Tuesday, December 02, 2014


Well maybe it`s because it`s Tuesday and it`s dark and it`s cold and it`s wet but whatever it is, it has put me in the mood for the ironic stark contrasts which caught my eye today.....even if, like the picture above, they were completely unintentional. 

The first came when I was watching the BBC News this lunchtime and amongst all the various news items, two came along one after the other, thanks to whoever it is that decides the running order for news stories.   The first concerned the speculation about who might be the first woman bishop to be appointed in the Church of England.  There are some upcoming vacancies and the bookmakers (this isn`t the irony, honest) are taking bets as to which of four prime candidates will be the first to don the vacant mitre.

This item was immediately followed by one which reported Mario Balotelli`s latest faux pas in that he has been forced to withdraw a post on his Instagram account (whatever that is) which contained alleged racist and anti-Semitic references.   It struck me that there could hardly be a more stark contrast between women bishops and Mario Balotelli coming together in the BBC News.

Somehow it reminded me that much closer to home there is perhaps an example of an even more stark contrast, this time between two adjoining `businesses.`   In the same road where my stylist, Chris of Larkfield, pursues her hairdressing career for discerning gentlemen, there is an example of ironic juxtaposition which it would be impossible to make up.  Here it is:-

I am perfectly certain that clients of the business on the left do not expect immediately to avail themselves of the business on the right, for there can be no question that the one on the left practices anything other than the most rigorous food hygiene regime.  Now those who know my penchant for plain English fayre would know that I am unlikely ever to enter a Chinese takeaway establishment.   Pity the same can`t be said for the business next door.

Monday, December 01, 2014


Maybe because it`s Monday and it`s cold and it`s dark but whatever it is it`s one of those days when you`re not quite sure whether you have woken up in the real world or some parallel universe where everything seems `odd.`  Here is just a small selection of things that are confronting me this grey winter`s morning.......

.....HM Gov. are planning to spend £2 billion to ease the congestion on the A303 around Stonehenge.   It was all of 35 years ago that `improvements` to this notorious bottleneck were mooted and we`re told that today`s proposal will probably take a good ten years before it gets completed - if it gets started at all, of course.

Now I use the A303 quite a lot on our journeys to and from the great south west, so I know all about the Stonehenge problem, but at my age I`m beginning to seriously doubt whether I will live to see the announced improvement.  So from my point of view what`s needed is a quicker fix and there are a couple of options.   The first one, which will cost so much less than £2 billion, is simply to move Stonehenge to another more remote location and the second obvious solution is to build an entirely new Stonehenge at a tourist hotspot which will guarantee a return on the investment.

.......and speaking of returns on investment, how about the Dartford Crossing, where the cost of building it had been recouped in toll charges many years ago with the promise that it would then be free to cross.  Today, the price of the toll charges has risen by 25%, the Highways Agency are scrapping the toll booths and drivers will now have to join DartTag, pay on line or by phone and if you don`t there will be a hefty fine.   All well and good, but what if you are an easily confused elderly pensioner without access to the internet or a phone?  My answer to all this will be like my answer to most things -   I`ll just go the long way round

.......and finally for this miserable Monday morning, I`m getting a little tired of the constant barrage of appeals for cash from so many charities that it`s hard to keep track of them all.  Now I give to charities of my choice and I do so quietly and willingly so I don`t need to be harangued with television adverts, people banging on the door, letters in the post, wristbands, ribbons, telling secrets, rattling tins or `celebrity appeals.`   I just wonder if, like politicians who browbeat us to vote one way, the compassion overload we`re now having might just turn people away from supporting anything.   

Well, it is Monday morning.  Have a nice day!

Sunday, November 30, 2014


I was intrigued by the reports that the A1 near Catterick in North Yorkshire had been closed in both directions following reports of an `explosion` in the area.  Police conducted searches across the area where the noise was reported but found no obvious signs of an explosion.  No-one was injured and any links to terrorism have been ruled out.

Police said that the road was closed for so long leading to mass frustration and traffic congestion for motorists but the measure had been taken `for public safety.`  A police spokesman confirmed that they were `not prepared to take any chances with people`s safety and had to carry out a very thorough and extensive investigation.  A number of possibilities have been looked into but we may never find what the source of the explosion was.`   Now, on the Ministry of Defence website, Catterick Garrison is described as `the army`s largest training establishment,` with 20,000 acres of training land.  So maybe it`s not surprising that the odd explosion is to be heard drifting across the A1 from the training activities on the nearby moors. 

It reminds me of a pilgrimage made a long time ago when I and two other former national service mates made the journey to Catterick Garrison to recapture the scenes of our conscripted basic training over 50 years ago.

Armed with our army discharge papers - just in case, you see - we parked the car and stood outside the heavily guarded fence of Bourlon Barracks, where we had endured our first few weeks of military discipline.   It was an attempt to exorcise those memories, I suppose, but there was something deeply satisfying about being able to observe it from the outside looking in.   Sure enough, as we stood there, trainees were being marched up and down the barrack square, armoured fighting vehicles were parked and, not unnaturally, the whole scene was one of complete military presence.

Whereupon, a very rigid army figure arrived, pointed to the scene behind the fence and in all seriousness asked us, "Do you realise this is a military encampment?"   Well, I never! 

Friday, November 28, 2014


Well over half a century ago I used to enjoy playing all the sports I could get my hands on and it was always a toss-up between football and cricket as to which one I enjoyed the most.  In those days, the dividing line between the end of the cricket season and the start of football was very clear - I would have my last cricket game one Saturday and start the football season the next.

But in either sport I was - how shall I say? - undistinguished but in those days each game seemed, by and large, to be played in a kind of unspoken Corinthian spirit, where offence was rarely given or taken.   And the memories of those rare occasions when I was guilty of sporting offence still trouble me to this day.  And one incident in particular still refuses to go away.

Thanks to various transfer windows, the football teams I played for were reasonable enough and I spent the last few years of my dwindling `career` playing for the formidable Maidstone Dolphins in Division 3B (really Division 7) of the Maidstone and District Unsponsored Saturday League.  One Saturday afternoon on the unhallowed turf of Mangravet Recreation Ground we played a team one of whose players had only one arm.  

As a box-to-box midfield dynamo with a good engine and an eye for a pass, I came up against this player and in a brief fit of competitiveness I accidentally knocked him off the ball and he fell to the ground.  The referee blew for a foul - the first and only time I can recall having committed such an offence - and I immediately apologised not only to my opponent but also to the referee.  I genuinely felt awful about it and the incident affected me for the rest of the game.   It`s not the sort of thing you forget and here I am over 50 years later going on about it.

God only knows how Sean Abbott must feel.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


So, the BBC`s contenders for Sports Personality of the Year have been announced.  No real surprises there with Lewis Hamilton already quoted at 1-4 as the bookies` favourite and other arguably more worthy contenders trailing in his wake.  I`ve no quarrel with the other nominations which seem to represent most sports - (with the notable exceptions of Rugby and Cycling, which we are pretty good at) - and they include a boxer, swimmer, gymnast, golfer, very worthy Paralympians, a lady who does dressage with her horse and another who went downhill very fast on a tea tray.

Now I realise that there are millions of people in thrall with the world of Formula One racing and I also know it`s a world of `to each his own.`   But I have long wondered why motor racing qualifies as a `sport,` when the whole business is an environmentally hostile, deafeningly noisy, boring spectacle run by an organisation of dubious presence, whose champion is decided as much by technical and mechanical competence than by whoever happens to be sitting in the cockpit.

And motor racing has produced Lewis Hamilton. Now some months ago, there was a bit of controversy when Premier League referee Mark Clattenburg accused then Saints player, Adam Lallana, of `being very different now you`ve played for England.`  The accusation may have been flippant and raised some eyebrows but it may have contained an element of truth. It certainly seems to be the case with Hamilton who seems to have morphed into a kind of dream-world of his own following his cockpit sitting exploits.   He seems somehow `unworldly,` in a bubble of his own, not really one of us any more, not quite right. 

Now someone with a real personality is Jo Pavey who, at nearly 43 years of age, won the European 10,000 metres gold medal in Zurich, making her the oldest ever female European champion.  All this after having won the bronze medal in the 5,000 metres at the Commonwealth Games just ten days earlier.   A mother of two, eight months after giving birth to her second child she won the British 10,000m title.  She is one of those almost unsung champions, shunning the spotlight, reserved, modest, engagingly charming with no pretences and certainly no twin diamond ear studs. 


She won`t win the BBC Sports Personality, of course - that wouldn`t be quite right in a world that values brash excess over quiet achievement.

Friday, November 21, 2014


Well, I`ve finished wading my way through Richard Vinen`s 600-page account of National Service.  It`s a serious, entertaining and thought-provoking account of a time which was unique in the social and military history of this country.  It was the first and only time when over two million men born between 1928 and August,1939 (I was born in July 1939) were conscripted to serve during peacetime.   Well, I use the word peacetime advisedly as, during the period, there were serious conflicts in Korea, Malaya, Kenya, Cyprus and the fiasco of Suez, in each of which national servicemen served, died or were wounded and should perhaps be remembered more than they are.  

Now the contribution of national servicemen to these episodes is acknowledged at some length and rightly so, for the whole raison d`etre of conscription was not to turn the youth of the day into men but rather to ensure that the armed forces had enough manpower to cope not only with conflicts such as those I have mentioned but also the burgeoning threat from the Soviet Union.

Vinen`s book is full of detail about the background, the process and the ending of national service and draws upon a large collection of documents, records and interviews, all of which add to the authenticity of his study.   But it is a study not only of conscription but also of Britain during those times and he concludes that that time is now almost unrecognisable from the perspective of now.   The book is littered with references to all kinds of divisions that existed during the national service years - public school, grammar school;  officer class, non-commissioned officers, `other ranks;` divisions within the army itself - Guards, Cavalry, infantry regiments, Pioneer Corps; between regular soldiers and national service conscripts - but the most telling influence in those times was the preponderance and application of `class` itself.  (I wonder if it has changed all that much.)

Most of Vinen`s `personal` sources are from commissioned national service officers and there is perhaps not enough effort devoted to exploring what national service really meant to the `ordinary` conscript,  plucked from his own domestic environment and pitchforked into a quite alien world where, if he was to survive at all, he had quickly to adopt qualities such as self-reliance, a healthy cynicism and an acceptance of his situation whilst counting the days until his own form of normality could be resumed.

I`ve said before that, for me, the experiences I had left me with mixed feelings;  I would rather not have been called up and yet, having been, I learnt things about life and about myself that I suspect have proved useful, not least the comradeship I discovered from being `all in this together.`  And yes, my cynicism remains untouched, for how else could it be, having proved so hopeless at shooting that my rifle range score was laughably inept so I was posted to a cavalry regiment that had tanks with massive guns;  and when I was demobbed I found myself posted to a reserve regiment that went by the name of Sharpshooters.   Which, of course, aptly demonstrates the eternal contradiction in terms that is military intelligence.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


Some months ago now, Prime Minister Dave Cameron said that he expected the long awaited report of the Chilcot Inquiry to be published "before the end of the year." That was in May and now there are only four weeks left of the Parliamentary Year, so the prospect of Cameron`s expectation being fulfilled looks decidedly unlikely.

I think it was in July that letters were sent to the main participants in the Inquiry setting out detailed conclusions and, by law, anyone who faces criticism in a public inquiry must be warned as such and given the opportunity to challenge any negative findings.   Our old friend, Tony Blair, is possibly among those to whom such letters are believed to have been sent.

All of this process leads to yet more delay in the report`s publication and, as well as Parliamentary time running out, some members of the Houses of Parliament are now seriously suggesting that it would not be right for the report to be published before next May`s General Election.  Words like felony and compounded spring to mind.

It`s reported that a spokesman for the Chilcot Inquiry has declined to comment on the current state of affairs;  a spokesman for Tony Blair`s Office has gone on record as saying, "No comment;"  and Jack Straw, another thought to have received a letter from the Inquiry, could not be reached for comment.

It all comes as nothing of a surprise and seems as though too many people have nothing to say about this festering sore, which will only heal once the report is finally published, although I`m beginning to doubt whether that will be in my lifetime.