Wednesday, February 12, 2020


I guess when you reach a certain age topics of conversation drift in to things you never really thought about too much when you were younger.   Having crossed the threshold of octogenerianism I find that conversations with others seem often to revolve largely around  things medical, which is a subject I don`t really do.  More worryingly I`m finding that funerals are coming round a bit more frequently than either I or the deceased might have wished.  And, sadly, I attended yet another one just the other day, this time for a good friend and neighbour who I had known ever since we moved here well over thirty years ago.

It was beautifully done - quite simple and yet conducted in a spirit of heartfelt sympathy for the bereaved, coupled with a genuine appreciation of the life and times of our departed friend.   Now, I`m pretty sure that years ago it was the tradition that any music played at such an event was likely to be mournful, religious in nature and clearly not designed to lift the spirits of  those present.  How things have changed over the years and much the better for it.

I`ve thought back to funeral services I`ve been to over recent years and each time the proceedings have included music chosen by the family which seemed to them to be right for the occasion.   For example, I chose `Time to Say Goodbye` sung by Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman for my own mother`s service;  last year an old school friend went out to the sound of Frank Sinatra belting out `New York, New York;` and another occasion heard Matt Monro singing `Softly as I Leave You.`  I guess that in their own way they were `appropriate` as a memory for the departed and seemed just the right music for the day.

My most recent experience was the one I went to just a few days ago and the music chosen for that seemed also seemed to be just right.  It was `Memories`, sung by the velvet voice of Perry Como and it`s hard to imagine anything more appropriate for the occasion, the family and friends of our late neighbour.  An inspired choice from days when songs were songs and singers could sing.   Here it is:-

Trouble is, it all made me start to wonder what might be appropriate for my own departure.  I`ll get back to you about that.

Sunday, February 09, 2020

One of the joys of following football teams that aren`t too good is that it makes you realise that the club that means so much to you may not be so bad after all.   Yesterday Southampton didn`t have a game, rather they were wallowing in the relief of the so called `mid winter break` following their narrow defeat on Tuesday evening in the FA Cup replay at Tottenham.   That`s two games now when the Saints have performed very well but come away with nothing to show for their efforts.

So, yesterday my football mind was fixed on other things - Gillingham managing yet another goalless, if not soulless draw away at Burton Albion;  Maidstone hung on to secure a narrow 1-0 win over Braintree (I`ve always wondered why Braintree is called Braintree - is there a magic tree there somewhere?);  Wimbledon contrived to lose at home to Fleetwood but were denied the inspiration of our street`s local hero Scott ("Six pack") Wagstaff due to an injury picked up in training;  Truro City also lost, meaning that the scramble for promotion at the top of Southern League South is becoming a bit serious.

But what is even more serious are the goings on at Fort William in the Scottish Highland League.  For some years now, The Fort have been pretty hopeless in terms of results on the pitch but in the process have garnered a large world-wide following of those like me who revel in and identify with the world of the underdog.  But something strange is happening up there in the lee of Ben Nevis.   After a win and a draw already this season, yesterday they went to Turriff in Aberdeenshire and won again, this time 2-1 against Turriff United.  That, combined with Lossiemouth losing at Deveronvale meant that Fort William now have seven points and have risen to third from bottom of the Highland League with seven games in hand (due to postponed matches) on the teams above them.

At this rate they might well end the season with a double figure points tally and for the first time in living memory finish above the bottom of the table.   For romantics like me, it is hoped that they might soon remember their place and get back losing ways......

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Today is the 4th of February.  It comes round each and every year, of course and each time it does it takes me back 60 years when things happened to change my life forever.  

I woke up that morning in the pub that my parents owned in the rustic serenity of the Hampshire border country but I would spend that night in quite another world.   Early that morning I was given a lift by a neighbour to Reading train station; caught the train to Paddington station in London, crossed the capital and boarded another train at Euston station.   The long journey was in some respects `interesting` as I had never been anywhere north of London before but after what seemed a day long journey the train eventually arrived at Darlington in north Yorkshire, where I got on another train for the short journey to Richmond.

It was at Richmond station that I along with a random collection of other wide-eyed innocents was introduced to the army`s version of passenger transport as we were bundled with our meager belongings into the back of a 3-ton Bedford truck which deposited us at Catterick Camp to begin my two years of National Service.

Now I promise I won`t go on about National Service per se as I`ve recounted some of my experiences elsewhere in these pages (click on National Service in the list of labels to the right and down a bit) but rather to reflect on just how significant that experience was in terms of my personal `development` - such as it has been.

I think what it did do was make up for the absence, due to prolonged childhood illness,  of the chance of a University education or even higher level schooling and to use the hackneyed phrase which refers to the University of Life, I`m pretty sure that my army days forged within me a kind of resilience, a self confidence and most assuredly a self-awareness.   It also meant that I forged the ability to deal with situations, emotions even, that today would probably lead to anxiety, depression and all the other accouterments of `mental health issues.`   But in the green hell of BFPO 16 in  an armoured fighting tank regiment none of those `issues` ever crossed our minds - we simply got on with what we were supposed to be doing, worked hard and played even harder.

Now the last thing I will do is claim that National Service should be reintroduced as it really isn`t to be recommended and I`m not sure that people would accept it these days anyway but as a learning curve to developing qualities that were needed for a fulfilling later life,  I`m pretty sure it helped.   I wonder where today`s learning curves for life are to be found?

Monday, February 03, 2020

......and some you draw.   A mixed bag of sporting results this weekend which, in many ways, reflect life itself.  Ups and downs, a few surprises, some disappointment but always its unpredictability.  Sometimes it`s the hope that kills, other times, it`s the expectation.  Like England were supposed to beat France at rugby yesterday.  It didn`t happen, of course, but no complaints as the French deserved their win and England have a bit to learn following that defeat

The other side of that coin was the expected defeat of Southampton away at Liverpool in a game which might have gone the way of the Saints but for some missed chances and some exceptional play by Liverpool.  It was like a meeting of old friends with Liverpool having among their ranks former Saints van Dyke, Oxlaide-Chamberlain, Mane, Lallana, Lovren and Cline.  The final score of 4-0 to Liverpool was perhaps a bit flattering but it reminded me of the old saying, "Show me a gallant loser and I`ll show you a loser."

In other news, Truro City maintained their place at the top of the table but Wimbledon, featuring our local hero Scott ("Buzzin`) Wagstaff now fully restored after a recent suspension and calf injury, went down to a narrow 2-1 defeat at Accrington Stanley - always a difficult place to go to.   My neighbour`s Gillingham heroes didn`t have a game but have now gone ten home games without defeat, so there is still dancing in the street at the moment.

But pride of place this weekend went to Fort William who gained a creditable point away at Deveronvale - The Fort are still propping up the Highland League table but they have now amassed seven points so far this season, thanks to two wins and Saturday`s draw but with five games in hand on the teams above them there is still hope.

And spare a thought for Torquay United, who endured a 700-mile round trip to Barrow in Furness, current leaders in the National League and despite Torquay leading 1-0 until deep into the second half, Barrow eventually came back to win 2-1 and secure their league top spot.  

Oh, and we left the European Union too at the weekend..... after extra time.

Friday, January 31, 2020

It`s quite a week.  A lot going on.  And a lot of it is `annoying.`  Things like the Television Awards thingy the other evening when `awards` were dished out to mediocrities such as David Walliams, Ant and Dec and, astonishingly, Mrs, Brown`s Boys getting the comedy of the year award.  It really comes to something when an Irishman dressed up as an Irish granny has to rely on foul and abusive language in a desperate attempt to disguise the reality that he (or she) ain`t really funny.

And I guess there`s some mixed feelings about things political, which I will leave alone what with the Brexit thing and all that, and also other annoyances such as Greta Thunberg having the commercial nous to register her name and all her works as a trademark and being faced with Naga Munchetty when I turn on the TV in the morning.  

So it`s been quite difficult to find any grains of wheat in this great big pile of chaff but I think I have found a couple.  The first is the extraordinary and most welcome revolution being introduced by the new Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle. 

Following the way in which his predecessor brought the game into disrepute it is refreshing to see that the new Speaker has announced that he is introducing a new procedure which will allow the Clerk of the House to notify MPs if he disagrees with any decision made by the Speaker.  Friend Bercow generated controversy by reportedly overruling advice from the Clerk and allowing a vote on an amendment which was opposed by Brexiteers.  It is equally refreshing that the new Speaker has announced that under his watch any form of bullying within the House will not be tolerated and that he wants the House to be a village where everyone is treated with respect.

Now back in November I had (yet another) rant at the BBC about their plan to withdraw the red button text service in order to cut costs and to annoy the elderly and disabled - here`s what I said then -  Now following the predictable outrage and petitions to Downing Street the BBC has apparently had second thoughts and the BBC director general Tony Hall has said he would examine the concerns that the withdrawal of the service would `leave many people, who are already vulnerable, further isolated from society` and make a fresh decision in the spring.

Signs that the sunny uplands are in sight after all?

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

So, in a couple of weeks the UK will be leaving the political project that is the European Union and it will be interesting to see what the practical effects might be, both for us here in the good ol` U of K and for our friends and partners across the channel.  Some of those changes might give the opportunity to recapture some of the magic of our past, those long ago times before we were seduced into the EU in the first place.

I`ll be interested to see if we can find the courage to go back to how some things were - the reintroduction of our former currencies such as the half crown, the florin, the farthing etc., all of which made perfect sense, of course - four farthings in a penny, twelve pennies in a shilling, two shillings in a florin, twenty shillings in a pound and so on. 

We might even reintroduce the old gallon rather than having litres of petrol and, who knows, there might be improvements to our sporting life as we go back to penalties being awarded for deliberate handball;  and where being anywhere on a football pitch in an offside position meant you were interfering with play.  (I think cricket pitches still stick to the original 22 yards of a chain but I might be wrong about that, not having played the game for over half a century.)

There is some seductive charm about going back to days gone by - when things were so much more simple, where life was lived at a different, less stressful pace than today, when priorities were established around friends and family instead of being imposed via `social media.`   It`s funny how music almost always sums up a mood and all those years ago the divine Carole King along with Gerry Goffin wrote stuff then that is perhaps even more relevant today.   One of my favourite tracks of theirs, which seems so appropriate as we head out of the EU`s clutches, has long been `Goin` back` and the last few lines seem to capture what I mean in this jumbled rant:-

"Let everyone debate the true reality.
I`d rather see the world the way it used to be.
A little bit of freedom`s all we lack.
So catch me if you can
I`m going back."

And here it is sung by the equally divine and much missed Dusty Springfield:-

Wednesday, January 15, 2020


This is the Pilgrims Way, the long distance and very ancient footpath that leads from Winchester to Canterbury.   It passes through my bit of Kent and I took the photo above where the path hugs the lea of the North Downs in this part of Kent.  A little further in to our walk, the Pilgrims Way is crossed by another footpath and so we turned left and started to make our way up the slope of the North Downs.....

We came to a field and followed the path until it came to a gateway which led to the higher ground......

And just beyond the gateway something caught my eye......

And I wondered what it could possibly be in this remote spot a long way off the beaten track.   So we investigated by tramping through part of the hillside that is covered with wild thyme and brambles and it became apparent that what we were seeing was some kind of memorial.   It turned out to be something rather special and so I took this close up photo which revealed the story.......

And a little research when we got home showed that Tommy Pinkham was the Squadron Leader of the Royal Air Force No. 19 Fighter Squadron and the youngest Squadron Leader in the RAF at the age of just 25.   According to the Fighter Command Combat Report dated 5th September 1940, eleven members of the No. 19 Fighter Squadron, lead by Squadron Leader Pinkham, took off from RAF Duxford at 09.47 hours to patrol Hornchurch, an area east of London near the Thames Estuary.   Forty Luftwaffe Dornier 215 bombers escorted by 40 Messerschmitt 109 fighters were spotted approaching from the west.   At 10.15 hours Tommy and five others attacked the bombers with the other five aircraft in the squadron attacking the Luftwaffe fighters.  Squadron Leader Pinkham was last seen engaging three Dornier bombers but became a casualty, crashing on this spot on this Kentish hillside, where the memorial is maintained to remember his selfless heroism.

It seemed especially poignant to come across this memorial during this year which marks the 75th anniversary of VE Day.  And so we left this now very special place which now has the peace and serenity befitting its surroundings, thanks to men like Tommy Pinkham and his colleagues, to whom we owe so very much.

No. 19 Fighter Squadron at RAF Duxford - Squadron Leader Tommy Pinkham in the centre.