Monday, December 18, 2017

Leicestershire Tories and their Sprout Compliance Unit

You know the score. Labour and the Liberal Democrats interfere in people's lives. The Conservatives are rugged individualists who have no time for petty regulations or elf 'n safety.

Not round here they're not.

The Tory-run Harborough District, for instance, can fine you if you feed the ducks on the Welland or fail to produce a bag to pick up mess when walking your dog.

Now the Tory-run Leicestershire County Council has joined in by sending the tweet above.

If they want to be helpful, the county could tweet some recipes for leftover sprouts. Bubble and squeak for instance.

But there are plenty of recipes online so, given the pressures on public services on the county, I think the Tories would do better to redeploy the staff in their Sprout Compliance Unit.

They can safely leave the people of Leicestershire to monitor their vegetable intake themselves.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Father Christmas is not Santa Claus

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Well, he is now, but he never used to be. 

That is what I have longed believed, and there is evidence to support this view in a page on the Arthuriana site.

It says the earliest reference to Father Christmas:
comes from the mid-fifteenth century, when a Sir Christëmas appears in a carol, although most discussions start with Ben Johnson's early seventeenth-century old or Captaine Christmas. 
Whilst strenuous efforts were made by the puritans of the seventeenth century to do away with this character, they did not succeed. 
In the nineteenth century Father Christmas benefited from the general Victorian revival of Christmas and can be found in, for example, Dickens' Christmas Carol. 
However, from the 1870s onwards Father Christmas became increasingly like the American Santa Claus, both in terms of his actions - he started giving gifts - and his appearance, with the result that two are nowadays virtually inter-changeable. 
 The page also has useful links to more research on this question.

Six of the Best 752

Why did white working-class men vote for Brexit? Noam Gidron and Peter A. Hall suggest it is because they have lost social standing over the past three decades.

"The UK government can’t leave the Single Market and the Customs Union and, at the same time, avoid a physical border in Ireland," says Flip Chart Rick.

If you want to know who matters in Britain, wait until it snows. You will find that the roads are gritted but pedestrians are left to tackle icy pavements unaided. Ludlow's Andy Boddington thinks it is time we did something to help them.

Emma Tucker asks if it is time to reassess Britain's postmodern architecture.

"Even people who have never seen Michael Curtiz’s romantic wartime allegory can conjure up a few lines about beautiful friendships, gin joints and hills of beans… maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon." Pamela Hutchinson looks at why we are all still quoting Casablanca.

IanVisits surveys Christmas Day television over the years. As a bonus, here is something you could have watched on ITV 25 December 1968. Maybe I did...

Cleo Laine: Thieving Boy



Turning on Radio 4 was dangerous in the 1970s. There was every chance you would encounter Instant Sunshine, the King’s Singers or James bloody Galway.

Worse, it could be Cleo Laine.

She invariably went:
Doo wop, doo be doo, diddly diddly shoo, doo wop, doop doop diddly diddly whop, woop woop shoo wop shoo wop, diddly diddly, bip bop bap, shoobly shoobly woop woo.
I knew I was supposed to like her, but I couldn’t

But my new favourite television station, Talking Pictures TV, has twice shown the 1960 film The Criminal this week.

It is a genuine British noir – a crime and prison drama starring Stanley Baker. He was a real tough-guy actor who played hard-bitten cops and hard-biting villains.

The song that accompanies the opening credits of The Criminal, sung by Cleo Laine, occupies an interesting space between folk and jazz.

It sounds traditional, but was written by Laine’s husband Johnny Dankworth.

Best of all, she doesn’t go “shoobly shoobly woop woo” once.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Richard Osman reruns 1973 and this time the good guys win

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Richard Osman is running a World Cup of Christmas Songs on his Twitter account.

One of the quarter finals pitted Merry Christmas Everybody by Slade and I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day by Wizzard.

It was like 1973 all over again, as these were the two songs that competed for the Christmas number one that year.

In those days I was a Wizzard fan and very much wanted them to beat Slade. But they didn't and it was Merry Christmas Everybody that topped the chart.

I used to feel embarrassed that I had liked Wizzard. But now I realise that they evolved out of The Move and that Roy Wood is a kind of genius.

Slade, by contrast, are still embarrassing and I am proud that I never liked them.

The good news is that Wizzard won the quarter final, scoring 54 per cent of the vote.

I feel history has vindicated me.

Don't blame Ladybird Books for the rise of Daniel Hannan

Otto English is someone I retweet a lot and I was pleased when he started a blog this autumn at Pin Prick.

But I have to take issue with his latest post, the wonderfully titled Ladybird Libertarians: Dan Hannan, Paddington and the pernicious impact of 1970s children’s literature on Brexit thinking.

I am the last one to say that the books people read as children have nothing to so with their later political views - after all, I am always banging on about Malcolm Saville here.

But the attempt to pin the blame for Daniel Hannan on Ladybird Books seems to be wrong for a number of reasons.

For instance the timing does not work. Daniel Hannan was born in Peru in 1971 and packed off to an English prep school at the age of eight. (Remember, when the Conservatives tell you that they are the party of the family that they have always been ruthless about depriving their children of family life if they think it will bring social or educational advantages.)

This mean he arrived at St Custard's or wherever it was just as Ladybird's heyday coming to an end.

As Anna Moore once wrote in the Guardian:
The iconic Ladybird world we remember probably stretched from the 50s through to the 70s. By the 80s, when Britain was changing and Ladybird wasn’t changing at the same pace, there was a feeling that those books were naive and a bit naff.
This seems exactly right to me: by the 1980s children's books were expected to be about "issues", not the simple enjoyment of the world around us that Ladybird offered.

But would you have found Ladybird books in a prep school in any year? I suspect their market was state primary schools and the children who went to them.

The children in the Peter and Jane books from which my mother taught me to read before I went to school (yes, I have reasons to be grateful to Ladybird) may look well scrubbed to modern eyes, but that does not put them into the prep-school-attending classes.

In an earlier Guardian article Chris Arnot talked to Harry Wingfield, who illustrated those books:
There was no real-life Jane. Or Peter, for that matter. Their images were forged from any number of photographs of local children, some taken on the new council estates that were springing up in the late 50s and early 60s.
"They were the sons and daughters of respectable workers," he says, "and they were well dressed. You didn't want dustbin kids. But they weren't as middle-class as everyone made out."
But the most serious thing the Pin Point gets wrong is the nature of Ladybird Books. I cannot think of a more progressive children's published in their era.

Yes, there were the books about the Kings and Queens that Otto objects too, but as he recognises there was also a series called 'People at Work.

And it you still think of Ladybird as twee, have a look at this Dirty Modern Scoundrel post on Ladybird Books and Modernism.

Even Peter and Jane moved with the times. In the books from which I learnt to read in the early 1960s, Peter resembled the young Prince Charles. By 1970 he had been redrawn with long hair and a cheeky grin and got to wear long trousers.

There are other children's books you can blame for the Brexit cast of mind - see my own exposé of Enid Blyton's proto fascism on the Guardian website - but Ladybird Books are innocent (in more than one sense of the word).

Friday, December 15, 2017

Malcolm Savile, Seven White Gates and the Wild Hunt

I saw some discussion of the Wild Hunt on Twitter today and was reminded of Seven White Gates by Malcolm Saville.

Here are Peter (Petronella) and Jenny on the Stiperstones one night during World War II:
Then the atmosphere became cold and clammy as the fog swirled round them. suddenly Jenny gave a stifled little scream and pointed up the track which led to the mines. Shadowy in the thickening mist, the two girls seemed to see a figure on horseback waving ghostly arms but no sound of hooves came to their straining ears. Then far away on the hilltop, it seemed to Peter that tiny, gnome-like figures flitted in uncanny procession. 
Jenny turned and wailed into Peter's shoulder. 
"Peter. It's true. It's them. They're riding again. What shall we do, Peter? We must hide our eyes. We mustn't even see them. Don't look, Peter."
There is more about the Wild Hunt on Wikipedia and more about Malcolm Saville and the legends of the Stiperstones in  The Singular Stiperstones by Tom Wall and Peter Francis.

Wall and Francis's claim that Saville's discovery of the Stiperstones was, unusually for him, made through other writers' books rather than by visiting the place for himslef is born out by a talk I once heard the late Revd Jeremy Saville (Malcolm's younger son) give.

He said he was pretty sure that his father had not visited the Stiperstones when he wrote Seven White Gates. and that the book owed a great deal to the novels of Mary Webb.

Seven White Gates, incidentally is a remarkable book. Again unusually for Saville, there are no villains to thwart or buried treasure to find. It is a story about the reconciliation of an estranged father and son.

And that reconciliation can be made to stand as a metaphor for the reconciliation of Britain and the USA. Seven White Gates therefore has much in common with films of the period like The Man in Grey of A Matter of Life and Death.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

St Catherine's Chapel, Abbotsbury


In the days when I went on long walking holidays I used to lay out everything I wanted to take and find it was too much for my rucksack. Often my camera was one of the things that was sacrificed.

But I did take it with me sometimes. And one of the times I did was 1997, when I walked from Plymouth to Brixham, missed out the area around Torbay on the advice of my guidebook as there was too much road walking, and then continued from Exmouth to Weymouth.

This photograph was taken that summer, as Tony Blair enjoyed a political honeymoon that took several years to end.

A little research tells me that the building in the distance with the look of a folly is St Catherine's Chapel, Abbotsbury.

In those days I tended to photograph landscapes, rather than the buildings I favour today. As I did not have a telephoto lens, the results were not generally satisfactory. But I rather like this shot.

The Chequered Skipper is coming back to Rockingham Forest


Regular readers will have heard of the Elves of Rocking Forest, with whom Lord Bonkers has a relationship of wary friendliness. ("It's best to keep on the right side of these fellows.")

Back from the Brink is a conservation project that aims to save 20 species from extinction and benefit over 200 more through 19 projects spread across England. And one of those projects is taking place in Rockingham Forest.

The project's Rockingham Roots page lays out its ambitions there:
Rockingham Forest covers more than 200 square miles, and has long been part of the natural and cultural heritage of Northamptonshire. It was designated a hunting forest by William the Conqueror back in 1086. 
Much of the once-vast ancient broad-leaved forest remains, but in separate woodland patches, dotted through the arable landscape. These are wonderful places, where nationally rare plants, bats, birds, reptiles and butterflies can still be found.
But these fragmented woodlands are under increasing pressure from climate change, nutrient enrichment and a rise in the number of deer.

So:
This Back from the Brink project, led by Butterfly Conservation, will restore and manage a network of woodland sites across the Rockingham Forest area, creating more habitat in which vulnerable species can thrive. 
We will introduce more diversity in the woodlands, increasing the complexity of the forest structure and creating more open space and habitat niches, such as dead wood. 
We will involve local people, helping them to get closer to the extraordinary wildlife of the forest, and working with volunteers to manage and monitor it. 
Once enough suitable habitat is available, we will reintroduce the Chequered Skipper Butterfly, extinct in England since 1976.

Progress with Oxford to Cambridge reopening

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The restoration of direct trains between Oxford and Cambridge moved closer today with the launch of the East West Railway Company.

This, says Rail News, will oversee the reconstruction of the link, which exists in some form from Oxford as far as Bedford.

The report goes on:
When the line opens, it will have interchange stations with four main railway lines radiating out of London, but it will run under or over each, minimising any risk of delay. The aim is to build a route that allows future upgrades to be incorporated with as little disruption as possible.
This suggests there will be some major new engineering works at Bedford and Sandy at least.

I hope I live to see the day when you can catch a train from Market Harborough to Bedford and change for Oxford or Cambridge.

Last time I went to Cambridge I complained about how indirect the rail journey now is from here, and Oxford is no better (change at Leicester, Nuneaton and Coventry).

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Six of the Best 751

The Pin Prick looks at the influence of Big Sugar on Brexit: "During the 2016 referendum Tate and Lyle Sugars was one of the few big companies to support Leave and this year sponsored the Brexit heavy Conservative Party Conference, a move branded ‘disgraceful’ by British farmers."

Policy wonks want to nudge people to do the right thing, but Tim Harford warns that the same techniques can be used to encourage people to do the wrong thing.

"What Jim Henson’s fantastic creations capture perfectly is Dickens’s interest in the ludicrous and absurd details of seemingly everyday appearances." Emma Curry argues that The Muppet Christmas Carol is best Dickens adaptation ever.

The other day Talking Pictures TV showed The Intruder, a 1953 film that makes an interesting companion piece to another Jack Hawkins film, The League of Gentlemen. dfordoom describes it as "Not quite a crime film, not quite a war film, but an interesting hybrid."

Matthew Engel has heard enough from Geoffrey Boycott.

Where to begin with British psychogeography cinema? Adam Scovell has some ideas.

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.