Sunday, November 30, 2008

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

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

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

Sunday, November 23, 2008

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

Friday, November 21, 2008

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

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

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

Sunday, November 16, 2008

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

Friday, November 14, 2008

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

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


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

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

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The first Queen Mary

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

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

QE2 bids farewell

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

Monday, November 10, 2008

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

Friday, November 07, 2008

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

Thursday, November 06, 2008

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

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

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

Monday, November 03, 2008

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

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

Sunday, November 02, 2008

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