Thursday, October 31, 2013

GUEST POST One woman’s view of being a senior citizen

Eileen Ward-Birch, secretary of the Wolverhampton Pensioners’ Convention, on the complications of later life in modern Britain.

As I approached pension age, I began to anticipate having a small income that did not depend on me working. I also looked forward to all the senior discounts and the free travel, although the latter only applied to the West Midlands. However, I soon found out that there are many inequalities in the system.

Because I had not worked or signed on for a set number of years, I do not get full pension. Like many women who paid the ‘married women’s contribution’, or spent some years at home, I had to wait until my husband retired before I could get a pension on his contributions. Even this is not the same pension that he receives. This, however, should change for the upcoming generations, who are now allowed to have had 15 non-contributory years from the birth of their last child and the lower rate no longer applies.

Unfortunately, those who are young now will find that equality as far as pensions are concerned also means that women will be expected to work as long as the men and the pension age for both genders is rising towards 70, the age of those who first qualified for a state pension.

If you have the slightest suggestion of another income or a private pension there are various cut off levels which allow you to access extra benefits, but these are not only unequal it is often a case of one benefit leading to access to another. When you do try to apply, on the off chance, forms are often confusing and telephone calls talking to complete strangers often deter those who are most in need.

The free travel pass is an anomaly, in that people qualify as soon as they reach pension age, but might still be working and well able to pay their own way. In fact, the whole free travel pass issue is confusing.

The travel pass is supposed to allow free travel on public transport, but varies considerably across the country. If you have a West Midlands pass, it can be used on buses, trams and trains in the area. However, it is restricted to buses in any other areas of England and not at all in Scotland or Wales. Visitors from other areas of England are restricted to buses and Scottish or Welsh passes are not allowed at all.

I have not even begun to investigate the issues around care homes; I suppose very few do until they encounter a need, but I did discover that reaching the magical age gave me free prescriptions and eye tests, but not free dental checkups.

When the state pension was introduced, it allowed many people the freedom to retire without having to worry about the basics in life, but it was not universal and depended on a means test. Today, we still have the means test for benefits and pensions, despite the promise made by Gordon Brown before the 1997 general election that he would end means testing in this country.

This is why pensioner groups, such as the National Pensioners’ Convention exist and why they lobby parliament regularly for the benefit of the pensioners of today and tomorrow.

You can follow Eileen Ward-Birch on Twitter.

Privacy is a Conservative cause

At least it is in America. This is from a post on Richard Viguerie's ConservativeHQ:
In recent years, ... beginning with the passage of the USA Patriot Act during the George W. Bush years, but expanded seemingly without limit under Barack Obama, conservatives have awakened to the threat of the massive surveillance state. 
Some of the leading Republican presidential prospects are taking a hatchet to the Obama administration over the scandal. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has introduced a bill to rein in the National Security Agency’s sweeping powers, and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) recently knocked President Obama for allowing an “unprecedented and intrusive surveillance system” to take hold, eroding Americans’ privacy rights. 
House conservatives have joined the fight, too. An amendment to shut down the NSA’s sweeping Internet and phone data collection programs sponsored by Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) was narrowly defeated after leadership stepped in to vote it down. And just recently, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R.-Tenn.), a Tea Party favorite, resumed a series of briefings focused on the growing threats to privacy and the collection of personal data. 
Even Republican hawks are turning. Some of the same lawmakers who helped usher in the surveillance state, including the co-author of the Patriot Act, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R.-Wis.), are pushing back with their own legislation.
In Britain, meanwhile, the Conservative prime minister threatens to prosecute newspapers that reveal the NSA's activities and our Liberal Democrat deputy prime minister - or am I being unfair? - remains oddly quiet on the subject.

Trick or Treat vs Penny for the Guy

This was me writing on the New Statesman website five years ago:
I've got no time for Trick or Treat. It’s just demanding money with menaces and, in the South of England at least, a recent import from America. Worse, paranoid modern parents insist on accompanying their children, trailing behind them with big soppy grins. 
A Penny for the Guy was more my style: good, honest begging with a token creative effort thrown in. Children spent hours shivering on street corners before blowing themselves up with fireworks. That sort of thing builds character.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The JR James Archive, University of Sheffield

The Department of Town and Regional Planning at the University of Sheffield has put online a large collection of slides used by JR James, one of its former lecturers. They depict urban and rural environments in the 1960s and 1970s.

You can find the JR James Archive on Flickr. The corner shop above was in Sheffield. Note the advertisement for Midland Counties Ice Cream.

HS2 and solutioneering

This tweet sums up where we are with HS2. Today the reason most often given for its construction is that more capacity is needed on our railways. Yet, at Stephen Tall points out, this argument was not mentioned when the Coalition announced it would be going ahead with the scheme back in January.

I am reminded of an observation by Roger James about "solutioneering", which he defines thus:
Jumping to a solution before clearly formulating what the problem is (or indeed if there is one at all) or how success or failure are to be judged. Achievement of the solution then becomes the goal; and, when opposition develops, the problem becomes how to get the solution accepted, while the question of how best to solve the original problem, if there was one, never gets discussed at all. I call this mistake solutioneering.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Bridgnorth Cliff Railway in 1972

The Junior Whip: "A hell-raising street-fighter"

My 12th Whipped column for Ad Lib magazine.

It was when I heard the Chief Whip was giving up hard drink for a month that I sensed change was in the air.

“It’s called ‘Go Sober for October’,” he told me. “People sponsor you to give up alcohol for a month and the proceeds go to Macmillan Cancer Support.”

“But what if you have to give a backbencher a bol… you know, tell them off?”

“That’s easy. I’ll sit them down, tell them a few home truths and then offer them a stiff orange juice.”


Two days later I was in the office when a SPAD burst in.

“The Chief Whip is leaving! The Chief Whip is leaving! He’s going to save the Union.”

“What? Like Unison?”

“No, not the union: the Union. The United Kingdom. He’s taking over as Secretary of State for Scotland and he going to sort out Alex Salmond. The papers say he’s “tough,” a “bruiser” and .

“That’s a bit kind, isn't it?”

“They don’t know him like you do.”


It was a shock to me, though probably not as much as it was to Alex Salmond. And certainly not as much as it was to Michael Moore.

I am going to have to find a new job here at Westminster. You may think that will be difficult, but I don’t see it as much of a problem. Because this morning I finished copying out the last few pages of the Chief Whip’s black book.

They are not the only souvenir I am taking with me from the office.

Seeing as it is for such a good cause, I wouldn't want the Chief Whip to fail in his attempt to Go Sober for October. So I am taking his bottle of Auld Johnston home for safekeeping.

St Jude's storm closed both reactors at Dungeness B

"So what?" asks Herbert Eppel in a comment on my recent Headline of the Day winner "Wind turbine brought down in high winds in Devon".

The point is that it's funny.

Or at least it's funny the first time you read it. Most of these headlines aren't funny at all once you have thought about them for a moment. Ask the man on the toilet or the girl in the chicken costume.

But, more importantly, Herbert has put me on to a much more serious story about the storm and energy supply in that comment.

Over to Energy Business Review:
UK energy supplier EDF Energy has announced automatic shut down of both Dungeness B reactors following power cut off caused by debris landing on the incoming power lines. 
With shut down of the Dungeness B21 and B22 units, the nuclear power station is relying on the site's own diesel generators for power, to continue operation of essential safety systems.

Girl dressed as a chicken punched in the face by boy outside Northampton discount store

The Northampton Chronicle & Echo wins our Headline of the Day Award.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Write a guest post for Liberal England

This is a reminder that I welcome guest posts on Liberal England. So far 33 have appeared.

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

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

  • Don’t make the dull middle class go to university - Dr Anonymous
  • House of Lords reform in a 1950s whodunnit - Charles Beaumont
  • The difficulty of getting started in farming - Joshua Metcalfe
  • Why the British say no to new builds - Amy Fowler
  • The uncertain politics of railway preservation - Joseph Boughey
  • How Liberal Democrats can help fight for privacy rights in Europe - Peter Bradwell
  • Political defections: Storms of protest or signs of political climate change? - Alan Wyburn-Powell
  • Transition Town Market Harborough - Darren Woodiwiss
  • Bullying on Leicester City Council - Ross Grant
  • Pubs must help themselves if they are to survive - Matt Wright
  • Sunday, October 27, 2013

    King's Cross station in 1956

    Better all-woman shortlists than the Leadership Programme

    Last year I was in the audience for a panel discussion at a professional conference. Every single member of the panel was a balding middle-aged man. It was as several members of the audience pointed out, cringe-making.

    It has reached the stage where the low number of women in the Liberal Democrat group in the Commons strikes me it the same way.

    You can say in our defence that we do not have safe seats into which we can parachute female candidates. You can say we had plenty of women candidates in promising seats at the last election – but the problem is that we did not win them. You can say we are selecting plenty of women in seats that look promising next time around.

    Now Nick Clegg, according to today’s Independent, is considering imposing all-woman shortlists on the party.

    That, of course, is not in Nick’s gift. He would have to convince the party conference to support the measure.

    And my heart is not in the idea. My ideal is still Liberal Democrat members selecting the best candidate for the seat, irrespective of sex, race or anything else.

    But if you feel we have reached the point where Something Must Be Done, then I would much rather see all-woman shortlists than the Leadership Programme we have at present as the solution to this problem.

    This is for two reasons. The first is that it involves the party establishment picking favourite sons and daughters who will then expect to be provided with agreeable seats to fight. This gives that establishment too much power, and I would rather see candidates fighting their way up from the bottom. There is also the  point that some of those chosen, for the initial intake at least, seemed to be doing very well without any special help from the top.

    More fundamentally, the Leadership Programme fails to challenge the part sufficiently. It says, in effect, that women candidates are not as good, but with the proper training they can be just as good as white men. What looks radical at the outset turns out to be deeply conservative.

    When you set it against all those faults, it is hard to argue that all-woman shortlists would not be an improvement.

    Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

    Wind turbine brought down in high winds in Devon

    The BBC News Devon pages provide our Headline of the Day.

    The Strypes: Hometown Girls

    The Strypes are a young band - sources disagree on exactly how young - from Cavan in Ireland. Their sounds looks back to the British rhythm and blues bands of the sixties, though Dr Feelgood seems the greatest influence on this track.

    Maybe they are derivative, but then isn't all pop music derivative these days. Even those great bands of the sixties were often trying to recreate Black American records they had heard.

    And you have to admire the energy and attack here. It reminds me of The Jam on those 1978 editions of Top of the Pops they have been repeating, who just seem to want it more than any of the bands around them.

    Or think of Kevin Keegan in the same era. He was not the most naturally talented British footballer, but he tried far harder than anyone else.

    Saturday, October 26, 2013

    Six of the Best 394

    Photo of Aberdeen Triple Kirks
    by Chris Downer
    It's been John Major week. Kevin Maguire, writing for The House Magazine, was at the Press Gallery lunch for his speech.

    And Max Atkinson asks if is speechmaking has improved since his days as prime minister.

    "This new fervour for ‘hard work’ and the ‘hard working’ comes at a point when many voices, and many of them far from the usual suspects, are suggesting that the political economy so closely connected to the ethic of hard work, that of capitalism, has reached a point where its interests and impact over the lives of millions, are now so distant from political control, and yet so beset by contradiction, that it cannot survive in its present form." Mary Evans on the LSE's EUROPP blog examines politicians' current affection for the "hard-working".

    The indefatigable Matthew Hulbert interviews Stephen Donnan, convener of the LGBT group in the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, for

    "His easy chameleon-like behaviour, appearing exactly what he thought others would like him to be, combined with his charm and – not always truthful – account of himself, brought him into contact with many people who could and would further his career." London Details on the career of Brendan Bracken and the campaign for a blue plaque for his Westminster home.

    Lines of Landscape celebrates the Triple Kirks ruined church in the centre of Aberdeen.

    Drunk party-goer put stolen terrapin in takeaway carton

    This is South Wales wins our Headline of the Day Award.

    Thanks to a reader for the nomination.

    Friday, October 25, 2013

    West London trolleybuses in 1960

    Complete with 1960tastic music.

    You may also enjoy an earlier video of trolleybuses (trolleybi?) in East London.

    Russell Brand won't leave me alone

    Russell Brand is a comedian who appeals to the young. I don’t like him, but that’s fine. I’ve reached the age when I am not meant to like that sort of performer.

    The trouble is, he won’t leave me alone.

    Compare him with another of “those Russell comedians they have nowadays” (as Stewart Lee put it), Russell Howard. I don’t like him either. I have complained about him on this blog. But these days I don’t watch the programmes he is on, so we get on just fine.

    But Russell Brand turned up writing on football for the Guardian. He guest edits the New Statesman. He turns up on Newsnight. I can’t get away from him.

    He wasn’t much of a sportswriter and his political views on Newsnight were ridiculous – a bunch of media-left slogans and a call for unelected officials to tax us all.

    But then why should he be expected to be an expert on these things? He is a niche comedian.
    Brand’s trouble is that he has become a symbol of youthful cool and everyone wants to be associated with him.

    Jonathan Ross’s exit from the BBC arose from his inability to grow middle aged gracefully. He wanted to show how young and hip he still was. And the way to show that was to demonstrate to us that he knew all about Brand’s love life.

    Hence those bullying phone calls to Andrew Sachs. As my mother said at the time, he and Brand behaved like two teenagers making dirty calls from a phone box.

    For all I know, Brand may be a good comedian. I have never seen him in that role.

    But my views on him from all the other appearances I have been unable to escape are well summarised in this tweet…

    I am sure I once read an article making very much these points, but I cannot find it online - perhaps I dreamt it? Anyway, I am writing it myself.

    Norwegian hunter who took pot shot at moose injures man on toilet

    The Independent wins our Headline of the Day Award.

    Thursday, October 24, 2013

    Harry and Paul do Question Time

    Former Lib Dem mayor jailed for 18 years for bomb explosions

    From BBC News:
    A former mayor has been sentenced to 18 years in prison for a series of explosions in Denbigh which a neighbour described as sounding like a "battlefield". 
    John Larsen, 46, got a "thrill" from his actions, which had the potential to kill, Caernarfon Crown Court was told. 
    The explosions happened in the Lenten Pool area from January to April. 
    In the most serious incident, he blew up a Land Rover, showered ball-bearings and shrapnel over a large area.
    Eighteen years sounds a bit steep, but this case must put into question the continued production of the Bonkers Patent Exploding Focus (for use in marginal wards).

    Independent School of the Year has 39 unqualified teachers

    One assumption behind Nick Clegg's speech on education today - and behind Liberal Democrat policy - is that qualified teachers are better than unqualified ones. But is this true?

    From BBC News:
    On the issue of teacher qualifications, the head teacher of independent school Brighton College, Richard Cairns, said he believed that "teachers are born not made". 
    "At Brighton College, this year's Sunday Times Independent School of the Year, we have 39 teachers without formal teaching qualifications, including me." 
    He continued: "Once teachers are in the school, they have a reduced teaching timetable to allow them to spend time observing other good teachers and are actively mentored. By the end of the year, they are, in our view, better trained than any PGCE student."
    My instinct is to say that if unqualified teachers are good enough for top private schools they are good enough for state schools too.

    Noisy fish sex may be keeping people awake

    The Australian website 9News walks away with our Headline of the Day Award, but the story concerns our own Southampton.

    Russell Brand to edit the New Statesman

    You may have seen the embarrassing interview with Brand on yesterday's Newsnight.

    The New Statesman's decision to ask him to guest edit an issue reminds me of this column I wrote for its website in the magazine's glory years:
    I liked the Statesman in the 1970s. Under Anthony Howard’s editorship, the back half was written by the hip young gunslingers of the day: Martin Amis, Christopher Hitchens and Julian Barnes. Those in the know called them “The Hitch”. “Mart” and “Julian Barnes”. 
    Further forward it was all politics. They even printed the leading article on the front cover, which made the magazine appear wonderfully serious. 
    Today, after 30 years of educational advance, the Statesman has to put a colour picture on the front or it wouldn‘t sell at all. 
    And if you open it today you find that every comedian in the country has a column. And Julian Clary has a big one. 
    It wasn’t like that in the seventies. The contents page didn‘t read: 
    Freddie "Parrot-Face" Davies on the future of the Common Market; Dickie Henderson on the Palestine Question 
    And coming next week: 
    Mike and Bernie Winters debate the Bullock Report on Industrial Democracy.

    Ordinary hard-working people who are trying to pay the bills and bring up their kids

    In Tuesday's Commons debate on the Immigration Bill, Robert Syms, the Conservative MP for Poole, said it was a very important subject:
    We do not have to knock on many doors before ordinary hard-working people who are trying to pay the bills and bring up their kids start to moan about the immigration system.
    We must praise Mr Syms for raising the bar several notches above mere "hard-working families".

    Wednesday, October 23, 2013

    New trailer for Project Wild Thing

    Last month I posted a trailer for the film Project Wild Thing.

    That video has disappeared off the web. The good news is that it has been replaced by a better one.

    How dare the government suggest we dress warmly in cold weather?

    I was at home this lunchtime and able to watch prime minister's questions.

    Two things struck me.

    The first is how unpleasant David Cameron becomes the moment he is challenged.

    The second is that Labour has obviously decided the suggestion that we should wear a sweater when it is cold is ridiculous and insulting.

    Perhaps in a socialist paradise we would be able to turn up the central heating and go around half naked. But until that day dawns I think it will remain a good idea to dress warmly in cold weather.

    The Gypsies are stealing our children

    Two children taken from their Roma parents in Ireland because they have blond hair and blue eyes have been returned by the authorities.

    When I heard about this ludicrous story I was reminded of this story:
    A girl thought to be Madeleine [McCann], in a tourist's photo, turned out to be the daughter a Moroccan olive farmer. 
    The Daily Mail reports that the girl, Bouchra Benaissa, lives in an area so remote that her parents had not heard of Madeleine's disappearance. 
    Bouchra's colouring is, says the Mail, typical of the local Berber people. ... 
    They are unusual among African people for having a strong blonde gene.
    I recall one newspaper saying at the time that it did not matter if the girl was not Madeleine McCann because, whoever she was, she had clearly been kidnapped.

    So Gypsies and foreigners are stealing our children. Have we really not moved on since the Middle Ages?

    I also wonder if this story tells us something about the slender intellectual base of social work. Twenty years ago the idea of satanic ritual abuse moved rapidly from the wackier fringes of American Christianity to the heart of the profession. Today they are looking for children stolen away by the Gypsies.

    Dog castrated after rescue by Richmond Park and North Kingston MP Zac Goldsmith's mother

    The Kingston Guardian wins Headline of the Day.

    Thanks to Living On Words Alone.

    Tuesday, October 22, 2013

    Peak District (1954)

    An extract from a British Transport Films travelogue. The narrator is Robert Shaw.

    Dowager Countess evicts doctors and nurses from car park at Cirencester Hospital

    Thanks to a reader for alerting me to the Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard and my Headline of the Day.

    Lib Dem opposition to nuclear power goes down the memory hole

    Ed Davey is enthusiastic about renewables. He is enthusiastic about nuclear. He is enthusiastic about everything.

    It's like having a young labrador as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.

    Times change, but I was sad that his announcement on Hinkley Point C yesterday marked the abandonment of the Liberal Democrats' opposition to nuclear power.

    Because opposing the building of a reprocessing plant at Windscale (as it then was) was part of my political awakening. Forming the opinion that the great majority of the great and good could be wrong about something important was almost intoxicating.

    I felt so strongly that I went out and bought a Penguin Special on the subject: Windscale Fallout: A Primer for the Age of Nuclear Controversy by Ian Breach.

    The idea of buying a Penguin Special sounds like something out of the 1940s and the book is now so obscure that I could not find an image of its cover to illustrate this post. I did find an obituary for Ian Breach though: he died earlier this year.

    So instead I have used this screenshot from Ed Davey's website, though I had to use the Google Cache to find it. The Guardian Diary explains why:
    A big day for the government as energy secretary Ed Davey plights his troth to nuclear power. The coalition is excited. He's excited. But he once saw things very differently. There's that quote from him in 2006, launching the Lib Dem energy policy, when he said: "A new generation of nuclear power stations will cost taxpayers and consumers tens of billions of pounds. In addition to posing safety and environmental risks, nuclear power will only be possible with vast taxpayer subsidies or a rigged market ... People don't want nuclear." That seemed clear enough then, and it seemed clear enough today, when Damian Carrington, the Guardian's head of environment, found the page on Davey's website and flagged it up on Twitter. Ain't life full of surprises. Within the hour, the page had disappeared.
    It had disappeared from Ed's site, but his words are still all over the internet. So it was not a sensible move.

    These days, if you are made to look foolish by the Guardian Diary you really have been a fool.

    Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

    Monday, October 21, 2013

    Ian Nairn: From Leeds into Scotland

    Jonathan Glancey profiled the late Tom Nairn in 2010:
    Writers and journalists, including JG Ballard, Will Self, Jonathan Meades, Patrick Wright, Iain Sinclair, Gavin Stamp (Private Eye's perennially outraged "Piloti"), as well as a younger generation of commentators such as Owen Hatherley and the mysterious blogger, Ghost of Nairn, have all been influenced one way or another by Nairn, who so wanted everywhere to be different when everywhere was threatening to be the same.
    Ghost of Nairn did not last long, but you can see the real thing here as he explores the landscape and townscape through which the Settle & Carlisle passed.

    Part 2 is also on Youtube if you want it.

    Six of the Best 393

    "It is entirely false to suggest the PM would advise people they should wear jumpers to stay warm. Any suggestion to the contrary is mischief making." Carl Minns on the quote that sums up the ludicrous nature of modern politics.

    "So the question has to be not so much ‘Is Big Brother watching?’ but ‘How in hell can it cope?’ " Daniel Soar writes on the endless revelations about the National Security Agency for the London Review of Books.

    In the New York Times, Maggie Koerth-Baker looks at the epidemic of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in the US: "Earlier this year, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that 11 percent of children ages 4 to 17 had at some point received the diagnosis — and that doesn’t even include first-time diagnoses in adults."

    The Victorian Society has a gallery of the top 10 endangered Victorian and Edwardian buildings.

    A haunting little tale from Modern Lives, Modern Landscapes.

    Spitalfields Life interviews cat-about-town Mr Pussy, whose photograph I have borrowed.

    JFK's Brother 'May Have Stolen His Brain'

    Sky News wins Headline of the Day - and also our Having Your Cake And Eating It Award for the scare quotes.

    Sunday, October 20, 2013

    Portland Branch Railway

    Following The Stone from Steve Shearn on Vimeo.

    The strange politics of Nick Clegg's speech on free schools

    Independent schools do not have to teach the national curriculum and are free to hire people who are not qualified teachers.

    They do not seem to do so badly on it, but Nick Clegg is determined that these freedoms shall not be extended to schools in the state sector. In saying this Nick is, as Stephen Tall points out, championing Liberal Democrat, but that does not mean he is right.

    Because there is an odd contradiction here. The national curriculum was brought in by the Conservatives in the 1980s because they did not believe teachers could be trusted. Lazy. Marxist agitators. That sort of thing.

    This seemed to me at the time, and still does, a massively centralising measure that Liberal should oppose/

    Yes, all children should be taught to read and all sorts of other things, but almost all teachers would agree with that. And if they don't there are all sorts of mechanisms like school governors and Ofsted to force them to toe the line.

    But if you really don't trust teachers and want a national curriculum, why would you give those same teachers a monopoly in schools?

    And three quick points on the politics of Nick's speech, which he will not me making until Thursday - today's papers must have set some sort of a record for reporting something that has not yet happened:
    1. this move is another illustration of the truth that if you set out to be a centre party you will always be against radical change;
    2. it is a clear attempt too woo Labour, right down to adopting their silly charge that Gove's reforms are "ideological" - we all have an ideology;
    3. in recent days Nick has shafted probably his two strongest supporters among his senior MPs: Jeremy Browne and David Laws. Good luck, Nick.
    Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

    Richard & Danny Thompson: Sweetheart on the Barricade

    What is the greatest album made by two unrelated people with the same surname?

    A strong candidate must be Industry, made in 1997 by the two British legends Richard and Danny Thompson. Sweetheart On The Barricade is a track from it

    As Allmusic says:
    The Thompsons, joined by members of Danny's band Whatever, as well as his uncles Albert and Harry Thompson on trombones and Richard's longtime associates Dave Mattacks on drums and Christine Collister on backing vocals, incorporate jazz, rock & roll, and traditional British folk music to convey their impressions of industry through the years.
    Think of it as a musical anticipation of the London 2012 opening ceremony.

    Saturday, October 19, 2013

    Disused platforms at Barbican station

    I was down in London for the Battle of Ideas today - more about that soon.

    But this is much more interesting. These are the old Thameslink platforms at Barbican station, which have been out of use since 2009. The current rebuilding of Farringdon station for Crossrail and the improved Thameslink service meant that the branch to Moorgate, which these platforms at Barbican served, had to be closed.

    Friday, October 18, 2013

    The Making of Gone to Earth 3

    Part 1 and part 2 have already been on this blog.

    Optical Illusion of the Day

    Stare at the dot to see a black and white photo in full colour.

    Thanks to @RichardWiseman on Twitter.

    The soup dragon in Market Harborough

    News of plans to remake The Clangers reminds me of a time, nearly 30 years ago, when I was working at Golden Wonder in Market Harborough.

    The company was part of the same group (Imperial Foods) as HP Foods and Symington's, who made, amongst other things, packet soups.

    The staff shop for all three firms was housed at Symington's, and the woman who ran it was rather fierce.

    So if  at Golden Wonder we were going over to the staff shop at lunchtime we used to say: "I'm going to see the soup dragon."

    Thursday, October 17, 2013

    The Making of Gone to Earth 2

    I posted part 1 yesterday and will post part 3 tomorrow.

    A reader suggests tentatively: Might that not be too much of a good thing?

    Liberal England replies: Be off with you.

    The Liberal Democrats, social mobility and the perils of being a centre party

    Nick Clegg had an article in the Daily Telegraph responding to the publication of Alan Milburn's report on social mobility.

    It was not a bad article, but the passage that all the other news outlets picked up and gave prominence (and which was presumably spun to them) was the one where Nick claimed the report makes:
    debatable assertions, about the appropriate balance of fiscal consolidation between different age groups, for example – punishing pensioners isn't going to help a single child achieve more in life.
    Alliteration is often a bad sign in politicians, and "punishing pensioners" is not an exception to that rule.

    The problem here is that Nick is instinctively a reformer, yet his first reaction to a serious piece of work on perhaps the most important problem facing the country is to emphasise what will not change.

    I suspect that the problem here is his often-declared strategy of making the Liberal Democrats a centre party. Because being such a party can easily turn you into the champions of the status quo and thus the opponent of anyone who proposes radical reforms.

    And, as so often, I wonder who Nick expects to vote Liberal Democrat next time.

    On average the younger generations are the most Liberal and the older generations are the least. Yet here the leader of a Liberal party hurries to rule out any idea of helping the struggling younger generations at the expense of wealthier members of the older ones.

    Maybe Nick reasons that the debacle over tuition fees means we now have little appeal to younger voters, but I am still struggling to understand the political logic here.

    Six of the Best 392

    Cicero's Songs makes a welcome return, but is not optimistic about Britiain's propsects: "The visceral anti-politics mood is throwing up even more damaging problems: UKIP in the party political sphere, but rent-a-mob responses to any issue of the day from fracking, to planning, to many other controversies. Intelligent debate gets left behind in a morass of simplistic cat-calling. As the world grows more complicated, British Society demands ever more simple solutions."

    The campaign to elect a new MSP for Dunfermline is hotting up, says Caron Lindsay on Liberal Democrat Voice.

    Jennie Rigg explains why it would be a bad idea to make it an offence to give a child "anything that relates to sexual activity or contains a reference to such activity".

    "I've wondered about how much such expensive-looking graphics cost and whether the BBC ever does any research into how audiences respond to news that's presented in this way." Max Atkinson on trends in television news presentation.

    "Stanford is now in prison for the rest of his life. Cricket, and especially the ECB, has done its darndest to forget about the whole episode. Nobody resigned and nobody was held to account." The Silly Mid Off looks at English cricket and the Allen Stanford affair five years on.

    Landscapism visits seven crossings of the Severn and encounters Bob Dylan on the way.

    Wednesday, October 16, 2013

    The Making of Gone to Earth 1

    Yesterday I reported that Mary Webb's cottage at Lyth Hill near Shrewsbury is under threat of demolition.

    Mary Webb's novel Gone to Earth was filmed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger in 1950. This video contains footage that Powell shot for his own collection during the making of the film.

    There are glimpses of the film's stars - including Jennifer Jones and David Farrar - of Shropshire locations and of local people.

    Of particular interest to Malcolm Saville fans is the footage of gypsy families in the county in that period.

    Parts 2 and 3 to follow.

    Gloucestershire Liberal Democrats say extension of badger cull would be insane

    This is Gloucestershire quotes the views of two Lib Dem councillors from the county.

    Klara Sudbury says:
    “The six week trial to see if free shooting is safe, effective and humane has not only seen the needless slaughter of hundreds of badgers, but high policing costs in keeping the peace in the countryside. 
    “It is an absolute farce that the reason for extending the cull is simply due to the fact that not enough badgers were killed under the original licence, which was estimated to be 850 badgers.”
    And Paul Hodgkinson says:
    “Extending the cull period will just exacerbate an already precarious situation and should just not happen.”
    Well said, both of them.

    Let me end by plugging this game in which you take penalties against badgers who move the goalposts.

    Tuesday, October 15, 2013

    The Shrewsbury and Newport Canal

    Bernie Jones, chairman of the Shrewsbury and Newport Canal Trust and Julie Harris, Trustee, talk about the prospects for restoring this abandoned canal.

    It ran originally from Shrewsbury to Trench, now in modern day Telford, to join up with the tub-boat canals of the Industrial Revolution. It was later extended via Newport to Norbury Junction in Staffordshire.

    Nick Harvey and the job of Liberal Democrat chief whip

    "Did Nick Harvey turn down the job of Lib Dem chief whip?" asked Liberal Democrat Voice the other day.

    I have it on good authority that the answer is yes.

    The shorter Owen Paterson

    Don't just kill badgers: kill foxes too.

    More on the acquittal of Rutland blogger Martin Brookes

    Yesterday I reported the welcome news that the Rutland blogger Martin Brookes had been cleared of all the charges against him.

    There is now a longer report on the verdict on the Rutland Times website, and it is worth reading for the robust good sense of Judge John Temperley:
    “Freedom of expression is an essential function of a democratic society. It is applicable also to those who offend and shock.”
    “The defendant is right to confront if he thought she was not doing her job well. He questioned her relationship with the local police and press. 
    “But as all the evidence indicated everything (Mr Brookes says) is already in the public domain. Some of it has been reported in Private Eye and by the BBC. 
    “Some of the comment is harsh, shocking or personally offensive, but that does not mean it is criminal. “I do not consider it as a personal vendetta. She is one of many people against whom the defendant vents his spleen. 
    “I’m left in no doubt that the defendant’s conduct caused Mrs Briggs distress. But freedom of expression does not constitute harassment.”
    Note too that Oakham town councillor Charles Howarth, whom Martin Brookes was accused of harassing, does not come out of the judgement so well.

    Mary Webb's Shropshire home threatened with demolition

    Mary Webb was a Shropshire novelist, poet and essayist. She died in obscurity in 1927, but shortly afterwards the prime minister Stanley Baldwin described her as a neglected genius and her work enjoyed a tremendous vogue. Charabancs appeared in the Stiperstones with 'Mary Webb Country' on their destination blinds.

    As A.E. Housman studied the county's hills only from a distance, Mary Webb must count as Shropshire's greatest writer of modern times. So it is a shock to learn that the cottage she had built at Lyth Hill near Shrewsbury is threatened with demolition.

    Details of the planning application are on the Shropshire Council website, where you can also register objections to it.

    Monday, October 14, 2013

    New Warner Classics recording of Britten's War Requiem

    From the EMI Classics site:
    2013 marks the 100th birthday of Benjamin Britten and Warner Classics pays tribute to this key figure of 20th century music with the release of a brand new recording of his War Requiem, with a stellar line up of soloists – Anna Netrebko, Ian Bostridge and Thomas Hampson. 
    Considered to be Britten’s crowning choral work, and for some possibly the pinnacle of his entire output, it was commissioned for the festival marking the consecration of the new cathedral at Coventry.

    New York man is too scared to flush after toilet explodes in his face

    The Independent wins our Headline of the Day Award.

    Thanks to Mark Pack on Twitter. He points out that there is a serious story behind the funny headline: that is often the case.

    Rutland court round up: Martin Brookes cleared of all charges

    Good news from the Rutland & Stamford Mercury:
    A man accused of stalking and harrassing the chief executive of Rutland County Council and an Oakham town councillor has been found not guilty today (Monday). 
    District judge John Temperley found Martin Brookes, 47, of the Willow Crescent, Oakham, not guilty on all four charges at Leicester Magistrates Court. 
    Mr Brookes, a former Oakham town councillor, had denied the charges, which related to county council chief executive Helen Briggs and Oakham town councillor Charles Howarth.
    Following this case from over the Leicestershire border, it has always seemed to me that Martin Brookes has been more sinned against than sinning. Certainly, the idea that someone can be prosecuted for criticising a local authority is deeply sinister.

    Now all Rutland County Council need do is abandon the ludicrous idea of suing three of its own members and it can get back to some kind of normality.

    Sunday, October 13, 2013

    Rutland Water's Shorelink bus service

    I had assumed that the new Shorelink bus service around Rutland Water - opened by Norman Baker and patronised by me - would only run through the summer.

    But it turns out that it will run throughout the year. Good for Rutland!

    You can find the timetable online.

    Tristram Hunt has a long way to go on free schools

    When the  Labour MP Tristram Hunt described free schools as a "vanity project for yummy mummies in West London" I cringed. Here he was, a genuine intellectual newly elected to Westminster, and he obviously thought he had to talk in this ridiculous way to ingratiate himself with his party in case he appeared too 'posh' - as they would childishly put it.

    Then there was the hypocrisy.

    Labour does approve of parental choice in education, as Jonathan Wallace reminded us the other day:
    Gateshead Council's all-Labour cabinet met yesterday and at one point it wandered off into a discussion about failing schools and parental choice. I sat at the back of the room as an observer and listened as Cllr Mick McNestry talked about how Highfield Primary School, seven years ago, had not performed well, but since then had turned itself around to become, according to Ofsted, an excellent school and was now oversubscribed. Parent had "voted with their feet", according to Mick. 
    This was followed by a discussion in which some of the "socialist" comrades let rip about people exercising parental choice by moving their children to better performing schools. "Socialist" Catherine Donovan swung the boot the hardest at the right of people to choose for themselves and their children what they should and should not do. She raised the prospect of ending parental choice by forcing children to go to the local community school to ensure they all stayed open.
    But here was Hunt, who attended University College School (current fees £5720 per term), ridiculing the idea of choice when he had done so well out of it himself.

    Time moves on, and Hunt is now Labour's shadow education secretary. This morning he was on television assuring us that:
    "If you are a group of parents, social entrepreneurs and teachers interested in setting up a school in areas where you need new school places, then the Labour government will be on your side."
    I don't think we supporters of choice and innovation in the state sector should rejoice just yet, because the key phrase here may well be "in areas where you need new school places".

    As I wrote back in 2006 when Labour was in power:
    The policy of not allowing new school in areas where there is surplus capacity is ludicrous. Surplus capacity will tend to exist in areas where the schools are bad, because parents there are more likely to pay to send their children to independent schools or to make more effort to work the state system to get them into schools further away. 
    As things stand, the government will allow new schools only in areas where parents are perfectly happy with the existing provision.
    So, while I am pleased to see Tristram Hunt backing away from his earlier silly language on the subject, it remains to be seen whether Labour has yet embraced choice and innovation in the state sector.

    One-legged man accused of benefit fraud as officials examine wrong leg

    The Western Morning News wins our Headline of the Day Award.

    Thanks to @sxybio on Twitter.

    Gordon Jackson: The Journey

    Nothing to do with Mr Hudson or The Great Escape, this is another slice of Brummie psychedelia from the 1960s.

    It comes from Thinking Back, a 1969 album by Gordon Jackson, which is sometimes viewed as a lost Traffic LP.

    A review on the Sunbeam Records site explains why:
    Gordon Jackson's only album sounds a little like a Traffic LP with a singer who isn't in the band. The similarity is really no surprise, since Traffic men Steve Winwood, Dave Mason, Jim Capaldi, and Chris Wood all played on the record, and Mason produced. Other notables with connections to the Traffic family tree or Marmalade label also appeared, including Luther Grosvenor; Rick Grech, Jim King, and Poli Palmer of Family; and Julie Driscoll. 
    There's a languid, minor keyed jazz-folk-psychedelic vibe to the songs, which have a meditative, spontaneously pensive air, appealingly sung by Jackson . Touches of Indian and African music are added by occasional tabla and sitar. 
    What keeps this from being as memorable as Traffic or some of the other better late-'60s British psychedelic acts is a certain meandering looseness to the songs that, while quite pleasant, lacks concision and focus.
    I think that is fair comment, but this is a lovely track.

    Saturday, October 12, 2013

    Hoe Street Central Parade, Walthamstow

    I went down to London today to see my fellow Liberator collective member Catherine Furlong. She lives in Walthamstow and we visited the William Morris Gallery there.

    On the way I was taken with this piece of post-war municipal architecture, the Hoe Street Central Parade.

    Hugh Pearman writes about it well:
    It’s a brick postwar group, L-shaped on a prominent junction, mixed-use, shops below, flats and some civic offices above, with a modestly heroic stone-clad clocktower marking the corner. 
    What caught my eye was the style: pure Festival of Britain. It has the lot: wavy thin-shell concrete canopy, shallow copper pitched roofs with prominent chimneys, busy angled window bays, jaunty balconies with spindly ironwork railings, colourful mosaic decoration, patterned-ceramic tiling to the flank of the clocktower and – best of all – a huge open loggia on top of it, purpose if any unclear, the grandest of pigeon roosts. 
    It’s a bit run down and it is festooned with satellite dishes but it is in use and intact. It’s rare for me to find a bit of postwar civic architecture that doesn’t slightly depress me but here is a shining exception.

    Friday, October 11, 2013

    A Cheltenham pillar box

    In the course of my day job I paid a flying visit to the Cheltenham Literary Festival on Wednesday.

    I was taken with this pillar box, which I came across on my walk back to the station. A little googling shows that it is a rare Penfold pillar box.

    Six of the Best 391

    Lynne Featherstone visits Bristol  to see for the initiatives taking place in this city to tackle female genital mutilation and violence against girls and women.

    Polichic... asks why so much mundane political campaign documentation is marked "Top Secret" or "Highly Confidential".

    "Mark Ramprakash burst on to the scene as a teenager in the 1988 NatWest Trophy final between Middlesex and Worcestershire. Coming in at 25 for 4 in pursuit of 162, many youngsters would have followed the lead of their senior team-mates and given their wickets away. When he was out, for 56, Middlesex needed just three more to win." Deep Extra Cover suggests memories of Ramprakash the unfulfilled talent will will be dwarfed by those of the domestic run machine.

    The former world champion Garry Kasparov is to challenge the, er, eccentric Kirsan Ilymzhinov for the presidency of FIDE, the governing body of world chess, reports Chessdom.

    Steven Gauge remembers his grandfather Reginald, who has died at the age of 104.

    Mark Vanhoenacker, in the New York Times, calls for a new bridge for Manhattan to cater for cyclists and pedestrians but not cars.

    Drugs den rectory is demolished

    Our coveted Headline of the Day Award goes to the Leicester Mercury.

    Thursday, October 10, 2013

    The Real Peaky Blinders

    A short video by the wonderful Professor Carl Chinn from the University of Birmingham.

    Thanks to @joannalayton on Twitter.

    Nick Clegg welcomes 'legitimate' debate about powers of security services

    So runs a headline on the Guardian website's report on Nick Clegg's LBC phone in this morning.

    What we want now is for Nick to lead the liberal side in that debate.

    David Heath and Jeremy Browne were victims of an earlier reshuffle

    I was pleased to see Norman Baker moved to the Home Office in the recent Lib Dem reshuffle. And I note that many of those poking fun at his book on the death of Dr David Kelly – step forward Jonathan Freedland and John Rentoul – are Blairite armchair warriors seeking to refight the invasion of Iraq.

    But I do feel sorry for Jeremy Browne, who was sacked to make way for Norman Baker. Because in the previous reshuffle, which took place in September 2012, he was moved from the Foreign Office. And he had given every appearance of being at home there, which he never did at the Home Office.

    And Jeremy Browne was not the only Lib Dem who was moved from a job where he was at home to one where he was not in that reshuffle and then sacked this week.

    David Heath was by all accounts a success as deputy Leader of the House and, as ‘a good House of Commons man’, he certainly looked happy in the role.

    But in September of last year he was moved to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. 

    Fair enough for a rural MP, you may say, but he was given the worst hospital pass of all time and was made the minister for shooting badgers. I don't think anyone could be happy in that role.

    Now Dan Rogerson has been appointed to DEFRA in his place. I don’t know if he now has responsibilities for the badger cull – it is possible that they have moved the goalposts.

    That September 2012 was not just a misfortune for these individual ministers: it was a misfortune for the Liberal Democrats as a whole. Because, despite everything, I like my party being in government and I was sorry to see us giving up any representation in important, grown-up departments like Defence and the Foreign Office.

    Why did we do this? The theory heard most often is that Nick Clegg was so anxious to secure the return of David Laws that he was forced to concede a lot of ground in return.

    I hope this is true. If Nick gave that ground of his own free will we really should be worrying.

    Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

    Tuesday, October 08, 2013

    The last days of Melton Mowbray North

    A precious find on Youtube this evening. Melton Mowbray North was the town's station on the Great Northern and London and North Western Joint line. From there you could catch a direct train to Market Harborough.

    Regular passenger services were withdrawn 1953 - I once quoted John Baldock MP mourning them in the Commons - though summer specials from Leicester Belgrave Road to the East Coast resorts survived until 1962.

    This film, Youtube says, features Mr Lilley, the last signalman, and his grandson Nigel. It was shot by Nigel's father and he must have done so as good facilities were withdrawn in 1964.

    There is a wonderful picture on Flickr of the decaying station in 1966.

    Uri Geller orders spoon gorilla from British Ironwork Centre

    The BBC News Shropshire pages win this prestigious award.

    The report below makes everything clear:
    The British Ironwork Centre is calling on the public to donate spoons for the project. 
    "It will make it even more special to have the community involved," said the centre's managing director Clive Knowles. 
    "It's a problem as to how we could gather so many spoons as they are not readily available," he added. 
    "And we also want many different types of spoon for the sculpture to make it as beautiful as we possibly can. 
    "A sculpture made from one type of spoon would be very mundane."
    Geller, who opens his gardens to charity five times a year, said he chose a gorilla because he owns five paintings by a chimpanzee.

    Norman Baker rocks the Home Office

    Time, I think, to repost this video.

    Monday, October 07, 2013

    BBC East Midlands "Inside Out" item on Rutland Council

    Broadcast in the region earlier this evening.

    Later. For the next week you can watch the whole programme on BBC iPlayer. There are also items on Brian Clough's departure from Derby County and on photographic memories of the St Ann's area of Nottingham.

    Jeremy Browne, Norman Baker and the Home Office

    One of the political arts is to be all things to all people. John Major made it all the way to Prime Minister because the moderate Conservatives were convinced he was one of them and the Thatcherites were equally convinced that the opposite was true.

    What John Major's career also shows is that people who have mastered this art may find their luck running out one day.

    Which brings me to Jeremy Browne. Because a lot of people are upset at his demise today.

    Benedict Brogan, blogging for the Daily Telegraph, is distraught:
    Mr Browne was one of the successes of the Lib Dem end of the Coalition, and an exemplar of the party's seriousness in government. His sacking is baffling, but not nearly as baffling as his replacement by Mr Baker.
    So is John Rentoul, blogging for the Independent. To him, Jeremy Browne is "a Blairite reformer".

    Quite why Jeremy has won these rave reviews I am not sure. It is hard to point to any achievements from his time in government.

    True he seemed at home at the Foreign Office, but then as Stephen Tall said earlier today, "unless you accidentally start a war I’m not sure what the criteria for a bad stint are".

    I suspect that Jeremy is a victim of Nick Clegg's last major reshuffle when he had to make concessions to David Cameron to ensure the return of David Laws, and giving up a Lib Dem presence in the Foreign Office was one of them. Call it Nick Harvey Syndrome.

    Perhaps the moral is that pointed by Stumbling and Mumbling the other day. Quoting Adam Smith, he said we have "a disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and the powerful".

    In short, if you wear a good suit and look well brought up then people will assume you are a good minister even in the absence of any tangible achievement.

    If, like Norman Baker, you are cutter from rougher cloth it will be harder to win that reputation. Yet everything I hear about him suggests that he is a competent minister and highly thought of by those he works with.

    Perhaps there is a Lib Dem inferiority complex at work here. Yes, it is great to be a campaigner like Norman Baker, we reason, but when it comes to being a minister and to leading the party, we think we need someone more like Jeremy Browne.

    Some will question Norman's conspiracy theories about the death of David Kelly. To that, I would merely point out that in an age of Prism and Tempora, it is the state that is paranoid not its citizens.

    I am pleased to see Norman Baker at the Home Office and wish him well.

    The Conservatives look to the Liberal Democrats to save the Union

    Michael Moore is unlucky to lose his Cabinet position today, even if he was lucky to gain it in the first place - Danny Alexander was the Coalition's first Scottish Secretary and moved to the Treasury only after David Laws' resignation. By all accounts he did a good job and his courtesy and reasonableness did much to calm the debate over independence.

    But I cannot be anything other than pleased to see the more combative Alistair Carmichael take his place for the referendum campaign. Alistair is one of my favourite Liberal Democrat MPs and I have done my best to mythologise him as the Chief Whip in Ad Lib.

    What has gone unremarked today is that, with only one MP in Scotland, the Conservatives are wholly impotent in this campaign. David Cameron is keeping well out of it, concluding that his every intervention would win a thousand more supporters for independence.

    So the Conservatives are dependent upon the Liberal Democrats to save the Union.

    I hope the more thoughtful members of what used to be the Conservative and Unionist Party are wondering how they have come to this. But I doubt we shall receive any gratitude from that party as a whole.

    Sunday, October 06, 2013

    John W. Logan of 50 Norfolk Street, Sheffield

    Searching online, I found the London Gazette for 13 March 1874. It contain this notice connected with the death of my hero J.W. Logan's father.

    John Logan senior had begun life as a railway navvy and become a contractor. The fact that he died at Lansdown Crescent, Bath, confirms that he had done well for himself.

    But what interests me most is that it gives an address where J.W. Logan lived before he moved to East Langton Grange.

    It is 50 Norfolk Street, Sheffield. Norfolk Street is in the city centre and is home to Sheffield's Unitarian chapel. But Google Street View suggests no. 50 is no longer there.

    The Lib Dem silence on government interception of electronic communications

    Chris Huhne is already giving good value to his old employer, the Guardian. His column in tomorrow's paper is trailed in an article on the front page:
    As a cabinet minister and member of the national security council (NSC), Huhne said he would have expected to be told about these operations, particularly as they were relevant to proposed legislation. 
    "The cabinet was told nothing about GCHQ's Tempora or its US counterpart, the NSA's Prism, nor about their extraordinary capability to hoover up and store personal emails, voice contact, social networking activity and even internet searches. 
    "I was also on the national security council, attended by ministers and the heads of the Secret [Intelligence Service, MI6] and Security Service [MI5], GCHQ and the military. If anyone should have been briefed on Prism and Tempora, it should have been the NSC. ... 
    Huhne said Prism and Tempora "put in the shade Tony Blair's proposed ID cards, 90-day detention without trial and the abolition of jury trials".
    This last point is an important one. When they were in opposition, the Liberal Democrats were extremely vocal in their opposition to these Labour measures. I spent years writing columns for Liberal Democrat News that poured scorn on them.

    But I have heard very little comment from Lib Dems, in the government or outside it, on Edward Snowden's revelations about Tempora and Prism.

    Liberal Democrat Voice, to be fair to it, did run some articles on the subject. But the ones from its editorial team, at least, tended to tell us there is not much to worry about.

    Why this silence? Let's hope it is soon broken.

    While we are waiting, let me recommend an article from yesterday's Guardian. The novelist John Lanchester has already written a good book - Whoops! Why everyone owes everyone and no one can pay - explaining the credit crunch for the lay reader.

    Now the Guardian has sent him to New York to study the files that Snowden leaked to the press. They had to send him there because these are the files held on the hard disk that was smashed up in the Guardian's basement by our own government's goons.

    Anyway, "The Snowden files: why the British public should be worried about GCHQ" is well worth reading.

    Maria Muldaur: Midnight at the Oasis

    She didn't make it to Market Harborough Leisure Centre, but if you see Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings on the rest of their UK tour, they will have Maria Muldaur as their "very special guest".

    Muldaur is best known in Britain for this song, which reached number six in the UK singles chart in 1974. It was written by Dave Nichtern.

    But there has been much more to her career than "Midnight at the Oasis". As her website says:
    In the 39 years since “Midnight at the Oasis,” Maria has toured extensively worldwide and has recorded 40 solo albums covering all kinds of American roots music, including gospel, rhythm and blues, jazz and big band (not to mention several award-winning children’s albums), before settling comfortably into her favorite idiom, the blues, in recent years. 
    Often joining forces with some of the top names in the business, Maria has recorded and produced on-average an album per year, several of which have been nominated for Grammy and other awards.

    Friday, October 04, 2013

    £5m voted to restore Delapre Abbey, Northampton

    From the Northampton Borough Council website:
    Northampton Borough Council has received a grant of £3.6 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for the restoration of Delapre Abbey project it was announced today. 
    The project aims to preserve and restore much of the main Abbey buildings. 
    The project involves refurbishing parts of the main Abbey building, including rebuilding the conservatory and opening the south wing for events and public access, restoring the 18th century stable block into a new visitor and education centre, shop and exhibition space and restoring the Billiard Room and converting it into a restaurant and café for use by the general public and for special events. 
    Northampton Borough Council will provide match funding with an investment of £1.34m, the balance coming from trusts, donations, a public appeal and volunteer time.

    Thursday, October 03, 2013

    Six of the Best 390

    Liberal Murmurs has tag clouds from the three party leaders' speeches at this autumn's conferences.

    "Clegg showed us (as I've long suspected) that standing at a lectern works better for him than wandering about the stage like a management guru." Max Atkinson analyses those leaders presentation and performance of those speeches.

    Pubcos are drinking in the Last Chance Saloon, says Protz on Beer.

    "The decade started with a series of miracles. Affronts to justice and human dignity, which for decades seemed as unchangeable as the distance to the moon, suddenly were no more." Dave Eggers looks back on the 1990s for Vanity Fair.

    "An ill-kept lawn ran down in front of them to a row of amputated railings, beyond which was College Road and the town cemetery, a conjunction responsible for some popular local jokes." Writing for The Ripple, University of Leicester student Samuel Osborne finds the setting of Kingsley Amis's Lucky Jim oddly familiar.

    Elizabeth Hopkirk visits the World's End Estate in Chelsea for Love London Council Housing.

    For National Poetry Day: Marina by T.S. Eliot

    Quis hic locus, quae regio, quae mundi plaga?

    What seas what shores what grey rocks and what islands
    What water lapping the bow
    And scent of pine and the woodthrush singing through the fog
    What images return
    O my daughter.

    Those who sharpen the tooth of the dog, meaning
    Those who glitter with the glory of the hummingbird, meaning
    Those who sit in the sty of contentment, meaning
    Those who suffer the ecstasy of the animals, meaning

    Are become insubstantial, reduced by a wind,
    A breath of pine, and the woodsong fog
    By this grace dissolved in place

    What is this face, less clear and clearer
    The pulse in the arm, less strong and stronger -
    Given or lent? more distant than stars and nearer than the eye
    Whispers and small laughter between leaves and hurrying feet
    Under sleep, where all the waters meet.

    Bowsprit cracked with ice and paint cracked with heat.
    I made this, I have forgotten
    And remember.
    The rigging weak and the canvas rotten
    Between one June and another September.
    Made this unknowing, half conscious, unknown, my own.
    The garboard strake leaks, the seams need caulking.
    This form, this face, this life
    Living to live in a world of time beyond me; let me
    Resign my life for this life, my speech for that unspoken,
    The awakened, lips parted, the hope, the new ships.

    What seas what shores what granite islands towards my timbers
    And woodthrush calling through the fog
    My daughter.

    Live kitten cam

    Kitten Guide 
    Glados gave birth to Hal, a litter of one, on August 30th. Their family seemed incomplete so they adopted three little boys (Holly, Jarvis and Eddie) who were part of a litter of nine that was born on September 4th. Hal is a great big brother and Glados adores all four of her babies! Hal is the dark brown tabby, Jarvis is solid gray, Eddie is the gray tabby and Holly is gray and white.
    Go on. Watch them. It's what the internet was invented for.

    Wednesday, October 02, 2013

    Gordon Brown on Paul Dacre: "Great personal warmth and kindness"

    In view of Labour's outrage (which I share) at the Daily Mail's attack on Ralph Miliband, let me remind you of what Gordon Brown said about him.

    This is taken from Nick Davies' excellent Flat Earth News:
    Politicians works hard socially as well as politically to make the Mail their friend. Gordon Brown caught the tone in a videoed message for Paul Dacre's tenth anniversary as editor:
    "Paul Dacre has devised and delivered one of the great newspaper success stories. He also shows great personal warmth and kindness as well as great journalistic skill."

    A blast from the past as John Moore defends Ralph Miliband

    This article by Nicholas Watt appeared on the Guardian website this afternoon:
    A former member of Margaret Thatcher's cabinet has accused the Daily Mail of "telling lies" about Ralph Miliband after the newspaper claimed that the Marxist writings of the late father of the Labour party meant that he hated Britain. 
    In the biggest blow to the Mail editor Paul Dacre, who has launched a strong defence of his paper's decision to claim that Ralph Miliband had left an "evil legacy", Lord Moore of Lower Marsh said his former tutor was a good man who never had a bad word to say about Britain.
    Lord Moore of Lower Marsh? I had to look him up, but he is indeed John Moore.

    Young reader's voice: John Moore? Who's he?

    Long before you were born, young reader, John Moore was widely seen as a future leader of the Conservative Party.

    As his Wikipedia entry says, John Moore enjoyed a meteoric rise through the ranks of government under Margaret Thatcher. He was an impressive media performer and had the sort of matinée idol looks Maggie always had a weakness for.

    So high was his political stock that in 1987 he was appointed Secretary of State for Social Services - this was in the days when that brief also included responsibility for the National Health Service.

    This mammoth job proved far beyond his capabilities and he was sacked from the Cabinet in 1989.

    And it seems he really had flown too near the sun. As Wikipedia says:
    After leaving the Commons in 1992 Moore became a life peer as Baron Moore of Lower Marsh, of Lower Marsh in the London Borough of Lambeth. A BBC feature in August 2011 reported that after 20 years in the House of Lords, Moore had still to make his maiden speech.
    Still, good for him for speaking out on Paul Dacre and his odious attack on the Labour leader's father.

    Tuesday, October 01, 2013

    Autumn on New Walk

    Six of the Best 389

    "What, in the end, is so marvellous about ‘hardworking people’?" asks Glen Newey on the London Review of Books blog.

    Sam Freedman explains why he no longer believes schools in the state sector should be run for profit.

    Frank Furedi defends privacy on Spiked: "The separation of the public and private spheres has been essential for the emergence of the modern individual. People’s aspiration to autonomy and identity cannot be entirely resolved in the public sphere. The private sphere not only provides a potential space for reflection, but also for the development of personality. Intimate relationships require privacy if they are not to disintegrate under the pressure of public scrutiny. Whatever problems might exist in the private sphere, having such a sphere is the prerequisite for the exercise of meaningful freedom."

    Ed Mayo writes on recent advances for community and co-operative energy initiatives.

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    The Junior Whip: Lines 53 to 55

    My 10th Whipped column for Ad Lib magazine.

    Regular readers will know how that I have long coveted the Chief Whip’s job. Sitting there telling other people how to vote? I I would be good at that.

    At least I thought so. After Glasgow I am not so sure…


    The Chief Whip had been ringing and texting a certain Liberal Democrat MP without success. “Get him in the hall for lines 53 to 55,” he snarled. “I don’t care how you do it, just get him in there.”

    So I rushed around the conference centre until I spotted a familiar face.

    “It’s lines 53 to 55,” I panted. “You’ve got to go into the hall now and vote for them. Or maybe it’s against them. Or maybe someone wants a separate vote. Anyway, you’ve got to get in there and vote.”

    “I’d like to, son, but I’m a bit busy being the catering manager at the moment.”

    Then I really did see the MP.

    “Lines 53 to 55? I’m meant to be speaking at two fringe meetings now as it is. One’s on human rights in the Southern Sahara and I’ve no idea what the other one’s about. But if you do them for me, I’ll go in and vote.”


    “…and I can’t be in two places at one time,” I finished triumphantly.

    “Nonsense,” said the Chief Whip, “I do it all the time. Go back out and get him to vote.”


    On reflection it didn’t turn out so badly. I am now a member of the all-party group on Human Rights in the Southern Sahara and, though I have no idea what the second meeting was about, my speech went down well. Keep saying “fairer economy” and “stronger society” (or something like that) and you will go a long way in this party.

    Better still, the catering manager voted the right way on lines 53 to 55.