Monthly Archives: April 2013

The visitation of York

The days of Redfellow Hovel are coming to an end.  The Lady in his Life and Malcolm are contemplating moving on and out of Cobbett’s —

… great wen of all. The monster, called by the silly coxcombs of the press, “the metropolis of the empire”

Where to go?

A strong probability is York.

Thanks to its ecclesiastical heritage, the centre of York, within the ancient walls, is a place of persisting character. Thanks to the rise of nearby industrial cities, York missed out on the grime of the industrial revolution. Thanks to George Hudson, it remains a major transport hub — a couple of hours in either direction from London and Edinburgh, or across the Pennines to Manchester. Thanks to Joseph Rowntree and Terry’s, there was some successful local industry. Thanks to tourism, facilities, entertainment, trade and shopping are excellent to this day. In 1617 James VI and I received a petition to establish a university at York, and it duly arrived in 1964.

The problem is finding a house of some character. Anything ‘period’, especially within the walls, is quickly snapped up — which raises the questions of whether a significant property bubble is puffing up (in London that needs an affirmative “yes”),  how long can it last, and what comes thereafter?

The Railway Magazine, No. 1, Vol. 1 (July 1897)

Here we find W.J.Scott, BA, recounting his personal experience of The Race to Edinburgh, 1888 — the Last Day. That needs some background, perhaps.

The two competing railway routes between London and Scotland are the East and West Coast. The West Coast Mainline (as it now termed) is the more difficult, particularly the climb over Shap Summit, built by the engineer Joseph Locke for the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway. The East Coast route, by comparison, is far easier, straighter and faster.

On 2nd June 1888 the West Coast announced a nine-hour (down from ten) schedule for the express to Edinburgh: thereby, for the first time, matching the schedule of the North-Eastern Railway.

On 18th July the North-Eastern reduced the timing from King’s Cross to Edinburgh Waverley by half-an-hour.

From 1st August the London and North-Western brought the Euston to Princes Street West Coast schedule down to the same 8½ hours. This was achieved by splitting the express at Preston, so reducing the weight to be slogged over Shap. In passing, gentle reader, you are now apprised of why Edinburgh had two major stations.

Ha! The NER had one in reserve. Two days after what was seen as the L&NW’s last throw, the NER announced the 10 am express would be in Waverley by 6 pm. Not so: on 6th August the L&NW were promising an eight hour timing for the Euston to Princes Street run. Finally, with train crews lionised and up for the competition, unofficial times were notched down day-by-day — eventually to the concern of the railway hierarchy. Peace broke out with the NER settling for the 5:45pm arrival, and the L&NW for an eight-hour trip. The Caledonian Railway, responsible for the final stretch from Carlisle to Princes Street, had a new Drummond single-wheeler, number 123, and wanted to show its mettle/metal: so consistently 123 (and she’s still gorgeous) hauled into Princes Street well ahead of  the timetabled 172 minutes for the run.


This was the first “race to the North”, and made newspaper headlines in Britain — and even in the United States.

W.J.Scott, BA, goes to York

Mr Scott didn’t make the whole trip: he baled out at York (and the 10 am from King’s Cross reached Waverley at 5:27 pm that evening). Let him dilate:

For the most part, towns on the Continent are more picturesque and interesting than those in England, though the country in Britain is far more beautiful than any we find across the Channel; but York can hold its own for quaintness and grandeur with almost any town of like size in Europe. Under a bright mid-day sun, the old city with its girdling walls and crown of towers looked very beautiful: despite some stir of life, and the jingle of tram-cars, it seemed very still, its river slipping by as great Emperor Constantine saw it glide in the self same channel, lapping the walls of houses that stood where the houses one looks at from Lendal Bridge or Ousegate Bridge stand today. Never a “buried city”: a Roman capital, a chief city of the North English kingdom, and of the kindred Danes which over-ran that kingdom; a seat of Government, the “Council of the North” in mediæval days, and now metropolis of Northern England (though the Scottish Lowlands have thrown off the yoke of the English primate), and a railway capital behind London alone in importance, Eboracum, Eoforwic, Iorvik, York, in the year 200 AD  or the year 1900, from Severus and Paulinus to Dr. Maclagan — and should we say George S. Gibb? — she still “sits a queen”. Only three and a half hours from London; but how utterly unlike London is the tongue one hears spoken — that strong, if sometimes rough, North English, which Southerners always call “Scotch”, though at least five English shires share it with the Lowlands across the border. In the garden of the toll-house of “Lendall Brigg” — since done away with — a small boy is trying in vain to catch a white rabbit.”Tak’ it up by lugs, bairn, tak’t up by lugs!” cries his elder brother, much to the bewilderment of a tourist from the south who stands listening.

You don’t get away with paragraphs, even sentences that complex any more. For the record:

  • Severus was the Roman Emperor who attempted to reoccupy the lands north of Hadrian’s Wall, invading Caledonia in 208, and dying at York in 211.
  • Paulinus (died 644) was the first Bishop of York, one of the second group of missionaries sent by Pope Gregory I.
  • The Most Rev. Dr William Dal­rymple Maclagan was Archbishop of York between 1891 and 1908.
  • Sir George Stegmann Gibb was the innovatory General Manager of the North Eastern Railway from 1891 until, in 1906, he went on to become Managing Director of the Underground Electric Railway Company of London (running the four main London underground lines). Gibb introduced statistical analysis and American business practices, but also applied collective bargaining and independent arbitration when dealing with his employees.

Oh, and all those timings involved a twenty minute wait at York for “dinner”.

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Last Rights

That was the week [*] that was,
It’s over so let it go.

 [*] Actually it’s been ten days — or an aching void of tooth-grinding boredom for anyone not committed to an asylum, the Daily Mail, the Times world-view, or the Tory Party. Though those four possibilities may merely be variations on a theme.

Anyway, let’s relish the unpaid viewing:

No need to stick around beyond the first two minutes, unless one is a media-archaeologist. Just relish the delights of Millicent Martin at her devastating best.

Two final Malcolmian thoughts:

1. Pity the Goldthorpe counter-event didn’t get more coverage:

Britain mourned, the old banners were hoisted up in Goldthorpe and the miners went on the march.

At 2pm today, after waiting for a separate funeral in the South Yorkshire town to come to an end, an estimated 1000 former pit workers started a procession through the streets in protest at Baroness Thatcher.

An effigy of the former Prime Minister was placed in a coffin with the word ‘SCAB’ written in flowers on the side. It was then placed on a cart and towed by two horses towards the site of the former Goldthorpe colliary, which closed in 1994. A bagpiper led the way and the miners marched behind, some holding placards, most clutching cans of beer.

The entire town appeared to have turned out to join in the protest and chanted ”ere we go’ and ‘Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, down, down, down’ as they walked. Banners from the original miners’ strike were waved on proud display.

“We have waited 28 years for this,” said David Fallon, a former hydraulics fitter at Goldthorpe colliery, who worked at the site for fifteen years and was wearing his former pit tie – complete with the white rose of Yorkshire.

All credit to the Daily Telegraph for that: a good deed in a naughty world. The intent was, presumably, to shock Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells.

What Disgusted will have missed is the whole event is not pure anger — though that would be well justified across the South Yorks coalfields. It’s more a first-class example of South (formerly West — don’t fret on it) Yorkshire humour. Just remember to wear a respectable association tie, with a white rose. Since Dear Old Dad originated just down the road from Goldthorpe,  Malcolm knows the mood well. It was likely a bloke from Goldthorpe or environs who addressed the Great Len Hutton, having scored a double century, with “Ah hopes ta see thee do better in t’ second innings.” Such a type is one who looks out of the window on 23rd June and observes how the evenings are drawing in.

2. Malcolm was touched by the dignitaries from the United States who made it all the way to St Paul’s:

Tennessee Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn will lead a House delegation to Britain to attend the funeral of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on Wednesday.

Announced by House Speaker John Boehner’s office Monday, the trip marks a culmination of Republican accolades for Thatcher following her death last week. Thatcher’s conservative policies and close relationship with President Reagan won her widespread support within the GOP.

“Margaret Thatcher was one of the greatest champions freedom has ever known, and her funeral gives Americans and friends around the world an opportunity to pay final respects,” Boehner said in a statement.

The delegation also includes Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and George Holding (R-N.C.).

Yes: that truly is Michele Bachmann, [t]he only person dumber than Sarah Palin. As for Marsha Wedgeworth Blackburn, she is doubly distinguished —

  • four times awarded 100% rating by the American Conservative Union: i.e. off the normal political spectrum, and impervious to reason. To be fair, she is now down to 87½% , and only the 40th most conservative member of the House as rated bt the National Journal.


Malcolm explains his concern with such trivia because it gives cause for recalling Simon Hoggart’s Sketch of the occasion in today’s Guardian. It is juicily headed:

Politicians reassure themselves of their importance at Lady Thatcher’s funeral

No wonder Gordon Brown looked happy as the great and the good gathered to say farewell

It concludes with the pungent:

A scattering of celebrities, just on the right side of “who on Earth?” Jeremy Clarkson, Joan Collins, Jeffrey Archer, even Michael Fabricant MP, his lustrous hair-style topping for once dimmed by the dazzling lights of St Paul’s. And Alex Salmond, who acknowledges his gratitude; her decision to start the loathed poll tax in Scotland was a huge impetus towards the notion of national independence.

 A disappointing turnout from abroad, good in numbers if low in fame. But then this was about British politics rather than international diplomacy. From America, Henry Kissinger, Newt Gingrich – surely she would have found him deeply distasteful? – and former vice-president Dick Cheney, whose poor health over eight years meant, in Garry Trudeau’s words, that George W was “only a heartbeat from the presidency”. But neither Bush nor Clinton and no Carter. It was hard to ignore the niggle that she was, perhaps, more world famous in Britain than she was in the rest of the world.


Dave Brown is being properly recognised as a star political cartoonist — this for the Independent on Wednesday:


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Weirder still and weirder shall her bounds be set

The Times is hardly recovering from its grief-stricken Thatcherfest. Today it was only — only — pages 1, 2, 3, 4, 25, and 29 before we arrived at the twelve-page supplement. That included, without any reflective irony, Ann Treneman pontificating about George Galloway’s rococo curlicues on his great anti-Maggie speech.

The absolute cracker has to be the full-page round-up of those turning up for the formal bit. This is headlined:

Argentina declines to pay respects to Falklands foe

So, it’s good to be reassured that Britain in general, and The Times in particular, will be unstinting in tear-stained tributes and regrets, when in due course they are required, for the soon-to-be-late Robert Mugabe. After all, de mortuis nil niso maxissimum bonum.

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Figuring it out

The classic Thomist angels-on-a-pin-head is updated by the constant debate on UK unemployment numbers. Today (despite the Thatcher-fest) should inspire a new outbreak:

UK unemployment rose by 70,000 to 2.56 million between December and February, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has said.

It meant the unemployment rate for the quarter was 7.9%.

The number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance last month fell by 7,000 to 1.53 million.

Also, the ONS said average regular pay, excluding bonuses, rose 1%, the lowest since records began more than a decade ago.

The number of people in work fell by 2,000 in the latest quarter to February, to just under 30 million, the first time the figure has dipped since autumn 2011.

The ONS data also revealed that 900,000 people have been out of work for more than a year, an 8,000 increase on the three months to November, while the number of unemployed 16 to 24-year-olds rose by 20,000 to 979,000.

Despite the increase in unemployment, the total is 71,000 lower than a year ago. There has been a 62,000 fall in the number of people in part-time jobs, to just over eight million, with a 60,000 increase in full-time employment, to 21.6 million.

As day follows night, the ConDem understrappers have to see all that as “good news”:

Employment Minister Mark Hoban welcomed the fall in the number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance (JA), and especially the drop among young people.

Only in a parallel universe is the ministry for unemployment named so perversely. Hoban seems to hail two glad tidings:

1. That the numbers failing to claim “JobSeeker’s Allowance” (it used to be unemployment benefit, and was seen as a right which was paid for by deductions from paid salaries while in work) are down. What that amounts to is many are being dissuaded from claiming their due benefits because of the “skiving” hysteria generated by government propaganda.

2. “… especially the drop among young people.” What drop? In the number of claimants, presumably — see (1) immediately above. The Office of National Statistics are reporting an increase! 18-24 year olds up 20,000 in the quarter, and up 1.5% over twelve months. This is the actuality:


A coolie economy

Beyond these numbers lies a harsher truth. The British are being educated into a low-wage, low-productivity economy. Cheap labour is making investment and industrial improvement unnecessary. Last month the Financial Times‘s Brian Groom was getting closer to the real problem:

Output per hour worked fell 2.3 per cent in the final quarter of 2012 compared with a year earlier, fuelling concern about the UK’s poor productivity since the recession of 2008-09.

The figure was down 0.5 per cent compared with the previous quarter and was the sixth successive quarterly fall, according to data from the Office for National Statistics.

John Philpott, director of the Jobs Economist consultancy, said: “The figures for manufacturing productivity are very worrying. Output per hour in the manufacturing sector has now fallen for five successive quarters and in Q4 2012 was 5.2 per cent lower than a year earlier.”

He added: “Such a sharp and prolonged fall is in marked contrast to much of the period since the start of the recession in 2008, during which time manufacturing productivity has generally increased.”

Weak productivity has resulted in an overall rise in unit labour costs despite a squeeze on wages, although this has slowed since the past two quarters.

Other figures show that earnings are growing at just 0.8% over the year, while consumer prices are running at 2.8% (and predicted to rise further to 3.5% by the middle of 2013). Lest we forget, the great ConDem economic miracle (founded 2010) was going to be founded on:

  •  a shift from public- to private-sector employment (going nicely, thank you: public sector redundancies continue apace); and
  • Britain’s economy would power ahead on consumer spending.

At this point, let us bear in mind a painful fundamental:

Productivity is a key economic indicator used to measure the efficiency and competitiveness of an economy. It is a key factor determining the underlying ‘trend’ or ‘potential’ rate of growth of an economy over the medium-term.

BoE Labour productivity

Excuses! Excuses!

Ah, but it’s been the bad weather! Snow! Sun! Drought! Flood! €-crisis! Royal wedding! Locusts in Belgravia! Olympics! Jubilee! Earthquakes in Dorset! (Take your pick, as Gids Osborne does at each reiteration).

Except reality peeps through this dense fog of dissimulation, as Abigail Hughes and Jumana Saleheen ever-so-polititely explained in their study for the second quarter bulletin of 2012. This, without fanfares, gave us the quite shocking comparison of Labour productivity across countries (see right).

It doesn’t need any great expertise in graphicity to spot that, in the years of the Labour government, British productivity was consistently improving and outstripping the competitive economies. Since the crisis, all that has gone into reverse.


The usual explanation of why production and productivity are falling, while employment hasn’t yet plummeted, is “labour hoarding”. Employers, not necessarily out of loyalty to their employees, keep a larger work-force than they currently require. That has a logic: no business, in straits, is without a Micawber belief that Something will turn up; and reliable employees are not a commodity to be dispensed with lightly. Others place weight on a woolly notion of “intangible investment” (that amounts to improved R&D and ‘software’) — something with all the odour of a ‘thought experiment’, an economist’s version of Schrödinger’s cat.

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Filed under Britain, broken society, economy, Financial Times, George Osborne, Guardian, politics, poverty, Quotations

Boston, 15th April 2013

Kings shook with fear, old empires crave
The secret force to find
Which fired the little State to save
The rights of all mankind.

But right is might through all the world;
Province to province faithful clung,
Through good and ill the war-bolt hurled,
Till Freedom cheered and the joy-bells rung.

The sea returning day by day
Restores the world-wide mart;
So let each dweller on the Bay
Fold Boston in his heart,
Till these echoes be choked with snows,
Or over the town blue ocean flows.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson, Boston.


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Pride of our alley?

Let Malcolm start with two confessions:

  1. staustellproperjobYesterday’s Sunday papers got short shrift, mainly because of that long liquid lunch at Ye Olde Cherry Tree, a decent meal well lubricated with St Austell’s Proper Job.
  2. He is distinctly ambivalent about the Bercows. Obviously, since John Bercow as Speaker gets up the noses of so many Tories, he cannot be entirely a bad thing. He seems to do the business; but doesn’t cut it along with the recent great Speakers of recent memory: say, Bernard Weatherill (recently the star of James Graham’s This House at the Cottesloe) and Betty Boothroyd (a great hoofer, never out-shone by anyone). As for wife Sally, well, she does seem a trifle OTT.

And it is of Sally Bercow of whom we now speak.

The story so far:

Back in the darkening days of last autumn a frisson ran through the British political establishment. Some well-rehearsed ‘revelations’ from decades gone by, about paedophile rings in high places, bubbled to the surface of the settlement pit. One particular name involved was McAlpine. Unfortunately two McAlpine cousins, “Jimmie” and Lord Alastair, were confused by the media, including the BBC (who later paid McAlpine £185,000 for the mistake).

In the course of which Sally Bercow tweeted:

Why is Lord McAlpine trending? *innocent face*

The noble Lord McAlpine (believed to be down to his last ten million) then set about cleaning up. He issued writs for libel against all and sundry, collecting large sums of moolah in the process:  the Guardian columnist George Monbiot coughed; and comedian Alan Davies is supposed to be down for £200,000. McAlpine then generously desisted from cleaning out the bank-accounts of lesser beings, making a special, public and explicit exception of Sally Bercow’s seven words and ornamental punctuation.

Sally, blessed her little convoluted heart, stood up to the bullying. Yesterday’s Sunday Times reminded us how things went from there:

The libel case is centred on whether Bercow’s tweet was defamatory. A key issue will be the level of innuendo implied by the use of asterisks in her comment. Such punctuation represents the mimicking of a physical action by the user.

Hold on!  There is a precedent for this, which — at first, even second sight — seems to contradict the old maxim de minimis non curat lex. When English law wants to, it could — as with Roger Casement, hang a man on a comma.

Back to the Sunday Times:

At a High Court hearing on Tuesday, lawyers for McAlpine, 70, will ask for permission for the case to be split into two parts: one to determine the meaning of the tweet, and a second, if required, to award damages. The peer is seeking up to £50,000.

If the case goes against her, Bercow fears a two-part trial will drag proceedings on for months, with legal costs likely to overtake damages. This is why she is thought to want a full trial to be heard in one go.

Bercow has instructed solicitors at Carter-Ruck on a no-win, no-fee basis and is believed to have taken out insurance to cover costs of up to £100,000 should she lose.

She will be represented in court by William McCormick, QC, a defamation and privacy expert whose previous clients have included Sir Elton John.

McAlpine’s barrister is Sir Edward Garnier, a Tory MP and former solicitor-general.

Andrew Reid, of the RPMI firm of solicitors, who is also representing the peer, said, “It is very disappointing that Mrs Bercow still wants her day in court. But there is a huge public interest in this. The sooner the meaning of what she said is settled, the greater the benefit to the public at large.”

Focus, if you will, on that last quoted paragraph.

What does it mean?

  • One plain insinuation is that plutocrats, who can afford the bill for the thrill of the chase, might mulct lesser creatures through just a threat of action. But the lesser being is not supposed to use the proper legal remedy of “a day in court”. Of course, with verbose senior barristers involved, the chances of this being settled in a “day” are precisely zilch. Scattering writs like confetti was patented by such low-lifes as Robert Maxwell, to the great profit of his tame lawyers, who have refined the operation ever since.
  • Second, McAlpine’s lawyers would clearly prefer not to have all that embarrassing “huge public interest”. Not in front of the serviles …
  • Partisan politics, and a bully’s need to humiliate, seems a major contributory factor.
  • As for “benefit to the public at large”, any sensitive and sensible mind boggles. We have here another of the myriad attempts by those with power to throttle and constrain each and every twitch, tweet and twaddle of the social media. Underlings’ sympathy for La Bercow derives from the good British principle of nil carborundum.
  • The moral superiority of Lord McAlpine fades when we recall he was on the take, albeit on behalf of Thatcher’s Tory Party, from the likes of Asil Nadir. His love-of-country amounts to being a non-dom. His family firm, the construction giant McAlpine, made vast sums from Tory policies, and also operated the notorious black-list: since McAlpine started his career with the firm as a clock-watcher and pay-clerk on the South Bank site, his distance from victimizations cannot have been too great.

One last thought …

This Sunday Times piece was illustrated by yet another from a photo-shoot of Lord McAlpine cruising (make of that word what you will) around Venice.



The chequered suit and a gaudy tie, guaranteed to bar any on-course bookie from frightening the horses, tells us all we need to know. This present image, arms propped on true-blue umbrella, Rialto Bridge and moon-faced cheesy half-grin to the fore, mushy-peas Grand Canal beyond, is the latest, and even least appealing of the sequence.  Even Sally Bercow, in her more flirtatious and ill-advised moments didn’t sink that low.

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Filed under BBC, Britain, civil rights, Conservative family values, Guardian, Law, sleaze., Sunday Times, Tories.

Coagulating creaking crap!

The Tory poster campaign for the 2005 General Election was hardly subtle:


Wherever you went across the country, two months before the expected (and eventually declared) date, these posters appeared. All with the same “closed question”: Are you thinking what we’re thinking? Fortunately Michael Howard’s attempt at mood-management didn’t work. The Tories had bought in Lynton Crosbie, who had been the political strategist for John Howard’s four election victories in Australia. Britain was thus introduced to the dubious benefits of “dog-whistle politics”.

In 2013 the Tories are just as desperate — and even more blatant. There’s a short, bottom-of-the-page piece by Marie Woolf in the Sunday Times. Well, they had to squeeze it in somewhere: much of the rest of the issue is devoted to “Maggie Thatcher still dead! Official!” Here it comes:

Poor countries should be paid to process asylum seekers who are trying to get to Britain to stop them “disappearing” onto our streets, says a plan published by a group of influential right-wingers within the Conservative party.

Now Malcolm reckons he’s read that opener at least three time — and still doesn’t “get it”. Why the “disappearing” bit? If people immigrate, and then are indistinguishable within the whole population, have they not assimilated successfully?

The rest of the pieces is very much “tell me the same old story” — all the predictable terms are there: the Tory fret over a surge in support for the UK Independence party, the need for harsh immigration controls; deportees should appeal only after they being deported …

There has to be a Wizard behind the mask of this Oz nonsense. Step forward the plan’s begetter:

Julian Brazier MP for Canterbury [who] claims that housing, schooling, the welfare state and even the sewerage system are creaking under the strain of immigration.

Excuses! Excuses!

Gids Osborne has been baling the failure of his economics of the previous government (until that one was laughed down), the weather, snow, floods, drought, the royal wedding, the Olympics and anything else that came to mind. That set the pattern:

  • Now the housing crisis in the South-East (and it is mainly in the South-East and where the bourgeoisie buy their second and holiday homes) is the fault of immigrants! Not, as most realists thought, because the privatising of social housing has been a disaster.
  • The schools crisis is not because Gove pulled the plug on the previous government’s plans — no, no! it’s all down to immigrants who don’t speak English.
  • The social security system is also stretched because of the number of immigrants who are unemployed … three of the top five nationalities for settling in Britain — Bangladeshis, Nigerians and Pakistanis — “have well above average unemployment rates”.  Actually, as other statistics show that’s more a function of social class than ethnic origin. And what are the determinants of class — and so employability? Education, perchance, for one?

The blockage in the pipes

Sitting on the 299 bus, en route to a liquid lunch at Ye Olde Cherry Tree in Southgate, it was the Lady in Malcolm’s Life who spotted the killer: the creaking of the sewerage system.

It’s got to be vindaloo.


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