Thursday, April 26, 2018

St James, Thrapston

Taken after I had been delivering in the town during the 2012 Corby by-election.

Something about the light makes it look like a painting.

Senior Tory MP's diary secretary caught selling sex online is sister of Channel 4 reality TV star

The Daily Mirror wins our Headline of the Day Award.

However, the judges were not impressed by the paper's attempt to turn this into a story about security. I doubt Dominic Raab's diary secretary has been entrusted to with many of the nation's secrets.

As to the suggestion that Raab "has been tipped as a future Prime Minister", one judge suggested the view to me that the only people tipping him are:
  • Dominic Raab
  • Dominic Raab's mother
  • People who have been paid in used bank notes to do so.
I might add that if a newspaper feels it has to pixelate every face in a photograph, it is probably not worth printing it at all.

Is there a Lewisham by-election coming?

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From the Guardian:
Heidi Alexander, the former shadow health secretary, is considering quitting the Commons to accept a senior job at City Hall with London mayor Sadiq Khan, the Guardian understands. 
Alexander was Khan’s campaign chair during the 2016 London mayoral election. The MP, who has spearheaded the campaign to keep the UK in the single market since leaving the shadow cabinet, currently represents Lewisham East. 
It is understood Alexander may be considering taking a prominent role at City Hall under Khan, though no timeline was given for her departure.
Heidi Alexander had a majority of 21,213 at last year's general election, with the Liberal Democrats in a distant third place. We did have a good second place here as recently as 2010.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Six of the Best 786

"The new Southern and Thameslink trains ... look as if they have been designed to be hosed down after use." However you organise the railways the Treasury always wins, argues David Boyle.

Elizabeth Ammon explains how scoring cricket games during the miners' strike made her political: "I saw a portly offspinner break down in tears when asked for his match subscription. He didn't have it. He couldn't scrape together the five pounds he was being asked for. It made me angry."

Donald Trump's wall would do great damage to life and landscape along the Rio Grande, says Nick Paumgarten.

A famous scene in Blow-Up features David Hemmings and a Yardbirds line up with both Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck. It also features Janet Street Porter, who remembers how it was filmed,

"Plenty has been written about the greatness of Odessey and Oracle’s individual songs, but I want to focus on what seems to be an under-appreciated facet of the album: Its implicit suggestion that DIY music can be just as refined as high-budget, professionally produced music." Alasdair P. Mackenzie celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Zombies' superb album.

Corse Present explores Alan Garner's Elidor.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Vince Cable calls for break up of online monopolies

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The Liberal Democrat leader made an important speech last week:
Vince Cable has compared Google, Amazon and Facebook to the US oil monopolies that exploited their market power more than a century ago – and called for them to be broken up. 
In a speech in London, the Liberal Democrat leader said a series of recent scandals, including revelations about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, meant the “tech titans” had “progressed from heroes to villains very quickly”. 
“Just as Standard Oil once cornered 85% of the refined oil market, today Google drives 89% of internet searches, 95% of young adults on the internet use a Facebook product, Amazon accounts for 75% of ebook sales, while Google and Apple combined provide 99% of mobile operating systems,” he said.
Exactly right. In fact I think I tweeted something to the same effect last week before I read about Vince's speech.

Why have the online giants been allowed to get away with it for so long?

One reason was given by John Harris in an article published back in 2011:
The computer industry came of age in the 1990s, that giddy phase of American and European history when authoritarianism was assumed to be on the wane. 
In those days when the coming of the internet seemed of a piece with the collapse of the Iron Curtain and the end of Apartheid. It was a new, more liberal world and the new online entrepreneurs were a different, cuddlier breed from their meat world equivalents. Didn't they eat jelly beans and go snowboarding?

But as Harris went on to ask:
For sure, it's still nice to live in a liberal democracy, but given that the world has since moved in no end of sinister directions, isn't our unthinking embrace of the cloud (and just to recap: our medical records could soon be up there) an ill-advised throwback? 
And what of the long view: looking ahead 50 years, how certain are we that the surveillance state will not have extended its tentacles; that nasty, illiberal politics will not be all the rage; or that Google, Microsoft et al. will not have learned dangerous new tricks?
And even if liberalism is able to fight back, we now know that online entrepreneurs can be as rapacious as any other.

Hemel Hempstead Town 0 Harwich & Parkeston 0

The first football match I attended was an Athenian League clash between Hemel Hempstead Town and Harwich & Parkeston that my father took me to.

I remember that the game ended in a goalless draw, Hemel played in a green and white strip and it all took place at their Crabtree Lane ground,

Thanks to the wonders of The Results Web I can tell you that this match took place on Saturday 18 November 1967, so I was seven.

The Crabtree Lane ground was sold for housing in 1970, but you can see it in the video above, which was shot a in the 1961-2 season.

Monday, April 23, 2018

A Buddhist retreat in White Grit

I once discovered that there is an Orthodox monastery in the shadow of the Stiperstones. The other evening I arguably topped that by turning up a Buddhist retreat in White Grit.

It doesn't just have a strange name: White Grit is a strange settlement. Originally a lead-mining village, it now consists largely of modern bungalows that must have been put up long after the mine closed.

I was once bitten by a Jack Russell in White Grit. As the village is just over the Powys border, I complained about it to the then MP for Montgomeryshire, Lembit Opik, when I met him at the Liberal Democrat Conference.

His reply ("You're fucking mad, you are.") is not to be found in the ALDC guide to casework.

On a happier note, Ronnie Lane's farm is just up the road.

Leicester Conservatives fall out over promise of a tram system

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It's quite something to have a split over your local election manifesto when you have only one councillor, but Leicester's Conservatives have managed it.

Last week I blogged about their election promise of a tram system from the city that would reach as far as Market Harborough.

Today, reports the Leicester Mercury, the city's only Tory councillor, Ross Grant, poured cold water on the idea:
“Nobody mentioned it to me. I wasn’t consulted at all. 
“If somebody had, they would have been told that I have been consistently against having a tram system in Leicester. 
“It would be horrifically expensive. 
“There are far less expensive ways of trying to deal with traffic and pollution problems. 
“You could get an entire fleet of hydrogen-fuelled buses which would have the advantage of taking people to where they actually want to go rather than just along a rail route. 
“Within my ward I don’t see how you could run a tram track down Welford Road. 
“The disruption would be immense.
It would be great to see trams back in Leicester, but I suspect this is the last we shall hear of the idea from the Tories for a while.

If they want to revive it one day, they will need to produce detailed plans. All we had from them this time is the report of a conversation at a photo opportunity with Chris Grayling.

Six of the Best 785

The UK should not be a hostile environment, says Jonathan Fryer.

In 1968 the Conservatives won control of Sheffield and captured every council seat in Leicester. Lewis Baston looks at their local election landslide that year.

Paul Saffer knows what the Queen should do: "Monarchists make much of HM’s sense of duty. Well, what greater service to her nation could she perform than to lay out for its future historians, and her humble subjects generally, her uniquely privileged testimony on the events and personalities of her reign?"

"In the fall of 2016, Harvey Weinstein set out to suppress allegations that he had sexually harassed or assaulted numerous women. He began to hire private security agencies to collect information on the women and the journalists trying to expose the allegations." Ronan Farrow tells an extraordinary story.

Adam Scovell goes in search of the locations used in Ken Loach's film Kes.

"In total, Bentley made 367 appearances for Chelsea and scored 150 goals. He won 12 England caps and became the first Chelsea player to feature at a World Cup, representing England in 1950." Chelsea FC remembers Roy Bentley.

Write a guest post for Liberal England

I welcome guest posts on Liberal England.

As you can see from this list of the 10 most recent ones, 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.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

J.W. Logan and the East Langton ladies cricket team

© Leicestershire Police

A wonderful photograph of an Edwardian country-house cricket team. Better still, the players are all women.

Even better than that, the only man in the photograph is this blog's hero J.W. Logan, who was Liberal MP for Harborough between 1891 and 1904 and again between 1910 and 1916.

You can see another photograph of him on his Wikipedia entry, where happily he is now called Paddy Logan. It has clearly been edited by someone who reads this blog.

I am sure Mr Logan's suffragette daughters will be among the players and it will have been taken at the East Langton ground he had laid out..

This photograph was tweeted earlier this year by The Police Gazette, which is devoted to the history of policing in Leicestershire.

The account owner tells me it was printed in Tally Ho,  a magazine for police officers in Leicestershire, in the 1960s.

Thunderclap Newman: Something In the Air

Working in a press office, you have to keep abreast of the news. So we were talking about the man who was hospitalised with thunderclap headaches after eating the world's hottest chilli.

Which naturally put me in mind of this record.

Wikipedia explains:
Thunderclap Newman was a British rock band that Pete Townshend of the Who and Kit Lambert formed in 1969 in a bid to showcase the talents of John "Speedy" Keen, Jimmy McCulloch, and Andy "Thunderclap" Newman.
Townshend played bass on Something in the Air, though he was not there to mime on this television appearance.

Jimmy McCulloch was only 15 or 16 when this record was made. He died young, but you can see him playing some years later on one of my favourite music videos: Roger Daltrey's version of Say It Ain't So Joe.

Thunderclap Newman himself was the group's pianist. Which means that this is another of those bands - Brinsley Schwarz, the J. Geils Band and arguably Manfred Mann and the Spencer Davis Group too - that are named after a member who is not the most prominent.

Something in the Air still appears regularly on film and television soundtracks when the makers want to summon up the spirit of late Sixties radicalism.

You can see why.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

A Tynemouth gull

Taken in 2012.

Now read about The burial of Alexander Rollo at Tynemouth Priory.

Six of the Best 784

"I’ve spent much of the past several years reporting on political psychology, asking the country’s foremost experts on human behaviour some variation of, 'What the hell is going on in the United States?'" Now Brian Resnick shares the fruits of his research.

Lions led by pro Mini Golfers? Otto English discovers what Ukip's gay donkey rape man is doing now. In Lewisham.

Nicholas Whyte finds David Goodhart's The Road to Somewhere an annoying book.

"Like many men his age, Dad was raised by a mother who did everything for him, and then he was passed to a wife who seamlessly took over. The result was that Dad never learned how to fend for himself." Stuart Heritage on our changing conception of masculinity.

A London Inheritance takes us to the University of London Senate's House - an impressive building that could have been even more so.

Steven Spielberg has been retelling the story of Peter Pan from the start of his career, says John Dilillo. He argues that Catch Me If You Can is a better and more faithful adaptation than Hook.

Saving the curlew in Shropshire

Today is the first ever World Curlew Day, so it's a good one to write about the Curlew Country project in Shropshire and Powys.
The project works thanks to its close collaboration with farmers and land managers who describe the first evocative bubbling of returning curlew to be a herald of spring.  Farmers describe memories of hay meadows from which "curlew and peewits rose in clouds". 
The Curlew Country project has been trying to establish why these long lived birds (they can exceptionally live for 20 or 30 years) are now failing to breed successfully on the farmland habitat they nest in outside moorland and upland areas.  A  Nest Monitoring Project in the local study area has deployed cameras, used thermal data loggers and close observation techniques. 
During the years 2015 and 2016 no chicks were successfully reared from the nests monitored.  Based on our findings we are now acting fast to intervene to try and save the population of about 40 breeding pairs within the local trial area, and gaining valuable information to help other similar curlew projects.
The call of the curlew is immensely atmospheric and reminds me of walking in the Stiperstones in May. I knew I was getting high up when I began to hear it. The curlew is an estuary bird, but it haunts upland moors too.

Now it is under threat in Shropshire, and there is a worrying precedent. The quotation above mentions peewits, which are better known as lapwings.

When the children in Malcolm Saville's Mystery at Witchend (published in 1943) set up the Lone Pine Club, they found it natural to adopt the call of the peewit as their secret sign.

But Robert Smart, who knew Saville and published walking books about the Shropshire hills, once told me that it was years since he had seen the bird on the Long Mynd.

Friday, April 20, 2018

"Fab: The first ice lolly for girls"

In this early spell of summer weather it is natural that my thoughts turn to ice lollies.

I have been thinking in particular of the Fab lolly, which had a relaunch last year to mark its 50th anniversary.

What is really scary is that I remember when Fab was new.

I was also sure that I remembered that when it first appeared in the 1960s it was marketed as an ice lolly for girls.

In fact I was certain I remembered that because, as a small boy in those days, you were desperate to try one but daren't be seen eating it.

Thanks to a couple of people who sent me the advertisements below via Twitter - @AndrewSNicoll and @DavidBertram1, follow them at once - and a bit of googling that turned up the television commercial above, I now know I was right.

It is easy  to forget how much children used to segregate themselves by sex. I enjoyed the 2003 film Wondrous Oblivion, which was set in the 1950s, but it got this badly wrong.

It's central incident saw a white schoolboy failing to invite a Black girl to his birthday party, which was interpreted as a slight based on race. But in the 1950s a young boy would not have invited a girl to a party to save his life and a girl would not have expected to be invited.

We are more enlightened now. Still, Lady Penelope was an excellent role model for girls.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Church Langton in an interregnum

St Peter’s, Church Langton, has problems. It has no parish priest – it’s “in an interregnum” a notice in the church charmingly puts it – though regular services continue.

And it has been hit by the widespread lead thefts from church roofs in the region. When I went inside there was a bundles up carpet that had obviously fallen victim to a leak.

Intriguingly, the notice about raising money for repairs also mentions “an exciting project that explores the rich heritage of St Peter’s”.

Outside, I made my regular pilgrimage to the Logan family graves and also visited Colonel Hignett at the other end of the churchyard:
Then there was Colonel Hignett, the Tory who had bought Logan’s estate on his death in 1922* and was, incredibly, still active locally when I became a councillor in the 1980s. I came across him several times and he had an unnerving habit of starting telephone calls with “Now, look here....” Fortunately, this was generally followed with “...if I can be any help, you let me know.” 
When the church roof at Church Langton needed repairing and the estimate from the builders proved too high (“They could put that where the monkey put the nuts.”) he organised the locals to do the job themselves and was filmed by local television as he directed operations up on the roof at the age of 90.
The other evening I was talking about Colonel Hignett to a taxi driver who had worked for him as a builder. Hignett had been David Niven’s commanding office during the second world war, and the driver has asked his opinion of him. Let’s just say it was a very low opinion – Niven enjoyed killing more than a regular officer like the Colonel found seemly.

Church Langton still has a primary school and its pub, the Langton Arms, has just reopened. It is now very much geared to the food trade – I was told they were fully booked for lunch – and the bar staff were rushed off their feet with orders for the restaurant, which meant it wasn’t a great place for a drink. There were sandwiches on the menu, but maybe you have to book those in advance too?

I shall try my luck there on a weekday, but for now I shall show the pub in gentle disuse.

* I now suspect there was at least one owner of East Langton Grange between J.W. Logan MP and Colonel Hignett.

In Our Time on Middlemarch

There was a cracking In Our Time on George Eliot's Middlemarch this morning. (An edited version will be broadcast this evening at 9.30, but I would listen to it via the BBC website.)

I read Middlemarch before starting my Masters in Victorian Studies out of duty, but thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

When the BBC adaptation (filmed in Stamford) was screened in 1994 I had great kudos at work because I knew how things would turn out.

I was interested to hear this morning that many of Eliot's contemporary readers, like my colleagues in 1994, hoped and expected that Dorothea would marry Lydgate.

And I was pleased to hear that I am not alone in finding Ladislaw an unconvincing character.

There was always something unreal about him to me, though this impression may owe something to the fact that he came into the novel as I was reading at twilight beside the Wye in Hay.

Leicester Tories promise a tram to Market Harborough

Forget Daventry Conservatives and their canal. Leicester Tories are promising a tram to Market Harborough.

The Leicester Mercury quotes their chairman Jack Hickey:
“I discussed our ambitious plan with Transport Secretary Chris Grayling in Parliament recently, and he was enthusiastic about the benefits of light rail in Leicester and keen to listen to the business case for the project.”
Mind you, Mr Grayling doesn't look very enthusiastic in the accompanying photograph.

And you can understand it. Hickey was the man who complained that activists coming to Leicester West to campaign for his Labour opponent in last year's general election were trying to "skew the vote".

I would love to see trams return to Leicester just as I would love to see the Grand Union reach Daventry. But there would be many problems with the idea, even if the city could raise the capital to build a system.

Nottingham's trams - "I’m furious Nottingham has a tram and we do not" says Hickey - have been reported as losing almost £1m a week.

This at a time when the county Conservatives tell us they cannot afford a modest town bus service in Market Harborough.

Then there are the practicalities.

As the city's Labour mayor told the Mercury:
"We have done studies before and all parties have agreed the geography of the city – which is very different to Nottingham’s, is not suitable for a tram. 
"Weaving them out in and out of the city would be very, very difficult."
Still, full marks to the Tories for coming up with a startling idea to get some headlines.

They have to do that when, like the Liberal Democrats, they have only one councillor in Leicester.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

At last an anthem for Brexit

We have been told. When Brexit goes horribly wrong it will be the fault of us Remainers for not getting behind the project.

"Every time a child says, 'I don't believe in fairies,' there is a fairy somewhere that falls down dead," as Peter Pan put it.

What we need is a song we can all sing to show our for support Brexit. And I have found it.

My God, have I found it.

I know England Swings from a sweet version by Roger Miller, but this is, er, different. You wonder if the Bonzos were familiar with Patty Duke's oeuvre when they came up with Cool Britannia.

She, incidentally, won an Oscar for her portrayal of Helen Keller in 1962 and is the mother of the well-known hobbit Sean Astin.

Later. I have just shown the video to Lord Bonkers. He remarked: "Guardsmen and male dancers? It reminds me of St James's after dark."

New canal becomes an election issue in Daventry

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For the first time in a couple of centuries, the building of a canal is a major election issue.

The Conservative-run Daventry District Council has come up with the madcap but magnificent idea of building a two-mile arm to link the town with the Grand Union.

According to a report in the Daventry Express:
The Labour Party will oppose any further expenditure on the proposal for a canal arm and will demand that more is done to make Daventry into an attractive market town again. 
It will press for better leisure facilities and entertainments for people of all ages, believing that "more shops are likely to be attracted to Daventry by a vibrant town centre rather than by a stagnant canal", as well as demand progress on a new cinema for the town.
"A stagnant canal" is silly and mean-spirited. Has Daventry Labour not seen any of the excellent urban canal regeneration projects around the country?

The Lib Dems say the canal project needs to have a robust business plan to justify it and it should not be at a cost to Daventry District taxpayers.
which sounds more sensible but probably means in practice that they don't support the new canal either.


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The two bridges over the Nene at Irthlingborough in 1946

You may remember that I was taken with the two bridges over the Nene at Irthlingborough last summer.

The Britain From Above site (which allows bloggers to use its images for free) has a nice shot of both bridges taken in 1946.

In the foreground you can see the medieval bridge and further back the impressive concrete viaduct that had opened 10 years before.

The tannery which stands beside them has long vanished.

Lord Bonkers: "Not a well-behaved Orban"

I was having dinner with Lord Bonkers last night.

"This Viktor Orban fellow seems a bad egg," he remarked.

I agreed, offering a catalogue of the Hungarian prime minister's crimes.

Lord Bonkers thought for a moment. "Not a well-behaved Orban then?" he offered.

Whereupon he shook with laughter, slapped his thigh and exclaimed "Oh my! Oh my!" for what seemed an age.

I have to say I didn't find it that funny.

Why it matters that millennials won't handle raw meat

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Yesterday's story about millennials being too squeamish to touch raw meat gave plenty of opportunity to laugh at the folly of the young. These days that's one of my chief occupations.

But there is more to it than that.

The Telegraph report says:
Ruth Mason of the National Farmers’ Union said it was “disconcerting that shoppers are so removed from their food” at a time when the meat and farming industry faces pressure from the increased number of consumers adopting vegetarian or vegan diets.
Well, we like children to be in touch with nature - to pick blackberries and get their knees muddy - but it may be that people are turning vegetarian because they are closely in touch with the farming industry and so aware of the cruelty producing meat can involve.

But the squeamish millennials are still eating meat. The danger is that they will favour meat that looks as little like a dead animal as possible. And the danger of that is that such meat is more likely to have been produced in a way that involves cruelty.

They should have seen Market Harborough in the 1970s when Hobbs the Butcher had pheasants and rabbits hanging outside his shop as every lorry en route from the West Midlands to Felixstowe growled past.

Monday, April 16, 2018

"You know when you've been tango'd": Ray Wilkins, Hugh Dennis and Gil Scott-Heron

Readers of a certain age will remember this television commercial for Tango, which featured the late, great Ray Wilkins.

What I didn't know that the other two voices in it belonged to Hugh Dennis and Gil Scott Heron (whose father played for Celtic).

The commercial was very popular, but there was a snag. In school playgrounds across the country children copied it, but they slapped one another on the ears not the cheeks.

I know someone who worked approving television commercials for the Independent Broadcasting Authority in those days. He said the medical evidence, emphasising the risk of perforated eardrums in children, gave them no alternative but to ban this one.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Logan Street, Market Harborough, from above in 1932

The "Britain From Above" archive is now FREE in high resolution and it is *incredible*. 96,000 photos of landscapes and buildings - many long-lost, from the air.
So Tim Dunn tweeted earlier this evening, and he is right.

Better still, the conditions of use allow you to post Britain From Above images on your blog if, like this one, it has no log-in restrictions or charges.

So here is a shot of the Logan Street area of Market Harborough (aka New Harborough or Monkey Town) in 1932.

Logan Street, named after this blog's hero J.W. Logan, is the long street running from the middle of the picture towards the top. The photograph was taken looking north.

Opposite the southern end of Logan Street, on the other side of the Coventry Road, is a long-vanished tennis court or bowling green.

You can also see the River Welland winding across the middle of picture and the Market Harborough to Rugby railway line (closed 1966) cuts off the bottom left-hand corner.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Well thought of in Golspie

Our week at Bonkers Hall draws to a close as the old boy proves that he still has his finger on the pulse when it comes to the Liberal Democrats (as far as we have one these days).


There are those (it is hard to credit) to whom not every Liberal Democrat MP is a household name, so let me give you a few notes upon the slightly less famous ones.

Wera Hobhouse is heir to the family fortune, which is founded on sales of her uncle L.T.’s Liberalism.

Christine Jardine I have found to be a fierce competitor. She once took over the captaincy of my XI when Mike Brearley was called away to conduct an urgent session of psychoanalysis, whereupon she packed the legside field and ordered our fastest bowler to let the batsmen have a barrage of snoot-high deliveries.

Jamie Stone is believed to be well thought of in Golspie.

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

Earlier this week

Six of the Best 783

"As I watched the 20-year celebrations of the Good Friday agreement play out, my frustration and anger began to boil over. 'Where the fuck is she?' I wanted to shout at the television and radio." Henrietta Norton says her stepmother Mo Mowlam has been written out of the history of the Northern Ireland peace process.

Christine Thuring explains the forces behind the Sheffield street tree massacre.

"An epistemic bubble is when you don’t hear people from the other side. An echo chamber is what happens when you don’t trust people from the other side." C. Thi Nguyen examines the effect of social media on our reasoning.

" [Angela] Thirkell’s hatred of what she saw as the socialist destruction of old England struck a deep chord, and during these years her 'Barsetshire' sequence of novels sold prodigiously." David Kynaston looks at the genteel backlash that followed Labour's 1945 victory.

Gyles Brandreth remembers his friend. Kenneth Williams, who died 30 years ago today.

"Across the whole of children’s literature, there are relatively few portrayals of a father-son relationship where the father isn’t either forbidding, or simply absent for good or ill." acidandamnesty reads of Roald Dahl's Danny, the Champion of the World.

Michael Nyman: Knowing the Ropes

Michael Nyman's music makes me happy.

This piece from the soundtrack of Peter Greenaway's strangely English film Drowning by Numbers is played by the Motion Trio of accordionists, the Michael Nyman Band and Nyman himself on piano.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Meet Pop Corbyn

Hang on in there, readers, there is only one more entry to go after this.


When Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party I naturally stationed gamekeepers armed with orchard doughties at the lodge gates lest he try to claim my estate in the name of the people.

However, news reaches me from the Commons that, far from leading a Bolshevik uprising, he is hand in glove with the Conservatives. For Tory MPs have taken to calling him ‘Pop’.

“What do you think of foreigners, Pop?” they cluster round to ask, whereupon Corbyn grimaces, shakes his fist and goes “Foreigners? Grrr!” How the Tories clap and cheer!

The hilarity continues until a division is called upon some bill to do with Europe, whereupon Corbyn takes Jacob Rees-Mogg’s hand and allows himself to be led through the government lobby. I think I shall stand down my gamekeepers.

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

Earlier this week

Friday, April 13, 2018

Listen to Mr Asquith

Here is the Liberal prime minister Herbert Asquith making the case for Lloyd George's 'People's Budget' in 1909.

The Film Programme features Talking Pictures TV

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This week Antonia Quirke from BBC Radio 4's Film Programme visited the headquarters of my favourite television channel Talking Pictures TV.

They turned out to be a pebble-dashed detached house in Hertfordshire, but this is no kitchen-table operation.

As Noel Cronin, who runs the channel with his daughter and son-in-law, told her in their interview, the channel attracts audiences of up to 1.3m, spends £1m a year on film rights and makes a profit.

The still above comes from the superior early Dirk Bogarde film Hunted, which Talking Pictures screened again last night. It shows Bogarde with the child actor Jon Whiteley.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Gay conversion camps

Look, I don't write this stuff. I just edit it for him. OK?


Plans for this summer’s gay conversion camps here at the Hall are in hand. I know these are a controversial idea, but it would take a heart of stone not to help the parents who come to me. “We’ve tried everything,” they sob, “bought him Doris Day records, but he is just not interested.” This summer I have decided the students will camp, and I use the word advisedly, by the lake.

Then there is the fixture list for my XI this summer. Among our regular matches against the MCC, Mebyon Kernow and the Elves of Rockingham Forest, I am pleased to see a number of new names. Notable among them, all the way from China, is Mr Xi’s XI.

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

Earlier this week

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Penistone in the 1960s

As well as town events, there are plenty of shots of the electrified Woodhead route and an unexpected appearance by the Flying Scotsman.

Conservatives plan to scrap Market Harborough town bus service

Sad news from the Harborough Mail:
Market Harborough’s number 33 town-and-around bus service is at risk of being axed - because it doesn’t come close to paying for itself. 
In fact the service costs Leicestershire County Council a huge £109,000 a year to keep it running, the Mail has been told. 
And with the cash-strapped county looking to save £400,000 on public transport the town’s 33 service is “red-listed” in the council’s own consultation document. 
That means it’s a service “likely to be discontinued” as a county-council contracted service.
As far as I recall, this service had been put in place just before I came back to live in Harborough. The first piece community campaigning I got involved with was a residents' survey in Great Bowden to see how people were finding it.

The new, small buses that operated it were known as 'Fox Cubs' as they were run by the Midland Fox company.

There is a desperate lack of joined-up thinking here. Our new Conservative MP has taken a laudable interest in the issue of loneliness, but it will only be made worse as his government and council group scrap the services that help older and poorer people stay in the swim.

Anyway, if you want to try to save the 33 bus, there is a consultation on transport policy open on the county council website.

Six of the Best 782

Fascism poses a more serious threat now than at any time since the end of World War II, warns Madeleine Albright.

"Traditional left-wing parties have lost not only the grasp of their main political narrative, they have lost much of their traditional electorates. These electorates did not so much ‘switch’ away from the left, they have rather disappeared as a comprehensible social group." Jan Rovny analyses the causes of the decline of left-wing parties across Europe.

Tanya Gold observes the fall of Milo Yiannopoulos.

"Today, pellagra is mostly relegated to history lessons and medical reference books. But occasionally, such as during isolated outbreaks in a refugee crisis, the world receives a vivid reminder of how the disease still affects people." Kristin Baird Rattini on the disease that once devastated the American South.

David Mikics relives the making of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Charles Darwin's family home, Down House near Biggin Hill, is now open to the public. Sarah Moulden blogs about the work involved in bringing it back to life.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: "Dance, Frog Man, dance"

How is Nigel Farage's American television career going? Lord Bonkers has been sent the latest news.


M. Farage, the funny little Frenchman who leads the Ukip Party from time to time, has long had his heart set on a career in American television. One of my agents across the pond has sent me a cine film of his latest attempt to break into this competitive world, so this afternoon I have the projector set up and the blinds drawn in the Library so I could watch it – Cook kindly contributes some popcorn to the occasion.

What I see is M. Farage wearing an green Lycra body suit and flippers standing beside a weather map of South Dakota. Whenever the young lady giving the forecast mentions rain, he has to break into a dance, and if the station bosses do not think him enthusiastic enough, they poke him with a cattle prod crying “Dance, Frog Man, dance.”

On the telephone later I ask my agent if M. Farage does not feel a little humiliated humiliated by this. “Oh no,” she replies, “he's delighted to have broken into television.”

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

Earlier this week

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The landing stage, Lundy Island

This was taken on my second visit to the island, which was in 2002 (or thereabouts).

Conservatives apologise to elderly man who was sent campaign letter addressed to 'Mr F***ingjoking'

The Independent, or at least indy100, wins our Headline of the Day award.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Jo Swinson gives Humphrys one up the snoot

The radio event of the year was enjoyed in Rutland too.


I am no great lover of the Today programme as it can be Terribly Unfair. Only the other day I was given a hard time over the travails of my Rutland Fried Chicken empire, and a few weeks before that is was my cryptocurrency Rutcoin that attracted their scorn.

I also found it disconcerting that, halfway through my interview with an irascible Welshman (who, if I might say, was Getting On A Bit), a member of the production team came in, pulled out the waistband and stuffed handful of used tenners down his trousers. (When I asked afterwards I was told the fellow is on so much they have to do this every 20 minutes or he will not get his full salary.)

All this is by way of explaining why I cheered so loudly when I heard our own Jo ‘Gloria’ Swinson give the same presenter both barrels over the question of equal pay. It seems, moreover, that I was not the only one. This lunchtime the thaw had set in, so I risked the overground route to the village.

Passing the school playground I found the children engaged in a game of “Humphrys and Swinson” – one child would ask the others a long question, interrupt them as soon as they began to answer and have a mound of snow dumped on his head. It looked great fun so I joined in.

So I won’t hear a word against Jo Swanson, not even after the Lib Dem Pint do at the Bonkers’ Arms when she tried to persuade the assembled company to eschew their normal Smithson & Greaves Northern Bitter and drink carrot juice instead because it was more inclusive.

Good on you, E.W.!

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

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The narrow-gauge railway at Abbey Pumping Station, Leicester

I went to the Abbey Pumping Station in Leicester on Saturday, hoping to photograph the World War II gas decontamination building on the site. But I was too late: it has already been demolished.

At least it was the museum's spring railway day, so the museum's narrow-gauge railway was operating. The locomotive was built by Bagnall in 1918 for service on the Western Front.

Lib Dems and Greens work together in Richmond upon Thames local elections

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Dave Hill's On London site brings news of an electoral pact in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames.

In next month's elections six of the borough's 18 three-member wards will see one Green and two Liberal Democrat candidates on the ballot paper. The Greens are giving the Lib Dems a clear run in the other 12 wars.

As the website says:
Zac Goldsmith’s famous parliamentary by-election defeat by Liberal Democrat Sarah Olney in Richmond Park in December 2016 may have been helped by the Green Party choosing not to field a candidate. 
The Greens said at the time of that decision that they had "begun discussions with the Liberal Democrats about how to best secure a non Conservative-run council in 2018".
When I lived in Richmond in the days when we first took control of the council, the Liberal Party's support for local conservation was one of its trump cards.

These days, however, Lib Dems tend to be more centrist, so the Greens pose an electoral threat to us in places like Richmond.

Yes, I yearn for the days (1986 to be precise) when the Liberal/SDP Alliance could win 49 of the borough's then 52 seats, but that was a long time ago. Besides, I have always been more of an environmentalist than I am a social democrat.

So until we have proportional representation in local elections I am happy to endorse pacts like this where they give us a realistic chance of taking control of the council.

Jason Cowley meets Bryan Magee

I have mentioned Bryan Magee on this blog several times. How he wrote a brilliant short book on Karl Popper that led me to the philosopher. How he was evacuated to Market Harborough as a boy during World War II.

He also interviewed some of the world's leading philosophers in two television series. The first of them, Men of Ideas, was broadcast in the early months of 1978. Later that year I started my degree in Philosophy at York having learnt much from it.

Men of Ideas also proved that talking heads make the best television if those heads are interesting enough,

Magee will be 88 on Thursday and now lives in a nursing home in Oxford. Jason Cowley has been to see him and writes about their meeting in the New Statesman.

They spoke of philosophy:
Even now, alone in his one room, late in life, he remains wonder-struck. “What the hell is it all about?” he asked. “What are we doing here? What’s going on? I feel the weight of these huge questions. And I know I can’t get the answers to them, and I find that oppressive.” 
In Ultimate Questions, Magee writes of being “driven to the view that total reality consists of some aspects that we are capable of apprehending and others that we are not”.
And of politics (Magee was a Labour and then SDP MP):
Magee follows the news and politics closely and considers the vote for Brexit to have been a “historic mistake”. More than that, it has dislocated him, as it has many others. 
“What this has made me understand is that I’ve lost my understanding of what’s going on. We must live with the consequences. But we will have serious problems long into the future, and the most serious problem is what you call ‘the elite being out of touch’ and being wrong about one huge thing after another. Society has changed, or is changing in ways we haven’t properly grasped.”
Cowley concludes:
Bryan Magee may now live in one room in Oxford and be unable to walk, but this remarkable man’s intellect is unbounded and his mind roams restlessly free. And just as he did as a child in Hoxton all those years ago, he cannot stop grappling with the human predicament. He is pursuing answers to questions he knows can never be answered, and yet will go on pursuing them for as long as he can, until the flickering flame of life is extinguished. 

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Stilton Man

Today an archaeological discovery in Rutland leads to a re-evaluation of his lordship's family history.


You may have heard of Cheddar Man, but hereabouts we were very excited by the discovery of Stilton Man. The boffins from the University of Rutland at Belvoir soon demonstrated that he had prominent blue veins and an impressive moustache not unlike my own.

The family legend has always been that my De Bon Coeur ancestors came over with the Conqueror (some versions maintain that they were obliged to go back shortly afterwards), but could this be evidence that we Bonkers have been in Rutland since the year dot? I would like to think so.

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

Earlier this week

Monday, April 09, 2018

Curb cars to fight child obesity, say doctors and transport experts

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The UK governments need to ditch a 42-year trend and stop prioritising the car if they are serious about tackling childhood obesity.

That is the message of a call to action by clinicians and transport experts published online tonight in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

The authors point out that the average length of a school journey has nearly doubled since the 1980s to just under 4 miles in 2013. But the age at which parents will allow their children to go to school by themselves has been steadily creeping up amid fears about road safety.

So they drive their children to school. But what is often not recognised is just how much air pollution children travelling by car are exposed to inside the vehicle under urban driving conditions, the authors point out.

Encouraging independent travel not only helps shed the pounds, but has knock-on social and mental health benefits, and it breaks the cycle of normalising car travel for future generations, the authors say.

They admit there is no single solution, but safe routes to school are needed. The UK could adopt the school travel initiatives pioneered by Germany, The Netherlands, and Denmark.

And it could plough more cash into the Sustainable Travel Towns programme, already implemented in some parts of the UK.

This programme of town-wide measures, which aims to curb car use, has helped boost economic growth, cut carbon emissions and promote quality of life in those areas where it has been adopted, the authors point out.

“For a fraction of the road building programme cost, we could see not just safe routes to schools, but, even more importantly, safe routes wholesale across urban areas," they argue.

I offered similar arguments myself in my essay in Graham Watson's edited collection Liberalism - Something to Shout About in 2006.

Corbynite firebrand Chris Williamson MP ran Derby in coalition with the Conservatives

Today the Lion & Unicorn site published its 44 quotes by about Chris Williamson, the ultra-Corbynite Labour MP for Derby North.

The most striking one amongst them reminded us that, when he was the Labour leader of Derby City Council, he ran an administration in coalition with the Conservatives.

The Red Roar gave more details of this episode earlier this year:
Firebrand MP Chris Williamson formed a Labour-Tory alliance when he was leader of Derby City Council after Labour lost its majority in local elections.
Williamson, who signed up to the Pidcock Doctrine this week by stating he could never befriend a Tory, led Derby in coalition with the Tories for nearly two years from 2006. 
The deal was struck after the local elections in May of that year, when a third of the city’s councillors stood for reelection. 
The Tories and Lib Dems both made gains. Under the deal struck by Williamson, three Tory councillors joined the cabinet and Williamson remained leader. 
Archived copies of the Derby City Council website show that Williamson was leader of a Conservative – Labour alliance from at least May 2006 to March 2008, with Williamson sitting alongside Tory councillors in cabinet throughout that period.
It went on to refer us to a Derby Liberal Democrats press release from the period:
Derby Liberal Democrats have slammed the decision of Labour and Conservative groups on the city council to form an Alliance. 
Liberal Democrat group leader Hilary Jones said "It is a slap in the face for the people of Derby. The public gave their verdict on Thursday. The Liberal Democrats were the only party to gain seats in Thursday's elections. Both the Labour and Conservative parties lost seats. Now the two losing parties have joined together in a desperate attempt to cling onto power.
Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceIf I did not find this so funny I would be outraged.

Richard Branson quotes me in his new autobiography

Unable to sleep in the small hours, I reached from my Kindle. As you do, I tried a bit of ego-surfing on Google Books - and this was one of the things I found.

I am quoted in Richard Branson's Finding My Virginity: The New Autobiography, which was published in October of last year.

The joke he quotes is from one of the columns I used to write for the New Statesman's website.

You can still find this one on the magazine's website,

In fact all of them are still there, though the Statesman has announced that it is soon to put up a paywall.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The Beast from the East

I have done all I can to put it off, but the new Liberator also includes Lord Bonkers' Diary. The first entry this time clearly dates from March.


The snow has drifted high against the hedges and no traffic can reach the village, let alone tackle the drive to the Hall. If it weren’t for the secret passage that comes out in the cellar of the Bonkers' Arms, I would feel quite isolated. My fellow drinkers tell me this spell of hard weather is being called 'The Beast from the East,' which reminds me of our own Liberal Democrats’ leadership contest in 2015.

When Farron failed to give me assurances that he would not rip the pews out of St Asquith’s and make everybody sing 'Shine, Jesus, Shine,' I threw my weight behind Norman Lamb. "What you need," I told him, "is a good nickname. Why, it was when I christened Sugar Ray Michie ‘the Brute from Bute’ that she began to get title fights at the Empire Pool, Wembley, and it was the fame those won her that got her elected to Parliament." So it as that I came up with ‘The Beast from the East.’

Sadly, he ignored my advice and chose to run under the slogan "Vote Lib Dem and we’ll let you top yourself." While this undoubtedly had some appeal to exhausted canvassers, it did not prove sufficient to swing the party behind him.

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

Sunday, April 08, 2018

A walk with Iain Sinclair: Shooters Hill to Woolwich

A walk with Iain Sinclair from Shooters Hill and the Shrewsbury burial mound to Charlton House and Maryon Park, where we see the locations used in Antonioni's Blow Up.

Labour really does have a problem with anti-Semitism

If you doubt the Labour Party has a problem with anti-Semitism, take a look at the motion debated by its Bristol West constituency party this week. (It was defeated by 108 votes to 84.)

It includes these words:
when people see inequality, ecological disaster and war alongside the accumulation of unprecedented wealth, in the private hands of a few, it is reasonable that they seek out explanations.
Given that this motion was condemning the constituency's Labour MP Thangam Debbonaire for joining a demonstration against anti-Semitism in the party, there is only one construction I  can put on them.

It is saying that it is understandable if people attribute the bad things in the world to a Jewish conspiracy.

True the motion also says racism is "completely unacceptable", so the proposers must be believe such theories are mistaken, but what is this idea doing in the motion in the first place?

I conclude that the Labour Party really does have a problem with anti-Semitism.

And to those who say the right has much more of a problem with it, I am not sure that is any longer true.

Everything I see from the far-right these days is obsessed with Islam. I do not see Jews and Jewish conspiracies mentioned at all.

Did Kemi Badenoch hack Harriet Harman's website?

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From the Mail on Sunday today:
A Tory MP tipped as a future Prime Minister has admitted breaking the law by hacking into a Labour opponent’s website. 
Kemi Badenoch, a newly appointed vice-chairman of the party, confessed that she launched the cyber-attack on the Labour MP’s site in order to write pro-Tory propaganda under their name. 
Hacking into websites is a criminal offence – and can be punished with a prison sentence of up to two years.
A youthful prank that can be forgiven after a good telling off?

No, Badenoch was 28 when she carried out the attack.

As to the victim, Aaron Bastani suggests it was Harriet Harman.

He links to a cached copy of a deleted page from the Guido Fawkes site that laughed at an attack on Harman's site.

Sure enough, the attack took place 10 years ago, when Badenoch was 28.

Like Ben Bradley, incidentally, Badenoch is a vice chairman of the Conservative Party.