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.

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.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Dick Newby ridicules government secrecy over Brexit impact reports

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

Monday, December 04, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 03, 2017

The Fenland floods of 1947

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

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

Six of the Best 748

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

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

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

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

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

Running Past remembers the Lewisham rail crash of 1957.

Michael Meadowcroft's obituary of Bill Pitt

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

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

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

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

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

The Fortunes: You've Got Your Troubles

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

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