Tuesday, March 31, 2009


I`m always looking for an excuse to travel to the West Country. I don`t know why I need an excuse. I don`t know why I don`t just get in the car and go there. It`s in my blood, I suppose - somewhere I feel at home, comfortable, welcome. At least by the landscape, if not always by the people.

Now, I thought I had found the perfect excuse, not to say reason, to travel the long and winding road back to Mullion Cove on the Lizard peninsula in Cornwall (pictured.) Almost two years ago now, I bought a watch there for £6 in the village shop. "Any problems with it, my dear, you just bring it back," I was told when I completed the purchase.

Well, after all this time of keeping good time, it has finally stopped. It might have been the shock of having its time changed last weekend when we put the clocks forward an hour. Or, more likely, the battery finally expired. A new battery would cost more than I paid for the watch, so not much point in that. It then occurred to me that I might journey once more to that accommodating shop in Mullion, not to complain but perhaps to invest another £6 in a new watch. Now I realise that it would be an expensive trip but, hey, an excuse is an excuse. In the end, my conscience got the better of me, so I have sourced a local supplier of £6 watches and invested in this one:-
At my age, there seems little point in spending a small fortune on a watch that will only tell the same time as my cheap ones and which might well outlive me. In any case, if the Rolexes of this world never go wrong and never conk out, I would be unable to finally break out of my conscience and have a reason to go back to Mullion, rather than an excuse. Even if it is 320 miles away.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

This photo shows Second Home Secretary Jacqui Smith desperately launching into an attack on her husband Richard Timney`s throat, as the news has broken that Timney has been caught watching late night pay per view `adult` channels. Now, what goes on behind closed doors in the privacy of one`s own home is one thing, but there are differences in this case. The first is that presumably Mr. Timney was enjoying his late night entertainment in the family`s second home in Redditch, whiling away the early hours whilst his wife was sound asleep in her sister`s back bedroom in south London, which is apparently the family`s main residence, thus attracting up to £24,000 a year in taxpayer funded `expenses`in the second home.
As Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith is entitled to appoint a parliamentary advisor and she has done so. None other than the aforementioned Mr. Timney, who is paid £40,000 a year (allegedly) of taxpayers money presumably for offering `parliamentary advice` to his wife. All within the rules, of course, but whatever happened to the spirit of the rules, which clearly need overhauling and fast?
In regard to the `adult film` viewing, well I guess Mr. Timney can do as he pleases, but what is not acceptable is for the subscriptions for him to pursue this particular peccadillo to be claimed as expenses, again to be paid by the taxpayer and thus stretching the doctine of pay per view beyond reason. To be fair, Jacqui Smith has swiftly apologised and has promised to pay the subscription charges back to HM Treasury, but I suspect - indeed, I hope - it`s too little, too late. The damage has been done and she should really resign from the gravy train as soon as possible - like tomorrow.
It would be easy, cheap and trivialising of this whole affair to suggest, for example, that with a wife like Jacqui maybe Mr. Timney should attract at least a degree of understanding. But the seriously depressing thing is that, once again, the taxpayer has been taken for granted by a political culture that appears self-serving, out of touch and arrogantly unrepentant. Maybe this apparently trivial straw might finally have broken the back of any patience that may have remained, for one thing is sure - this ain`t no way to run a railroad.

Friday, March 27, 2009

This seemingly troubled gentleman is Czech Prime Minister, Mirek Topolanek, whose government has just resigned. If he looks concerned about it, it`s nothing compared with the trail of potential destruction his resignation will leave behind.
The Czech Republic is one of the few remaining countries in Europe yet to finally ratify the infamous Lisbon Treaty (EU Constitution) and Topolanek`s resignation provides Czech President Vaclav Klaus with an opportunity to further his anti-Lisbon Treaty stance by appointing a new government that might scupper the ratification process. Next, the Czech Republic currently holds the Presidency of the EU until they hand over to Sweden at the end of June. And lastly - for now at least - Topolanek`s departure might well impact on America`s plans to deploy `defence` missiles in that country.
Now, I`m no expert on Czech politics, but it will be interesting and significant to see what emerges in the coming days. Despite soothing messages coming from the diplomatic corps, I suspect a good deal of panic and uncertainty in the corridors of power in Brussels and if there`s one thing I enjoy witnessing it is panic and uncertainty in the corridors of power in Brussels. (Actually, that`s two things, but you get my drift.)
No doubt the EU, in all it`s democratic and representative glory, will shrug off these events as little more than inconveniences as they continue their remote, headlong dictatorial journey to take us all into superstateness, but I wouldn`t mind being in Prague for the next few weeks. It should be fun.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Today`s announcement by Second Home Secretary Jacqui Smith that the Government intends to issue a new policy within three weeks concerning the right of retired Gurkhas to remain in the UK is not before time.
The nationality status of Gurkhas and their families has been an area of dispute for years, with claims that some ex-army Nepali families were being denied residency and forced to leave Britain. All this after the Gurkhas have lost countless lives fighting with the British Army for over 200 years and leading a High Court Judge to declare that Britain has a `duty of honour` to grant residency rights to retired Gurkhas and their families.
In a landmark ruling on 30 September 2008 the High Court in London decided that Gurkhas who left the Army before 1997 did have an automatic right of residency in the United Kingdom. Before this ruling only Gurkhas who left the British Army after 1997 were granted automatic residency benefits. Despite the ruling of the High Court the Home Office has been dragging its feet to such an extent that there have been demonstrations and wide support for the matter to be finally settled. I think it`s the case that those who retired before 1997 did have the option at that time to retire to Hong Kong, which was then under UK control. Not much of an option, one might suggest, when compared with that of remaining in the UK, where the Gurkha base at Folkestone in Kent has been established for decades.
So, today`s announcement is to be welcomed. What has not been as welcome is the delay in implemnting the High Court ruling amid Home Office claims that `it will cost money`and also the fact that there will now be yet another three weeks delay before the final policy announcement. And why? According to Jacqui Smith, it`s because she needs the time to make the announcement to Parliament first. Well, that`s a first in itself for this government and it`s useful to contrast the delay in this important, human issue with the speed with which MPs swiftly voted to ban their home addresses being disclosed under the freedom of information legislation. It seems it`s ok to protect your rights if you happen to be an MP, but quite another matter if you are a brave, honoured combat soldier fighting for a right which should never have been in question.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

So, Gordon Brown has written to the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life suggesting a far reaching inquiry into the whole business of MPs salaries and allowances. This comes, of course, on the back of the recent revelations that Transport Minister Tony McNulty has been claiming £60,000 of taxpayers` cash for a `second home` where his parents live just round the corner from his constituency office and just a few minutes away from McNumpty`s main home which he shares with his wife - who just happens to be the chief inspector of schools.
It all sounds just too familiar. Shades of the ongoing case of Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and the ongoing bizarre situation surrounding the Balls-Cooper axis, who claim that their main home is in London, despite living in the family home in Yorkshire with their two children.
So, should we take heart from Gordon Brown`s announcement and should we therefore cultivate the notion that these flagrant excesses might be brought to an end any time soon? Hardly. For Brown himself is not slow to submit claims for expenses such as the odd telephone call and his subscription to Sky tv. And in any event, it seems that his `far reaching inquiry` is going to be a long drawn out affair and not expected to report until after the next election.
The whole business has yet again been kicked into the long grass by the classic tactic of an inquiry being announced which is nothing more than a diversion from the real problem and, in the process, giving breathing space to McNumpty, to our Second Home Secretary, Balls and Cooper and doubtless countless other MPs who continue to milk the taxpayers in the worst economic times for decades but whose shenanagins have yet to be revealed. In all honesty, you couldn`t make it up.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

We`ve seen it all this weekend. First, the farce in Guyana when the West Indies` manager, John Dyson, miscalculated the Duckworth-Lewis sheets to hand England the first win of their current Caribbean tour by just one run. I have some sympathy for the unfortunate Dyson; not because of the England win but because he is a cricket coach and not a mathematician, which one needs to be these days to make sense of the D/L mysteries. Oh, well, at the end of the day, a win`s a win.
Next the comedy. Manchester United lost to Fulham at Craven Cottage yesterday, having been reduced to playing with just nine men. Should have been eight really, given the petulance, amateur dramatics and constant whining displayed by Cristiano Ronaldo. Hugely entertaining and hilariously funny to see United reduced to bit part players in a compelling drama, which makes the title race more interesting and brings joy to the hearts of all who have no time for United, their arrogance and particularly their manager, who until yesterday thought he and his players were above the laws of the game. The fat lady ain`t singing just yet.
And so to the triumph and tragedy played out in the final few minutes of the Rugby Union Six Nations Tournament. In the end, England finished second in the table, but the triumph went to Ireland - a united Ireland when it comes to Rugby - who achieved their first Grand Slam for no less than 61 years. Well done them. But spare a thought for Stephen Jones, who with the last kick of the game had the chance to deny Ireland and win the game for Wales. His kick fell just short of the posts and it was hard to decide whether to feel sorry for the excellent Jones or joy for the deserving Irish. In the end, sport - and especially Rugby Union - was the winner in a thrilling finale to an enthralling tournament.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Lewis Hamilton took pole position yesterday at Madame Tussauds, as the London waxworks museum unveiled a model of the Formula One world champion. "He has undoubtedly won a place in the nation's hearts for his determination and single mindedness and a place at Madame Tussauds for an amazing track record," said a spokesperson for the London attraction.
Although not being an afficionado of the ear-splitting, carbon-emitting, environmentally-hostile circus that is motor racing, I am nevertheless informed that Hamilton, the first black Formula 1 driver, became the youngest ever world champion last year in only his second season, beating one Felipe Massa to the crown on the last corner of the last race.
His waxwork shows him in full racing kit and holding a replica of his race helmet. It took around six months to create and apparently cost £150,000. Now here`s the puzzle. If the real Lewis Hamilton was placed alongside his waxworks double, which of the two would be the most interesting?
Never mind, for Hamilton, who faced criticism for his decision to move to the tax haven of Switzerland in 2007, was awarded an MBE earlier this month and is thus qualified "to have won a place in the nation`s hearts." Allegedly.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I suppose it was because he thought he should that Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued a statement from 10 Downing Street commenting on the plight of terminal cancer victim Jade Goody. At the end of the statement, he said, ""I wish her well and I wish her family well, and I know that the whole country will be worried and anxious about her health."
Well, I certainly don`t wish her any more harm than she already has and I sympathise with her family who are trying to come to terms with what is a tragedy for them, especially Jade`s two young sons. But I think it`s a bit much for our Prime Minister to declare that `the whole country will be worried and anxious about her health.`
My wife has a very close friend who has been battling with cancer for some years now, but she retains her iron determination not to give in to it, to remain cheerful and to continue to get as much out of life as she can. Because she has never been a `celebrity,` never upset anyone with mindless, racially motivated rants and never sought to make a fortune out of ignorance, sheer stupidity and avarice under the guise of `providing for her family,` she has not had the accolade of a statement from 10, Downing Street or the assumption that the whole country is worried and anxious about her health.
She is, however, much loved, greatly admired and hugely respected by her family and close friends and retains a compelling dignity which it seems can only be achieved away from the glare of Max Clifford-induced `publicity.` There`s some speculation that when Jade finally departs to the Big House in the Sky, then her family might be getting a message of condolence from The Queen. Buckingham Palace has refused to comment but has hinted that anything that might be done will be done privately. Small mercies, indeed. But then you, me and countless others know of cases equally, if not more, deserving.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Today is the Ides of March. It may not have been Julius Ceasar`s best day but it is one of the best I`ve enjoyed for months on end. It seems that, finally, the cold, dark, drab days of winter may be behind us, for today is bright, sunny and pleasantly warm. The birds were singing and the local woodpecker was giving it bigtime in a nearby tree; the grass is growing again, buds are appearing and all in all it makes me feel so much more alive than I have done for some time.
So, there`s lots to do - gardening, car cleaning, fence painting (I`ve almost finished doing my fence in the style of Matisse) - but before all of that there was, this morning, the important matter of taking Barney out for a good walk. He`s 19 weeks old now and has begun to explore the world, so we put him in the car and took him up on the North Downs to a public woodland at Holly Hill - my picture shows Barney surveying the scene and taking in his new surroundings.
He was very taken with it - and so he should, for it`s a lovely area of quiet countryside. The local Council who look after it have placed a useful display at the top of the hill which points out some of the landmarks that can just about be seen in the far distance - The QE2 Bridge at Dartford, the skyline of Canary Wharf in London - all of 30 miles away. The area was given over for public use in 1943 by a gentleman named Mr. Cripps-Day and the council do their best with limited resources to keep the area attractive, safe and informative.
However, maybe the Council should visit it a bit more often, if for no other reason than to dispose of the various `items` left overnight by those whose priority seems to be anything other than admiring the view. There are, it seems, lots of ways to herald the arrival of Spring and to indulge in the joi de vivre which has been missing for so long.

Friday, March 13, 2009

I have a friend I was in the Army with. I was even best man at his wedding. He was a regular soldier and I was hauled in to do my National Service and we met whilst serving in Germany with the 10th Royal Hussars in the early `60s.
I had an e-mail from him yesterday. He was very angry about the reception given to the returning Anglian Regiment when they paraded through the streets of Luton, only to be quite grotesquely `welcomed` home by a small group of about 20 Muslim extremists, carrying insulting banners and dishing out verbal abuse. I believe he has written his disgust to his local paper and posted his feelings on the regimental website....and good luck to him.
There were a few things about this episode that struck me. For example, I agree with freedom of speech, freedom of expression, but I also agree that it is right to criminalise acts which are likely to incite hatred. On which note, I had better be careful what I say.
Now, it`s one thing to criticise the politicians for taking us into war in Iraq and Afghanistan and I do so unreservedly, especially given the highly dubious legitimacy of the Iraq adventure in particular. But it is quite another matter to be allowed to hurl verbal and placarded abuse at returning soldiers who had no choice but to carry out the orders of their political masters. So far, the only arrest made in the Luton affair was someone who threw a packet of bacon at the Muslim protesters, which says a lot about the timidity of the authorities when faced with the prospect of having to deal with racial or religious discrimination.
I believe I may be right in suggesting that we adopt yet another example set by our friends down under. I recall former Australian Prime Minister John Howard getting it spot on over the Zimbabwe cricket tour debacle and I think it was current Prime Minister Kevin Rudd who gave out the clearest possible message about how immigrants to Australia should behave. He said - and I can only paraphrase - something along the lines of `if you come to our country, we expect you to abide by our laws;` `if you come to our country, we will respect your religion and we expect you to respect ours in return;` and, `if you come to our country, we will respect your culture and we expect you to respect ours too. And if you don`t do those things, then you are not welcome here and you will be free to leave.`
All good stuff. Seems to me we could do with a bit of Oz straight talking and a bit of antipodean backbone over here. I`m reminded of Anna in `The King and I` saying that if you become a teacher, then by your pupils you`ll be taught.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The expression on Barney`s face says it all really. A mixture of triumph and relief. Last Saturday, whilst out in a local field, he managed to consume, among other things, a pink and black sock.
We were a little concerned that it had not seen the light of day and that an expensive visit to ace vet Dave Cocker might be required so as to retrieve the sock from the inner workings of Barney`s plumbing, before it could do some damage.
No need to panic. This morning, the offending article was retrieved through a natural bodily function, so we breathed a sigh of relief to go along with Barney`s. No wonder, as a Golden Retriever, he looks pleased with himself.

I guess blogging is something very self-indulgent and I make no apology for what will be a very self-indulgent post this time. If I drift into sentimentality, then you might blame the Carpenters - Richard and Karen - for one of their songs, `Sometimes,` is all about looking back to people "who mean so very much to me and for so many years have made me so very happy. And I count the times I have forgotten to say, `thank you` and just how much I miss you."
You see, I went on one of my periodic pilgrimages yesterday to the 12th century church at Padworth (pictured) in the very depths of the Berkshire countryside, where the gravestone of my more recent forebears stands proudly in the churchyard - my grandparents, my father`s ashes and two of my aunts. I stood over the grave, left some flowers and recalled the song. I listened to the silence in that timeless place, which was broken only by the March breeze and the chatter of the local rooks and the early lambs in the nearby field.
I then went on to revisit my boyhood village of Hythe on the shores of Southampton Water, to leave some flowers where my mother`s ashes were scattered, to visit an old friend and to relive those childhood days once more. Over the years, the village has grown and grown, what was once described as undesirable ribbon development has been overtaken by Stepford-esque housing estates, but the core of the village, it`s heart and its feeling of home, remains.
I went back to the shoreline where I spent so much time as a boy and I picked up a shell which has joined the collection in my car. I walked past my old primary school, which again has grown but its heart remains untouched; I bought the local paper, took in the air from the Solent and wondered where 60 years had gone and why the memories of all those years ago are still so strong.


It was a long drive home, but my self indulgent day had been worth it. Sometimes, it does no harm to indulge in things, people and places that mean so much. And somehow I can`t see myself forgetting to say `thank you` for the blessings I have had for so many years.

Headlines in the Mail today proclaim that "Statins may be the wonder drug but do they have sinister side effects?" The claim by medical professionals appears to be that whilst statins are good for controlling cholesterol, they could also lead to a lowering of intelligence, memory loss, depression and even suicide.
Well, I`ve been on statins for years and although I admit to a lowering of intelligence, a fading memory and the odd bout of depression, I`ve never once felt suicidal. But `sinister` has its attractions. I quite fancy being `sinister.` I wonder if it might just suit me.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Golden Retrievers seem to be the most popular dogs in our village. We have Barney (pictured) of course and next door there is Abby; three doors along is Max, there`s Star in a few streets away and in the next road to us there are at least seven others with names like Wilson, Shane, Tiffany, Polly and heaven knows what else.
One or two of them perform in the Southern Golden Retriever Society Display Team. I caught a glimpse of their act on a live stream from Crufts Dog Show last evening and I have to say that I was impressed with the intricacy of their movement and the precision of the coreography. One of the ladies performing in the Display Team comes from a nearby village and she takes the puppy training classes which Barney has been going to for the past few weeks. He seeems to enjoy that and he`s coming along nicely, although Mrs. Snopper needs to work a bit harder on her begging I feel.
Anyway, given the local connections, I just wonder whether Barney might be tempted to join the Team when he grows up. Here they are performing at Crufts a couple of years ago - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HAfmyD7WsRw. I showed this to Barney but as you can see from the expression on his face, he`s not keen, preferring instead to eat anything and everything he sets eyes on and waking us up before 5.00am each morning. A recent meal which he picked up whilst running across a nearby field, included a black and pink sock, which has so far shown no sign of coming out at either end. If it doesn`t appear soon, I`m told that an expensive visit to ace vet Dave Cocker might be necessary. And he certainly won`t make the Display Team:-

(I`m beginning to wonder why Golden Retrievers are as popular as they seem.)

Thursday, March 05, 2009

I read yesterday that the British Medical Association were imploring the Government to abolish prescription charges in England. At present, the charge for each item on a prescription is £7.10 - a considerable sum which doesn`t take into account the actual cost of producing the medications which are prescribed. Some of them - especially for `popular` ailments like hypertension - are very cheap to produce.
For some time now, prescription charges in Wales have been abolished and before long there will be no charge for prescriptions in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Which leaves England. Today, the Government`s response to the call made by the good doctors on the BMA has been to announce that, from 1st April, the £7.10 charge in England will not be abolished but instead be increased to £7.20.
Now, I happen to be on regular medication for high blood pressure and to control cholesterol and I get a prescription each month for three lots of pills. As I am well past the sell-by date of 60, I don`t have to pay the charge, which would amount to £21.30 each month, soon to be £21.60. So maybe I have nothing to complain about, but the truth is that I am finding it more and more offensive that we in England have to effectively subsidise our Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish neighbours in the United Kingdom....and I wonder why.
Maybe we in England are suffering increased levels of high blood pressure as a result of yet another iniquity and so we consume more and more pills to combat its effects. But whatever the reason, it`s beginning to wear a bit thin. It`s one thing having to put up with the wasteful, self-serving, dictatorial nonsense that is the EU, but quite another when our so-called United Kingdom is becoming increasingly disunited as a result of own goals like this one.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

It`s said that one swallow does not a summer make. But what happens when three come along at once? A week or so ago, Southampton FC were cast adrift at the wrong end of the Championship league table with, seemingly, little hope of reaching safety. But, three wins out of three has perhaps given them a chance of survival.
Last night there was yet more dancing in the streets at the news that Saints had beaten Ipswich Town 3-0 away at Portman Road. This came on top of successive victories over Preston and Cardiff and it has given rise to an outbreak of hysteria among the more easily pleased in the ranks of fanatical Saints fans, who now seem convinced that summer, along with salvation, has surely arrived.
Now, whilst I don`t want to dampen anyone`s enthusiasm, I feel compelled to point out a couple of things. The first and most obvious is that despite this return of form, Saints are still stuck in the relegation zone and there is still a long way to go in the season. The second is arguably even more worrying and it`s this. If Saints do survive to retain their place in the second tier of English football, the chances are that the `stewardship` of chairman Rupert Lowe will remain. Perish the thought. He will doubtless claim that the team`s survival will have been down to his prudent management of club affairs and that we can all look forward to a brighter future. The reality is that it was Lowe who has brought us to the current parlous state of affairs in the first place.
So we may be left with an unpalateable choice. If we go down, Lowe must surely go. If we stay up, he will surely stay. I think, on balance, the first might just be preferable.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

My three sons are now all in their 40s and maybe it`s a sign of me getting older but I often think wistfully back to the days when they were young enough for me to read them a story in bed each night before they went off to sleep. This was a family ritual which meant that my sons knew each and every story by heart, but woe betide me if I misread a sentence - I would have to go back to the beginning and start all over again. Just one of the perils of fatherhood.
Their`library` was a bit limited, but there were the Noddy books and some Ladybird books but one particular favourite was `The Inquisitive Elf.` Unsurprisingly, it was about an elf who was inquisitive....but I won`t spoil the ending for you.
In one of my wistful moments a few years ago, I began to search old bookshops, the internet, Amazon.com and other possible sources in order to try and buy a copy. My searches were, however, in vain and indeed, as one of my good friends explained, if the elf was that inquisitive, then one day he would find me.
Eventually, some months ago, another good friend had spotted the availability of a copy on the internet and he quickly alerted me. I was able to make the purchase and a copy in very good condition arrived safely in the post. I read it again and, after all those years, the words came back as if they had never been away. I`m pleased to report that one of my sons owned up to remembering it - the other two choosing to remain `cool` on the subject as they looked at me despairingly in response to my renewed enthusiasm.
Now I guess the reason for me telling you all this is to confess to the fact that, even now, I refuse to grow up. Can`t see the point of it. Life`s too short and the world too tragic to be taken seriously. In my enduring wistfulness and as tempus continues to fugit, maybe I cling to the thought that, one day, someone might be reading stories to me. If they do, I`ve got just the book for them.