Monday, July 30, 2007


A few days ago, there was a knock on my front door. I rushed down stairs expecting it to be our local postman (who, incidentally, originates from the same small Hampshire village - over 100 miles away - where I spent my boyhood; such a small world)....only to be confronted by two charming and very presentable young ladies.

They had come to spread the word about the qualities of and their their devotion to Jehovah`s Witnesses.

Now, I can well imagine that they had perhaps received a less than enthusiastic welcome in most of the houses in our Kentish enclave, but they launched straight into their `sales pitch` which made it difficult for me to bring the encounter to an early conclusion. And, of course, I am by nature a tolerant individual, disinclined to invoke aggression without provocation....just ask the members of my football `crew.`

However, my visitors went through their routine but perhaps failed to realise that I quite like a good `debate` now and again and, indeed, we had one - which polarised on the true meaning of religion, its place in the modern world and its history in shaping the advance of civilisation.

I have absolutely no problem with Jehovah`s Witnesses, the Flat Earth Society, Pan`s People or any other group or individual who hold dear the things which are important to them. I believe in tolerance in most things and all I asked in return for listening to what my visitors had to say was that they might just spend a moment or two listening to my own conviction.

And so it came to pass that I might just have convinced them that the one true religion is, after all, football. And that Matthew Le Tissier is not known as Le God for no reason. And that the Barclays Premier League with all its arrogance, greed, avarice and falsehood might, just might, represent the forces of evil, with the risible Alex Ferguson taking the leading role, soon to be ably supported by that paragon of human rights virtue, Thaksin Shinawatra.

It may be some time before they knock on my door again. Especially as I suspect I may dwell in the enviable landscape of the Coca-Cola Championship for some years to come.

Sunday, July 29, 2007


Here we go again! Yesterday saw my first visit to St. Mary`s Stadium since the end of last season. Southampton FC were `entertaining` Lazio of Rome in what was billed as a pre-season friendly.

Now, Lazio are no pushovers. Last season, they finished third in the Italian Serie A, despite incurring a considerable points deduction for some misdemeanour or other. Whereas my beloved Saints are languishing in the Coca-Cola Championship (which used to be called Football League Division Two in the days when Dubbin was the only performance enhancing substance known to the football family.)

It was soon apparent that there is an enormous gulf in class between us and them - Lazio were 3-0 up after a quarter of an hour and the game eventually ended up with a 5-2 vistory to our Italian visitors. Saints` goals came from two generously awarded penalties and I got the feeling that Lazio were always able to go up a few gears if they felt like it.

It brought it home just how far Saints have come since our 27-year stay in the top flight of English football was ended with relegation a couple of years ago. OK, we missed out on promotion last season in a penalty shoot-out with Derby County, but we are light years away from being serious contenders this season.

Yesterday we had a nervous goalkeeper, a non-existent back four, a fragile midfield and a powder puff attack - apart from that, it was OK.

I`ll be watching Lazio`s progress this coming season....but I doubt their supporters who graced St. Mary`s yesterday will be returning the compliment. And who can blame them?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Deep in the windswept hinterland of Bodmin Moor in Cornwall lies the remote, tiny village of Warleggan. Off the tourist route, with no apparent reason for anyone to go there, it holds a remarkable, true story of recent times.

The church, pictured above, is dedicated to St Bartholomew. The church was one of the few on Bodmin Moor to have a spire, until in 1818 when it was struck by lightning.

Until a road was built in 1953 linking it to the A38, it had the reputation of being one of the most remote areas of Cornwall.
The priest from 1931 until his death in 1953 was Frederick Densham. Frederick, to say the least, was an eccentric: painting the church and vicarage in garish colours of yellow and blue and surrounding the church and the rectory with a barbed wire fence. He also kept dogs and would persist in letting them out to run wild on the moor, where the local farmers` sheep were grazing.
All his parishioners eventually shunned the church and the poor vicar was reduced to preaching his sermons to "cut out cardboard figures" propped up in the pews. In 1953, many years after he had preached to his last “live” congregation, Rev Densham’s body was found in a crumpled heap at the bottom of the stairs at the rectory. It had laid there for over a week....and no-one had missed him. For more on this curious tale, see

A book by Daphne du Maurier was based on this story.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, dear reader, is to find out which book that was. Answers via the `comments` link below
, please.

Monday, July 23, 2007


Doing this blog has just brought it home to me just how fortunate I seem to have been to still be here.
Being born six weeks before the outbreak of WWII was not the most auspicious start, followed by five years of bombardment.
Then I was thrown into Southampton Water in the hope that I might swim (at least I think it was in hope.) Then a year off school with a life-threatening illness.
Then the London Smog....then 731 days of military service....and so on through a chequered career and an interesting life which has just passed 68 years.
Seems to me I`m lucky to be here at all.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

WELCOME TO LONDON....(cough, cough...)

When the old BOAC Flying Boats operation finally closed down, my father needed to find another job. Now, both my parents had always been keen on the `licenced trade` and took the opportunity to learn the business from my mother`s sister and her husband, who had a `pub` of their own.
What followed was nothing short of a traumatic life-change for me. From that sleepy village on the shores of Southampton Water, we moved to an off-licence in, of all places, Catford in the south-east of London.

This was late 1952 - just in time to experience the worst smog London had ever seen (or not seen, if you get my drift.)

The Great Smog befell London starting on December 4, 1952, and lasted until March of 1953. It was a great disaster that killed thousands and formed an important impetus to the modern environmental movement. In early December of 1952, a cold fog descended upon London. Because of the cold, Londoners began to burn more coal than usual. At the same time, the final conversion of London's electric trams to diesel buses was completed. The resulting air pollution was trapped by the heavy layer of cold air, and the concentration of pollutants built up dramatically. The smog was so thick that it would sometimes make driving impossible.

It entered indoors easily, and concerts and screenings of films were cancelled as the audience could not see the stage or screen.Since London was known for its fog, there was no great panic at the time. In the weeks that followed, the medical services compiled statistics and found that the fog had killed 4,000 people—most of whom were very young or elderly, or had pre-existing respiratory problems. Another 8,000 died in the weeks and months that followed.

All this on top of having to move to a school where my Hampshire burr set me apart from the rest and provided a grim introduction to life in the metropolis. I guess that is why, ever since, apart from the occasional peaceful Sunday visit, I have only been to London when absolutely unavoidable......the last occasion being about four years ago. I have no plans to return there any time soon, even if it is only an hour away.

Friday, July 20, 2007

(from our golf correspondent)

In a surprise return to the fairways of Poult Wood, yesterday saw Snopper celebrating his 68th birthday with an improved performance. Coming after a disastrous display a couple of weeks ago, when I reported the loss of at least 12 golf balls during an unrecorded round (Snopper had conveniently lost his pencil) yesterday saw him return a score of 99, which was partly achieved by a liberal interpretation of some of the Royal and Ancient Rules, coupled with some dubious arithmetic. In addition, a generous handicap of 28 meant that he was only a few shots over par for the course at the end.

This could be a turning point in Snopper`s faltering career, especially as yesterday`s lost ball count reached only five. Titlelist & Co might just be a little concerned. Well, maybe not.


.....I was celebrating my 21st birthday. In those days, the 21st was THE big birthday - the introduction of 18th birthday celebrations had not happened, so the 21st was the ultimate rite of passage. Well, for most, I guess it may have been.

For me, it was anything but. The reason? I was being detained at Her Majesty`s pleasure by doing my National Service with one of the country`s finest cavalry regiments - the 10th Royal Hussars, no less

And it just happened to be that my 21st birthday coincided with the annual tank manoevres which took place close to Schneverdingen on Luneburg Heath in northern Germany.

And it just happened to be that those in charge of the regiment thought it would be a good idea to assign me to the job of guarding the tank park overnight. (I always thought the idea was that the tanks were there to guard us, rather than the other way around.) I was convinced that my posting on guard that night was an act of deliberately evil intent on the part of the military, presumably thinking that such malevolence would teach me not to react in a way which would be "contrary to good order and military discipline."

Now, the army`s idea of how to effectively guard a regiment of tanks and other assorted armoured fighting vehicles was to equpip the person on guard with a wooden stick. So when, at about 3.00am in the middle of this teutonic wasteland night, a loud bang is heard emanating from said tank park, yours truly charges forth brandishing the wooden stick and shouting "How dare you interrupt my 21st birthday?"......or words to that effect.

Later I discovered that it was the work of an upstart subaltern who thought it would be a jolly jape to unsettle the guard by throwing a firecracker into the middle of the serried ranks of vehicles. I seriously doubt that the military careers of either of us were enhanced that night - he for being up so late and me for not really troubling myself too much to apprehend the culprit.

For all of that, however, I still retain some kind of warped affection for the regiment and a real friendship with some of the people with whom I was conscripted all those years ago. However, I did feel a slight sense of revenge when, in 1969, the 10th Royal Hussars were amalgamated with another regiment and so were no more.
And with each and every birthday that comes around, I think back to that long, dark night in that faraway wilderness on that pointless task and wonder whether I should sue the Government for the psychological damage I have suffered ever since for being denied my 21st birthday.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


This is my mobile phone - at least it was until yesterday.

I was heading along the M25 motorway en route to a series of `engagements` in Berkshire and Hampshire, when my progress was halted by a huge traffic jam. Apparently, there had been a bad accident along the stretch of motorway between Wisley and Chertsey earlier yesterday morning. I didn`t know this, as I hadn`t checked the traffic reports before I left home and I was enraptured by the CD I was playing of Ray Conniff, his orchestra and chorus. Well, who wouldn`t be?

After over two hours waiting in the traffic queue, it became obvious even to me that I was not going to be able to keep an `appointment` I had at 1.00pm in Southampton. So, I switched on my mobile phone to make the call, only to get a message that `IMSI failed.` Whatever that meant. What to do? Of course, use my winsome charm on the young lady sitting in the stationary car in front. I tapped on her window, showed her the message on my phone, asked if she had one (a repeatedly rhetorical question these days) and asked if she could dial the number I showed her, so I could explain my predicament.

She was very obliging - and my appointment was duly postponed for another day. What`s more, she very kindly refused to accept money from me to pay for the call - it may have been her `Help the Aged` Day.....but I was most grateful.

The question now is what to do about the mobile phone (it still doesn`t work today.) It`s just typical - you have the phone in the car for months on end, you take it for nice long drives, you don`t bother it much by making daft calls from supermarkets to enquire what size bananas she might fancy today and what happens when you really need doesn`t work. Wonderful!

There seems to be a choice between getting a new one, the technology of which might just frighten the life out of me, or not bother. Since I only have cause to use a mobile phone about once every millennium, I`m not sure I`ll bother, preferring to rely on my winsome charm, my codgeresque innocence and an endless supply of obliging young ladies.

Don`t ring me, `cos I`m not sure I can ring you.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

(click to enlarge)


There have been very few occasions when I have genuinely been awestruck . Seeing the interior of St. Paul`s and Winchester Cathedrals are two examples but the world of the visual arts provided another.

A few years ago, on an impulsive Sunday morning, my eldest son, David and I visitied the National Gallery in London for the first time. It`s a wondeful place - all the usual suspects are there to be seen, the great and the good throughout the history of visual art. But however long you might reel off the familiar names, it`s a matter of some doubt that you will utter the name of Joseph Wright of Derby.

Now, the National Gallery has countless `rooms` and on a Sunday morning they all tend to be well populated, people going round them in an orderly fashion, seldom forming what you might call a crowd around any particular exhibit. Until, that it, you come to `An Experiment on a bird in the Air Pump.` On the Sunday morning of our visit, we went into the room and there were the people crowded round this quite stunning work. It is Joseph Wright`s crowning masterpiece - and it`s huge, 183 x 244cm - and it shows a travelling scientist demonstrating the formation of a vacuum by the withdrawal of air from a flask containing a white cockatoo.

The point of the painting is not so much to demontrate the science but more to show the human emotion which the experiment brings to the onlookers. The little girl is worried whether the bird will die - Wright leaves the question unanswered; the young lovers on the left seem only to be concerned about themselves. The painting also demonstrates Wright`s mastery of light - the whole scene is lit by the one candle on the table. There is so much to admire, so much to contemplate - small wonder the Sunday morning crowd were as much in awe as I was.

Years ago, the BBC produced a groundbreaking series by the then Sir Kenneth (later Lord) Clark - `Civilisation` which tracked the growth of civilisation as seen through the arts, music and architecture of the ages. In it he dismisses Wright as `a mediocrity.` If the visual arts are about anything, they are about lifting the spirit, which Wright`s painting surely did on that Sunday morning. Much as I admired Lord Clark`s intellect, I fear he has misjudged one of the finest artists of the 18th century by his uncivilised comment.

More information can be found at

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


When I was about ten years old, I suffered perhaps the first double whammy of my fledging life.....always accepting, of course, that being born six weeks before the outbreak of WW II is not whammy enough.

At the time of these particular episodes, we lived at Hythe on the shores of Southampton Water, where my father worked for BOAC at their flying boat maintenance base.

One day I was taken along to see a brand new flying boat, which had been moored alongside the maintenance apron, which we could see quite clearly from the end of our back garden. I can`t recall which particular flying boat it was - may even have been the one shown above. As part of the `celebrations` I was handed my very first glass of champagne. "Here you are, small boy," said the very proper stewardess in her BOAC uniform, "try this. It`s only apple juice - won`t hurt you."

So, down it went....and very quickly came up again. It tasted exactly like she said - fizzy apple juice - and from that experience, I have only ever enjoyed the odd quaff and never become much of an enthusiast. Cheers anyway:-

A year or two before that event, my father thought it was time I learned to swim, so he taught me by invoking the time-honoured method of taking me to the edge of the maintenance apron....and throwing me into Southampton Water! Sink or swim time - I swam alright. Fortunately for me, the tide was in at the time and no flying boats were in the vicinity.

(click to enlarge)

BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation) became British Airways, but the flying boat operation is long gone and the location of my early whammies is now a housing development whose opening no doubt saw the champagne flow once more, but these days small boys tend not to be thrown in the deep end.

Monday, July 09, 2007


It`s confession time!!

Any cynical reservations I may have expressed about the Tour de France progressing through Kent have been well and truly dispelled. I started watching it on tv when the tour reached the part of the Garden of England close to where I live - I suppose it was the novelty of seeing nearby places on television - but I soon became hooked on the event itself.
The organisation, the competitiveness, the teamwork, the individual endurance, skill and courage of the riders were quite stunning and the event was crowned by a quite breathtaking climax at Canterbury when Robbie McEwen came back from a fall and injury to snatch a dramatic stage win.......and all the while, the Kent countryside has seldom looked more inviting.
What I may have thought of as a Tour de Farce has turned out to be a Tour de Force. It`s never too late to learn!

Saturday, July 07, 2007


Tomorrow the Tour de France will make its way through the county of Kent, marking the first stage of the 2007 Tour by travelling from London to Canterbury on what can only be described as a circuitous route. Part of the route passes very close to where I live, so I`m expecting some restrictions on the local roads, some of which will be closed to all traffic except those connected with and taking part in Le Tour.

This is quite a big deal for us here in the Garden of England (Le Jardin d`Angleterre) and it seems most people are enthused by the prospect of standing at the roadside for hours on end in order to catch a fleeting glance of the competitors as they `speed` by (a word I use advisedly.)

It seems that 150 miles of Kent roads will be closed for much of the day, the Police and other services will be severely stretched and all in all a deal of inconvenience, not to say expense for the local taxpayers, is pretty certain.

For all that, however, the event will - we are told - bring huge benefits to the county in terms of exposure, tourism potential and expenditure by visitors staying to witness the race; Kent County Council have estimated the total financial benefit to be in the region of £37million....which I find hard to believe, but there is no doubt that benefits will accrue as well as the opportunity for local people to be involved in the biggest single sporting event in the world. So you won`t hear me complain. Well, not much anyway. Maybe just a bit. We`ll see what the morning brings.

So, welcome to Kent to the competitors, their support , the spectators from far and wide, the press, television and everyone else who comes to visit our lovely county and all it has to offer. Normally it looks like this:-

(click to enlarge)

Part of the route will be through the town of Tonbridge, which reminds me of the cycling tale that has become legend, for it seems that during the mid-1950s when the Tour of Britain cycle race came through the town, the leading rider, one Bernard Pusey, was stopped in the High Street and accused of exceeding the speed limit.
I imagine that cycle racing and indeed the town of Tonbridge have come a long way since those days.....and I`m quite certain that the Tonbridge Constabulary will be understanding of any such transgressions tomorrow. Won`t they? Sacre bleu!!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

LOOKING BACK..........

For a few years now, my eldest son, David and I have been interested in tracing some of our family history. I have to confess that he is much more adept, thorough and organised than I am, so I have taken to relying on my memories. One of the most compelling memory I have is of my maternal grandfather, one William Austen of Swindon. (Note the spelling of the surname, which encouraged a brief flirtation with the notion that Jane Austen might feature in our family history and thus we might be in for some hefty royalties....but no.)

The photograph shows the gentlemen of the Morris Street Working Mens Club which existed in Swindon as an `amenity` associated with the Great Western Railway Works, which dominated the geography and the economy of that Wiltshire town for so long.

My grandfather worked there all his adult life as a pattern maker, a skill which he passed on to his only son (another William) ...although he did have four daughters, one of whom was my mother. The railway works was responsible for all the heavy engineering work required by God`s Wonderful Railway (GWR).....

.....and was housed in imposing buildings, surrounded by a huge brick wall, which took up the whole of one side of Rodbourne Road:-

My grandparents lived in a terraced house in Hughes Street which, along with other identical and adjacent streets, were populated almost exclusively by GWR workers. As a boy during WWII, I spent some time in that house along with my mother who, to make ends meet with my father being a prisoner of war, took a job as a bus conductress with Swindon Corporation Transport - many`s the time I sat on the bus in her care as it travelled the length and breadth of that railway town.

My grandfather retired when he was 65 but with a dogged determination borne out of a life of struggle, he survived to the grand old age of 98; and my grandmother wasn`t far behind, living until she was 96. My mother passed away a few short years ago and she managed to get to 90, so I`m fervently hoping that the genes I have inherited for longevity come from that side of the family.
As to the railway works, well it closed down in, I think, 1962 and became a trendy `outlet centre,` which I regret I have not visited, so I have no idea of its contribution to modern day Swindon; except, that is, that it continues to preserve those forbidding buildings which form part of my formative years.

I wonder what the men of the Morris Street Working Mens Club would make of it all.
(click on photos for larger images)

Sunday, July 01, 2007

The past few days have been `difficult` - which simply understates the reality. Car bombs in London, terror attack in Glasgow, devastating floods in the north of England and on this windswept, unpredictable Sunday afternoon I find myself breathing a metaphorical sigh of relief .
On the television, England are playing the West Indies in a one-day international at Lord`s. It`s a peaceful scene - the day is drifting by between the interruptions for showers but cricket - even in the accelerated tempo of a one-day game - seems to provide a constant reminder of quieter, more enjoyable times gone by among good friends playing the eternal game.
I played most of my cricket 50 years ago and more - at a time when there were no `leagues,` no competitions to be won or lost, when a whole season`s fixtures comprised nothing but `friendly` matches against other village teams spread throughout the countryside of Kent. Mostly they were afternoon games - bat for two hours, have tea, then the other team would bat, then down the pub for a convivial retrospect of the afternoon`s events. But there were also rare all-day matches home and away against clubs like Stone-cum-Ebony in the Isle of Oxney, down on the border of Romney Marsh. Another memorable annual fixture was against Dominica, a team of talented, gracious gentlemen of West Indian extraction from south-east London, who relished their visits to the countryside and the sloping ground at Basted. They always beat us quite soundly, but that wasn`t the point for us or for them.
Funny how I remember the fixture lists from all those years ago. They were good days - I filled my teenage weekends playing for Platt on Saturdays and Basted on Sundays and, despite my modest abilities with both bat and ball, I was quite astonishingly made captain of Basted when I was 18. Looking back now, it was the friendly nature of it all that made it so enjoyable....and made my captaincy a joy and not in any sense a burden.
I suppose that when one looks back at anything over so many years, there is the tendancy to reach for the rose-tinted spectacles and I`m no different. But I still cherish those days in the sun - the tea and sandwiches at 1/6d - the very, very occasional 50 - the even more occasional 5-wicket haul - the annual struggle to achieve the `Basted double` of 100 runs and 10 wickets in a season - the way each incoming batsman was applauded to the wicket - the complete absence of `sledging` - the unquestioning acceptance of umpiring decisions.....and the sadness when it all ended once I had been frogmarched away to do my National Service.
I played a bit when I came back, but the teams had dispersed, Basted had moved away from their idiosyncratic ground to the urban environment of Tonbridge and I, newly married, had other calls on my weekend time. But cricket still holds that rare quality of taking me away from the troubles of the `real world` even if there is more at stake in the game these days than just the sheer pleasure of playing it.
......over and out!!