Monthly Archives: March 2013

A public service announcement!

lib_dem_logoWeek by week the Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors rallies the (ever-more-despondent) yellow peril with rousing news of by-election … err … successes.

Curiously not this week.

There may be reasons:

1. Harwich West Ward of Tendring District Council

This what the ALDC reckoned in advance:

We have a good chance of winning this seat. We are fighting this election and we will have many leaflets to go out.  We shall be canvassing and phone canvassing.  If you can help in the by election, then this will be great.  There are four candidates, Lib Dem, Conservative, Labour and Community Reps standing.  This is a two member ward on the edge of Harwich, easy access to the A120 and A12, 25 minutes from Colchester.

And this is what came out:

Labour: 282 (elected)
Tory: 220
Community Representatives Party: 163
LibDem: 143.

2.  Evelyn Ward, Lewisham London Borough Council

Labour: 978 (elected)
Lewisham People before Profit: 404
LibDem: 131
Tory: 119
UKIP: 119

3. Parson Drove and Wisbech St Mary. Fenland District Council

Tory: 384 (elected)
LibDem: 240
UKIP: 214
English Democrats: 33

OK, OK … trivial stuff

Undoubtedly so in this world of woe.

And yet, in the shrubberies, something rustles.

The party positions in London deserve some real attention. Last week Labour stuffed everyone in sight with two run-away canters in two Islington wards. In one, St George’s Labour was up 38½%, LibDems down 28%, Tories scraping the barrel, down 6% to a risible 3.7%. Similarly, in Junction ward Labour was up 21½%, LibDems down 25%, where the previous councillor was a lapsed LibDem, — with a fair showing from a Green candidate second placed on 17½%. What makes Islington all the more intriguing is that LibDems controlled the council until 2006 _ and were the largest party until the latest Borough-wide election. LibDems now have just a dozen seats to Labour’s three dozen.

The gilt is definitely off, and the guilt all over the gingerbread. Even the troops are restless: witness Stephen Tall’s J’accuse on LibDemVoice:

Nick Clegg’s illiberal hat-trick: now immigration joins ‘secret courts’ and media regulation on the pyre

Not without reason, across the Borough boundary from Islington, Labour in Hornsey are taking seriously the all-woman shortlist for what looks increasingly like the next MP for the constituency. And Mrs Featherstone is equally frisky — the output of the ever-busy LibDem press-mill continues apace.


Filed under Elections, Lib Dems, London, Lynne Featherstone

I shall say this only once …

So listen very carefully.

Between 1920 and 1970 there was the Immigration Branch of the Home Office.

Between 1970 and 2007 it became the United Kingdom Immigration Service.

In 2007 it became the Border and Immigration Agency.

On All Fool’s Day, 2008, the Border and Immigration Agency was put into a shotgun three-way with UKVisas (which operated courtesy of the Foreign Office) and the Detection function of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. This rag-bag became the UK Border Agency, in a pale imitation of the US Border Patrol — the main difference being that the USBP is the largest sworn, armed agency in the United States, while UKBA delegated enforcement to Capita at a cost of £30 million. And Crapita enforced by text messages.

LavoisierOn 26th March 2013 the Home Secretary announced the UKBA would be divided into two sections: one to deal with visas (UKVisas reborn) and the other to enforce immigration laws.

Or as Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier had it:

Dans la nature rien ne se crée, rien ne se perd, tout change.

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Filed under Britain, History, nationalism, Tories.

Forelock-tugging time?

How does this sound for a realistic policy on home rentals? —

In addition to restoring security of tenure to every decontrolled house, we are appointing rent officers and rent assessment committees for fixing fair rents. The new Act also gives basic protection to almost everyone in his home, including the lodger and the worker in his tied cottage. Today it is a crime not merely to evict without a court order but to harass or to persecute anyone in order to force him out or force his rent up.

It’s from the 1966 Labour Manifesto. The preamble to that seems almost more pertinent in the present context:

The 1957 Tory Rent Act inflicted injury on hundreds of thousands of families by decontrolling their homes in a period of intense housing shortage. Labour was pledged to annul this social crime.

Back to the future

Malcolm reflects on that, if only because his entry into leftist politics was at a time (the end of the 1950s) and a place (Norfolk) when tied cottages — particularly for farm workers — was a very live issue.

In case anyone missed it, it’s about to come back again. Hidden behind Caroline Spelman killing off the Agricultural Wages Board is her other announcement: the Agricultural Dwellings Housing advisory committee would also be dissolved. All of which might, being generous, make sense if the workers on the land had the clout to negotiate a proper wages-and-conditions agreement. But, of course, it will always be cheaper for the agribusinesses to import cheap immigrant labourers and house them in caravans and Portacabins. With, if not the complicity, at least the active encouragement of the supermarket chains.

Only a cynic (perish the thought) would draw a direct line between a “free market” in former tied cottages, a chronic shortage of affordable housing, Iain Duncan Smith’s “welfare reforms” and ‘Gids’ Osborne’s budget, promising second homes on the back of government loans.

Duncan Smith, lest we forget, is possessed of a a £2m+ Tudor home (with ample spare bedrooms, five acres of gardens and a swimming pool), by courtesy of a very wealthy wife, heiress to the Cottesloe millions and 1,300 acres of Buckinghamshire.

It goes with the squirarchical mind-set

In the next few days anyone in social housing with that mythical (but Big Brother designated) “spare bedroom” faces a cut of 14% in benefits. Oh, no! It’s not a tax! Anymore than cutting the 50% tax rate for multi-million earners (those deserving bankers and plutocrats) is a benefit!

Let’s take Mr and Mrs Whatsit, who have lived in social housing for thirty-odd years, since they married. There they raised two strapping sons, who have done well, moved out, and left that “spare room”. As a result Mr and Mrs Whatsit, both heading towards retirement, but young enough not to come under Iain Duncan Smith’s oh-so-generous OAP waiver, are faced with a major cut in their income, or the unlikely prospect of finding smaller accommodation — there are 180,000 families in the Whatsits’ position, but just 70,000 one-bedroom flats available.

Now, here’s the suggestion: why was there not an incentive — rather than a fine — to persuade the Whatsits to move? Especially since we now know that Osborne has squoodles of money available for second homes:

The Budget included a £3.5bn Help to Buy programme under which the Government will provide up to 20 per cent of a deposit and the buyer only 5 per cent for a new-build home. The Government made clear that could not be used to buy a second home but failed to do the same for a separate scheme to underwrite £130bn of mortgage lending for any property.

But, then, when did a functioning Tory prefer to persuade rather than to coerce?

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Filed under Conservative family values, Daily Telegraph, George Osborne, Guardian, House-prices, Independent, Norfolk, Tories.

The rites of man, with Thomas Paine

Before Malcolm finishes with Kent (see the two previous posts) he would take a Sandwich.

To be absolutely correct, it was a chilli con carne and a couple of pints of Doom Bar (the Abbot had run out as Malcolm arrived). And it was at the Crispin: an excellent joint, even on a chilly (no pun intended) day.

The town

Sandwich is where the Kentish Stour reaches the sea. Well, it did once upon a time, when this one one of the Cinque Ports — now there’s a couple of miles of marshes before the sea proper. It is, though, one of those places where the yachties sport their plastic navies.

Something that wikipedia seems not to know

Sandwich somehow ended up with three parish churches: St Clement’s, St Mary’s and St Peter’s. By 1948 this was an unaffordable excess, so the three parishes were amalgamated, and — in due course — two of the churches went out of regular use. The one that interests Malcolm here is St Peter’s.

When the plague hit Sandwich in the Elizabethan period, St Peter’s was designated as the strangers’ church. The “strangers” were Dutch Huguenots, and that they were segregated suggests that English xenophobia was then as now. Anyway, that explains (allegedly) the odd Lowlands cap atop the tower (which fell down in 1661, taking with it the original south aisle — and leaving the eccentric plan we have today).

paineWhat wikipedia fails to note is that St Peter’s was where, on 27 September 1759, the corset-maker Tom Paine married Mary Lambert. Paine’s corset-shop went bust the following year, and the Paines moved to Margate, where Mary promptly took sick and died. Paine forwent his corset-manufacturing and adopted the line-of-business of Mary’s family — collecting taxes and excise. That was, at first, a more successful venture: he ended up as exciseman in Lewes, in Sussex; and became the equivalent of a shop-steward for his fellow excisemen, writing pamphlets in their interest. A further business failure, a failed second marriage, and Paine was off to America and fame.

St Peter’s has a nice graphic of the history of the church, and includes the marriage (as right).

A family history

In the nave (that’s the southern of the two remaining colonnades) we find the organ — apparently St Peter’s was very forward in gutting such an appliance of science. Close by is one of those delightful memorial tablets which tells quite a tale. The text reads:

In a VAULT on the outside of this Wall are deposited the
remains of KATHERINE HARVEY, youngest Daughter
who on the eve of her intended Marriage was suddenly
attacked with the alarming symptoms of a rapid decline
which closed her prospects of earthly felicity, separated
her from all family and endearing connexions and
terminated her existence in this World by removing
her to a better on the 28th day of May, 1807, aged 23 years.

Likewise were removed into the same Vault the remains
of ANN ISABELLA the wife of Lieut Col: HARVEY
and Daughter of WILLIAM PINDER Esq of the Island of
Barbadoes, who also died of a decline on the 4th day of Feb
1807, in the 28th Year of her age, leaving issue one son.

Let the young and the cheerful learn from hence,
that sublunary happiness is vain and uncertain,
And that only beyond the Grave true toys are to be found.

ALSO to the Memory of the above Willm. Maundy Harvey Esq.
Lieut. Colonel of the 79th Regiment of Foot, Colonel in the
British Army, Brigadier General in the Portuguese Service
and a Knight Commander of the Portuguese Order of the
Tower and Sword. He died at Sea on his passage home from
Lisbon on the 10th of June, 1813, aged 38 years, and was
buried in the Atlantic Ocean in Lat 45.37, Long 9.42.


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Filed under Britain, History, leisure travel, pubs

As night follows day

One thing was inevitable: Lynne Featherstone MP would be chirruping her approval of ‘Gids’ Osborne’s money-grubbing:

Great news – the amount you can earn before being taxed will rise to £9,440 this year. That’s £600 less tax to pay for working people, since the Liberal Democrats entered Government in 2010.

Nice of Ms Featherstone to gross up four years of tax to produce a nice number. Bet that took a load of expensive research.

But, not so!

There’s the extra VAT for a start. Since the Tory policy, pre-2010 Election, was definitively no increase in VAT, may we assume that the extra 2½% impost was a LibDem addition to ConDem domestic economics? In any case, we see Division 10 on Monday, 28 June 2010, and Ms Featherstone voting for the increase.

Shall we add in the other taxes — the kind of things Leona Helmsley reckoned were only for “the little people”?

May we start with energy tax?

Over three years, energy costs were up by nearly a quarter. A typical household bill of £1200 in 2011 will by now have devoured the entirety of that £600 tax relief. And, if it were a pensioner couple, half the winter bonus went too. Let’s not overlook that green energy tax, which is paying hundreds of millions to the wind-farmers, and 6% return on capital — half of the bunce straight out of the pockets of those working people close to Ms Featherstone’s heart.

Or what about transport tax?

In 2010 a single journey, zones 1-4, on the London Tube was £4. Today the cheapest fare, anywhere — even a single zone — is £4.50. The comparable zone 1-4 fare is £5.50. That’s an increase of 37½%!

Do we hear Ms Featherstone complain on our behalf?

“The spare room subsidy”

Then there’s the iniquitous Bedroom Tax — exactly the imposition on those lower-income working people for whom Ms Featherstone’s LibDem heart bleeds.

Even LibDem Voice (as recently as 19th March 2013) recognises it does not pass ‘the Fairer Society test’. Apart from the headline article, by John Coburn, we see on the comments some real Lib Dems in full agreement.We’d gladly hear Ms Featherstone contest Tony Greaves’s point:

The “bedroom tax” – what all the Housing Associations I know are calling it anyway – is a typical policy devised and imposed by people who would never live in social housing, who would not apply any such restrictions on themselves, who have little understanding of what it is like to live on a low income (that is to say be poor), and have little knowledge or understanding of how social housing actually works, or the circumstances in such local communities.

It is a thorough disgrace and just one of the whole series of government attacks on poor people and people who are not as fortunate as themselves and as their civil service advisers.

Did Ms Featherstone ever vote against this Bill? Oddly, whenever major small-l liberal issues make it to a Commons vote, Ms Featherstone appears invariably otherwise engaged. Hard work being bottom of the ministerial pecking order at the Department for International Development.

Reg Varney in a fright wig

A juicy morsel there, and about the most repeatable, from the Daily Mash, on Ms Featherstone’s previous gender-issue outing.

Let us celebrate that Ms Featherstone found the time and energy to put aside her other endeavours to demand — to demand! — that The Observer sack Julie Burchill. Since Ms Featherstone is pernickety about citing her ministerial commitments, lest she offend collective solidarity, this must fall under her DFID responsibilities, along with counting her air-miles. So, perhaps Ms Featherstone could contradict, with examples, Nick Cohen’s claim:

I have worked through the worst days of Bernard Ingham and Alastair Campbell’s manipulation of the media, but I have never before heard a minister in a democracy call for writers and editors to be fired for publishing an opinion, however offensive and controversial it may be. That the minister in question calls herself a “liberal” means that Featherstone is not just a menace but a hypocrite too.

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Filed under economy, Gender, George Osborne, London, Lynne Featherstone

Cock of the walk

No connection whatsoever with that previous post (except they originate in the same county).

Beware! Pavo cristatus ferox!

Here’s the all-purpose warning at Leeds Castle:



And here, unashamed, unabashed and cocky with it, is the potential perp:



And, let’s be fair, he has a fine walk to be cock of …


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Filed under Britain, leisure travel

Bragging or fagging?

It’s one of the many obscene puns that Bill Shakespeare … err … slipped in. It’s there at the end of Love’s Labours Lost:

Adriano de Armado: I do adore thy sweet grace’s slipper.
Boyet [Aside to Dumain]: Loves her by the foot, —
Dumain: He may not by the yard.

You don’t get it? Well, try the Wycliff Bible version of Genesis XVII.11:

 Ȝe shulen circumside the flehs of the ferthermore parti of ȝoure ȝeerde.

That  Ȝ is the letter ‘yogh’ (read the letter as a ‘jhuh’) and solved the problem implicit in the modern ‘y’ — either a consonant or a vowel, with two very different pronunciations.

If you’re still at a loss, the OED gives the eleventh meaning of “yard” as “the virile member”.

That’s the groundwork done.

So consider why Malcolm was amused by this one:


As seen in the Thomas Becket, 21 Best Lane, Canterbury.

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Filed under Literature, pubs, Quotations, Shakespeare

Some confidence and a bit of supply?

If James Kirkup, blogging at the Torygraph, judges aright (and he’s a shrewd wee fella), we have all crossed a Rubicon:

I’ll leave it to others to discuss the fine details of Press regulation, but having returned from David Cameron’s (fairly hastily-arranged) media conference on the issue this morning, I’m struck by something that may have wider implications.

As he explained his plan to put his own proposals for regulation to the Commons next week, Mr Cameron used a striking phrase.

“Look, we have a hung Parliament,” he said. “In the end Parliament is going to have to decide. Parliament is sovereign.”

Now, at one level, that’s fairly unexciting: it is a simple fact that the 2010 general election led to a hung Parliament, where no single party has a majority.

Yet this is the first time I can recall Mr Cameron explicitly admitted that; I don’t think he’s ever used the phrase “hung parliament” before, though I’m happy to be corrected if anyone can find another case.

In effect, we are where we should have been in May 2010, and where we were bound to be long before 2015: the Tories are governing as a minority administration, with limited aid and assistance from the LibDems. The LibDems are kept “on board” by a love of red boxes, some fancy titles, personal ambition, a need to strut — all at the cost of underpinning ‘Gids’ Osborne’s continued slash-and-burn on the national economy.

The men in grey suits approach!

We have, it ought to be admitted, gone past the moment when this administration was serving any useful purpose. The only wonder is that there is any public support left. The Tory party nationally is in revolt against its elected members. The parliamentary party is riven asunder. Things have reached a pretty pass when Adam Afriyie can seriously be viewed as even a stalking donkey. Whether Mrs May is a more serious proposition remains to be seen (and Dave Brown at the Indy seems to relish the thought):


It was the marvellous Alan Watkins who came up with the term “men in (grey) suits” — the political undertakers who arrived to tell a party leader the time had come for his early departure from the scene. While the old notion was that “loyalty” was the Tory Party’s greatest asset, the truth is that the Tories are the most ruthless assassins of a failing leader.


  1. Two years out from a General Election is getting very close to the moment when a failing leader (Tory, LibDem or whatever) can be defenestrated, and party loyalties re-connected;
  2. It is difficult to see how — short of Pope Francis leading an Argentinian landing party at Port Stanley — the credibility of the present government and its Prime Minister can be recovered;
  3. Well, actually, one scenario — the nuclear option — offers: Cameron dismisses all the LibDem ministers, reshuffles, goes far Right (he still wouldn’t be believed or trusted by those he seeks to appease), invites the UKIPper defectors back into the tent, and abandons any hope of the centre ground;
  4. If he doesn’t  quell the dissent on his right, Cameron limps on until the men in grey suits toll the knell of parting Dave;
  5. If Cameron goes, who?
  6. If Cameron goes, can Clegg be far behind?
  7. Can Ed Balls keep a straight face?

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Filed under Britain, Daily Telegraph, David Cameron, Independent, Leveson, Lib Dems, politics, Tories.

Sodden and unkind

Hilaire Belloc lauded The South Country. He meant, exclusively, Sussex. In his first four verses he slags off, successive:

Lincolnshire… the Midlands 
That are sodden and unkind …

The men that live in North England 
I saw them for a day: 
Their hearts are set upon the waste fells, 
Their skies are fast and grey …

The men that live in West England 
They see the Severn strong, 
A-rolling on rough water brown 
Light aspen leaves along.

Then, Friday, The Times [£] property porn section, bricks and mortar, did a piece on the ancient city of Lincoln, headlined:

A discreet Midlands gem

Lincoln has many commendable features: beautiful period properties, a castle, and impressive cathedral, thriving high street, great transport links, beautiful countryside, two universities, and good schools. Yet this corner of the East Midlands is surprisingly little known.

Pause for consideration: take Hungate out of town, through Wragby (decent enough, quiet, good pubs) and Louth (just as a small town should be, sober old brick, with the church spire to guide you) to Maplethorpe (actually, not the nicest destination, but still) … lo! the great North Sea, all of 42 miles, and a bit over an hour of driving. So: Midlands?

Well, arguably so, even on wikipedia:

The Midlands is an area comprising central England that broadly corresponds to the early medieval Kingdom of Mercia

The Midlands does not correspond to any current administrative area, and there is therefore no strict definition. However, it is generally considered to include the counties of DerbyshireGloucestershireHerefordshireLeicestershireNorthamptonshireNottinghamshireOxfordshireRutland,ShropshireStaffordshireWarwickshire, the West Midlands and WorcestershireLincolnshire is considered by some part of the Midlands but generally excluded, on account of its extensive coastline.

NLD LOGOThe main reason for having Lincolnshire in “the Midlands” is officialdom. It is administered through the East Midlands Government regional Office, which seems in large part to be because this is the European Parliament constituency. About the only other justification is that “Notts, Lincs and Derby ” is how rugby operates in the three counties. Of which the kindest thing to be said is the NLD logo (oak-tree, Lincoln imp and Derby ram) must have been conceived in a very Goth moment, but adequates describes their approach to the game.

Yeller bellies

An old Norfolk character taught Malcolm to know Lincolnshire folk as yeller-bellies, and as a thoroughly rackety and unpleasant lot. That last prejudice seemed to be a pained memory of scab labour imported from across the tribal barrier to break the agricultural strike of April 1923. In Norfolk old grievances fester.

Rod Collins (who does a fine local website) gives an exhaustive account of where the moniker may have originated:

Military Connection
The Royal North Lincolnshire Militia officer wore bright yellow waistcoats
The Lincolnshire Regiment: They had some yellow facings on their uniforms etc

Stage Coaches
Stage coaches that used to run in Lincolnshire had bodies painted yellow

Elloe: this and associated terms linked to the Saxons and Celts gives us Ye Elloe Bellie

Associated Others
The etymology has also been associated with frogs, Fen-Dwellers, folk tales and folk lore all of which sound somewhat less likely.

For me the first three above are the most likely, the many others really strike me as being ‘also rans’
The military origin is the one I’d wager my modest hoard on were I forced to do so although the stage coach seems reasonable as well.

He takes the usage back to:

A person born in the Fens of Lincolnshire (from the yellow sickly complexion of persons residing in marshy situations)
Date 1839, taken from William Holloway’s A Dictionary of Provincialisms.

It has ever older provenance. Francis Grose’s  A provincial glossary: with a collection of local proverbs, and popular superstitions has the term in 1787:

Yellow bellies. This is an appellation given to persons born in the Fens, who, it is jocularly said, have yellow bellies, like their eels.

That’s sufficiently archae-etymological for Malcolm. And means a citizen of Lincoln is not a yeller-belly.

A Malcolmian aside

Though a Wexford man might well be. There’s John Keegan (apparently of the “Queen’s County”), from the first half of the 19th century (though his Legends and poems now first collected seemed unpublished before 1907). One chapter (page 361ff) is The Orangemans Tale, A Reminiscence of 1798, a story of misplaced love between the social orders. That includes the expression:

 I would rather dig my daughter’s grave … than see her tied to Lanty Wolfe, or any other yellow belly of the County Wexford.

Malcolm feels a “Not-so-great and not-so-good” posting, on the topic of Sir Caesar Colclough, impending here.

Colonia Domitiana Lindensium in partes tres divisa est

Like Gaul. They are Lindsey, Holland and Kesteven — which were separate county councils between 1888 and 1974.

Domesday Book ‘Lindsey’ was the whole county, but the latter division of Lincolnshire made it the area around Lincoln itself. Kesteven was the ten wapentakes (Malcolm has been panting to use that term again) lying towards the south and west, while Holland is the south-east part — much reclaimed from the sea. We shouldn’t jump to the conclusion (as Malcolm was taught at school) that there is any connection between Lincolnshire Holland and the work of the great engineer Cornelius Wasterdyk Vermuyden: hoil is a perfectly-good Early English word for ‘low-lying’ (though the connection with the Low Countries is self-evident).

Of the three, Kesteven is quite happily “East Midlands”, and Holland tends towards “East Anglia”. Lindsey is hybrid — the northern end is now Humberside, by official definition anyway.

DHL and Lincoln Cathedral

Chapter 7 of The Rainbow: Anna and Brangwyn visit Lincoln —

They passed up the steep hill, he eager as a pilgrim arriving at the shrine. As they came near the precincts, with castle on one side and cathedral on the other, his veins seemed to break into fiery blossom, he was transported.

They had passed through the gate, and the great west front was before them, with all its breadth and ornament.

“It is a false front,” he said, looking at the golden stone and the twin towers, and loving them just the same. In a little ecstasy he found himself in the porch, on the brink of the unrevealed. He looked up to the lovely unfolding of the stone. He was to pass within to the perfect womb.

Then he pushed open the door, and the great, pillared gloom was before him, in which his soul shuddered and rose from her nest. His soul leapt, soared up into the great church. His body stood still, absorbed by the height. His soul leapt up into the gloom, into possession, it reeled, it swooned with a great escape, it quivered in the womb, in the hush and the gloom of fecundity, like seed of procreation in ecstasy.

She too was overcome with wonder and awe. She followed him in his progress. Here, the twilight was the very essence of life, the coloured darkness was the embryo of all light, and the day. Here, the very first dawn was breaking, the very last sunset sinking, and the immemorial darkness, whereof life’s day would blossom and fall away again, re-echoed peace and profound immemorial silence.

That implied eroticism is why The Times‘s blathering about an impressive cathedral and other trivialities is sodden-and-unkind, cheap-and-nasty property porn. And does no justice to one of the finest locations in the land.

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Filed under Britain, East Anglia, History, Literature, Times

Getting there, railroad song wise

If that previous post was all over the place, literally, this one ought to be far more straightforward. If only because that’s how steel rails work.

First up, there ought to be a definitive Johnny Cash railroad song (and there probably is — keep reading). Meanwhile, once watched, never forgotten: Ridin’ the Rails: The Great American Train Story.

Or, of course, there’s this:

The images are fine (Southern Pacific’s Daylight, Wow!) — though at least three seem to be UK specific. But ultimately, it’s The Voice.

The essence here is Malcolm rooting for rail journey songs: specifically, travel from place-to-place. Cash seemed to be reaching a named destination in the 1975 special-promotion album, reworking other rail-theme songs, Destination Victoria Station. Somehow the song, and the album would never feature in Malcolm’s Cash Top Ten.

Probably Cash’s best “journey song” was his 1959/1961 (depends on your source) Forty Shades of Green — but that’s not a railroad journey: the direction from Cork to Larne is fair enough (and can be done by rail, changing at Dublin and Belfast), but beyond that it’s just a listing of disconnected places — and the Man himself came to dismiss it (while others, the worst offender being Daniel O’Donnell, rendered it down into total schmaltz).

There’s a bit of irony here: Cash’s greatest railroad song is about the guys not going anywhereStuck in Folsom Prison.

Before we pass on, or out, Malcolm would insist on acknowledging Gladys Knight, leaving L.A. and following her man on The Midnight Train to Georgia. Very different from what’s above here, but stoo-pen-dus! Eyeballs and ear-drums should be set to minimum:

When trains were really trains, and Penn Station wasn’t a bunker (but the shoe-shine was still “boy”), we’re talking 1941 and the Andrews Sisters:

Yeah; let’s not pass over that one too lightly. We might even consider the sociology behind it.

The one that Malcolm would wish to have at the top of the heap hardly qualifies itself: it may not be a “train” song, so much as a railroad-construction one. More of an epic than just a song or a lyric— it is, simply, magnificent:

Cash (as so many others) covered City of New Orleans.  That has to be Malcolm’s prime contender here. Willie Nelson did a good job on it (serially). Arlo Guthrie walked off with the pop-success. Ad extremis Malcolm goes for the original Steve Goodman version:

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Filed under History, Music, railways, United States