Wednesday, December 31, 2008


So, 2008 drifts off into the sunset, like a ship leaving on the evening tide. I guess it must be a function of getting older - to look back rather than to look forward - but I have to confess to viewing 2009 with more than a hint of trepidation. Next July, I reach the dreaded three score years and ten and I`m a bit morbid about that. You see, despite all my grumpiness, which sometimes may verge on the brink of intolerance, about the world around me, I really would like life to go on forever.
It won`t, of course, so I had better make the most of the years I have left. Chin up. Look on the bright side. Always someone worse off than you. Those who trot out the platitudes might be right. After all, 2008 was - how shall I say? - `mixed.` We lost Henry after his long illness, which meant the cancellation of two holidays as he wasn`t well enough to make the journey. Weatherwise, I`m not sure we had a summer....but we sure are having a winter. The wider world continued to disappoint - wars, famine, poverty, credit crunch, greed - all the usual suspects which will keep me posting in the year ahead.
But I enjoyed the Olympics, especially Rebecca Adlington and the wonderful Ellie. I enjoyed, as always, the cricket season. I mourned the loss of Paul Newman and Sydney Pollack. I railed against the excesses of Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand, the EU, Premiership football and politicians. I enjoyed my dreadful golf, which continues to reinforce my innate stoicism. And I have valued still, the company of good friends and the pride I have in my family.
So, in this my last post of 2008, I wish you well for the year to come. And hope that, after all is said and done, the world is as kind to you as it has been to me. I may be nearing seventy but, as it says at the top, `Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be.` That`s right....isn`t it? Please tell me it is.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Fed up with the fortunes of Southampton FC going from bad to worse, the fightback has begun with the birth of no less than 14 babies in the City`s Maternity Hospital on Christmas Day. That`s a full team along with three substitutes.
The surge is clearly a reaction to the last gasp escape from relegation nine months-ish ago; and it represents a determination to equip the City and its football club with sufficient assets to mount a determined bid to reclaim the Premiership status for the Saints in about 20 years time. I doubt I will be around to witness it, but it`s something for my children and grandchildren to dream about.
Our picture shows baby Gavin Houldsworth, weighing in at 6lb 11oz, in the arms of proud Mum, Sharon and Gavin is already kitted out with his baby Saints outfit, no doubt already bearing his squad number on the back.
Today was a day of good news and bad news for long suffering Saints fans. A crowd of 20,000 saw the team draw 1-1 with promotion hopefuls Reading, which represented the good news, as we didn`t lose. The bad news is that this result has dumped us next to bottom of the league and, with the worst goal difference in the league as well, Saints are now odds-on candidates for relegation. So, grow up fast, Gavin and get that left foot working. The hopes of a city rest on your young shoulders. No pressure then, Gav.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Happy Boxing Day, everyone. Hope you all enjoyed Christmas Day yesterday and are none the worse for it. Here in Snopperland, we had a very quiet day, the highlight being Mrs. Snopper`s most excellent Christmas dinner, the remnants of which we also enjoyed today. We heard from our three sons in various parts of the world but our small village seemed overcome by a sense of lethargy. Nothing moved. No-one about.
Today, we have taken Barney for a ride in the car, to try and get him used to travelling. It seems to be working. We visited a couple of Garden Centres in the hope of buying one or two vital necessities, but they were both closed. Can`t blame them really, after all even shop staff have to visit the sales.
So today is Boxing Day and it seems to be passing in the same blaze of indifference as yesterday. But it got me wondering about the true meaning of Boxing Day and, after painstaking research, I think I have discovered the definitive authority on all things concerning Boxing Day. This was put together by the pupils and staff at Woodlands Junior School, here in Kent:-
So, well done to them and thanks for bringing some meaning to an otherwise dull and quite forgettable day. And yet, maybe because of, rather than despite all the lethargy, indifference and comotose peacefulness of days like this, I`m left to wonder whether we would not all be better off if every day might be the same.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

At 11.00am this morning, just two days after the shortest day and one day before Christmas Eve, the Annual General Meeting of Southampton Leisure Holdings plc took place at St Mary`s Stadium. Now, I have been a shareholder in said company for some years and a while ago, I received all the stuff giving notice of the AGM and inviting me to attend. I was sorely tempted to take up the offer, but today is one of the busiest of the year on the roads and, as I live 120 miles from Southampton, along with the `pressures` of the festive season, I didn`t really think I could get to the meeting in time, never mind get home again afterwards.

Pity really, as early reports suggest that it was a lively affair with 99% of the assembled gathering vociferous in their condemnation of Chairman Rupert Lowe`s stewardship of the company which owns the football club. Quite right too. For it is Lowe who, through mismanagement, appalling decision making and an arrogance that he is never wrong, however high the evidence stacked against him to the contrary, has brought the football club I have supported for over 60 years to the brink of annihilation. We currently sit just one place above the relegation zone to the third level of English football but, even more worryingly, we also sit perilously close to administration, such is the state of the club`s finances. Nothing to do with the credit crunch. Everything to do with Chairman Lowe.


It`s one thing to support a football team for years on end, through triumphs and disasters, through ups and downs and through all that time to `keep the faith,` for it is my team, my club. On this day five years ago, Southampton were in fourth position in the Premier League, competing with the best, winning more games than we were losing and going on that season to reach the FA Cup Final, when we were narrowly beaten 1-0 by Arsenal. Since then it has been a spiral of decline both on and off the field of play.

And the dark shadow that has loomed over St. Mary`s Stadium - and loometh still - has been Rupert Lowe; responsible for not consolodating our position when he should, responsible for some staggeringly awful managerial appointments (Steve Wigley, Jan Poortvliet anyone?) responsible for frittering away the millions received for such diamonds as Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale and a host of others and now refusing to see that his tenure has failed us once again by doing the honourable thing and resigning. He won`t, of course. Too much arrogance for that.

So, whilst supporting my club for all this time has been one thing, it is quite another to be reduced not only to despairing at the state of my club but actually ceasing to really care very much any more. Enough has been more than enough for some time and all I can do is hope that the events of this morning`s fiery AGM (which included one malcontent throwing 30 `pieces of silver` at Chairman Lowe) might just be the catalyst to bring about an enforced change, whether Lowe likes it or not.


As it`s Christmas, I won`t wish Rupert any ill as a person. I just want him to go. Quickly, quietly and finally, so that the dark shadow might at last be lifted.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

4.3 million years of human development. Men on the moon. Secrets of the atom and the universe revealed (even though the jury`s out as to whether there are things smaller than quarks or whether we`re just part of an infinite number of universes.) For all the 4.3 million years, we still have a lot to learn.
So when you look around the world today, you begin to wonder about the state of human development after all these years. Zimbabwe. Darfur. Iraq. Afghanistan. Baby P. Rhys Jones. Credit crunch. Woolworths. Wayne Rooney. The list goes on.
And while this mayhem is all around us, we`re invited to tune in this evening to the final final (possibly) of Strictly Come Dancing, which seems to be a populist candidate for the apex of human achievement. Well, they can`t even get the voting right (reminds me of the EU and Ireland.) As a bystander to the nonsense of today`s world, I will give my apologies for declining the invitation to tune in so I can concentrate on more pressing matters. And I don`t necessarily mean this afternoon`s six-pointer when Saints take on Nottingham Forest at St. Mary`s.
We do indeed have a lot to learn, so no wonder I am overcome by a feeling of despair. The one bright spot on this gloomy horizon is the fact that tonight is the longest night of the year and tomorrow the shortest day. A corner will have been turned, but it may be the only one?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

It`s reported today that the BBC has been fined £95,000 for running unfair competitions on two radio stations. Industry regulator Ofcom imposed the penalty for "serious" breaches of its code in shows broadcast on Radio 2 and BBC London.
The BBC invited listeners to take part in phone-in competitions in pre-recorded programmes that were broadcast "as live" when it knew they stood no chance of winning.
The regulator fined the corporation £70,000 over editions of the Dermot O`Leary Radio 2 show broadcast between June and December 2006. And it ordered it to pay £25,000 for breaches in Tony Blackburn's BBC London programme between December 2005 and December 2006.

The BBC must also broadcast a statement of Ofcom's findings on both the stations.
Ofcom said: "The BBC invited listeners to enter these competitions at the time of the broadcasts, in the full knowledge that the audience stood no chance of either entering or winning. However, it was noted that these competitions were not run for profit. Ofcom also recognises the extensive steps the BBC has taken to ensure future compliance in this area."
So, the Beeb has once again incurred the wrath of Ofcom, who have again done little more than slap wrists even after two or three years of considering the offences.
I`m intrigued, however, as to how the licence-payer stands in all these fines being handed out. If I`ve got it right, the BBC is financed by the licence-payer, so it follows that, if the BBC has to cough up fines, then it`s the licence-payer who ends up paying them? Seems very unfair. I suggest the BBC sends the bill to Jonathan Ross.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Well, seven-weeks old Barney (above) took up residence with us here this afternoon. He`s spent quite a time exploring some of his new surroundings and has already sampled violas, pieris and the occasional herb - I`m going to have to move all the pots from the patio so they`re out of harm`s reach. I`m not sure whether Barney is in more danger eating the plants or the plants are in more danger from being eaten.
He`s had a bit to eat and a couple of sleeps but I feel a bit sorry for him, as since he was born he has had the company of at least a dozen brothers, sisters and in-laws in the two litters at the breeders and now he only has Mrs. Snopper and myself for company. He`ll feel a bit lost for a few days, so plenty of tlc will be in order.
Tomorrow`s excitement will be taking Barney to see ace vet Dave Cocker for a check-up and his first injection. We feel part of the furniture at the Newnham Court vets, as Henry went there every week for seven months before he left us exactly a month ago today and it will be good to introduce Barney to the caring environment at Newnham Court. I think they`re looking forward to meeting him - maybe they won`t charge too much :-(

Monday, December 15, 2008


I confess that I missed seeing the BBC Sports Personality of the Year show last evening, but I did stay awake long enough to learn that this year the award went to Olympic cycling triple gold medalist, Chris Hoy. I think I`m right in saying that Lewis Hamilton came second and Rebecca Adlington third. Maybe the runners-up should have been in reverse order, but there`s no doubt that Chris Hoy`s achievement was such that, in any other year, the winsome Rebecca should have won it hands down.
The good news just went on though. For example, relegating Hamilton to second seemed appropriate for someone who scooted off to his Swiss tax haven as soon as the money rolled in, thus reducing his `personality` appeal. It was also refreshing to see that even with a choice of ten sports men and women to choose from, not one of them was either a footballer or a cricketer - our two, so called `national games.`
I have no problem with cricketers, apart from their ability to lose quite a lot, but I was encouraged by the rejection of footballers, whose lifestyles, riches and arrogance have all conspired to alienate them and, sadly, the game itself from the discerning among its hithero afficionados, myself included.
I really do not wish to introduce a note of cynicism into my approval of Chris Hoy`s award, but I did notice a report yesterday that the whole of the cycling fraternity was being actively encouraged to vote for Mr. Hoy, thus enhancing his chances of success. Shades of Zara Phillips? And I hesitate also to draw a distinction between sports achievement and sports `personality,` which is what the award is called. But it does raise questions, as some of the candidates are distinctly lacking in any kind of engaging personality - the mumbling, grumpy Andy Murray springs to mind.
But enough of that, for there is no doubt that Chris Hoy deserved the award and since he also has the bonuses of a pleasant disposition and the ability to speak very well in public, there are no complaints from me. At least not this year.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Over the next day or two, a summit of EU leaders is taking place in Brussels. Reports suggest that there are two and a bit topics for discussion - the financial crisis and climate change being the two and.....the EU Constitution/Lisbon Treaty allegedly being the bit, although it isn`t hard to imagine that the last item on the agenda is arguably the most important in the minds of those delegates seemingly determined to plunge us into a European State, never mind what `the people` may think.
Back in the summer, Ireland voted `No` to the Lisbon Treaty. At least they had a vote and conducted it according to the rules, but ever since there have been dark mutterings in the EU leadership as to how and when the Irish can be bushwhacked into voting again and, this time, coming up with the `right` answer.
Now, there are those who approve of the Lisbon Treaty and those who, like the majority of the Irish, oppose it and each point of view is legitimate. For me though, the issue isn`t so much what the Treaty/Constitution contains (although I confess to a preference to be `governed` by my own country) but more the denigrtation of the democratic process that has been a constant feature of this long-running saga.
To begin with, they wanted a new Constitution, which was rejected in referenda by the French and the Dutch. Next move - repackage the Constitution but this time call it a Treaty, but containing basically the same provisions as the original rejected document. The Irish voted against it, so under the EU rules, the Treaty/Constitution should have fallen. Meanwhile, here in the UK, we were promised a referendum of our own in Labour`s pre-election manifesto last time round. In comes Gordon Brown (unelected either by the Labour Party, never mind the rest of us) and decides not to have the promised referendum after all, presumably on the same principle that he decided against having a general election to legitimise his Premiership, which was that he knew he would lose it.
And so it goes on. There are reports today that `the Irish are prepared to hold another referendum.` No, they`re not - it`s the Irish politicians led by the unfortunate Brian Cowen who are. Poor Brian has been browbeaten something rotten over the last few months by the EU leadership and no doubt dire threats have been made should he not go along with agreeing to another referendum, quite irrespective of the decision his own voters took last summer.
Putting the issues within the Treaty/Constitution to one side, I just hope that, when the Irish come to vote again, they give it another thumbs down, for the whole business goes against the fundamental principle of democracy. And that principle is so much more important than the words of any contrived, compromised EU document. It may be an inconvenient truth for the EU, for Cowen, Sarkosy, Merkel, Brown and the rest of them, but the people of at least three EU member countries have already said `No.` And it is their voices which really matter.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

This is how the House of Commons looks when the Members of Parliament are not `sitting.` Which is quite a common experience. The Leader of the House, Harriet Harman, recently announced that MPs will have no less than 24 days off over the Christmas period. Moreover, other reductions in the `sitting time` for MPs now means that they will only be present in the Commons on 150 days next year - the lowest since records began.
I have mixed feelings about this. Firstly, as a taxpayer paying their salaries, expenses and burgeoning allowances, I`m not sure that 150 days out of 365 represents good value for my money. On the other hand, given their antics when they are in the House, perhaps the less they are there, the better. Maybe I should be grateful for small mercies.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Went to visit our new puppy today. We`ve had loads of suggestions for a name for him, but we`ve settled for `Barney,` which has connotations with where we live and also his (very fancy) pedigree name. In the couple of weeks since we first saw him, he`s gained a lot of weight and is doing so well that we will be able to bring him home a bit earlier than we first thought. So, on Wednesday week, Barney will take up residence with us, which we are looking forward to. Quite what Barney makes of it, only time will tell, but one thing`s for sure - he will be a very welcome addition to the golden retriever population of our village.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Well over 18 months ago now, we spent a week on holiday at Praa Sands in Cornwall. And very nice it was too. After a few days, however, my watch packed up and I felt a bit lost without it. I had had it for quite a while and I guess the battery just gave up, but I couldn`t complain about the good service I had had from it.

A day or so later, we found ourselves in the village of Mullion, well known for its cove and dramatic coastline. It was a boiling hot summer day and we were ready for an ice cream. So I parked in the village car park, alongside which was a kind of general store which promised to sell just about everything. It had an Ice Cream sign outside, so in I went, only to be told that their freezer had conked out, so there were no ice creams available.
But what they did sell was watches, so I bought one - for £6.00, including nice bracelet. It`s still going now after all that time and is keeping perfect time as well. Now, a few days ago, we were in the Bluewater Shopping Thingy on a mercy dash for Mrs. Snopper to buy some stuff she wanted. Off she went, leaving me to wander around the bookshops until the appointed time for us to meet up again. On my wanderings, I happened to stop outside a posh jewellers shop, which displayed a formidable array of equally posh watches. I can`t remember the names, but Lewis Hamilton`s face was much in evidence and the `standard` price seemed to be over £2,000 and climbing. I saw one, for instance, which was priced at £23,000 and it occurred to me that, for all that outlay, the time being shown was precisely the same as that shown by my £6.00 Mullion special.

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Maybe I`m missing something, but I truly cannot see the point of spending £23,000 on a watch to tell the same time as one which cost £6.00 and is still going strong. And what`s more, Mullion was a much more agreeable shopping `experience` than Bluewater will ever be. Even with a broken freezer.

Friday, December 05, 2008

So, Roy ("Keano") Keane has resigned as Manager of Sunderland FC, allegedly by txt msg, citing the fact that he had `taken the club as far as he could.`
Now, there are a number of things to complain about so far as Keano is concerned, but there are two episodes for which I will never forgive him. The first was the unprovoked and quite deliberate assault he bestowed on Manchester City`s Norwegian defender Alf Inge Haaland, which not only brought an untimely end to Haaland`s career but also displayed, as the picture (left) shows, Keano`s true colours as a mindless bully. Rather than showing any semblence of regret or concern for Haaland`s condition, `Keano` is shown leaning over his victim, shouting verbal abuse to accompany the physical.
The second was when Southampton played Manchester United in the last game of the 2004/5 season, which United won, consigning Saints to relegation from the first tier of English football after an unbroken stay of 27 years. At the end of the game, as the players trudged off the pitch, `Keano` took it upon himself to make a point of waving goodbye and giving an exaggerated `thumbs down` to the distraught Saints fans. A small-minded gesture from a small-minded man.
And now he has run away from Sunderland, the club which gave him his first ever chance of `management.` And so I wave him a virtual goodbye and extend a virtual thumbs down for yet another public display of flawed character to go with all the other tantrums he has displayed over the years. In his day, Keane was a driven, battling, midfield scuffler - useful qualities to possess in the captain of any team - but, as was once said of Field Marshall Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, he may have been a very successful general, but also a very unsuccessful man.
What goes around has indeed come around for `Keano` - and maybe we have finally seen the back of him.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

There are a couple of things in life that terrify me. One is snakes, the other is dentistry. Both morbid fears stem from very nasty experiences in my early years. So, I don`t go anywhere where there might be snakes and I keep away from dentists as much as possible.
However, time has caught up with my choppers and the time has come to finally sort them out. A couple of weeks ago, I managed to `source` a very nice lady dentist named Louise and the preliminary skirmish I had with her confirmed what I had long suspected. I need some serious treatment. Starting tomorrow and spread over the next few weeks, I will have to endure an extraction, a filling, some root canal stuff and then some impressions for some new sooper-dooper, high-tech, state-of-the-art, ocean going choppers which I`m assured will transform my persona. And it sure does need transforming.
Can`t say I`m looking forward to it, but it has to be done. Just hope it`s over and done with by Christmas, so I can tuck in. In any case, I only have myself to blame for not facing up to my demons before now. So wish me luck. I`m convinced of two things though; I`m sure the tooth fairy doesn`t really exist....does she? And it serves me right for being nasty about `Sir` Alex Ferguson the other day.
But as I write, news has come in that Seve Ballesteros is undergoing a fourth operation to drain fluid from his brain tumour. Which leaves my problem as little more than a minor inconvenience.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

As you can see from the photo, us codgers didn`t think much of November. It was, in truth, a month to forget really with loads of bad news. On the personal front, of course, we lost Henry after all these years and although there will be the new kid on the block before Christmas, losing Henry was a very difficult time.
But let`s look at the wider world beyond the confines of our Kentish village and what do we see that November brought? Well, here are just a few of the depressing events:-
- Credit crunch hitting home with people losing their jobs and homes being repossessed;
- Child abuse cases such as the Shannon Matthews case, the dreadful events surrounding the daughters of the family in Sheffield and, of course, the Baby P case, where it was announced this week that `for legal reasons` sentencing will not now take place until next Spring;
- the human tragedies played out in Mumbai, Bankok, Nigeria and the continuing agonies of Afghanistan, Iraq, Darfur and the rest;
I could go on - the list is almost endless - but you get my drift.
And just when I begin to breathe a sign of relief that November is almost done, it is reported today that `Sir` Alex Ferguson has declared that the thought of retirement has never entered his head. And so we will be left with the mumbled rantings of this charmless oaf until he decides otherwise. No wonder we look grumpy.
BREAKING compound the felony, my beloved Saints have just been drawn at home to Manchester United in the 3rd round of the FA Cup. You couldn`t make it up!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Our Golf Correspondent reports
After a three week absence from the fairways, Snopper resumed his golfing career today at Hever Castle. Spurred on by a fervent desire to go out and hit something, Snopper played a lone hand on the Princes course, as he found himself without a partner for his round. Hardly surprising really, for partnering Snopper must surely be an experience either to be endured by the foolhardy or faced with no small measure of dread by those willing to indulge him.
So, off he went on his own and he seemed to play quite well, probably due to the absence of any distraction from a playing partner. As he was playing by himself, he omitted to keep a record of his round, which is just as well, since he was keen to take advantage of the absence of prying eyes by having another go if his tee shots were wayward and declaring to himself that his putts were near enough to the hole not to bother.
However, one result of this lone encounter was to confirm that, as is written in the rules of golf, a lone player `has no standing on the course.` How true. Snopper`s niche achieved at last.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

We have found over the years that the best thing to do when we`ve lost a dear friend like Henry is to go and get another retriever puppy as soon as we can. It`s one thing to have lost Henry but quite another to also have lost the `lifestyle` that he brought - the walks, the meetings with friends, those daily routines around which his life - and ours - was built.
So, Mrs. Snopper has been busy on the internet in the past couple of days and has managed to `source` the little chap you see on the right from an excellent golden retriever breeder just a few miles away.
We visited today and fell in love with this one, four weeks old, seems laid back, placid and very loveable - just like me - so we have done the deal and look forward to him moving in with us round about 20th December. We`ll pay him a visit or two before then to see how he`s getting on; and to see if he`s awake!
The only thing is, we have to decide on a name for him - any suggestions?

Friday, November 21, 2008

We have always admired those people who train puppies to become guide dogs but have always felt that we would find it impossible to part with them after spending anything up to 20 months training them.
On Tuesday evening, there was a knock on the door. As soon as I answered it, I knew it was a gentleman from the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association (GDBA.) How did I know? Well, he had a large sash over his ample chest reading "Guide Dogs for the Blind Association." At that very same moment, our very poorly retriever, Henry, was lying in the lounge struggling to contain his heart problems which, as you will have seen, finally overcame him the very next morning.
"Good evening, Sir," said ample gentleman, "sorry to disturb you, but I wonder if you have ever thought of sponsoring a puppy to be trained as a guide dog?" We signed up there and then as a small but honest gesture to Henry`s memory.
It was the first time we had ever been directly approached by the GDBA.....and what a time for it to happen. Mysterious ways indeed.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

This is post number 347 on this blog....and quite the most difficult I have had to write. After over nine years of devoted loyalty, we finally had to say goodbye today to our beloved Henry. He was more than a faithful friend, he was part of our family and part of the community here in our village.
People who don`t own dogs - and especially Golden Retrievers - probably find it hard to understand just what it means to lose a dog who has been part of our lives for all that time. We will miss him and the walks and the meetings with friends both human and canine and the routines by which Henry led his life and ours.
It`s a sad day, but after seven months of struggle, the dilated cardiomyopathy finally took its toll and Henry left us peacefully this morning in the tender care of ace vet Dave Cocker. All we can do now is look back to all the good times we have had with Henry and all the places he has been with us - beaches he enjoyed at Woolacombe, Daymer Bay, Loe Bar, Lelant, Crow Point and many more; woods at Huntshaw, fields at Cadgwith, country Devon lanes, high Cornish cliffs and countless haunts in this part of Kent. He had a good, happy life and we are left to look back on what he has meant to us, what he has given us and the memories of those nine years - his unfailing devotion, his gentleness and his tolerance.
As I said before - it ain`t easy.....and it hurts.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

OK, so you`re a bit short of cash and you decide to buy something on an instalmant plan. The deal is that you pay for it over a period of time and, when the payments have been made in full, you don`t have to pay any more.
Sounds fair? Well it should be. But not in this part of the world. The Dartford Crossing carries traffic across the Thames between Dartford in Kent and Thurrock in Essex, as part of the M25 Orbital road. The original two-way Dartford tunnel crossing was completed and paid for years ago. But then along came the QE2 Bridge, which carries traffic from the Essex side back to Kent. The deal was - once the cost of the bridge had been paid for by the imposition of tolls on motorists using the crossing, then the tolls would be abolished.
The bridge was paid for in 2003. But the tolls have remained. What`s worse is that, yesterday, the toll charges were increased for motorists from £1 to £1.50 each way - a rise of 50%. And even more if you drive a heavy goods vehicle. These dishonest decisions have been made by HM Gov. on the curious principle that, by keeping the tolls and increasing the charges, then the traffic will become more `manageable` with less congestion clogging up the crossing and the approach roads. So it`s a congestion charge. What they mean is that they have found yet another excuse to break the promise made all those years ago.
Now, there are countless arguments as to why the tolls should be scrapped completely, as originally promised, especially as from now on there will be no charge to users of the crossings between 10pm and 6am. I can imagine the queues of stationary and slow moving traffic building up just before 10pm, determined not to enter the toll booths until the appointed hour, along with the corresponding rush to escape before 6am.
But for me at least, the tolls have the effect of dissuading me from ever going near the crossing unless it`s really necessary, which is only once in a blue moon. It`s not the charge itself, but the principle of the thing. I just don`t like being charged again and again for something I`ve already paid for. And in any case, the attractions of Essex are such as to make me think twice about going there anyway.
HM Gov - 1 : Snopper - 1 (after extra time,) I guess.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Well, here we are again with another seven hours of Children In Need taking over the BBC tonight. Now, don`t get me wrong for this week of all weeks there is ample reason to give to a charity which seeks to improve the lot of disadvantaged children.
And I will. But it won`t be Children in Need. Instead, I have made my donation to the NSPCC, who go about their fundraising quietly, persuasively but with dignity. A far cry from the antics which will take over the tv screens this evening as a succession of `celebrities` vie with each other to see who can cause the most embarrassment, both to themselves and those who can bear to watch it.
You see, I object to being pressurised, harrangued, feeling that I must contribute just to make them shut up. Far better to take a more relaxed, informed approach and put your money where it really is going to do most good without being shouted at. There is, indeed, another way.
Rant over - for another year.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


In my boyhood days at Hythe on the western shore of Southampton Water, I used to spend a lot of my time sitting just where this picture was taken from. At the bottom of what was then our back garden, there was a sea wall and just out to sea - where the new apartment block is now - were the large, black hangars used for the maintenance of BOAC`s flying boats.

In those days, in the late 40s and early 50s, Southampton Water was always busy with the big passenger ships coming in and out of Southampton Docks - the Union Castle liners, the Lusitania, Mauritania and the Queens; the Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary both majestic and unforgettable. I used to sit there and watch the bows of one or other of those two great ships nudge its way into view from behind the hangar. The rest of the ship would take its time to come into full view, seemingly filling the skyine with its huge elegance. They were lovely ships, the original Queens. Elizabeth was the larger of the two but Queen Mary was my favourite, with her flowing lines and three funnels.

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The first Queen Mary

Queen Mary is now replaced, of course, by Queen Mary 2 and the original Queen Elizabeth was replaced by the QE2 which last evening bid her own goodbye to her home port before heading off to Dubai to become, like her sister ship, a floating hotel. QE2 was given a memorable send -off last evening as she pulled away for the last time en route to her final destination, a fitting tribute for a ship which had docked 726 times alongside her own Southampton terminal.

It`s 60 years ago since I used to sit on that sea wall and these days, when I go back to Hythe and take in that view once more, the great liners are, of course, few and far between, having been taken over by the cruise ships which, whilst impressive for their size and their design, somehow lack the elegance and style of those ships of long ago. Now also, there are the mammoth container ships, in and out of the Millbrook container port, which have no pretensions of elegance but nonetheless manage to possess a certain presence about them. You wouldn`t argue with them, that`s for sure.

QE2 bids farewell

Things change, of course and the march of time goes on. But, as with the original Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary, this latest farewell to another great liner left me with more than a tinge of sadness not only at the memories of the ships of my youth but also the passing of time itself. It sure does fly. The ships may come and go, but their wash and the waves of Southampton Water will still lap upon that friendly shore which I still call `home.`

Monday, November 10, 2008

On a day when, once again, the business of professional football has come in for justifiable criticism, it`s timely to reflect on the chasms which exist between the established players and those making their way in the game.
Players these days seem to fall into one of three or four quite distinctive categories. The superstars playing for the top teams in the Premiership - Roanldo, Terry, Fabregas, Gerrard, all `earning` £100,000 a week or more. The `bad boys,` also receiving sums out of all proportion to the value of their characteristics - Barton, Bowyer and today`s villain of the piece David Norris. Then the legions of journeymen, many with limited talents, some with greater potential but by and large honest professionals who form the backbone of many a club up and down the land. A prime example is Rory Delap, once of Carlisle, once of Derby and once of Southampton, who paid a club record fee of £4million to secure his services. He now plies his trade for Stoke City, back in the big time and good luck to him, for he was in many ways a model professional for Saints, doing his job, keeping his counsel and leaving on good terms.
And then there are the youngsters, trying to make their way in an ultra competitive industry, where the margins between success and failure, between riches and poverty, between adoration and indifference are so small and can quite easily rest on fortune - injury, form, the manager`s opinion. One such youngster is 18 years old Scott Wagstaff (pictured above,) whose supportive family live just a few doors down the road from me. He has been with Charlton Athletic since the age of eight and has matured through their academy and youth teams, where he captained the under-18s in a compelling FA Youth Cup run last season. Since then, he has played for the club`s reserves and made a handful of appearances for the first team.
He recently had a month long loan spell at Bournemouth, where he not only enjoyed the experience of regular first team football, but also the experience of living away from home for the first time. A change of manager at Dean Court saw Scott return to Charlton, but he has now gone on another loan deal for a month at Northwich Victoria in the depths of Cheshire and the relative seclusion of the Blue Square Conference. A learning experience if ever there was one. But we all have to go through it - testing times in strange surroundings and I`m sure Scott will emerge stronger, wiser and more ready to compete in the scamble that is his chosen profession, which is not always about abundant fame and untold riches. It`s quite often about hard graft, dedication, sacrifice and the whim of fortune, which I hope will smile kindly on a young man making his way in the world.

Friday, November 07, 2008

I think I`ve mentioned before about blogging and the various reasons that drive people to do it. My reason is simple - it gives me the chance to be self-indulgent and express my whimsy, my likes and dislikes in a way which is never intended to cause offence but which allows me to get things off my chest - if only to myself.
Now I try - my God, I try - to avoid being just a grumpy old man with a sack load of chips on my shoulder....but sometimes it`s not easy. Occasionally there are things which gladden the heart and lift the spirit, but more often I tend to go on about things which I find annoying. And it seems the BBC gives rise to more annoyance than most other things - even the fortunes of Southampton FC. In recent weeks, we have had the furore over the Russell Brand/Jonathan Ross fiasco, the revelation of inflated salaries paid to too many `executives` and a recent grumble of mine about the enormous amount of staff and resources which the BBC ploughed into their saturation coverage of the American Presidential election.
Late last night, I watched `Question Time,` which mercifully came from London rather than Washington and at the end of it I really thought that the Obama business might at last have taken a back seat. I should have known the BBC better. After each weekly edition of `Question Time,` another programme comes on called `This Week.` It`s a fairly light weight political prgramme, lasting into the early hours of the next morning and is inhabited by Andrew Neill, Michael Portillo and Diane Abbott, MP - see photo of the three of them above, looking understandably smug.
You see, the BBC being the guardians of licence-payers` money, saw fit to screen last night`s edition from.....New York (it might have been Washington, but it was most certainly America. You could tell because Jerry Springer was one of the guests.) Lots of `whys` about this. Being late at night, the audience must be `limited.` Being lightweight, it can hardly be described as serious political analysis. Why go to America to put on an edition which, Springer aside, was no different from those produced over here? Why was Diane Abbott there anyway, rather than being back home looking after the interests of her constituents - after, all, Parliament hasn`t long been back from its 13-weeks away? What did all this cost in travel, accommodation, etc. for the `presenters` and the production team?
I`ve written to ask the questions. My track record of getting replies from the BBC is dreadful, so I`m not expecting to hear from them in a hurry. But perhaps my biggest problem with them is that they seem continually to do things which are a waste of `our` money; they are never wrong and, what`s worse, they constantly provide me with opportunities to switch into grumpy mode when I`m writing these pages despite my earnest desire to be nice all the time. It`s not for the want of trying. Honest.
Just don`t get me started on `Strictly Come Dancing`. Please!!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

In a week naturally dominated by news from America, it`s good to hear reports from Spain that `Seve` is making good progress following a second brain tumour operation. It seems he is at last breathing unaided and has been able to speak with members of his family. I hope his progress is maintained.
Yesterday, I played golf again. Just nine holes on a damp, drizzly afternoon at Hever Castle. It was a bit muddy in those many places I visited off the fairway, but the course was in good condition; no winter tees or temporary greens and my golf was - as always - eccentric, unpredictable, but hugely enjoyable. Sport should be about enjoyment and the only criterion that should really matter is whether you enjoyed the game. Well, I did, but it left me thinking that for all my golfing inadequacies, at least I was able to swing a club and walk the course. Just for once, I felt more privileged than Seve who I hope will one day be able to swing a club of his own and walk a course once more.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

This is the queue winding its way up and down the Embankment, as BBC staff await their travel instructions for the Good Old US of A.
Yes, folks, it`s US08 time when Obama and McCain slug it out to see who is next to be the leader of the western world. And an event like this would not be the same without the BBC wall-to-wall coverage, which started a while ago and will go on for some time yet.
The BBC have a permanent staff of about 50 based in America and one would have thought that might be sufficient to report on this event for the folks back home here in the Good Old U of K, especially as they are all experienced broadcasters, led by the excellent Justin Webb. Not so.
The BBC have sent another 125 people to boost their presence in America to 175. Compare this with the 15 or 20 being sent by ITV news and the 40 for Sky`s 24-hour news service. OK, the BBC have radio as well as tv to cover, but I do wonder if it really is necessary for such overkill as `Question Time` coming from Washington and for Huw Edwards to go simply to read the news. He did the same in Beijing, where 437 BBC staff attended the Olympics (more than the GB Olympic team) and it made not a jot of difference to the news of the day, which could and should just as easily have been read from London.
Oh, well, it`s only other people`s money.

Monday, November 03, 2008

There are reports today that councils are banning staff from using Latin words in documents or when speaking to `the public,` as such words or phrases are considered elitist or discriminatory.
Personally, I`d rather maintain the status quo, but both Bournemouth and Salisbury have, inter alia, been mentioned as introducing the ban in a bona fide attempt to make council speak more understandable. Prima facie it might be a good idea, if only pro tem, but it might be better to be introduced on an ad hoc basis. I suggest Bournemouth Borough Council may be the biggest culprits here; after all, they have a Latin motto - Pulchritudo et Salubritas - beauty and health. Maybe they should change it to health and safety.
Cogito ergo doleo - I think, therefore I am depressed.

So, Lewis Hamilton squeaks home in fifth place in the Brazil Grand Prix to clinch the driver`s championship at the tender age of 23. There seems to be nationwide jubilation about this with large sections of the populace having paroxysms of ecstasy that we have yet another hero.
But hang on a second. The `sport` of motor racing itself must surely be the most overhyped, overblown, environmentally-hostile, serial tedium ever invented. And let`s not forget that, as soon as he could afford it, Lewis upped sticks and emigrated to the tax haven of Switzerland. At the time, I grudgingly accepted that his decision to move abroad had absolutely nothing to do with his financial concerns. Instead, I readily accepted his own explanation that he was forever being pestered for his autograph each time he stopped by at Tesco`s filling station to get some petrol for one of his cars.
So while the rest of the nation goes bonkers, I will look upon Hamilton`s `victory` as a rather hollow one. The spectacle that is the BBC Sports Personality of the Year will doubtless be thrust upon us before long and doubtless too Hamilton will now become a prime candidate for the honour. However, for me at least, his `desertion`clearly puts him in the Andy Murray School of Celebrity, so I`ll be voting for Rebecca Adlington, who still lives in Mansfield and has the most enviable of carbon footprints.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Every few years, something happens that makes me thin that miracles might just happen after all.
I think it was back in 2002 when I had to go to Heathrow and, not being able to get to the game, I listened to the commentary on the radio of Saints game against Fulham in the Premiership.
Saints were 2-0 down after not very long and I almost turned the radio off in a fit of depression. However, me of little faith, for thanks to a James Beattie inspired comeback, Saints eventually won the game 4-2, which made for a happy homecoming. In 2004, we played Colchester and managed to turn a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 victory. And yesterday, away at Preston, Saints again found themselves 2-0 down at half-time.
Now, I don`t know where the inspiration came from this time, but I`m sure it could not have been the exhortations of Chairman Rupert Lowe, who has recently taken it upon himself to visit the dresssing room before the game and at half time to give the lads some inspiration -allegedly. And I`m pretty sure it could hardly have been Dutch coach Jan Poortvliet, whose managerial performance this season saw Saints slump into the relegation zone before yesterday`s game. But something happened to see Saints emerge as 3-2 winners, climb out of the bottom three and see Charlton - yes, Charlton - take their place in the drop zone.
I wasn`t sure I believed it when I heard the final score, so I waited to see it in the papers today. It`s true. It`s finally sunk in. Wonders never cease. This is either a turning point or merely the return of the miracle that happens every few years and which turns Southampton FC into the Brigadoon of world football. I`m off to find the heather on the hill.......

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

I hesitate to get into the furore surrounding the antics of Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand - for various reasons. The first is that I avoid watching or listening to Ross if at all possible. He can`t sing, can`t dance and he ain`t funny, so I see no point in tuning in to his programmes. As for Mr. Brand, I have never actually seen or heard him perform apart from witnessing his part in the recent anti-Manuel japes, which hardly qualifies me to comment on him either.
However, it seems that between them, these two have upset not only Andrew Sachs, his granddaughter and the rest of his family, but also a hefty chunk of the listening/viewing public, the Prime Minister, countless back bench MPs, almost the entire written press, Friends of the Earth, the Flat Earth Society and no doubt Joe Kinnear, who may now have to revise his own colloquial vocabulary for fear of being left behind in the colourful language stakes.
But I suggest that the `real issue` - if there is such a thing in something so banal - is that, like Ashley Cole at Wembley, Ross and Brand have long been perceived as overpaid, underwhelming, arrogant, laddish poseurs by a large chunk of the population who have now jumped on the opportunity presented to them to voice their disquiet at what the two of them represent. Quite apart from their anger at the Brand/Ross broadcasts, there is a simmering discontent at the hopelessly unrealistic money paid to them by licence fee payers who have no choice but to cough up.
As Ashley Cole discovered, one slip is enough to trigger the pent up frustration of a large slice of the audience and, now that they have been suspended by the BBC, both Ross and Brand may soon discover the consequences of an own goal of their very own making. Meanwhile, people are having their homes repossessed, people are losing their jobs, people are being killed in meaningless conflicts and Saints find themselves firmly in the relegation zone after last night`s draw with Coventry City.
Against this contextual backdrop of more pressing concern, would it really matter if Ross and Brand were `released from their contracts` and never heard ever again? Or Ashley Cole for that matter? Somehow, I doubt it.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

I have always felt that, like time being the most precious commodity, children are the most precious gift anyone can ever have. And the abuse and mistreatment of children is for me, therefore, the most outrageous and unforgiveable crime anyone can ever commit.
I heard on the news reports yesterday and had it confirmed in today`s newspapers of a case of the most tragic and dreadful death of an innocent 16-months old little girl at the hands of her brutish father. Little Amy Howson stood no chance against months of repeated onslaughts by her father, James, who was jailed yesterday for 22 years for finally ending Amy`s short life of unabated terror by snapping her spine across his knee. It`s almost unimagineable that such things can happen in our so-called `civilised society.`

There are few things in life that bring a lump in my throat and tears to my eyes, but this episode brought both, along with the twin responses of compassion and anger. Compassion for Amy, of course, and anger that her father will one day be free to walk the streets of this country again. I don`t mind confessing that I sometimes wear my heart on my sleeve and that this ghastly tragedy was one of those times. I defy you not to be equally touched and angry too. Sometimes it`s ok to let your feelings show. Especially where children are concerned.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Clocks go back an hour tomorrow night. Conjurs up thoughts of dark days, winter and discontent. There seems to be a lot to be discontented about right now, such as:-
- Economic downturn
- Rising unemployment
- Rising energy prices
- Seve battling with yet another operation today
- Halloween just around the corner
- Bonfire night
- Children in Need
- Saints going from bad to worse
The list could go on. I was told recently that my Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) which begins to kick in at this time of year, is no such thing. It has apparently been shown that this `syndrome` doesn`t actually exist but is merely an excuse for people - like me - to be miserable. OK then, I`ll try and turn one or two things into positives. Like the impending nonsense of Halloween. I`ve bought a bag of goodies just in case, but this year when my doorbell rings and I`m confronted by a gang of kids demanding, `trick or treat,` I think I`ll just say, `Can I have the treat, please?`
Saints have today sent their leading goalscorer, Stern John, off on loan to Bristol City until January. That makes three international strikers now on loan from Saints to elsewhere - Marek Saganowski to Aalborg in Denmark and Gregorsz Raziak off somewhere else. All apparently to reduce the wage bill and avoid administration, when all it will achieve is yet more relegation and further disenchantment among the supporters. I`ve given up, because there isn`t a bright side of St. Mary`s to look on any more.
A bit of good news is that Henry, our faithful retriever, is no worse. Yesterday`s visit to ace vet, Dave Cocker, revealed that a bit of the fluid around Henry`s heart has dispersed, which makes him feel better and so he is enjoying a bit of life at the moment. Trouble is, it`s a day-to-day thing and we know he won`t recover and we know he has reached the limit of his medication. As I have written this ramble, the sun has come out. Things might not seem so bad after all? Well, maybe.......

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

My next door neighbour is a good golfer. He has to be in order to buy clubs like the one shown above. He has treated himself to a couple of these Benross VeloCT ones - a driver and a 3-wood. And he has let me borrow them for my round of golf this afternoon at Hever Castle.
It`s perfectly obvious that he has never seen me play otherwise he might not have been so generous as to allow me to `run them in` for him. You see, my own golf equipment is a bit like me - old, scuffed around the edges, out of date, but still capable of giving golf balls a jolly good thrashing. I did enquire whether his new clubs were insured. He was non-commital but muttered something about an excess. All of which makes me wonder whether I shouldn`t leave them in the bag and revert to my own woods, which really are made of wood. They have helpful messages on like `This Side Up` and `Hold This End,` which seem to be missing in modern day golf equipment. I wonder why.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Yesterday lunchtime, the steel city derby took place between Sheffield Wedndesday and Sheffield United. It was a gruelling encounter, as most derby matches are and ended in a narrow 1-0 win for the Owls of Wednesday. Playing his heart out for the Blades of United, was James Beattie, once of Southampton, once of Blackburn, Everton and England.
After the game, Beattie made the long journey back to Southampton to take part in a charity fashion show at the Botley Park Hotel. The photo, courtesy of the Daily Echo, shows James and his wife, Sarah, on the catwalk, where they were joined, among others, by two other former Saints strutting their stuff, Francis Benali and Matthew Le Tissier.
The show raised thousands of pounds for the charity which helps sick children set up in memory of Sophie Barringer, who tragically lost her brave battle with cancer aged just six. James and Sarah Beattie are patrons of the charity after being touched by Sophie when she was a matchday mascot at St Mary’s Stadium.
After the event, James had to return to Sheffield to prepare for tomorrow night`s game against......Southampton, of course. But setting football to one side, what a pleasure it is to record the efforts of one player who went out of his way on a gruelling day to do his bit for a cause that has touched him, his wife and the local community so deeply. I suspect Beattie`s heart may still reside on the south coast but even so, his effort stands out as a beacon of hope in a profession which does not always endear itself. Pity he`s not still playing for us.


.....Well, they probably are if you`re one of our 658 Members of Parliament. It seems that while the real world concerns itself with the economic downturn, the threat to jobs, homes, savings, pensions and prospects, our MPs have been told they can now look forward to a 24-day Christmas holiday. Of course, they already have their generous salaries, allowances, expenses, subsidised travel, catering and all the rest and now their absence from Westminster from 18 December to 12 January comes on top of a 10-day break in February, a 17-day break at Easter, another 10 days at Whitsun and no less than 82 days for the summer recess.

Sour grapes? Maybe. But I do get a little tired of shelling out a small fortune in tax and not getting very much value for my money. There are exceptions, of course, with some MPs studiously working hard on our behalf, but that is no more than should be expected for the rewards of their office. I may have to include my own local MP in that exception, for an exchange of correspondence I had with him earlier in the year produced the assurance that, during the long summer break, he would be having two weeks holiday with his family but the rest of the time he would be diligently pursuing the interests of his constituents, myself included. So that`s alright then.

Now, there are those who may suggest that the longer MPs are away from Westmister, the better. And there are others - among them some MPs themselves - who believe they should spend more time there than the current holiday schedule allows.

But I wonder if an answer may lie in the notion that there are simply too many of them - do we really need 658? - and that if they are only sitting in Parliament for 150 days in the year, then maybe their self-awarded salaries and other benefits should be scaled down proportionately. Trouble is, they are the ones who decide and whilst some of them may indeed be turkeys, they`re hardly likely to vote for Christmas, especially as they`re not going to be there anyway.