Wednesday, April 30, 2008

My countdown clock shows there are only seven weeks to go until we reach the longest day of the year. So it`s not unreasonable to expect the weather here in deepest Kent to be warming up. But no. It seems that Spring is a little late this year and I`m left with the puzzle as to whatever happened to global warming. There`s little sign of it here, Maybe the protesters in the picture above should change their placard to read `Global Warming - Bring It On`?
Last evening, Henry and I struggled our way through the local orchards for our constitutional meander. We had to battle our way through a stiff wind and lashing rain and the blossom in the cherry orchard was being blown away. If anything, today is even more unseasonable.
A little global warming really wouldn`t come amiss.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


The last few days have shown up the differences in style between contrasting football managers. On Saturday, Manchester United lost 2-1 at Chelsea and, although they are still liklely to win the Premiership title, the defeat was a bit of a dent to their pride. Their manager, `Sir` Alex Ferguson, treated us to the predictable post-match rant when he seriously expected us to believe that the defeat was entirely the fault of the referee in awarding Chelsea an obvious penalty, but denying one for Manchester United.

Now, that reaction was nothing unusual for Ferguson, who truly believes that the rest of the football world is against him and his team (in which respect, he may be right) but his tantrums. his rages, his lack of dignity or graciousness in defeat and his snarling, charmless lashing out at match officials perhaps show the man in his true colours. As they say, you can take the man out of Govan, but you can`t take Govan out of the man.

Contrast that with the reaction of our very own Nigel Pearson who showed restraint, dignity and thoughtful reflection following the 1-1 draw at West Bromwich Albion on Monday evening, which left Saints still loitering in the relegation zone but with every intent of clawing their way to safety in the season`s last game against Sheffield United this coming Sunday. Nige reflects well on himself, the club and its supporters and is another reason why I`m glad I don`t hail from a certain part of Manchester.
And yesterday we learnt that Sven Goran Ericsson is to be dismissed as the manager of Manchester City, despite the progress he and his team have made this season and also despite the quiet dignity which he displays in representing that great club. Maybe he`s better off out of it - I can imagine little worse than having that shining example of human rights virtue, Thaksin Shinawatra, as my boss.

Last night, Manchester United reached the final of the Champions League. For once, I hope they win it, for that might just encourage Ferguson to quit while he`s ahead and in the process restore some much needed Busby-esque dignity to Old Trafford. It`s been a long wait.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

This is 18 year-old Scott Wagstaff. He, his Mum and Dad, his brothers and sister live just a few doors down from me. A delightful family, good friends and the success that young Scott is enjoying could not happen to a nicer young man or a nicer family.
So all of us who live in this quiet backwater in Kent, whatever our football loyalties might be, will be sending Scott our very best wishes today, as it`s probable that he will be making his first team debut for Charlton Athletic in their away match at Barnsley`s Oakwell ground.
Scott has been with Charlton for ten years, coming up through the ranks of their youth teams. This year, he captained the under-18 team to the FA Youth Cup quarter final. He has been a regular for Charlton`s reserve team and has been included in a few first team squads. Now that Charlton have missed out on their play-off aspirations, manager Alan Pardew is likely to give one or two of his fledgling stars a taste of first team action and it is believed that Scott will make his debut this afternoon - an event that will be celebrated here in our quiet cul-de-sac as much, if not more, than anywhere else where Charlton fans may be following their team`s progress.
Good luck, Scotty. We`re all proud of you.

Friday, April 25, 2008

JANE 2 - 0 SNOPPER (After extra time)

"Claire Tomalin has also written perhaps the definitive biography of Jane Austen - another of my all-time favourites perhaps for similar reasons to those of my affection for Hardy, for I also have an affinity with places like Steventon, Chawton, Bath and Southampton and I`m not sure I want to see myself questioning Jane`s reputation or her legacy. So maybe I won`t buy it?"
Well, that`s what I wrote back on 19th March in my piece called `EYES WIDE OPEN` about Claire Tomalin`s biography of Thomas Hardy.

Having now just finished Claire`s impressive biography of Samuel Pepys, I found myself browsing the shelves of Waterstone`s the other day and happened to spot her book on Jane Austen. I thumbed through it, thought twice about the risk of my perceptions of Jane maybe being diminished by reading such an authoritative biography, but in the end I went for it, along with Bill Bryson`s book on Shakespeare, which seems lightweight in comparison.

There are things about Jane Austen that have long fascinated me. Three things really. First, the books themselves, many of which have been brought to life by recent film and television adaptations - the best being Ang Lee`s treatment of `Sense and Sensibility.` Next, the locations - not just for the novels but also as the settings for episodes in Jane`s own life, for I know and appreciate places where she lived and which she wrote about.

Lastly, there was the tantalising prospect of an unlikely family connection. My mother`s maiden name was Austen (spelt that way - not `Austin`) and so there had been mounting speculation as to whether I might cop for some hefty royalties if only I could prove the lineage. Sadly, I can`t, so it`s 2-0 to Jane, firstly for making me succumb to Claire` book and, second, for probably not being a long lost relative after all. Never mind, I`ll enjoy reading it anyway and, who knows, Claire Tomalin may just have unearthed an obscure reference that I might just follow up. I advise you, however, not to hold your breath. I am not holding mine.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Please excuse the small amount of licence taken from Mark Knopfler`s song, but it seems appropriate, given the revelations about the non-disclosure of expenses claimed by Euro MPs.

The European Parliament came under mounting pressure last night to publish a secret report into the misuse of expenses by MEPs, which whistleblowers claim shows widespread abuse of taxpayers’ money. The few MEPs permitted to see the internal audit were alarmed after parliamentary officials said they had not called in EU anti-fraud investigators because they did not think it showed fraud.

The audit of 167 MEPs’ staff expenses found seven had set up private companies to pay staff who apparently did not exist and others employing unqualified family members or paying the whole allowance - a mind-boggling £11,710 a month to just one person. Moreover, the auditor found more than 20 Christmas bonuses hard to justify.
The report, which does not name any MEPs and is shrouded in secrecy, was drawn up by an internal auditor and can only be viewed by members on the budget control committee. So much for the taxpayer`s right to know how his taxes are being spent.

In what appears to be little more than a token gesture, there has been a recommendation that MEPs should no longer employ family members....although it is unlikely to result in any legal requirement not to do so. Just a recommendation.

There is a kind of greasy pole of authorities who seek to govern our lives, all of whom extort taxes from us. My local parish council has just raised it`s precept by a staggering 27%; then there is the local district council, the county council, the national government and now the European parliament. To their credit, local councillors` and national MPs expenses are now in the public domain, by and large, but it seems the European Parliament is reluctant to join in this openness. One wonders why. It seems that the higher the level of authority, the more money is extracted but the more the secrecy that surrounds it.

Now, it`s clear from my `Not So Keen On` list that the European Union is pretty high on my own personal agenda, so there`s no surprise in me picking up this latest example of the remoteness and arrogance of that institution. But you do wonder just how long it can go on.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


The home defeat by Burnley yesterday now see Saints staring into the abyss of relegation to League One, aka Division Three. It was one of those games. Burnley had nothing to play for - they won`t get relegated or promoted - and Saints had most of the play, including 18 goal attempts, 12 corners, hitting the post and all the pressure. But all to no avail. They were undone by a header from Burnley`s Steven Caldwell deep into stoppage time at the end of the first half....and never really looked like recovering, mainly due to a high degree of ineptitude in front of goal.

So, two really difficult games to go - West Brom away live on Sky tv (they do like their drama) and at home in two weeks time to Sheffield United. I predict the closing of an unfortunate circle, as I fully expect ex-Saints striker Kevin Phillips to score the winner for West Brom and ex-Saints striker James Beattie to score the winner for Sheffield United. I knew it was a mistake to sell them.

But it`s not all bad news. The playing surface at St. Mary`s Stadium has been voted the best in the Championship and the Saints fans have been voted the best fans in the Championship in a recent poll conducted by `NUTS` magazine. My joy is unconfined at such triumphs.
St. Mary`s Stadium
As I`ve mentioned before - nice stadium, shame about the football.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Analysis..from our Golf Correspondent
`Tiger, tiger burning bright,in the forests of the night.
What immortal hand or eye dare frame thy fearful symmetry?`

So wrote William Blake, who could have been writing about a certain Mr. Woods....but most certainly not our Snopper, whose return to the Poult Wood links yesterday saw his scores reduce yet again. The score for his round was down to a sobering 95 but perhaps just as encouragingly, the lost ball count was a mere two, as a result of flirting too closely with the ponds which abound the course.

Last week Snopper lost it big time over the last three holes. This week, despite the onset of a little weariness, he was determined to hold it all together (if you`ll pardon the expression) and finished par, par, one over for the challenging last three holes. A small gallery of schoolboys on their Easter holidays were witness to the final flourish on the 18th and whereas last week peels of laughter could be heard from the onlookers, this week there were nothing more than a few muffled guffaws.

Progress indeed, especially given the daunting nature of the course:-

Sadly, other commitments will prevent Snopper from playing again for another three weeks, but this will give him time to clean his clubs and reflect on where improvements might be made to his all-round game. I would suggest as a minimum that he takes a close look at his tee shots, his iron play, his chipping and also his putting.
He might also like to invest in some new golf balls, rather than continuing to rely on the `lake` balls retrieved some years ago by a now departed Golden Retriever named Rupert, who was especially trained for the task. Maybe the Kent Dyslexic Golf Ball Company (above) could help.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Not for the first time, I`ve e-mailed the BBC. This time, my concern was about the £27,000 paid to `Creative Director` Alan Yentob for `expenses` incurred over the last three years, in addition to his £300,000 annual salary.

The details of his claims are quite extraordinary with the bulk of the claims referring to meals with `celebrities` and BBC staff amounting to £16,830. Other claims include such items as `dry cleaning,` `evening dress` and `accessing e-mail while on location.` There was also a claim for £120 for a cake (!) and £25 for repairing a DVD player in his BBC car, £1200 on taxis in 2006 alone, £743 for `discussions,` a £90 lunch with an `opinion former,` £3.35 for a snack, 67p for a `prop` used in filming and 24p for a phone call.

At least the details are now in the public domain, which is unfortunate for Mr. Yentob`s reputation, for it`s not the first time he has been in trouble. In 2004, he was accused of ferrying his partner and children around in chauffer-driven BBC cars. The subsequent internal probe concluded that he took `insufficient care over some aspects of his affairs.`

Yentob's reputation became even more tarnished after it was revealed that his participation in some of the interviews for `Imagine` had been faked. Yentob has been warned not to do this again, but otherwise not disciplined, much to the disgruntlement of some who have seen more junior staff lose their jobs for lesser misdemeanours.
(Mr Smug)
So, time to write to the BBC and have a moan, I thought. I sent them an e-mail through their `proper channels` only to receive the standard acknowledgement along the lines of `your comments are important to us; they have been noted and passed on to the appropriate department.` Predictable.

The real trouble with the BBC is not only the compulsory licence fee and the arrogance and profligacy which that encourages in people like Yentob, but also - unlike elected bodies like councils or Parliament - there is no democratic comeback with the BBC. It really won`t do and it`s high time it changed. In the meantime, their `Creative Director`s creative accounting seems to go unchallenged. "Alan makes and presents arts programmes, many involving international figures, which includes a degree of travel and research." squawks a BBC spokesman. Yeah, right.

Saturday, April 12, 2008


Thanks to the generosity of good friends, I was offered the chance to go to The Valley to accompany them to watch yesterday`s brief encounter between Charlton Athletic and Southampton. This kindness caused me some anxiety, however, for it meant that I would have to sit in the Charlton seats. The horns of a dilemma confronted me.

On the one hand, I didn`t want to appear ungrateful for the very kind offer, which was genuinely appreciated. On the other hand, I had to ask myself whether, in the event of Saints scoring and taking an early lead (which they did) I would be able to sit on my hands and appear glum that the Addicks had fallen behind. Similarly, could I really bring myself to stand and cheer in the event of Charlton scoring an equaliser late in the game (which they did?)

The answers were, of course, obvious and so I politely declined the kind offer, which was accepted with understanding. So, the friendship is intact, which is valued and appreciated.

As to the game itself, the 1-1 draw perhaps did Southampton more good than it did Charlton. It meant that Charlton`s play-off aspirations were dealt another blow, whilst Saints progressed to the heady heights of 19th in the table - and their late season fight to avoid relegation goes on.

(Nigel Pearson in reflective mood)

Nige is a good guy. Once again, his team selection, tactics and substitutions seemed right for the occasion and his passion, commitment and determination are infectious. I just hope that the threat of former chairman and duck shooting buffoon Rupert Lowe coming back to haunt us with his promise to send Nige packing does not come to pass. That would definitely be interfering with play and bringing the game into even more disrepute.



This was the scene at a dinner in Dublin Castle to mark the 10th anniversery of the Good Friday Agreement, which brought a relative calm to the troubles on the emerald isle. No problem with that - an event worth celebrating and the hope remains that the peace and tranquility will prove to be permanent.

But hang on a minute, for there are some `inconsistencies` at work here, along with a large helping of irony. Let`s look at the line-up:-

- One-hit wonder `Sir` Bob Geldof, professional ranter, haranguer, eminence grise behind the discredited Kent TV;

- Outgoing Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, having announced his decision to leave in the wake of alleged corruption accusations ;

- Paul Hewson, aka `Bono` - another who, like Geldof, believes that his tuneless warbling allows him to impose his opinions and demands on the rest of humanity; and

- Tony Blair, disgraced Prime Minister with so much to answer for (just ask Mrs. Kelly), UN delegate to the middle east peace project (such sweet irony), directorship enthusiast and speech giver (latest example a reputed £250,000 for a turn in Spain.)

Apparently Tone and Bert are both `serious candidates` for the new President of Europe job - the ironies just keep coming. But perhaps the biggest irony of all is that the gala dinner was organised by the charity `Turn the Tide of Suicide.` It`s enough to drive you to it.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Our Golf correspondent reports
As can be seen from our exclusive picture, Snopper is recovering from an exhausting round of golf at Poult Wood yesterday. He`s clearly in good hands, which he needs to be if he is to recover in time to pay a return visit to the course next week, in advance of which, a fitness test will obviously be necessary.
Yesterday`s round was - how can I describe it? - unexceptional. Snopper`s final score, give or take a few, just crept into three figures. However, the lost ball count was down to an encouraging five, four of which took place over the last three holes, when the effects of anno domini, avoirdupois and exhaustion saw balls being dispatched to assorted woodland and the occasional nearby public highway. By this time, Snopper had lost it big time.
The whole experience does, however, provide the perfect counterpoint to the tournament getting under weigh in Atlanta, Georgia. There, the world`s finest golfers converge onto a perfect course with perfect azaleas forming the perfect backdrop before the eventual winner is presented with a perfect green jacket in the perfect Butler Cabin. It`s just so predictable, charmless and boring.
Nothing remotely perfect about Snopper`s golfing exploits, of course, but perhaps therein lies its charm, its unpredictability and its endless fascination.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Our Golf correspondent reports

Crowds are already forming galleries at the Poult Wood Golf Complex as they await the reappearance of Snopper following a six months absence from the fairways. I should explain two things. First, it`s no accident that the facilities at Poult Wood are known as a complex, because if ever a word summed up Snopper`s approach to the royal and ancient game, then `complex` it is. Second, perhaps my hasty reference to `fairways` above should be replaced by `rough patches,` since there will be plenty of those in this afternoon`s eagerly awaited return.

I am reliably informed that Snopper has spent an entire ten minutes cleaning his golf bag, shoes and other equipment and that he has managed to source some golf balls which were retrieved from a nearby course by a past Golden Retriever who he trained especially for the task. Snopper suspects that there may be a Rule governing the number of balls allowed to be carried. However, given his record, he may be entitled to cram as many balls as possible into his creaking golf bag. Rumour has it that there may be a trolley ban in force, due to recent bad weather, in which case the services of a ball carrier may be needed.

Still, he and his golfing friend can perhaps look forward to a nice cup of tea and a sit down half way round. A full report on this afternoon`s events may appear later....then again, it may not.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Unseasonal snow hit deepest Kent early this morning. For a while, blizzard conditions prevailed as Henry and I trudged our way through the orchards. The apple trees have just come into leaf and the blossom is already out on the pear trees, so I guess there will be some grumpy farmers around if this weather continues.
My gnomes are feeling the brunt of the cold snap. I should have taken them into the greenhouse but I forgot. We have three gnomes, which I bought from Homebase when they were on offer a few years ago. The deal was, `buy two get a third one free,` so I did. The snag is that I have not yet dared reveal to them which of the three was the free one. They`re not happy about the snow as it is, so I shy away from adding to their discomfort by disclosing this uncomfortable truth. Yes, I know. But I like gnomes. OK?

Hard on the heels of my well-argued and self-convincing STRATEGIC ASSESSMENT concerning my season ticket at St. Mary`s, I witnessed yesterday perhaps the finest performance Saints have put on all season. Bristol City were the visitors - league leaders - and must have thought another three easy points were on offer as they faced a Saints team adrift in the relegation zone and having gleaned just 9 points from the last 39 available.
What happens? Saints play out of their skins, win 2-0 and should have had at least five, as City were swept aside by a passionate onslaught of 90 minutes unrelenting commitment.
The `March Madness` season ticket renewal period ended a few days ago. Had I renewed, I would have secured my seat at the knockdown price of £290. However, my STRATEGIC ASSESSMENT convinced me to change my policy, not renew and just go to the odd game next season when I felt like it.
I`m convinced Saints hierarchy were aware of this policy shift and so, just to teach me another lesson, manager Nige got the lads up for it and showed me what I might be missing by staying away. The `incredible truth` has come out - if they had performed like that for the rest of the 41 games this season, Saints would have been promoted by now.....and fanciful notions of visits to Cheltenham, Yeovil and Swindon would not have entered my head.
It is, indeed, a funny old game.

Friday, April 04, 2008

The Olympic flame is held virginally aloft before the blue touch paper is alighted. So let the mayhem begin.

I`ve gone off the Olympics in a big way. Despite the indignation and the promises, I suspect that the competition element is still little more than a battle between chemists - those who produce, those who try to mask and those who try to detect the use of strange and magical substances. Chemical warfare has been declared.

And then there`s the politics of it all. Again, we`re told that politics has no place in sport or that sport has no place in politics. But I see that Gordon Brown will be officially welcoming the Olympic flame in Downing Street on Sunday. If he is to be believed that politics and sport don`t mix, then why on earth is he doing this?

China putting pressure on him? Tibet issue? Meeting the Dalai Lama? Billions of £s at stake in the burgeoning trade opportunities with China? Chemists exchange programme being discussed in advance of Beijing and London 2012? Human rights issues? Who knows? The `agenda` is cluttered and confused, whereas it should be simple and straightforward....but we know it won`t be which simply detracts yet again from the ideals of Baron de Coubertin.

Then there is the effect of the Olympics on the man on the Clapham Omnibus. Given that he travels the public transport of London, no doubt he will be happy that the Games are coming there in 2012. He will see the benefits and reap the legacy. But those who reside outside the M25 are supposed to believe that the London Olympics will benefit the whole country. However, yet another poll conducted in `the provinces` yesterday revealed that 70% of those questioned believed that the Olympics in 2012 will bring no benefit to them. If that`s the perception in the south of England, then the feelings in the more remote shires must surely be even more sceptical.

I think my problem must be that I still vividly remember the London Olympics of 1948 - the cinder tracks, the plimsolls and the starting guns with real bullets; Fanny Blankers-Koen, E. MacDonald Bailey, Raymond Glendenning doing the commentaries and the only `substances` available to the athletes being smelling salts. But London 1948 was the first Olympics to have a political defection. Marie Provaznikova won a gold medal with the Czechoslovakian gymnastics team and then refused to return home, citing "lack of freedom" there, after the country's inclusion in the Soviet bloc.

It seems that in Beijing 2008, there may be more refusals to attend than requests to remain behind afterwards, but I doubt that Gordon will be among the refuseniks.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Today`s announcement to the London Stock Exchange that two former Chairmen of Southampton Leisure Holdings plc - the company which owns Saints fc - have requisitioned an Extraordinary General Meeting calling for the mass resignation of the exisiting board of directors, comes perhaps as no surprise but still comes as an immense disappointment.
At first, I thought it may have been an April Fool joke....but then I realised that the London Stock Exchange doesn`t do jokes.
The two in question are Rupert Lowe - who oversaw our relegation from the Premier League in 2005 by failing to inject a sensible level of investment following a top 10 finish and a Cup Final appearance in 2003 - and Michael Wilde, who had ousted Lowe in a boardroom coup, promised to provide the necessary investment but failed dismally to produce it. Now the two of them see fit to combine their talents to bring even more confusion, uncertainty and demoralisation to an already beleagured club as it teeters on the brink of yet another relegation - this time to the oblivion of the third tier of English football.
I think it may well be the final straw, the tipping point at which the club`s diehard supporters finally lose whatever faith they may have left, for the move by this desperate duo will be seen as nothing more than an unwelcome, disruptive bid for power by egocentrics who have had their chances and blown them completely.
"Send in the clowns, there ought to be clowns - don`t worry, they`re here."