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.