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.