Thursday, February 28, 2008

By John Geek, Technology Correpondent

Despite the gentleman on the right of our picture stoically holding his own, other executives at the Nokia mobile phone company are pictured congratulating themselves on hearing the news that Snopper has finally succeeded in sending about three text messages.

Some years ago, Snopper inherited a clapped out Nokia from grandaughter Sarah, who continually moves on to more advanced models. I have reported in the past about the struggles Snopper has had in making and receiving phone calls on his mobile, so it is a real pleasure to report that, at long last, the art of txting is drawing ever closer to joining his technological repertoire.

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(Snopper`s dodgy phone)

A few weeks ago, Snopper managed to send a brief text to his friend and confidante, the redoubtable Itchen Sitter. After many hours of painstaking effort and incurring considerable thumb ache, the message read:-

"Dr. Itchn Sttr. Hope u get this. Snppr. xx"

From those early, hesitant beginnings, he managed to send his third text yesterday to check on arrangements for a meeting on Saturday. This text was much more erudite and called for a reply from said Itchen Sitter, which was only secured by means of a late night phone call. However, one problem has emerged overnight. As well as sending the message to its intended recipient, it seems Snopper has also inadvertendly sent it to ace vet, Dave Cocker, at the Newnham Court Veterinary Surgery. It`s clear that Snopper has a lot to learn.

My rection to all this was simply to ROFLMFAO, if you get my drift.

It remains to be seen what, if any, response is received from the vet`s office.....but it`s highly unlikely that Dave Cocker will appear at 1.30pm at M. Hulot`s Patisserie on Southampton Town Quay on Saturday. But you never know - as time goes by, stranger things will surely happen in the madcap, unpredictability of Snopper`s newfound texting world.

Monday, February 25, 2008


In years gone by, it was said that people paid their taxes in sorrow and their rates in anger. And in those days of yore the rates we paid covered just about everything - drainage, police, fire and rescue as well as the `normal` Council services. These days, there are seperate charges for drainage, police, fire and the cumulative bill for all these things keeps rising.

Be that as it may, recent reports suggest that the division between sorrow and anger has been blurred, giving rise to a feeling of contempt among taxpayers. And it seems to be directed at most - if not all - layers of `authority.`

Now, I suppose it`s worth saying that in the context of the vast budgets and expenditure incurred by public bodies, the `allowances` paid to elected members is probably very tiny, so what`s all the fuss about? Well, it`s pubic money, of course - yours and mine - and I for one do not take kindly to being taken for granted or having my intelligence insulted. It might be one thing for MEPs, MPs and local councillors to be regarded as little more than self-serving chancers - however inaccurate that may be - but quite another when the one person who really should be above all that turns out to have pushed the rules of propriety to their limits.
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Let`s just say that it appears that Speaker Martin has a lot of explaining to do. But since he has already refused to publicly disclose aspects of MPs allowances, has appointed a bunch of cronies to look into the whole business and saw fit to hire (at public expense) a £2,000 a day PR man (who has now had the grace to resign,) the damage to the office and to himself has already been done.

And it doesn`t end there. I was shocked - just like Captain Renault - to discover over the weekend that members of the European Parliament have £3,000 paid directly into each of their bank accounts each and every month to cover `expenses.` They don`t have to produce any receipts for this £36,000 a year - just trouser our cash. No wonder the EU is another of my pet dislikes.
Finally, coming closer to home, I was intrigued by the recent revelation concerning payments made to local councillors. Here`s an interesting table showing the average allowances paid to councillors in England in 2005/6:-
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It all adds up to a large bill for taxpayers. But it also adds up to something arguably more damaging. The politics of envy, of which I might have been accused, have been overtaken by the politics of contempt. And, as that feeling grows among an increasingly disgruntled electorate, that is much more serious for public confidence in our fragile democracy.
Someone needs to get a grip....but I`m not holding my breath.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

.....we`re not used to a show of passion, commitment and caring. George Burley rarely made it to the `technical area,` never mind barking instructions from the touchline.
Still, Nigel Pearson`s promptings had some effect as Saints clawed their way back from 1-0 down against the 10 men of bottom-of-the-table Scunthorpe to snatch a late equaliser thanks to a mystifying penalty decision by the officials.
Glad to see you got your right leg out of the Lucozade crate, Nige, but something is clearly causing you some pain. Maybe the realisation of the task you`ve taken on?

Thursday, February 21, 2008


On the one hand, you could say that I have been partly responsible for leaving a trail of destruction behind me. On the other hand, it can equally be argued that in some of the places I have `resided,` my leaving has led to significant improvements in the nation`s housing stock.

For example, the cottage in which I spent most of my boyhood was quite old when we moved in in 1946. It had originally been built in 1735. As soon as we moved out, the cottage, along with the one next door, was snapped up, promptly demolished and the site transformed into the testing facilities for Sir Christopher Cockerill`s hovercraft development. In turn, that facility had its day and the site then gave rise to a `nice` housing development going by the name of `Sir Christopher Court.` The good news is that I am still able to wander through a small park, down to where our back garden ended, and enjoy once more the view across Southampton Water:-

(Erstwhile back garden - please click for full effect)

Next, our brief time at Kidbrooke in south-east London was spent in a rather distinctive art deco pub called the Dover Patrol. Guess what? Yes, it`s now a rather `nice` housing development going by the name of `Dover Patrol` (such originality!) Pity really, as the pub had a good deal of architectural merit, but when did that stand in the way of progress?

("Dover Patrol" - nice)

My next contribution to housing demand took place through my professional career. Almost my last job and arguably the pinnacle of a long and undistinguished career was spent working out of a big shed on a disused airfield - such a claim to fame! The shed is no more and has been replaced by a rather `nice` block of apartments named Guys Court after, I`m sure, Guy Gibson the wartime Air Force hero who commanded the squadron which operated out of the airfield in question.

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(Guys Court - nice too!)

I think you must agree that Guys Court is a great improvement on the shed pictured at the top of this page and so my claim to have improved the environment, however involuntarily, in so many places is not without foundation.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008


It was all of 50 years ago when I used to go to Charlton Athletic`s Valley ground to watch games like the one pictured above, which shows legendary goalkeeper Sam Bartram and centre-half Derek Ufton combining to rebuff a challenge from Wolves` Roy Swinburne. (Click on photo for larger image.)

My uncle and aunt had a pub at Kidbrooke (the `Dover Patrol`) and my parents and I lived there for a while - in between moving from the shores of Southampton Water to the Garden of England - so that my parents could learn the ropes of the pub trade themselves.

They were great days for Charlton who had huge crowds to watch their home matches in the old First Division. I still recall the names of some of the players of that era - Billy Kiernan, Jock Campbell, Gordon Hurst, Benny Fenton and a number of South African players such as John Hewie, Stuart Leary, Sid O`Linn, Eddie Firmani.

Twenty years on and I went back to the Valley to see Maidstone United play an FA Cup third round tie, which ended 1-1, I think, but was memorable for the fact that two of Charlton` players - Derek Hales and Mike Flanagan - were both sent off for fighting each other!

(Scott Wagstaff)

Now, in the street where I live - just a few doors down the road - there is a charming and athletic family, whose middle son just happens to be the captain of Charlton`s Under-18 team. Scott Wagstaff has recently been awarded his first professional contract with Charlton and us locals are all very pleased for him and his family. There`s the old saying `it couldn`t happen to nicer people` but it`s absolutely true in this case.

Moreover, years ago I helped form Larkfield Boys Football Club (see and perhaps the star player to emerge from those grass roots days was Damien Matthew, who went on to play for Chelsea, Burnley and Northampton before injury cut short his playing career. Nowadays, Damien is the coach of Charlton`s Under-18 team, which Scott captains, so there`s a lot of `personal` interest for me in following their fortunes.
(Damien Matthew)

So, on Tuesday evening I eschewed the chance to see Southampton`s home game against Plymouth and for the first time in 30 years or so went along to the Valley with friends and neighbours from our street to watch Damien and Scott`s team play Swindon Town in the fifth round of the FA Youth Cup. Scott scored twice in an impressive 5-1 win which puts Charlton into the quarter final next Wednesday, when they will meet Sunderland.

It`s good to see local boys making good and I suspect I had a more entertaining evening than was evident at St. Mary`s, where Saints lost at home for the eighth time this season as the crises deepen throughout my once proud club. But at the end of the day, that`s football.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Yes, folks, in what might seem like a panic attack, Saints have appointed Nigel Pearson as their new manager in a knee-jerk reaction to the debacle of Saturday`s surrender to Bristol Rovers.

Nige comes with a useful track record - see for more details. But what attracts me to his appointment is his reputation for instilling discipline and fitness into teams - both are qualities that have been sadly lacking at Southampton for too long.

Nigel is not the sort of character you would wish to encounter in a dark alley, I suspect....and if this photo of him is any guide, then he seems to have the passion and commitment we need. If only he could get his leg out of the crate of Lucozade. I`m all for giving him a fair chance to make his mark in what will be his first full-time managerial appontment. I just hope the St. Mary`s faithful will show some patience towards him, for there is an awful lot to do and not much time to do it.
So, welcome, Nigel - you could be just what we`ve been looking for.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Sometimes, the picture tells it all. This is one of those times. Once again, in front of a world-wide tv audience, my beloved Saints let down themselves , the club, the city and the fans bigtime with a `performance` of startling ineptitude. I keep thinking that we`ve reached rock bottom, only to see us slip even further.
(However, I`m told by those close to the boardroom that changes will be made tomorrow. About time too. They can`t come quick enough, or be deep enough.)
I`ll leave the picture above to sum up my feelings today.

Friday, February 15, 2008


Back in October (see label below) I reported on the devastating fire in my boyhood village, which caused extensive damage to one of the country`s most historic naval vessels, HMS Medusa (pictured.)
Experts and a team of dedicated restorers had feared for the future of the former gunboat when fire ripped through the workshop in Hythe. The vessel was in the middle of a top-to-toe refurbishment when the flames took hold. Priceless engines and pieces of furniture have gone forever, but the vessel has been saved.

A £1m Heritage Lottery funded project to restore the ship and return her to public display on the Solent's waters is now back in full swing at Hythe Ship Yard. Medusa will be back to her former glory by the end of the year. It has taken weeks for volunteers on the project to sift through the remains of the building and salvage anything worth saving.

Medusa's three original engines - including the two main engines that weighed 3.5 tons each - that were nearly fully refurbished were badly damaged. One was destroyed beyond repair and the other two are being rebuilt at a cost of £70,000 to £80,000. Original furniture from inside the ship, along with period timber and countless fittings also went up in flames last October.

When Medusa is restored to her former glory, there will be a rededication ceremony in Poole, where she was first built. She will then return to her Southampton base and will take visitors onboard to teach them about life during the Second World War.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


Just a couple of miles away from me is the village of Ryarsh. It`s a pretty typical Kentish village with its cluster of cottages, church, post office, shop, school and a few larger houses. The only sadness is that the village is now sawn in half by the M20 Motorway, which plunges through Kent on its way to the channel ports.

One of the larger houses is The Old Vicarage (pictured above,) which is a pleasing Victorian house set in its own generous grounds but now separated from the village centre thanks to the M20. I have driven past The Old Viacarage on countless occasions and have noticed some kind of `inscription` on one of its imposing gate posts. I`ve often wondered what it might be, so yesterday I stopped and took this photograph:-
If you click on the photo, you might just be able to make out that it `commemorates` the fact that one Lambert P Larking was vicar of Ryarsh from 1830 to 1868, that he was the founder and first Secretary of the much respected Kent Archaeological Society but - most impressively - seemingly responsible for translating the Domesday Book. Sounds like an all round good egg, our Lambert.

Not a lot of people know that. And neither did I until might just inspire me to be on the lookout for some more obscure facts which lie hidden hereabouts.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Mrs. Snopper doesn`t `do` flying or, for that matter, sea travel either. She has never had a passport and mine ran out about twelve years ago. I haven`t bothered to renew it. My last excursion to foreign climes was to Portugal in, I think, 1994, when I went to stay for a few days with our youngest son who was teaching in Lisbon at the time.

Since then, our holidays have always been in the UK - just England really, although I concede that Cornwall should perhaps be viewed as outside the realm. And it was during a stay in Cornwall - just up the road from Penzance - that I finally got Mrs. S. airborne. We were staying in a cottage which was owned by someone who worked for the company that flies the helicopters between Penzance and the Scilly Isles and he told us all about the wonderful time that we could have by taking the flight to Tresco for a day. So we did.
(Tresco with Bryher beyond - click to enlarge)

And it turned out to be not just a day to remember but also an eye-opener to the paradise island that is just a short flight away from the mainland across just 26 miles of the Atlantic. After we landed, we started on our exploration, walking from the landing field along to the settlement of New Grimsby.
From there we continued up the coast to Cromwell`s Castle, overlooking Bryher across the channel, around the north point and back along the other side of the island until we reached the Abbey Gardens, pictured below:-
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In all of the UK, it is perhaps impossible to find anywhere which resembles a tropical paradise quite as much as the Abbey Gardens on Tresco. We were blessed with gorgeous weather, which helped, but the scenery, the views, the peace and quiet, the complete absence of any motor vehicles and the unhurried way of life all left a lasting impression of still, quiet beauty in idyllic surroundings.

Now, I`m quite sure it isn`t always like that, but for that one day at least we were privileged to discover a part of these islands that convinced us that it might not be necessary to get those passports after all.
(The BBC are currently showing a 12-part series, "An Island Parish," which chronicles the lives of Scillonians through the eyes of the Islands` Chaplain, Father Guy Scott. As ever, the BBC have produced an excellent website to accompany the series; is well worth exploring too.)

Sunday, February 10, 2008


Queens Park Rangers came visiting yesterday. They have recently been bought by a combined trinity of Bernie Ecclestone, Flavio Briatore and Lakshmi Mittal. Together they have a combined wealth in excess of £400trazillion. As Mittal alone is the world`s fifth richest man, Rangers must now be richer than Chelsea.

So no surprise that they spent heavily in the recent transfer window and came to St. Mary`s yesterday to secure a 3-2 win over Southampton to avenge the 3-0 drubbing we handed out to them at Loftus Road back in September. Yesterday`s scoreline does not reflect the events of the afternoon, however. Saints scored in the first minute and again in the last. In between, Rangers were gifted each of their three goals by defensive blunders of almost heroic proportions. But, that said, Rangers were the better team and deserved their three points, so I can have no complaints on that score.

My real concern is the contrast between Rangers` fortunes and those of Saints. As things stand, we have no manager, we have no investment on the horizon, we have got rid of our best players to assuage the bank manager, crowd numbers are dwindling, we have now lost seven games at home - more than we have lost away - and there is the growing prospect of yet another relegation as we slip to 18th in the league. In short, someone needs to get a grip and soon otherwise the drift into obscurity, if not oblivion, will simply carry on.

Consolations? Another good day out in glorious sunshine, meeting with good friends, whose company I enjoy and value and visiting old haunts. There is, of course, always the wonder of seeing events like this:-
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Yes, the Liberty of the Seas - just one of a growing number of cruise ships drifting in and out of Southampton docks - caught on camera just off Hythe Pier. You just don`t get scenes like this at Loftus Road.

But perhaps the greatest consolation is that it is now absolutely certain that Saints will not be promoted back to the Premier League, which has - thanks to Richard Scudamore - again shown its contempt for the game`s traditional supporters. The Premier League has become a caricature of itself - nothing more than a money-grabbing self-parody which more and more alienates the `true fans.` It calls them `customers` and talks in terms of `market,` `brand` and `product.` If it wants to strut the world stage, then maybe it should be allowed to do so and leave the rest of us to enjoy proper football played in our own backyards.

Friday, February 08, 2008

This is the view from the garden of Efford House overlooking the estuary of the River Erme on the Flete Estate in Devon - where much of `Sense and Sensibility` was filmed (the Ang Lee one, not the recent BBC one.) Another place I`ve often visited and enjoyed.
Now, I`ve been around for nearly 70 years but I can`t ever remember such glorious weather this early in the year. Birds are singing their heads off in my garden, buds forming on the garden plants, the grass is growing and Spring bulbs are blooming already. It`s just wonderful.
I just hope it lasts a while longer - the forecast for the `next few days` is for this early Spring weather to continue here in deepest Kent at least. Beyond that, who can tell? I`m not at all sure that it can be put down to global warming, because northern parts of the UK - north-west Scotland in particular - are having it pretty bad.
But if the warm, sunny weather we`re having down here is anything to do with global warming, then I`m afraid it suits me just fine. The winter blues - my usual SAD state for this time of year- have all been banished and even if we get a bit more winter in the weeks to come, it isn`t going to last long and dampen my spirits.
Global warming? Bring it on.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

This is the reception area at Newnham Court Veterinary Centre where Henry, our Golden Retriever, gets all the attention he could wish for from ace vet Dave Cocker.

Now, here in my Kentish village, there are about eight or ten Golden Retrievers who meet most mornings and take their owners for walks through the local fields and woods. Some of these canine friends are class acts - they do agility training and go to shows and things. One of them was in a formation team at Crufts last year. But most of them - like Henry - are just good friends who go through life without the need to `perform.`

(The early morning meeting - click to enlarge)

However, one of the happy breed has been responsible for an outbreak of kennel cough (coffus kennelius) which has, one by one, swept through the rest of the gang. We really had thought that Henry might have escaped infection, being the oldest and slowest, but a couple of nights ago, he started coughing his head off and he feels very sorry for himself, viz:-.

So, yesterday saw yet another visit to ace vet Dave, who prescribed a cocktail of pills and advised rest and no contact with other dogs for some days - go back and see Dave in a week`s time. Rest isn`t a problem for Henry - he `does` rest very well, but he`ll miss seeing his friends each day and I`m sure they`ll miss seeing him.
(cough, please...)

Of course it means that Mrs. Snopper and I will also miss our daily walks, so I`ll have to find some other form of exercise to maintain my sylph-like persona. I`ve a nasty feeling it might be shopping.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008


This was the scene yesterday as the westerly gales swept over the harbour wall at Lamorna Cove in Cornwall. (Click on photo for larger image.)

Lamorna is another of my favourite places in the ancient Kingdom of Kernow. It`s a bit hidden away down a narrow lane which follows the Lamorna valley down to a cluster of houses, a cafe and the harbour, which was built for the transportation of granite quarried from the cliffs along this part of the coastline.

It`s very different in summer, of course. The car park gets pretty busy, although we`ve never really had a problem finding a space. Apart from the scenery and the `atmosphere` of the place, Lamorna`s greatest attraction has to be the cafe, which serves the most formidable cream teas imagineable. I had one once, but had to admit defeat. The cream tea won.

A word about the photographer. Charles Winpenny lives at Pool, which is half way between Redruth and Camborne, under the lea of Carn Brea. Almost every day of the year, he ventures forth to take photographs of Cornwall and post them on his excellent website - . Here`s another one he took of Lamorna yesterday, showing the aforementioned cafe, deserted in the winter storm:-

(click again)
The notice containing the Government Health Warning about the cream teas seems to have been taken in for the winter. I`m sure Charles won`t mind me nicking a couple of his photos but, just to show what Lamorna can look like in the summertime, here`s one I took a couple of years ago:-
(and again....)

An idyllic scene, so different from the stormy days of winter. And yet, given half a chance, I would have enjoyed being there yesterday, feeling the power of nature, breathing in the bracing air and maybe, just maybe, being grateful that the cafe remained closed.

Saturday, February 02, 2008


It`s that day again - 4th February. And each time it comes around, it brings back memories of the day 48 years ago now when I was conscripted into HM Forces, arriving on cue at Catterick Camp in North Yorkshire to take up residence in Bourlon Barracks, home of the 4th/7th Dragoon Guards.

As the training regiment, they would attempt to turn me into a soldier throughout the following three months. And they met with some success, for, after a while, I found I could turn left and right and even turn around. Mind you, I needed to be shouted at in order to do it.

Now, the illustration (above) shows the National Service performed by the Women`s Land Army during WW2 and I have every admiration for the work they did. But it was all voluntary, of course. No conscription here, although I agree that the `encouragement to join up` must have been considerable.

I was very pleased to see last week that those heroic ladies had at last been awarded a medal for the service they performed for the country during those difficult times. Thoroughly deserved. But it was all voluntary, of course. No conscription involved.

Contrast that with the plight of us National Servicemen, who were simply yanked away from our day-to-day lives into at least two years of military service, whether we liked the idea or not. Now, I have to say that my own experience was `mixed` - I made friends then that I still have to this day and I saw parts of the world I might never have done. But, it was 731 days forcibly taken out of my life and I`m not sure I have ever forgiven HM Gov. for that.

So, I agree with the national campaign currently being waged to award a badge or medal to the National Servicemen to recognise the part they played in the service of the country, especially given the sacrifices they made in campaigns such as Malaya, Kenya and the Middle East.
As things stand, they and their families can, of course, purchase one from an enterprising medal manufacturer for the princely sum of £30.50 + VAT. It`s only redeeming feature is that it retains an image of Britannia, which will shortly be removed from all UK coinage after 300 years. If HM Gov. can make decisions like that, then I don`t hold out much hope for the postman turning up with something for me. So I may have to consider legal action for the psychological damage I feel sure I must have suffered as a result of conscription and which plays no small part in the ramblings which you see on these pages.

Friday, February 01, 2008


Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly turned up today at the site of the A3 Improvement Scheme at Hindhead in Surrey. She wanted to mark the start of boring work on the main tunnels under the village and the nearby Devil`s Punchbowl. The whole scheme is costing £374million and will take three years to complete but it will bring an end to the one and only bottleneck along the whole of the A3 between London and Portsmouth. (You`ll forgive me, I`m sure, for not speculating as to why on earth anyone would wish to go to Portsmouth - at least voluntarily.) At 1.8km, the tunnel will be the longest land tunnel in the UK.

Now, the Devil`s Punchbowl is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and very pretty it is too. But it`s hardly a World Heritage Site. So how come this multi-million pound scheme can get the go ahead, but a tunnel which would help preserve the integrity of Stonehenge doesn`t even get off the drawing board?
(Hindhead tunnel might look like this)

I`m sure the good folk of Hindhead will be pleased with the final outcome of their scheme, which I would not deny them, but it does raise an unfortunate sense of priority on the part of Ruth Kelly and her ministerial colleagues. Never mind, Ruthie - have another glass of champers and hope UNESCO won`t notice.


The last day of the January transfer window saw two of Saints` highest wage-earners leave for pastures new. Both Grzegorz Rasiak and Rudi Skacel were alleged to be getting £12,000 a week and, given the parlous state of the club`s finances, it`s hardly surprising that steps need to be taken to keep the Bank Manager a bit happier.

Both players have gone on loan until the end of the season - Rasiak to Premiership outfit Bolton and Skacel to Hertha Berlin - with the prospect of the deals becoming permanent. In their own idiosyncratic way, they were both `interesting` players. Rasiak is a gifted goalscorer but that`s all he does - stick the ball in the back of the net - but he adds little to the workload of the team. Skacel can play....when he feels like it, which hasn`t been too often of late.
(`bye, Rudi)
So, off they go and whilst at first glance the squad of players available to our currently non-existing manager may appear diminished, I suspect that these departures represent a shrewd move both financially and in terms of morale. They leave some room for others to step up to the plate, play for their places and leave complacency behind. Possibly. We`ll see.