Monday, December 31, 2007




AN ENCHANTED WOOD

There`s a secret wood hereabouts, which really shouldn`t be secret at all, as it is owned by the local Borough Council and, hence, the 100,000 or so local inhabitants. But an enlightened piece of `delegation` saw the management of the wood transferred to the local Parish Council who, in turn, have arranged for the maintenance and upkeep to be carried out by local enthusiasts; and who, in turn, are reluctant to publicise it much.
These good folk came on the scene following the devastating `hurricane` in 1987. They brought forward a long-term plan for the reinstatement of the wood, oversaw the replanting of hundreds of trees and now meet almost every weekend to carry out further maintenance and improvements for the benefit of those fortunate enough to know about the wood.
(click on photo for much larger image)

In the main, the users tend to be from the local parish - fair enough - but there are a few people who come from a little further afield. Which is perhaps why it was difficult to find somewhere to park yesterday, when with our next door neighbours and their young Retriever puppy, we took Henry for a scramble around his favourite wood.
He`s a different dog when we go there - full of running, savouring the different sniffs, careering through the rhododendron bushes....but always knowing his way through the maze of paths. In fact, we just follow him around: it`s almost as if he`s taking us for a walk rather than the other way round.

But it leaves him contented and looking forward to our next visit. I`m just sorry I can`t let on where it is.

Friday, December 28, 2007



THE NEW CATHEDRAL.....

Down one end of Kent, there`s a cathedral which has stood for 1,000 years; built by craftsmen devoted to the task - knowing that they would not see the completion of their labours during their lifetime. Built with a sense of permanence, a sense of reverence - duty almost - built to last.

Right now, there`s an appeal for £50million to carry out essential preservation work to Canterbury Cathedral in order to secure its grandeur, its history, its magnificence for generations to come - another labour of love which deserves to succeed.



At the other end of Kent. another cathedral appeared eight years ago. This one took three years to build, cost £400million and is a shrine to those who worship the modern day religion of shopping. It`s called Bluewater and apart from the Metro Centre in Gateshead and another shopping mall in Istanbul, is Europe`s largest. A close examination of the architecture reveals a degree of care and attention in the layout and the detail, all designed for the convenience, comfort and beguilement of its patrons. 12,000 car parking spaces, 100 coach parks. The scale of the enterprise is impressive. But it`s hardly likely to still be around 1,000 years from now. It is, I suppose, built to last until the money runs out.



We go there now and again - we paid a visit yesterday but maybe wished we hadn`t. The scramble to acquire just one of the 12,000 parking spaces was a test of patience and endurance and the shops were very crowded with people with nothing better to do. I might include myself in that, although I had the excuse of wanting (as opposed to needing) to buy a book as Father Christmas hadn`t come up with one.
We were glad to get out after about an hour and, on the approach roads going in to Bluewater, there was by now a standstill of vehicles queueing to join the scrum.


How ironic that the modern day religion of shopping is at its height when one of the world`s true great religions is having its most joyous celebration. It struck me afterwards that I might have felt much better, more fulfilled, had I headed towards the other end of the county.


ADVENTURES IN THE PUB TRADE


Well over 50 years ago, not long after our departure from Hythe on the shores of Southampton Water, my parents entered the `licenced trade.` After a spell of `training` at a pub called `The Dover Patrol` at Kidbrooke in south-east London, which was run by an aunt and uncle of mine, we moved first to an off-licence in Catford and then to The Royal Oak at Wrotham Heath, which was my first introduction to the Garden of England.


As an impressionable youngster, I looked upon this move as a bit of an adventure and despite the fact that I missed all the friends I had had to leave behind in Hythe, I entered into the spirit of our new life by embracing the shock of the new. There were a few early lessons to be learned; the first being that my broad Hampshire burr did not always make me easily understood, especially by the maids of Kent. Another was the idiosynchratic pronunciation of some of the place names in the area - Wrotham is, of course, `Rootam` and who could possibly mistake Trottiscliffe for `Trosley?`


Now, in those far off days, the popular thing to do if you lived in London was to go on day trips to the Kent coast - Margate, Folkestone, Ramsgate and all the other fleshpots of the day. As most people didn`t have their own transport, the preferred method of making the journey was by coach and companies such as Timpsons, operating out of south London, built up vast fleets of 36-seater coaches and did very well out of people`s desire for ritual escape.





It was, of course, a long and arduous journey from south London to the Kent coast, not helped by poor roads and the need - before the age of the motorway - to crawl through town centres such as Maidstone and Ashford. It all took time and the needs of the passengers for various forms of `comfort` meant that pubs such as the Royal Oak - about a third of the way to and from the chosen destination - built up a reputation as a welcome stop along the way.


During summer weekends, therefore, our pub was extremely busy, catering for both the outward and the return journeys as coach after coach arrived, discharging their passengers into one of two huge bars, an equally huge tea bar and a large set of `conveniences,` with the clanging fall of pennies in slots as feminine comfort was sought and found.


I think the busiest day was when 168 coaches stopped at the Royal Oak both on the way and on the way home - over 6000 customers with only a limited time for their needs to be met before their coaches left. The drinks orders, I recall, ranged from the beautiful economy of "Gissarf" to a burly demand for "Twenty-four pints of brown and mild - and make it quick, son."

(A stop along the way - Wrotham Heath in olden days - click on photo)

I guess my experiences of seeing the other side of the `licenced trade` have been responsible for me being quite unable to see any attraction in drinking myself into a stupour in order to have a good time.....so I don`t. Well, I had the odd lapse during my military career, but then who wouldn`t? But in all honesty, I simply don`t like the taste of alcoholic drinks, preferring to rely on my stock of Lilt, Sprite and J2Os for my yuletide revels. I may be miserable, but at least I`m sober.

Thursday, December 27, 2007


THANKS BUT NO, THANKS

Well, Christmas came and went, like they all do and this year`s seemed quieter than usual. Just Mrs, Snopper and me munching our way through stuff we wouldn`t normally munch, but we did have phone calls from each of our three sons, who seem keen on leaving the country.

One already lives in Hamburg, another flew out to Portugal yesterday for a winter break and the third has just returned from yet another arduous tour of Europe and the UK.

So, yesterday we took Henry the Retriever down to Minnis Bay, on the north Kent coast for a yuletide breath of sea air. It was, in truth, a lovely day for Boxing Day and it seemed most of the dog owners of north Kent had the same idea - but it made for a much more preferable outing than going to THE SALES!!

(Minnis Bay - click on photo to enlarge)


I cannot for the life of me see any attraction in queueing up for yonks outside shops so as to join a scrum to spend money on things you don`t really need just because they might be a bit cheaper.

Thanks but no, thanks - give me the sea air any time. Oh, I`ve just heard - I may be in for a trip to the Bluewater Shopping Thingy tomorrow. Looks like I spoke too soon. Arghhh!!!

Monday, December 24, 2007


PUTTING MY FEET UP....
.....for a day or two. So, dear reader and anyone else who stumbles across this site, I just want to say....
MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR

Sunday, December 23, 2007


WHEN THE BOAT COMES IN

The Red Funnel Isle of Wight Ferry, `Red Falcon,` drifts into Southampton`s Town Quay on a Saturday afternoon just before Christmas.

On board are good friends of mine, whose company I enjoy and whose friendship I value.

It being the last time we will meet up before Christmas, we look forward to our usual rendezvous at M. Hulot`s Patisserie for coffee and a convivial exchange of views to put the world to rights before trudging off to St. Mary`s Stadium for another afternoon of systemic disappointment. You see, the football has now, I suspect, become the excuse for us to meet and enjoy each others` company, rather than the reason.

Now, being an aged person struggling to survive on a fixed income, the season of goodwill can be troublesome for Mrs. Snopper and me. But not with friends like mine. For there, in the distance, I notice that one of them is carrying an enticing looking carrier bag. This is unusual - not the normal pre-match routine at all. What can it be? My heart begins to beat a little faster, the anticipation mounting with every step, for I have seen this happen only once before, when I was presented with a bag full of home-made almond slices around the time of Help the Aged Week.



When we finally meet, the carrier bag is handed over to me and my comfort and joy is complete as it contains a host of exceedingly good mince pies, which had been lovingly hand reared that very morning, so that Mrs. Snopper and I will not want this Christmas.
I am touched by the thoughtfulness and obvious concern shown by this act of spontaneous kindness, for which I am truly thankful.


AN `INTERESTING` DAY

The plaque above - and the words shown on the plaque - seem nicely to sum up my day yesterday. I made my usual pilgrimage to Southampton to watch Saints take on Preston North End - one of the founder members of the Football League and a club with a proud tradition but one which has not seen too much success in recent years. (Where have I heard that before?)

It was a decent game and seemed to be heading towards a 0-0 draw until the 90th minute when, for the fourth time this season, Saints conceded a late goal to snatch defeat from the jaws of stalemate. No complaints - just one of those things - so again I shrugged my shoulders, took it on the chin, drew a line in the sand and moved on at the end of the day....it`s what Saints fans are used to doing.

Earlier in the day, the traffic allowing, I paid another visit to Hythe - the village on the shores of Southampton Water where I spent much of my boyhood. I had had a Christmas card earlier in the week from a friend of mine who lives in the nearby village of Dibden and he told me that Hythe and Dibden Parish Council had now produced the second in a series of four or five blue plaques to commemorate well-known people who had had connections with the area.



(Myrtle Cottage - click on photo to enlarge)
The first plaque had been put up a couple of years ago in recognition of my old school friend, William Scammell, the poet, who was born in Hythe. The second plaque has now been erected on the front wall of Myrtle Cottage in Shore Road , pictured above, which is where TE Lawrence (of Arabia) lived whilst he was working on the development of high speed torpedo boats at the nearby yard owned and managed by the British Power Boat Company.


Lawrence kind of flicked across my memory, not just for who he was or that Myrtle Cottage was about 50 yards from the cottage where we lived in Hythe but also because I have a photograph of Lawrence`s funeral in Dorset, with my father prominently shown in the group of mourners paying their final respects.


Lawrence looks just a tad grumpy in this photograph of him - maybe Myrtle Cottage didn`t quite come up to his expectations or - more likely - he was just as fed up with Saints conceding last minute goals in the 1930s as I was yesterday. C`est la vie.

Thursday, December 20, 2007


LOVELY DAY IN WOOLACOMBE

I don`t know if you`re like me but, in these dark days of winter, my mind often turns to how things are - right at this very moment - in places I have come to know and love; places which bring back thoughts of summers...and sunshine...and long, bright evenings. Things to look forward to.
So I console myself by having a look at the webcams, which are available in real time at places like Woolacombe, Croyde, Saunton, Putsborough, Sennen Cove, Praa Sands, Polzeath, St.Ives and a host of other places around the south-west coast.

For live real time video streams, here`s a small selection of places I wouldn`t mind being at right now. Be patient - one or two may be a bit `slow`...but the few seconds` wait is worth it.....and it pays to look in the daytime:-



http://www.sennen-cove.com/lbtdy.htm (for Sennen Cove in Cornwall)

Dreaming of summer already.....













Wednesday, December 19, 2007



AN INSPECTOR CALLS
From our gourmet correspondent

It somehow seemed fitting that the second and last of Snopper`s seasonal outings was held yesterday in the peaceful surroundings of the Poult Wood Golf Centre, surrounded by sylvan Kent countryside and overlooking the forbidding 18th hole of this near unplayable course which has been the scene for some of Snopper`s titanic golfing struggles over the years .

A poult being a young fowl, it was unsurprising that the main course on the menu was the traditional roast turkey with all the trimmings, but before that, there was mild surprise that Snopper`s hors d`oeuvres consisted of duck pate with salad. There was some suspicion on his part that the pate bit might have had just a hint of foreign about it, but he convinced himself that the duck in question had, most probably, been English.

He found the main course to be everything an English gentleman could aspire to see in a traditional Christmas lunch - succulent, tender breast of dead turkey, young, almost virginal sprouts (he managed to ingore the likely`Brussells` origin,) potatoes roasted to perfection, sausage wrapped in bacon, straight forward stuffing, perky carrots and piquant parsnips.

Not for him the strange concoctions imported from foreign parts, for Snopper likes his food to be plain, simple and free from complication....a bit like himself, I venture?

This festive repast was topped off by coffee and mints along with convivial conversation among good friends. All in all, a highly enjoyable occasion with the choice of venue and fayre passing all his searching tests with flying colours. There seems little doubt that further visits to Poult Wood will be made, whilst establishments that rely on `adventure` for their patrons will just have to wait their turn.

You know it makes sense.









GOOD HAIR WEEK

On Monday, thanks to the willingness of ace crimper, Chris of Larkfield, to come in on her day off to `see to me,` my hair crisis has now been replaced by a sharp, fetching style that was created in time for me to attend an excellent Christmas lunch yesterday. (More on that story later.)

This morning, it was Mrs. Snopper`s turn - well, as you can see from the photo she was due for a good seeing to, so I drove her to the local Tesco`s, where we parked. I parked there in the knowledge that once Mrs. Snopper had been `seen to,` she would then go into Tesco`s and spend another small fortune on stuff.

So, off she went to The Cutting Den, where her stylist, Dana ("all kinds of everything" a speciality) was sharpening her scissors in readiness and I went off to the nearby Leybourne Lakes Country Park to give Henry (our Golden Retriever) his early morning constitutional. And what a pleasure it always is to pay a visit to this quite splendid area.
(Leybourne Lakes Country Park)

Now, people who know me will also know that I seldom go in for praise when local authorities are concerned, but I have to confess that Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council have done a terrific job in the creation, layout, management and maintenance of this fairly new country park. Originally the area was worked out sand and gravel pits, but an innovative housing development was granted planning permission for some of the area, with the remaining being given over to the local council as a public country park facility.

(Leybourne Lakes Housing - the location for Channel 4`s `Cape Wrath)

Henry loves the long walk around the lakes, which also does me good and by the time we have finished, Mrs. Snopper has been restyled - to such an extent that she is now quite unrecognisable from the photo above, but charity prevents me from illustrating the outcome - she has finished her Tesco-squander and we can rendezvous back at the car and drive off with a clear conscience. An excellent start to a day in a hair-dominated week.

Monday, December 17, 2007


AN EXERCISE IN POINTLESSNESS....

Well, I guess the sign above is a good example. And there are countless others in the world of officialdom. One of my `favourites` is on the M20 just outside Ashford in Kent, where there`s an enormous traffic information sign which has never shown anything, but in the bottom right hand corner there`s a notice saying `Sign Not In Use.`

Now I know it`s the season of goodwill and the last thing I want to do is appear humbugish, but I`ve been left wondering about christmas cards. We`ve sent loads out to friends and family and not really thought much about it apart from a natural desire to express the compliments of the season.

A few years ago, when I had more relatives alive than I have these days, I used to send a `rogue` card to someone each year, just for the hell of it. I would select a distant relative, one who had not previously been in receipt of glad tidings from me and one who would certainly never expect to, send a card and sit back and wait to see if it was reciprocated. Some were, some not.

Of course, that was another act of pointlessness and although it provided me with a brief interlude of perversity it was nevertheless pointless....but that was the point of it, of course. So I`ve just been wondering about the whole christmas card business; we send them out and then sit back and expect to receive them in return. Virgin forests are razed to the ground, fortunes are spent on postage, postmen suffer stress-related illnesses, relationships are secured or destroyed on the whim and fancy of yuletide feelings.....and we all go through the whole thing year after year, as the planet creaks and groans under the weight of our insecurities.

Time to put a stop to it all? Who among us has the courage to make the first move? Just in case you haven`t had a card from us this year, please don`t take it to heart - you may just be the non-recipient of a `rogue`card I haven`t sent in the first faltering steps towards a more sensible world. And if you haven`t sent me one, why not? I guess you think it would be a pointless excercise.

Friday, December 14, 2007




.......Snopper`s hair appointment gets cancelled, that`s what, our Fashion Editor reports.
It has been revealed this morning that the indisposition that prevented ace crimper Chris of Larkfield from seeing to Snopper`s follicle needs on Tuesday was.....food poisoning.
A period of intense diplomatic activity has persuaded Chris to `fit him in` for a revised appointment next Monday lunchtime, when a reciprocal exchange of recent medical experiences will doubtless take place. Should make for a fascinating interlude.
Following representations from the Press Complaints Commission, it seems that further fashion reports on this whole matter are unlikely.



NEARLY THERE
Eight days to go...and counting

I was surprised to discover that the shortest day of this year will not be the usual 21st December....but the day after, which means that it will be celebrated on the day I go to watch Southampton take on Preston North End - a double celebration perchance?

In fact, the winter solstice itself - the actual moment in time when the sun is at its lowest point in the northern sky - changes each year. This year, that magic moment arrives at 0608am, no doubt sparking celebrations at Stonehenge and other mystical places around the planet. There`ll be a few sighs of relief here in deepest Kent too.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


STYLIST SICKNESS CRISIS HITS SNOPPER
Our Fashion Editor reports....

After a five-weeks wait, Snopper arrived on time on Tuesday for his regular appointment with ace crimper Chris of Larkfield. On arrival, he was told that Chris was indisposed and there was no indication as to how long she would be away. Quite understandably, no-one else was willing to see to Snopper`s needs and Chris`s own appointment book was full to overflowing until after Christmas, leaving Snopper with a serious dent to his style-guru status.
This has led to an unprecedented amount of panic on Snopper`s part, since he has a hectic social schedule leading up to the holiday period; well, a dinner last evening and a lunch next Tuesday, but he does like to present a distinguished image when out and about. Sadly, however, this is not possible at the moment as our illustration above left shows.

Frequent and increasingly frantic phone calls are being made to the Larkfield Hair Studio, where Chris plies her trade, in the hope that she might be restored to fighting fitness and that she will have lost none of the deftness of touch so vital to the preservation of Snopper`s follicle wellbeing.


For all of our sakes, Chris, please get well soon so that the fashion world can get back to normal in the knowledge that one of its most prestigious icons can show his face in public once more.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007





WATCH OUT - TREATY ANNEXE ABOUT


As you see, one of the things I have listed as being not so keen on is the European Union. Maybe it`s my island race mentality, maybe I`m just a little Englander, but I can`t help being proud of my country, its history and traditions and I make no apology for being suspicious of large, bureaucratic, remote, monolithic organisations that take large chunks of my money in taxes, seemingly give little in return and seem more and more to exist for their own sake in a cocooned, self-serving environment. There, that`s off my chest.


The kind of thing that cements my cynical view of the European Union has just come to light. Tomorrow (Thursday) a no doubt lavish `ceremony` will take place in some Euro city to mark the approval of the Lisbon Treaty - you know, the one that isn`t the European Constitution, honest, because the Euro Constitution was rejected by voters in France and the Netherlands, wasn`t it? But it has been revealed that Germany have tried to slip in references to the EU flag, anthem, etc. into the Lisbon Treaty.
(Angela Merkel`s at it again)

These last minute moves, in the form of a `declaration` would see the EU flag, motto, anthem, the euro and Europe Day (May 9th apparently) "continue to be symbols of common membership of citizens to the European Union," with the intention being that this declaration would be `annexed` to the Treaty. Sneaky, ain`t it? But why am I not surprised?


To their credit, Britain, France and Ireland, along with six other countries, have refused to sign this `declaration`suspecting that it is back-door way of reopening the debate on the Constitution - you know, the one rejected in 2005.


There`s a lot of diplomatic activity in advance of tomorrow`s `ceremony` but it appears that Euro legal boffins are insisting that the declaration will be attached to the Treaty as part of EU procedure.


Gordon Brown apparently has a previous diary engagement which will prevent him attending tomorrow`s events - quite probably the only EU Prime Minister to miss out - so his place will be taken by Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who is now well into his gap year.





I hope he pays attention, as questions will be asked. Somehow I fear the worst.

Monday, December 10, 2007



WEEKEND WINNERS AND LOSERS

An action packed weekend saw mixed fortunes for sporting heroes. On Saturday, my drive to Southampton reminded me what it must be like to be stuck in a car wash for two and a half hours, such was the intensity of the rain on the motorways. I half wondered whether the game against Hull City might be called off but thankfully it wasn`t.

The traffic was pretty heavy - Christmas shopping in full swing, the attraction of Cunard`s new cruise liner, Queen Victoria, berthed alongside Mayflower Park and the usual football traffic made the journey into Town Quay a bit tiresome, but then it`s often a struggle to get through the congestion which is why I sometimes go to Hythe and get the ferry from there.
Saints recorded their biggest home win of the season against a Hull side that simply went to pieces in the second half, as a hat trick from Stern John and one more from Bradley Wright-Phillips secured a 4-0 victory. Stern is making quite an impact since his move from Sunderland as part of the Kenwyne Jones transfer and it`s good to see him doing so well. This victory lifts Saints to 10th in the league and all the gloom of the volatile element in the fanbase from last week has been replaced by renewed hope that promotion might yet be a possibility. They should be careful what they wish for.



Turning to the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award, this was rightly won by Joe Calzaghe, undefeated in 44 fights and someone who represents his sport and his country with dignity and restraint - fitting characteristics for a personality award. Unlike last year`s fiasco, this year`s award went to the right person, despite predictions that Lewis Hamilton would walk away with it.

Lewis`s nomination was not only predictable but also expected. However, there was some poetic appropriateness in him coming second to Calzaghe in this year`s beauty pageant. After all, it was Lewis who failed to win the Formula One Drivers Championship, despite the court battle to award him the title anyway and despite some alleged espionage involving the Ferrari team`s technical secrets. And don`t even consider for a moment Lewis`s decision to quit these shores for the safe tax haven of Switzerland in order to avoid the clamour for his autograph when he stops to fill up his tank at Tesco`s.

No wonder Lewis looks a tad grumpy. Seems to me that, for once, justice has been done and also seen to be done....by the 8.2million people who tuned in to watch. I`m afraid I just watched the last few minutes, such was the paucity of achievement by our sportsmen and women in the past year....Joe Calzaghe excepted, of course.














I

Friday, December 07, 2007





BAD NEWS.....WORSE NEWS.....AND EVEN WORSE NEWS......


So, after years and years of indecision, HM Gov. has at last made a decision about the appalling state of affairs concerning Stonehenge, the Visitor Centre and the traffic problems on the nearby A303. And the decision is......to do precisely nothing. The costs of the much vaunted scheme to provide a tunnel under the World Heritage Site monument have risen to £544million - too much for the Government to bear it seems and so they have simply pulled the plug on any improvements whatsoever and compounded the felony by not coming up with any alternatives.


UNESCO - the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation - which is responsible for maintaining the list of World Heritage Sites, don`t think much of this non-decision. They have held their tongues a bit in their published statement at http://whc.unesco.org/en/news/400 but it`s clear they are not impressed...and rightly so.


That`s the bad news. The worse news is that, for the foreseeable future, visitors will have to put up with the quite appalling `facilities, about which I have complained before. See my `A STOP ALONG THE WAY` rant on 11th September in `older posts` section - link at bottom of this page. Those `facilities` are a national and international disgrace and I`m not surprised that UNESCO is suggesting that they may "fully examine the implications of this (non) decision for the value and integrity of Stonehenge as a World Heritage Site." A veiled threat if ever I saw one.


You don`t play around with World Heritage Sites, you don`t play around with Stonehenge and you sure as hell don`t play around with the heritage of a nation which relies more and more on the contribution its cultural heritage makes to the country`s tourism industry.


Now for the even worse news, which brings the Government`s shameful abdication down to the human level, because of the effect this shambles will have on the good folk of a small Wiltshire country village. Winterbourne Stoke lies not far from Stonehenge and is the last remaining village along the whole length of the A303 still plagued by an average 30,000 vehicles a day trundling through its one street.
For years, a campaign has rightly been waged to include the by-passing of Winterbourne Stoke in any proposal for sorting out the Stonehenge traffic problem. The villagers have been made promises, they have seen scheme after scheme put on the Government`s back burner and now it appears they have no hope of ever seeing an improvement to their environment.


(Winterbourne Stoke)

Maybe - very probably - because they are a small, isolated, rural community they don`t figure largely on the Government`s radar. But it is precisely because of the nature of their community that they deserve an urgent solution to the problems which they have endured for so many years. If HM Gov. cannot live up to their responsibilites concerning the World Heritage Site, surely they can do so by bringing forward a seperate scheme to improve the lives of the good folk of Winterbourne Stoke, if for no other reason than to assuage my guilt each time I drive through their village as I head west .

Thursday, December 06, 2007


WHEN TIME STANDS STILL.....

Picture the scene, if you will. Bluewater Shopping Thingy yesterday- pre-Christmas rush in full swing. Waterstones bookshop - seething with browsers. I`m in the sports book section, which is crowded with people thumbing their way through various tomes. I pick up a copy of Peter Crouch`s autobiography and decide it`s not something I really want to buy (someone really should tell him about vocabulary) so I am reading it in instalments - a chapter each time I visit - as Crouchy once had a productive time at Southampton before securing his `dream move` to Liverpool.

After a few minutes, I happen to look up and there, across a crowded bookstall, is someone I think I recognise. You know how it is - you`ve seen that person before but you can`t understand why on earth he should be where he was - you feel he should be somewhere else, miles away doing something else. And so I wasn`t completely convinced that it really was......Jermaine Wright.

In fact, I have since had independant confirmation of this sighting of Southampton`s midfielder-cum-full back from an impeccable source. I still don`t know why he wasn`t at Saints` Marchwood training ground putting in the effort to see him through a crowded yuletide fixture list, but I guess he was having a day off following the 0-0 home draw against Sheffield Wednesday the previous evening. (A vast improvement on the 5-0 drubbing inflicted on Saints at the Owls ground a few weeks back.)

The episode in Waterstones did, however, contain one of those rare surreal moments when time seems to stand still. As I looked across at this dapper, expensively dressed figure, there was brief eye contact between us. I think Jermaine could sense that I wasn`t quite sure who he was and, in those fleeting seconds, I could also sense that he wasn`t quite sure who I was either. And yet, there was just the hint that one box-to-box midfield dynamo with a good engine and an eye for a pass recognised those same qualities in the other.....or maybe not.




Monday, December 03, 2007

Maidstone made easy
by
TRANSPORT OF DELIGHT

I thought it was about time I recorded some good news which befell myself and Mrs. Snopper yesterday. It makes for a pleasant change from my usual curmudgeonly rantings to be able to offer sincere thanks and congratulations to the local authorities hereabouts for their wonderful Park and Ride and bus pass services for senior citizens.

A few years ago now, we passed the age of eligibility for this free perk, got the application forms, filled them in, posted them back along with incriminating mugshots and a few days later, the free bus passes arrived. My own mugshot, in which I look unusually jolly, shows an uncanny resemblance to another well known senior citizen although I doubt you would see him on a Park and Ride bus going into Maidstone:-

A couple of days ago, I was chatting to our neighbour about Christmas shopping and she mentioned that she had gone into Maidstone last Saturday, parked in the new Fremlins Centre car par, stayed for about three hours and been charged nine pounds for the privilege. Extortionate.
Quite apart from the parking fees, there is the constant battle to find a parking space anyway, so the Park and Ride offers a sensible, reliable, hassle-free alternative.
So, well done local councils and the bus company for providing the bus pass and the excellent service which at this time of the year is especially appreciated.


....SO THAT`S ALRIGHT THEN

Unless I misread it, it seems that Scottish Labour Party Leader, Wendy Alexander, has confessed to illegally receiving £950 from a Channel Islands based donor, who was not eligible to make such a donation and, therefore, Wendy was not eligible to receive it.

Having admitted this wrongdoing, however, Wendy`s apparent defence is that she did not break the law `intentionally.` We`ll see what develops as the Electoral Commission and maybe the Police take the matter further, but her `defence` is both intriguing and, at the same time, encouraging to us lesser would-be felons.


If I ever get stopped by our boys in blue for, say, a speeding offence and I get hauled up in front of the local beak, I can presumably claim that I did not exceed the speed limit `intentionally` - and, subject to the outcome of the Wendy case, I might get away with it.

A new definition of taking the 5th amendment might emerge - "I`ll take the Wendy, m`lud."



Saturday, December 01, 2007


RULES FOR JOINING CLUBS....

Of course, my first rule is the well-known, hackneyed one that I would never join a club that would ever have me as a member.
But another rule is being discussed in the murky corners of Westminster. As the Labour Party funding drama escalates into a crisis, Gordon Brown is muttering darkly about reviewing the whole business of party political funding.
Talks between the Tories, Labour and LibDems broke up recently when, allegedly, the Tories walked out in protest at Labour`s reluctance to have a limit placed on the contributions made by Trade Unions to Labour`s coffers.
Now it seems that Brown is anxious to re-open discussions aimed at reaching an `all-party agreement` on a way forward; yet how this can ever be an all-party agreement when Plaid Cymru and other `minority` parties have not been included in the talks escapes me.
However and whatever the outcome, watch out for the resurrection of the idea that there should be public funding - partly or wholly - of political parties. We should be clear here. Political parties are private, voluntary organisations; people are free to choose whether to join or not and free to join which of the political `clubs` appeals to them the most or, indeed - like me - have nothing to do with any of them.
I`m intrigued by the notion that I might be paying, through my taxes, towards the costs of maintaining private, voluntary clubs in which I have no interest and certainly no intention of joining. More intriguing still is the worrying point that it is the political parties themselves who are in a position, in Parliament, to bring this blatant unfairness into law. These are clubs making their own rules....and they expect the rest of us to abide by them. Well.....

Sorry, if you want to belong to a political party, fine...but please don`t force me to pay for your subscriptions. (Not that any of the parties would ever have me as a member anyway.)

Friday, November 30, 2007


THIS HAPPY BREED.....Henry update.....
Henry`s back from the vets with a clean bill of health. However, my bank balance has suffered a severe setback.
Henry`s `consultation` with ace vet Dave Cocker, another injection for Henry`s hips and a load of pills for his arthritis has set me back another £121....the good news is that we don`t have to see Dave again until next March.
How come we dog lovers are always willing to fork out for vets fees, but we are full of guilt when we spend money on ourselves?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007




ANOTHER SMALL TOWN IN GERMANY...

It was the bleak midwinter of 1961. I had been on leave in the UK from the white hell of BFPO 16 in northern Germany and I was due back in Barker Barracks just outside Paderborn by no later than noon on the Saturday.

In those days, the journey for service personnel from the UK to the far outposts of the then West Germany was far from easy. I have vivid memories of getting to Harwich on the Thursday evening, ready to embark on the flat-bottomed troop ship that plied between Harwich and the Hook of Holland.

The sea crossing was an all night affair; fortunately I have always been a good sailor so despite the conditions aboard which naturally involved people who were anything but good sailors, I nevertheless managed a few hours sleep. Just as well, as the next leg of the journey involved, firstly, another few hours wait for the right train before it set off on its journey across Holland, then through the industrial heartland of Germany - Moenchen Gladbach, Dusseldorf, Wuppertal-Elberfeld, Dortmund, Unna, Hamm and other forgettable towns until we arrived at Soest (see map above.)

And there we stopped. By now, it was late Friday night and - applying the Law of Sod - the connecting train to Paderborn had gone....and there wouldn`t be another one until 6.30am. What to do to while away all those hours in the freezing drabness of that German night? The town seemed empty and quiet, but for one building which had a shining light. My colleague (Billy Ross from somewhere oop north) and I tried the door, which was securely shut. But after a few anxious minutes, someone appeared, showed us in, heard of our plight and proceeded to make us welcome, fed us and invited us to stay there through that long night until it was time for us to make our train connection.

At this time of the year, approaching Christmas, there are countless volunteers with their tins and boxes collecting for their charities and good causes. I don`t know about you, but I always feel a twinge of guilt if I avoid them, walk the other way, try to ignore their presence - after all, you can`t support them all, as much as you might like to.

But there is one charity I always give to; willingly, with a glad heart and with gratitude for the kindness shown to two weary, cold, fraught soldiers lost in a small town in Germany 46 years ago.
Yes, folks, I give you the Salvation Army.....for they were our salvation, given on that long night willingly, with a good heart and a kindness that has not been forgotten.