Saturday, September 29, 2007


It was the summer of 1949, when I saw my first ever first class cricket match. I remember it vividly. My parents took me to see Hampshire playing the touring New Zealanders at the old county ground in Northlands Road, Southampton.

I remember it for a number of reasons. There were players there who have stuck in the memory ever since. For New Zealand, Bert Sutcliffe and his opening partner Verdun Scott, John Reid, Walter Hadlee and Martin Donnelly, while for Hampshire there was Neville Rogers, Neil McCorkell, Desmond Eager and Johnny Arnold, who scored a century, despite the visitors winning the game by seven wickets.
But most of all, I remember my first look at Derek Shackleton, who passed away yesterday at the age of 83.

Derek - or "Shack" as he was universally known - was a phenomenal cricketer, as just some of the statistics will confirm. He took 2857 wickets for Hampshire at 14.61, trundling down 159043 balls in 26,500 overs, conceding less than two runs per over. No other bowler in the history of the game has taken over 100 wickets in each of 20 consecutive seasons and only seven bowlers have ever taken more wickets. He averaged 1259 overs a season - a figure put into some perspective by the fact that, in 2006, only Panesar with 759 overs and Croft with 702 exceeded 700 overs in the season.

Shack played in seven test matches for England, spread over 13 years and one is tempted to suggest that, perhaps like another of my cricketing heroes, Harold Gimblett of Somerset, had Shack played for a more `fashionable` county, he may have been selected a bit more often, although it has to be said that his test figures do not really match up to his county performances.

And so another of my boyhood heroes passes on and I regret his passing, not just for what he achieved for Hampshire cricket, but also for his honesty, his decency and his elegance as a cricketer and as a man .

"Shrewdly varied, and utterly accurate," wrote John Arlott, "beating down as unremittingly as February rain". And as unforgettable as that faraway summer and my first taste of Shack`s excellence and the enduring magic of the real "beautiful game."

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Out doing a bit of shopping yesterday.
Drifted into British Home Stores at Aylesford near Maidstone - nice shop, loads of stuff, including Christmas cards, gift wrap, tinsel and other festive ware.
I was tempted to ask whether they had just not been put away from last Christmas or whether they were really on sale for next Christmas ; then I realised that next Christmas is `only` 92 days away, so I`d better start getting ready.
On second thoughts, I think I will just lapse into despair.

Saturday, September 22, 2007


Four years ago, Southampton Football Club finished the season in 8th place in the Premier League, lost narrowly to Arsenal in the FA Cup Final, beat Liverpool home and away in the league and also beat Manchester United (again) with a late header from James Beattie.

Yesterday, Southampton Football Club were beaten 3-2 at home by Barnsley in the second tier of English football and find themselves languishing just a couple of places above the relegation zone, thanks to a combination of lack of investment, selling our best players to keep the bank manager happy, insipid management of the club in the boardroom and baffling tactical and selection decisions on the touchline; in short, all the classic recipes for decline.

No wonder Adam Hammill (left) on loan from Liverpool for the season, looked bemused and depressed after yet another defeat snatched from the jaws of a hard fought draw in injury time. It`s been quite a week for the masochistic tendancy among the Saints supporters. Last Saturday, the team were in front away at Watford only for the home side to snatch a dramatic winner in time added on. On Wednesday, a dull 1-1 home draw against Colchester, including an own goal from Saints` Rudi Skacel, gave at least hope that rock bottom may have been reached and that the only way was up. Not so - although performance wise yesterday saw an improvement, nevertheless victory again proved elusive.

It`s ok for Martin Luther King - he`s not a Saints fan. If he was, he would understand that the extreme disappointments suffered in recent years have all but rendered hope redundant for the wellbeing of the club I have supported for the past 60 years. Relegation from the Premiership was bad enough - I actually believe it was avoidable had we not gambled on the managerial skills of one H. Redknapp, currently once more managing our fierce rivals down the M27 - but the recipe for decline mentioned above has been in full swing since that fateful day when we lost at home to Manchester United and fell through the trap door.

Yesterday was another in a long line of disappointments and it may prove to have been a disappontment too far for me to continue to make the effort of the 250- miles round trip, the time, expense and nervous energy involved in being a Saints fan living in Kent. It`s depressing.

And yet, in two weeks time, when West Bromwich Albion come calling at St. Mary`s Stadium and I have the chance to see good friends again, enjoy the atmosphere of the occasion and rekindle my `infinite hope,` will I really be able to resist the temptation?

Friday, September 21, 2007


This is the Bournemouth International Centre, Bournemouth, scene of next week`s Labour Party Annual Conference. And a very nice venue too. I`ve only been there once before which was some years ago when one of my sons was working on a Simple Minds gig.

Straight away, of course, I am struggling to escape the appropriateness of ascribing `Simple Minds Gig` to the events of the coming week, but that may be a tad unfair on Jim Kerr and his combo buddies.

However tempting it may be, rather than launching into rantland about the qualities of each political party, I just want to have mini-rants about two aspects of the whole party conference thing, so bear with me.
The first is this. We taxpayers pay handsomely for our MPs` salaries, generous allowances, goldplated pensions and all the other perqusites associated with life in the mother of Parliaments, so it`s not unreasonable for them to be at their workplace, say, 48 weeks of the year like the rest of the working population. Instead, what do we find? They take long breaks at Christmas, Easter, even half-term time when schools are out but especially they take almost three months away from their Parliamentary desks during late summer, which extends into the Party Conference season and beyond.

I`m not convinced that each and every one of our elected representatives actually `works from home` during these long breaks or that they all slavishly attend the conferences. I have some suspicions that even if they do, then their contributions may be limited to simply being there....and perhaps, like me, wondering why.

However, on to mini-rant two. I see that the Dorset Police are mounting a £5.3million security operation, `Operation Pegasus` (where do they get these names from?) which will involve 400 Police officers, over 100 civilian staff and nearly 200 security staff hired from a private security firm - all to provide security for the conference delegates and the public visiting the town during the week. Dorset burglars please note.

The effort is enormous and the cost exhorbitant but I can`t blame Dorset Police for that - they have a job to do and I`m sure they will do it well. The justifiable concerns of local taxpayers have been headed off by the Government announcing that these costs will be met `from a Government grant from the Home Office.` Phew, what a relief, cry the good folk of Dorset. But hang on....`Government grant` equals taxpayers` money - the Government have no money of their own; it`s all ours. And I cannot see why I should have to pay for the security of people who choose to join a private organisation which is what a political party is. I`m content to pay for the protection of `the general public` but I`m distintcly unhappy that the private club of the Labour Party is not footing at least some of the bill for their own protection at their own annual get-together. After all, if football clubs pay for police presence, then why not political parties?

Now, wthout wishing any harm on anyone, nevertheless something in my quest for value-for-money hopes that there might, just might, be a little more to Operation Pegasus than arresting poor old Wolfgang for daring to question the policies of his political chums.

Rant over.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


As recorded in earlier pages on this blog, I have had a lifelong love affair with football. You will have noticed my regular reports on the fortunes of Southampton FC, who my Dad first took me to The Dell to see in 1947 (Southampton 4 - Derby County 2.)

Ever since I can remember, I have played football, my first experience aged about 5 taking place on the field that led across to Kings Copse off Hampton Lane in Blackfield, when I was introduced to the concept of `marking` opponents. I did not disappoint!

After a seriously undistinguished playing career, spanning Platt FC, the Tenth Royal Hussars and Maidstone Dolphins as a box-to-box midfield playmaker with a good engine and an eye for a pass, resulting in a trophy cabinet consisting of two medals (both for being runners-up; show me a good loser and I`ll show you a loser,) my attention then turned to continuing an involvement in the game by becoming a referee.

I went on the course, passed the exam (which I suspect was designed to be passed, such was the shortage of referees,) bought the kit - little black suit, whistle, stop-watch, flags for linesmen, red and yellow cards, notebook and pencil - and off I went to embark on a refereeing career which seemed to mirror that of my playing career - undistinguished but hugely enjoyable.
(click to enlarge)

Refereeing in the local youth leagues and the local senior Sunday League certainly kept me involved with the game, kept me reasonably fit and, above all, provided a great leveller. At the time, I had a very responsible job with a staff of well over 100 and my working week was spent `directing the traffic` so to speak and generally being treated with courtesy and acquiescence by my colleagues. So, my weekend refereeing provided me with the experience of having my judgement and my parentage queried regularly throughout the 90 minutes of each game and being on the receiving end of some very inventive verbal criticism.
That process provided a valuable counterpoint to my working week. These days, my love affair with football continues but only from the viewpoint of a spectator. Nonetheless, I find it not to be in my nature to hurl abuse at players or referees - after all, the ones I spectate are infinitely more talented at it than I ever was. I just hope they enjoy it as much as I did.

Monday, September 17, 2007

(Our Social Correspondent reports)

Good sense and understanding on the part of his hosts saved Snopper from enduring the uncertainties of his first ever barbecue at a secret location deep in the Kent countryside yesterday afternoon.

Instead of the predicted charred remains of expired animals, a full, proper, traditional Sunday roast was produced, followed by a choice of two `puddings.` Displaying all the social graces for which he is known, Snopper took the chance to sample both, even though one of them (a peach amoretto) contained perhaps just a hint of foreign nationality. The world it seems, could yet indeed be his oyster...were it not for oysters being yet another in a long line of `no-no`s.`

Saturday, September 15, 2007


It seems hard to believe that it will be 20 years ago next month that the great hurricane of 1987 descended on southern England. Huge swathes of the country were affected, especially the part of the world I live in here in Kent. 23 people lost their lives and some 15million trees were destroyed.

A few days before the hurricane struck, I had been invited to speak at a conference in Ireland. I set off for Luton Airport and my first Ryanair flight quite oblivious of the dramas which awaited me. The first drama was to discover that, on arriving at Waterford airport, my baggage had not arrived with me.

Now, as well as my sharp suit, my luggage also contained the `visual aids,` slides and other presentational gimmicks designed to make my speech a memorable event for the 300 delegates to the conference. I was due on stage next morning, by which time my luggage had still not arrived. A frantic visit to a nearby shop replenished my `toiletries` so at least I looked well scrubbed.

Being the trouper I am, I simply had to stand up in front of the audience in my casual clothes and talk through my speech without the visual aids which would have given light, colour and added credence to what it was I was stumbling to say. I dealt with all the post-speech questions, narrowly avoided being booed off stage and breathed a sigh of relief that the whole thing was over.

Next morning, I awoke, turned on the radio and heard of the devastation that the hurricane had brought to southern England overnight. As high winds were still battering the UK mainland, there was some doubt as to whether Ryanair would make the return flight from Waterford to Luton but in the end they decided to risk it, no doubt partly out of a keen desire to see the back of me. We endured an interesting landing at Luton and I drove home to see the reality of the havoc wrought by the events of the previous night.


Three weeks later my luggage was finally returned to me, having been on a tour of European airports, with Vienna apparently being its final destination.

The hurricane was a once in 200 years event, but thanks to Ryanair those few days also saw any reputation I may have had for conference presentation blown away too. It is a matter of no surprise to me that I have never been invited to speak at another one....and I have never since dared to set foot in the Emerald Isle.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

SOMETHING ELSE I DON`T DO... barbecues. This picture tells it all really. Grown men trying to be all macho and masterful as they invade the mysterious and dangerous world of outdoor culinary art, whilst being looked upon indulgently by ladies who know a good cock-up when they see one.

`Real men` are supposed to be able to build their own barbecues and know how to cook bits of dead animals to perfection on them, whereas all they seem to achieve is the ability to dress up like complete twonks whilst scorching the outside of things whose insides are better left undescribed. As for me, I am happy to forego any pretence by not having a barbecue anywhere in my garden or knowing anything at all about cooking, which I am happy to leave in Mrs. Snopper`s experienced hands. Call me old fashioned if you want, I don`t care because I am indeed old-fashioned. So there.

All this could be about to change, however, as this weekend we have been invited to a barbecue by Mrs. Snopper`s brother and his highly skilled wife. It will be the first barbie we`ve ever, ever been to or had anything to do with, which confession is of itself testament to the affection we have for `family occasions.`

I just hope highly skilled wife will be in charge of everything when it comes to the cooking bit - not that I distrust my brother-in-law, just that I need to feel secure in the knowledge that I won`t need to rush to the DIY shop on the way home for a stomach pump. In my old fashioned way, having had the pleasure of sampling skilled wife`s excellent culinary skills in the past, I just know I will be fine if she does the barbecuing. However, just in case, we`ll take Henry along - he could do rather well out of it.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

About 120 miles from home is the World Heritage Site of Stonehenge and on any journey westwards it makes for a sensible place to have a pit stop.

There is a charge of £3.00 to park the car (refundable if you pay the £6.50 adult charge for a fenced off, close-ish up view of the monument) but seasoned travellers like myself avoid this charge by parking in the adjacent trackway, which just happens to be a public byeway and thus "open to all traffic."

There`s a gateway from the trackway into Stonehenge`s own car park and`facilities` area and I confess to having used those facilities for more years than I care to remember. They include a catering outlet and I recall on one occasion making an exhorbitantly priced impulse purchase of a plastic cup of warm mud and a rock cake (they seem to have adopted a neolithic catering theme in keeping with the surroundings.)

Years and years ago when our three sons, who are now all in their forties, were very young, it was then possible to park for free, wander up to the monument and have a `tactile experience` with the stones - I still have a photo of our boys sitting on one of them.

However, back to the facilities. I can imagine a neolithic planning meeting going something like this:-
Ogg : "Err, why don`t we include some loos just down the hill a bit?"
Ugg : "Good idea. I can see this place becoming very popular in years to come."
Ogg : "Yeah, and we don`t want people making a mess of our nice new temple or whatever it is, do we?. So we`ll go for it, yeah?"
Ugg : "Nice one, Ogg - I`ll get the lads on it right away."

Each time I stop at Stonehenge, I see visitors getting off coaches from Germany, Italy, France and all over the UK. I hear American accents and see scores of Japanese photographing everything in sight. What must they think of the `conveniences` available in this world-wide World Heritage Site? They are a disgrace - worse than that, they are an embarrassment - but if you live in Boise, Idaho or Council Bluffs, Iowa and you`re thinking of making the pilgrimage to see Stonehenge before you go to the great prairie in the sky, you might find a little consolation in the knowledge that you will be getting two ancient monuments for the price of one. Even so, `Buy One Get One Free` is hardly the way to sell such an international treasure.

Monday, September 10, 2007

SOMETHING ELSE I HAVEN`T GOT.... a passport. I had one years ago when work commitments made it necessary, but when it ran out I didn`t bother to get a new one.
Now, I`m sure people will tell me that I`m missing out by not seeing the world and they may be right, but for now at least I`m content to explore the highways, byeways and hidden treasures of our sceptered isle.
And what treasures there are. I have been to quite a lot of places in this country - I`ve visited the Lake Dsitrict, the North York Moors, the Yorkshire Dales, bits of East Anglia, all of the south and south-east and, of course, nearly all of the West Country, from whence I have just returned once again. I`ve even been to Wales (north and west) and enjoyed a memorable visit to Tresco, one of the Isles of Scilly.

I`m sure there are parts of the country I haven`t seen yet - the Welsh Marches, the north-east and I confess never to have set foot in the north-west, partly out of a revulsion at the images of Blackpool and the continued presence of Manchester United - and so I might just spend the next few years exploring the bits I haven`t yet reached. This should not be taken as a lack of ambition, more a deep appreciation of what lies within driving distance of home.
There is also, of course, the added advantage that, if you go abroad and find your surroundings distateful then I guess you are stuck with them. If you don`t like where you are in your home country, then you can move on to somewhere else or, if the worst comes to the worst, drive home again.
It may be boring to repeat myself, but having just come back from another week in Cornwall, I find it hard to imagine anywhere more picturesque, homely, easy or compelling than the places I have just seen and been part of for a brief while. Just look at this:-

(click to enlarge)

I guess the truth - for me - is that there are few places I would rather be and maybe that of itself is good enough reason not to bother with a passport, which I am reliably advised is becoming more `difficult,` given the introduction of biometrics and inside leg measurements.
I will happily forego such indignities for the sheer enjoyment of sitting on the Todden watching the evening sun sparkle on the clear blue waters beyond Cadgwith harbour. Just like this:-
(click to enlarge)
"Who could ask for anything more?"


A visit to St. Ives in Cornwall last week turned out to be, on the whole, a bit of a mistake. It`s a wonderful place of course - all sun, sea, picturesque scenery and startling light - but last Tuesday it was thronged with visitors crowding the narrow streets and, what made it worse, crowded too with cars being driven around and around seeking somewhere to park.

However, the visit was enriched by the discovery of a rather small, inconspicuous terraced cottage, bearing a plaque.

I always find plaques intriguing and I can`t resist checking them out and, on this occasion, I was not to be disappointed, for it turned out to be the cottage where Alfred Wallis had lived.

(click to enlarge)

Wallis was born in Devonport on 18 August 1855. Living from childhood along the south-western coast of England, he started life as a fisherman at sea from the young age of nine. It was only on retirement from the sea, around 1925, that Wallis began to paint. His chosen subject matter reflected his profession and surroundings and was limited to views of shipping and the sea. Wallis's poverty prompted him to work on whatever materials came to hand, including driftwood and cardboard

(This one - `Sailing off St. Ives` - is in oil on card laid on board: click to enlarge)

Wallis's complete lack of formal training meant that his vision remained fresh and untainted by traditional preconceptions of 'correct' draughtsmanship and perspective. This quality of immediacy and truth aroused the interest of progressive artists, in particular Ben Nicholson (1894–1982) and Christopher Wood (1901–30), both being members of the artistic colony who chose to work in the crisp light of St Ives. Despite recognition and admiration from artistic circles, Wallis's work did not capture the public's imagination during his lifetime and he died in poverty in Madron Workhouse near Penzance on 29 August 1942.

Since then, of course, his works are considered to be priceless....oh, yes, and his cottage can be rented for holidays (at the right price, I imagine.)

(click to enlarge)
Given the traffic and the crowds, I doubt I will ever return to St. Ives in late summer...but at least I have caught up with an artist of singular character.