Saturday, February 28, 2009

LESSONS IN LIFE...
This picture of a local boys football club conjures up memories of years ago when my three sons played junior football and Mrs. Snopper and I were heavily involved in helping out with the club. They were happy days and, of course, there were ups and downs for the young players who played in the local league. The league was structured on ages - Under 10s, Under 12s, Under i4s and Under 16s - which meant that in any one season there were teams at the top end of the age range playing other teams in the lower end. This produced some remarkable scorelines and I recall one snowy afternoon when one of my sons suffered a 36-0 hammering from a team who were bigger, stronger, faster and, allegedly, still within the age range for the division.
I see today that there is a move afoot to stop that kind of thing happening. There`s a proposal that, once a score in a game reaches 9-0, then the game is brought to an end. This appears to be in order to prevent the kind of stuffing that my lad endured all those years ago. It seems to me like introducing yet another namby-pamby nanny-state restriction in the misguided belief that it prevents psychological harm being done to the losers. But it might also deny access to an important rite of passage.
In late Spring 2003, we were on holiday in North Devon. It was the week before Southampton played Arsenal in the FA Cup Final at Cardiff`s Milennium Stadium. It was a lovely day, so we took our much missed retriever, Henry, for a walk up on Hangman Hill, above the village of Combe Martin. It`s a strenuous climb, so we were grateful for a seat near the top of the hill. Soon, we were joined by a walker who had come the other way and he asked if he could share the seat with us. We got chatting, as you do, and it turned out that he was a keen Arsenal fan and he had a ticket for the final. I suggested that Arsenal had already won quite enough trophies and that it might be Southampton`s turn to add to their solitary FA Cup victory in 1976.
"Ah," said our newfound friend, "you`ve got to learn how to lose before you can enjoy the winning." How true. I`ve had my own share of humiliating defeats. I once played in a cricket team that was all out for eight! But I went on to enjoy scoring 50 and taking five for nine in another game.



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Hangman Hill, Combe Martin

My three sons survived their early sporting setbacks and went on to enjoy their sport and life itself with no visible psychological damage - having me as a parent may have been enough. So I view with some concern the proposal to impose a limit on football scores. What about cricket scores, rugby and all the other games where a good thrashing is possible so that defeat can be turned into victory? And why should the winners be denied their own rite of passage?

Thursday, February 26, 2009



JUST LIKE THAT...
I was browsing through WH Smith`s bookshop this morning, looking for nothing in particular, when my eye caught a biography of Tommy Cooper. Now, Tom was arguably the funniest funny man there`s ever been - he really didn`t have to tell any jokes to have his audience in peals of laughter and, of course, he was famous for being a hopeless magician. Some of his one-liners have stuck with me ("I went to buy a camouflage jacket but I couldn`t find any.")
Anyway, I didn`t buy it but I thumbed through the first few pages and was astonished to discover that he and I had a couple of things in common. Although Tom was born in Caerphilly in Wales, his family moved to Langley in Hampshire when he was about two years old. Now, Langley is a straggly village next to Blackfield between the refinery village of Fawley and the New Forest. During the war, my mother and I lived with my aunt and uncle at 40 Hampton Lane, Blackfield and it was from there that I first went to school at Fawley Primary School. When my father eventually came home after five years as a prisoner of war in Germany, we moved to Hythe, where I resumed my `education` at Hythe Primary School. From there, at the age of eleven, I moved on to the secondary school at Hardley, which is about half way between Hythe and Blackfield.
Tommy Cooper`s biography recounts that, from his family home in Langley, he first went to school at Fawley Primary School, then on to Hardley Secondary School and when he left, he got a job at a shipbuilders yard in Hythe. It all makes sense now I know that both he and I were Hardley educated.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009



NO WONDER I FEEL JADED
Tell me if I`ve got this right. It`s a given that everyone has sympathy towards anyone suffering a premature death from an awful disease. No argument about that, I`m sure. But over the weekend the media have bombarded us about the wedding between a thug sentenced and released early but on licence for assaulting a young lad with a golf club and a young lady whose only claim to fame is that she is famous for making a fortune from being utterly dim, bereft of any appealing feature whatsoever, `writing` two autobiographies, releasing a perfume on an unsuspecting world and cashing in on the `exceptional circumstances` which allowed the wedding to go ahead anyway.
I have no `emotional attachment `to Jade Goody (pictured) but I have developed an emotional perception about her, which is not flattering. Now I realise that that perception is all gained from my own exposure to media coverage, but it has forced me to conclude that, however tragic Jade`s situation might be - and on a human level I do symathise - some of the anguish which has been demonstrated towards her might just have been a little misplaced when compared with the countless thousands who have suffered in dignified silence.

Sunday, February 22, 2009



PUPPY TRAINING FOR BEGINNERS
Barney flops out in one of his beds after an exhausting first visit to puppy training classes.
The local Golden Retriver club run a series of dog training courses at a local village hall and these range from `basic training` through the bronze, silver and gold awards as the training progresses
When we enrolled Barney, we were asked whether we wanted him to do field trials, become involved with shows, formation dancing teams and all the rest but we said we just wanted him to be a happy, well behaved family pet. So, he`s started the basic training and he seemed to take to it quite well. It certainly tired him out though, so both he and we had a good night`s sleep afterwards.
One of his classmates was a very comely young puppy named Sorrel who will be trained to become a guide dog. Barney was much taken with her winsome charms - no wonder he slept well. I was quite impressed by Barney`s ability to sit down, stand up and walk around when told to do so. Reminded me of my own National Service basic training!

Friday, February 20, 2009



ONCE MORE INTO THE BREACH...
From our Golf Correspondent
After weeks of enforced absence from the fairways of the world due to inclement weather, short days and general indolence, Snopper emerged for his first round of golf at Hever Castle earlier this week.
Armed with a brand spanking new driver which came as a welcome Christmas present, he marched onto the first tee only to find that, due to drainage work, the hole had been reduced to a par three, which meant that the new driver didn`t see the light of day until the second tee. And there we witnessed one of those endearing moments that seem to populate Snopper`s golfing career. You see, in all the excitement and nervousness surrounding his first venture onto the course in 2009, he had quite overlooked the need to remove the cellophane cover from the clubhead. This task took a few minutes with Snopper breaking the odd nail in the process. Even then he couldn`t remove the sticky bit which covered the sweet spot, so he decided to leave it there so he could claim the ball had a sticky contact, which was why it careered off in the direction of a nearby road, never to be seen again.
After that, in truth, things settled down very nicely with Snopper finding the green from the tee on the par three third and generally playing better than he had any right to expect. OK, so a few of the Royal and Ancient Rules may have been liberally interpreted but his first round of the year was encouraging and hugely enjoyable both for our hero and the galleries, who will no doubt follow his progress which, in keeping with the times, will assuredly move from recession to depression as the year drifts by.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


MALICE IN BLUNDERLAND -
A SIMPLE SOLUTION?
So, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith is to face an inquiry by Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, John Lyon, into her claiming £116,000 `second home allowance,` which I ranted about a few days ago. On the face of it, this seems like a good move. But it seems the formal complaints made to the Commissioner stem from a couple of near neighbours in the street where Jacqui Smith`s sister has a house, wherein Jacqui rents a room at `market rate` which she claims is her main residence - instead of the family home in Redditch which she shares with her husband and two children.
I suspect the Commissioner`s Inquiry will take months and doubtless the full force and resources available to the Home Secretary will be brought to bear to demonstrate the number of nights a week she spends with her sister, the number of occasions her security officers are in attendance and much more. The whole issue may get buried in detail, in claim and counter claim, in the neighbour`s word against the government establishment, in the time and expense of it all and the emergence of other events to deflect attention. Not to mention, of course, the track record of successive Commissioners who find it difficult to find against the government for fear of their contracts not being renewed - remember the estimable Elizabeth Filkin, sacked because she was too good, too thorough and too independant?
But in all the shuffling around, in all the tabloid hand-wringing, there are at least two aspects of this whole affair that stand out. The first is the moral issue. Now, our (Second) Home Secretary steadfastly asserts that she `has not broken any rules` and she may be right. But where is the morality in claiming £116,000 of taxpayers` money for a questionable domestic arrangement? And, perhaps more tellingly, where is the morality in claiming anything at all when a rent free grace and favour luxury apartment which, as Home Secretary she is entitled to, is hers for the asking?
And so the simple solution is clear and obvious. Any Minister of the Crown who is entitled to taxpayer-funded, high security, rent free, grace and favour London accommodation should simply be required to take it up. Too simple? Probably. After all, it would be a bit like expecting turkeys to vote for Christmas. But it would be right and proper and see an end to the nonsense about to consume time and resources for a wholly predictable outcome.

Monday, February 16, 2009



A THOUSAND CUTS...
Saints` new `Head Coach,` Mark Wotte, cut a gloomy figure as he watched yet another defeat from the touchline at Bristol City`s Ashton Gate ground on Saturday. A year ago, we had the passion of Nigel Pearson to guide us to safety on the last day of the season. Pearson was `let go` by Saints` buffoon of a Chairman, Rupert Lowe, and Pearson`s new club -Leicester City - are now sure of promotion from the third tier back to the Championship. After Saturday`s defeat, Saints are now sure of relegation back to the third tier, which they last inhabited 49 years ago.
It`s been coming, of course, but the last vestige of hope has now disappeared and we now want it over and done with. Maybe the 10-points deduction for going into administration would be welcome as absolute confirmation of our demise and looking at the club`s share price and general finances, administration may not be long in coming as the bank finally looses patience.
Off the field, the disasters continue unabashed and there seems little sign of Lowe and his chums leaving voluntarily, despite the now constant howls for them to do so. What`s more, there is no sign of an investor willing or foolish enough to recue the club from its £25million debt and breathe new life into the team, the fans and the city.
On the field, the disasters continue unabashed too - our leaky defence, static midfield and powder-puff `attack` are a poor shadow of the team that just a few years ago were riding high in the Premiership.
I think our plight is summed up by the appointment of Wotte, who was number two to the recently departed Jan Poortvliet. Nice man as he was , Poortvliet didn`t hack it in the hurly burly of the Championship and it`s hard to see that his former assistant - the newly promoted Wotte - will fare any better. So let`s get it over with. Let`s accept defeat, even embrace it, for que sera has certainly sera`d and, if you listen carefully, you might just hear the fat lady preparing to charm us with her aria of sadness and regret.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


A TOUCHING MOMENT

This is one of those photos that come out of dreadful times to show that life is still kind and gentle. It was sent to me the other day by a friend who lives in the Adelaide Hills and I am pleased to report that, in all the horror and tragedy of the bush fires in Australia, at least this Koala has come out of it in one piece.

I`m told that she is now receiving treatment for burnt feet, and doing very well. Koalas don’t usually drink anything, they get the moisture they require from gum leaves, which is why this picture of her drinking from a firefighter`s bottle is even more moving.

My antipodean correspondent mentioned that last Saturday, the temperature was 43C yet again, and the hot north wind was so strong. The bush was tinder dry, and the bushfire warning was on high alert. Lots of praying for protection, and then thanks truly given when the cool change finally arrived and the danger for that period of time had passed.

But the bushfire season is not yet over and people have to stay vigilant. It is the trade off for living in the beautiful Adelaide Hills, it seems, which is not as isolated as some of the small Victorian towns which bore the brunt of the inferno.

And all the while, our long, endless winter over here goes on. I guess the residents of the Adelaide Hills would welcome some of our cold and rain and snow just as much as I would welcome a little of their warmth. Getting the balance right, however, is quite another matter but maybe my middle son and his lady have found it as they laze on a beach in the Maldives for the next couple of weeks. I really don`t know why we don`t all go and live there, even if there are no koalas that might need rescuing.




Wednesday, February 11, 2009

MALICE IN BLUNDERLAND

OK, so "no rules have been broken," and so we`re supposed to conclude that that`s alright then. But the seemingly endless litany of outcries about MPs and Lords` expenses and allowances goes unchecked. The latest episode concerned Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, who has been claiming £22,000 a year for a second home allowance whilst living in a room in her sister`s London residence, leaving her husband and children to reside in the family home in Redditch. Oh, and Ms. Smith`s husband, one Mr. Timney, apparently receives £40,000 a year for acting as her `parliamentary adviser.` Oh, and Ms Smith, as Home Secretary, is entitled to a grace and favour free home in London, which she has chosen not to take up - I wonder why?

Now, I accept that being Home Secretary is one of the principal offices of state and, as such, deserves proper reward for the responsibility of the office. But the salary of £142,000, along with the `usual` salary and expenses for being an MP would seem to suggest that the Smith/Timney family are doing very nicely, thank you - especially in these dark economic times. I`ve no problem with that, but I do find it difficult to accept that the Home Secretary, responsible for law enforcement in this country, should also be willing to stretch the morality of the allowances system to its limits by claiming for a room in her sister`s house as her `main residence` and employing an `adviser`who happens to be her husband. It doesn`t look good.

But I think my biggest grumble is that, even if "no rules have been broken," it`s useful to remember that it is the MPs themselves who made the rules. That doesn`t look good either.

Time for a sort out, I think.



AN EASY MISTAKE....
from our Orthodontic Correspondent
After over two months of intensive treatment by winsome dentist Louise Seeley, Snopper has finally been released back into the wild with a new look. Gone are his old choppers and after much drilling and filling, he is now sporting a new set of gnashers which have transformed his persona.
As he emerged from the dental surgery for the last time yesterday on his way back to his car, he found himself besieged by a succession of admirers who mistakenly took him for film heartthrob, George Clooney. However, much like the chap in Beijing who had to constantly deny that he was Phelps, Snopper was finally able to convince his pursuers that he wasn`t Clooney. "An easy mistake to make, of course," he mused, as yet another pig flew accusingly over his roof.

Sunday, February 08, 2009


SOMETHING TO CHEER ABOUT
Well, it`s been a long time coming but this weekend, Saints fans have something to cheer about at last. My picture shows them dancing in the streets of our once great city as the news filters through that the game away to Watford was postponed because of snow in the area of Vicarage Road. This means, of course, that Saints fans across the globe can rest easily knowing that yet another defeat has been avoided.
The downside is that those games which were played over the weekend have left Saints in an even more perilous position than they were, as they are now effectively five points away from the safety of fourth from bottom of the Championship. One win at home all season, abject management and boardroom stubbornness have all conspired to reduce Saints fans to despair, culminating in an orderly demostration march from the Bargate to St. Mary`s Stadium last week. It seems these days there is more fun in demostrating against the stifling regime of Rupert Lowe and his chums than there is in watching the football. Ah well, at the end of the day, it`s only a game. Isn`t it?

Friday, February 06, 2009



SNOWTIME FOR BARNEY
Barney is three months old now and it seems that ever since he has been with us, the temperature has never gone above about 5C. On top of that, we`ve had more snow than we`ve had for almost 20 years. All of which means that Barney`s daily walks are not as enjoyable as they might be. At least for us.
However, Barney loves the snow and doesn`t seem put off by the cold weather. I guess it`s because he`s never known anything different. My picture shows him taking refuge by the bird bath in our garden; almost as if he`s saying to himself, "If I think I`ve got it hard, what must the birdies be thinking?"
No sign of a let-up in the forecast for next week. It sure does seem like a long winter and I can`t wait for Spring to be sprung. I wonder what Barney will make of double digit temperatures and sunshine. My antipodean correspondent tells me that Adelaide recently had seven consecutive days with temperatures over 40C with the highest reaching 45C. Now, as much as I crave an end to this winter of discontent, I`m not sure either Barney or I could cope with that.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

IT`S THAT DAY AGAIN...

Comes round quicker each year - February 4th. On this day 49 years ago I began my 731 days of National Service by reporting to Bourlon Barracks, Catterick, North Yorkshire; the home of the 4/7th Royal Dragoon Guards, the `training regiment` at the time.

And what `basic training` it was. For six weeks we learned how to march up and down, turn left and right and even turn around. When we weren`t marching, we were shining our kit, doing PT, doing fatigues and all the while counting the days, if not the hours. We were a mixed bunch thrown together from all parts of the country and all conceivable backgrounds.

As our training progressed, we began to support each other against the onslaught of military discipline, prejudice, intellect and practice. One of our group was, sadly, one of life`s unfortunates. A pleasant, mild natured, inoffensive chap called Newton, who came from somewhere like Retford in Nottinghamshire. However hard he tried, he simply could not come to terms with the marching drill. He was naturally ungainly and it wasn`t his fault that he could never look tidy, but that had singled him out for special (mis)treatment by the drill corporals. The rest of us did what we could to help him - polishing his brasses, shining his boots, ironing his shirts - but we couldn`t march for him.


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One in every squad

Things reached a climax one day when the drill corporal`s patience finally ran out. The barrack block was a very big building on at least three storeys, mounted with a clock tower in the centre of the roof. After yet more of Mr. Newton`s marching incompetence on the parade ground, the drill corporal`s`conversation` with him went something like:-

Corporal : "Newton, do you see that ******* great building there?"
Newton : "Yes, Corporal."
Corporal : "Do you see that door in the middle there?"
Newton : "Yes, Corporal."
Corporal : "Right, Newton. When I give the order for you to march, I want you to move smartly to that door. When you get there, open it and go inside. You`ll see a flight of stairs that goes all the way up to that clock tower. Still with me?"
Newton : "Yes, Corporal."
Corporal : "Right. I want you to climb those stairs, get to the top, come out onto that balcony and jump off. And before you hit the ground, I want you to shout out `Here comes f*** all.` Got that, Newton?"
Newton : "Yes, Corporal."
Corporal : "Right, Newton. Quick march!!"

......and off he went in the direction of the door. When he got there, he didn`t hesitate and disappeared inside, which left a now concerned drill corporal to run after him and haul him back into the sunlight.

It changed things. We helped him more and more and so, remarkably, did the drill corporals, whose attitude, either borne out of fear or admiration, changed into an almost benign encouragement which lasted until Mr. Newton and the rest of us `passed out` a few weeks later, after which I never saw him again.

I went back to Catterick some years ago and was relieved to see that the barracks and its clock tower had been demolished and I wondered whether the world was smiling any more kindly on our ungainly colleague. I hoped it was.






Monday, February 02, 2009


EVEN HERE...
Ever wondered what those lovely summer holiday places look like in mid winter? Well, I do. Frequently.
So, as the worst snow for 18 years swept through Kent today, I thought I would take a look at how things were down at Sennen Cove in deepest west Cornwall. It`s one of our favourite places - full of character, always welcoming, always something interesting going on. And this was the scene today, as Sennen shivered under a blanket of snow, which is such a rare occurrence in the far west of Cornwall. Even Cove Hill, the road down to the cove, was impassable today, which meant that the fishing boats stayed in the harbour. A far cry from the balmy, carefree days of high summer. Even here in Sennen it was not possible to escape the winter chill. Click on the photo for a larger image.
Sennen has its own website - click on the link under Snopper`s Links - and Terry, who runs it, sets a quiz every week or so by publishing a photo of somewhere down that way and inviting people to guess where it is. I`ve managed to crack it in the last couple of weeks correctly identifying Carn Brea and also Sancreed, but it`s not often I get it right. If you know the area, have a go. At least it keeps me in touch with a favourite haunt and thoughts of summer.

Sunday, February 01, 2009


FLYING TONIGHT?
This is the less than imposing facade of Stansted Airport, which I visitied again early this morning with my youngest son and his family, who flew back to Hamburg after spending a few days with us. Last time they came, I took on Heathrow`s new Terminal Five, which was also less than imposing. There`s something about airports that I can`t quite define. It may be that my opinion is coloured by the fact that I go to airports quite a lot but never ever fly anywhere. But today`s `experience` did nothing to enhance my general attitude towards airports and all the challenges that await me when I go there.
Today started early - we left home at 7.30am so as to get there in plenty of time for the check in and security business. Once again I had to pay to use the Dartford Tunnel, which I finished paying for years ago but continue to have to fork out each time I use it. It`s gone up to £1.50 each way, which simply compounds the felony. Managed to park at Stansted in the Red Car Park, even though my car is black. I went off to find a trolley for the luggage and was surprised to have to pay another £1.00 to get one, which was made worse by me putting the £1 coin in the wrong slot and having to find another £1 coin for the right slot - I just don`t `do` technology.
Then came the ritual of Ryanair`s check-in system, which seems to comprise checking in by machine, then proceeding past a checkpoint, showing boarding passes, so as to deposit the luggage. That done, we ambled off to a rather pleasant Italian cafe (Caffe Alba) for some coffee and a bite to eat before my son and his family said goodbye and disappeared into the departure lounge, which left me to amble away and face the challenge of the car park payment machines. I had some difficulty at first but a kind lady showed me where to `stick my ticket` and fork out £6.80 for a little over an hour`s parking.
I found my car which stood out quite prominently in the Red Car Park and meandered back home along the M11, M25, Dartford Bridge (another £1.50) M20 and home to an eerily quiet house. As I got home, it started snowing....and it still is. Tomorrow, as Kent is gripped by a few centimetres of snow, I confidently predict that all the schools will be closed, minor roads will be declared impassable and all forms of transport will be severely disrupted. But it will be October before I have to go to Stansted again - plenty of time to give the car a respray. In red, of course.