Thursday, July 30, 2009


A JOURNEY OF DISCOVERY...
No wonder Barney looks puzzled. So far in his nine months, he`s had a bit of a sheltered life - local walks, local woods and orchards, that kind of thing - but last week opened his eyes to the fact that there is a world beyond the confines of our Kent village.
It was his first long drive in the car - 240 miles - but despite a couple of `comfort` stops at Stonehenge and somewhere in Somerset, Barney travelled very well. When we arrived at our holiday cottage, he settled in quickly and enjoyed the new sniffs on offer in their local woods.
We took him everywhere with us, of course - the picture shows him on the beach at Woolacombe. We went to places like Clovelly that were crowded with people and we even took Barney on the cliff lift which ascends the 901 feet from Lynmouth up to Lynton, none of which seemed to faze Barney at all. So, we now know that he`s a good traveller and that he adapts well to new surroundings and experiences. All good news for Barney and for us. It`s just like having kids again!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

EVERY NOW AND THEN....

Three times last week, we made the journey to Crow Point, where Braunton Burrows meet the sea at the Torridge estuary with the wonderful village of Appledore on the opposite shore.

Why three times? Well, apart from being one of our favourite places, it`s also very remote. You can only get to it via a toll road (cars £1.50) which is about two miles long and leads to a small car park. The toll road is maintained by the Braunton Marsh Inspectors, who do a good job of looking after a rich expanse of important natural heritage. But the other reason to go there is that you can walk along the beach right to where it turns a corner and starts to become Saunton sands.

There is seldom anyone else there, even in the holiday season, so it was just us, Barney, the sea, the sand, the wind and the endless sky. Almost a feeling of being at one with the forces of nature and a stark reminder of man`s insignificance in the great scheme of things. I don`t know about you, but now and again I get the urge to be at places like that, far away from the maddening crowd and to remind myself just what a wonderful and powerful world it is without the trappings of modern day life. Sometimes it`s good to get away from it all and there is so much these days to get away from. I just hope that places like Crow Point will be preserved as they are, so that every now and then hopeless romantics like me can escape from our version of reality to where the true reality can still be found.

Monday, July 27, 2009

There are, in life, so many things which annoy. This morning, having been away for a week, we had to go shopping to replenish our supplies. Now, I don`t know whether it has anything to do with where we live but I encountered a prime example of the annoying thing.
Now, it being late July and therefore the peak of the holiday season, it was raining again and not too warm either. However, some people had clearly been on their own holidays, because, despite the weather, I saw at least three middle aged men dressed in shorts and tee shirts and sporting a tan (fake or otherwise) with the obvious intention of alerting everyone else to the fact. "Look at me," they silently cried, "I`ve just come back from holiday and don`t I look splendid with my tanned legs and my holiday clothes?"
No, actually, you are very annoying, you look like a complete twonk and at your age you should know better.
Another of today`s annoyances is the mobile phone. I bought mine a few months ago for £9.73 and I have used it about twice. But far from decrying their usefulness, courtesy of the so-called `celebrities,` a whole new purpose for the mobile phone has emerged - the art of clasping the phone to your ear as you hurry through the arrival lounge so as to give the impression that you are holding an important conversation with someone just as important as you. When all the time, there is no conversation actually taking place and so the clasped phone becomes simply a device to feign being `otherwise engaged` rather than have to face the people, the press and whoever else might find your presence interesting. John Terry was the most recent example of those using this device. They fool no-one, of course, except themselves. It must be very annoying for them.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


UP-ALONG AND DOWN-ALONG

Thirty five years ago, we were staying in a caravan at Croyde Bay in Devon for a two-week summer holiday. In those days, our three boys wanted nothing more than to be on the beach with their surf boards, sun cream and plenty to eat and drink. Not sure too much has changed to be honest. However, Mrs. Snopper and I thought it would be a nice change to get away from the beach one evening and make a visit to Clovelly on the north Devon coast, not too far from where we were staying. We suggested it to the boys, who weren`t interested, so we took the gamble and left them to their own devices and off we went. It was the sort of thing you could do in those days - so different to the ultra-protective childhood of today.
That evening all those years ago, we parked for free in a nearby field and strolled up and down Clovelly`s one street and almost had the place to ourselves. Last week, during our stay in Devon, we went back to Clovelly again. Oh, how the years have changed things. Not the village itself, which is almost preserved in amber so nothing changes there; but the car park is now huge, there`s a big all-singing, all-dancing `visitor centre` and you have to pay a £5.50 entrance charge to get in to the village itself. Rampant commercialism must have arrived some time during the 35 years and I suppose I don`t really mind, for it is a unique place which needs to be preserved and if the commercial side of things helps to keep the amber coming, then fair enough.
We were pleased with our ability to make the long descent down to the quay at the bottom of the hill and to manage the climb back up again. The one street is called Down-along as you go down and Up-along as you climb back up. It kind of reminded me of the Woolston Ferry Song about the chain ferry - the floating bridge - that used to ply on steel hawsers between Southampton and its Woolston suburb the other side of the River Itchen. "When I sing of its construction, you`ll be surprised to learn. That the bow going one way, coming back becomes the stern."
For much more on Clovelly, please see http://www.devon-online.com/towns/clovelly/ .

Thursday, July 16, 2009

ONE OF THOSE DAYS....

It seems as if today is indeed one of those days. First, a leak from the bathroom has found its way through the brickwork, down through the floor and has been depositing water into the garage. OK, it can be fixed, but it means the bathroom is out of commission for a day or two.

Then Mrs. Snopper has lost her digital camera, she knows not where and we`ve searched high and low but to no avail. Then we went shopping in Tesco`s who had kindly given us a £5 off voucher but when we got to the checkout, we couldn`t find the voucher.

So, can it get any worse? You bet. I see today that Tony Blair has been nominated as the UK`s official candidate for the Presidency of Europe. No-one asked me what I thought and it seems no-one even considered whether there are more `suitable` candidates. Someone like Joanna Lumley would do nicely - she`d certainly find favour with the Italian vote.

So why Blair? For it seems his candidancy was announced in Strasbourg yesterday by the unelected peeress Baroness Glenys Kinnock rather than even being sanctioned by Parliament, never mind the rest of us. I`m holding on to the slim hope that the Presidency of Europe can`t come into being unless and until all 27 countries sign up to the EU Constitution - sorry, the Lisbon Treaty. On that score, we in the UK have been denied the referendum we were unequivocally promised in Labour`s last manifesto by unelected Prime Minister Gordon Bennett; Ireland have to vote again in October following their first `NO` vote and the Czech Republic still has to ratify it too.

I imagine Ireland are being promised so many concessions if they vote `YES` this time that they will find it hard to resist and as for the Czechs, their Prime Minister might be waivering under the strain of the pressure being heaped upon him. I think the only respite from all this gloom will be to get away for a week in glorious Devon. So that`s what we`ll be doing early on Saturday morning.

When we get back, the bathroom might be useable again, Mrs. Snopper`s camera may have been recovered and I think we`ll do our shopping somewhere else anyway. But I just know that the undemocratic, interfering, grandiose, self-serving farce that is the EU will have carried on doing what it wants to do with our money and the unelected, grandstanding, self-serving poseur that is Tony Blair will have carried on smiling his way from one calamity to the next. Perhaps, after all, Blair and the EU were made for each other. See you in a week or so.

Monday, July 13, 2009


DREAM ON...
From our golf correspondent
On Thursday, the Open Golf Championship gets under weigh at the famous links course at Turnberry in Scotland. The world`s finest golfers will be assembled to compete for the most prestigious trophy in the game - the Claret Jug. It may not be the richest prize in terms of hard cash, but in status and prestige, it is unequalled in the history of the Royal and Ancient game.
No-one knows who will be in contention let alone win the tournament, but one player who will most definitely not be there is our old friend Snopper, who has had a mixed season so far and continues to play consistently at a level which makes it impossible for him to enter any kind of competitive tournament, especially those where rules have to be obeyed, conventions respected and where there is no room for `improvisation` or creative accounting.
Now, none of those impediments will prevent Snopper from taking a keen interest in events in that Caledonian seaside golfing paradise. He will be glued to the television and the car radio as he drives down to Devon on Saturday for yet another break from his hurly-burly life. But he watches and listens not for the excellence of the play on offer, from which he could learn so much. No, our hero, who reaches his three score years and ten as The Open reaches its climax, watches and listens for the hooks, the shanks, the missed putts and the drives that go out of bounds or, better still, find the water that adjoins much of the course.
You see, Snopper thrives on inadequacy, on embarrassment even, for such spectacles at such a prestigious event merely serve to make him feel better about his own quite dreadful game. And so, far from dreaming of ever playing in such an event, he comes to terms once more with the undeniable truth about his own golfing `talent.` But I suspect he might just `enjoy` his game a little more than those professionals who may see it as just a job - another day at the office - and who may sometimes wish that their own approach could be as free and, indeed, as carefree as that far off elderly inadequate living in his own private make believe golfing world.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


A SMALL TOWN IN WILTSHIRE..

There`s something very military about the county of Wiltshire. Salisbury Plain, wide open spaces, tank training, gunnery ranges, Devizes, Tidworth Garrison and.....Wootton Bassett. It lies close by to RAF Lyneham where the fallen from Iraq and Afghanistan have arrived all too frequently, to be taken by cortege to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford and to await the Coroner.
If there had been enough funds to build a by-pass for the town, then the cortege bearing the coffins of our war dead might not have to pass through Wootton Bassett`s charming, ancient High Street. As it is, each time another plane lands at Lyneham with its sad and wasted complement, a ceremony of thanksgiving, pride and regret unfolds.
The ceremony that has grown up in Wootton Bassett is as simple and moving as the coffins themselves, wrapped only in the Union flag. As the hearses approach, the tenor bell of St Bartholomew's Church begins to toll. Business stops while shoppers and shopkeepers join the crowds lining the pavement. When the cortege reaches the war memorial, the president of the British Legion says a single word – "Up" – to mark the moment when ex- and serving members of the forces should begin their salute. "Down," he says 60 seconds later, as the hearses move on. And once more, slowly and quietly, Wootton Bassett goes back to its business, having paid its respects and given its time quite spontaneously and genuinely to those who have been lost and to the friends and families who grieve.
Now, the loss of our servicemen is acknowledged in Parliament by the Prime Minister and other leading poloticians at the start of Prime Minister`s Questions each Wednesday. But after those fleeting sombre moments , the hurly-burly yahboo Westminster vaudeville takes over and with it the dignity and poignancy are gone. With Parliament about to shut down for three months or so, even that opportunity will be denied.
And so the value of the small town of Wootton Bassett becomes even more important as its townspeople continue to observe their own ceremony. It`s a long way from Westminster in so many ways. In continuing its own heartfelt and heart rending twice weekly homage to our fallen heroes, Wootton Bassett has become the true conscience of the nation.
I`m reminded of Neil Finn`s lyrics for the Crowded House song `Don`t Dream it`s Over`:-
"In the paper today, tales of war and of waste
But you turn right over to the TV page."
I can`t see the good folk of that small town in Wiltshire ever being so easily distracted.


Thursday, July 09, 2009

SWISS ROLL IN TO SAVE SAINTS...
At long last it seems the corner has finally been turned. After years of decline and fall, the slings and arrows of outrageous management, the ignomony of relegation after relegation, the imposition of a ten points penalty for going into administration and a narrow squeak with liquidation, my football club has been saved from the brink of extinction.

The gentleman responsible is Markus Liebherr, pictured right. He may bear an uncanny resemblance to James Bond`s arch enemy, Blofeld, but he is, however, of a more avuncular disposition. A hugely successful billionaire Swiss businessman who is much taken with the city of Southampton and its football club. The Administrator, Mark Fry, yesterday explained why he was so keen on purchasing the club. "Markus Liebherr was attracted to Southampton by a number of qualities which include the club's rich sporting heritage, loyal fan base, first-class stadium and training facilities and the potential for the Saints to regain their rightful place in the higher echelons of English football." I believe Herr Liebherr is also a deeply religious man and was impressed by the fact that Saints originated from the boys club founded at St. Mary`s Church 124 years ago, which is why the club is called `The Saints` and why the stadium is called St. Mary`s.

So, good news at last. But it would be wrong to imagine that we will automatically climb quickly back to the Championship, never mind the Premiership, where we resided for 27 years. Our new owner may have £2.5 billion in the bank which might make him the fourth richest owner in English football but he seems intent on building steadily and sensibly. I`m happy with that. We need to get it right rather than get it soon and above all we need stability and consolidation, along with a healthy dose of patience. And we need to regain our reputation as a family friendly club who conduct themselves with dignity both on and off the field of play, for the age of Dennis Wise and Rupert Lowe is now finally over.

I don`t expect us to turn into Manchester United or Chelsea or Manchester City even if we may have the resources to do so. In fact, I don`t want to be like them with all the excess and distaste that surrounds them. I will be content to have a decent club, run by decent people doing decent things and be content for our rightful place to be found once more. Wherever that turns out to be and however long it takes.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

DIFFERENT STROKES...

The phrase means, of course, that different people do things in different ways that suit them. And never was it better illustrated than on Sunday, when we were invited to an event at the Duke of Wellington in the village of Ryarsh not far from where we live. It`s a good old fashioned village pub which, as you can see from the picture, was built around a quarter past three one afternoon. The event was to celebrate the 70th birthday of my brother-in-law, who thought it would be a good idea to gather as many of the family together, so that long lost cousins could meet long lost cousins and generally invite people from both `sides` of his family who might not even have met before.
It was a very successful and enjoyable occasion. There were people I didn`t know and others who I hadn`t seen for years so we were all grateful not only for the invitations but also for the chance to get together. But it got me thinking about the different way in which I will be marking my own 70th birthday in a couple of weeks. Now, I don`t like surprises and I don`t like `fuss,` so I decided the best thing to do would be to be anywhere else but at home and `available` on that day.
The result is that we will be in a remote corner of Devon, far from civilisation, with only the surrounding countryside of Tarka the Otter and the nearby coastline to while the week away. It suits me to do things quietly....and I`ve been thinking about what becoming 70 means for me. It`s the biblical end of the line, of course, the stargate to dotage and so the prospect of advancing years does not sit happily on my pretend 39-year old shoulders or with my continuing mental age of twelve.
There is the odd compensation along the way - I believe that once the age of 70 is reached then you will no longer be called upon for jury service. Whilst that may appear to be an overtly ageist decree, I think it will come as a relief to me and an even bigger relief for the justice system in this country. That apart, I confess that I can see little to celebrate in reaching this particular milestone. And so I will spend it in quiet contemplation, giving thanks for the years I`ve had and hoping like crazy that there are many more to come. I guess my strokes are just different.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

A HIT AND MISS WEEK...
The hit of last week was undoubtedly my visit to Southampton University with eldest son, David and grandaughter Sarah. The University itself was fine - large modern campus, nice `halls` and an excellent presentation of the history courses and options available. The Highfield campus is like a town of its own within the city. I could well imagine that it would be possible to live quite happily and comfortably within the confines of the campus without ever venturing into the city of Southampton itself. But that would be to deny the chance to explore some of the city`s history - the Pilgrim Fathers, the Titanic, the legacy of hundreds of years of trading, commerce and conflict - as well as the more modern aspects of the south coast`s foremost metropolis (yes, I know I`m biased.)
After the University Open Day, we went down to Town Quay and parked just in time to see a huge container ship being tugged out of dock and off down Southampton Water. We also saw P&O`s largest cruise ship, Ventura, which was preparing to leave on the evening tide, looking for all the world like a floating block of flats. I had expected Town Quay itself to be more `refined` than on the occasions when my football crew partake of their pre-match almond croissants and coffee at M. Hulot`s Patisserie. However, my expectation was marred by the sight of three armed police officers moving in on an Isle of Wight ferry in the apparent belief that the perpetrator of a robbery in Cowes might be aboard trying to make his getaway. He wasn`t. But it was good to be back in my home port for a few hours. It reminded me that it will be grades and academic options that determine Sarah`s choice, rather than the wistful leanings of a biased grandfather towards any particular location.
The miss of the week was undoubtedly Wimbledon. It`s the last day today - men`s final day - and so far I have just about managed to miss the entire fortnight, despite saturation coverage by the BBC. I happened to hear the odd grunt, shriek and gasp from the ladies earlier in the week (almost a new experience for me) and I believe that our Scottish hero, who has now become British, lost in the semi-final. I imagine he will revert to just being Scottish again. But thankfully I missed the spectacle of the misplaced shouting by the crowd between points (I suspect at least one of whom shouts `Get in the hole` each time Tiger tees off;) I avoided the patronising by the All England Club towards the masses who are permitted to enter their hallowed precincts once a year - at a price, of course; and I missed the hand-wringing depression brought about by the fact that despite £20million of investment in the game each year, we as a nation are still pants at yet another sport we invented. With a family event to attend this afternoon, there`s every chance I will also miss today`s final , which will round the week off nicely.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

THE FINAL, FINAL CURTAIN?
It may have been a relief to you, dear reader, that I have not posted much on here lately about Southampton Football Club. Last time I did, there was some optimism that Saints` talisman Matthew Le Tissier, aka Le God, would be successful in fronting a consortium to complete the takeover of the club. That prospect seems to have faded away, although despite a formal withdrawal from negotiations a couple of days ago, the Pinnacle Group appear not to have left the stage completely.
Now, a few years ago - even last year - the fact that Saints were in such dire straits would have been big-ish news in the print media and the airwaves. But the rapid demise of the club`s standing in the hierarchy of football has meant that even though we face the gravest situation in all the 124 years we`ve been going, hardly a squeak is heard and barely a word is written. In a way it`s a Godsend, for it leaves supporters like me to our own devices of misery without the rest of the football world either noticing or caring.
So, where are we today? The appointed Administrator, Mark Fry, seems to be in what must be desperate nogitiations with a `Swiss consortium` and another in a seemingly endless line of `mystery overseas potential investors.` Fry has said that if the sale of the club is not concluded by tomorrow (Friday) then the directors will have to consider `other options` - giving the dark hint that winding up procedures are likely to follow.
So maybe Homer is right to hold up his banner, for the fat lady sang and also left the stage a while ago. And yet, and yet, there are still hopes that Fry`s negotiations might succeed or that the avuncular Anthony Salz and his circle of well heeled Saints fan buddies will do as they promised and "not let the club die." But I wonder how much of a club there will be, as we`re down to the bare bones and a ten points deduction for the start of the new season, if indeed there is to be one. Maybe by this time tomorrow, when I`m off to Southampton anyway to check out the University with Sarah and her dad, we`ll know a bit more. It could be the final curtain at long last. And it might be a blessed relief after all.