Wednesday, February 28, 2007


This is Junction 4 of the M20 Motorway - about half a mile from where I live. Most of the time, the Motorway is peaceful enough, with the sweep of the North Downs in the background, but early today there was a six-vehicle pile-up which closed the Motorway from this junction up to the next one, where the M26 peels off and heads west. The result has been that the local roads around our sleepy village have become gridlocked - and likely to remain so for some hours until the Motorway is reopened.

We were expecting a guy to arrive this morning to lay a carpet in our conservatory. He was due at about 9.30 but thoughtfully he telephoned to say that he didn`t have a clue what time he might arrive, if at all. Now, this is a bit inconvenient, but I cannot bring myself to be even the slightest bit annoyed about it, for our slight inconvenience is as nothing compared to the tragedy that has befallen another family as a result of this morning`s event.

Someone has lost a son, or a father, a husband or a partner in the mayhem which befell our local Motorway this morning, adding to the 3,000 or so annual fatalities on our country`s roads and my heart goes out to them. I do lots of driving and, touch wood, have never been involved in anything like that in 50 years of driving. Sometimes, I count my lucky stars and hope they continue to smile on me as I travel the motorways of life.

Thursday, February 22, 2007


Today, the BBC are at it again. Whenever there is a `big` event anywhere in the world, the BBC send their `personality` presenters to cover it; this despite the fact that they have reporters, correspondents and crew permanently stationed across the globe. In fact the BBC are keen to remind us that they have staff permanently stationed in all the major cities of the world, so they can be `first to bring the news to you.` The fact that they are almost always outgunned by Sky seems not to bother their own view of themselves.

However, I digress. The reason for the photo of the lovely Kate Silverton is because she appeared on the BBC this morning live from Los Angeles where she has been dispatched to cover the upcoming Oscar ceremonies. Now, the BBC already have David Willis permanently on standby in LA along with his technical and editorial crew and they have Raziah Iqbal, their so-called Arts correspondent who will doubtless join the legions of BBC staff to cover this why send Kate all that way at our expense to provide airhead airtime for an airhead event?

It seems to me that quite regardless of the `value for money` for the licence-payer, the BBC seem to believe they can squander our money not only on sending `personalities` to add to the legions of staff already at their disposal in places like Los Angeles but also they suffer from the delusion that anyone with an ounce of sense is in the remotest way interested in the self-serving, self-congratulatory nonsense which the Oscars has become.

I think I`ll ask for a refund.

Monday, February 19, 2007

This is Andrew Surman - raised in Bitterne in Southampton and, having come through Southampton Football Club`s very productive Academy, has now secured a starting place in the Saints` first team line-up.
Given his local connections and those of his parents, who are both season ticket holders at St. Mary`s Stadium, Andrew is fulfilling his boyhood dream of playing for his home town club.
So it was a special day for Andrew, his friends and family and the 22,400 Saints fans when he scored his first ever hat-trick of goals in Saturday`s 5-2 defeat of struggling Barnsley. The first two of his three goals were exquisite strikes from outside the area and the third came when he grabbed the ball from nominated penalty taker Gregorz Raziak to secure his hat-trick by sending the despairing Tykes` custodian the wrong way, following the award of a spot kick for hand ball given against, ironically enough, Barnsley midfielder Brian Howard who was himself a former scholar in Saints` Academy.
Things are getting very tight at the top of the Championship league table but with 13 games to go, who can say whether it will be Saints, West Brom, Birmingham, Preston, Cardiff, Sunderland, Derby or any of a number of other teams who finally make it to the promised land of the Premiership. Having been absent from my seat in the Itchen Stand since November, it was a real pleasure to be back among good friends to witness a thoroughly entertaining game - fair play to Barnsley; they may be struggling at the wrong end of the table, but at least they came and had a go at playing progressive football.
All of which confirmed to me that the Championship is the home of proper football, with virtually every team capable of beating any other in the league - a far cry from the predictability of the Premiership, with all its hype and theatricals.
Now I know that from a financial point of view (and I speak as a shareholder in Southampton FC) the Premiership is the place to be, but from a football point of view, the Championship wins hands down. Maybe we should just stay where we are and enjoy it.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

In an earlier article, (see October 20 2006 entry in archived section) I published Tales from the Splice Boys - a gripping resume of life in the AKC Globe Cinema in BFPO 16 which was staffed entirely by amateur National Servicemen seeking to escape the boredom of army life and earn a bit of cash on the side.
Part deux of this saga delves more deeply into the technicalities of cinema projectionism as it was conducted during the early 1960s by the bungling efforts of yours truly and fellow Yvette Mimieux devotee Dave Millman.
I imagine that in these days of techno-wizardry, the process is computer controlled, automated and much simpler. For instance, it`s only on `old` films that you see the tell-tale signs that instruct the projectionist to change reels - I don`t think they have to change reels these days.
A reel of film used to last about 20 minutes and a feature film could have as many as six reels. So, two things were vital so as not to disrupt the audience`s enjoyment; first that the reels were shown in the right order (sadly, not always the case) and, secondly, that the reels were changed without the audience being aware of it. This was achieved by the use of two synchronised carbon arc projection machines - one showing, say, the first reel while the other was spliced up and ready to show the second reel.
Towards the end of the first reel, the projectionist would have to look out for a small round dot which would appear in the top right-hand corner of the screen. This was the signal to fire up the second machine. About five seconds later, a second dot would appear and this gave the signal to activate the second machine by throwing a switch. If all went well - including the precise splicing up of the reel in the machine so that the film actually fitted onto the screen - then the change of reels would go unnoticed.
Most of the time, we managed ok. But one event sticks in the memory. Film buffs may recall the Guns of Navarone - a wartime epic starring Gregory Peck and a cast of thousands. The film ends with a huge explosion as half a Greek island is reduced to rubble - a very loud, ear-splitting experience for the cinema audience unless the projectionist took the reading from the sound cue card and reduced the sound level at that exact moment. Guess who forgot? It was worrying for the Manager to see the audience (including the Regimental Sergeant Major and family) exiting the cinema a few moments later shaking their heads in disbelief and ringing their ears. Reality cinema at its very best.

Monday, February 12, 2007

........and it`s raining. And I wake up this morning to be confronted by two things hitting the airwaves which make me wonder why I bother to watch the `news` of the day.
First, there`s a lot of stuff about the BAFTA awards, the GRAMMY awards and, very soon I suspect, the OSCARS (unless they`ve already been on and somehow I missed it.) Now, I try but I just cannot get interested (let alone excited) about events like this which are self-serving, self-congratulatory, cringingly awful excuses for certain `professions` to lavish large sums of money on themselves. If we are going to have award `ceremonies` then let`s have them for other walks of life which arguably contribute much more to our daily lives than this lot.
How about a Bricklayer of the Year ceremony....or a Plumber Award event? Lifetime achievement award goes to Dave Tatton, Plumber and joint-wiper extraordinaire of Rainham in Kent. Most Promising Newcomer award for bricklaying goes to Shane Richards of Ealing for the recessed pointing he produced to the highest standard achievable using only a 4" trowel.
I think what really hurt this morning was the sceptre of The Police making a come-back at the Grammy awards thingy.....I really had hoped we had seen and heard the last of them, especially following Mr.Sumner`s instantly forgettable attempt to go `classic` with his recent whining`album.`
To add to the Monday blues, I was also berated about the possibility that I`m not quite as `green` as perhaps I might be. Now, I do recycle stuff, put out cardboard, newspapers, tins, etc. for the `refuse operatives` to take away; I also take bottles and other stuff to the recycling bins and I thought I was doing my bit to save the planet.
Not so, it seems. Some worthy comes on tv this morning and smugly goes on about his carbon footprint and how he has converted his house so it`s carbon neutral, how he rides his bike everywhere, uses long life light bulbs, installs solar panels, turns down his heating by two degrees and all the other things that these people do to make them feel better than the rest of us. Trouble is, they are so smug and `superior` about it that it quite turns me off doing anything at all. If and when China, India and especially America start to take global warming seriously and take the drastic action they should, then at that point I might have a change of heart. In the meantime, Mr. Smug and his colleagues should just lay off.
Well, it is Monday morning.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


Most afternoons, I take our Retriever (Henry) for a wander around the parish. We don`t have a fixed route, but the walks are dictated more by Henry`s nose than anything else - if he sniffs something interesting, then we tend to follow the scent, sometimes with interesting consequences.

But it does mean that I get to see quite a lot of detail in and around the village and even small, subtle changes do not escape notice. So I was intrigued by a new initiative by the Police, which I hadn`t spotted until yesterday. They have arranged for some new signs to be fitted to some of the lamp-posts around the village `greens` which proudly proclaim that `Sheds in this area are alarmed.`

My own shed is clearly concerned about the state it`s in - the roofing felt needs replacing after recent gales; the floor needs sorting out and maybe some of the clutter inside could be sorted out too. Maybe I should give it some attention before paranoia sets in.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

47 YEARS AGO TODAY....... life changed forever. Some weeks previously, I had received a summons to appear for a medical examination prior to being called up to do my 731 days National Service. The summons was, of course, issued in the name of our sovereign lady, HM The Queen and was accompanied by a postal order to the value of one shilling. By having it delivered to me, I was deemed to have taken the Queen`s shilling, so there was no going back.
The medical took place in a rather seedy hall above Burtons in Chatham High Street and, despite all my efforts, I was declared fit for purpose, to coin a current phrase. I then received instructions to report to the 4/7th Dragoon Guards training regiment at Catterick Camp in North Yorkshire.
Now, for someone who had seriously never been further north than, I think, Beccles in Suffolk, the prospect of making such a long journey into the unknown was both adventurous and daunting. Came the day, my farewells said to friends and family, I journeyed up to London, found my way across to Kings Cross station and got on a train that I was reliably informed would take me to Darlington, where I could catch a local connection to Catterick. All this to be achieved by 4.30pm, otherwise my military career would surely falter at the first hurdle.
It was a curious journey - I recall being genuinely surprised at just how big our country seemed to be - and the longer it went on, the more I realised that the security of all that I had known for almost 20 years was being replaced by uncertainty. As the train approached Darlington (at last) it seemed for some reason to go into reverse for a while, almost as if fate was smiling on me and I would be reversed back to Kings Cross and back to normality ....but no, just a shunting episode so we could be safely dumped on Darlington station platform.
The branch line to Richmond also headed south for a while. Surely, it couldn`t be....and it wasn`t. There, at Richmond station, a gaggle of 3-ton Bedford trucks awaited our arrival. We were invited to clamber in the back of the trucks and off we sped towards Catterick Camp and our arrival at Bourlon Lines, the barrack block, the parade ground, the clock tower, the Quartermaster Store, the barber shop, the cookhouse, from all of which there would be no escape for the next six weeks whilst we went through the rigours of `basic training.` But at least that would take care of 42 days, leaving me with only another 689 to do........
A day to remember indeed and each year when the anniversary comes around, I look back and smile with the knowledge that those experiences really did change my life forever - I, like everyone else who was `called up,` found the ability to stand on my own feet, to live alongside a diverse range of personalities, backgrounds, cultures, races and religions, but perhaps most telling of all, I discovered the ability to laugh at the futility of it all, the crass idiocy of the military mind but also the inexorable passage of time which even the most ardent military determination could not deny. Time is, as my profile says, the most precious commodity of all. Such a pity that it took me 731 days to discover it.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Just as I was glorying in the knowledge that my world-wide audience for this website had reached double figures, I got zapped twice. Firstly by the shingles ("Have you got the shingles?" "No, I always walk like this!") and then, due to reduced immune system, by a nasty arrival of a rotavirus. They are particularly nasty little bastards and this one kept me in close proximity to the plumbing for over three weeks. I will spare you the details, dear reader, but it is so good to feel well again and able to resume my ramblings here.
A big and sincere `thank you` to all my friends for their best wishes over the past month - I really appreciated hearing from you all and I now look forward to resuming `normal` communications, if anything in my life can be regarded as normal!
So, Christmas came and went - and the whole of January - and it really was a lost month. There were one or two `consolations` along the way; for example, the fact that I couldn`t sleep much at night, so saw quite a lot of very late-night television. Although I`m not sure seeing the England cricket team being ritually humiliated `down-under` did my wellbeing much good. I read somewhere that Richard Branson offered to sponsor the team, but his kind offer was refused on the basis that there wasn`t much point in being sponsored by Virgin, as we had already been comprehensively stuffed.
Big Brother came and went - and what a telling reflection on our so-called `society` that those three witches could behave so appallingly and believe that it was in any way `acceptable.` No good back-tracking, Jade & Co - the damage has been done and your `careers` should now be consigned to history.
Our mate Blair and his cronies continue to have their collars felt by the boys in blue and the whole saga simply adds to the feeling that those in charge of the country have reached a point well beyond parody - it might make a rivetting reality tv were it not so serious.
To end on some good news and some bad news. Two bits of good news, in fact - my beloved Saints continue their rise up the league table and they haven`t lost a league game since November, when I last made my pilgrimage to Southampton - maybe I should stay away? The other good news is that my image consultant and stylist (Chris of Larkfield) has been hard at work in a vain attempt to restore my boyhood charms to their former glory. It`s not really working though :(
The bad news is that most of the goodies we bought for Christmas went untouched due to diet restrictions and those that have survived have now met their `best before` dates. Still, Easter eggs are in the shops, so they may help to replace some of the 10 kilos I seem to have lost.
Spring and summer really cannot come too soon.