Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Alexei Sayle's Imaginary Sandwich Bar and Wilf Mbanga

I have been enjoying Alexei Sayle's Imaginary Sandwich Bar on Radio 4.

One of the best stories he has told this time is about he and his wife's cat Wilf Mbanga.

When it went missing Sayle used his celebrity status to get at article in the local paper.

This led to the revelation that the original Wilf Mbanga, a Zimbabwean opposition politician, was living in exile nearby.

A tweet by Zorro P Freely led me to a Camden New Journal article that proves the story was true.

Written after Wilf Mbanga had been returned to the Sayles, the article says:
The real Wilf Mbanga, a journalist critical of the Mugabe regime who lives in London, told the New Journal three weeks ago he was “tickled pink” after hearing Mr Sayle had named his cat after him. 
But he said he would not join the hunt because he was allergic to cats and suffered from severe hay fever. 
This week, Wilf Mbanga said: “I am delighted Wilf Mbanga has been found. Even in times of distress, we need to laugh at ourselves.”
It gets better:
With world debate focused on the outcome of the Zimbabwean elections and the reinstatement of Robert Mugabe as leader, Mr Mbanga appeared on the BBC World Service on Saturday. But in a surreal few minutes, a newsreader also discussed the missing cat named in his honour.
And, in a final touch which I don't think Alexei Sayle mentioned, they first adopted Wilf Mbanga after he had turned up as a stray in John Humphrys's garden.

That's the cat, not the exiled Zimbabwean politician.

Santa's sleigh run called off in Market Harborough due to too much snow

The Leicester Mercury wins our Headline of the Day Award.

It reminds me of the time that Tory-run Harborough District Council was described by Conservative Home as being "plunged into a scandal about health and safety absurdity" because a Christmas appearance by a dozen reindeer was cancelled because it was too icy.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

A warning to walkers on the Long Mynd

One of the easier ways to climb the Long Mynd in Shropshire is to follow Ashes Hollow up from Little Stretton.

At the top you will come across this sign - or at least you did 25 or so years ago.

It is a safety warning for walkers as the gliding club at the field on top of the Mynd uses cables to launch its craft.

Shep and John Noakes had a lot in common

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Yesterday BBC2 showed a lovely tribute to John Noakes, one of the presenters of Blue Peter in its Golden Age.

He held that role from 1965 to 1978. and also fronted another classic BBC children's programme.

From 1976 to 1980, Go With Noakes featured John and his engagingly delinquent sheepdog Shep touring Britain. They walked long-distance footpaths, helped restore derelict canals and met good people.

Sometimes I think a happy life would be a lot like Go With Noakes.

I blogged earlier this year about the importance of John Noakes, but in some ways the star of yesterday's programme was Shep.

Those who worked with him said he could behave when he wanted to. If he did something naughty, he was careful to do it within range of the cameras.

Shep and John had a lot in common.

Six of the Best 750

Nick Cohen asks what it would take for Labour moderates to revolt.

"Despite all his bluster, he views himself less as a titan dominating the world stage than a maligned outsider engaged in a struggle to be taken seriously, according to interviews with 60 advisers, associates, friends and members of Congress." Maggie Haberman, Glenn Thrush and Peter Baker takes us inside Donald Trump's hour-by-hour battle for self-preservation.

"Far and away the biggest losers from the last decade of funding changes in HE [higher education] in England have been part-time, mature students," says Tim Holyoake.

David Clarke is worried that local papers no longer report court cases: "In other countries, such as the USA, access to court documents and transcripts is regarded as a basic right of every citizen. Yet in England access to this information, paid for by our taxes, continues to be restricted."

You could argue that The League of Gentlemen's 2000 Christmas special was the best thing they ever did. Chris Newton examines its appeal.

Vince Cooper pays tribute to Peter Houseman, who played for Chelsea between 1963 and 1975, and died at the age of 31.

X-Ray Spex: The Day the World Turned Dayglo

Time for another blast from the late great Poly Styrene, who died in 2011

The Day the World Turned Dayglo was a hit in April 1978. It comes from X-Ray Spex's first LP, Germfree Adolescents.

The title track was a hit later the same year.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Lib Dem gain costs Tories control of North Devon Council

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Last night the Liberal Democrat candidate Caroline Leaver gained the Newport ward of North Devon Council from the Conservatives in a by-election,

Newport is part of Barnstaple and the voting figures were:

Lib Dem           390
Conservative   373
Green              159
Labour               83

Following this Lib Dem victory the political balance on the council is now 18 Conservatives, 14 Liberal Democrats, eight Independents and three South Molton Independents.

DevonLive quotes the Lib Dem councillor Brian Greenslade explaining that this means the Conservatives have now lost control of the council:
Councillor Greenslade explained in 2015 the three South Molton Independent councillors ... and the UKIP member voted with the 19 Conservatives to elect Councillor Des Brailey as leader with a majority of three seats. 
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
Since then the Conservatives have lost two seats to the Liberal Democrats, meaning they and their allies have 21 seats out of 43, which is less than half the seats, meaning they no longer have a majority.

Traffic's first album Mr Fantasy 50 years on

Sorry to have missed the anniversary by a day, but on 7 December 1967 Traffic issued their debut album Mr Fantasy.

Featuring interviews with Steve Winwood and Jim Capaldi (who died in 2005), this documentary tells you about the band's early days.

Leicester's Black Boy pub has been saved

Good news from the Leicester Mercury: the planning inspector has upheld the city council's decision to refuse permission for the former Black Boy pub to be demolished.

The developers. says the Mercury, has planning permission to create 25 student flats in a three-storey extension if they retain the facade of the pub. But they claim the scheme is no longer economically viable and wanted permission to remove the pub altogether.

If that means there is a chance of the Black Boy being retained as a separate building and one day having a new use found for it, that can only be good news.

It is also good to see the city council fighting for Leicester's heritage beyond it grand projects in the city centre.

Since I started wandering the city with my camera, heritage campaigners have been defeated over the Bowstring Bridge, the Empire Hotel and a distinctive little group of buildings on the London Road.

I hope the Black Boy will not be the last such battle the council fights and wins.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Someone is stealing the bicycles of Gloucestershire politicians

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Alarming news from Gloucestershire Live:
A Cheltenham councillor was the victim of a “brazen” bike theft on Cheltenham’s Promenade in the latest instance of county politicians falling victim to cycle theives. 
Councillor Max Wilkinson (Lib Dems, Park Ward) locked his bright orange Mango bike in the rack by the war memorial at 5.50pm yesterday, before a licensing committee meeting in the Municipal Offices. 
When Mr Wilkinson, the Lib Dems’ prospective parliamentary candidate for Cheltenham, went to pick up his bicycle at about 6.40pm, it was gone and the lock was on the floor, cut through. 
It is not the first time a Cheltenham politician’s bike has been targeted, with Alex Chalk MP having his stolen while campaigning in June 2016. 
While Gloucester MP Richard Graham, in tweeting his sympathy to Mr Wilkinson, said: "Last week had to carry my legless bike back to [Parliament]..hope another cyclist enjoying my front wheel." 
Mr Graham also previously had his bike stolen in Gloucester.
Max Wilkinson is the newly selected Lib Dem prosepective parliamentary candidate for Cheltenham, and Lord Bonkers has suggested to me that this is an attempt to sabotage his campaign.

But I suspect something even more sinister is at work here. Democracy itself is under threat.

Yield to the Night and Talking Pictures TV

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The most welcome development of the past week has been the appearance of Talking Pictures TV on Freeview.

You no longer need an HD set or receiver to view it. Just do a reinstall and it will appear on channel 81.

Talking Pictures offers a diet of vintage British films, leavened with a few from America and interspersed with the sort of old travel films I often post here.

Already I have seen one film that I have long been looking out for.

Yield to the Night was made released in 1956 and deals with the last days of a woman murderer who is waiting to be executed.

The makers denied that it was inspired by the case of Ruth Ellis, who was hanged the year before. But having seen the film - the murder in particular - I cannot believe them.

Yield to the Night stars Diana Dors and shows what a good actress she was. It is being shown again on Talking Pictures on Sunday evening.

Billed as the British Marilyn Monroe, she died in 1984 aged only 52. In her later years she was happy to play character roles that contrasted with her years as a pin up.

She was born in Swindon and her real name was Diana Fluck.

As she was fond of saying:
"They asked me to change my name. I suppose they were afraid that if my real name, Diana Fluck, was in lights and one of the lights blew…"

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

King Michael of Romania the chicken farmer

The former King Michael of Romania died this week at the age of 96.

His Guardian obituary tells of his impossible task as monarch as he was ground between Stalin and Hitler, his exile and final return to Romania.

But it also says:
When Michael’s second reign abruptly ended in 1947, life in exile came as a shock. His loving marriage to Princess Anne of Bourbon-Parma in 1948 and their five daughters gave him a family life, but the daughters remember a “silent, sad, serious” man during their childhood. 
He tried his hand at chicken farming in Hertfordshire, commercial flying in Switzerland and stockbroking in the US while simultaneously working with the national committee he had established to maintain links with Romania.
The King of Romania farmed chickens in England? Can it be true?

The video above, which is unused footage from British Pathe, shows that it is.

Six of the Best 749

"Going to a recent party to remember my predecessor as editor of Liberal Democrat News, my own party's weekly paper (Mike Harskin, who died 25 years ago aged only thirty) forced me to remember the maverick force that the old Liberal Party used to be. 'Obstruct the doors,' Mike used to say. 'Cause delay. Be dangerous.'" But where is the Lib Dem radical, trouble-making fringe now? asks David Boyle.

Jacob Rees-Mogg is emerging as the new face of Russian political interference in the UK, claims J.J. Patrick.

Jennifer Baker interviews Sharon Kaye about her work engaging children and teens with philosophy.

"Russian spies posing as London antiquarian booksellers is like something from the pages of Le Carré." But it really happened in the 1960s, as Calder Walton reveals.

Georgina Day on what's next for the broken brutalist dream of Thamesmead.

"Personal myth-making was important to Waugh: like many a 20th-century literary man, and one or two literary women, he spent a lifetime constructing a new and supposedly better version of himself out of what was essentially the same material." D.J. Taylor reviews a new edition of the collected works of Evelyn Waugh.

Dancing on Ice’s Monty Panesar replaced by Lemar after suffering ankle injury during training

Monty Panesar bowling for Sussex at Grace Road, Leicester
The Evening Standard has our Headline of the Day.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Dick Newby ridicules government secrecy over Brexit impact reports

Jessica Elgot reports in the Guardian that MPs and peers have criticised the secrecy around the publication of the government's Brexit impact reports:
Parliamentarians are now allowed to view the papers in a restricted-access reading room organised by [David] Davis’s Department for Exiting the EU (DexEU), which one called “ridiculous amounts of security just to ensure that as few people see this stuff as possible”. 
Another described the collection of documents as “two lever-arch files for 80% of the economy”.
One of the first parliamentarians to view the reports was the Liberal Democrats' Dick Newby:
Dick Newby, the Lib Dem leader in the House of Lords, who was one of the first in the reading room, described the tight security as "a complete farce" and said it was incorrect to call the papers impact assessments. 
"They make no assessment of the impact. They describe the current situation, they explain how the EU operates as well as how other countries work and then a section on what stakeholders think – that’s it," he said. 
"There is zero assessment of the economic impact. Nothing is redacted because there is nothing to redact." 
Lord Newby said the information provided to the government by trade bodies quoted in the reports was contained in statements they had made in public. "There is no reason whatsoever why they shouldn’t be published," he said.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Cricket and Christianity: The Revd Andrew Wingfield Digby visits Church Stretton

On holiday in Oxford one summer, I came across the church that was home to the Revd Andrew Wingfield Digby.

Blogging at the time, I described him as 
a stalwart of the Oxford University cricket team in the 1970s. All told he took 97 first-class wickets @ 33.87 - a highly creditable record for a university bowler. He also, says Cricinfo, played for Dorset, a minor county, for over a decade. 
In 1989 Ted Dexter, then the chairman of the selectors, appointed him as spiritual advisor to the England team. In that era it was a role that would have tried any man's vocation.
With any prospect of retaining the Ashes this winter rapidly retreating, an appeal for Divine intervention may again be England's best tactic.

The Revd Wingfield Digby was the guest at a lunch at St Laurence's, Church Stretton, this September and was profiled as a result by the Shropshire Star.

He turned out to be not at all churchy and a good chap to have on your side in a closely contested one-day game:
Andrew, who was also a chaplain at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, says he feels a great deal of sympathy for England vice-captain Ben Stokes, who was arrested earlier this week following an alleged incident at a Bristol nightclub: "He is just an ordinary bloke going out on the lash, but when you're in the public eye it is very easy to be targeted."
Indeed, while playing for Dorset, Andrew remembers his team sometimes attracting the interest of the tabloids. 
"We appeared on page three of The Sun three times," he says, "which is not something you expect for Dorset Cricket Club." 
One of these occasions followed a game against Shropshire, played at Wellington, which ended in a minor brawl. 
"Our fast bowler played a beamer at Shropshire's no. 11 batsman, it was at head height and was pretty dangerous, and the batsman was not very good. 
"He managed to avoid getting hit, but the non-striking batsman approached our bowler at the end of the game, and began to shout at him saying he shouldn't have bowled a beamer at him. 
"The next thing we knew, our fast bowler had laid one on the non-strike batsman."
One is reminded of Harold "Stinker" Pinker, curate at Market Snodsbury, who played rugby for Oxford and England.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

The Fenland floods of 1947

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The weather of 1947 threatened food supply while the nation still recovered from war. From the snow bound uplands to the fens plagued by thaw floods, everything seemed lost. 
But wartime had bred a can-do attitude - with new seed from the empire, equipment from allies, conscripts building barricades and the hardy persistence of the farmers themselves, there’s another victory on the home front. 
Made in the mode of wartime propaganda, this film continues the style and approach that the Ministry of Information had perfected in a series of agriculturally focussed films during WWII. 
Director James Carr would go on to take the production company World Wide Pictures to success as one of the premier British suppliers of government documentaries and industrial films in the postwar period.
So says the blurb for Trial by Weather on the British Film Institute site. Follow that link and you may watch it there.

Fellow admirer's of Malcolm Saville's children's books will be familiar with those floods because of his The Luck of Sallowby, which I once blogged about.

Six of the Best 748

Why are Brexiteers so surprised that there are problems over the Irish border? Chris Grey explains.

Phil Wainewright says Nick Clegg was wrong to be so dismissive of the idea of a universal basic income.

While Nick Barlow was not impressed by Tim Farron's speech to the Theos think tank: "When Tim’s new admirers include people like Tim Montgomerie and Douglas Murray it’s hard not to be reminded of Dora Gaitskell’s comment when her husband basked in seeming triumph at a Labour conference: 'all the wrong people are clapping'."

Charlotte Higgins finds the Palace of Westminster is falling down: "[Political scientist Matthew] Flinders said: 'There are those who realise that if they allow new intakes of MPs to go into a new chamber, with new atmospheres, new ways of doing things, places for everyone to sit, new procedures, new ways of talking, they may refuse to go back into what may to them feel like an antique shop.'"

"Once upon a time, the United States had voting on paper ballots that could be recounted by hand. There were, no doubt, a few problems with ballot stuffing or whatever, but nothing like the magnitude of what can be accomplished electronically these days." Janet Maker looks at the evidence that Donald Trump benefited from rough work at the count.

Running Past remembers the Lewisham rail crash of 1957.

Michael Meadowcroft's obituary of Bill Pitt

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Bill Pitt, who was Liberal MP for Croydon North-West between 1981 and 1983, died a couple of weeks ago at the age of 80.

He had fought the seat at three Seventies general elections, but 1981 was the dawn of the brief era of the Liberal-SDP Alliance.

So when the sitting Conservative member died it was widely expected that Pitt would step aside in favour of Shirley Williams.

But he insisted on fighting the by-election and won it.

As Michael Meadowcroft says in his Guardian obituary of Pitt:
Naturally the alliance made the most of Bill’s subsequent victory, claiming that if the alliance could win such an unprepossessing seat without a celebrity candidate such as Williams, it could win anywhere.
He also remembers Pitt's political career before his short spell in the limelight:
Bill was always a convivial and popular figure in the Liberal party, having joined in the 1960s after a few years in the Norwood Young Conservatives. He served on many party committees both regionally and nationally, and at one point edited the internal Liberal scandal sheet, Radical Bulletin. 
He polled creditably in Croydon North West in the two general elections of 1974 but lost his deposit at the 1979 contest. He did, however, more than double the Liberal vote in the 1981 Greater London council election covering the same area.

The Fortunes: You've Got Your Troubles

Another of those great Sixties records that you have always known without being sure who recorded it.

The Fortunes were a Birmingham band  The article on Brumbeat gives the story of this, their greatest hit:
Decca gave the band one last chance. The Fortunes fifth single was a new composition written by then-unknown songwriters Roger Greenaway and Roger Cook with the recording featuring lavish instrumentation as well as the now trademark 3-part harmonies by the group alongside Rod Allen's lead. 
Produced by Noel Walker at Decca he recalled; "The Fortunes contract came up for renewal and Decca didn't want to renew it. I told Decca that they sung wonderfully and deserved another chance. I wanted to use them as singers backed by professional musicians". 
The song titled 'You've Got Your Troubles', suited the band's image perfectly with the record almost reaching the top spot in the British charts in August of 1965 and also climbing to Number 7 in the U.S. charts. 
The composers Greenaway and Cook were initially dismayed to discover an "unknown" group had recorded their composition but were happy with the song's success and still regard the Fortune's version to be the definitive one. 
The Fortunes had hits into the 1970s and a version of them (with no original members) is still active today.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

The Strange Death of the Establishment

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In October 1961 Peter Cook opened The Establishment, a nightclub and cabaret venue in Soho.

As he later explained, it was inspired by "those wonderful Berlin cabarets ... which did so much to stop the rise of Hitler and prevent the outbreak of the Second World War".

There is currently a radio documentary on the BBC iPlayer that tells the story of the club, explaining how university satirists were no match for the gangsters who ran Soho in those days.

It was made in 2004 by Harry Thompson, comedy producer and author, who was to die the following year.

Council trims bushes at Groby Pool in attempt to stop dogging

The Leicester Mercury carries off our Headline of the Day Award.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Goldeneye on the Grand Union at Wistow

Taken in May 2012.

Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood to play Hyde Park next summer

Eric Clapton will play a concert in Hyde Park  on 8 July 2018, supported by Steve Winwood and Santana.

It reminds me of the Hyde Park free concerts of 1968-70, but only up to a point: tickets start at £65.

That won't be the only difference from the Sixties. As I wrote in that post:
It really was different in the sixites. The Rolling Stones concert was one 12 free events that took place in Hyde Park over three summers from 1968 to 1970. Accounts of who turned up to play vary widely - if you remember it... - but there is an authoritative list on the UK Rock Festivals site. 
A month before the Stones played the short-lived supergroup Blind Faith made their debut. A review on the Amazon page for the DVD of the concert recalls: 
The audience shots give an idea of how many people turned up. No Police and stewards in those days you just turned up found a place to sit and enjoyed the gig.
Anyway, the video shows Clapton and Winwood playing as part of Blind Faith in Hyde Park on 7 June 1969.

Harry Redknapp 'will make 30 people homeless' with flats plan

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The Guardian wins our Headline of the Day Award.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The wolves are running: The appeal of The Box of Delights

There is a lovely piece on the appeal of John Masefield's The Box of Delights by Piers Torday in the Guardian.

Torday rightly identifies that the book's appeal lies in its blend of Christian and pagan and ancient and modern elements. The book blends:
the folkloric mysticism of Albion with the lurid criminalities of the jazz age. There are ancient wizards, Christmas feasts and talking animals – but also bang-up-to-date thrills: criminal gangs of jewel thieves, machine guns and time travel.
And, as he points out, Masefield has been mightily influential:
The central trio – sensitive, orphaned hero Kay, who has a dormant gift for magic; the ferociously intelligent and independent Maria; and the loyal but slightly dim Peter (plus a flying car and a wise wizard mentor) – will feel familiar to readers of Harry Potter. 
Sylvia Daisy Pouncer, the witch in twinset and furs, feels like a direct ancestor of Dahl’s neighbourhood witches. Masefield had his children escaping to a fantasy world of deep magic through a domestic portal before CS Lewis ever opened his wardrobe.
Masefield was also an influence on one of my own favourite writers.

T.H. White wrote in a letter to his old tutor L.J. Potts in 1938 about a book he had just finished:
What I fear is that it has feeble traces of A.A, Milne. I should have liked it to be like Masefield's Midnight Folk, a book which I love this side of idolatry. It is called The Sword in the Stone.
The Midnight Folk is the first of two books in which Kay Harker battled Abner Brown and Sylvia Daisy Pouncer. The Box of Delights is the second.

Six of the Best 747

"The Liberal Democrats did well to achieve a credible policy deal in 2010. But over the next five years they were out manoeuvred by their much larger coalition partners (and their friends in the media) and denounced by Labour, the party that had ran away from government." Stephen Williams (who was then a Lib Dem MP) asks if the German FDP has made a better fist of coalition negotiations in 2010.

Walter Ellis remarks what a complete cock-up the Tories have made of Brexit.

"Back in the 70s and 80s the BBC broadcast a series of interviews by Bryan Magee with leading philosophers. Such programmes today are pretty much unthinkable. What we have instead is the Moral Maze, which comprises nothing more than shouty egomaniac gobshites." Chris Dillow on the decline in moral reasoning.

"When it finally finished I didn’t feel anything. I knew I was supposed to be happy, but I wasn’t. I achieved what I had always dreamed of but now I was empty. The years of suffering scarred my soul and now when the suffering was done, I didn’t know what to do without it." No, Alex Colovic did not much enjoy qualifying as a chess grandmaster.

How did Morrissey, the Godfather of snowflakes, become a right-wing hero? Nick Tyrone explains.

Rod Nordland visits one of London's more eccentric bookshops.

Mysterious note found inside an 18th century Jesus statue's bottom may be a 'time capsule' written by a Spanish priest 300 years ago

The Daily Mail wins our Headline of the Day Award.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The last days of Wheat Street and the loss of Leicester's slums

Copyright © Dennis Calow
Wheat Street in Leicester, now a stub between two factories is an old street that used to be much longer.

And here's the proof in the shape of a 1955 photograph from the Vanished Leicester collection. The houses have already been abandoned and are about to be demolished.

A decade later the area became recognisable beneath Leicester's new ring road, obliterating the city's most notorious slum area.

Could any of it have been saved?

Reading The Slums of Leicester, you are struck by just how had conditions were there.

Here is Cllr Bertram Powell writing in the Leicester Chronicle in 1951:
It would be difficult to estimate the unhappiness, tension and bad health due to the strained human relationships arising from the housing conditions such as exist in St Margaret's Ward. Apart from the insanitary places themselves and the effect on health, the mental torture is grievous. 
Many of the women in the vicinity of Wharf Street are putting up a valiant fight against the odds to keep themselves and their children clean and respectable. It is pathetic to visit some of the houses to see the unceasing effort to keep paper on the walls, the amateur painting to cover rotten woodwork, the polish to tumbledown grates, the care of steps and floors. 
The only good thing one can say about the situation is the patience, cheerfulness and effort shown by the people who live there.
But there is another side to the story: the clearance of these streets involved a loss too.

Here is a Leicester Mercury article from 1955, the year of our photograph:
I took a stroll around the Wharf Street area yesterday afternoon. What a change is taking place there. The once bustling street where years ago small traders made tidy fortunes is at a standstill compared with what one can recall. 
In other days it had such a glorious mixture of shops, butchers and poulterers, not forgetting the rabbits, general grocers, greengrocers and all the rest with a liberal sprinkling of pubs. 
And time was when some people in the sedate parts of Leicester sent to Wharf Street for their best steak and roasting joints, because the butchers there would buy a good beast but the local trade was all for offal and the cheaper cuts. 
In those days the shopkeepers in Wharf Street did more business on Saturday nights open until 11 o'clock and on Sunday morning than they did throughout the rest of a week.
But all that life was swept away as though Wharf Street was the city's dirty secret. The district was not improved: it was destroyed.

Do we find a clue to the caste of mind behind this destruction in a 1902 Leicester Pioneer article by F.W. Rogers?
There are a number of houses in this ward well-known to the Watch Committee as being nothing more or less than brothels. It is an ugly word, but facts are best stated in plain English ... 
Parts of this ward are perfect sinks of iniquity. I understand the Watch Committee are going to light the district with incandescent lamps. Is that all? 
I wager the chairman of the Watch Committee has never been down the district at night more than once in his life. Let some of the committee go down for themselves and see what sort of conditions these people have to exist among.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Alma Cogan by Gordon Burn on the Backlisted podcast

I once blogged:
I am reminded of a couple of novels by Gordon Burn - Alma Cogan and Fullalove - which explored the unhealthy brew of child murder and celebrity that fuels the tabloid press in Britain. You could do worse than read them if you want to understand the times we live in.
Burn's Alma Cogan is the subject, after a detour via Nikolaus Pevsner and Kazuo Ishiguro, of the latest edition of the Backlisted podcast. 

It was recorded live at the Durham Book Festival.

A Matter of Life and Death is back in the cinemas

Next month Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s wartime fantasy A Matter of Life and Death returns to British cinemas.

In this podcast Henry Barnes talks to Xan Brooks and Hollie Price about the genesis of what the BFI sight calls their "magic propaganda".

That is a pleasing category that can also take in another Powell and Pressburger film A Canterbury Tale.

Elsewhere on the BFI site Charles Drazin offers five reasons to watch A Matter of Life and Death:
Such is the fantasy dimension of the film that it is easy to overlook the extraordinary documentary eye with which it is constructed. 
In telling the story of a brain-damaged airman who has hallucinations of another world, Powell and Pressburger pay a scrupulous respect to the neurological reality of how these visions might have taken place. 
They appreciated the fact that the most gripping drama emerges out of an engagement with truth rather than a flight from it.

Monday, November 27, 2017

The lodging house at 55 Britannia Street, Leicester

The ghost sign would have done me, but the terracotta panels were a wonderful surprise.

As one of the city council's heritage boards, which I was impressed to find at the end of the road explains, 55 Britannia Street was a lodging house opened in 1889 to accommodate 129 working men in large communal bedrooms. It was run by the Wilkinson family until it closed in 1946.

The panels show rather stereotyped representatives of the four nations of the British Isles, inspired by the name of the street or to emphasise that all were welcome within.

Six of the Best 746

"The problem with a strategy of invalidating the referendum is that it looks to most people like an attempt to cheat or win on a technicality. It’s not a political win, where you persuade people by the strength of your ideas but a dirty one, where you manage to rig the system to your advantage." Nick Barlow says that if we’re going to stop Brexit, then we have to stop refighting the referendum.

Mark Mills explains how he became a reluctant monarchist.

The perennial interest in the Jack the Ripper murders represents the commodification of sexual violence, argues Caroline Jones.

"Even in the cosy toytown idyll of The Village, a subterranean army of faceless minions monitor our every move, brainwashing us into being model citizens and quiescent consumers." Stephen Dalton presents six ways the Sixties cult show The Prisoner prepared us for the modern world.

The loss of a newsagent's shop is mourned by A London Inheritance.

Nick Barnett proves that cats played a key role in the first world war.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Lord Bonkers' Diary: "There’s another part of me that flipping well wants to hold my seat"

Having given Nick Clegg one barrel on Thursday, the old boy gives Tim Farron the other one today. Sometimes I think he will not be satisfied until he is leader himself.

Anyway, this entry completes are week with Lord Bonkers.


Were you in the hall for Tim Farron’s speech in the Europe debate at our Conference in Bournemouth? To the best of my recollection, it went like this:

“The day I took over as leader, one journalist predicted confidently that ‘the party that began with Gladstone will now end with Farron’. I resolved that we were going to survive, grow and win again. The Liberal movement of Gladstone, Lloyd George and Jo Grimond was not going to die on my watch.”

“It’s the movement of Paddy Ashplant too,” I observed to my neighbour, “and Farron got that bit out of his memoirs.”

“And I did it. Me! Little Tim from Preston. There’s part of me that says if I never see another referendum in my life that will be too soon. But there’s another part of me that flipping well wants to hold my seat. I’ve got four kids. I’m a bit of a Eurosceptic. We lived in a shoebox but because I had great parents I didn’t realise it was a shoebox until I was older. Have you been to St Asquith’s and seen the space those pews take up? They should rip them out and then we could all sing “Shine Jesus…”.

At that point I left the hall.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Jason Zadrozny: "Clearing my name has taken almost every penny I had"

Last month Jason Zadrozny, the Liberal Democrat who almost won Ashfield from Labour at the 2010 general election, was cleared of all charges of child sex abuse.

Today he is interviewed in the Mail on Sunday. He tells them:
"My life has been changed beyond recognition,’ he told The Mail on Sunday. ‘I never go shopping now until late at night, when I know the supermarkets will be empty. 
"I can be walking down the high street and someone will confront me and call me a paedophile. 
"I'm broke. Clearing my name has taken almost every penny I had. And I lost my chance to represent the area where I grew up in Parliament."  ... 
"The elation of being found innocent has gone ... When the furore was still raging, at least I had a focus. Now I’m left trying to pick up the threads of my life, but it’s sinking in what I’ve lost. In every way, I feel bereaved."
The newspaper also reveals that:
Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceLocal journalists have told The Mail on Sunday that news of Mr Zadrozny’s arrest was deliberately leaked to them the next day by an unknown Labour Party source and a senior, unnamed, police officer – so ensuring that it attracted maximum publicity.

Elvis Costello: Watching the Detectives

A fantastic live performance from 1978.

Later. If had had more time this morning I'd have said something pretentious like: "I always suspected this was a greater song than the studio version made it sound. This live version proves I was right."

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The more hot-headed young badgers

Once again, I suspect apologies are due to T.H. White, the Revd J.P. Martin and Kenneth Grahame.


I make my way to the woody bank that lies beneath the Ornamental Arch I had erected here on the Bonkers Hall Estate to mark the victory of Wallace Lawler in the Birmingham Ladywood by-election of 1969. After making sure I am not observed, I rap upon a door that is half obscured by foliage and am admitted to the home of the King of the Badgers.

You may have read of the beastly cull of these noble and stripy creatures instituted by the Conservative Party to retain their grip upon the farming vote. Here in Rutland I have endeavoured to even up the odds by supplying firearms to the badgers; my visit this morning, as well as being a social call upon this most sagacious of companions, is paid with the purpose of collecting payment for these munitions. (It’s remarkable the riches badgers turn up when they dig and snuffle at the roots of things.)

After signing his cheque, the King of the Badgers confides in me that he is worried about the more hot-headed young badgers, who are full of talk of strangling the new leader of the Ukip Party. I reply that if I were in his shoes I should do nothing to discourage them.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Russell Square, Leicester, where Ramsay MacDonald hid from the mob in a public lavatory

Beyond Wheat Street, Wharf Street has been cut in two by Leicester's ring road. Its construction swept away whole streets, with their shops and pubs.

Wharf Street North has many Somali residents, with the result that there are still shops there.

At its far end it opens out into a triangular space, which (defying geometry) was called Russell Square. It still has its shops, but they have been converted into ordinary houses.

Russell Square was a favourite spot for political meetings. In the 1918 general election Ramsay MacDonald had to shelter from the mob in the underground lavatories that once stood in front of the shop in the first photograph.

Across the road are some of the post-war flats built to rehouse the residents of the area - they originally had flat roofs.

I have bad memories of them - being caught in a downpour here when knocking up in the 2004 Leicester South by-election, which Parmjit Singh Gill won for the Liberal Democrats. But they looked fine last Saturday.

Vince Cable dodges Bad Sex Award shortlist

Vince Cable, reports the Independent, has avoided being shortlisted for the Literary Review's Bad Sex in Fiction Award.

Although he received many nominations for his political thriller Open Arms, which was written during the year he was out of parliament, the Literary Review said:
Cable’s thriller Open Arms - which follows a “glamorous housewife-turned-MP” who rises through the Westminster ranks - just wasn’t written badly enough, calling the sex "very discreet". 

Friday, November 24, 2017

Lord Bonkers' Diary: I would only have spent it on drink

Such insight into one's own character is to be applauded.


On the way home to Bonkers House in Belgrave Square after a working day in the House I am asked by a dishevelled fellow if I can spare any change. I give him half a crown: I would only have spent it on drink.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Last night's elections showed Lib Dem progress in Leicestershire

There was a Leicester City Council by-election yesterday in the Eyres Monsell ward. The result was as follows:

Labour: 53.2% (+10.6)
Lib Dem: 30.6% (+23.1)
Con: 16.3% (-1.9)

The slightly odd figures are caused by the disappearance of Ukip, who polled a quarter of the vote last time the vote was fought.

As Mark Pack reminds us, the was a ward the Lib Dems used to hold. That was in the days (2003-7) when we ran the city. So encouraging progress.

We also won a town council by-election in Earl Shilton, electing the town's first ever Lib Dem councillor with 68 per cent.

Mark Pack rightly counsels us against making too much of town council elections, and there is some debate about this in the comments on Lib Dem Voice too.

But from a purely Leicestershire point of view, last night was a good one for the Lib Dems.

Meanwhile, my love of trivial knowledge leads me to reveal that Earl Shilton has produced two obscure England seam bowlers - Les Taylor and Jimmy Ormond - and that Eyres Monsell was named after Patrick Leigh Fermor's father-in-law.

That new Lib Dem T-shirt does not reflect party policy

An excited email arrives from Lib Dem HQ:
Designed by Dave, this t-shirt represents the hopes and dreams of the tens of thousands of members who've joined our party since the EU Referendum - and our party's Internationalist values.
Nice work, Dave. But does this T-shirt reflect Lib Dem policy?

As Neville Farmer wrote in a guest post for this blog:
An unscheduled Sunday motion proposed that an elected Liberal Democrat government would reverse Article 50 without need for a further Brexit referendum. It was crudely drafted but it was strong and clear and answered Paddy Ashdown’s call for some party radicalism – "Put Vince in No 10 and we’ll end Brexit." Sounded good to me. 
When they heard that the planned and impotent Brexit 'consultation' had been changed to a debate, the party leadership flipped. A blocking amendment was tabled reverting to the 'first referendum on the facts' option, sweetened with votes for over 16s and expats. 
In the debate, the choice of speakers was skewed. Speakers for the motion included first-timers with off-subject anti-Brexit comments, while the amendment was backed by MPs and peers. 
Tim Farron said supporting the motion denied the will of the people, blocked the young and expatriated from a vote and showed an illiberal loyalty to first-past-the-post. Others claimed the motion would make us seem like a 'one-trick' party. 
The only party senior supporting the motion was brave former MEP Liz Lynne. 
The spoiler amendment passed by a mile and, instead of a shot in the arm for the party fortunes, we shot ourselves in the foot.
So Lib Dem policy is not to oppose Brexit: it is to hold a second referendum and abide by its result.

I am not sure there will even be time for a second referendum, given that agreement is always reached at the last possible moment in international negotiations and parliament has already agreed to a fixed Article 50 deadline.

Worse than that, our policy says that if there is a political earthquake and we come to power next year, a Liberal Democrat government would negotiate the best Brexit deal it could and then ask the people to vote against it.

Wouldn't it be simpler just to say we are against Brexit?

Still, it's a good design for a T-shirt and I get the Rick Astley reference.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Lord Bonkers' Diary: "Just the sort of tomfool idea I would expect"

In which a former deputy prime minister enjoys a narrow escape.


Whom should I meet in a London street but our own Nick Clegg? As so often, he has Freddie and Fiona in tow.

Clegg is full of his new book, telling me brightly: "It may seem odd for a former leader of the Liberal Democrats – and someone who has fought against the illiberal habits of Labour all my political life – to advocate joining the Labour party.”

“Not a bit,” I reply, “it’s just the sort of tomfool idea I would expect from you.”

Having foolishly travelled up to town without a horsewhip, I have to content myself with giving him a Hard Stare.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Wheat Street saw Leicester's slums come and go

Wheat Street is a canyon between two old factories closed off by modern units. But it is older than the many 19th century streets that once surrounded it and have now gone without trace.

Because Wheat Street, which was once much longer, marked the northern extent of Barker’s Ground - the celebrated cricket ground that vanished under the new houses in 1860.

Later. Leicester Through Time by Stephen Butt says that the two factories belonged William Raven & Co.:
Politically, Raven was a Liberal and he was also a Unitarian. From humble beginnings he created a business, which by the time of the First World War was employing 1,000 people. The company continued trading until the 1960s under the 'Ravena' and 'Craftana' brand names.
When I was in Wheat Street on Saturday I met someone who told me that his mother had worked in these factories.

Six of the Best 745

Iain Brodie Brown on a gap in modern Liberal thinking: "For decades, in the post-war era, there was not a budget day when the Liberal Party did not move an amendment to promote employee ownership and industrial democracy."

"It is far more likely that leave voters will accept the proposition that they were fooled by politicians - as indeed they were – than that they fooled themselves." Chris Grey considers whether public opinion will turn against Brexit.

Frances Coppola summons the aid of Jane Austen to explain the amazing conversion of James Dyson on Europe.

Matthew Scott argues that Rolf Harris should have been given a retrial.

If we are to understand Douglas Jardine, the most divisive and controversial cricketer who ever played for England, we must understand his Scottishness, says Alex Massie.

"Although the Valley Works had been devoted to producing such nightmarish weapons, the site seemed so oddly normal ....  Had I not known the history of the site, all I would have seen would be a collection of decaying industrial buildings gradually being swallowed up once more by nature." Bobby Seal discovers Mendelssohn, mustard gas and memory in the Alyn Valley.

Grumbolds Ash with Avening wins Ward of the Week

There is a by-election today in the Grumbolds Ash with Avening ward of Cotswold District Council.

And Grumbolds Ash with Avening wins our Ward of the Week Award, given to local government divisions with pleasing names.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The old schoolhouse at Acton Scott

This school was built in the late 19th century to educate the children of Acton Scott in Shropshire.

It now serves as the cafe for the historic working farm tourist attraction there. I photographed it a few summers ago.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Some silly ass with a hyphen

The old boy lets Chris Heaton-Harris have both barrels.


To the University of Rutland at Belvoir in my capacity as vice-chancellor. This role, I will admit, is something of a sinecure as I generally leave the budgeting to the institution’s famed Department of Hard Sums and concentrate on handing out scrolls to young people in mortarboards.

This morning, however, I find the place in turmoil. Some silly ass with a hyphen who makes the tea in the Conservative Whips Office has written asking about our course in European Studies. That subject is naturally of interest here in Rutland as we have been trading with the Baltic since the Middle Ages, when ships bearing jute and flax crossed Rutland Water to tie up at Oakham Quay. I find this immensely impressive, even if I have never been quite sure what jute and flax are.

Where was I? The letter: what immortal crust! I dictate a reply telling the aforementioned ass with a hyphen that there are many unhappy countries on this Earth where the government does tell universities what to teach and if that is the way he wants to see things done he should go and live in one of them.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Do the Liberal Democrats face "death by fudge"?

Despite what Lord Bonkers would have you believe, his diaries are not the only feature of Liberator.

The November 2017 issue, which has just arrived with subscribers.

In it, Paul Hindley argues that the Liberal Democrats face "death by fudge" if they do not soon offer some more radical and imaginative policies.

You can read Paul's article, and one by Tony Greaves, on Liberator's website. And a debate about them is developing on Lib Dem Voice.

Meanwhile, Liberator's Radical Bulletin feature gives you the inside track on Your Liberal Britain, the Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats and the prospect of further trouble over the deselection of David Ward in Bradford East.