Thursday, July 31, 2008



HAVE THIS ONE ON ME....

What is it about the BBC? Here they are, caught red handed like some blindfolded scamp with a bag marked `SWAG`....and yet I`m having to cough up the fine that has been dished out to them. How does that work? What`s that all about?

Well, it goes like this. The BBC were found to have cheated licence payers by rigging the results of phone-in competitions on a number of their programmes. Now, I have to confess that none of them were programmes I was ever likely to watch and never in my worst moments would anything convince me to phone in at premium rates to answer dumbass questions. But, it seems, millions did. Lemings at the cliff time. Some of the programmes involved were these:-

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But the `Regulator` (always reminds me of The Fat Controller in Thomas the Tank Engine) Ofcom - Office of Communications - discovered the scams being carried out by the BBC and promptly fined them £400,000, which is a vastly inferior fine to those imposed on the commercial TV companies when they were caught compounding the same felony as the BBC. The reason? The BBC is a publicly funded organisation, so says the Ofcom Fat Controller.


But hang on a minute. The BBC is publicly funded through the licence fee; the fine is `reduced` because of that; which means that the fine is coming from the same source as the licence fee - you and me. So, if I`ve got this right, the BBC fine is being paid by licence payers some of whom probably rang in to the competitions anyway. So the victims of the scam end up paying the fine. And what happens to the £400,000 cheque the BBC issues? Of course, it goes to HM Treasury, where all our taxes reside. And so another bizarre circle is complete.

It`s just another example of the weird, surreal, parallel universe we live in. It could only happen here. You couldn`t make it up. Which makes me wonder whether those at the head of publicly funded organisations like the BBC should not themselves have to pay the fines imposed for the trangressions of their organisations. They might even get some insurance against it. It`s called accepting responsibility. A concept which has gone out of fashion in many forms of officaldom. And those who are compelled to fund those organisations are - quite literally - all the poorer for it.



Wednesday, July 30, 2008


WELL, POSSIBLY.....

Just back from our weekly visit for Henry to see ace vet, Dave Cocker. Last week`s visit was depressing with Henry`s pulse a little weaker and the fluid building up around his chest once more. However, Dave`s change in the medication regime seems, over the past week, to have made Henry feel much better - even if his underlying heart condition may have worsened slightly.

We have reached the point where there is a choice to be made - although in the end, there`s no real choice to make at all. The choices are these. Henry can have pills which might hold the line so far as his dilated cardiomyopathy is concerned but in the process make him feel much worse, to the extent that he doesn`t really want to do much, go anywhere or get much enjoyment out of life. Or he can stay off the `heart pills` - the atenolol -and go on to stronger diuretics to get rid of the fluid around his heart, which he has done over the past week and has made him feel much better. He has been eating well, scampering around the village greens, playing with his friends and generally enjoying a much improved quality of life from that which he had previously.

So, we have gone for the quality of life option. It probably means that his life expectancy may not be as high as if he stayed on the atenolol but at least he will be able to enjoy what time he may have left with us. Dave can`t say how long Henry might have - it`s possible he could go on for some time or we could lose him quite suddenly - we know his heart condition will deteriorate; it`s just a question of when. So, we`ve made the choice for Henry which means he will be able to enjoy what time remains for him.....and I`m sure he agrees that we have made the right choice for him.

There`s a line of dialogue in Bryan Forbes` film, `International Velvet,` where Velvet Brown is strolling along Mothecombe beach pondering on a choice she has to make. In the end, she says quietly to herself, "Love. Love makes all the choices for us." So, no real choice to make for Henry then.

Monday, July 28, 2008


LINES IN THE SAND....

I`ve often thought that there must be lines of demarcation that we take for granted. For example, when there are showers of rain, there must be a line on a road somewhere where it has rained on one side but not on the other.

Similarly, we are blessed in this country with a wide variety of regional accents, some lyrical and some which grate on the senses. But somewhere along the line, there must come a point where accents change and in some cases the change is very marked; leave London, go down the M4 and just past Slough the London drawl becomes the Berkshire burr.

But it seems that, like most other things in life, these lines in the sand have become more blurred - no really clear divisions any more. And so it is with sport, although the blurring of the seasons between cricket and football seems somehow to have developed a counterpoint with the cultural divisions between the two coming into ever sharper focus.

This was highlighted this weekend. On Saturday, we had the 20-20 Finals Day at Hampshire`s Rose Bowl ground just outside Southampton. Two semi-finals and the `grand` final were played out over eleven hours of dramatic entertainment before a capacity 20,000 crowd. Durham and Essex fell in the semi-finals and we were left with a final between Kent and Middlesex, which Middlesex won by three runs with the last ball of the game.

I have a friend who was fortunate enough to be there to witness the day`s events, whereas I was reduced to watching the proceedings on television. It was compulsive viewing and although my friend, being a staunch Kent supporter, would have been disappointed with the result, no-one could deny the sheer skill, passion, excitement and drama on show in a match that it truly was a pity that either team had to lose.


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Hampshire Rose Bowl

It`s late July and the cricket season still has so much to offer - another limited overs final for Kent, more Test Matches against the South Africans and other domestic issues to be resolved. But creeping up on the blind side we already have the insidious presence of the Barclays Premier football league gearing up for the coming season. Now, years ago, there was a clear dividing line between the cricket and football seasons - to the extent that I well remember people like Willie Watson, Denis Compton and Arthur Milton ending their cricket seasons one day and turning out for professional football teams the next.

Whilst that seasonal line in the sand has long disappeared, the `cultural` aspects of the two games seem to be heading in different directions. Now, I`m quite sure that cricket has its share of scamps, rascals and malcontents but surely nothing on the scale of Joey Barton, he of Newcastle United who are paying this convicted serial assailant a reputed £71,000 a week and who seems likely to be welcomed back into the Magpie fold following his release from Strangeways gaol today after serving a mere two months of a six months sentence.

I also noticed on Saturday the complete respect shown by the cricketers - even in the heat of battle and with so much at stake - towards the umpires officiating in all three games. Contrast that with the coreographed ranting at football referees and linesmen whose every decision is questioned and who are subjected to verbal abuse not only by players but also club managers, the whinging Wenger and the impossible Ferguson being in the vanguard of this unappealing trend.
The `beautiful game?`

Already, the joys of summer cricket are being infiltrated by the ugly sceptre of the returning Premier League, which starts its next chapter as early as 16th August. I`m really quite dreading it. For me at least and especially during these difficult economic times for too many people, the excesses of money, behaviour and arrogance which are awash in the Premier League seem to have little place and even less relevance. And that seems as good a note as any on which to draw a line in the sand and move on at the end of the day. To be fair.


Friday, July 25, 2008

EXPECTATIONS...

Last night`s results of the Glasgow East by-election were more than a surprise for Gordon Brown and the Labour Party but perhaps not so much of a surprise for Alex Salmond and the Scottish Nationalists, who won the seat by an admitedly narrow squeak. The SNP had flooded this Labour stronghold throughout the campaign and achieved their remarkable victory with a staggering 22% swing away from Labour.

So, what of today? It`s interesting that the focus of media attention has not really been on the victorious nationalists but more on the defeated Labour Party and their beleagured leader and Prime Minister. Throughout the day, a succession of Cabinet ministers and Labour apologists have been shuffling in and out of media interviews to trot out, almost by rote, their pre-prepared monologues seeking to provide some reason for yet another election debacle under Brown`s `leadership.` They include:-
"World economic situation"
"Global markets affecting food and fuel prices"
"Electorate of Glasgow East have sent a strong message"
"We are listening to what the people are telling us"
"I`m the right man to see us through these difficult times" and, most beguilingly.....
"People expect me to get on and do the job."

I`m reminded of two things. The first is a scene from the James Bond film, `Goldfinger.` Our hero is strapped to a bench to which Blofeld the villain has attached a circular saw which edges ever closer to Bond`s nether regions. The dialogue goes like this:-
Bond : "So, you expect me to talk do you, Blofeld?"
Blofeld : "No, Mr. Bond - I expect you to die!"

Now, it`s unlikely that Gordon Brown will fall on his sword - after all, we`re dealing with politicians here - but he`s wrong to suggest that we all expect him to get on with the job and believe everything will then be fine.

Which reminds me of the second thing. In a former life, my reaction to indecision, dithering, even indolence, was to demand that those responsible should, for God`s sake, do something....even if they just said goodbye.

Thursday, July 24, 2008




AN UP AND DOWN WEEK...

It`s turning out to be a strange week. One of contrasts. Ups and downs.

It started off quite `normally` - whatever that might be in chez Snopper. Monday was a day of doing things like going to the bank to actually pay in a cheque Mrs. Snopper had received from the tax man, going to the recycling centre to pay homage to our carbon footprint and dispose of a collection of plastic bottles, doing a bit of shopping and sorting out the garden.

Tuesday saw me having a lunch with two `old` friends and colleagues from our collective employment in a former life. We found a spendid hostelry not too far from where any of us live and we enjoyed an excellent old persons special lunch and each other`s company. An impressive menu, quite devoid of anything Complan based or any Rennies as side orders.

Wednesday saw the business with Henry and the vet, which I`ve reported seperately, but Wednesday was also our 47th wedding anniversary. Being the romantic soul I am, the occasion was celebrated in the sophisticated way by me going off to play golf in the afternoon albeit with a kind of sheepish trudge, although one has to have a sense of priority about these things.

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Our normal golf correspondent was not available, so it just befalls me to report that I did the fashionable Sandy Lyle thing and walked off the course at the 14th, not because of the weather but because of the paucity of course management which seems non-existent at Poult Wood. At one stage, there was a group playing the par 3 seventh and another four groups waiting on the tee. So I went off in a huff vowing to take my business elsewhere.

Today I have the pleasure of an apppointment with my stylist, Chris of Larkfield, who will attempt once more to camouflage my burgeoning ozone hole with the most subtle of comb overs. She can do what she wants really - I just sit back and think of England.

Tomorrow, we make our inevitable pilgrimage to Mr.Tesco or Mr.Sainsbury or Mr. Waitrose and then Mrs. Snopper has a dentist appointment. In the meantime, harking back to my Tuesday lunch, it was suggested that I might use this blog to give my views on the state of the world as I see it. It`s simple really, I don`t know what to make of it all. And I`m not at all sure that I want to. There seems, after all, to be much more sense in my up and down week than there ever is in the great beyond.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


AN UPHILL BATTLE.....
Another early morning appointment for Henry today with ace vet Dave Cocker. I`ve now lost count of the number of times we have been to see Dave since Henry`s heart problems came to light over three months ago now. For some time, Dave was able to contain the problem with medication but it was always going to be a containment job, rather than any improvement. Henry`s dilated cardiomyopathy is not cureable, so it has all been about providing Henry with a decent quality of life.
This morning`s visit was one of the most distressing yet. Despite increasing his medication to an astonishing 13 pills each day over recent weeks, the fluid has again built up on Henry`s chest and his pulse is not as strong as it was even a week ago. So, Dave has taken Henry off a couple of the pills and is trying `human` versions of antibiotics and diuretics to see if that will reduce the fluid and sort out Henry`s `gastric` problems. For the first time, Dave was using words like `uphill battle` and `last resort` and it`s obvious that, unless the new medication regime has a significant effect, then Henry`s condition will carry on drifting away.
His quality of life is what`s important and although at the moment he still has enough good times to carry on, both he and we will know when the time comes to take the right decision for Henry himself. Dogs are very `knowing` and they give you signs to tell you what sometimes you would rather not know.
So, back next Wednesday for another appointment with Dave. God willing Henry will be able to keep it. In the meantime, although you can`t put a price on events like this, it would be nice if Mr. Tesco coughed up at least some of the insurance claim we submitted six weeks ago. We`ve now gone over the £1,000 barrier in vets fees, scans, medication and injections and every little help from Tesco`s would indeed be very welcome.

Sunday, July 20, 2008


25204 AND COUNTING.....

Most people have a countdown to some event in the future they may be looking forward to - a birthday, perhaps Christmas or a holiday. Me, I`ve got a countup, which you will see to the right and down a bit, is counting the days since I arrived on 19th July 1939. Today, the day after my birthday, it stands at 25204 days.

I had a good day. I was fortunate to receive cards and messages from family and friends, for which I was grateful. In the evening, we went to a party next door, where our neighbour`s wife was celebrating her own 50th birthday and we spent a few pleasant hours in the company of good friends and neighbours. This, of itself, brought home our good fortune to live in a peaceful neighbourhood far removed from the urban jungle which seems to grow more hostile with each passing day.

And, as I reached the 69th parallel, it got me thinking about a couple of other things too. First, I really do count myself lucky to have been around this long. When I think of the number of people I have known who have passed away at a much earlier age - my own father dropping dead from a heart attack at the age of 62 for example - I count my blessings. And the curious thing is that I realise I`m getting older....but I don`t feel like I am. OK, there are the tell-tale signs around the edges - slowing down, thinning hair, bits of medication for this and that - but by and large I pride myself on retaining a mental age of about eight or nine which enables me to hold on to my enquiring mind and to explore and wonder at what I might discover.
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An enquiring mind at work

People were kind enough to wish me `many happy returns,` which was nice, especially as since the 18th century, that phrase has been used as a salutation to offer the hope that a happy day being marked would recur many more times. I hope so too, at least all the time I retain the option of growing up rather than growing old.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


NOW WHERE WERE WE?.....
.....before we were interrupted by almost fifty years of seperation?
Yesterday, I had the real pleasure of meeting an `old` friend. We had been at school together, played cricket together and always enjoyed each other`s company during our formative years. When he got married - well, for the first time anyway - I had the privilege of being best man at his wedding. We go back a long way, to another time and another place, but our paths went their own ways when I was called up for National Service and my friend followed a journey of his own and, as so often happens, we lost touch with each other.

It was, I have to admit, the perhaps unlikely route of the Friends Reunited site that brought us into contact again only very recently . After all this time, we discovered that we didn`t live all that far apart from each other and so it was that yesterday we met more or less half way in an excellent country pub in a Kentish village. We just about managed to recognise each other, despite the onset of avoirdupois and anno domini and we proceeded to spend the next four hours just scratching the surface of our memories.

I suppose one of the marks of true friendship is the ability still to recognise those qualities which gave rise to the friendship in the first place even after almost half a century. And they were still there - those inflections, those gestures, those shared bouts of spontaneous humour, those shared opinions and, of course, the real pleasure of being in each other`s company once again.

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I think, now that the ice has been broken, that we will now resume our friendship on the same genuine, fun loving, non-competitive, non-combative, mutually supportive basis that it always used to be. And what a pleasure that will be for even after this length of time, I was tempted to begin our conversation by saying, "Now, what was it you said? I`m sorry, I got distracted for a while."

Monday, July 14, 2008


A FLYING VISIT....

OK. So, Flying Disc Man from Mars arrives here in the good ol` U of K this weekend and must surely have concluded that it is indeed a funny old world.
First, he discovers that he has arrived at a propitious time, for in less than a month the greatest show on Earth will begin. The Beijing Olympics will be interesting not just for the competition but also for a couple of sideshows. I wonder what the smog situation will be. I wonder what the reaction to any demonstrations will be. And I wonder whether Dwain Chambers will be there. For the sake of the doubtless majority of genuine participants, I hope the credibility of the Games is enhanced, but there is still a danger that they will continue to be seen as little more than a contest between chemists, former drug cheats and the inevitable lawyers.

Flying Disc Man may have found it difficult this weekend to miss the publicity surrounding the affairs of the Church of England - one of the planet`s great religions. Now, I have no wish to enter into a religious debate with anyone, for my attitude is best summed up by my promise to be the first to apologise should I get up there and discover that it`s all true after all. Good friends of mine are, however, regular churchgoers and I admire them for that. But as one who hovers on the brink of seeking salvation, I might - just might - think twice as I see the schism caused by the arrival of the Gay Bishop from New Hampshire and the ongoing controversy over the ordination of women priests. If I have no problem with Him Upstairs, but I might just have a few with His representatives down here.
And in the meantime, whilst these internal wrangles occupy their hearts and minds, there seems to be a lack of even comment, never mind leadership, from church leaders as the problem of knife crime and other social problems go unchecked.
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There was, of course, so much more to confuse, annoy, puzzle, dishearten and depress this weekend, but Flying Disc Man, like me, might have taken some comfort in the 5-2 demolition of Basingstoke Town and the 4-0 drubbing dished out to Winchester City by a Saints team which is clearly flattering to deceive in its pre-season friendlies. And as a result, maybe also like me, Flying Disc Man`s concerns may have focussed back on to the real priorities of life in a strange weekend in a strange country in a world which has much to answer for.

Thursday, July 10, 2008



ON THE BEACH
"You can wait a lifetime for the hammer to fall.
Some folks get lucky they don't see it at all."

Chris Rea was quite right when he penned these lyrics for `Two Roads` on his `On the Beach` album. My picture shows Henry our much loved Golden Retriever spending a happy time on a beach of his own - this one might have been Porth Kidney sands near Lelant in West Cornwall or Daymer Bay or Loe Beach near Porthleven, Woolacombe in Devon or Crow Point or one of countless others that Henry has visited and enjoyed in his nine years.
But Henry has a problem. He`s not sure what it is....but dogs being knowing creatures he will know something isn`t quite right. Our problem is that we do know. He has a heart condition known in the veterinary trade as dilated cardiomyopathy (I think) which means his heart isn`t working like it should.
On Wednesday, Henry paid yet another visit to ace vet Dave Cocker at the Newnham Court Veterinary Centre, this time for more scans as well as his usual almost weekly check up. The scans showed that his heart condition has not improved at all since it was first diagnosed over two months ago and, despite Dave`s care and medication, fluid was shown to be building up around Henry`s lungs and his liver. The prospects are gloomy, I`m afraid.
Trouble is, we don`t know just how much longer Henry will be with us. It`s a `day-to-day` thing. But all the time he gets some enjoyment from life, which he seems to be at the moment, we`ll keep going. In the meantime, we just wait for the hammer to fall. But it`s not easy. And it hurts.


SUMMERTIME BLUES
From our Golf Correspondent
This was the scene at the windswept and rain lashed Hever Castle Golf Club yesterday where Snopper was to have taken part in another toe-curling round of exhibition golf.
Mid summer in the sunkissed south east corner of England and one is perhaps entitled to expect the occasional decent day. The forecast had promised rain and, to be fair, it arrived in bucketfulls, along with the keen south west gale driving it along over the manicured greens and fairways of this picturesque and historic course.
Now, in anticipation of a good day`s golf, Snopper had spent most of last Sunday morning in his garage giving his equipment the mother of all makeovers. Each and every club in his bag was lovingly cleaned, polished and put back in its rightful place in the bag which itself had also been given the once over. Even his trolley had been dusted down and liberal quantities of WD40 sprayed onto each moving part and Snopper`s balls had never looked more pristine. So, all was set to create an impressive image for the imaginary gallery which he seems convinced are determined to follow him on his memorable exploits around the fairways of his mind.

Come the afternoon, Snopper reports in good time to the clubhouse, briefly consults his playing partner and between them they reach the executive decision that there is no way they are going to even attempt to set out on yet another ill fated journey in weather like that.
Snopper`s bitches
The feelings of disappointment are acute, of course, especially among the phantom followers of Snopper`s progress. But this is summertime in south east England and for them and their hero, there ain`t no cure for the summertime blues.


Tuesday, July 08, 2008

MIXED FEELINGS

I have breathed my usual sigh of relief now that the Wimbledon tennis tournament is over for another year. I did my very best to avoid it, but it`s hard to do so when the papers are full of it and there`s non-stop tv and radio coverage going on. But this year, I feel that as well as voicing my deep-seated aversion to most of the goings on in SW19, I must, however grudgingly, acknowledge that there just might have been one or two aspects which deserve some acknowledgement.
First though, it seems that the readings on the gruntometer have climbed higher and higher, especially in the `ladies` game. I`m surprised that players who don`t feel the need to rasp their vocal chords don`t object to the umpires about the endlessly distracting cacophany emanating from the other side of the net. I gather that the ladies prize money is now the same as the men`s who, however, continue to battle it out over five sets as against the mere three for the ladies. Strikes me as a classic example of the quest for equality simply producing yet another inequality.


With the transformation of Tim Henman from would-be hero to would-be media pundit I had hoped that some of the `Brit frenzy` might have disappeared - Henman Hill, shouts of `Come on, Tim` and all that. Not a bit of it. This year`s despairing exhortations were directed towards Andy Murray, he of the grumpy disposition, who was once asked who he would support if England`s football team were in action, only to respond by saying, "anyone who`s playing England." Despite which, he is still allowed entry onto the hallowed lawns of the All England Club.

There were the usual doses of strawberries and cream, overnight queues, class skirmishes and media overload but most of all, again, there was the spectacle of yet more dismal failure on the part of `home grown` talent despite the £25million going into the LTA coffers from just this fortnight. I guess, to be fair, there were a couple who escape that criticism; the aforementioned Murray for a gallant comeback against Gasquet before he entered the uncharted territory of Nadal and, of course, the beguilingly precocious talent of Laura Robson, who won the Girls` title. By and large, though, it was the usual story of gallantly losing to more talented, determined foreign players who once more ran off with shedloads of cash.

The impressive thing was, as ever, the staging of the event. We seem to be good at staging big events and this was no exception. Although the grass got a bit scuffed up towards the end, the way that Wimbledon was presented to the watching world was impressive. Just a shame we don`t have enough home-grown talent to top it all off.


People will grasp at the straw which was Laura Robson`s victory and claim it as a beacon of hope for British tennis. But Laura was born in Australia and both her parents are Australian too. How much more Australian can you get, one wonders. So, for us Brits, it was yet another case of `show me a good loser and I`ll show you a loser.` Oh for the days of Fred Perry, Bunny Austin, Virginia Wade, Ann Hayden-Jones and even her husband Pip. At least they knew how to win things.

Saturday, July 05, 2008



HOLDING ON TO PRINCIPLES

So, the International Cricket Council (ICC) have decided to change the result of the Test match between England and Pakistan at the Oval in 2006. England didn`t win it after all. It was a draw, say the ICC.

In a way, it was a pretty pointless game. England had already won the series, which might account for their disappointing display until tea on that `interesting` day, Pakistan having been 331 runs ahead on the first innings and England had, by tea, lost four wickets and were staring down the barrel of defeat.

A little earlier in the afternoon, Umpire Darell Hair had a feeling that Pakistan might just have been fiddling with the ball a bit. Ball tampering is, of course, a cardinal sin in any walk of life but especially so in the vibrant atmosphere of a cricket match. Pakistan were less than impressed at the allegation and seemed to refuse to come out to play after tea, having had a good moan during the interval. Whereupon Umpire Hair had had enough, took off the bails, declared that Pakistan had forfeited the game, which was awarded to England who had, it must be said, wisely kept their heads down.
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To tamper or not to tamper, that was the question

Fast forward to the recent ICC meeting in Dubai, when they decided to change that result. No real reason has been given, their statement `simply` reading, "The board decided the result of the match should be altered. The change is from an England win as a result of Pakistan's refusal to play to the match being termed abandoned as a draw. The board's decision is based on the view that in light of the unique set of circumstances the original result was felt to be inappropriate." So that`s alright then.

The only salvation to emerge from this bewildering episode is that former West Indian fast bowler Michael ("Whispering Death") Holding (pictured above right) has resigned his seat on the ICC in protest. He said, "I have just written my letter of resignation to the ICC cricket committee because I cannot agree with what they've done. That game should never, ever be a draw. When you take certain actions, you must be quite happy to suffer the consequences. A lot of things are happening today that I don't want to be involved with, so I've moved on."
The `certain actions` Holding was referring to were not in regard to the ball tampering allegations, of which Pakistan were subsequently cleared, but against their refusal to take the field of play. So, well done Whispering. Pity there were not more like him on the ICC committee and even greater pity that they didn`t have the backbone to give clear reasons for their strange decision. Mind you, if Whispering was coming in at me from the pavillion end, I might just chicken out too. It sure ain`t cricket though.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

DANCE OF THE HOURS
It all started for me way back in the late `40s when I was given my first cigarette by Micky Bartlett round the back of his parents` dairy in Jones Lane, Hythe. I was eight at the time and so was Micky, but it was obvious that he was already an experienced smoker, whereas I struggled to come to terms with the whole experience which left me puzzled, slightly dazed and wondering what it was all about.
In those far off days, there was a culture which actively encouraged smoking and later, as a teenager, it was expected that I would join the ranks of the addicted as a sign of growing up - a rite of passage almost. And so I did.

Some years later, having moved to Kent, I joined a local Cricket Club and I recall feeling a bit puffed when cycling home from an evening practice session, whereupon I threw away the remains of my packet of 10 Bachelors into a nearby hedge, thinking that would be the end of my smoking career. It wasn`t, of course - I was well and truly hooked by then, so I scraped together the 1/3d for another 10 Bachelor and off I went again.

Into National Service and even exhausting drill sessions on the Catterick square were halted for `smoke breaks.` When I joined my regiment (10th Royal Hussars) in the green hell of BFPO 16, one of the first events I attended was a Squadron `Smoker.` Cigarettes and the coupons by which they could be bought very cheaply were part of the currency of army life but guess what? It was during that time I decided to stop smoking. The reasons escape me now, but it may have had something to do with the economics of the `market` in selling coupons to the local populace.

February, 1962 - and demob from the 731 days of enforced confinement saw me take up smoking again, just as it became more expensive to do so with the absence of coupons in civilian life. Great move. Not. From then on the years of stress, responsibilities and the sheer hell of it saw me continue my addiction in smoke filled rooms and beyond where I felt that the world was my ash tray. And all this despite my family imploring me to stop. On one occasion, my youngest son, then aged about six, came home from school one day with a message for me which read, "You should not smok." (sic.)

And then one Christmas about 15 years ago, both Mrs. Snopper and I had a bout of `flu. Proper `flu with bells on - the kind that knocks you sideways and you know it`s the real thing rather than just a bit of a cold. Christmas was cancelled and despite valiant attempts, I found out that I couldn`t smoke even though I wanted to. The `flu went on for days and it dawned on me that this was the chance not so much to stop smoking but, rather, not to start again.

69 not out

Easier said than done? Well, we all have our own ways of doing things and in this instance mine was to go back to my cricket playing days. Now, when batting at cricket, I never set out to score fifty or a hundred - just 10. And if I managed 10, the next target would be 20 and so on. So I set myself the first target of going 100 hours without a cigarette, then 168 hours, which was a week, of course, then another 100 hours and so on.

After six weeks and reaching the 1,000 hours mark I seemed to stop counting the hours and stopped thinking quite so much about smoking. So, it was possible to stop smoking in one hour or even one minute all those years ago - proving that, as my now 41-years old youngest son has more recently said, the longest journeys starts with just one step.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008


PILGRIMS PROVIDE PROGRESS LESSON
Plymouth Argyle Football Club have today provided an object lesson in how to respond when one of their employees gets himself in deep trouble with the law.
Their 24-year-old goalkeeper, Luke McCormick, has been charged with causing death by dangerous driving and driving with excess alcohol last month following a motorway accident in which two young boys were killed.
McCormick appeared in court on June 6 and was released on bail. He is due to appear in court again in September

In a statement, the club said: "We have advised Luke McCormick that, in light of current circumstances, he has been suspended by the club and so will not be required to attend pre-season training." A concise, short statement that says much about the way in which the club is managed. It is positive, clear and entirely appropriate for the circumstances.

Now, although they may not quite be in the same league as far as degrees of criminality are concerned, nevertheless it is interesting to contrast the stance Plymouth have taken with those of Newcastle and my beloved Saints.

Newcastle have among their ranks that serial malcontent Joey Barton, who may today have been released from a custodial sentence following a conviction for assault and who only yesterday was perhaps surprisingly handed only a suspended sentence for yet another wholly reprehensible incident involving a team mate. And yet, for all of this, Newcastle have yet to do anything about Barton`s continued employment with them, although they do threaten to begin talks with him about his future now that he is free to walk the streets for a while.

In Southampton`s case, two of their players, Nathan Dyer and Bradley Wright-Phillips are accused of stealing cash, mobile phones and other valuables from the staff room of a Southsea night club where the employees are alleged to earn less than the minimum wage, whereas the two accused are on literally thousands of pounds each week. They have already made one appearance before the Portsmouth beak and are due back in court again next week. So far, Southampton Football Club have done nothing to tackle this issue. Well, apart from ordering Dyer to train with the youth team as he is apparently in dispute with the club over a contract wrangle.

It strikes me that Plymouth have dealt with their `problem` quickly, correctly and appropriately and in the process have shown leadership and clarity of purpose. Their action not only reflects well on them but also shows up Newcastle and Southampton (I am sorry to say) for the hesitant, drifting organisations they have become. I`m afraid I am not prepared to spend any more of my money to watch the Dyers and Wright-Phillips` of this world strutting around a football pitch. That will only change if Saints finally discover purposeful personnel management, which has been conspicuous by its absence. I have my principles even if they don`t have theirs.