Saturday, May 26, 2007



ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER WORLD



Yesterday, I had the pleasure of spending a day at the cricket, thanks to the generosity of an old friend who is a Member of Kent County Cricket Club. It was the third day of the four-day game between Kent and Hampshire, played at the St. Lawrence Ground, Canterbury.
I`ll just get the result out of the way - late this afternoon, I learned that the game ended in an honourable draw - now, what other game in the world could last for four days and not reach a conclusion? And which other spectators would turn up in droves knowing that they were merely dipping in to just a part of a sporting contest?
Apart from the cricket itself, there are three other aspects of my day that I found interesting. The first was the ground itself - a traditional, provincial county ground in the leafy suburbs of the city; an immaculate playing surface; the pavilions and grandstands displaying a pleasingly mixed architecture whilst at the same time acknowledging past heroes of Kent cricket - `The Les Ames Stand` `The Colin Cowdrey Stand` and `The Frank Woolley Stand` being just three examples; and an eccentricity in the form of a lime tree, which is sometimes situated within the boundary and thus in the field of play, depending on where the boundary rope is placed.
Next, as the day progressed, I became more aware of the `environment` into which I had stumbled. It had been a while since I spent a whole day at the cricket and I was perhaps unprepared for the `atmosphere` in the ground and among the spectators, which was relaxed, even perhaps drifting beguilingly close to torpor as the day wore on. There was good conversation, a deep knowledge and love of the game, there were excellent facilities and quite the most refined and understated public address announcements I have ever heard.
It was almost like being in another world - a parallel universe - where it seemed that events within the confines of the ground were the only things that really mattered, perhaps the only things within one`s consciousness, where timescales and the pace of life were determined by the sessions of play and nothing, but nothing that may have been happening in the `wider world` was really of any consequence. Truly a refuge from a frantic world.
Lastly, a word or three about just one of the players. Without in any way diminishing the respect I have for each of the players on both teams, it was the irrepressible Shane Warne who took my eye. Not so much for his performance on the day (he trundled down 37 overs and managed just one wicket for 142 runs) but for the sheer privilege of again seeing one of the greatest bowlers in the history of the game. This is a guy who has taken 708 Test Match wickets for Australia and yet, as captain of Hampshire, here he was on a blissful Friday afternoon still showing all of the passion, determination, skill and effort that have been the hallmark of his distinguished career.
My day in the sun was not just another day but a day in another world, in which I hope to take up residence more often......if only the summers didn`t go by so quickly.
(click on photos for larger images)

Sunday, May 20, 2007

AN UNLIKELY HERO




Maybe it`s me; maybe I`m just getting older and maybe I`m getting more grumpy as the years go by. But I do find I get more angry with more things that flit through what`s left of my consciousness.
The latest example is an attempt - which looks as if it might succeed - to exempt Members of both Houses of Parliament from the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
Now, this legislation meant that Mr and Mrs Joe Public could, if they were so inclined, request information from just about every kind of taxpayer-funded organisation as a reasonable, sensible and much needed bit of accountability as to how those public bodies are spending taxpayers` money. In the few years that the Act has been in business, it has produced many examples of detailed public expenditure which might otherwise have been buried....or denied on the basis that it was `confidential.`
So far, so good. Until, that is, a little known backbench Conservative MP introduces a Bill before Parliament to exempt Members of the Commons and the Lords from the provisions of the Act, on the spurious basis that correspondence between an MP and his or her constituent should remain private....despite the fact that such correspondence is protected by the Data Protection Act anyway. No, the truth seems to be an attempt to hide from public gaze the amount of `remuneration` - and especially expenses - claimed annually by MPs and Peers of the Realm.
Along comes Norman Baker, LibDem MP for Lewes in Sussex and, early on in the life of this Bill, he smells a rat. It`s not the first time I`ve mentioned Norman in despatches - he is regularly verbally assailed in the Commons because he raises awkward questions and doggedly pursues his enquiries, which include an ongoing inquisition into the circumstances surrounding the death of Dr. David Kelly - the most tragic victim of the Iraq dodgy dossier fiasco.
Norman and a few of his chums don`t like the idea of exempting themselves from public scrutiny, so they `talked out` the first stage of the Bill when it came before Parliament a couple of weeks ago, which meant that the Bill did not proceed to the Lords for consideration. On Friday, the Bill was introduced yet again and despite yet more heroic efforts from Norman and the likes of the admirable David Winnick (Labour) and the pugnacious Richard Sheppard (Conservative) the cross-party opposition to the Bill was this time defeated.
What makes it more troublesome is that both the Government and the official Opposition remained `neutral` on the matter, thus giving, I suspect, tacit approval. The Bill now goes to the Lords and it is hoped that their Lordships will display more sensitivity, more principle and more moral courage than, (with the noble exception of Norman and his friends,) the self-serving lapdogs in the Commons who seem neither to notice nor to care that those of us who pay their inflated salaries and expenses will simply hold them in even more contempt than we do already.
I`ll watch that space with more than a little interest, but I fear that the outcome will be yet another example of why my respect for our elected representatives would probably, if I were young enough, drive me seriously to consider emigration. New Zealand anyone?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

THE MORNING AFTER.......

So that`s it. Saints` defeat at Derby last night saw a dramatic climax to a long, long season of ups and downs in the Championship. Having fought their way into the play-offs, Saints went to Pride Park last evening trailing 2-1 from the home leg of the semi-final which was played out last Saturday and which, thanks to the family wedding, I was forced to miss.

Against all the odds, including key players missing through injuries sustained on Saturday and one or two unexpected selections by manager George Burley, nevertheless Saints won the game 3-2, bringing the aggregate of the two legs of the semi-final to 4-4. So it was decided on penalties - and we missed two of ours, whilst Derby didn`t. Seems oddly bizarre that a season of 46 league games, cup matches and play-off semi-finals can come down to the lottery of a penalty shoot-out, but that`s the way of the football world.



Having got over the initial disappointment, my overriding emotion this morning is one of immense pride in my club, the players for their performance last night and the fans - 5,000 of them at Derby - for the passionate support given to the team. It feels good to be part of that family and I seek no recriminations for last night`s narrow failure but look forward to next season with renewed optimism. One thing`s for sure - I will carry on enjoying my days at St. Mary`s among good friends and being part of a family friendly club with traditional values.

There`s an old saying, "Show me a good loser and I`ll show you a loser." Well, we lost last night and we were good losers.....but we enhanced our self-respect and maintained our pride in our club and our companionship. Maybe we didn`t lose so much after all?


(click on photo for larger image)

Monday, May 14, 2007


HONOUR AT LAST - 13,000 MILES AWAY
Reports from the colonies confirm that Australian Prime Minister, John Howard (pictured) has effectively banned the nation`s cricket team from touring Zimbabwe, where they were due to play a few one-day internationals.
Howard seems to have gone further by suggesting that if Cricket Australia (the sport`s governing body Down Under) defy his `ruling` then he will bring in legislation to ensure the tour doesn`t go ahead anyway.
Cricket Australia`s response appears positive - there are already suggestions that the games against the Zimbabwe cricket team might be played in South Africa or some other neutral country, thus ensuring that the development of cricket in Zimbabwe does not suffer unduly through the cancellation of the tour.
Australian cricket captain, Ricky Ponting, has supported the Prime Minister`s move and as to the question of compensation for the Zimbabwe Cricket Board to make up for the lost revenue, it seems that Howard may also be prepared to underwrite any fine which might come Cricket Australia`s way under the ICC rules.
Now, as everyone knows, Zimbabwe under the ruthless heel of its dictating ruler, Robert Mugabe, suffers the lowest life expectancy in the whole of Africa, its population are desperately short of just about every commodity that makes life bearable, an inflation rate approaching 3,000%....and a regime that brings fear, death and destruction to anyone it takes a fancy too. Just ask Morgan Tsvangerai.
All good reasons to excommunicate Zimbabwe from the church of cricket at least - to say nothing about more considerable communites - especially those who seem reluctant to take any meaningful action against that appalling regime.
What a shame then that, when faced with a similar situation a couple of years ago, the England and Wales Cricket Board, along with the British government, were spineless in their approach to the same situation which our friend John Howard has dealt with head on with courage, dignity and strength of purpose.
On a day when the morality of English football has also been severely stretched, it is good to see that honour is alive and well and currently residing in the antipodes. Such a pity that it lives 13,000 miles away and not closer to home.

Saturday, May 12, 2007



SING LITTLE BIRDIE

Yes, folks, tonight is the night we`ve all been waiting for, as the Eurovision Song Contest hits tv screens across the continent and beyond. I`m experiencing a day of mixed emotions, but one which is proving fortuitous in my personal attempts to avoid having to sit through what must surely be the most expensively pointless exercise since the invention of television.

Now, these are not sour grapes that the UK entries in recent years have come absolutely nowhere - indeed, there is a degree of credibility gained from achieving a score of nul points, which we managed a while back - but an acknowledgement of the fact that those countries silly enough to take the whole thing seriously enough to win it are then stuck with having to stage the following year`s contest. If we ever win it again (God forbid) the picture above would be the ideal venue.

And yet, I still remember when it was something of a novelty and a source of some pride to do well. Who can forget Pearl Carr and Teddy Johnson warbling `Sing Little Birdie` so tunefully in 1959 that the refrain stays with me even now?

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Or the novelty of colour television when it first came in all those years ago?
It seems to me that the Eurovision Song Contest is one of very few surviving programmes from those days - The Sky at Night may be another - and it really is time to move on, especially as it`s not a song contest anyway (if it were really so, then bring on Elton and Bernie) but more an excercise in neighbourliness.

We have a family wedding to attend this afternoon, followed by a reception this evening, which will mean that I will miss the Eurovision Song Contest......and never has a wedding reception been more welcome.

Thursday, May 10, 2007


NEXT PLEASE !!

So, Herr Blair has finally done the decent thing and announced his resignation. About time too. I remember when Gordon Strachan announced that he would be leaving the manager`s job at Southampton at the end of the season around January time. Everyone knew then that his influence on team affairs would diminish for the rest of that season and so it proved. It has been the same with Blair - for months we have all known he would be going - for months there has been a growing limbo at the heart of Government and, frankly, it`s no way to run a railroad.

I hesitate to descend into the grimy world of politics but a couple of things struck me about Blair`s announcement. The first was the media frenzy that it created - now of course the fact of his going should be reported and the resignation speech should be given the coverage it deserves, but there has been - and will continue to be - almost endless discussion in all the media about the legacy he might leave behind. As if nothing else is happening in the world - missing girl in Portugal; continued violence in Iraq; interest rates climbing to 5.5%; cost of ID cards soaring to £5billion (buried on a good day for burying bad news) ......and all put aside so that all the media can concentrate on Blair`s announcement.

I have been amazed at the amount of pseudo-analysis of Blair`s ten years in office, which is all about opinion, of course - and one man`s take is as good or as bad as any other`s - and it may be a good idea not to turn on the tv or listen to the radio or even buy a newspaper for the next seven weeks to avoid having to find out what others` opinions may be when, after all, the only opinion that really matters is your own. I have a friend on the Isle of Wight who went for days without knowing anything about what was going on in the wider world....and he was much the better for it.

As to Tone, Cherie and the rest of the the assorted acolytes, the quicker they are all consigned to history (preferably without a glowing legacy) the better.....the only trouble is that Gordon (Clunking Fist) Brown - yet another Scot to rule my country - will enter stage left and become the new focus of the opinion-formers and the whole thing will start all over again.

Next, please....

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Monday, May 07, 2007



FAITH RESTORED BY SHRIMPERS

Yesterday was one of those unforgettable days that only come around once in a while. Of course, there was a very important football match for Southampton, who needed to win against Southend United by a bigger margin than Stoke City might win against Queens Park Rangers, in order to finally secure a place in the end of season play-offs and have a chance of promotion back to the Premiership. And win they did - by 4-1, whilst Stoke could only manage a 1-1 draw at Loftus Road.

That takes care of the bald statistics and the result, which was marred only by a serious injury to Saints` veteran centre back and captain, Claus Lundekvam. But quite apart from that, the day was memorable for at least three other things, which will stay in the memory.

First, the tribute paid by the whole of the 32,080 people packed into St. Mary`s Stadium to their departed hero, player and manager, Alan Ball. There have been tributes to him over the recent past, most notably the service of remembrance in Winchester Cathedral, but yesterday Alan was remembered by people who knew him as one of their own....and it was breathtaking in its sincerity and its appreciation.

Next, the atmoshpere inside the stadium was the best I can remember for some years - a sell-out crowd bedecked in club colours, loudly spurring the team on to the much-needed victory and quite spontaneously standing as one before the final whistle to applaud the team and the memory of Alan Ball.

But most of all, I will probably remember yesterday for the part played in all of this by the visiting supporters of Southend United.

Now, a couple of weeks ago, I was justifiably critical of Leeds United`s visit to St. Mary`s (see An Appropriate Decline below) and I will not taint these musings by referring any more to that experience which was memorable for all the wrong reasons, except perhaps to mention that Leeds have now thankfully been consigned to the third tier of English football and good riddance.

Yesterday, thanks to the Southend supporters, my faith in the football family has been well and truly restored. They were simply magnificent; passionate in their support of their team, yes of course, but also respectful of the tributes to Alan Ball, gracious in defeat, impeccably behaved, friendly, decent people and fully deserving of the respect shown to them by the home supporters.

Such a shame that Southend`s own relegation, along with Leeds and Luton, will mean that we will not have the genuine pleasure of their company next season, for they are true football fans who can show a lot of other clubs just how enjoyable occasions like yesterday can be. Such is the rapport between the two sets of fans that Southend are welcome back to St. Mary`s at any time.......and it`s been a long, long time since I`ve said that about any other club.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

TIME TO PROTECT THE PROTECTORS

Here in the deep south of the good ol` U of K, we`ve just had the driest and warmest April since records began over 340 years ago. This time last year, Mrs. Snopper and I, along with Henry the Non-Retriever, were staying at Woolacombe on the north coast of Devon. Woolacombe boasts a wonderful beach - over three miles of golden sands, backed by huge sand dunes, which have a coastal footpath running along the top. It makes for a lovely walk, with views out to sea across to Lundy Island.
Near the end of our stay, we got chatting to a local resident couple down on the beach. They had a dog too with whom Henry enjoyed a scamper through the sand and along the shoreline. The chap asked us if we had been up onto the coastal footpath and we confirmed that we had. Why? Is there a problem? Whereupon he mentioned that the dunes were overrun with adders - England`s one and only venomous reptile - and that in the Springtime, they were at their most dangerous, as the venom was at its most potent. We had had a narrow escape perhaps.


I read yesterday that this year, because of the warm, dry weather, the adder population has increased considerably....but it also mentioned that, as they are a protected species under the law, it is an offence to kill or harm them in any way. Got me thinking about protected species. Birds - no problem; butterflies - excellent idea; wild flowers - of course. But the world-wide list of protected species, in addition to adders in this country, also includes the likes of polar bears, tigers and other assorted assasins of the animal kingdom. Now, things like polar bears and tigers, despite what Heather Mills McCartney may claim, would have no compunction whatsoever in ripping your head off given half a chance. Save the tiger? You must be bonkers.
I`m absolutely convinced that it would never enter the heads of these mindless killers that humans should be given some sort of dispensation from their homicidal tendancies, just because the humans have published a list of protected species and that their names are on it.
Time to revise the list, I feel - so that next time I visit Woolacombe in Springtime, I can take a spade with me.....just in case.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

THE MERRY MORNING OF MAY

"Unite and unite let us all unite
For summer is acome unto day
And whither we are going we will all unite
In the merry morning of May."
So begins the morning song in the north Cornish town of Padstow. It is here that the most boisterous, driving, compelling celebration of the arrival of summer takes place.
One of the things I have always wanted to do, but never quite got round to it, is to spend a few days in Padstow around May Day, just to experience the occasion and feel part of one of the most traditional of events in the English calendar. I`ve promised myself I will do that one year....along with a lot of other things I feel the need to do before it`s all too late.
But, back to Padstow. It`s a pity, I feel, that the town has become more popular and identified in the wider world since the establishment of Rick Stein and his fish restaurant empire. Now, I`ve nothing at all against Mr. Stein - he seems a pleasant enough chap, is clearly an excellent chef and has brought popularity and prosperity to both himself and to Padstow, which now boasts a number of `Rick Stein` establishments. Good luck to him.
But it really is for the May Day celebrations that Padstow should be recognised. No-one is really sure about the origins of what some describe as a pagan ritual but it`s clear that the tradition goes back for centuries.....and seems to have been little changed over all that time. It`s the sheer exuberance that touches the heart and the soul and, who knows, perhaps touches some basic instinct that lies deep within each of us.
The whole thing goes on for hours - with the rival `Obby `Osses (the `Old` and the `Blue Ribbon`) cavorting through the town, going from door to door, urged on by the teasers, the music driven on by the rhythmic drums and accordians, the throng of participants and onlookers becoming merrier and merrier until the morning, when the song announces that summer has indeed `acome.` A tradition to be savoured, revered but most of all enjoyed and I for one rejoice at the return of summer, when the living might just be a little easier.