Wednesday, January 28, 2009

My apologies for absence from these pages for the next few days. Tomorrow morning, I have to go to Stansted Airport to meet our youngest son, his wife and our two grandsons, who are coming to stay with us for a few days from their home in Hamburg.
It might be possible for us to have a complete family get-together over the weekend, as each of our three sons, along with their wives/partners/offspring might all be around here at the same time. A rare event indeed, since they live busy lives in various parts of the world. So the next few days could be busy.
It will be `interesting` to see what Barney makes of it all and, if all goes well, I should be back blogging early next week, long as I come through unscathed.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Strange as it may seem I can just about imagine that there are some people whose interest in the affairs of Southampton Football Club may be, how shall I say, minimal? Fair enough, but I would just ask that you spare a thought for long standing supporters like me (over 60 years now since I first saw the Saints play) who have become totally disillusioned with results on the pitch and now totally fed up with events in the boardroom.

The gentlemen pictured above are, left to right, Rupert Lowe (6% shareholding,) Michael Wilde (16%) and Leon Crouch (10%.) They are the major shareholders in the holding company, Southampton Leidure Holdings PLC and their shares dwarf the 1,000 which I bought years ago - not as a financial investment but as an emotional one. I have not been disappointed with my investment - the value of the shares has plummetted to about 20p each (I bought mine for 39p and at one time they were as high as 68p) and I have certainly had my emotional money`s worth having sufferred the range of emotions from the FA Cup Final to, now, almost certain relegation to the third tier of English football. A roller coaster ride indeed.

Of the three shown above, Lowe is also Chairman and Chief Executive and is so devoted to his twin responsibilities that he has failed to appear recently and will be on holiday in Scotland, doubtless duck-shooting, when the Saints `entertain` Swansea at home this coming Saturday. Pity he won`t be there, as a mass demonstration is planned by fed up fans who are demanding positive action to rescue the situation before the bank pulls the plug. Michael Wilde, the largest shareholder, has simply gone missing. He left 15 minutes before the end of the last home game, when we lost to the mighty Doncaster Rovers....and hasn`t been seeen since.

Which leaves Leon Crouch - former Chairman ousted by Lowe last year after just a few months in the chair, during which time he had the foresight to appoint Nigel Pearson as Manager. Lowe`s first job back in the chair was to sack Pearson. Guess what - Leicester City with Pearson in charge are 12 points clear in the automatic promotion slot and will pass Saints on the stairs as we go down - if we last that long.

I`ve got some time for Crouch. He`s a real fan who puts his money where his mouth is - he paid for the Ted Bates statue out of his own pocket and he paid the wages of players like Andrew Davies who were instrumental in keeping us up last year. And now, Crouch has made the other two an offer they can`t refuse - "I`ll put £2million of my money into the club if you two will do the same, which will write off the overdraft and keep us from going bust." Lowe and Wilde have not taken up the offer, I suspect because, unlike Crouch, they are more concerned with their money than they are the club. Which is a pity because before too long, there won`t be a club to worry about. And we all lose.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

From our Communications Correspondent
The mobile phone you see on the right is the Nokia 1650. It is, as it says on the box, just a mobile phone. No camera, no internet access, no tea or coffee making facilities - just a phone and just the thing for a communications luddite like Snopper, who has hitherto been reknowned for his aversion to anything remotely `technical.`
So imagine the industry`s surprise when, on a recent visit to the nearby Hempstead Shopping Centre, Snopper wandered into the Carphone Warehouse, threw himself on the mercy of a sprightly young lady and was persuaded to purchase the Nokia 1650 for the princely sum of £9.73. You see, for years, he had relied on old mobiles handed down from grandaughter Sarah, but the last one kind of ran out of puff, according to him. There was no response when it was switched on and, being blissfully unaware of any concept of recharging, Snopper decided he should take the plunge and go independant.
All very commendable. Except for a couple of things. Sprightly young lady had sorted it out so that Snopper could make calls and convinced him that all his questions would be answered by reference to the handbook, included in the price. A phone call home to Snopper Towers confirmed it. However, his few remaining friends should not expect him to be in touch just yet, for he has no idea what the number of his new phone might be and has no idea how to enter anyone else`s number on his new phone. The handbook appears silent on the point, he says. This particular £9.73 transaction could have legs.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


The news that the Statutory Instrument which would have exempted Members of Parliament from the requirement for them to have published, details of their expenses claimed over the past four years, has been withdrawn, is to be welcomed and applauded. I was gearing myself up for a rant today about the fact that MPs had voted to exempt themselves but, in a dramatic climb-down yesterday lunchtime, the measure to have been introduced to Parliament, was buried.

At last it seems that not only has common sense prevailed but also that our MPs have decided that, after all, even they should not go against the rulings of the High Court and that they should stop spending taxpayers` money on trying to prevent those same taxpayers from finding out what their money has been spent on.

Now, at the risk of allowing my innate cynicism to come to the fore, I suspect there may be a small number of MPs who are now nervous about having to reveal details of their expenses . So I imagine it is just possible that there might be an outbreak of small fires in certain offices or, more probably, a run on shredders in the stationery shops around Westminster. I suggest those MPs who may be concerned, get together and hire the kind of heavy duty, high capacity mobile shredder pictured above. It will save a lot of time, add to the recycling targets and improve their carbon footprints. Just as long as they don`t charge the hiring fee to the taxpayers - we`ll need to see the receipt, of course. And so the madness goes on.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

I am honoured to have a correspondent in Adelaide who has e-mailed me to say how much she enjoys reading about Barney`s adventures.
Well, here he was a short while ago having been introduced to the gnomes who look after the bottom of my garden. I`m not sure quite what Barney made of them or, indeed, what the gnomes thought about their territory being invaded but from the picture it seems that the gnomes have the upper hand - at least for now.
It is, of course, perfectly in keeping with my mental age of twelve that I would have gnomes in my garden. A couple of years ago, we were browsing around the local garden centre when they were having a `Gnome Event.` The deal was, Buy-Two-Get-The-Third-Free, so I did. Ever since, I`ve had to tread carefully around their sensitivities, for I have not yet had the heart to explain which of the three of them is the free one.
The reason I feel genuinely honoured by my antipodean correspondent is that she is a direct decendant of one of the Companions of Stuart - the incomparable explorer, John McDouall Stuart, one of my all time heroes, responsible for paving the way for the route of the overland telegraph and the Stuart Highway across the continent. I`ve told the gnomes about my correspondent friend, of course, and Barney is flattered that she has fallen for his charms, which, whilst considerable, are not quite so apparent at 4.15am.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

There are lots of heroes in the annals of Southampton Football Club, but I just want to tell the story of how just two of them have recently been treated by the regime now running the club under the chairmanship of Rupert Lowe.
For years now, hanging proudly in the corridors of power at St. Mary`s, there has been an iconic picture of former Saints manager Lawrie McMenemy holding the FA Cup aloft after he had guided the team to victory in the 1976 Final over Manchester United. A few months ago, Saints played against Doncaster Rovers at their Keepmoat Stadium and to mark the occasion, Lowe was presented with a picture of a locomotive by the Doncaster Board. Now, Lowe and McMenemy have not seen eye to eye for years, so Lowe decided to take down the FA Cup photograph and replace it with the one of Doncaster`s train. As if there isn`t space enough in a 32,000 seater stadium.
The word `legend` is used too glibly these days when referring to footballers, but there can be no argument about calling David Armstrong a Saints legend. Moving from Middlesbrough to Southampton in 1981, Armstrong played well over 200 games for Saints, spread over six seasons. He also played for England and was Saints Player of the Season in 1983/4. As a gifted, hard working left sided midfield player he featured in Saints teams which in those glory days included the likes of Kevin Keegan, Alan Ball, Peter Shilton and Mick Channon. One of the best goals ever scored by Saints was this one -, in which David Armstrong played a pivotal role.

These days, David does some occasional work for the local radio down in Hampshire which covers Saints matches, home and away. He is, of course, a well-known, much respected figure so it was sad to learn that, at yesterday`s return game against Doncaster at St. Mary`s (Doncaster won 2-1) David Armstrong of all people was `invited to leave` the hospitality area (The Mick Channon Suite) despite the fact that he was entertaining guests who are always honoured to meet `legends.` Being invited to leave is, of course, the same as being thrown out, only a bit more polite.
You see, these two tales - and there are lots more - simply tell you all you need to know about the regime under Chairman Rupert Lowe. It is petty, small minded, oblivious to the history of this once great club and, frankly, an embarrassment to those of us who have until recently supported the club come what may. Lawrie Mac and Dave Armstrong do not deserve to be treated with the disdain shown towards them. Their problem is that they don`t like Lowe....and his regime has made it clear that the feeling is entirely mutual. I leave you to work out who are the true heroes and who are the villains. It`s not difficult.

Friday, January 16, 2009

It seems that our local Kent Police are very big on diversity. There is a very comprehensive structure within the force to ensure that "equality and diversity underpin all aspects of and are mainstream in our work."
Action Groups are responsible for both `creating and sustaining the equality and diversity agenda.` Each Action Group is made up of people from all levels across the force and is chaired by a senior member of Kent Police.
Each group takes ownership for their strand of diversity, makes sure that actions from the delivery plan are carried out and undertakes wider community related responsiblities.
Progress is fed into the Equality and Standards Board, chaired by an Assistant Chief Constable and on which the action group chairs sit. This Board reports in turn to the Citizen Focus Performance Gold Group, whose key objective is `to deliver confidence, satisfaction and reassurance across Kent and Medway.` The Gold Group is chaired by the Deputy Chief Constable.
Action Groups are responsible for both `creating and sustaining the equality and diversity agenda` across a wide series of issues including Minority Ethnic; Disability; Lesbian, Gay and Bi-sexual; Immigration and Asylum; Hate Crime and Incident; Age; Gender and Transgender; Fairness; Gypsy and Travellers; Religion and Belief. Small wonder, then, that Kent Police came as high as fourth in a nationwide survey by Stonewall about the way in which Police Forces tackle diversity. And I congratulate them for that achievement and for the impressive structure they have put in place.
Now, before the boys in blue come knocking on my door, let me say that as a council taxpayer funding Kent Police, I can have no problems with any of the above and it`s good to see my taxes being used in this way. There are just a couple of things that puzzle me though. First, I am at a loss as to how Kent`s Chief Constable can complain about resources when there seems to be ample funding for all these diverse pursuits. And second, I am at a loss as to why there is not an Action Group for white, British, law abiding, taxpaying, non-benefit claiming heterosexuals, who seem these days to be in a minority of their own.
Hang on - there`s someone at the door.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A big day for Barney. He`s eleven weeks old today and a week ago he had the last of his injections, so this morning he had his first `walkies` on the lead. Not really a walk, as such, more a scamper around a bit of the parish with Barney being interested in all the new sniffs, seeing some more traffic, checking out the grass and engaging himself in a kind of mini-battle with his collar and lead. Not sure who won.
The thing with puppies is to get them used to as much of the sights and sounds of the world as possible. So far, Barney seems unfazed by anything he has come across....although the local donkeys were a bit of a surprise to him. We`ve been taking him for rides in the car most days, to get him used to travelling and he seems to have taken to that as well. Yesterday we took him to Pets at Home, where they allow you to take pets inside the store. We bought Barney a nice new tag for his collar with his name, postcode and phone number on it, just in case, and he was very interested in the guinea pigs, rabbits and the fish in the shop. At Barney`s age, most things appear edible.
Now we`ve started, he will expect a walk at least once a day to broaden his horizons. I hope the streets of our village are ready for him. He certainly seems up for it.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Last evening, Liverpool brought the curtain down on the city`s year as European Capital of Culture with a resounding firework display, much dancing in the streets and an almost palpable sigh of relief. So it seemed oddly appropriate that the grand finale of the year`s events should be left to Liverpool Football Club`s Spanish Manager, Rafael ("Rafa") Benitez.
For it was Rafa who treated us all to a measured, thoughtful and damningly honest critique of the antics of Manchester United Manager "Sir" Alex Ferguson. Now, there isn`t room in these pages for me to list all of the `facts` referred to by Rafa, suffice to say that they did not just relate to Liverpool`s own dealings with Ferguson but to a whole range of issues which underlined - if any further proof were needed - that Ferguson says what he likes about anything and everything, does what he likes, flouts any `Respect` campaign that might cross his path, refuses to honour contactual obligations with the media and generally conducts himself with an arrogance and deportment which does little to enhance the reputation of the club he represents.
The thing I particularly admired in Rafa`s delivery was his refusal to acknowledge Ferguson`s knighthood. I agree with that, for I have probably mentioned before that the honour was dished out to him by that equally discredited chancer, Tony Blair, in the misguided belief that he, Blair, might gain some street cred by being seen to be associated with Manchester United`s successes on the field of play. All very Alastair Campbell.
There are those who imagine for one moment that Rafa`s critique showed that he was feeling the pressure of expectation and that there would be the inevitable backlash from Ferguson, who seems to employ `mind games` as much as he does hairdryers. I didn`t get that impression at all. Rafa said what he had to say clearly and carefully, but what is important is the fact that he said it at all. About time someone finally had the courage to say what the majority of non-Manchester United football followers have thought about Ferguson for so long.


Nice one, Rafa

And just in case you thought that we had said goodbye to the land of make believe, I see today that the Football Association is going to `review in its full context` what Rafa said.....just to see if they can bring a charge against him for bringing the game into disrepute? They`ll be aiming at the wrong target if they do, for all Rafa has done is provide a measured account of events that the FA themselves should have dealt with long ago. The FA`s own cultural integrity is about to be tested again. What`s the betting they`ll be found wanting - again?

Friday, January 09, 2009

JAWS 3...

As long ago as 2nd December, I mentioned that I was about to embark on a course of serious dental work, as my choppers were in need of sorting out while I still had a few left. I don`t know why I`m telling you this, because it`s really not the most rivetting subject in the world. Maybe I am so pleased with myself, overcoming my demons, that I want to display my newfound hunkiness - if only to myself.
Anyway, the first couple of visits to lovely lady dentist Louise confirmed that I was in the hands of a caring, experienced professional who understood the anxieties of a grumpy old man, terrified of what he might have to undergo. I had some fillings, which stood up well to the Cashew Nut Test over Christmas. I also had to have a root extraction but despite Louise tugging, pulling, yanking away for quite some time, it just refused to be extracted. I`m told I have to wait a while before her sprained wrist recovers so she can try again. Suits me.
This morning, I had my fifth visit. We`re now on to the bit whereby eventually I get some brand new, high-tech, state-of-the-art, high-flying, ocean-going, whizzo choppers and to that end, Louise took the last impressions this morning. In three weeks time they might be ready to try out. I wonder if they`ll have a kind of test snack ready for me to sink my gnashers into.
My fear of dentistry remains, of course, but I know the journey I`m on will have been worth it, thanks to Louise and her bevy of young lady helpers. At times, I think I`m in the hands of the tooth fairy...... but this time I`ll be paying her. And a bit more than a silver sixpence.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

So, the icy grip of winter is with us. What a good idea to get away from it all for a few days of warm sunshine on some Mediterranean island. Well, my eldest son and his family did just that, flying off to Malta on Boxing Day, returning on New Year`s Eve so our teenage grandaughters could keep their social engagements.
Got off the plane at Gatwick to be met with a freezing wind that makes one wonder about the veracity of global warming. Drive home, open the front door only to be confronted by a scene resembling one of those TV makeover programmes. In their absence, a pipe had burst in the loft, water brought the ceilings down, along with the contents of the loft. House flooded, carpets ruined, can`t use the electrics. All in all, late night disaster for them.
Swift arrangements for the family to be put up with respective parents/grandparents. New Year`s Day, nothing happening. Plumber fixes pipe after a couple of days, electricians arrange temporary power supply, loss adjusters from insurance company on the scene today - just six days after the discovery of the problem.
We all hope, of course, that the problems can be overcome soon, but it may well be some time before the house is fully `habitable` again. Much depends on the insurance company and the availability of plumbers, electricians, ceiling replacers and all the other things that will need doing. Meantime, the family are, of course, more than welcome to what help and assistance we can give them.
And that`s the curious thing. We do feel for them, of course, in all of this but, since our boys left home to find their own way in the world all of 24 years ago now, our role as parents has naturally diminished. So it`s nice to feel `useful` again; to feel that we can help them a little more than we normally do and, whilst I fervently wish that these problems had not befallen them, it nevertheless reminds me that, however old your children may be, you never really stop being a parent.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Southampton 0 - Manchester United 3. Predictable, wasn`t it? A United team which rested players such as Ronaldo, Tevez and Ferdinand went ahead after 20 minutes, at which point Saints` young team more or less gave up. The 0-3 final scoreline belied the fact that United had a number of chances to increase their winning margin but seemed to treat the game as a training exercise; for their part, Saints failed to win even one corner in the whole game and were reduced to playing with only 10 men following the dismissal of Matthew Patterson for what can only be described as an `industrial` challenge on United defender, Nemanja Vidic.
So, out of the cup and only the league to concentrate on - I`ve heard that before somewhere - and I can`t even claim that Saints today were gallant losers. Even if they had been, the old saying still rings true. Show me a good loser and I`ll show you a loser.

Friday, January 02, 2009

In 1976, I was fortunate to be at the old Wembley Stadium to see Southampton beat Manchester United with a goal from the late Bobby Stokes to win the FA Cup, against all the odds.
Over the years, the Saints have beaten Manchester United on a number of other occasions.
On Sunday, Manchester United come to St. Mary`s again, this time in the third round of the FA Cup. The game is a sell-out with 32,000 being there to witness the afternoon`s events. Now, I guess about half of them might be regular Saints supporters, a few thousand will be United fans and the rest probably of a ghoulish tendancy to witness what everyone expects will be a severe stuffing by the newly crowned World Champions.
As the great Matthew Le Tissier has recently said, Southampton might just as well go out and play with whatever freedom they can muster, for no-one - least of all the Saints fans - expect anything other than a heavy defeat. Le Tissier also mentions, however, that in years gone by, the Saints would have looked upon this game as one they could win. Not these days, I fear.
The one bright spot is the fact that the game is being televised on the relatively obscure Setanta Sports channel. I will refrain from paying the fee to watch the game. In fact, I am now refraining from paying to watch any of Saints matches until Rupert Lowe resigns or Administration sets in. Furthermore, I will always refrain from paying good money to watch Manchester United. They may be World Champions, Champions of Europe and Champions of English football, but those successes do not make them, their players or their manager sufficiently attractive for me to bother to watch Sunday`s encounter. In any case, as the song says, "Que sera, sera, whatever will be will be. We`re most definitely not going to Wemberley. Que sera, sera."