Monday, October 05, 2015

Cat-astrophic closure hits Leicester

Leicester's first cat cafe has closed its doors.

The Mercury reports:
Cats, Cakes and Coffee opened in exclusive Stoneygate at the beginning of August. 
The venue announced on its website on Thursday that it was "ceasing to trade" that day. No reason was given. 
A statement posted online by the café read: "It's been an eventful few months, and to those of us who have supported us we thank you from the bottom of our hearts."

George Osborne first and 10 (whatever that means)

Last week the Guardian told us:
George Osborne wants to have an NFL franchise based permanently in London within the next five years to confirm the city’s status as the “sporting capital of the world”. 
The chancellor met with NFL executives, team owners and former players at Downing Street as the Miami Dolphins prepared to face the New York Jets at Wembley stadium on Sunday. 
Osborne said he would “love to have a team here based in the UK playing in the NFL” and he believed Britain was making steps towards that goal. “The real prize, the real touchdown for London, would be to get a team based here,” he said.
My first reaction is that Osborne should have more important things to do with his time. Bringing an NFL franchise to London is the sort of task that should consume a wacky backbencher, not the chancellor.

But this enthusiasm of his does confirm that he is not a traditional Conservative. If he were, he would be worrying about how to persuade more children to take up rugby or cricket,

To someone of Osborne's cast of mind, America is the future. His enthusiasm for elected mayors, a role unknown in British local government until recently, confirms this.

As I argued in a recent post on a cricket club in David Cameron's constituency, this sets Osborne apart from his prime minister.

But already this enthusiasm for all things American looks dated.

For the group of Tories who produced Britannia Unchained - Kwasi Kwarteng, Priti Patel, Dominic Raab, Chris Skidmore, Liz Truss - the future is Singapore.

And for the former Liberal Democrat MP Jeremy Browne in his Race Plan, the future is China. That dictatorship makes an odd beacon for 'authentic liberalism'.

Still, Jeremy is not alone. Today Jeremy Hunt expressed the hope that, thanks to cuts in welfare, we would all have to work as hard as the Chinese.

Who knows where the future will pop up next?

Sunday, October 04, 2015

The Geordie haka

[The video has disappeared from Youtube, but you can view it here.]

England have gone out of the World Cup.

But we can take comfort in the discovery that the haka originated, not among the Maoris of New Zealand, but in Newcastle Upon Tyne.

Alex Salmond banned from flight after booking ticket as Star Trek captain

The Independent wins our coveted Headline of the Day Award.

East Midlands Liberal Democrats Autumn Regional Conference

This event takes place on Saturday 7 November at Derby Moor Community Sports College. Moorway Lane, Littleover, Derby DE23 2FS.

The keynote speakers will be party President Sal Brinton and the blogosphere's own Mark Pack.

Full details and booking information on the East Midland Lib Dems site.

The Clash: Janie Jones

 Last week, when I chose Rooftop Singing by New World, I quoted a site that said:
The pop group New World were tried at the Old Bailey for trying to fix the outcome of the show on which they appeared.
It seems there was rather more to it than that.

In 2012, as news of Jimmy Savile's crimes gripped the nation, Andrew O'Hagan published an extraordinary article on the BBC and child abuse in the London Review of Books.

At one point he said:
Until now, no one thought to examine Children’s Hour and the world around it, much less the payola scandal involving radio DJs in the first flush of Savile’s fame. Janie Jones, a singer, appeared at Bow Street Magistrates’ Court in 1973 on 26 charges, which included controlling prostitutes and offering them as bribes ‘to BBC men as inducement to play records’. 
The men in the case were often referred to as Mr Z or Mr Y, or ‘unnamed broadcasters’. The court heard how Mr Y, ‘a television producer’, might have made a 14-year-old girl pregnant and could therefore be blackmailed. Mr X later answered questions about a cheque for £100 he gave to one of the girls but said he didn’t know she was a prostitute. ‘I thought she was much too young to be involved in anything like that,’ he said in court. 
Others remanded on bail included Jack Dabbs, a former producer of the radio programme Worldwide Family Favourites, Len Tucker, a theatrical agent, and several record promoters. 
At the time of the trial arrest warrants were out for members of the New World pop group who had won TV’s Opportunity Knocks ten times. 
The big trial that followed is now forgotten. According to the Times, ‘a shop assistant, aged 18, referred to as Miss G, said at the Central Criminal Court yesterday that Miss Jones said she could get work in modelling and television commercials, but she must play her cards right.’ ‘Playing her cards’ meant going to bed with producers and showbusiness people.
O'Hagan seems to be right when he says this trial has been forgotten. It is surprisingly hard to find out about it or how New World fitted into the more serious charges. My impression is that the band members were not tried and acquitted if they were tried.

To know for sure, you would have to read the memoirs of New World's lead singer John (Fuzzy) Lee

The Needle has published the report of the BBC investigation that took place after the affair. It is so redacted as to be comic.

But there is one undoubted outcome of the affair.

The first track on The Clash's first LP was about Janie Jones and mentioned payola. And it's a lot better than New World.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Denis Healey (1917-2015)

W.G. Grace died at Mottingham in Kent in 1915. Two years later Denis Healey was born there.

Healey was one of the giants of politics in the early 1970s when I started to take an interest in it.

The best tribute and analysis of his career I have seen today is that by Michael White in the Guardian:
By 1945, Healey had already packed in a lifetime of experiences denied to future generations. A beach master in charge of logistics (US actor Lee Marvin was another) at the bloody Anglo-American Anzio landings in Italy (1944), Maj Healey would turn down a lieutenant colonelcy as well as an Oxford fellowship to study the philosophy of art in favour of politics. 
After making a ferocious class warrior’s speech at Labour’s pre-election conference in 1945 (“Your speech may have cost us victory,” he was warned) he narrowly failed to win Tory Pudsey in Clem Attlee’s landslide. 
Losing a marginal seat was probably a lucky escape. He became instead international secretary of the Labour party, nominated by party grandees Hugh Dalton, Harold Laski and Nye Bevan. 
It was a hugely important post when British Labour’s prestige was at its peak in the ruins of post-war Europe, and Healey quickly became a key adviser to the new foreign secretary, the powerful but unlettered Ernie Bevin, writing a stream of pamphlets articulating Bevin’s position against the neutralist and pro-Soviet Left.

Sad news: Market Harborough councillor Pete Callis has died

Pete Callis, Liberal Democrat councillor for Market Harborough's Logan ward on Harborough District Council has died.

He has been one of the members for the ward since 1991 and sat for the town's old West ward between 1979 and 1983.

Pete was also one of the town's county councillors between 1993 and 2009.

My old friend Phil Knowles, leader of our group on Harborough DC, has paid tribute to him:
"Many people in Market Harborough will be deeply shocked by the news of Pete Callis's death. 
"He has been a very long serving and well loved member of the district council. 
"He also represented the town at County Hall for 16 years 
"He had been a friend for more than 30 years. 
"It is very sad news and he will be missed by very many people. 
"Our condolences and thoughts are with Celia and his family at this time."
The Leicester Mercury quotes Blake Pain, the Conservative leader of the council, as saying:
"Our condolences are with Celia and his family. 
"Pete was a man of principles and integrity and represented the interests of his constituents. 
"He was council chairman when I first was elected to the council in 2007. 
"He contributed a great deal to the council and the town."
When I moved back to Harborough in 1984 it was Pete who collected me and all my stuff in his van.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Take the last train to Dufftown

This video shows the last British Rail working on this line, which ran in 1991.

It has since been reopened by enthusiasts as the Keith & Dufftown Railway.

The significance of Charlotte Church on Question Time

I never quite saw the point of Charlotte Church. A young girl who could sound like an adults soprano was remarkable, but why not just listen to an adult soprano?

Boy trebles, by contrast, have a discrete repertoire to sing and their careers are mercifully brief.

Church is still with us and has branched out into politics, aided by Question Time's mania for celebrities.

It is also striking how often these days the people who speak up for the views of the Labour left now come from showbiz.

That trend will only accelerate, given how few Labour MPs share their leader's views. It also seems that expressing left-wing views is now obligatory if you want a career in comedy.

The right-wing alternative, which consisted of people who played golf with Jimmy Tarbuck, seems to have died out in recent years.

Charlotte Church did not enjoy appearing on Question Time last night, but her tweet above is instructive.

Though right-wingers always complain that the show's audience is biased against them, the BBC is at pains to make it representative of the wider public.

So it may not be unfair to see Charlotte Church as experiencing discomfort on encountering the electorate and then retreating to the cosy womb of social media.

There she need meet only people who agree with her.

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceAs this approach is likely to be typical of the Coybynista in the coming months, it is appropriate that she should represent them on Question Time.

Six of the Best 542

Stephen Tall will be running naked down Whitehall. Well, almost.

"The great thing about the ‘new politics’ – or at least the new politics we have lately been privileged to endure here in Scotland – is that it’s just as fetid and grubby as the old politics it replaced." Alex Massie on life under an SNP government.

Peter Ashley remembers having cider with Laurie Lee.

"Though admirable, longevity is rarely a virtue of good satire. Brass Eye ran for seven episodes, causing more merry hell during that time than HIGNFY has caused in 25 years." David Waywell does not welcome the return of Have I Got News for You.

"Charlie Brown's dog, Snoopy ... reads widely, favouring Leo Tolstoy, Hermann Hesse, and Miss Helen Sweetstory, author of the Bunny-Wunny books." Athar Yawar diagnoses the Peanuts characters for The Lancet.

Victorian Masculinity offers its Top 10 neo-Victorian  novels.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Bonus Secrets of the Underground

I have posted most of their videos about individual lines. Here are some more interesting scraps from Londonist.

The Duke of Rutland is standing in a by-election

Thanks to the people who tweeted me about Britain's most esoteric by-election today.

It is an election to fill a vacancy for a hereditary peer to sit on the crossbenches in the Lords. There is an electorate of 30 and 17 candidates.

One of the candidates is the Duke of Rutland. As his candidature statement (seen above) mentions his membership of Ukip, he would make a funny kind of crossbencher.
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
Lord Bonkers tells me he went to the bookies today and was offered very long odds on the Duke.

Welcome to the new Liberal Democrat bloggers

Two new blogs appeared on LibDemBlogs in September.

tompkin98blog - written by Thomas Mercer - has been going for a while. Here it is on the refugee crisis:
My opinion is that the UK to an extent needs an influx of younger people within it as the population ages and native born people have less children per household than before. There are skill gaps within our society that can only be plugged by foreign nationals coming in, alongside the fact there are certain jobs within our society natives are not prepared to do but foreign nationals will, low skilled menial jobs many of those natives on benefits refusing to work refuse to do.
I particularly like the way he end each post with "Thanks for Reading".

The other new blog is James' Political Ramblings, written by James O'Neill. There is just one post so far: a trenchant one on Labour's new leader:
All the evidence points to Mr Corbyn being a threat to the United Kingdom. My reasoning for this is threefold: first is his commitment not to launch airstrikes on the so-called Islamic State in Syria. Second is his complete disdain for the majority held view in Northern Ireland: that Northern Ireland should remain a part of the United Kingdom. Third is his economics and his absolutely abysmal decision to appoint John McDonnell as Shadow Chancellor.
If you have a new blog you would like to appear here next month, please add it to LibDemBlogs.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Vanished Leicester: Emmanuel Baptist Church (1965)

Copyright © Dennis Calow

The University of Leicester Special Collections site labels this as "Emanuel Baptist Church, New Park Road".

But it is clearly the same church I have twice blogged about, saying it was in Leamington Street. Perhaps it was on the corner?

Anyway, here it is again photographed some years earlier, complete with a very 1965 car and small boy.

People who never lived in Harborough: 1. Graham Chapman

Game Show Host: Good evening and welcome to Stake Your Claim. First this evening we have Mr Norman Voles of Gravesend who claims he wrote all Shakespeare's works. Mr Voles, I understand you claim that you wrote all those plays normally attributed to Shakespeare? 
Voles: That is correct. I wrote all his plays and my wife and I wrote his sonnets. 
Host: Mr Voles, these plays are known to have been performed in the early 17th century. How old are you, Mr Voles? 
Voles: 43. 
Host: Well, how is it possible for you to have written plays performed over 300 years before you were born? 
Voles: Ah well. This is where my claim falls to the ground. 
Host: Ah! 
Voles: There's no possible way of answering that argument, I'm afraid. I was only hoping you would not make that particular point, but I can see you're more than a match for me!

Graham Chapman never lived in Market Harborough, so there will not be a plaque in his honour put up here.

The reason this story came to be published is a moral tale about, not just the credulity of this blogger, but also the limitations of local newspapers.

There is going to be a plaque on Catherwood House on The Square, the home of Caffe Nero. But it will be in honour of the town's Nobel Prize winner William Bragg.

The local council announced the news on its website and included a mocked up image of what it will look like. They used a picture of the existing plaque to Chapman in Melton Mowbray.

Someone at the Harborough Mail saw it and assumed that Chapman had once lived here.

These days the Mail is edited from Kettering or Daventry or somewhere even further afield. The days when it had an editor who knew everyone in town and could check a story like this with one phonce call are long past.

My own excuse was that I knew Chapman's father had been a police office and had lived at various places across the county.

And, years ago, I was interviewed on BBC Radio Leicester about comedy writing. At one point the interviewer mentioned that Graham Chapman had come from Market Harborough.

I thought he meant Melton, but I was too polite to contradict him and he did plant the seed of the idea in my mind.

That, and it was a nice sunny idea so I thought I would go and photograph Catherwood House and use it in a blog post.

Thanks for various local tweeters.

Norman Baker talks to Andrew Neil and the Sussex Express

Norman Baker was on the Daily Politics last week talking about life as a Coalition minister. You can see the interview above.

He has also been talking to the Sussex Express:
To many people Norman Baker is as authentic a part of Lewes as the Castle or the Brewery, epitomising the county town the way, for example, Jilly Cooper epitomises the shires or Pam Ayres epitomised Norfolk [the geography a bit off in both cases]
Against the Grain is the perfect title for his biography. 
Like Lewes, he is slightly bohemian (not for effect), plain speaking, anti-authoritarian, quirky and possibly an uncomfortable political bedfellow. (David Cameron memorably described him as ‘the most annoying man in Parliament’). Times columnist Matthew Parris called him ‘a classic House of Commons bore’ but also said: ‘you underestimate him at your peril.’ 
His book is full of astonishing revelations and the most wonderful, insightful gossip. Did he keep a diary? “No, I collected press cuttings, partly because it was a defence if someone said: ‘You said that’ and I knew I had not but also partly because at that stage I thought I might write something. 
“I also had access to papers, particularly for the Ministry of Transport but while at the Home Office I decided I would keep detailed notes.” 
His book vividly describes his early territory as a local councillor, and later an MP representing – among other villages – Glynde and Firle. “In the Civic War, Firle was Royalist and Glynde was Parliamentarian – I think they still see it in that way a little.”
I am sure Norman would like me to point out that Against the Grain is published by Biteback.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Steam on the Lynton & Barnstaple

Sixteen minutes of narrow-gauge goodness, filmed on Sunday.

The narrow-gauge Lynton & Barnstaple Railway opened in May 1898. It was taken over by the Southern Railway in 1922, closed in 1935 and partially reopened in recent years.

Read about the progress with restoration.

SNP MP withdraws from party whip as police probe property deals

From STV News this evening:
MP Michelle Thomson has withdrawn from the SNP whip after police launched an investigation into property deals conducted by her lawyer. 
The MP's solicitor was struck off by the Scottish Solicitors' Discipline Tribunal over several deals where Mrs Thomson used his services. 
After that ruling, Police Scotland has confirmed it was instructed by the Crown Office to investigate “alleged irregularities relating to property deals" in 2010 and 2011 following the Tribunal ruling. 
Mrs Thomson insisted she would cooperate with any investigation into the deals but said she would withdraw from the party whip as the probe was ongoing.
Michelle Thomson is MP for Edinbugh West, a seat held by the Liberal Democrats before May's general election.

Jeremy Corbyn did once welcome the prospect of an asteroid wiping out humanity

Jeremy Corbyn began his first speech as leader to a Labour Party Conference like this:
You might have noticed in some of our newspapers they’ve taken a bit of an interest in me lately. Some of the things I’ve read are this. According to one headline: "Jeremy Corbyn welcomed the prospect of an asteroid ‘wiping out’ humanity.” 
Now, asteroids are pretty controversial. It’s not the kind of policy I’d want this party to adopt without a full debate in conference. So can we have the debate later in the week!
How the audience laughed!

Except that Jeremy Corbyn did once welcome the prospect of an asteroid wiping our humanity.

In May 2004 he put his name to Commons early day motion 1255, which is worth quoting in full:
That this House is appalled, but barely surprised, at the revelations in M15 files regarding the bizarre and inhumane proposals to use pigeons as flying bombs; recognises the important and live-saving role of carrier pigeons in two world wars and wonders at the lack of gratitude towards these gentle creatures; and believes that humans represent the most obscene, perverted, cruel, uncivilised and lethal species ever to inhabit the planet and looks forward to the day when the inevitable asteroid slams into the earth and wipes them out thus giving nature the opportunity to start again.
There were only three signatories: the late Tony Banks, Corbyn and his new shadow chancellor John McDonnell.

This a minor point, but it does point to important truths about Labour today.

The first is their seething hatred for the press. After more than 30 years in the wilderness, how does Corbyn begin a speech he can hardly of dreamt of making? By attacking the press.

He must also have been sure this would get the audience on his side from the start.

And the second truth is that many of the 'smears' that Corbyn supporters complain of are nothing of the sort. They are simply his own words being quoted back at him.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Jim Crace in the T.H. White archive

"The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then - to learn. 
"Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn."

Six of the Best 541

"Jeremy Corbyn’s revolutionary strategy is simple: there are millions of people out there who either voted for someone else or didn’t vote at all who are simply waiting for a truly hard left platform from the Labour Party." Unfortunately for him, argues Mark Wallace, this is a fantasy.

James Graham offers five, if you will, reckons on Tim Farron and the Liberal Democrats.

"Hitler and his publicists drew on mountain imagery from Germany’s literary and artistic movements (particularly Romanticism) to mythologize the Führer as a mystic leader who immersed himself in – and embodied – the terrible and magnificent forces of nature." Despina Stratigakos on the selling of Hitler to the German people.

Luke Winkie on the life and death of a little-known dialect: Texas German.

Stratford Johns was television's favourite policeman of the Sixties and early Seventies. Andrew Martin, with the help of BBC Genome, examines his career.

Londonist explains why the guns of HMS Belfast are trained on Scratchwood services.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Frank Tyson in his pomp

Frank Tyson, the former England fast bowler, has died in a Queensland hospital at the age of 85.

It is odd that the two English bowlers most feared for their sheer speed, Tyson and Harold Larwood, chose to settle in Australia when they retired from cricket.

Anand Vasu interviewed Tyson last year:
Tyson would only play 17 Tests, picking up 76 wickets at an average of 18.56. No bowler since he played has managed more than 20 wickets at a better average. 
To measure Tyson in cold numbers, though, is to do him a disgrace, for here was a man of words. One of only three or four university graduates in county cricket at the time, Tyson studied English Literature at Hatfield College in the University of Durham. When he went on tour, he took with him the work of Geoffrey Chaucer, Virginia Woolf and Bernard Shaw. 
Consider the words JM Kilburn, respected sports writer of the Yorkshire Post, used to describe Tyson: “His best pace was nothing short of startling to batsmen and spectators alike. He represented an elemental force obscuring the details of his technique and the highest tribute he received was the gasp of incredulity frequently emitted by the crowd as the ball passed from his hand to the distant wicketkeeper.”
The video above shows Tyson bowling for Northamptonshire against Kent at Rushden in 1957.

It provides a pleasing portrait of country cricket at an outground in that era. Marquees; adults on deckchairs, children sitting cross-legged on the grass.

New World: Rooftop Singing

New World were an Australian group who enjoyed modest success in Britain in the early 1970s.

This song was written for them by Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn, the most prolific hit makers era. Most of their songs were dross, but Chapman later redeemed himself by producing Blondie's Parallel Lines.

Rooftop Singing reached only no. 50 in the UK in 1973, but they had reached no. 6 in 1971 with Tom Tom Turnaround".

The Seekers had been huge in Britain in the 1960s, so I suppose Chinnichap thought it was worth taking a punt on another folky Australian vocal group.

But I have a vague memory that a whiff of scandal surrounded New World.

Wrinkled Weasel's World quotes Mike Hurst, the band's producer:
Mickie Most introduced me to an Australian band called New World. They were on Opportunity Knocks. So, my first comment was, “Surely, we are going to see if they win it” and Mickie said, “Oh, they will”. That was my first intimation that things weren’t quite as they should be. 
A guy from ATV who produced the show said, “and when they win the final..” and I looked at him and said, “How can you be so sure?” and he said, “Don’t worry, we are very sure. They are going to win.” That’s when it all came home and I realised it was fixed. The fix was nothing to do with me; I was just going to make a record.
And that blog goes on to record how it ended:
Of course, the fixing scandal of Opportunity Knocks blew open and that’s what killed New World. They were at my house in Henley, rehearsing. They got a phone call and literally ran out of the house. 
I had never seen people move so fast. They had a car waiting to take them to Henley station. They went back to London and the next thing I heard, the band had been arrested. 
Of course they could never be accused of anything but they were material witnesses to the Opportunity Knocks fix. After it all got out it destroyed their career.
UK Game Shows tells a slightly different story:
The pop group New World were tried at the Old Bailey for trying to fix the outcome of the show on which they appeared. They had asked friends to send in bogus votes.
If anyone has more leads on this long-forgotten scandal, I would be interested to hear about them.

They would probably be more fun than New World's songs.

Jonathan Meades on the writing of An Encyclopaedia of Myself

The Spectator has the text of a talk Jonathan Meades gave at the Edinburgh Festival about the writing of his memoir An Encyclopaedia of Myself:
I wrote of my father’s lifelong friend Osmund Edwards: Uncle Os lived far away beyond the Severn; he owned a pub surrounded by orchards and hop-yards. I have a very strong memory from the age of about three and a half of that place, of a bright day, of a line of trees – limes maybe – beside a dusty dappled road. That was, I believed, the first time I registered dapple. 
My memory was indeed very strong – and entirely incorrect. Forty years later I returned to that pub between Tenbury Wells and the worryingly gothic St Michael’s College. No orchards, no hop-yards, and the surrounding fields were devoted to cereal crops. Lime trees? According to an old postcard I subsequently found, there never had been trees.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Severn Tunnel

An educational film from 1959.

Jackfield is in a stable condition

From the Shropshire Star:
Riverbank piling works as part of the Jackfield Stabilisation Project have now been completed. That work involved 2,000 steel piles being driven into the banks of the River Severn to stabilise the land and halt the land slip – and was the bulk of the work designed to prevent landslides and try to reduce erosion and the movement of land in the Ironbridge Gorge.
I have blogged about subsidence at Jackfield before. Do follow that link and view the newsreel footage of the area from the 1950s.

The photo above shows Jackfield's remarkable Victorian church, St Mary the Virgin.