Friday, August 26, 2016

New opera house planned for Bonkers Hall

Photo of the stable block at Nevill Holt by Mat Fascione

A few days ago the Leicester Mercury reported:
A permanent opera house could be built in the heart of a historic country mansion. 
Multi millionaire entrepreneur David Ross has filed plans to build a 400-seater auditorium in the centre of a 17th century stable yard. 
It will replace a temporary structure at the medieval Nevill Holt Hall near Market Harborough which is beyond effective repair. 
Agents and architects for the project say a permanent home is needed if the opera is to be retained. 
For more than a decade more than 20,000 people have attended productions during the summer opera festival. 
Productions have included Carmen and this year there were sell out audiences for Verdi's Rigoletto and Donizetti's The Elixir of Love. 
Recently school children have been invited to sample classical music and take part in productions.
Regular readers will recall that most literary scholars now believe that Nevill Holt was the model for Bonkers Hall.

Lord Bonkers does mention the Royal Opera House, Oakham, from time to time, but I can see him having an opera house.

He might use it to perform his own operas which, on a Wagnerian scale, would tell the story of British Liberalism.

Speaking of Nevill Holt and Wagner...

Shrewsbury Folk Festival bans black-face morris dancers



The Shrewsbury Folk Festival will no longer book morris dancers using full-face black make up, the Shropshire Star reported yesterday.

Political correctness gone mad?

The festival's explanation does reek of of modern bourgeois angst, right down to the meaningless "as such":
"The use of full face black make up is an age old tradition, particularly within Border Morris. 
"The Morris movement has always evolved over time and some sides have take their own decisions to move away from using full face black make up to other forms of colour and disguise. 
"We have been approached by one group that has requested we no longer book sides that use full face black make up and another that has asked us not to change our policy and to continue to book these sides. 
"The festival finds itself caught between two sides of this opposing argument. 
"The festival has never wished to cause offence to any person and as such, from 2017, we will no longer book sides that use full face black make up. 
"This will only impact on a small number of dance sides and festival visitors will still be able to enjoy a wide range of traditional dance from the UK and beyond."
Where does the black face come from?

When I mentioned the Border morris tradition on this blog I wrote:
The blackened faces here, suggests Wikipedia, are either a reminder that morris dancing was originally known as Moorish dancing, a form of disguise adopted by 17th- and 18th-century labourers supplementing their wages with a spot of dancing and begging, or a remnant of the 19th-century craze for Black minstrels. (That last explanation seems to be the one Roy Palmer favours in The Folklore of Shropshire.)
But then the idea that its history gives an expression or an activity its 'true' meaning is surely a philosophical error.

Words, certainly, mean what we ordinarily use them to mean. They do not have a secret, deeper meaning that is hidden to us. (The later Wittgenstein writes: I approve this statement.)

I cannot claim to know whether Black people find Border morris offensive. My suspicion is that the group who made the complaint does not know either.

It is usual for Liberals to argue that banning things only drives them underground. I find the idea of underground morris dancing attractive, but it might be more accurate to say that this ban will freight Border Morris with a racial significance that it does not currently carry.

They could paint their faces another colour. I have seen blue-faced morris dancers, but the twee echoes of Avatar and the Smurfs were unfortunate. Maybe a combination of black and red would look suitably fierce?

Anyway, you can enjoy some Border Morris in the video above. We English are a primitive people, but we are attached to our customs - or at the least the tiny herbivorous minority that practises morris dancing are.

Six of the Best 621

"Admittedly, she will be able to rely on unlimited assistance from Labour, but will that be enough?" Bruce Anderson weighs Theresa May's prospects of creating an era of Tory hegemony.

Stephen Crossley and Michael Lambert outline the historical precedents for the government's Troubled Families Programme and argue that, by not learning from past mistakes, it is doomed to repeat them.

Eighty years ago, in Berlin, Stella Walsh won her second Olympic medal. Decades later, her murder and subsequent autopsy threw the legacy of track’s first female superstar into turmoil. Read a fascinating long article by Rob Tannenbaum.

The shadowy figure of David Litvinoff is part of the mythology of Swinging London. Colin MacCabe reviews a new biography of him.

James Alexander Cameron lists his Top 10 "bits of guff you will see spouted by church guidebooks that you should be very cautious in believing".

Tetramesh takes us on a tour of disused passages, complete with 1960s posters, at Euston tube station.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Visualising Victoria: Nottingham's lost station



Victoria Station served Nottingham from 1900 to 1967. Now the site is occupied by a shopping centre and its car parks, and few people appreciate how the city centre back then could accommodate a busy train station.

Using maps, old newspapers, 3D modelling and animation, Visualising Victoria demonstrates how the station fitted into the streets of Nottingham's busy city centre.

 Visualising Victoria is an 11 minute video made by Scott Taylor, researched by Lee Wright, and featuring original music by Rosie Abbott.

Teigh in Rutland is a Thankful Village


There are no settlements in Scotland or Northern Ireland that did not lose a member of the community in the First World War.

In England and Wales there are 52, known as Thankful Villages. And Teigh in Rutland is one of them.

The photograph shows the low obelisk and sundial that was erected in 2014 to mark this fact. The plaque lists the names of the eleven men and two women from the village who served in the war and came home.

They are commemorated inside the church too.

At the edge of the village there is a plum tree planted by his parents to commemorate their son who died in 2004 at the age of 36.

When I visited Teigh the fruit was ripening.

Former Labour minister has given over £2m to the Lib Dems



Lord Sainsbury, who served as a minister in Tony Blair and Gordon Brown's governments, gave over £2m each to the Liberal Democrats and Labour in the second quarter of this year.

BBC News quotes a Lib Dem spokesman:
"We have enormous respect for Lord Sainsbury, and we see his help in the referendum campaign as a huge endorsement of this party's campaigning strength and our unequivocally pro-European ideals,"
You bet we have respect for him.

David Sainsbury joined the Labour Party in the 1960s, but became a founder member and a member of the SDP in the 1980s.

He supported David Owen's Wee Frees when the SDP merged with the Liberal Party. When Owen's Continuing SDP gave up the ghost Sainsbury rejoined Labour and served as a minister the House of Lords under both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

He is just one man, but his support of the Lib Dems may calm fears that some sort of reorganisation in British politics will take place without us being invited.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Disused railway stations in Berkshire



It's high time we had another one of these videos.

The kind of biscuit you choose says a lot about the kind of politician you are

Every politician who been interviewed by Mumsnet since 2009 has been asked what their favourite biscuit is, reports the Daily Telegraph:
Tim Farron, whose constituency is in Cumbria, opts for a local treat, the Kendal mint cake. It should at least help him keep his energy up in his endless, lonely journey through the political wilderness which the Lib Dems must now inhabit. 
Zac Goldsmith's answer (chocolate digestive) was as boring as his campaign, while former soldier Dan Jarvis' love for army-issue garibaldis seems deep and genuine. 
Nicola Sturgeon's penchant for Tunnock's Caramel Wafers (shared by her young MP Mhari Black) could be cringeworthy nationalism or could plausibly be simply because they are quite genuinely delicious. 
And say what you like about Ed Miliband, he was remarkably consistent here. December 2009: Jaffa Cake. December 2011: Jaffa Cake. 
Some answers are just a bit odd. Ed Davey likes fig rolls. David Cameron likes oatcakes (with, he specifies, butter and cheese). Natalie Bennett of the Green Party likes macaroons because she can't eat gluten (fair enough).
The Telegraph report lists the choices of all the interviewees.

Pitt student trying to 'impress' young woman gets stuck between buildings in Oakland

Our Headline of the Day Award crosses the pond.

Well done to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The beheading of Richard de Folville outside Teigh church


Teigh village. Looks harmless, doesn't it?

But when I showed you the perfect 18th-century interior of its church I said there there "much else - light and dark - to tell about this little Rutland village".

This is the first of three posts telling those stories.

As the BBC page for an old edition of Jonathan Freedland's The Long View says:
The Folvilles were a Leicestershire gentry family who, throughout the 1320s and 30s, terrorised their local community, committing numerous crimes. In 1310 the father of the family, John de Folville, Lord of Ashby Folville, Leicestershire and of Teigh, Rutland, had died leaving a widow, Alice de Folville and seven sons. 
The eldest, also named John, inherited the manor of Ashby Folville and seems to have lived within the law. However, his brothers, Eustace, Laurence, Richard, Robert, Thomas and Walter formed the core of a criminal gang.
But Richard was to meet a brutal end:
However, in Feb 1340 justice finally caught up with at least one of the Folville brothers. A commission was appointed to arrest Richard de Foville under the statute of 1336 and send him to the Tower of London. 
In late 1340 or early 1341 Richard, who had been made rector of Teigh by his elder brother, took refuge in his church along with a band of followers - including, perhaps, some of his brothers. 
Shooting arrows from within, Richard killed one of his pursuers and wounded others before being dragged out by the angry crowd and beheaded outside the church by Sir Robert de Colville, a keeper of the peace.



Leicester celebrates Joe Orton and Loot



To mark the 50th anniversary of the London premiere of Joe Orton's play Loot, a number of events are taking place in Leicester.

On Saturday 24 September there is an evening with Kenneth Cranham at the Curve Theatre, who appeared in the original production. The event will also feature Orton's sister Leonie Orton Barnett.

On Sunday 25 September sees a free celebration at the New Walk Museum and Art Gallery involving another member of the original cast, Michael Elwyn, and other speakers including the novelist Jake Arnott.

And between 24 September and 30 October there will be a display at New Walk of material from the University of Leicester's Orton Archive.

Full details of these events and other resources, including an interview with Dudley Sutton, can be found on the university website.

I got my ticket for the Sunday event today.

Joe Orton came from Leicester - like Richard Attenborough his first involvement with the stage was at the city's Little Theatre.

But I am also going because I remember seeing Leonard Rossiter in Loot a few weeks before he died.

Duke of Norfolk reconciles with wife after planning son's wedding having spent five years living in separate wings of their castle

Our Headline of the Day comes from the Daily Telegraph.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Six of the Best 620

"To get my vote when a substantive motion comes to conference in the Spring, abolishers will have to show how scrapping Trident will produce a large, practical effect on disarmament, without alienating the public whose support we Liberal Democrats will need if we are to help set Britain’s course." Greg Simpson looks forward to the party's debate on the renewal of Trident.

Is neighbourhood planning working? asks Nicholas Boys Smith.

Chris Cillizza is pleased that the comments sections on newspaper websites are on the way out. Why not tell me what you think of his article?

Pete Paphides celebrates Europop.

A lost 17th-century castle has been discovered in the Irish town of Clones, reports Hugh Linehan. It is four storeys high.

James Morgan accuses the England cricket selectors: "When England were whitewashed in the 2013/14 Ashes … the selectors … had a very simple, if not entirely easy, brief: find three new batsmen (one of which must be an opener), a new spinner and a new batsman-keeper. So how has it gone? Badly. That’s how."

To the guillotine, citizens! Corbyn's revolution is following the logic of all revolutions



The Labour Party has experienced a revolution - and we all know what happens after revolutions.

The philosopher and former Labour and SDP MP Bryan Magee spelt it out in his Confessions of a Philosopher:
There is a situational logic to revolutions. Disparate groups unite to overthrow an existing regime, but once they have succeeded in doing so the cause that brought them together has gone, and they then fight one another to fill the power vacuum that they themselves have created. These internecine struggles, usually savage, among erstwhile allies perpetuate the revolutionary breakdown of society far beyond the overthrow of the old regime, and delay the establishment of a new order. 
The population at large begins to feel threatened by unending social chaos, and in these circumstances a strong man who can bring the warring factions to heel and impose order comes forward and meets with widespread support, or at least acquiescence. Thus a revolution carried out in the name of civil liberties, or equality, or to bring a tyranny to and end, will itself end by putting into power a Cromwell, a Napoleon or a Stalin. 
All revolutions are uncontrollable, and all revolutions are betrayed. It is in their nature that these things should be so.
I suspect that this will be true of Labour's revolution too.

The population at large is already turning to the Theresa May as their strong woman. Maybe the Labour membership will eventually so the same. Step forward Dan Jarvis?

I would add that the failure of the revolution is always blamed on sabotage and the new regime takes brutal action against the supposed culprits. Once they have been eliminated, the people are told, all the promises of a better world that accompanied the revolution will be fulfilled.

This evening a Corbyn rally booed the name of Sadiq Khan, whose victory in London was Labour's greatest triumph in more than a decade.

I suppose the idea is that once saboteurs like him and Owen Smith and the Blairites have been liquidated, the Labour Party will be free to turn its fire on the Tories and win an election. Then we shall we publicly owned railways, a free national education service and world peace by negotiation.

But for the time being, comrades, boo the traitor Khan.

The Animals: Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood



I was in an expensive shoe shop cum coffee shop in Leicester yesterday - well, it was Clarendon Park - when they played this. It sounded good,

Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood was originally recorded, at a much slower tempo, by Nina Simone. Many later covers have been inspired by The Animals' take on it.

This cracking live performance comes from the 1965 New Musical Express poll winners concert. The whole show is on Youtube.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Friday, August 19, 2016

A 1910 Midland Railway poster for St Pancras



These days, of course, you can go south as well.

The last days of 54-58 London Road, Leicester



Back in April I wrote about Leicester City Council's decision to allow the demolition of 54-58 London Road in the city.

That demolition has now taken place. I took the photograph above a couple of days ago when there when a brave fragment of the building was still standing.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The redevelopment north of King's Cross


The redevelopment of the railway lands to the north of King's Cross races ahead.

The gasholders that dominated the approach to St Pancras have been moved and now house flats and a park.

On hoardings by them you can find scenes from the Ealing Comedy The Ladykillers, which was filmed round here in 1955.

You would do well to find many of those locations now.







Graeme Swann batting and bowling in 1999



In my belated review of Graeme Swann's The Breaks are Off I wrote:
Swann was named in the squad for the last test of 1999 as a 20-year-old and then selected for that winter’s England tour of South Africa. By his own admission he was not yet good enough to bowl for England, but then his selection seems to have been based largely on his batting in a televised one-day game.
By a small miracle you can see that batting, and a little of Swann bowling, in the clip above.

Fortunately, he lost that odd prancing approach to the wicket and the nickname of G-Spot before he made his test debut.

Instead of a childhood obesity strategy



In 2006 I published an essay - The problem with children today: The Liberal Democrats and children
 - in a collection edited by Graham Watson.

The section on childhood obesity seems relevant today.


The problem and the conventional solutions

One topical area of concern about children is obesity, and it provides a convenient way into the debate about the travails of childhood in Britain today.

In April 2006, the Guardian reported  the publication of the National Health Survey for 2004 under the headline “Child obesity has doubled in a decade.” Researchers had weighed some 2,000 youngsters and found that 26.7 per cent of girls and 24.2 per cent of boys aged between 11 and 15 qualified as obese – nearly double the rate in 1995. Amongst younger children the picture was not much better.

These statistics were accompanied by some lurid quotations, with Colin Waine, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, talking of a “public health time bomb” in the making because children who were obese in their early teens were twice as likely to die by the age of 50. Amanda Eden from Diabetes UK said: “We will soon be seeing our children growing up losing limbs and becoming blind, as they develop the serious complications of having the condition.” Some have argued that this rhetoric was overblown and the definition of obesity too vague , but there is little doubt that our children are getting fatter.

The difficulties begin when you ask what we should do about it. The conventional wisdom holds that children are getting fatter because they eat too much, and the way to get them to lose weight is through more sport in schools. Yet both these beliefs are mistaken.

The most authoritative discussion of changing calorific intakes concludes that:
… even after adjustments for meals eaten outside the home, and for consumption of alcohol, soft drinks, and confectionery, average per capita energy intake seems to have declined by 20 per cent since 1970.
And will more sport in schools help? The Liberal Democrats certainly think so. Here is Don Foster launching a policy paper in August 2004:
We see sport as crucial to the nation’s health and well-being. With child obesity trebling in the past decade, it is time the Department of Health took a far greater role in promoting sport and active living.
Yet what research there has been suggests that children burn more energy in free play than they do in organised sport . So if we really want to do something about childhood obesity, we are going to have to encourage free play. This might sound uncontroversial, but there are many forces hostile to the idea.

Among them must be listed government ministers, to judge by Tessa Jowell’s speech to the government’s sport summit on 14 July 2003:
Here’s the truth – children don’t want to play sport on badly-drained 1950s scraps of land. They want showers, fences and floodlights. They want quality facilities.
Just how circumscribed children’s lives have become can be seen from another recent Guardian article. It tells us:
Research suggests that in 20 years the ‘home habitat’ of a typical eight-year-old – the area that a child can travel around on their own – has shrunk by nearly 90 per cent.
Things are worse than that, for the figures referred to cover changes that took place between 1971 and 1990. It is hard to believe things have got better since then: the same article mentions a Home Office survey from 2005 showing that a third of children aged between 8 and 10 never play out without an adult being present, and reported that the number of children walking to school declined from 61 per cent to 53 per cent between 1994 and 2004.

The great thief of children’s freedom has been the motor car and Liberal Democrats should support the setting up of home zones – residential areas where efforts are made to reduce the dominance of the car by measures like traffic calming, planting and very low speed limits. These sound non-controversial, but in practice traffic calming is often vociferously opposed and it can take a steady nerve for local candidates to stick to their guns in the face of it, even if my own experience is that most of the people who mention the issue on the doorstep want similar measures in their own street.

Then there is the depopulation of public space over the past 30 years. Semi-official figures like park-keepers and bus conductors have disappeared, largely out of a desire to save public money, and been replaced by technological alternatives. The result is a landscape less friendly to children – you try asking a CCTV camera for help if you have lost the bus fare home.

In our essay Cohesive Communities, David Boyle and I called for the use of community support officers and neighbourhood wardens to “reduce antisocial behaviour, co-ordinate the removal of graffiti and litter, and provide more visible uniformed community safety staff on buses and trains”. This would certainly be a step forward, but on reflection I wonder whether it would not be better to recreate the roles of these lost public servants rather than employ more of the new ones.

The brief of community support officers is so narrowly focused on public order that they are always likely to come into conflict with venturesome children; besides, that order is best seen as a by-product of people going about their ordinary business rather than the result of enforcement action by the authorities. Perhaps the next Lib Dem London Mayoral candidate should campaign for a new generation of Routemaster buses and promise to employ conductors on them.

The other great factor that limits children’s freedom is our current preoccupation with the dangers they face out of the home – particularly the danger of sexual assault. Child abuse is not a new phenomenon and there is no evidence that children face greater dangers than they did years ago, yet we seem obsessed with the risk.

Earlier generations of parents were content to let their children negotiate the outside world armed only with warnings about not accepting lifts or sweets from strangers, whereas today the danger seems so extreme to many that they prefer not to let their children out at all.

It is tempting to call for more child-only spaces and more vetting but the danger is that, in taking steps to meet the supposed dangers to children, the authorities will merely confirm to parents that those dangers are real and convince them of the rightness of their decision to limit their children’s freedom.

One can see such a process at work in an attempted solution like the ‘walking bus’. Under such schemes, children are walked to school in a group under the supervision of volunteer adult escorts. They can join the crocodile only at certain points, and at the end of the school day the bus drops them off at the same stops, where they are collected by their parents. The trouble with such schemes is that they give parents the message that the outside world is so dangerous that it is hard to blame them for deciding to drive their children to school instead.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Six of the Best 619

Flip Chart Rick asks if Britain is prepared for life after the Poles: "As the Resolution Foundation research shows, entire sectors are now dependent on labour from the EU and it is unlikely that UK-born workers will take these jobs over should they leave."

Simon Griffiths on what the left can learn from Friedrich Hayek.

How can Lib Dems help bees right now? Sean Oxspring will tell you.

"Buses are predominantly used by women, poorer people and the old. So providing good bus services should be an important element of policies to improve social inclusion and equality," says Jones the Planner.

The 'sugar rush' is a myth. Cari Romm explodes it.

Lee Bey discovers a lost city: "In its prime, about four centuries before Columbus stumbled on to the western hemisphere, Cahokia was a prosperous pre-American city with a population similar to London’s. Located in southern Illinois, eight miles from present-day St Louis, it was probably the largest North American city north of Mexico at that time."

Stewart Lee talks to Alan Moore



Stewart Lee's last television series was hard going at times even for those of us who admire him.

But I suppose the BBC's decision not to commission another series represented a comic triumph of sorts. It's just what the character Lee becomes on stage would have expected.

In this video Lee talks with the great Alan Moore about his new collection of columns Content Provider.

I was not such a fan of these, but Lee is not David Mitchell and for that we can all be grateful.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Rothwell bone crypt contains remains from as recently as 1900


The church of Holy Trinity in Rothwell has a bone crypt housing the remains of 2500 men, women and children.

A BBC News story reveals an unexpected fact about it:
Skulls and bones stored under a church date from 1250 to as recently as 1900, tests have revealed. 
Holy Trinity Church in Rothwell, Northamptonshire - home to one of only two 13th Century crypts in the UK - contains the remains of 2,500 people. 
Radio carbon dating found some skulls were older than first thought. 
But scientists from the University of Sheffield, who "assumed the ossuary was a medieval thing", were also surprised to find bones from the last century. 
"It seems people continued to put skulls and bones down here, not only into the post-medieval period but even as late as around 1900," Dr Lizzie Craig-Atkins said.
I have never found the courage to enter it, but the crypt is open to the public on Sundays from 2.30pm to 4.30pm from Easter to the end of September.