Monday, January 26, 2015

The Battle for Berwick

Photo of Berwick-upon-Tweed © Richard West

The Journal has an amusing piece on the campaign in the Berwick-upon-Tweed constituency, where Sir Alan Beith is standing down after more than 41 years as an MP:
When it was announced in December that the A1 in Northumberland was to be upgraded, Prime Minister David Cameron made a rare trip to Northumberland to personally take a stroll by the side of the road. With him in the picture was Anne-Marie Trevelyan, a long-time campaigner for dualling of the A1 who just happens to be the Conservatives’ candidate for Berwick in the election. 
With him too was Sir Alan Beith, MP for Berwick for more than four decades and another long-term campaigner for A1 improvements. And with Sir Alan was Julie Porksen, the daughter of a Northumberland farmer who just happens to be the Lib Dems’ candidate for Berwick in the election.
And they were not the only politicians to visit Berwick that week.

How the blues conquered Birmingham

The way that the blues entranced white youth in Britain, but not in America, is one of music's puzzles.

I wrote about it - or rather quoted Joe Boyd else about it - in a post in 2008:
Boyd describes a concert at the Hammersmith Odeon:
This was middle America's worst nightmare: white teenage girls screaming ecstatically at Chuck Berry.
 Boyd noticed a familiar figure looking on:
 I blurted out "That's John Lee Hooker." The girls around me started yelling, "John Lee? John Lee? Where? Where?" I pointed towards the wings. They started chanting, "We want John Lee, we want John Lee" and were quickly joined by half the hall - hundreds of kids. 
Boyd goes on: 
In that moment, I decided I would live in England and produce music for this audience. America seemed a desert in comparison. These weren't the privileged elite, they were just kids, Animals fans. And they knew who John Lee Hooker was! 
No white person in America in 1964 - with the exception of me and my friends, of course - knew who John Lee Hooker was.
A recent profile of Robert Plant gives another example of the extent to which the blues influenced some young Britons and also provides a pleasing vignette of Birmingham's musical history:
"My preoccupation as a very young early teenager was a music form that I might have missed. ... If I had missed it, I would never have sung," he says. "If I hadn't heard the Howlin' Wolf, Robert Johnson, Little Richard music, I wouldn't have been drawn to music. Most of the music we (in England) were surrounded by was slush, without any commitment. ... I was born again and saved and reincarnated by American music." 
Dave Pegg, long-time bassist for British folk-rock group Fairport Convention, well remembers Plant's youthful musical passion. Monday mornings often found Pegg, Plant and other teens — including future Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, and future Traffic members Steve Winwood and Jim Capaldi — waiting for Birmingham record shop The Diskery to open so they could buy the latest records. 
"Robert and Jim Capaldi were kind of walking histories about blues and obscure soul albums," says Pegg.

Teacher with dyed purple hair expels pupil over his dyed red hair

Metro walks away with our prestigious Headline of the Day Award.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Cleaners From Venus: Illya Kuryakin Looked at me

A wonderful homage to the Sixties as they were or should have been. Rita Tushingham. Harold Wilson. David Hemmings. David Bailey. The Avengers. The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Cleaners from Venus are chiefly a vehicle for Martin Newell, "the wild man of Wivenhoe". It's discography is obscure, but as far as I can make out this track was released as a single in 1987 and can be found on the 2003 album Going to England.

Newell has moved in exalted circles. He has been produced by Andy Partridge from XTC and the guitarist here is Captain Sensible.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Churchill's funeral train leaves Waterloo

Winston Churchill died 50 years ago today. His funeral is one of my earliest memories: I thought that there was a funeral on television every time someone died.

This video shows his funeral train leaving London Waterloo en route for Hanborough in Oxfordshire. That is the station for Blenheim Palace and for the village of Bladon where he was to be buried.

The natural station from which to leave London for Bladon is Paddington. This apparent anomaly has given rise to the pleasing story that Churchill, who played an enthusiastic part in the arrangements for his own funeral, chose a different route so that Charles De Gaulle would be obliged to visit Waterloo.

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceBeachcombing's Bizarre History Blog has looked at the evidence and judged that it is not true.

But when the legend becomes fact...

Market Harborough brickwork

I like these buildings in a yard off St Mary's Road, though I think I liked them better before the walls were painted.

Was this a practical solution to provide better clearance for traffic below, or was it a little piece of fantasy on the part of the builder?

When Vince Cable showed the right attitude to the Saudi regime

In the autumn of 2009, while Nick Clegg was taking paternity leave, there was a state visit to Britain by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

The acting Liberal Democrat leader, Vince Cable,* showed the right attitude to the Saudi regime. As BBC News reported it at the time:
Liberal Democrat acting leader Vince Cable is boycotting the state visit to Britain of Saudi King Abdullah. 
Mr Cable says he will not attend any of the planned ceremonial events - as would be normal for the leader of one of the main opposition parties. 
Mr Cable told the BBC's Today programme that by any assessment of Saudi Arabia, "the human rights record is appalling". 
He also cited the regime's arms deal with the British firm BAE and the row over alleged corruption surrounding it. 
Mr Cable added: "I think it's quite wrong that as a country we should give the leader of Saudi Arabia this honour."
If you read the post I wrote at the time, you will find that Vince's stance was criticised by both Tory (Liam Fox)** and Labour (Kin Howells).***

Today we have Union Jacks**** flying at half mast in memory of King Abdullah and a Lib Dem deputy prime minister who remains silent.

True, Nick Clegg condemned the flogging sentence passed on the blogger Raif Badawi, but only after he had claimed to know nothing about the case.

I wonder how his silence this week strikes people who voted for us in 2010 because they admired the Lib Dems' strong stance on human rights?


* Presumably it would be Danny Alexander today.

** As in "whatever happened to Liam Fox?"

*** As in "Makes Neil Kinnock sound like a Trappist monk."

**** It is perfectly in order to call it the Union Jack. The idea that should call it the "Union Flag" is QIesque sophistry.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Richard Rorty on democracy and philosophy

When Richard Rorty died in 2007 I quoted a tribute by Christopher Hayes in the Nation:
Rorty had an uncanny ability to stare into the post-modern abyss, in which nothing is grounded in the divine or universal, and yet somehow, some way, find a kind of practical empathy that could serve as a beacon in the face of nihilism, authoritarianism and cruelty.
This interview, which he gave n 1997, is a good introduction to the appeal of Rorty's ideas.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Six of the Best 489

Stumbling and Mumbling is characteristically interesting in looking at the global onper cent: "If you want a picture of the global 1%, a bien-pensant 50-something in a house in north London might be more accurate than a billionaire hedge fund manager."

"Third-party surveillance tools have grown from a virtually nonexistent industry in 2001 to one raking in over $5 billion annually. It’s also enabled countries around the world to cheaply establish a crude surveillance state, one that manipulates citizens and threatens their privacy." Aaron Sankin on the unstoppable rise of the global surveillance profiteers.

"Do not imagine that the effects of any change in American standards will not ultimately affect you, wherever you are. Standards are increasingly international – what is decided in one jurisdiction pretty quickly affects others." Bernard Spiegal believes that TTIP and the harmonisation of standards pose a danger to play provision in Britain.

Flashbak has some wonderful photographs of the Home Front in the Second World War.

Just One More Ten Pence Piece ... on the practical and emotional work of clearing a house.

Limited-overs cricket is increasingly loaded in favour of the batsmen, argues former bowler Mike Selvey.

Gary Glitter believed Spike Milligan wanted to shoot him, court hears

The Leicester Mercury wins Headline of the Day.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Woman with a Fish, Northampton

The photograph above shows the unveiling of Sir Frank Dobson's sculpture ‘Woman with a Fish’ at St Katherine's Gardens in the centre of Northampton in the early 1950s. It was first exhibited at the 1951 Battersea Park sculpture exhibition.

Today, as my photograph below shows, you will find it in the gardens at Delapre Abbey.

George Smid to fight South Holland and the Deepings for the Liberal Democrats

Spalding Today has a short particle about the excellent George Smid, who has been selected to fight South Holland and the Deepings for the Liberal Democrats in May's general election:
"I have collected a number of experiences: communist Czechoslovakia, a stateless refugee, professional career, a night-shift dishwasher, working for a multinational corporation, running my own business – to name but few.”

Boycott supermarkets over milk prices, says Bishop's Castle councillor

Charlotte Barnes, the Liberal Democrat councillor for Bishop's Castle in Shropshire and also the party's candidate for the Ludlow constituency in May's general election, is encouraging people not to buy milk from stores that fail to pay a fair price to local farmers.

She told the Shropshire Star:
“The long term problem has been the supermarket’s strangle-hold on prices – this is what has pushed our dairy industry into long term decline. 
“It’s clear from the research that prices paid vary widely with some paying particularly low sums to farmers.” 
Interestingly, Charlotte has suggested using the Fairtrade Mark on British produce.

Some will simply welcome the lower prices, but I take this campaign (which echoes Farm Aid in America) as another sign that the Big Supermarket Economy, which has seemed unstoppable for 30 years or more, is running into trouble.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Cardigan Branch in 1958

Another film from the Railway Roundabout television programme.

The Whitland and Cardigan Railway closed to passengers in September 1962 and to freight traffic the following May.

Hear Brian Clemens talk about The Avengers

The writer and producer Brian Clemens died last week. As his Guardian obituary said, he was "responsible for hundreds of hours of escapist television entertainment, including such enduringly popular programmes as The Avengers and The Professionals".

In 2011 Clemens took part in a Night Waves discussion about The Avengers on BBC Radio 3. Also taking part were Matthew Sweet, Bea Campbell, Sarah Dunant and Dominic Sandbrook.

As Clemens says in the course of  it, he did not invent The Avengers but he did invent all the elements that make people remember it.

Liberal Democrat councillor joins Ukip

The Leicester Mercury carries the surprising news that Diane Horne, a Liberal Democrat town councillor from Shepshed, is to stand as a Ukip candidate for the authority in May.

Yes, she is only a town councillor, but she also hopes to be elected to Charnwood Borough Council for one of the town's wards at the same time.

Diane Horne explains her move:
"I'm not against Europe but I am for the British people having control of the country. 
"I am not against all immigration but I am against illegal immigration and I think that a person coming here should already have a job to and should be paying taxes. 
"UKIP seemed to make sense to me. I thought about not standing at all but I have been serving this community for more than nine years and I didn’t want that to go to waste."

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Manic Street Preachers: A Design for Life

When choosing a Neil Young track five years I reminisced about the 1996 Phoenix Festival.

As I said then, Manic Street Preachers sounded great live. So here is another track from the day - I'm not sure where those strings are coming from though- with me out in the crowd somewhere.

Why Nicky Morgan upsets Tory campaign chiefs

James Forsyth writes in the Mail on Sunday:
In recent weeks, there have been whispers at Westminster that Tory campaign chiefs have been disappointed by her performance and irritated by her view that the party's electoral message needed more hope and positivity.
Hope and positivity? Doesn't sound their kind of thing at all.

Al Murray on Russell Brand

The Pub Landlord is interviewed by the Independent:
"What you have to admire about Russell is he what he might lack in serious argument he makes up for with adjectives."

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Six of the Best 488

Confessions of a Skeptic looks at the terms of reference for the government's historical child abuse inquiry: "There are one or two good points in the Terms of Reference, but the overall impression is that it is a half-thought through mess. It is self-contradictory concerning the range of information the inquiry can access, there are redundant phrases within it, there are phrases whose meaning is very unclear. It has the air of having been hurriedly scribbled on the back of an envelope in response to a 30-minute deadline."

Making choice work for the poorest families does not undermine good schools, argues Emran Mian.

"Bleak House does not merely embody the vast scope of his vision of contemporary London, but offers unparalleled richness in every aspect of his art – from the slums of Tom-All-Alone's to the 'houses of high connection' in the fashionable world; from comedy to psychological drama to social commentary and pure storytelling." Lynn Shepherd celebrates Charles Dickens' greatest novel.

Mark Cole watches Ronnie O'Sullivan make snooker history.

"Ye olde" is fake Old English and we don't even pronounce it properly, explains Lauren Davis.

Unofficial Britain visits Cleethorpes and Southport on a quest to find what Sooty and Sweep are doing now.

A kingfisher on the Welland in Market Harborough

There were no signs of the otters this morning, but I did another welcome new resident of this stretch of the Welland.

Northamptonshire TV star Spinach the llama celebrates his 20th birthday today

Happy birthday to Spinach and congratulations to the Northants Herald & Post for winning Headline of the Day,

Friday, January 16, 2015

Harborough Otter Spotter

Otter hunting in the urban environment part 1 from James Burman on Vimeo.

Fans of Market Harborough's latest wildlife sensation will be pleased to know that there is a Harborough Otter Spotter Facebook page with photos and videos of the beasts.

One of the contributors is James Burman, who shot the footage above.


Jonathan Meades on how writers invent places not describe them

Jonathan Meades reviews Nairn's London for the Literary Review and in the course of doing so says something profound about topographical writing:
Do not feel tempted to go and see for yourself. He did his work at a desk, not when he was shuffling about, all eyes and raw antennae, in his slept-in suit. The description - a distillation of a specific perception - is invariably superior to the place which it evokes, which it invents
The compact is, or ought to be, between writer and reader, not between place and tourist. Only if we suffer a profoundly defective misunderstanding of places as subject or as catalysts of mood or as topographical correlatives do we hurry to the Teme Valley when we read Housman or to the Marshwood Vale when we read Household.
My own Shropshire is made up from scraps of Malcolm Saville and other writers, my own visits over 25 years, friendships and much else.

And I once heard one of Saville's sons way that when he wrote Seven White Gates, in some ways the most Shropshire of all his books, he had not visited the Stiperstones. He took all that books remarkable atmosphere from Mary Webb.

So, though I have dragged a surprising number of people up from Snailbeach to see Lords Hill Chapel, you cannot visit my Shropshire.

It is true that I photograph it for you, but the ones I use here are carefully selected. The one above shows the old engine house at White Grit with the unmistakable crest of Bromlow Callow behind it.

Shirley Williams on Testament of Youth

Jasper Rees has interviewed Shirley Williams about the film of her mother Vera Brittain's autobiographical book Testament of Youth:
What Williams really admires about the film is the friendships ("brilliantly done") and the sense of a young woman’s pioneering struggle for gender equality, plus the later glimpse of her internationalism. Brittain took the story of Testament of Youth deep into the Twenties to portray her growing conviction that the Great War must also be the last war.
Williams is aware that her mother’s pacifism is not fashionable, and indeed some columnists have given Brittain’s stance towards the Third Reich a kicking as her story returns to national attention
"I didn’t agree with my mother about that. I concluded that Hitler was so evil that you couldn’t stop him even with the most dedicated pacifism — he would have shot Gandhi."
Shirley pays a remarkable tribute to Cheryl Campbell, who played Brittain in the 1979 television adaptation - you will find it all on Youtube:
"She was so like my mother in many ways. You couldn’t get a cigarette paper between the two."
And interview concludes:
The hope is that the film will send new readers to the book for a bracing dose of Brittain’s candour, unrivalled among female chroniclers of the war.
"That's the thing I most respect," says Williams. "She was an incredibly honest woman. She never softened the truth. Nor did she exaggerate it. Don’t forget we’re talking about the Edwardian age. People were not candid, especially women."
This is Shirley's family history, so she should know. But I believe that the awful English "respectability", which is so often blamed on the Victorians, is more typical of the early decades of the 20th century. Particularly of the years following the First World War,