September 11, 2017

The road signs of Bishop's Castle

I seem to photograph the sign to Cravens Arms and Clun every time I visit Bishop's Castle, but if you scout around there are other good ones to be found there.

Now the papers are talking up a 13-year-old England cricket prospect

Like chess prodigies, England spin prospects get younger and younger.

A few days ago the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph and The Times got excited about 13-year-old Rehan Ahmed.

Here is Elizabeth Ammon in The Times:
Rehan Ahmed is considered such an outstanding prospect that he has now bowled at England batsmen two years in a row. Ahmed, who is attached to Nottinghamshire and has already played for their under-17s, also helped England’s batsmen before the Lord’s Test against Pakistan last year, when he bowled Ben Stokes in the nets. 
Yesterday he was back among the finest Test players in England, holding his own comfortably. His father, Naeem, who took his son to a trial at Nottinghamshire at the age of eight, told Cricinfo: "Mushtaq Ahmed [the former England spin bowling coach] was just walking past the nets last summer and when he saw Rehan bowl, he stopped in his tracks. He came to watch and was obviously very impressed." 
England hope Ahmed will develop into a top-class professional. 
I wish him well, but a growth spurt can do terrible things to a young leg spinner.

Take the experience of the former England captain Nasser Hussain:
At eight, he was bowling leg-breaks for Essex Schools Under-11s, and at 12 for their Under-15s. Born five days apart, Hussain and Mike Atherton soon found their careers progressing in parallel as they captained, batted and bowled legspin for England age-group teams, while also passing enough exams to go to a leading university. 
In his mid-teens, however, Hussain "grew a foot in a winter" and the trajectory of his bowling was altered: "I went from bowling out Graham Gooch in the indoor school with everyone watching to hitting the roof or bowling triple-bouncers in deadly silence." 
His father remembers him crying in bed at the loss of his legbreak; the son felt he was letting his father down. He was also anxious not to be left behind by his peers, boys like Atherton, Trevor Ward, Martin Bicknell and Chris Lewis. So he made himself into a batsman, moving up the order from tail-end to opening or No. 3, and becoming the first boy at Forest to score 1000 runs in a season since 1901. 
Vestiges of this manufacturing process remain in his technique: he bats with little left elbow and plenty of bottom hand, and backs up with the bat in his right hand (not that Duncan Fletcher minds). In general, his runs seem to be scored as much by an exceptional effort of will as through natural talent.

GUEST POST The importance of respectful relationships between teachers and pupils

Sean Warren and Stephen Bigger, authors of Living contradiction: A teacher’s examination of tension and disruption in schools, in classrooms and in self, argue that positive relationships should be the basis of teaching.

The teacher in the title is Sean. English and American schools have for three decades been dominated by behaviourism, discipline and control by rewards and punishments, sanctions or consequences). The paraphernalia of punishments include suites for detention and the construction of booths for internal isolation and exclusion.

Sean held a position which organised and oversaw these facilities until he came to understand that the role contradicted his basic values. We suggest a different emphasis in which positive relationships are the basis of pedagogy, and emotional and behaviour issues are tackled without reverting, by default, to punishment, sarcasm, belittling and anger.

We ask that teachers do not inadvertently become the source of the disruption, setting up a form of resistance by independently minded pupils. Of course, this cannot mean ignoring and tolerating bad behaviour, for that way lies chaos.

It is hard for pupils to thrive in hostile authoritarian classrooms. Some becoming dependent, compliant and uncritical, needing to be told rather than to think independently, and others becoming anti-authoritarian rebels.

For the latter, if they select not to directly challenge the strict teachers, they often take advantage of other staff who are perceived to be weaker – fair game. In these situations an adverse ‘them’ and ‘us’ attitude evolves as a significant minority of pupils exert a disproportionate influence on peers and the classroom climate.

Sean moved from his former authoritarian model, which he was good at, to one which encourages self-discipline in all pupils, even those who were deliberately resistant, through harnessing respectful relationships and motivated learning. In his own words he relinquished dominating control and became more reasonable.

Our book charts Sean’s transition over three school years, noting the risks and how different pupils responded, how he strived to win rebels over without compromising standards. This is not a move away from authority, because school behaviour has to be safe and fair. It is seeking a middle position where authority does not tip over into authoritarianism.

From this we argue for the importance of respectful relationships between teachers and pupils, seeking to guide pupils towards greater independence and help pupils to make major contributions to their communities.  Pupils who look back at their school years with affection and thanks were likely to have received effective and sympathetic schooling, whilst painful school memories leading to resentment suggest that relationships were poor and opportunities had been missed.

Low level classroom disruption is currently demonised in the press and by politicians as preventing the whole class making progress; but its context needs to be examined to ensure consistent and reasonable responses. Generating a climate of cooperation and collaboration between teacher and pupils is not achieved by berating, belittling and punishing.

Teachers themselves may be the disruptive element in some situations, and it may be hard to replace old habits of a life-time  ̶̶  but it is important to do so. This over time replaces imposed discipline with pupil self-discipline, within a climate of respect and fairness. A teacher’s smile or scowl at a class brings different consequences. An emotionally relaxed teacher is more likely to help a class than an up-tight one.

Much of the above sounds idealistic, at least with all pupils all the time. The challenge, in the short term especially, is how to cope with disruptive pupil behaviour without confrontation. There were testing incidents, and pupils bringing unhelpful moods from their previous class. There are pupils with attitude, sometimes with difficult home circumstances, who can be helped by patient intervention – as early as possible, even from infancy.

When these children experience only confrontation, they learn to survive through confrontation. If this happens at school as well as home, there is little chance of transformation. If the vicious cycle is not broken, the confrontational child will become a confrontational adult.

Education has a moral purpose, considering for example how people treat each other, how we interact with the environment and how science is used for the common good. Underlying this are questions of how we (pupils and adults) help to make the world a better place.

The improvement of ourselves as individuals, our communities and our world needs to be a top explicit agenda, taught by staff who enthusiastically believe in it. If schooling is not moral, it is either amoral or immoral, and a defence of that position might be tricky. Schooling can help pupils to become serious contributors to the community rather than mere consumers.

Can these thoughts change classroom practice? We have to recognize the sheer dominance of the ʻpunishment first̓ message supported by government, tabloid press, inspectorate and school managers. If there is beneficial change, it will stem from the bottom-up concern for the moral argument we have made for good adult relationships between teachers and pupils, basing school learning with hope and deep respect.

Respect of pupils for teachers, which stems from respect by teachers for pupils, and respect of managers for all school stake-holders young and old. Do that from nursery class through to university and motivation for deep learning will be transformed. Schools will have become democratic places where respectful views are welcomed and openly discussed without rancour. The pupils will have become democratically literate and interested in the political process.

If such a vision enthuses tired classroom teachers struggling with the latest jargon, we hope they begin to see their class relationships differently. And we hope these pupils will remember their schooldays fondly.

You can buy Living contradiction: A teacher’s examination of tension and disruption in schools, in classrooms and in self and follow Sean Warren and Stephen Bigger on Twitter.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Arts Fresco brings thousands to Market Harborough

Today was the day for Arts Fresco, now billed as "the biggest street arts festival in the Midlands". The rain defied the forecast by largely holding off and it is clear that the day has now become a major event for local food and drink producers too.

As its website says:
Every year thousands of people flock to Market Harborough to wander the streets, mingling with roaming dinosaurs, mad chefs and wheelie bins that drive themselves. 
Performers from all over Europe take part, from big names in the world of street theatre to unknown artists looking to build their careers, with many of them coming back again and again.
Here are a few of them.

Note to Welsh Lib Dems: Attacking the BBC is not a clever idea

There is a story on the BBC News site that begins:
The first word of their values statement is "open". And they have a new UK leader to sell to the voters.
So why did the Welsh Liberal Democrats decide to hold their autumn conference in private?
The two-day gathering attended by the party's new UK leader Sir Vince Cable was even advertised as "public" on their Facebook page but public, press and potential new members were clearly not welcome.

Of course there are times when even Liberals want some privacy for their discussions, but I note that the BBC quotes the unfailingly sensible Peter Black as asking on Facebook:
"Entire @WelshLibDems conference this weekend held in camera. When did we decide talking to ourselves more important than talking to voters."
But what really disturbed me about the report was the statement from "A Welsh Lib Dem spokesperson" it quotes. That statement ends:
We note the irony in this story that BBC have traditionally refused invitations to attend autumn Conference.
Speaking as a PR professional (darling), it is rarely a good idea to attack the very journalists you want to cover your proceedings in the future.

When you are a political party that no longer has any MPs in Wales so finds it hard to command attention, and the journalist in question is the BBC's Welsh parliamentary correspondent, it is mind-numbingly stupid to do so.

Steely Dan: Haitian Divorce

Walter Becker of Steely Dan died last Sunday. This isn't the bands best record, but it is the one I remember most from the British charts.

It was Christmas 1976 and a friend had bought me How to Beat Bobby Fischer - a collection of all the competitive games the American world champion had lost.

I suppose the central idea was a gimmick, but it turned out be that most valuable of things for the improving player: a collection of well-annotated grandmaster games. The great Russian player Peter Svidler says it was the book that made him fall in love with chess.

Anyway, I spent that Christmas sitting by the fire and playing through these games. As I remember it, Haitian Divorce was always on Radio 1.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Golden Wonder technical department, Springfield Street, Market Harborough

Edinburgh House, Golden Wonder's old head office in Abbey Street, Market Harborough, has been converted into a hotel, restaurants and shops.

But when I worked there in the 1980s the company owned two other sites in the town.

There was the merchandising warehouse on the Riverside industrial estate. I once rescued a sales promotion for Odduns (a long forgotten snack) there, sorting the paperwork and parcelling out the bottles of wine that cash and carries had earned for stocking it. But I now have no idea where it was.

And there was the technical department in Springfield Street, where new ideas were cooked up. Think of it as the Willy Wonka's factory of the crisp and snack world.

This was housed in a light industrial unit and I had assumed that all trace of it has been swept away when flats were built on the site.

But this morning I noticed these gates and the slope down, which must mark the way you got to it..

Neil O'Brien MP did not delete quite all of his tweets

You may recall that Neil O'Brien, the new Conservative MP for Harborough, deleted all his tweets as soon as he was selected to fight the seat.

But, as a reader has kindly pointed out to me, a few older tweets from him did escape the memory hole.

In the autumn of last year O'Brien was the Conservative candidate in a Tandridge District Council by-election.

As part of the campaign he set up a @Neil4Limpsfield Twitter account - and it is still there.

I have skimmed the tweets in that account, but there is nothing terribly exciting - there are no disobliging remarks about Market Harborough, for instance.

He also set up a Facebook page for the campaign, but it is not possible to access that now.

Despite all this social media activity O'Brien failed to hold the Limpsfield ward for the Conservatives. It was gained by Phil Davies for the Oxted and Limpsfield Residents Group.

Brexit is the least Conservative measure you can imagine

The great Conservative philosopher Michael Oakeshott defined Conservatism as follows:
To be conservative, then, is to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to utopian bliss.
You will see at once that Brexit belongs to the wrong side of every one of these contrasts. It is, in truth, the least Conservative measure you can imagine.

I find the philosophy Oakeshott sets out enticing. It has much in common with the negative utilitarianism that Karl Popper advocated - we should aim not to maximise pleasure but to minimise pain.

And it would be a fair criticism of the British Conservative Party over the past 50 years that it has not been half Conservative enough.

For a liberal critique of Oakeshott's view, one must turn to the perhaps unlikely figure of Friedrich Hayek and his Why I am not a Conservative (an extract from The Constitution of Liberty).

There he writes first of the appeal of Conservatism:
Conservatism proper is a legitimate, probably necessary, and certainly widespread attitude of opposition to drastic change. It has, since the French Revolution, for a century and a half played an important role in European politics.
But goes on to argue:
Let me now state what seems to me the decisive objection to any conservatism which deserves to be called such. It is that by its very nature it cannot offer an alternative to the direction in which we are moving. 
It may succeed by its resistance to current tendencies in slowing down undesirable developments, but, since it does not indicate another direction, it cannot prevent their continuance. 
It has, for this reason, invariably been the fate of conservatism to be dragged along a path not of its own choosing. The tug of war between conservatives and progressives can only affect the speed, not the direction, of contemporary developments. 
But, though there is need for a "brake on the vehicle of progress," I personally cannot be content with simply helping to apply the brake. What the liberal must ask, first of all, is not how fast or how far we should move, but where we should move.
Today the backwoodsmen of the Conservative Party are in the driving seat, and they have set the direction for an imagined and illusory version of Britain's past.

Friday, September 08, 2017

It's 1980 and rural Shropshire is preparing for nuclear attack

A film that you expect to find funny but ends up making you feel rather sad. Click on the still above to view it on the British Film Institute site.

Worthern is a large rural parish lying between the Stiperstones and the Welsh border. In 1980 it was determined to do its bit in the event of nuclear attack.

The good news is that The Stables Inn at Hopesgate is still going strong and that this film has a nice shot of the Stiperstones ridge at the start.

The really good news is that no nuclear attack took place in 1980.

Six of the Best 723

Vince Cable challenges the Tory fallacy that migrants are taking British jobs and driving down wages: "By implication, unskilled jobs should be reserved for British workers. But it isn’t clear where, with record levels of employment, the reserve army of unemployed, unskilled Britons is currently billeted."

"In 1964, a young town planner working for York City Council wrote a booklet that was to have a profound impact on York and other historic towns and cities across the country." Stephen Lewis meets Joan Hargreaves.

William Grimes contributes an obituary of Jeannie Rousseau de Clarens, an amateur spy who passed a wealth of information to the British about the development of the V-1 and V-2 rockets during World War II and survived stays in three concentration camps for her activities.

A Legacy of Spies, John le Carré's new novel, is reviewed by Robert Potts.

Paul Sorene listens to Louie Louie, the song that sowed the seeds of garage, punk and heavy metal.

Jonathan Fryer visits Lamb House in Rye, home to both Henry James and E.F. Benson.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

The cat in Bishop's Castle Market Square

There is a little square at the top of the main street in Bishop's Castle. It's where the town's Market Hall stood until it was demolished in 1951. The Powis coat of arms that used to be on the building can still be found there.

If you visit the square you may well find a grey and white cat keeping an eye on things.

I met her this summer and you can see her photograph above. But then her photograph has appeared here twice before. You will see that she has a habit of looking into the observer's soul.

This time I learnt a bit more about her. She is 14, has had two litters of kittens and lives in one of the houses bordering the square.

I expect she would like to retire, but would another cat carry out these duties so conscientiously?