Sunday, December 24, 2006

It`s reported that one Paul Hewson, aka Bono - a citizen of the Irish Republic - is to be given an honorary knighthood in the New Year Honours.
Now, apart from not being a citizen of this country and a purveyor of dubious music along with his buddies in the U2 combo, Hewson is perhaps best known for his endless rantings about relieving poverty in Africa and world debt generally. These protestations are usually accompanied by a barage of shrill demands that the rest of us should give all our money away to these deserving causes....whilst Hewson & Co spirit their own fortunes away into the Rotterdam tax haven. A classic case of `do as I say` rather than `do as I do.`
Of course, Mr. Hewson is merely following the example of his Irish forerunner, Bob Geldof, who was similarly knighted some years ago in recognition of his own hectoring after our cash. But at least Geldof had the excuse that, since he was a failed warbler himself, he could be forgiven for manufacturing a second career as a saviour of humanity.
Being charitable (as it`s Christmas) I don`t suppose either of these gentlemen actively sought the honours being bestowed on them, so I will direct my rant in the direction of Tony Blair who, in nominating friend Hewson, may be doing so in the misguided belief that it`s `cool` to honour such right on figures in much the same way as he did for Sir Mick Jagger and that shining example of restraint and erudition, Sir Alex Ferguson. Sadly for Blair, it doesn`t work.
Just before the last election, a labour party canvasser knocked on my door, demanding to know for whom I might cast my (allegedly) secret vote. My response was simply to state that, quite apart from all of Blair`s other failings, I would never forgive any Government that made Ferguson a knight of the realm.
So, sorry Tone - it`s no good you thinking of tempting me with a Baronetcy or any other `honourable` bauble - I`m finding it more honourable to be just plain Mister. Thanks anyway.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

from our Medical Correspondent

Further medical investigation into Snopper`s aliment has finally diagnosed the problem as shingles. A visit to the local GP Surgery on Thursday saw a more experienced medic finally identify the problem. Shingles normally attacks either one side of the head or the upper body and so Snopper`s unusual lower leg outbreak threw the medical profession off the scent.

Unfortunately, the time taken to correctly come up with the diagnosis has meant that the time had passed whereby any anti-viral medication (the usual remedy) would be effective and so Snopper has to just live with the condition until it decides it`s had enough and goes away - which could be a few weeks....or a few months...or even years. A gloomy prospect for one so full of vitality, energy and love of life.

Snopper`s world-wide weblog audience which has grown now to almost double figures will not be receiving any further medical bulletins but instead can look forward to the usual cutting-edge articles appearing on this site.

In the meantime, a downstairs loo door crisis has been resolved at Snopper Towers. For four days, the door was closed and unable to be opened. Fortunately, no-one was inside the loo at the time it became stuck. Despite dismantling part of the door `furniture`, trying to prize it open with a mole wrench and thumping the handle with a claw hammer, the door would not open and so a local locksmith was eventually summoned to drill it open. All is now well, but it`s hard to escape the notion that that event, coupled with the ailment referred to above, may be heavenly reprisals for the damning article published here a while back concerning the value of Christmas? Ding dong.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

from our Medical Correspondent

Thanks to Beverley the Osteopath, we can confidently report a significant improvement in Snopper`s mobility. However, there remains a mystery condition in the form of a nasty rash, which has broken out on his left leg, accompanied by tenderness and pain from waist to foot.

Snopper paid another visit to Nicole Kidman lookalike lady GP on Monday, as he was concerned that this unsightly and debilitating problem might have an adverse effect on his modelling career. The Doc was unsure of the diagnosis, having trawled the pages of Google in a vain attempt to track down the cause (I kid you not!) In the end, steroid cream and antihystemine was prescribed, which has been slavishly applied to the affected area, despite the temptation to bring the benefits of steroids to other parts of the anatomy.
If no improvement comes about in the next day or so, Snopper will take up NK lookalike`s suggestion of consulting with a more experienced GP in the same practice......always providing that an appointment can be made through the immigration control-type appointments system.
With a hectic diary of events in the festive season, including a planned visit to St. Mary`s Stadium, a crucial door repair job to undertake, car cleaning, painting, gardening and dispensing festive cheer to anyone within earshot, it is to be hoped that Snopper will be up to the task shortly.
Further bulletins may be issued in due course; then again, they may not be.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

TOLD YOU SO.......the cringingly awful BBC Sports Personality of the Year resulted in the Queen`s Grandaughter, Zara Phillips, being named as this years`s winner. Now, I wonder what`s going on when results as bizarre as this can happen?
Before we get on to Zara (if you`ll forgive the phrase) there are a couple of other `intersting` things which have come to light. For instance, how is it that St. Helen`s Rugby League team can lift the Team of the Year award? Now, this is a game played almost exclusively `oop north` and is of no real interest to the rest of the country. However, the BBC do have the exclusive rights to televise Rugby League matches (big deal) whereas they did not televise the Ryder Cup, won in spectacular style by the European Team. Curious.
Similarly, the fact that the two champion boxer nominees (Messrs. Hatton and Calzaghe) failed to reach even the final three surely has nothing to do with the huge investment made by ITV in televising the noble art.
The BBC seem reluctant to explain the details of the voting procedure, merely announcing the percentages of votes cast for nominees which casts as much doubt over the outcome as their reluctance to come clean over how the nominations were arrived at to begin with.
As to Zara, well I`m sure she`s a nice lady and I have no wish to chastise anyone unfortunate enough to be born to her position, but it`s odd that the `equestrian press` ran a campaign among their readership to encourage votes to be cast in her direction - as illustrated.
But let`s spare a thought for the horse - surely, if anyone deserved to share in this award it was the equine champion which took Zara to her triumphs....and quite possibly had as much `personality.` Amazing.

Monday, December 04, 2006

On Sunday evening, the BBC will broadcast the SPORTS PERSONALITY OF THE YEAR live and direct from the NEC in Birmingham. That in itself is a departure from tradition, which has hitherto seen the programme staged at the BBC Television Centre in London. More innovations this year include the fact that the 10 nominees for the award have been drawn up by a secretive group meeting behind closed doors and allegedly containing representatives of sports writers, sports people and the ubiquitous `general public.` Shame they remain anonymous.
So its hardly surprising that this year`s nominations contain no-one from leading sports such as football, rugby or athletics. Not enough pc representation, I imagine. Instead we are being invited to phone in with our votes on Sunday evening and choose between the following list of sports `personalities`:-
- Darren Clarke (Ryder Cup Golfer) : Joe Calzaghe and/or Ricky Hatton (Pugilism) : Jensen Button (F1 winner after 100 attempts) : Nicole Cooke (Winner of Women`s Tour de France) : Monty Panesar (Cricketer currently failing to get into England Test team) : Zara Phillips (Horse person - born to it) : Phil "The Power" Taylor (known in the world of darts for being marginally slimmer than Fat Belly who, in turn, was marginally slimmer than Even Fatter Belly) : Beth Tweddle (Gymnastics) and Andy Murray (Tennis adolescent.)
Now, I have no doubt that they are all worthy representatives of their particular sport or pastime, but as I have yet to be exposed to the `personality` of most of them, I feel at a disadvantage when asked to cast my vote (at premium rates, no doubt.) So I don`t think I`ll bother. In fact, the programme these days is a bit like that two-week long snooker event...or the Eurovision Song Contest, when all you really need to do to find out the winner is to watch the last five minutes. That way, I can avoid the cringing embarrassment of sitting through a singularly uninspiring retrospect of our sporting year all lovingly presented by BBC `presenters` who have come straight off the shelves of Ikea.
The BBC test card could well be more entertaining.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

until 21st December - the shortest day.
Henry our retriever has been sad just lately - the days are very short, the evenings long; not much sun around even though it`s not been cold. Each time he goes for a walk - across the fields, through the woods and the orchards of mid-Kent - we both get mud-splattered, wet, bedraggled, so he doesn`t like this time of year any more than I do.
I`m convinced I suffer from a mild form of Seasonal Affective Disorder, but being the sad old git I have now become, maybe it`s just the way I am. I do find the dark days of winter to be difficult to handle - I long for the summers, the long, sunny days drifting into langourous evenings and so I count the days until the shortest day of the year.....only 19 days away now, after which the days once more begin to lengthen.
I have discovered that there is a S.A.D Society, who give advice to sufferers about the symptoms, the causes and possible treatment for the condition. I admire their devotion to helping others, but they must literally be the sadest society going. I`ve trawled their website in the vain hope that they might advise me to get a life, fly off to Australia, chat up Rachel Hunter now she`s `free` or even ask my son to arrange an evening with Kylie....but all they suggest is that I buy a lightbox and join in with others at meetings where they stand around being miserable. I don`t think so somehow.
Dylan Thomas wrote a stirring poem for his dying father, which included the advice to `rage, rage at the fading of the light.` Well, I`ve done my share of raging these past few weeks and - another sign of ` age-related SADness` - it seems that there is more and more to rage against these days. In material terms, I can complain of nothing...and I don`t. But I look around the world from my perspective of a comfortable chair in a disintegrating `society` and find very little to lift the spirits.
However, reports from the antipodes (where I have my own correspondent) suggest that there is every hope for a bright future both within the gentle suburbs of Adelaide and the cricket ground, where England have regained their cricketing pride. I have long suspected that God might well be Australian - who else would arrange to have the date for celebrating his only begotten son in the middle of summer, whilst we over here are condemned to trudge through our own yuletide festivities in the midwinter gloom? Good on ya` mate!

Monday, November 27, 2006


once to fly from Luton Airport and the other to land back again. And what a disaster they both were. I had been invited to speak at a conference in Ireland and I flew to Waterford on RyanAir only to discover that my luggage, including conference graphics and suit, had been sent to Vienna! I got them back three weeks later. The return journey a couple of days later was hazardous in the extreme - the infamous hurricane of 1987 had struck overnight and fierce winds were still blowing as a landing of sorts was effected on the Luton tarmac.

So Saints 2-1 victory over Luton Town FC on Saturday produced a warm feeling of revengeful satisfaction whilst doing little to lighten the countenance of their outspoken manager, Mike Newell. Saints` first goal - a towering header from Northern Ireland international Chris Baird - his first for the club - found the top corner of the net, eluding the despairing clutches of the Hatters` on-loan custodian, Dean Kiely. Kiely had a distinctly uncomfortable afternoon, being on loan from Saints` arch-rivals Portsmouth, which produced the predictable banter-esque abuse from the home fans.

That victory moves Saints up to 7th in the league, level on points with 6th place and, thus, a play-off spot. I have an uncomfortable feeling that promotion back to the Premiership may be a distinct possibility. From the financial/business point of view, I might perhaps welcome that as a shareholder in the club. However, the prospect of again being associated with the over-hyped, overpaid prima donnas of the Premiership is not an attractive one. Oh, for the days of cloth caps, rattles, terraces and stale pies!

Hatters` grumpy boss Newell has now seen his team lose seven games on the trot, receive a final warning from his Chairman about his future conduct, be forced to backtrack on his comments about female match officials.....and still no news from Lord Stevens about his (Newell`s) bung allegations. Maybe he should fly off to Waterford - on RyanAir, of course.

Friday, November 24, 2006

We all know that Christmas is coming, but the local stores seem determined to convince us that advent calendars should start much earlier. I wanted to buy some gardening stuff from our local supermarket in mid-October, only to find that it had all been removed and replaced with the usual festive assembly of toys, books, DVDs, CDs, yuletide confectionary, booze and much, much too much to eat - all lovingly presented in a deluge of cardboard, plastic and other environmentally-hostile forms of packaging. Save the planet? Don`t make me laugh.
It`s all the falseness that bothers me - the insincerity - the grasping, relentless commercialism of it all, which plays on people`s guilt and expectations. I`m fed up with the rampant materialism that seeks to persuade us that you have to spend loads of money in order to have a good time or, more chillingly, for others to like us. Sorry, I don`t buy it - literally. Humbug.
But I guess I shouldn`t be surprised in a society that, for example, permits TV phone-ins so you can rack up a hefty phone bill by answering multiple-choice questions of such banality that they wouldn`t strain the intellect of the average house fly. Even worse - arguably - is the encouragement we receive to vote (at premium rates, of course) on the future careers of would-be warblers or prancers or who might be evicted from houses or jungle camps. As if I cared about any of them.
Perhaps the worst example was the recent TV phone-in poll which asked people to vote as to whether Saddam Hussein should be executed or not. Cast you vote now - dial this number - send this text - and you too can have a say in what should happen. Nothing, it seems, is beyond the grasp of the chancers who are keen to exploit every opportunity to part us from our money and our common sense. As for Christmas, I am tired of their attempts to seduce me into forgetting what Christmas and all our other `joyful` events are truly about. Roll on January.
Jingle bells!

Monday, November 13, 2006

"The sweetest sound is silence...." (B. Taupin)

The Parish church of St. John the Baptist at Padworth in the deep heart of Berkshire is a classic example of Norman church architecture.
Built in 1130, with only the windows and the roof of the nave altered since - and that was in Tudor times - the church is tucked away down a gravel lane, which leads off a very narrow country lane, which leads off yet another narrow country lane....and so on. You get the picture. You really have to know how to find it, although the adjoining `big house` and the church farm with its timeless cottages just up the road give good clues to the yeoman nature of the village itself.

Padworth has been a small community over the centuries, so there was no surprise to discover that there was ample room in the churchyard for my grandparents` resting place when they died all those years ago, having spent a lifetime in the village and surrounding area. (They died within three days of each other, such was the closeness of their marriage and their partnership for so many years.)

Their grave has become something of a family shrine - one of my aunt`s ashes were interred into the grave space when she died far too young 20 years ago. On Wednesday, the ashes of my other aunt who died last month will be placed there too. (See `A Loaf Less Ordinary` in the archive section.)

It will be a solemn occasion in a secret place - far from the madding crowd - but one I will continue to visit not only to continue to pay my respects to past relatives but also to savour the peace and tranquility of the sound of silence, which carries only the echoes of 900 years.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


All Saints Day has come and gone, but not unnoticed among the faithful at St. Mary`s Stadium. The convention has been that as a mark of respect for those players or club officials or, indeed, any one of particular note in the football world who may have passed away, either a minute`s silence has been held or, more latterly, a minute`s applause and the players of both teams have traditionally worn black armbands.

No real problem with any of that but the truth is that on some occasions, the minute`s silence has been ruined by the mindless intervention of the thoughtless few, notably from a rival club a few miles down the M27. There was always the dilemma as to whether to `remember` players from bygone days who may not be so familiar to the younger generation and a more recent dilemma has been whether to have silence, applause or nothing at all.

An inspired suggestion came from among the ranks of Southampton FC supporters that All Saints Day gave us the perfect and elegantly appropriate opportunity to have just one day in the season when respects could be paid not just to former players or officials but also to departed fellow supporters. So it was decided to have a minute`s silence at the home game nearest to the traditional date for All Saints Day on 1st November each year.

This year`s first such `remembrance` came at the home game against Wolverhampton Wanderers when we remembered all those who had passed away during the past year including Tommy Traynor, Charlie Wayman and the unforgettable Peter Osgood, who was part of our FA Cup winning team in 1976. I had the pleasure of being at Wembley that day and Ossie`s passing was particularly poignant.

Our real thanks go to the players, officials and particularly the supporters of Wolves who, on the night, joined us in observing our remembrance with the dignity it deserved. In view of the respect they showed, it seemed churlish to take three points off them in a 2-0 win. However, fear not dear reader, for Saints form returned to normal with a humiliating 2-0 defeat at Meadow Lane against lowly Notts County and another reverse at the hands of struggling Colchester United at Layer Road. The dull 0-0 draw at home against Hull City did little to dispel the notion that mid-table mediocrity beckons for yet another season.

However, it`s still comforting to be part of a club which, whilst the football team may not be the greatest team the world has ever seen,has a community spirit which is alive and well among the constant faithful.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Come and `ave a go if you think you`re `ard enough

Back in the summer of 1961, the Duke of Gloucester presented the 10th Royal Hussars with new colours. Now, being a posh cavalry regiment, the `colours` ( a big flag really on the end of a stick) were referred to as the Guidon. So, for his Dukeness to do the job properly, there had to be a Guidon parade, when the entire regiment was formed up into four `guards` - each one with about 50 soldiers - and the regimental band - and a complicated marching routine was coreographed to bring a sombre gravitas to the flag on the stick business.

Snopper can be seen in the third rank from the front and sixth from the left, looking resplendant in blues, white webbing and brandishing a sword. This was the No. 1 Guard - the bees knees - selected for their unfailing ability to turn left and right rather nicely and march up and down whilst carrying out complex (and highly dangerous) manoeuvres with the swords.
To reach this pinnacle of perfection, drill sergeants were bussed in to our barracks in Germany from the Grenadier Guards about six months before the great day and for all that time we were shouted at and threatened (nothing new there then,) we were kitted out with the posh uniforms and trained in the inscrutable art of sword drill.
Came the fateful mid-summer day, the sun shone unmercifully, orders were barked by officers on horses, we went into our routine like a chorus line and stood to attention while the Duke `inspected` us - just us - just No. 1 Guard. It seemed clear to me that after all that effort, his Dukeness didn`t really pay us too much attention - he seemed to be in his own world, oblivious, perhaps because of too much pre-parade hospitality in the officers mess. The irony wasn`t lost on me and, as I invariably saw the farcical side of all things military, I allowed the faintest of smirks to pass across my countenance.

This was not lost on the Regimental Sergeant Major - a rigid beast who was so meticulous that he had labels on everything (a pencil in his office had a label saying `pencil`) - standing about 300 yards away - and so my military career was forever tainted with the charge of smirking whilst in the presence of someone really important. Such a shame.

Monday, October 23, 2006

That`s better - Super Mario sinks Potters

Another pilgrimage to St. Mary`s Stadium on Saturday saw Southampton FC bounce back from a three-match losing streak to record a narrow 1-0 win over an uncompromising Stoke City side, which contained two former Saints players in central defender Danny Higginbotham and striker Ricardo Fuller. It would have been three but for a tragic mid-week injury to Saints former record signing Rory Delap, who sustained a triple fracture of the leg following a seemingly innocent clash with a team-mate. Rory - a £4million capture from Derby County - was a good and loyal player for Saints throughout his time with us and I really hope he recovers from this serious setback to resume his career.

Most of Saturday`s game was remarkable only for its crushing dullness - I had thought of going down the road where some paint was drying on a new block of flats - but it was enlivened and eventually won by a stunning strike from Czech international midfielder Mario Licka (pron. Litchka) who picked up a ball on the left side of midfield, ghosted past two defenders and unleashed an unstoppable shot into the left hand corner of the goal, giving Stoke`s goalkeeper, Steve Simonsen, no chance.

The victory takes Saints into 9th place in the Championship table, just three points behind third place and a secure position in the play-off zone. It`s still early doors in the season, of course, and there`s a lot of football to be played between now and next April, but if Saints can build on this morale-boosting win, then a serious attempt at promotion back to the Premiership may not be out of the question, although I have serious doubts that we will be strong enough to survive in the higher league. Time will tell.

Oh, and a learned friend of mine has explained that Stoke City are called the Potters in acknowledgement of the fact that Stoke was originally one of Arnold Bennett`s Five Towns where the pottery industry flourished - Stoke, Hanley, Tunstall, Burslem and Longton. Strange that Bennett seemed to forget Fenton, but the six towns were merged together in 1910 to become Stoke-on-Trent.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Tales from the Splice Boys

Whilst doing our enforced 731 days of National Service back in the early `60s, my mate Dave Millman and I got ourselves jobs as projectionists at the local AKC Globe Cinema in Paderborn, Germany.

Our main motivation was to improve upon the 15s 9d (78p) weekly pay from the army and the cinema paid us quite well for doing a skilled job seven nights a week. And it wasn`t just any old cinema, but a state of the art (for the early `60s) establishment with full stereophonic sound, stage and curtain lighting, cinemascope screen and two synchronised Bauer projectors - a bit like the one illustrated - which was fired by carbon arc light.

Having bluffed our way into employment, we more or less picked up all the technicalities as we went along, despite the manager - a lovely man named Bert Dorsett, who knew even less about it than we did - being obliged to refund tickets for our first couple of evenings, as we grappled with the complexities involved (we blamed an unheard of breakdown in the ruthlessly efficient German electricity supply.) Eventually though, we became very proficient at the job, which included not only the shows themselves but also the need to `make up` the running order of `B` picture, newsreel, adverts, trailers and main feature - some of which were standard size and others cinemascope - which changed every couple of days.

Our main fault was perhaps a propensity to cut some bits we liked out of films before we sent them off to the next cinema in the chain. Over the 18 months we were there we spliced up our own film of extracts which were then shown to an invited audience in the dead of night. I remember both Dave and I fell deeply in love with Yvette Mimieux (see above) when she starred as Weena in The Time Machine and we had quite a few clips of her which ensured a good night`s sleep after our hectic days `working` for the army and then in the cinema. Cinema audiences which followed ours in the chain were thus deprived of the enjoyment which Yvette (and countless others) brought to us and doubtless subjected to the occasional jump in the continuity of the films they were watching.

Some of the `B` pictures were seriously awful (as was the genre at the time) so much so that on more than one occasion we used our experience as film critics to shut them off before the end - a practice which the audience often appreciated. We sometimes took our cue from the reaction of the audience and pandered to their own critical wishes. A memorable example was a `western` shot on Dartmoor with a gang of Devon farmhands posing as desperados and a sherriff desperately seeking to clean up Princetown - it lasted until half way through the second reel before it got the chop.

Watch this space for more Tales from the Splice Boys

Sunday, October 15, 2006

A loaf less ordinary


My paternal grandparents had a bakery and shop business in a small village on the Hampshire/Berkshire border . The business started well before the onset of World War 2 and continued until the mid- `70s. The bakery was noted for producing bread from an old brick oven which was fired by bundles of wood, known as bavins. The process, which involved firing the bavins in the oven, raking out the embers, then using long-handled peels to put the loaves in to bake for 45 minutes, produced bread with a very distinctive flavour - a `woody` taste, which made it very popular.

So much so that the bakery business expanded to provide a service for half a dozen villages in the area. This meant that there had to be an efficient and reliable delivery service and one of my aunts took on the delivery role, whilst the other daughter ran the grocery shop which operated from the same location as the bakery. One of the sons - my uncle - spent his whole working life in the bakery itself, mixing and kneading the dough to make the bread.

These days, superstores have their in-house bakeries or there are the large-scale bakery production factories with their nationwide distribution, but sadly the small independant bakeries are in short supply....and certainly those with the wood-fired ovens are impossible to find.

I`m not really mourning the passing of the independant wood-fired oven bakeries but I am mourning the very personal service which those villages received from my aunt, who drove an old Ford van loaded with bread, cakes and groceries six days a week, week in and week out, whatever the weather. She drove thousands of miles and walked thousands too - anything up to 10 miles a day and on Sundays, just for a change, she would go for a walk around the village.

During the war years and the immediate post war period, people living in rural villages tended not to have their own transport and so they relied heavily on deliveries for milk, coal, bread and other necessities. My aunt`s whole working life was spent providing that service and was spent entirely within the confines of those villages she served - Mortimer, Ufton, Silchester, Pamber, Burghfield and Padworth. Small wonder that when she finally retired she found difficulty in coming to terms with the wider world and all it had to offer. Instead, she continued to live a quiet, lone, restricted life, often reliving those hard but happy working years when she knew the value of what she did for others.

She died this morning at the age of 90 and she will be missed.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Ed has close encounter with Snopper....
As I have been retired for some years, I decided a few years ago to accept an invitation to get involved with the voluntary sector and join the board of the Friends of the Wisdom Hospice in Rochester. The Wisdom (named for Molly Wisdom who began the fund raising for the original provision of the hospice) was the first hospice to be established in the UK outside London and it has a long and proud history of providing high quality palliative care for the good folk of the Medway Towns (Rochester, Chatham and Gillingham) and the Swale area of Kent, including Sittingbourne and Sheerness, on the Isle of Sheppey.
After a while, I was appointed to chair the board, which I did for a number of years before handing over the reins a couple of years ago. During my time as Chairman, perhaps the most rewarding project was the combined provision of a new day hospice, the refurbishment of the wards, the establishment of new education facilities to aid the research and development of palliative care in the county and the upgrading of staff and ancilliary facilities - totalling about £1.5million in all.
Given that HM the Queen officially opened the original hospice in 1984, it seemed fitting to invite a member of the royal family to perform the official opening of our new extension and HRH Prince Edward, Duke of Wessex, along with the lovely Sophie, did the honours in the summer of 2004. Now, I`m not really one for pomp and circumstance (I have been known to turn down an invite to a Royal Garden Party) so I tactfully resigned my chairmanship before the appointed day. Nevertheless, I was forcibly included in the line-up - that`s me with the blue tie and wearing a name badge so I could remember who I was.
I`ve continued to be involved with the hospice since then however - I`m currently involved with another project to refurbish the chapel and the paved area which patients can enjoy on summer days and sorting out the car parking problems. I doubt there will be any `officialdom` once these jobs are concluded. I guess one close encounter with Snopper is quite enough for Ed.

Saturday, October 07, 2006


Well, he would if he could be bothered. This is Henry, our Golden Retriever. He`s the fourth Goldie we`ve had, so he`s known as Henry the Fourth. He follows in the footsteps of Holly, Botham and Rupert, none of whom lived beyond seven years of age, due to different circumstances. Henry is now seven we`re getting a bit nervous for him. My wife and I take it in turns to name our retrievers - you can tell which was my choice. Rupert was going to be Matthew Le Tissier but we decided it was a bit of a mouthful, so Rupert it was (after the bear, not the departed Chairman of Southampton FC.)

Henry`s had loads of problems - arthritis, cuts to his paws, colitis, even a pericardial effusion, which was a real worry. We have a very good vet who has retrievers of his own, so he knows what they`re like. It`s expensive though and even the insurance is of limited value, as the small print always catches you out. Still, how do you put a price on a faithful friend who is always there with a welcome, gets you out for walks at least twice every day whatever the weather and repays your care and attention with unquestioning loyalty?

He enjoys his holidays as much as we do - I think this photo was taken at Rock on the Camel estaury in Cornwall, looking across to Stepper Point. Don`t be deceived - Henry has not been in the water; he is very reluctant to get wet...and even more reluctant to retrieve anything.

Fetch? You`re having a laugh.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

William Neil Scammell (1939-2000)

Billy Scammell has a lot to answer for. He and I were `best friends` in our boyhood village on the shores of Southampton Water. We were born in the same year - Bill was a few months older than me - we started school together at the Primary School in Hythe before going on to the `big` school at Hardley, when we were both 11; you could say (and some do) that we were both Hardley educated.

Out of school we spent all our time together and Bill especially enjoyed being at the bottom of our garden, which ended at the sea wall, watching the great liners coming and going along Southampton Water. We spent hours combing the beach along Shore Road for those boyhood treasures which were tossed overboard from passing ships - we built up an impressive collection of soggy matchbox tops, some of which I still have, 60 years later.

For different reasons, we went our seperate ways in our teens - my family moved away and Bill started life in the office of the Southern Daily Echo before becoming a photographer on the Cunard liners, which gave him the chance to see the world and to see life. We lost contact but when I retired I decided to try and find Bill again. None of our (by now) old friends in Hythe knew what became of him and it wasn`t until I `googled` Bill a couple of years ago that I discovered the bitter sweet truth. That Bill won a scholarship for mature students and won a degree in English and Philosophy at Bristol University. That he became a Lecturer in English at Newcastle University. That he took up full-time writing in 1991, acting as chief poetry reviewer for the Independant on Sunday and contributing to The Guardian, The Spectator, TLS, Poetry Review and others. That he published ten volumes of poetry, edited several anthologies as well as a collection of Ted Hughes` prose (Winter Pollen) and wrote a critical study of Keith Douglas, the first World War poet. Google also advised that Bill passed away in 2000 - a bitter sweet revelation indeed.

Last year, the good folk of Hythe commemorated Bill`s life and work by the erection of a plaque on his old house in Alexandra Road, which he left in 1954 to embark on his journey through life. A fitting tribute to a considerable talent.

But for all his literary talents, perhaps his greatest gift to me was to bestow upon me the nickname `Snopper` all those years ago in our schooldays. Clearly, even at that age, he possessed the gift of inventive description. Some years ago, long before I found out what happened to Bill, I began to contribute to web forums. The spooky thing is that, when I did so, I chose `Snopper` as my username; perhaps a sub-conscious throwback to those boyhood days in what Bill described as our `village by the sea` and to the memory of a good friend.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Not a Good Day

This is the view I have from my seat at St. Mary`s Stadium - home of Southampton FC. This photo was taken after the last game of last season with the crowd saying farewell to the players and the players reciprocating - even after a fraught season both on and off the pitch.

Things have started more brightly this season, following sweeping changes in the boardroom, an influx of new players and the manager, George Burley, beginning to show the results of his way of doing things. Until yesterday Saints were lying 3rd in the league, following a string of encouraging results, especially away from home. Yesterday, however, we suffered a setback.

Now, there are three truths about football. First, if you sell a striker to another club, then that striker will score against you when his new club come visiting. Second, when a club appoints a new manager, then that club will win its first away game. Thirdly, when a club attracts its biggest home crowd of the season, then the team will fail to live up to expectations.

All three truths hit home yesterday, with an unlikely, but perhaps not unexpected, 2-1 defeat at the hands of Queens Park Rangers, a team who until yesterday were lying 19th in the league, against our 3rd. The defeat was largely due to a goakleeping blunder of such proportions that it must take a rare talent to perform. So, we are now 5th, rather than 3rd.....disappointing.

The rest of the day was disappointing too - it took me well over three hours to drive to where I park in Southampton (Town Quay) and by the time I arrived, my `crew` had departed our meeting place (M. Hulot`s Patisserie) so I not only missed lunch, but also the pleasure of their company. The journey home wasn`t much better either, thanks to too much traffic, motorway roadworks and the occasional accident. However, in my philosophical way, I console myself with the knowledge that any inconvenience or disappointment I may have suffered during my long day are as nothing compared to the problems for those traffic accident victims I saw on the roads yesterday. There are more important things than football after all.....possibly.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Sleep well, Sir John.

`Blessed be St. Enodoc, blessed be the wave,

Blessed be the springy turf we pray, pray to thee

Ask for our children all happy days you gave

To Ralph, Vasey, Alistair, Biddy, John and me.`


Yes, Sir John Betjeman`s centenary year...and his poem `Trebetherick` (extract above) conjures up images of blissfull childhood days spent with dear friends in the idyllic surroundings of that spectacular area of north Cornwall he loved so well.

Last year, we spent a memorable afternoon at St. Enodoc church and we sat next to the rather ornate headstone that marks Betjeman`s grave. As you can see from our photograph, the location looks out beyond the tamarisk trees that surround the churchyard to the estuary of the River Camel, with Stepper Point beyond. But it was in Trebetherick village that Betjeman finally made his home - in a house named Treen along Daymer Lane, which leads down to the estuary at Daymer Bay.

It`s not an easy place to find, lost as it is among the lanes between Polzeath and Rock, but we managed to find our way down Daymer Lane to the car park by the sea, from which we were able to walk through the village lanes, across the golf course, to this enchanting churchyard with its compelling views and timeless serenity. The church itself, with its twisted spire, was built here 700 years ago and was long buried in the sand; to keep the tithes, the parson and clerk came to service through the roof - then it was lost altogether but finally found again in the 19th century.

It seems a fitting place for one of England`s finest poets to rest in peace in the place he loved.

Sleep well, Sir John...and thank you for the inspiration for blessed St. Enodoc to enchant me too.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Heart to heart

I spent a very happy boyhood at Hythe, on the western shore of Southampton Water. In those days - the `40s and `50s - Hythe was a small `village by the sea` with distinct boundaries, beyond which we seldom strayed. When we did, it was to visit the New Forest or, more often, Southampton - maybe for a bit of shopping, or just to make a change....or maybe to go and watch Southampton FC (`The Saints`) play at The Dell.

Southampton and Hythe were - and still are - linked by a wonderful ferry service, which plies between Southampton`s Town Quay and the pierhead at Hythe. I still go and watch The Saints play at their sparkling new stadium (St. Mary`s) despite living in Kent. I often choose to drive to Hythe, park there and get the ferry over rather than struggle through Southampton`s traffic. Of course, going back to Hythe may be to try and recapture those boyhood memories, when life may have been a bit austere but was safe and secure in that enveloping small community, but there are other more compelling reasons for my pilgrimages.

Hythe has changed a lot - perhaps too much - and is now a bit of a sprawl of commuter estates which have sprung up beyond the boundaries we used to obey. But the centre of the village - it`s heart and its soul - remain; improved if anything from how it was all those years ago, with an `atmospheric` pedestrianised High Street and, just completed, a new promenade overlooking the ever changing seascape.

I love my football - I love my days going to St. Mary`s - and I love going back to my boyhood roots. The ferry is the link between the two and has been for all these years, the same journey, the same timetable, the same sea-smell in the air, the same Solent breezes, the same `feel.` Safe and sound once more. The ferry takes me from one of my personal havens to another - truly a heart to heart journey.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Times past

This is a photograph of Chaddleworth church, deep in the downlands of the Berkshire/Oxfordshire border country.

My eldest son, David, and I have enjoyed a couple of delightful days in this remote and charming corner of England. Why?

Well, mainly because our research disclosed the fact that some of our family ancestors came from this part of the world - there are gravestones in the churchyard bearing their names. We found also that there is a certain `charm` about the village - there`s not much to it, but what there is, is quiet, peaceful, relaxed, relaxing, still....almost like going back in time.

A cynic would suggest that it`s the kind of place you can spend a fortnight in, in an afternoon. But it`s just the kind of place to go and see how slowly time can pass in the right conditions and when your mind is set.

Chaddleworth has a wonderful pub ("The Ibex") a host of lovely thatched cottages, the church is steeped in history , a beautiful adjoining manor house, with its lovely gardens....and at least one famous ex-resident; the sadly departed Chris Brasher, international athlete and founder of the London Marathon.

I hope we have more good days in this quiet, almost private haven of tranquility.