Wednesday, September 30, 2009

AS EVER WAS..
Once again, all that is really needed to comment on Saints` game last night is a picture of the fans looking their habitual glum selves. The other day I suggested that this week`s fixtures against Bristol Rovers last night and Gillingham on Saturday might finally drag us out of negative territory. Well, things seemed to be going ok at St. Mary`s last evening in front of an impressive philosophical gathering of 19,727. We were one up, pulled back to 1-1, went two up, pulled back to 2-2 and then, in the sixth minute of the five minutes of added time, Bristol Rovers won it 3-2 with a stunning strike from the edge of the area.
So we are still stuck on minus one point after ten games and still at least ten points adrift at the bottom of the league. The Gillingham game on Saturday now takes on added significance, for if we lose that, which we are perfectly capable of doing, then patience with manager Pardew might begin to wear a little thin. But there`s a long way to go; it`s a marathon not a sprint; Rome wasn`t built in a day and we must move on and put last night`s disappointment behind us at the end of the day. It is, indeed, as ever was.
This morning, our Saints supporting postman brought me my ticket for Saturday`s game. I`m taking my next door neighbour with me, who is an ardent Gillingham fan. I`ve told him that if his team win, then he`ll have to find his own way home. And then move. Seems fair.

Monday, September 28, 2009

HIGHS AND LOWS...

Sometimes on a Monday morning, it`s useful to look ahead at the week in prospect. This week, like many more, will no doubt be a mixture of good news, bad news, highs and lows. The good news and the high points will include lunch on Wednesday with an old school friend whose company I have only recently renewed after a lapse of about 50 years. On Thursday, I might also be renewing my shambling golfing career, which has also lapsed recently due to circumstances beyond my control ( although to be fair I sense the onset of bad news and a definite low point!) On Saturday, I`ll be off to Southampton in the company of my Gillingham supporting next door neighbour to see Saints take on the Gills (that might turn out to be one of the bad news, low points too!) No too much good news after all, it seems.
But the really depressing events for the coming week must surely be the Labour Party Conference, which kicks off in earnest in Brighton today and also Friday, which sees the Irish having to vote again in the referendum about the Lisbon Treaty, having failed to come up with the right answer last time they voted.
In Brighton, we are already seeing our unelected Prime Minister, urged on by the equally unelected Business Secretary, desperately trying to convince the faithful that they should be allowed to continue leading the country and the party. As to the Irish Referendum (aka Neverendum) whilst I do care about the outcome, I am more concerned about the blatant effront to democracy that says that the will of the people is ignored until such time as they give the answer the politicians require. Remember the Nice Treaty which followed the same pattern?
I suppose the only consolation for the Irish is that they are at least getting a referendum, but for them and for the `leadership` of the UK, both events this week represent a failure of the democratic principles that we have taken for granted for so long. It`s no way to run a railroad and I hope for democracy`s sake that both events end in telling defeats.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

921
According to my online mileage calculator, it`s 332 miles from Southampton to Carlisle United`s football ground at Brunton Park, so it`s 664 miles there and back. Yesterday, 921 Saints fans made the journey, many by car and coach, some by rail, but however they got there, it represents a heroic journey to watch a team still lying at the foot of the third division and still not yet free of the ten points penalty imposed by the League for going in to administration.
For once, the Gods that rule football smiled kindly on the Saints as, for the first time in living memory, we came back from a 1-0 deficit to snatch a draw in the 95th minute, courtesy of a header from new signing Rahdi Jaidi. So we are now unbeaten in six games and this week`s fixtures against Bristol Rovers on Tuesday and Gillingham on Saturday promise to lift us into positive territory.
The unbounded joy of the players yesterday was demostrated by the fact that, at the end of the game, they all gave their shirts away to the travelling fans, as a token of appreciation for the long and winding road they had travelled to get there. Despite the fact that we are still ten points adrift of safety, there does seem to be a togetherness between the players, the management and the fans that has been so lacking for so long. The only way is up. Possibly.

Saturday, September 26, 2009


A GREEN HILL FAR AWAY...
I took this photo just over two weeks ago. The evening sun was just going down over the bay at St. Ives to bring to an end yet another almost perfect day. Since we`ve been home, the weather has continued to be glorious with clear blue skies and spectacular sunsets. The forecast is for this wonderful Indian summer to continue for another week, although I suspect two things. The first is that, as we have now gone past the equinox and therefore the days get shorter and the nights longer, Autumn has probably officially arrived. The second is that the weather will inevitably break and we will be back to the damp and the growing dark before much longer, which is probably the only thing that stops me getting on the phone and booking up another week down in Cornwall.
My problem is that I don`t `do` spontaneous; I have seldom indulged in `spur of the moment` and I`m not sure `impetuous` is really me. Pity really, for if I had any sense - even a sense of living for today and the hell with tomorrow - I would be heading west once more. I feel a compelling urge to get it out of my system, almost a need to exorcise it, so strong is the draw to go back to that land that I find irresistable, which wraps itself around me and makes me feel at peace and enchanted at the same time. I suppose I`ll get over it, pull myself together and knuckle down to the routine of life, but I wonder why at times. Deep within my septuagenarian psyche there might, just might, be the troublesome fear that I may not be able to go there much more. Maybe I should, after all, discover what a bit of spontaneous, spur of the moment impetuosity might bring....before it`s too late? Answers on a postcard please.

Friday, September 25, 2009


SEEING AND BELIEVING
Yesterday I completed the final leg of my MoT by visiting my optician for an overdue eye test. I should have gone a few months ago but it was one of those things I kept putting off for fear of needing to incur the expense of some new spectacles. I needn`t have worried, for the very thorough examination resulted in no problems at all, so I don`t need new ones after all.
I`ve mentioned before that I am fortunate enough to have an optician who bears a startling resemblence to Nicole Kidman. My optician is pictured above showing obvious signs of distress as she leaves her shop at the news that she won`t be seeing me again for a year or so. Hang on a minute - maybe I do need new ones after all.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


TIME TO CELEBRATE...
Yesterday morning I went for my six-monthly check-up with Janice the Practice Nurse, who is welcome to practice on me anytime she likes. She took a blood sample to check my cholesterol and other stuff and took my blood pressure, which has been up and down over the years.
The good news is that my blood pressure is now the best it`s ever been, which is surprising really, given my frantic life style, the constant stress of being a Saints fan and my vegetarian diet which consists of eating only animals that have eaten grass. Anyway, I thought I deserved a bit of a celebration treat, so I bought a(nother) box of Tunnocks Tea Cakes, for which I have an abiding fondness. There may be more exciting ways to celebrate good news, but few that provide such a real sense of doing something so outrageously naughty. Don`t worry - I`ll be fine when I grow up.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009



THE WHEELS HAVE COME OFF...
Finally, it seems the wheels have come off of the so-called `sport` of Formula One motor racing. There was a time, in the Graham Hill, MIke Hawthorn, Stirling Moss days of my youth, when it was a beguiling spectator sport, with glamour, danger and the out of reach wealth that surrounded it, as the rest of us looked on with open mouthed and wide eyed envy. Not any more.
And I don`t just refer to the recent `judgment` handed down by the sport`s own governing body, which produced a mixed verdict of good news and bad news. The good news is that it has effectively banned Flavio Briatore from taking any further part in its acitvities but the less welcome part is that it only felt able to dish out a suspended sentence to the Renault team for what was a flagrant disregard not only of the rules of the game but also the safety of their own driver and that of others taking part.
I`ve mentioned before that I`m no fan of motor racing. I find it a boring, noisy, repetitive, environmentally-hostile round-the-world circus that has long since ceased to be a sport and become a business. In that regard, I guess it`s little different to other sports - football, tennis and the like - but motor racing does seem to have a `track record` of bringing the game into disrepute all of its own. In recent memory, there was the £50million fine imposed on the McLaren Team for having a sneaky look at Ferrari`s technical secrets. Then there was the Blair/Ecclestone stitch up over the banning of tobacco advertising versus alleged payments to the Labour Party and who can forget the Teutonic inspired orgiastic cavorting of the man who yesterday announced the verdict over the Renault affair? It`s prettty clear that they deserve each other.
So for me and, I suspect, lots of others who have witnessed Formula One`s clutch slipping over recent years, the fact that the wheels have finally come off is greeted with more relief than regret. Trouble is, I doubt we`ve heard the last of it.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

CONTRASTING FORTUNES...

This is a picture of Southampton Town Quay, where I parked yesterday for my first visit to St. Mary`s Stadium this season. It`s a pleasant place to be with views across the expanse of Southampton Water and all the maritime activity that goes on there. Yesterday was especially busy with the annual Boat Show in full swing, but also there were lots of comings and goings from the passenger terminal and the container port at Millbrook - the cruise liner Oceana left on its way to some exotic location and also the Grimaldi and Hapag Lloyd containers with more mundane destinations in mind. It all makes for a relaxing time after the long journey from home and before the walk to the Stadium.

Our Third Division encounter with the Glovers of Yeovil Town saw Saints get their first win of the season and so, after five draws and two defeats, the win means that we are now `only` minus two points rather than the minus ten we started the season with. Saints won 2-0 yesterday, courtesy of two penalties awarded by a very observant set of officials. The first was a definite, the second for a more debateable hand ball. Some you get, some you don`t, but the three points were well deserved. I sat for the first time in the posh bit - the rarified Block 8 - and was surprised to see a few well known faces not far away. Ex-manager Gordon Strachan and ex-Liverpool and England player Steve MaManaman, along with Saints` new owner, Markus Liebherr. I wondered why the first two named were there at all and then I realised that, possibly like me, they wanted to just enjoy a football match where the expectations were low, the quality undemanding but the atmosphere most convivial. If so, then again like me, they went home satisfied, for all of those ingredients were there in abundance.

And then today, there was the Manchester Derby between mega-rich Manchester City and our old friends Manchester United. As is required by the Laws of the Premiership, after 90 allegedly pulsating minutes and the score 3-3, the announced four minutes of added time were extended to six or seven so that Manchester United could score again and win the game. It defies belief but surprises no-one, such is the farce, the circus, the madhouse that the Premiership has become - at least in Manchester.
Just five short years ago, round about this time, Saints beat Manchester United 1-0 at St. Mary`s with a late header by James Beattie to propell us into fourth place in the Premiership. Now we reside at the bottom of the third tier - about 66 places lower than we were on that glorious day - while the best we can hope for this season is achieving mid-table obscurity. It doesn`t really matter, for one thing my terrible golf has taught me is that, however hard I try and however much I might improve, I`m never going to be Tiger Woods. And the Saints are never going to be Manchester United. So I`ll just continue my visits to Town Quay, enjoy the view, watch the ships come and go and enjoy the undemanding conviviality of being a Saints fan, that the absence of expectation has comfortingly produced.

Friday, September 18, 2009

ANOTHER SAD DEPARTURE
As you get older, you become increasingly aware of your own mortality and this has led me in recent years to scan the obituary column in our local paper - the Kent Messenger - each week. I work on the prinicple that if my name isn`t in there, then I know I can carry on for another week at least.
So I take a kind of morbid interest in reports of more well known people who pass away and today I see that Mary Travers has died at the age of 72 (just two years older than me) from the side effects of chemotherapy that led to leukaemia.
The younger among you will be forgiven for never having heard of her, but Mary was the Mary of Peter, Paul and Mary - one of the leading folk groups in the 60s and 70s with chart toppers like `Leaving on a Jet Plane,` `Blowin` in the Wind` and the unforgettable `Puff the Magic Dragon.`
But the real reason for me to remember Mary was that there was a story about the trio when they were on a long distance train across America. They sat down alongside a nun and thought that, as they were going to be together for a long time, they should get to know one another. Peter started the introductions:-
"Hi, my name`s Peter...but I`m no saint."
"I`m Paul," said Paul, "but I`m no prophet."
"My name`s Mary," said Mary...."and I don`t know what the hell to say."
Where, indeed, have all the flowers gone?

SEPTEMBER SONG...
Not too sure I like September that much. After our week away earlier in the month, it now seems we are heading in to the long drag that is Autumn and Winter, neither of which exactly adds to the joi de vivre. But it`s not just the turn of the seasons. It seems that September brings a deluge of bills, including house insurance, car insurance, bills from the companies that supply the water and then take it away again, all of which adds up to an expensive month with little to show for it unless I leave taps on all day and indulge in concentrated loo flushing.
But September also brings my six-monthly MoT-type health check. I`ve made an appointment to see the practice nurse next Wednesday to have my blood pressure checked and a blood test that will show how my cholestorol is doing, along with various other bodily functions too delicate to reveal in a family blog post. From now until then my diet will have to be amended to cut out all the stuff I know is bad for me but which I enjoy anyway so that I might stand a chance, however slim, of passing the test.
Yesterday I had to see my dentist for some work to my choppers which also thankfully doubled as my six-monthly dental check and I have to make an appointment to see the optician for another regular eye test, which may well lead to the purchase of new glasses. Next week too I have an appointment with my stylist, Chris of Larkfield, for yet more attention to my dwindling folical needs. September just goes on and on. The only consolation in all of this is that I get to spend some time in the company of charming ladies. The practice nurse is Janice, my dentist is Louise. my optician bears an uncanny resemblance to Nicole Kidman whilst Chris of Larkfield really needs no introduction. September comes at a price.....but it could be worse I guess.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


TROUBLE AT THE TOP..
It seems that it`s not just in politics that one`s naive and trusting faith in human nature is constantly disappointed. I`m used to politicians being dishonest, deceitful, disingenuous and all the other adjectives they so richly deserve. But I never imagined that I would lose as much faith in top level sport as I am right now.
In recent weeks there have been revelations in Rugby Union about the use of blood capsules which have brought shame on the sport, on Harlequins in particular (even though it is suggested that the practice is more widespread) and has brought the hitherto distinguished career of Dean Richards to an undignified end. In horse racing - a `sport` I know virtually nothing about - champion jockey Kieron Fallon has just saddled up again after a long suspension for some dodgy riding. We have seen the shrill tirade launched on an unsuspecting line judge by one of the Williams sisters (I never know which is which and I have long suspected they might be one and the same anyway) and in top level football we witness the weekly fol-de-rols of diving forwards, whinging managers and inept administration (FIFA and Eduardo anyone?) whilst athletics has long battled against the twin thereats posed by drugs and transgenderism.
The body wracking pastime of professional snooker has also had its problems and suspicions and now we see that the rarified world of Formula One motor racing might well have been the scene for one of the most ludicrous attempts at winning at all costs that any sport has so far witnessed.
Ludicrous because if it is the case that Nelson Piquet Junior was instructed to crash his car on purpose in order to gain an advantage for a team mate, then how much more public and blatant can the alleged offence have been? Now I have to confess that I have never been in the slightest bit interested in motor racing - to me, it is a noisy, smelly, environmentally-hostile, pointless, repetitive cavalcade - but I guess some people like it. And for them, then like almost all the other sports, to have their faith in the inherent nature of fair competition destroyed is a shattering blow for their love of the game and for their commitment to it.
So I`m beginning to wonder where the true nature of sport might still reside - where the game is respected, where the competition is fair and where the players and the supporters combine to uphold the spirit of the game.
In truth, with the notable exception of golf and with respect to admirable `minor` sports like table tennis, barbed wire hurdling and synchronised basket weaving, I can find some solace in my old friend cricket. I cannot believe that there is any serious malpractice going on at the moment that would tarnish my faith in the game at the highest level in this country, otherwise, for example, Australia might not be 5-0 up in the current seven match one day series; 3-2 might be a bit suspicious though. Okay, there might have been the odd ball tampering, the occasional brush with the laws, but nothing to compare with the suspicions that have surrounded Briatore, Piquet, Fallon, the snooker boys, Harlequins, leading athletes and all the rest. It`s just not cricket, old chap.
UPDATE : Australia stuffed England again last evening, so it`s now 6-0 in the seven match series. Surely it can`t be a fix.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


SIZE ISN`T EVERYTHING

In my eclectic `library,` I have an interesting volume, which is `Philips Handy Administrative Atlas of England and Wales.` It was published in 1928 and contains maps and detailed descriptions of each of the Parliamentary and Local Government areas at that time. "Fascinating!" I hear you cry. But in truth, it is a remarkable insight into how England and Wales were `organised` 80 years ago and it shows the difference between how things were then and how they are now.
One of the best examples of that change is Cornwall. Now, I did promise not to bore you with tales from last week`s holiday, but one thing in particular came to my attention whilst I was down there last week. Philips Handy Administrative Atlas shows that, all those years ago, Cornwall had its County Council but also no less than 12 Municipal Boroughs including Penzance, Falmouth and Truro of course, but also smaller ones such as Lostwithiel with a population of just 1,307.
Then there were 16 Urban Districts, the largest being Camborne along with much smaller ones such as Ludgvan (pop. 2,052.) Then came 16 Rural Districts, which included the Scilly Isles and, bizarrely, "Holsworthy (part of)" most of which is in Devon anyway. After that came countless Parish Councils and so it`s safe to say that the whole of Cornwall was more than adequately covered by this startling structure of local government. (As an aside, at the other end of the country, right slap bang in the middle of Newcastle, there was actually a Newcastle-upon-Tyne Rural District comprising an area of one acre and a population of five, so Cornwall was by no means an exceptional case.)
Since 1974, Cornwall has been divided into six identifiable districts - North Cornwall, Caradon, Restormel, Carrick, Kerrier and Penwith. The further west you went, the more `Cornish` things became and so, for example, the far west districts of Kerrier and Penwith introduced the sensible policy of having place names and street name plates in both English and Cornish. Lelant is also shown as Lannanta, St Ives as Porthia and so on, all of which helps to establish in the minds of residents and visitors alike the fact that you are in a country apart - one with a singular heritage and with its own customs, history and language.
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Now, I should have known it was too good to last. In April this year, all of that structure was swept away and replaced with the one size fits all Cornwall Council. I haven`t followed the transition at all closely, but I can imagine that the proposal was met with some resistance which possibly grew stronger the farther west you went. And they would have been right to have their reservations, for it is there that Cornishness is felt at its most compelling and beguillng. On a visit to Praa Sands last week, deep into what used to be Kerrier District, I noticed what looked like fairly new street name plates sprouting up, all in English and Cornish, almost as if in their dying throes, Kerrier District had been determined to leave its mark in the way it felt most telling against their submergence into the monolithic Cornwall Council. One road didn`t even bother to tell you that `An Vownder`was `The Garden.`........

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Now the new Cornwall Council might just turn out to be more efficient, more `value-for-money for council taxpayers,` more administratively convenient from all that 1928 and 1974 stuff, but I hope it encourages and promotes the Cornish identity and builds on the examples set in places like Kerrier and Penwith. I don`t know why I should worry as I`m not Cornish and I only go there to savour its magic and even when I do I feel as if I am intruding. But it is that mystery, that spirit of place, that keeps me going back for more. I`ll be keeping tabs on Cornwall Council, for it is true that size isn`t everything and in all the diversity that is Cornwall, I doubt its one size will suit everyone.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

PIT STOP BLUES...
Just back from a spiffing week in Cornwall. I won`t bore you with all the places we went to or with a detailed weather report (even though while it was 18C and drizzling last Tuesday it was 29C and fine here in Kent.) The journey there and back was ok - over 300 miles each way - and Barney is turning out to be a good traveller, which helps a lot. As long as we stop every now and then for him (and us) to stretch his legs and do what he needs to do, he`s fine.
And one of the stops we made there and back was once again at Stonehenge. It`s a couple of hours travelling time into the journey and so very `convenient.` As usual, the car park was very busy but we always drive down the adjoining byway and park for free. I have to report that the facilities at this unique, irreplaceable, official World Heritage Site are nothing short of a disgrace to Stonehenge, to the Government Department responsible for its upkeep and to the nation generally. Since we were last there, nothing has changed. No improvements. In fact things have got a bit worse. When I last used the gentlemen`s `facility,` there were two hand drying machines. Now there`s only one and that one struggles manfully to keep up with the constant demand but it is clearly a losing battle for it.
They`re supposed to be going to build a new `Visitor Centre` at Airman`s Cross - a mile or so to the west of the monument - and there was talk of it being ready for Olympic Year in 2012. I can`t see it happening myself and if it`s true that countless visitors coming to these shores for the Olympics are likely to want to see Stonehenge, then unless something drastic is done to improve the facilities for them, then we are going to be severely embarrassed by what they find. I think I`m going to have to find another pit stop next time we head west.

Friday, September 04, 2009

MET OFFICE WEATHER WARNING?
This inviting big beach is just one of many we`ll be visiting next week. We set off early(ish) tomorrow morning for the 340 miles drive down to Carbis Bay in far west Cornwall. We`ll be staying in a lovely bungalow overlooking another big beach with distant views of Godrevy lighthouse.
I just hope the weather isn`t too bad. After all, the year is drifting into Autumn now and I don`t mind it being a bit chilly - bracing even - for I love nothing better than to be on a big beach with the sound of the surf, the wind in my face and a vast Cornish sky overhead. They`ve had a series of Met Office weather warnings down there of late - maybe they have blown themselves out by now and we can get some serious coast path walking in. Another holiday for Barney the Retriever - ten months old and already a seasoned traveller.
A good friend of mine, one Wurzel, has a blog which there`s a link to down the page a bit and on the right (see `Blog List`.) He and his family were down that way last weekend and he managed to post something on his blog from his mobile phone while he was down there. I do apologise, dear reader, but I`m afraid mobile phones are quite beyond me and long distance blogging is a big no-no. Anyway, I think Wurzel`s just being a bit flash. See you in a week or so.

Thursday, September 03, 2009


AN UNFORTUNATE SILENCE..
It sounds like a real tangled web, the Lockerbie bomber release business. Did Gordon Brown say one thing to Libya and something else to Obama? What were the real motives behind the early release of Abdel Baset al-Megrahi ? Was it simple comapssion, even if misplaced, or was there far more to it? Someone must know and the one person who should know is saying nothing. Well, almost nothing.
Yesterday, in a coreographed announcement about phantom jobs for 85,000 unemployed young people, which smacked more of spin than reality, our Prime Minister issued a series of denials - no oil deal with Libya, no double dealing, no influence brought to bear, nothing to do with me as it was a matter for the Scottish Parliament, not Westminster. In fact, no hint at all of what Gordon Brown thought of the release which is puzzling, especially if, as he says, he had nothing to do with it.
One thing we do need is leadership, clearly stated views and opinions so we know where we stand, who we are dealing with and who speaks on our behalf. Brown has become adept at giving his opinions on everything from the Ashes victory to Jade Goody`s farewell. But of Lockerbie, Megrahi and all that, not a word, so small wonder that people are thinking the worst. We don`t know what he thinks, so we are left to form our own conclusions.
I`m afraid mine is that I find it increasingly difficult to believe anything that Brown says and it has reached the point whereby I don`t even believe the silence any more. I suspect I am not alone.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009


CHEERS...
It`s a curious day the first day of September. Summer seems to be on the wane, despite which we are optimistically setting off to Cornwall for a week on Saturday. At midnight last night, the duty on fuel went up by 2.3p a litre in line with the Government`s policy of sticking it up every few months under the guise of saving the planet. It doesn`t work, of course, but it does provide the Exchequer with yet more of our money for them to squander on meaningless stunts.
And one of the more meaningless ones was the introduction today of the Drinking Banning Orders - the Booze Asbos - by which local councils can apply for the Orders to be imposed on anyone over the age of 16 who is caught causing a nuisance in a public place as a result of being drunk. Or words to that effect.
Now I read the other day that there has been serious academic research carried out into the reasons why Britain seems to have more cases of drunken behaviour than most other countries. The conclusion was that people drink because they are unhappy; full of frustrations about all kinds of things and so they turn to drink as a means of escaping the reality of life. Not surprising really, as there is much to be disenchanted with in New Labour`s Britain which shows all the classic symptoms of a failed society in the aftermath of a lost empire.
There are simply too many examples of that failure to list them all here but they would include illegal wars, recession, unemployment, political sleaze, spin and deceit, dumbed down education system, the surveillance society, sneaky backdoor tax hikes (fuel, etc.,) the invasion of our traditional values and way of life, unfettered immigration, the benefits culture and more and more the imposition of rules by the remote, self-serving EU (as witnessed today by the introduction of a mad rule by which people can be prosecuted and fined for buying traditional 100 watt light bulbs.)
And so I am forced to conclude that it`s really the Government that needs the ASBO for all the damage it has done and continues to do to the country`s reputation and way of life, especially today of all days, when summer is on the wane and a gloomy winter lies ahead. I could go on, but you get my drift....and I could write more, but I`m off down the pub. Cheers.