Sunday, February 19, 2017

Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot: Bonnie and Clyde

Petula Clark has said of Serge Gainsbourg:
"I loved his voice and that sort of ugly handsome look. ... He was very clever, very charming, I understand why he had all those lovely ladies."
And none came lovelier than Brigitte Bardot.

Bonnie And Clyde and its video come over as a musical version of the Jean-Luc Godard film A Bout de Souffle.

It was actually inspired by "The Story of Bonnie and Clyde," a poem written by Bonnie Parker herself.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Six of the Best 668

Examining the economic flaws and false assumptions of the Higher Education and Research Bill, Martin Wolf explains that universities are not supermarkets.

If you love wildlife and enjoy country walks, you've got the makings of a badger patroller, says Lesley Docksey.

Anoosh Chakelian reveals the secret anti-capitalist history of McDonald’s.

Amy Davies interviews Chuck Rapoport, the American photojournalist who recorded the aftermath of the Aberfan disaster.

On Saturday, it will be four years to the day since the town walls behind St Laurence’s church fell collapsed. Almost nothing has happened to get repairs underway." Andy Boddington reports worrying news from Ludlow.

"The outpouring of emotion when this news came out was like I had died ... but I was lucky enough to read the messages that people have sent to me." James Taylor talks about life since his hear condition forced him to retire from cricket.

The redevelopment of the New Walk Centre site in Leicester

Leicester's New Walk Centre, formerly the home to the offices of the city council, was spectacularly demolished two years ago.
For a while the ground lay pleasingly fallow, but redevelopment is now well underway. I took some photographs of the site today.

The Leicester Mercury has details of what the new development will look like when it is finished.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Oswestry to Welshpool 3

We have seen Oswestry station and Llanclys.

Part 3, after more train-driving action, takes us on to Llanymynech.

Look for some nice shots of a derelict stretch of the Mongomery Canal too.

Reader's voice: You spoil us.

It's the fight of the century: Mary Berry vs Prue Leith

Media reports suggest Prue Leith will take Mary Berry's place when The Great British Bake Off transfers to Channel 4.

I therefore decided to create a Twitter poll...

Conservatives discover "the North is massive"

     The massive North           

Mark Wallace has written an enlightening article for Conservative Home about the strengths and weaknesses of the party's campaign in the Copeland by-election.

But I was most struck by this passage:
Most recent, viable Tory by-election efforts have been in the South and Midlands, within easy striking distance of most Conservative MPs’ constituencies. Cumbria is rather further away – and, as one MP puts it, some have been surprised to learn that “the North is massive” – which has deterred some from attending.
It reminds us that, while Britain is divided by social class, there is a related geographical division too.

As I once wrote of David Howell and his views on fracking:
One of the problems we face as a country is the way the golden triangle of London, Oxford and Cambridge dominates our national life ... 
The result of this is that many otherwise educated people have little knowledge of large tracts of their own country and indeed think themselves rather clever because of it.

Welcome back Tony Blair and his leadership on Europe

I want to be explicit. Yes, the British people voted to leave Europe. And I agree the will of the people should prevail. I accept right now there is no widespread appetite to re-think. 
But the people voted without knowledge of the true terms of Brexit. As these terms become clear, it is their right to change their mind. 
Our mission is to persuade them to do so. 
What was unfortunately only dim in our sight before the referendum is now in plain sight. The road we're going down is not simply Hard Brexit. 
It is Brexit At Any Cost. 
Our challenge is to expose relentlessly what this cost is, to show how the decision was based on imperfect knowledge which will now become informed knowledge, to calculate in ‘easy to understand’ ways how proceeding will cause real damage to our country; and to build support for finding a way out from the present rush over the cliff’s edge. 
I don't know if we can succeed. But I do know we will suffer a rancorous verdict from future generations if we do not try.
You can read the full text of the former prime minister's speech this morning on the rather grandly named Office of Tony Blair website.

This part is good too:
If we were in a rational world, we would all the time, as we approach those decisions, be asking: why are we doing this and as we know more of the costs, is the pain worth the gain? 
Let us examine the pain. 
We will withdraw from the Single Market which is around half of our trade in goods and services. We will also leave the Customs Union, covering trade with countries like Turkey. Then we need to replace over 50 Preferential Trade Agreements we have via our membership of the EU; for instance with Switzerland. So, EU-related trade is actually two thirds of the UK total. This impacts everything from airline travel, to financial services to manufacturing industry, sector by sector. 
We will pay for previous EU obligations but not benefit from future opportunities, with figures as high as £60bn as the cost. 
We will lose influence in the world’s most significant political union; and have to negotiate on our own on issues like the environment where we presently benefit from Europe’s collective strength. 
There is alarm across sectors as diverse as scientific research and culture as European funding is withdrawn. 
And all this then to do an intricate re-negotiation of the trading arrangements we have just abandoned. 
That negotiation is without precedent in complexity. It is even possible that it fails and we end up trading on WTO rules. 
This is in itself another mine field: we would need to negotiate the removal not just of tariff barriers; but the prevention of non-tariff barriers which today are often the biggest impediments to trade and pile costs on business. 
This could take years. 
Our currency is down around 12% against the Euro and 20% against the dollar, which is the international financial market’s assessment of our future prosperity i.e. we are going to be poorer. The price of imported goods in the supermarkets is up and thus the cost of living. 
Of course Britain can and would survive out of the EU. This is a great country, with resilient and creative people. And yes, no one is going to write us off, nor should they. But making the best of a bad job doesn't alter the fact that it isn't smart to put yourself in that position unless you have to. 
Most extraordinary of all, the two great achievements of British diplomacy of the last decades in Europe, supported by Governments both Labour and Conservative, – namely the Single Market and European Enlargement – are now apparently the two things we most regret and want to rid ourselves of! 
The Single Market has been of enormous benefit to the UK bringing billions of pounds of wealth, hundreds of thousands of jobs, and major investment opportunities; our trade with an enlarged European Union has meant for example that trade with Poland has gone from £3bn in 2004 to £13.5bn in 2016. 
Nations that came out of the Soviet bloc have seen themselves safely within the EU and NATO, so enhancing our own security. 
In addition to all this, the possibility of the break-up of the UK – narrowly avoided by the result of the Scottish referendum – is now back on the table, but this time with a context much more credible for the independence case. 
We are already seeing the destabilising impact of negotiation over border arrangements on the Northern Ireland peace process.
I have quoted at such length because the speech is good - very good indeed - and no one else has made the case against Brexit with such authority.

Because of it, I welcome Tony Blair's welcome to British politics.

And that is from someone who spent 13 years poking fun at the more absurd elements of Blairism. But things are more serious now.

When I tweeted praise for the speech earlier today I immediately received a reply mentioning Iraq.

Those who shout "Iraq" whenever Blair is mentioned may act from a concern for the sufferings of the Iraqi people,

But they may also be using it as a tactic - as a way of labelling Blair that means we need not listen to anything he says.

We Liberal Democrats suffered the cry of "tuition fees" for long enough to understand this.

And many white and well-heeled members of the left are keen to label other white and well-heeled members of the left as racist or insufficiently respectful of the working class as a way of shutting them up.

Things are too serious for Britain now for us to silence a voice we need to hear.

The Shrewsbury to Bishop's Castle bus is under threat

Let's move to Bishop's Castle, says the Guardian today:
Hang out at… What a choice. The Castle Hotel, with log fires, beams, leather chairs and a lovely garden? The Three Tuns? The cheery Six Bells? Or coffee, cake and classical music at Yarborough House?
I'm slavering already, though I don't suppose I will move there. Deep Shropshire does not seem a sensible place to retire to, though the genteel Church Stretton gets more than its share.

These days my family situation makes it hard for me even to visit there, though I have hopes of getting away this summer.

Trouble is, it may soon be much harder to get there without a car.

The other day South Shropshire Greens tweeted a cutting of a letter to the Shropshire Star by Steve Hale.

It began:
Shropshire Council has issued its latest findings on the viability of a number of bus routes within the county. 
Out of 29 routes, the 553 Bishop's Castle to Shrewsbury is rated as 27 (one being the most viable) thus strongly suggesting that, whatever consultation people engage in, it will be axed by Shropshire Council to save subsidy money.
You can find those ratings in Appendix 2 to Appendix A of the council's Shropshire Bus Strategy 2016-2021.

Will there be a rising? Or will Treasury cuts to local government mean the end of rural bus services across England?

Paul Nuttall's website is still down but you can read it here

Two days on and Paul Nuttall's website is still "undergoing scheduled maintenance".

Yeah. Right.

If you are experiencing withdrawal symptoms, do not despair.

Thanks to the wonders of the Wayback Machine you can still enjoy every word.

If it ever comes back on line, you can be sure textual scholars will be comparing the two versions to see exactly what has been deleted.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Closure notice for the Settle & Carlisle

If you enjoyed this week's footage of Tornado hauling scheduled passenger trains, remember that the authorities tried to close the Settle & Carlisle line in the early 1980s.

This is the closure notice that was posted at the time.

The local transport users' consultative committee held a hearing in Appleby, and a former fellow member of the University of York Railway Society was one of the people to give evidence.

As I recall, he spoke about the line's importance as a way of giving cyclists and walkers access to the Dales.

The transport minister Paul Channon originally announced that he was minded to agree to the line's closure, but so effective was the campaign to save it that he was obliged to change his mind.

More on Kate Hoey's Trotskyist past

When I wrote about this in June of last year, someone left a comment directing me to The Cedar Lounge Revolution, an Irish political blog.

There a commenter, NollaigO, left the following in 2008:
Living in London in the early 1970s she became a vice-president of the NUS.[Jack Straw was NUS president at the time]. Returning from an overseas conference, she found herself sitting next to Tariq Ali on the plane. Tariq persuaded her to join the IMG, which she did in summer 1971. 
In subsequent years she used to muddy this connection by claiming that she was in the Spartacus League, a short lived youth wing of the IMG. She was never at ease with the Irish Republican Trotskyism of the IMG and was also very inimical to Gery Lawless an IMG member at the time. 
She felt that having Lawless as a member discredited the IMG. Under the influence of Brian Trench [political influence of course!] she joined the IS in 1972 but her stay there was also limited. 
She joined Hackney Labour party and supported the Troops Out Movement for a period before becoming a supporter of the BICO front organisation, Campaign for Labour Representation in Northern Ireland. 
Nowadays the IPR group are quiet hostile to her,dubbing her TallyHoey in a recent article!
You need a degree in far-left factions to understand all that, but NollaigO does drop in a fascinating point that should interest us all.

He says that Kate Hoey is the niece of the late BBC political correspondent John Cole. If true, this would certainly qualify as a Trivial Fact of the Day.

I can't find a definitive source that confirms it, but the same story is told by Malcolm Redfellow and he generally know what he is talking about.

Rutland Bitter is a food name protected by the European Union

Thanks to Sarah Ludford, the Liberal Democrat shadow minister for exiting the European Union, for pointing out to me that Rutland Bitter is a protected food name under the EU.

The British government page on the protected food name scheme lays out the protections it provides:
The EU protected food name scheme highlights regional and traditional foods whose authenticity and origin can be guaranteed.
Under this system, a named food or drink registered at a European level, will be given legal protection against imitation throughout the EU.
And you can read the full product specification for Rutland Bitter there too:
Alcoholic Beverage brown/amber in colour around 3.4% alcohol by volume. Predominantly bitter in taste with some sweetness, fruity and hoppy aroma.
That specification was written to protect Ruddles, Once a rare brew even around these parts, it enjoyed a vogue in the 1980s and was to be found in many London pubs when I worked down there.

The purists felt they had sold out and that process is now complete. The Ruddles brewery at Langham in Rutland was closed back in 1997, razed and the land sold for housing. The Ruddles you buy today is brewed by Greene King in Suffolk.

But you can still enjoy a Rutland Bitter. It is brewed next to Oakham station by the excellent Grainstore Brewery. Take a close look at the image here and you will see the logo for the EU scheme.

Local intelligence, incidentally, has it that if you want to enjoy Ruddles County like it used to be, ask for Grainstore's Ten Fifty.

The question, of course, is what will happen to this protection if we leave the European Union. I suspect that is one of a thousand and one things the Brexiteers have never thought about.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Oswestry to Welshpool part 2

Last time we were at Oswestry station. Tonight we are at Llanclys, where a mile of track is open for heritage trains.

Paul Nuttall's website has been taken offline

Go to Paul Nuttall's website this evening and this is what greets you.

An odd time for a by-election candidate to schedule maintenance.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Watching Flower of Gloster 2

It's time to get the Flower of Gloster to London and her buyer - we left her at Market Drayton in Shropshire.

On the journey to Wolverhampton 10-year-old Mike gets lost, but no one seems to concerned. More worrying is the wrong turn they take down a derelict canal, wasting valuable time.

They arrive at Gas Street Basin, then part of a working canal rather than the tourist destination it is today.

Mike wanders off again and is this time picked up by the authorities and taken to a hostel for the children of families who on the working boats. There he is made to have a bath - probably no bad thing.

Such an establishment did exist in Birmingham. At one time the Fabians were obsessed with getting the children of canal families into institutions.

A page about the Canal Boat Hostel, Wood End Lane, Erdington, says it is "thought to have closed in the 1960s when commercial haulage by canal boats ceased".

Flower of Gloster does seem to have caught the very end of this way of life. A woman gives birth on board a working narrow boat and a canal man's coffin passes on another.

We also see Raymond, a boat I remember seeing carrying coal from the Ashby Canal in Leicestershire down to London into the early 1970s.

And so they reach London, defeat an underhand attempt by Talfryn Thomas to steal their customer at the last minute.

The last episode ends with a triumphal progress down the Thames. The Pool of London still has the cranes that dipped their jibs to honour Churchill's coffin and the Monument was, if only for a few more weeks, one of the most prominent buildings in the City.

Flower of Gloster feels like a fragment of my own childhood - and you can buy it from Network Distributing.

Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall have fallen out

Today's news is all about Paul Nuttall's withdrawal of his claim to have lost a close friend in the Hillsborough tragedy.

He says he can produce witnesses who will swear he was in the crowd that day. The time has come when he must do so.

But the more significant story involving him may be this one by Owen Bennett on Huffington Post:
Nigel Farage is refusing to do any more campaigning for Ukip in the Stoke Central by-election after falling out with the new leader’s closest advisor ...
Farage last week appeared at a rally in Stoke to support Paul Nuttall’s bid to win the seat from Labour, but was furious to discover a Ukip member who had made a series of allegations about him was helping to run the event. 
Lisa Duffy – who unsuccessfully stood to be party leader last summer – was secretly recorded by her campaign manager making claims about Farage’s personal life, which became the basis of a controversial book about Ukip. 
Farage is considering suing Duffy over her comments, and was appalled to see her at the Victoria Hall in Stoke on February 6 when he addressed hundreds of local residents. 
A source close to the former Ukip leader says he holds Patrick O’Flynn – Nuttall’s closest advisor – responsible for Duffy’s involvement.
It is easy to laugh at the way Ukip's bigwigs are falling out among themselves - though hard to laugh enough.

But behind this may lie Nigel Farage's pathological inability to allow anyone else to run the party.

With Nuttall now in serious trouble, Ladbrokes have opened a book on his successor.

The favourite? One N. Farage.

Six of the Best 667

"Populism often takes the form of rich people persuading the poor that the problems they face are caused not be economic injustice or exploitation but by foreigners and a corrupt ‘establishment’." William Wallace dissects our current enemy.

Simon Wessely explains why we shouldn’t close the child refugee scheme.

Paul Evans argues that modern demand for transparency has fatally weakened parliamentary democracy. Hear him.

"Then there is perhaps the most monstrous application of racial terror in our historical register: Aug. 28, 1955, when 14-year-old Emmett Till was lynched." Jason Parham on a notorious case.

Do bowlers get overlooked as England captain because of the old class system? Derek Pringle investigates.

Samuel Wigley presents some stunning shots of Oliver Reed, Shirley Anne Field and Joseph Losey in Weymouth in the summer of 1961. They were in the seaside town filming one of Hammer’s most unique films – the apocalyptic sci-fi classic The Damned.

Former Leicestershire Labour county councillor joins the Tories

The Corbynistas have gone quiet - unless he is facing a leadership challenge their idol does not give them much to enthuse them about.

But it is not so long since anyone - a individual, the Guardian, the bulk of Labour MPs - who expressed less than wholehearted support for Corbyn was met with the question: "Why doesn't X just join the Tories?"

Now one of Corbyn's critics has done just that.

Leon Spence, who was elected as the Labour county councillor for Whitwick in 2013, resigned from the party to sit as an Independent last September when Corbyn was confirmed as party leader.

Today comes news - thanks to the Leicester Mercury - that, after saying he would not, Cllr Spence has joined the Conservatives.

The round here have a fondness for such stunts, but I wonder if they impress voters as much as they think.

If Spence believes that "the country is, on the whole, heading in the right direction under the Prime Minister, Theresa May," you have to ask why he joined Labour in the first place.

Spence, incidentally, writes a column for the Catholic Universe. Will he really vanish into obscurity in a few months time?

I suspect we may not have heard the last of him.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Oswestry to Welshpool part 1

The first of a series of videos made by Holden Webster, who runs the Shropshire Railways site.

It concentrates on the disused Oswestry station, which is now in part a railway museum.

Nick Clegg supports the Right to Stay campaign - in five languages

Namely, English:





Liberal England joins in: I AGREE WITH NICK.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Michael Haneke’s Time of the Wolf

In recent weeks I have been thinking of Michael Haneke’s film Time of the Wolf, which I must have seen at the Renoir, near St Pancras, in 2003.

It was set in a Europe that has been struck by some explained catastrophe. Refugees wait at wayside station for trains that may not come or stop if they do.

I found it hard viewing - I would not have said at the time that I enjoyed it - but days later found myself thinking about it. Fourteen years on I am thinking about it still, because recent political events are starting to make it look prophetic.

Bright Lights finds redemption in the film too:
For all this atmosphere of barely contained violence, there is opportunity too for simple acts of compassion, sharing, and human communion. A bowl of milk is given, not bartered for. A man lets Eva hear a snatch of classical music on his Walkman. An old man entertains the children with a razor blade swallowing act. 
And there is myth-making. In the original group under Koslowski’s leadership, Béa (Brigitte Roüan) told of the 35 Just, a select group whose mission is to safeguard humanity. The old man (Claude Singeot) elaborates on this with a tale of bonfires being lit in villages, sites for acts of individual, redeeming self-sacrifice. 
Which leads then to the powerful climax of the film, set at night on the railway track outside, with the guards doing their rounds, the darkness illuminated by the light from a bonfire on the track itself. Ben awakens in the middle of the night, with all his fears and tensions breaking forth in the form of a nosebleed. 
His face now streaked with blood, he goes to the railway track outside, stokes the fire there, and stands in front of it. With his (and our) memory resonating with the old man’s tale, he proceeds to strip, standing naked, leaning towards the fire. 
The camera stays on the back of one of the guards resting some distance off — in fact, he’s the one who accused the Pole, established by the story so far as violent and brutal — and then, as he becomes aware of what’s happening, tracks with him to the right up to the bonfire. 
Which is where he "saves" Ben, hugging him to his body, and offering him a vision of optimism and hope — all the more striking for being voiced by this violent, unpleasant, negative character:
I found this vision of redemption a little pat, given all that had gone before, but I would like to see the film again today.

A final point...

The film stars Isabelle Huppert and I wonder if Julian Huppert should start pronouncing his surname the way she does - Ooo-pair.

It could be the key to victory in sophisticated Cambridge.

Six of the Best 666

I would make more of Six of the Best reaching this landmark if something had not gone very wrong with the numbering a few hundred posts ago.

Garry Kasparov, who knows a thing or two about opposing authoritarian leaders, says the key to opposing Trump is "making him look like a loser".

"The recent political earthquakes have found us intellectually and emotionally underprepared, even helpless. None of our usual categories ... and perspectives ... seem able to explain how a compulsive liar and serial groper became the world’s most powerful man." Pankaj Mishra recommends reading Václav Havel as a way of understanding our current difficulties and the way out of them,

Greg Satell and Srdja Popovic explain how some protests turn into successful social movements.

"Watching Brass Eye back today, you are reminded of what a talent Morris is – and how much we could do with him back on our screens today." Dave Fawbert marks the programme's 20th birthday.

Bobby Seal explores the East End townscapes of Arthur Morrison's 1896 novel A Child of the Jago.

"This is a landscape of religious significance, we can see why the Augustinian priory was established here, building on a tradition of religion which is  associated with past significance of St David himself." William Tregaskes takes us to Vale of Ewyas and Llanthony Priory.

John Bercow and the paper-thin skins of the Brexiteers

The House of Commons has no trouble with the idea that an MP can, overnight, go from taking a party whip to being its impartial speaker.

So it really ought to be able to cope with John Bercow having expressed a view on Brexit after the referendum.

I have never been a Bercow fan - see the column I wrote for Liberal Democrat News when he was first elected speaker - but the meetings with young people he holds around the country to talk about parliament and its workings seem wholly admirable.

No, what the fuss in the media this weekend shows is the incredibly thin skins of the Brexiters.

They won the referendum, yet they do not seem to be enjoying it. They are constantly on the look out for slights and treason.

If Brexit is a revolution, then what I once said of Jeremy Corbyn's followers is relevant here too:
The failure of the revolution is always blamed on sabotage and the new regime takes brutal action against the supposed culprits. 
Once they have been eliminated, the people are told, all the promises of a better world that accompanied the revolution will be fulfilled
This hunt for traitors will only increase when Brexit fails to deliver the more prosperous and ordered society that its proponents seek.

The good news is that they will probably end up fighting each other. I quoted Bryan Magee in the same post:
There is a situational logic to revolutions. Disparate groups unite to overthrow an existing regime, but once they have succeeded in doing so the cause that brought them together has gone, and they then fight one another to fill the power vacuum that they themselves have created. 
These internecine struggles, usually savage, among erstwhile allies perpetuate the revolutionary breakdown of society far beyond the overthrow of the old regime, and delay the establishment of a new order.

The Nicotines: Mary Wana

For years I have had a song at the back of my mind called, in a not terribly subtle drugs reference, "Mary Warner" or something like that. It was on one of the free CDs they used to give away with Q magazine.

The other day I did some research, finding a page on Discogs that lists all the free discs the magazine has given away.

And there it was on Hello! Discover The Best New Music Of 1997: Mary Wana by the Nicotines.

It still sounds good today, though very much of its era.

The Nicotines do not seem to have stayed together long. Their lead singer Greg Reinel later formed Nutrajet.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Watching Flower of Gloster 1

"This is children's television before life jackets, health and safety or safeguarding, " I wrote when I first came across the 1967 children's television  series Flower of Gloster.

I didn't know the half of it.

In the first episode a 10-year-old boy rides his bike into the Llangollen Canal as it passes over the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. The trough stands 126ft above the River Dee, there is a sheer drop on the opposite side to the towpath and it is scary enough making the crossing in a boat.

If you want to blame anyone for this, it should probably be Bill Grundy. A decade before he encountered the Sex Pistols, he produced and narrated Flower of Gloster.

There are 13 episodes in the series, but I thought a post on each would stretch the attention of my readers as well as the concept of 'fair use' when it comes to the copyright of stills. So here is the first of just two posts on the series.

It stars Richard O'Callaghan, who is still acting today. He is the son of Patricia Hayes and was soon to take the Jim Dale role in a couple of Carry Ons.

His younger brother and sister are played by Liz and Mike Doherty, who appear not to have been established child actors (and are all the better for that), Judging by how happy they are jumping on and off the Flower of Gloster with ropes, they were recruited from a family used to the canals.

When their father is injured in a boatyard accident, O'Callaghan and Liz have to take the Flower to London in a fortnight to secure its sale.

Mike later turns up as a stowaway and along the way they pick up the free-spirited Annette Robertson, who was later to marry John Hurt.

They have rivals whoare seeking to sell their boat to the same buyer. The father of that family is played by Talfryn Thomas from Dad's Army.

There is lots of wonderful period canal scenery to enjoy, notably the Anderton Lift. Not everything may be as it seems though: when they first arrive at Audlem locks in Cheshire, the footage we see is clearly of Foxton here in Leicestershire.

You can find a discussion of the locations on the later pages of this thread on the Canalworld forum.

And there is a review in Yorkshire Magazine:
I become nostalgic for a seemingly timeless era of long summers, though the chats with a badger boffin and a passing expert en route to Birmingham are gloriously awkward. I save checking the year of origin until the end of episode one, guessing it’s a mid-1970s show. The fact it’s from 1967 is astonishing ... 
There are many moments of charm: a blond tyke interviewing an eloquent repairman (cigarette hanging out the corner of his mouth – the repairman’s, not the kid’s), about how long it will take to repair the narrow boat he’s working on is one. 
Another chat with a seasoned canal veteran is gloriously awkward, his eager interrogator asking him question after question as they walk along a riverbank. 
Talking to strangers does not seem to be a problem here, and the spooky goings on in the woods turn out be the badger boffin playing his tapes of the creatures.

The end of disc 1 finds our heroes at Market Drayton, still a long way from London. I'll let you know how things turn out another day.

Read my second post on Flower of Gloster. You can order the DVDs yourself from Network Distributing.

Matthew Engel foresees the strange death of Labour England

Labour is in many ways clueless, disunited and perhaps in terminal decline. Whatever happens in the by-elections, it faces another crisis in the mayoral elections in May: the Tories are now favourites to win in Birmingham and there are worries even about Corbyn’s former rival Andy Burnham in Manchester.
Last summer I reviewed Engel's England, in which Matthew Engel visited all 39 English counties.

He has been on his travels again, visiting the Labour campaign in Stoke-on-Trent Central for the Financial Times. He found it in an almost comically suspicious of him:
Even before I left home, Chris Lee, the Labour party’s press officer in the Stoke-on-Trent Central constituency, made it clear that the Financial Times would not be allowed to interview their candidate in this month’s by-election. Nor could I accompany their canvassers on the streets. 
On arrival, the restrictions were tightened. I could not talk to any other Labour members either. Asked if it was OK to speak to anyone at all in Stoke-on-Trent, Lee seemed to think it over before concluding that might be a problem.
He need not have worried. The Labour campaign is also inept, so these restrictions soon fell apart.

Engel also offers an interesting analysis of the reasons for this long-term decline, quoting Mark Seddon:
“Within the party the soft middle-class drifted away over Iraq. The hard left stayed and fought their corner,” says Seddon. Thus, a decade later, the left had the numbers in the constituencies to elect Corbyn."

Friday, February 10, 2017

Corwen to Rhyl: The Vale of Clwyd Railway

This North Wales line opened in 1858. It was closed to passengers in 1955 and to freight in 1962.

You can read its history on the Rhyl History Club site and on the Corwen station page on Disused Stations.

Conservative councillor in "Donald Trump-style rant" says "I'm not giving my pay rise back"

Note to local councillors: do not get on the wrong side of the local paper.

Here is the Surrey Comet:
Councillor David Barnard, who received a basic allowance of £4,500, along with a ‘Special Responsibility Allowance’ of £7,875, as well as claiming ‘Travel and Subsistence’ expenses of a further £1,426.65 for the tax year 2015/16 derisively slammed public opinion tonight calling for him and fellow Conservative councillors to return the money in Letchworth. 
In an astonishingly angry diatribe Mr Barnard, who represents the ward of Hitchwood, Offa and Hoo, shouted loudly, pointed aggressively and threateningly during his rant – stunning those assembled to debate North Herts District Council’s 2017/18 budget at a public meeting held at the town’s historic Spirella building. 
A visibly distressed Mr Barnard thundered defiantly: “I will not be giving my pay rise back.” 
Referring to previous Comet stories about the contentious pay rises of between 11 and 19 per cent which Conservative councillors voted themselves, Mr Barnard shouted aggressively about ‘the local rag’ angrily pointing his finger at the media desk in an apparent loss of control.
Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceBlimey.

The only good thing to come out of this sorry affair is that Hitchwood, Offa and Hoo is our Ward of the Week.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Welcome to Northamptonshire and the 1980s

I took this photograph in the early 1980s, but the county sign makes it look as though it could have come from a Shell guide of the 1950s. Except there would probably have been more hedgerows in those days.

It was taken by the A427, just east of Market Harborough. I remember walking up to Dingley and then back to town via Braybrooke.

The social and religious background to John Smyth

Cathy Newman and Channel 4 News have been offering some good reporting in recent days, investigating the case of John Smyth.

The late Mary Whitehouse's go-to lawyer, he has been accused of savagely beating teenage boys and young men in Britain, and other allegations of inappropriate behaviour have emerged in in Zimbabwe and South Africa.

So far he has made no statement admitting or denying the allegations.

Today I have come across two article that fill in the social and religious background to the affair.

Matthew Scott was a pupil at Winchester, the school to which Smyth attached himself. He describes the religious atmosphere of the place of the wider upper-class circles in which the man moved:
Smyth’s apparent taste for flagellation first came to the attention of the Church in 1982 after his behaviour was reported to the Iwerne Trust, a Church organisation that, amongst other things, organised “Christian summer camps” for public school-boys. One of the aims was to foster their leadership potential. Mr Smyth was the Chairman of the Trust. 
To my mind, even without the beatings, the camps sound perfectly horrible on every conceivable level, and so they apparently were for some of those who came under the spell of Mr Smyth.
Meanwhile, Giles Fraser is critical of the church authorities' haste to deny any connection between abuse and some forms of religious teaching.

And he says that failure to face the truth arises naturally from the movement of which Smyth was a member:
Beatings aside, the other problem with the Smyth holiday camps was that they discouraged theological reflection. The camps were founded by Rev Eric Nash – or Bash as he was unfortunately known. He called himself the “commandant”, his deputy was the “adjutant”, other leaders were “officers”. 
Even among evangelicals, he was noted for his hostility to the critical reflection of theology. He “regarded theologians with suspicion and mistrust”, said Rev Michael Green. 
Moreover, as John King wrote in his book The Evangelicals, “controversy is eschewed by ‘Bash campers’; it is held to be noisy and undignified – and potentially damaging. As a result, many issues that ought to be faced are quietly avoided … any who question are liable to find themselves outside the pale. It does not give a place to the process of argument, consultation and independent thought.” 
From Alpha to archbishop, these camps produced the current leadership of the Church of England.
Let us end by noting that evangelicals fought to keep corporal punishment in British schools even after the teaching unions had given up on the idea.

Oh, and Smyth's son is pastor of the Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland, which is cut from the same religious cloth and has in the past had its own problems with accusations of abuse.

Six of the Best 665

"While a number of British think tanks are open about who funds them ... some of the most influential think tanks which impact on current Tory government policy are extremely secretive." David Hencke looks at a new report on who funds the people who work to influence government policy.

Sidney Blumenthal offers a riveting history of the Trump family.

Richard Smith discusses the career of Sir Edward Grey, the Liberal foreign secretary who led Britain into the First World War.

"She told me so much about those strange and unhappy children, and she was puzzled and perplexed by what she might have been able to do to connect with them in some way. She never knew what it was called, but she was an Autism Advocate well before her time." Yvonne Newbold on her mother and 70 years of autism.

Heather Rae on the significance of the dual bodies of hybrid monsters in Greek mythology.

"House cats would not exist without humans, but we didn’t really create them, nor do we control them now. Our relationship is less about ownership than aiding and abetting." John Gray examines what cats can teach us about how to live.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Doleham: The least used station in East Sussex

We had a caravan holiday at Winchelsea Beach in 1967 (the Summer of Love) when I was seven.

I remember the train from Ashford to Rye and that there were people collecting signatures to keep the line open. Luckily, they succeeded.

Anyway, this is another banter-rich video from Londonist.

Hamster fed LSD-spiked Tizer and cannabis in Heysham

BBC News wins our Headline of the Day Award, but please don't try this at home kids.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

The importance of the archaeology and standing buildings of Leicester

Matthew Morris, one of the leaders of the dig that found Richard III, gave this talk last November to a conference on 'Planning Leicester - Town Planning and the Historic Environment since the 1960s'.

Lib Dem candidate is the favourite in West of England mayoral race

The Bristol Post has promising news:
Former Bristol West MP Stephen Williams has been chosen as the Liberal Democrat candidate for the Metro Mayor election in May – and has immediately become the bookies' favourite to win. 
Mr Williams, a former Local Government Minister, was nominated by party members after a vote between himself and former Bristol cabinet councillor Simon Cook.
According to the Post, Ladbrokes is quoting the following odds for the contest to be mayor of the West of England:

Stephen Williams (Lib Dem) - Evens
Conservative - 11/10
Labour - 7/1
Green - 50/1
Ukip - 100/1

I am not the greatest fan of elected mayors, and the idea of a mayor for the West of England sounds silly.

But it turns out to cover a sort of Greater Bristol, taking in the Bath & North East Somerset and South Gloucestershire council areas as well as the city itself.

Liberal England wishes Stephen the best of luck for the contest (and hopes he will now drop the 'MP' from his Twitter handle).

If you want to help him win, Andrew Brown on Lib Dem Voice tells you how.

Angela Rayner thinks the Tories are "selling off" the green belt

We know Richard Burgon is a laughing stock, but Angela Rayner has been getting good notices - at least from her colleagues.

So how to explain this tweet she sent today?

The government, of course, cannot sell off the green belt because it does not own it. The debate is about whether local authorities should be allowed or compelled to grant developers permission to build on it.

I think we are entitled to expect a member of the shadow cabinet to have grasped that.

But then I am puzzled by all the talk in the media about local authorities being forced to sell their land.

Are local authorities really sitting on large land holding? Maybe large authorities are, but when I was a councillor in a rural district 30 years ago we owned very little land even then.

I suspect a lot of journalists don't understand this debate either

Monday, February 06, 2017

Bentlawnt and the Hope Valley, Shropshire

This is deep Shropshire, west of the Stiperstones and hard against the Welsh border.

The video blends stunning drone shots from today with photos from 50 years ago or more.

Some of the locations have featured on this blog, including Hope church and the new Hope school.

In one of the photographs of the farm sale you can see the while hillocks of Snailbeach in the distance.

The structure shown on the 19th century photograph of the lead workings at Roman Gravels was blown up by the Royal Engineers during Word War II as a training exercise.

Stewart Lee joins the Liberal Democrats

He probably looked fat and depressed when he did it, and he is certainly operating two levels of irony beyond the appreciation of his keenest fans, but Stewart Lee has joined the Liberal Democrats.

The news was announced in an Observer column yesterday:
My constituency voted 78% remain. On Wednesday, my MP was too ill to vote. I’m joining the Liberal Democrats, itself on some level a hopeless admission of defeat.
Welcome aboard, Stewart. Some of us admitted defeat when we were teenagers.

These passages in his column caught my attention:
But, with Trump’s trade deal help, at least our bananas will be bendy again. And on 1 February 2019, a man dressed as a sensible pirate will stand at the foot of an obelisk in Ripon, North Yorkshire, and blow an enchanted bendy horn, a horn only to be blown in Britain’s hour of need. And when that bendy horn is blown, as if by magic, all the straight bananas in Brexit Britain will suddenly bend once more, never to be straight again.
Ripon constituency’s referendum split reflected pretty much the national percentages, at 52% to 48% in favour of the reinstatement of perpetually bendy bananas, hence its horn duty. I have already booked a room at the Weatherspoon’s in Ripon square for 2019, in order to be at the epicentre of the people’s populist banana-bending revolution. 
Weatherspoon’s owner Tim Martin, a vocal opponent of straight bananas, funded a boisterous chapbook ridiculing the insolent yellow fruits, First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Straight Bananas. And Tim has promised to be at his Ripon outlet personally on bendy banana day, handing out free bendy bananas to his regular clientele of terminally nostalgic drinkers and plucky all-day breakfasteers, toasting their own imminent obsolescence.
It did so because I have stayed at the Weatherspoon's in Ripon square. There it is in the photograph above.

I am not a Weatherspoon's fan, but it was a large, clean room with a big television and there was another pub serving the rarer Timothy Taylor's brews just round the corner. What more do you need?
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

I like Europe and Stewart Lee and the Ripon hornblower and its obelisk. One day we shall draw them all together.

Tim Farron backs John Bercow over Donald Trump

The leader of the Liberal Democrats was interviewed on BBC1's News at Six this evening.

He was right to support John Bercow.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Market Harborough canal basin before redevelopment

The warehouse in a pleasingly derelict state has now been restored and is The Waterfront - restaurant and home of Market Harborough's first gin bar.

You can see footage of the town's canal basin before it was redeveloped in another post on this blog.

Embraced by the woolly duffle-coat of Britishness

The Sunday Times reports:
Muslim pupils outnumber Christian children in more than 30 church schools, including one Church of England primary that has had a “100% Muslim population”. 
St Thomas in Werneth, Oldham, is reported by the local diocese to have no Christian pupils, while at Staincliffe C of E Junior School in Batley, West Yorkshire, 98% of pupils “come from a Muslim background”, according to its most recent religious inspection report in 2015. 
The Church of England estimated that about 20 of its schools had more Muslim pupils than Christians and 15 Roman Catholic schools had majority Muslim pupils, according to the Catholic Education Service.
At that point the paywall kicks in so I can't tell you any more, but I suspect we are meant to disapprove.

I think it is good news.

And to show you why, here is a passage from Timothy Garton Ash's 2004 book Free World. I liked it so much I put it on my long-neglected anthology blog Serendib:
The manner in which people of different nationalities and ethnicities coexist in London, and to a lesser degree in other British cities and regions, is unmatched in Europe. Here is a peculiarly British way of tolerance. It starts, perhaps, with the habits of privacy and mutual indifference (“live and let live”, “an Englishman’s home is his castle”). 
It continues with the baggy, undemanding nature of “Britishness”, a woolly duffle-coat of an identity that from the start had to embrace four national identities English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish. Only in pragmatic, illogical Britain could a rugby match between England and Scotland be called a “home international”. But as the world has come back to the post-imperial island, so the duffle-coat of Britishness has stretched to accommodate many other identities. 
In future censuses, we are told, we shall be able to categorise ourselves as “Afro-Caribbean English”, “Chinese Welsh”, or “Asian Scottish”. Gisela Stuart, herself a German-British MP, describes a neighbourhood in her Birmingham constituency that has a large Asian population. Since Asian parents want the best education for their children, and the best school in the neighbourhood is a convent school, they send their daughters there. Never mind the Catholicism; that can be expunged by Islamic instruction after school hours, at the local madrasah. 
So there they sit, row upon row of girls in their Islamic headscarves, being taught maths, British history and, incidentally, the story of baby Jesus, by nuns in their Christian headscarves. A complete muddle, of course, but Europe will need more such muddling through if it is to make its tens of millions of Muslims feel at home.

Kevin Ayers: Oh! Wot a Dream

Last week's magpie went down well, so here is another bird.

Oh! Wot a Dream is about Kevin Ayers' friend Syd Barrett,the founder of Pink Floyd. I detect the influence of Lewis Carroll and Viv Stanshall too.

This performance comes from the same Old Grey Whistle Test session as Shouting in a Bucket Blues.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Six of the Best 664

"The Liberal Democrats led a battle in the Lords to get the Government to change the law to pardon all those gay men convicted under the dreadful Labouchère amendment and similar Acts." John Sharkey on the success of a Lib Dem campaign.

Alex Massie says people who protest against Donald Trump are not the problem: they are right. And in The Spectator of all places.

"Reading it in January 2016 seemed strangely appropriate, as we grapple with new authoritarianism and protest. The scenery may change but the stories remain similar." Nicholas Whyte encounters V for Vendetta, by Alan Moore,

Stephen Pentz blogs an essay on beauty.

Backwatersman now has a second blog. On it he walks from Luton Airport Parkway to Harpenden.

"Playing 'one of the stately homos of England' and 'the greatest god of all' within the span of a year had a huge impact on a generation of young teenagers, of which I was one at the time. Frank Collins pays tribute to John Hurt.

Row over fantabulosa servicette at Cambridge theological college

The news today is that Westcott House in Cambridge, a leading Church of England theological college, has apologised for its students attempts to 'queer' evensong.

As the Guardian tells it:
Student priests at Westcott House in Cambridge organised the evensong service on Tuesday in the college chapel. Advertised as a "Polari evening prayer in anticipation of LGBT+ history month”, it was described as a “liturgical experiment" ...
A prayer referred to the "Fantabulosa fairy" and ended: "Praise ye the Duchess. The Duchess’s name be praised." Psalm 19 was reworded to refer to "O Duchess, my butchness".
Speaking as an atheist, I find this rather endearing.

But then Polari reminds me of childhood Sunday lunchtimes and Round the Horne, In that wonderful radio comedy Hugh Paddick and Kenneth Williams, as Julian and Sandy, introduced the wider world to this gay argot.

I have read that the downside of this was it lost its usefulness to gay men - Polari is not a good way of hiding your meaning if your maiden aunt can understand it because she listens to the radio.

The story also reminds me of my reactions the first time I attended evensong in a cathedral - it was York Minster.

My reaction was first that Christianity feels very Eastern and it is remarkable that it established itself so thorough in these green, Western islands.

And second it was that the service was not just theatrical, but camp - men in frocks, pretty boys and so on - which made it more appealing.

So I think the students at Westcott House may have been on to something, and one day we shall find out who was right.

As Paul wrote of heaven to the Corinthians,
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then eek to eek.

Friday, February 03, 2017

Richmond station departure board, 1983

Note that in 1983 North London Line trains still terminated at Broad Street.

I photographed that long lost terminus too and will share my shots with you one day.

Understanding and countering the appeal of Donald Trump

The psychologists Steve Reicher and Alex Haslam discussed the appeal of Donald Trump to his supporters for the Scientific American:
A Trump rally involved much more than just a Trump speech. Important though his words were (and we will look at them in some detail), it is even more essential to look at the event as a performance of a particular worldview. 
Once again, the charge of irrationalism can serve to obscure; for if we view Trump crowds as mindless mobs led by primitive urges and stirred up by a narcissistic demagogue, it impairs our ability to appreciate what his events tell us about how those who attended them see the world. 
In simple terms, a Trump rally was a dramatic enactment of a particular vision of America. More particularly, it enacted how Trump and his followers would like America to be. In a phrase, it was an identity festival that embodied a politics of hope.
Leadership is about individuals as group members—whose success necessarily 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 Trump’s followers knew full well that their man was a reprobate, that they deplored his crudities, and that they saw him as a risky choice. 
As one supporter interviewed by an Australian reporter put it: “He may be an asshole, but he’s our asshole.”
The whole article is worth reading - and note that it was written when most commentators expected Hillary Clinton to win the election.

What do we liberals do about all this?

I have blogged before about the need to use language that appeals to conservative voters if you seek to convert them. That post was picked up by Alan Martin for Wired in a wider piece on the psychology of changing people's political views.

The other days I came across another essay on this them. Olga Khazan writes in The Atlantic:
Rather than emphasizing concern over the harm that might come to refugees, says Matt Feinberg, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto, to truly persuade Trump supporters on the matter it would have been be better to go with something like this: 
“These refugees and immigrants are just like our family members who came to America in years past to seek a better life. All our ancestors wanted was to live the American dream, and that’s why today’s immigrants and refugees have chosen to come to America, so they too can live that same American dream that brought our families here. That dream is what our nation was founded on, it is what brought our grandparents and great-grandparents to this great land, and it is the great success story that these immigrants want to be a part of.” It’s a message high on patriotism and loyalty—two “moral frames” 
that research shows are more important to conservatives than are traditionally more liberal values, like reciprocity and caring.
All of which shows, if nothing else, that Emma Thompson had it all wrong.

Conservative Home forecasts advances for the Liberal Democrats in May's local elections

Their headline is:

The coming local elections. Watch for a satisfied May, a beleaguered Corbyn…and a smug Farron

But then it is one of those irregular verbs: I am pleased, you are self-satisfied, he is smug.

So ignore that and cut to the chase:
Then, of course, there are the Lib Dems. A Labour loss is not always the same thing as a Conservative gain. I suspect Labour will take a huge beating from everyone on May 4th – Conservatives, Lib Dems, UKIP, SNP, Plaid… 
But the Lib Dems pose a threat to the Conservatives too. In Cornwall the Lib Dems are already in power, in coalition with independents. Could they sweep back in Somerset and Devon; which they held until 2009?
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