Friday, October 30, 2009

Well, here we are on another day in paradise. The news on tv, radio and in the papers is not just depressing but most of it just makes me angry.
Today, the `headlines` include the farce surrounding Tony ("I`m a straight kind of guy") Blair and the will-he-won`t-he end up, God help us, as President of Europe. We learn that Britain is still in recession, whilst most if not all the other leading western countries are not. So much for Gordon Brown telling us we`re `best placed` to come through it better than others. Then a succession of disgraced MPs standing up in Parliament to apologise for their expenses misdemeanours; half-hearted apologies delivered with just the hint of a smirk in the knowledge that they`re not being forced to pay back most of their ill-gotten gains. Then more `news` concerning the X Factor, Strictly Come Dancing and other irrelevancies. And on and on it goes with my grumpy factor rising to dangerous levels.
But one thing that has evoked genuine sadness was the passing, two days ago, of `Shep.` Born in the enchanting village of Instow in Devon, which looks out across the Torridge estauary to the equally charming Appledore, David Sheppard went on to have a successful career as a batsman for Gloucestershire before becoming not only one of cricket`s very best umpires but also one of its most engaging and respected. Shep, of course, was reknowned for his ritual of standing on one leg each time the scoreboard showed 111, which represents `Nelson,` cricket`s supposed unlucky number.
The superstition is said to have originated with Admiral Lord Nelson, who supposedly had one eye, one arm and one leg - even though he had both his legs but which still adds up to bad luck in anyone`s language. It was one of cricket`s most charming moments, watching the bulky figure of Shep trying to stand on one leg until the scoreboard ticked past the fateful number. So he will be much missed and somehow it seemed fitting that he should pass away, having lost his battle with cancer, in that same Instow where he was born 68 years ago.
In a week or so, Remebrance Day will come round again and silence should fall at 11.00am on the eleventh day of the eleventh month. As I respect the silence for fallen heroes, I might just raise a foot off the ground as I remember also one of the truly beautiful game`s more endearing characters, who will probably be doing the same as the Remembrance Day clock turns to eleven on the eleventh of the eleventh.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Poor Barney`s not very well. For the last few weeks he has been fine in himself - full of the usual mischief, full of running, being very playful as usual - but in the plumbing department there have been a few problems. I will spare you the details, dear reader, but let`s just say that he has been anything but `regular` - decidedly erratic, in fact.
Now we weren`t at all sure what the reason might be. It could be that he is simply missing Judy the Soft Wheaten Terrier, with whom he has clearly fallen in love. It could be down to his eclectic diet which all retrievers are prone to adopt as they are what is known in the trade as `opportunity eaters,` which simply means that when they are let off the lead in nearby woods, they can`t resist eating just about anything and everything irrespective of what it might be. Barney`s opportunistic diet has included items such as two socks, bits of rabbit, grass, quite a bit of wood and one unguarded moment saw him demolish the entire contents of a large bowl full of peanuts, cashews and cheese and onion crisps. No wonder he has been `erratic.`
But we have had some sleepless nights. It seems he doesn`t `go` in the daytime, but he gets us up three or four or even more times at night, so he can be let out to do what he needs to do. This clearly could not go on, so a couple of visits to the vets has seen him given a dose of antibiotics and instructions for me to provide `samples` for forensic examination - a task I have yet to complete. We hope he gets back to `normal` soon (whatever that may be) but as it`s his first birthday tomorrow, he can say goodbye to any thoughts of a party with cakes and goodies. Pity really. I was quite looking forward to that.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

My third visit of the season to St. Mary`s Stadium yesterday saw Saints overcome a 1-0 half time deficit to storm to a 3-1 victory over high flying MK Dons. In fact, it was the third straight 3-1 win, having beaten Southend and Oldham in the previous two away matches. But despite a rich vein of form and just one defeat in the last 11 games, Saints still remain in the relegation zone at the bottom of League One (really Division three.)
No matter, for there is a new `match day experience` to be had at St. Mary`s these days. Gone are the stifling boardroom reshuffles, gone is Rupert Lowe hopefully never to darken the door of professional football ever again and gone are the failed management experiments which brought nothing more than failure, confusion and disenchantment amongst players and supporters alike. Instead, there is a new atmosphere; one which acknowledges that the fans have their club back, that it is in good hands with our new Swiss owner, Markus Liebherr, and those charged with the day to day management of the club`s affairs.
You can feel it in the air with the substantial crowd (over 21,000 yesterday) genuinely supporting the club once more. You can see it on the pitch, with a committed team playing well for each other and their new manager, Alan Pardew. And I guess you can detect that, for this season at least, to get away from the relegation zone, survive another season at this level and reach mid-table obscurity are perhaps the only realistic expectations, however much we might harbour thoughts of end of season play-offs. So we just sit back and enjoy the proper and compelling football being served up, safe in the knowledge that a huge corner has been turned after years of all round mediocrity, but most of all we just enjoy being there again. And it has been a long time since we did that.

Friday, October 23, 2009

I bought some new razor blades recently, those Gillette ones that have about five blades all in one promising a comfortable shaving experience. They were pretty expensive but I was encouraged by the notice on the packet that suggested that they would `last up to three months.`

It got me wondering about a couple of things. The first is that surely their claim depends entirely on the strength of the beard, the frequency of shaving, what kind of shaving foam or gel you use and a host of other factors. So I took it to mean that the three months was the best case scenario. Then I wondered why on earth we bother to shave at all. After all, countless millions have never bothered and some of my best friends are bearded wonders. But I`ve always done it and it`s too late now to change the habit of a lifetime (well, since I`ve been growing whiskers anyway.)

I well recall my National Service days, which started with an early morning inspection to see if we were conforming to `good order and military discipline.` One of the items for regular inspection was whether we had shaved properly. One day, I must have been a bit pushed for time and so didn`t shave very carefully, leaving a few fluffy tell-tale bristles round the back of an ear.

"Have you shaved today, lad?" bawled the drill sergeant, about 3 centimeters from my face.
"Yes, sergeant," I tremulously replied.
"Did you use a mirror, lad?"
"Yes, sergeant."
"Well, next time use a ****ing razor!!"

There were times when I could hardly keep pace with the razor sharp wit.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


The furore over tomorrow night`s edition of Question Time on BBC One seems to be gathering pace. BNP Leader Nick Griffin is due to be on the panel for the first time, due to his party gaining two seats in the European Parliament and a handful in local councils in this country. All of which supposedly make him a `legitimate` politician and at the same time provide the BBC with the problem of maintaining their so-called political neurality and their apparent `duty` to provide fair representation to all legitimate political parties. Difficult.
Also on the panel will be Justice Minister Jack Straw, Asian Tory Baroness Warsi and opinionated black American feminist, Bonnie Greer. There might still be a couple of places to fill, so look out for a gay rights campaigner and a Rabbi. It`s all about balance you see. But already there are predictions about demonstations inside and outside the recording venue. South African permatanned Welsh Secretary Peter Hain has been in correspondence with BBC Director General about the legality of allowing Griffin to appear and as I write, the BBC Trust (a contradiction in terms if ever I heard one) are meeting to `review` the DG`s conclusion that there`s nothing to worry about.
Like Strictly Come Dancing and the X Factor, Question Time tomorrow promises to be little more than a sideshow, an end-of-the-pier fols de rol, a highly charged down market entertainment rather than the serious debating hour it`s supposed to be and you can be sure that attention will all be focussed on the answers rather than the questions.
Now, in much the same way as we are warned to `look away now` if we don`t want to know the football results, I`ve had a look at the alternative viewing that is available whilst Question Time is being aired tomorrow evening. Among a host of appropriate alternatives is `Disappearing Britain,` being shown on the History Channel, `House Wreck Rescue` on Discovery Real Time and `Brit Cops : Zero Tolerance` on Virgin One. As for me, on the basis that there may be trouble ahead, but while there`s music and laughter and love and romance, I might just face the music and watch `Shall We Dance?` on the excellent BBC Four. Or switch off and go to bed which may well be the best option of all.
Someone - can`t remember who - once said something to someone along the lines of, "I find the views you hold to be utterly repulsive, but I will forever defend your right to express them." Without holding any candle for Griffin or anyone else who might appear, I just wonder whether too many people in high places have forgotten about that.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Most people don`t like Mondays and I confess to have been no different when I was at work, chained to the yoke of the nine to five and beyond. But retirement brings an altogether different perspective to most things, including Mondays.
During the latter stages of my working life, I used to drive to the office on Monday mornings and wonder what it would be like to be teeing off on the golf course at about 9.00am rather than facing the start of yet another working week. So one day - just that once - I did just that. Just to see what it was like. Now followers of this blog will know that I`m not very good at golf - possibly the understatement of the year - but I do enjoy being out in the fresh air, getting some exercise and, best of all, hitting something really hard. So I enjoyed all of those things on my naughty Monday morning but I also enjoyed the feeling of escape, release from convention, doing something that maybe I shouldn`t be doing, somewhere where maybe I should not have been. And it felt great. Monday morning, I thought, take that!
Now I`m in the depths of retirement, Mondays are different - no stress, no demands, no conventions to conform to - I have the freedom (more or less) to choose what I do and when and where. But I don`t play golf on Monday mornings any more. It`s as if I want to hang on to the memory of that clandestine morning all those years ago, whilst at the same time sparing a thought for the millions who do have to face another Monday and who might wish to be somewhere else doing something different. I do think about you, you see.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A few days ago, I wrote about Marcus Trescothick courageously making the journey to India to help his county, Somerset, compete in the Champions League Twenty 20. I`m pretty sure that, like me, the whole of the cricket loving nation hoped that he might get through it and might have hoped that he could rise from the depths of his anxiety and play for England again. My, how we`ve missed him.
Sadly for us, Marcus was once again forced to return home prematurely despite his valliant attempt to deal with the depression and anxieties that have seen him abandon overseas tours in the past. But what struck me about his latest homecoming was the way it was received by the press, the media and `ordinary` cricket lovers like myself.
There was a time - not all that long ago - when Marcus would have been criticised for being weak willed, wimpish, not fit to wear the shirt and all the other instant condemnations that used to rain down on what was assumed to be human failure. But we know more now. We have grown up a bit. We understand a little more about mental difficulties, what brings them on, what they can do to people and how overwhelming they can be. And I suspect that at least some of that understanding is down to people like Marcus Trescothick, who have been open and honest about their situations. And because of his standing as a sporting hero, he has been able to bring those problems to the attention of a wider and more understanding audience. As a result, we no longer condemn, but we sympathise and we understand.
It has been hard for Marcus to have his problems aired so publicly but it seems to have been a conscious decision on his part not to hide, but to bring it out into the open so that he can avoid the dreadful alternatives that come with denial. He will always be a sporting hero - his record speaks for itself both as a player and as a man - but maybe he is also a hero of a different kind to have helped us all to be a little more tolerant and understanding than we once were.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


A few days ago, in one of the most wonderfully ironic moments that have marked the gruesome MPs expenses affair, former Speaker of the Commons, Michael Martin, was elevated to the peerage and morphed into Baron Martin of Springburn. It was Martin, of course, who presided over the whole expenses farrago and, at the taxpayer`s expense, tried to stop those same taxpayers from finding out how the MPs had spent the taxpayers` money.
Now normally, this `promotion` to the Upper House is routine for any Speaker. But Martin was the first Speaker to be forced out of office for more than 300 years. And the House of Lords Appointments Commission, which looks at all nominations for peerages, allegedly told Number 10 that his arrival might damage the reputation of the House of Lords. Gordon Brown simply waved those objections aside which just about confirmed that the peerage was part of the tempting package which persuaded Martin to quit as Speaker.
So, earlier in the week, there he was, resplendant in scarlet and ermine robes, shuffling towards the table of the House to hear the Clerk announce the ancient, time-honoured words: "Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom know Ye that We of Our especial grace, certain knowledge and mere motion … do advance, create and prefer Our trusty and well-beloved Michael John Martin blah, blah...and also that he may enjoy all the rights, privileges, pre-eminences, immunities and advantages to the degree of Baron duly and of right belonging, which Barons of Our United Kingdom have heretofore used and enjoyed, or as they do at present use and enjoy."
Rights, privileges, pre-eminences, immunities and advantages! They`re talking his language as he looks forward to building on the minimum daily allowance of £425 for bringing his own peculiar experience of life, evasion and sheet metal working to add to the proceedings of the House.
Now if you think I may have made that all up, just spare a moment to reflect on the prospect of former Second Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, following Baron Mick of Gorbals up the golden staircase. It is apparently also routine for ex-Home Secretaries to be granted peerages and one cannot escape the notion that the prospect of Smith following Martin will most definitely put the House of Lords Appointments Commission on guard once more. But I`m not sure it will make any difference, for what else can one expect from a political leadership not only out of touch with reality but also steeped in a moral decline of its own making?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Our week of looking after Judy the Soft Wheaten Terrier is up tomorrow when her owners return from their holiday in Turkey. As you can see from the photo, she and Barney have been getting along very well. In fact, I think there is now a real bond between them and I`m sure they will miss each other when the time comes to say `goodbye.`
They have enjoyed their scampers through assorted woods, played for hours, bitten each other`s ears with what I can only imagine are canine love bites - there has been the occasional squeal mainly as a result of the heightened passion blazing between them, they`ve rolled around a lot and generally shown all the signs of a blossoming relationship. I haven`t yet dared mention to Judy that Barney has had a certain `procedure,` which will cramp his style somewhat, but then who am I to spoil their last few hours of blissful company with such trifling details?

Where we have been staying is very much `country` and we have enjoyed seeing loads of birds feeding in the garden trees - I`m reliably informed that there were blue tits, great tits and even a nuthatch, so I`ve learnt something new about birds! Mrs. Snopper kept hearing noises in the night - throaty growls and grunting mainly - and she wondered if it might have been badgers or a rutting stag or even wild boar, such is the remoteness of the location. I suspect it was probably me. Well, I can dream, can`t I?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Listening to the news and reading newspapers, it`s a job to know where to begin. In a week of news that stifles optimism, the highlights have been:-
- democracy gasping for breath as the Irish Referendum on the Lisbon Treaty allegedly resulted in an overwhelming `Yes.` For me the result is actually underwhelming not of itself, although I think that now the Irish have voted twice and it`s 1-1 after extra time, there might be a case for a jump off against the clock, but because it highlights once again the disregard for the democractic process by the clunking fist of Gordon Brown. Now I don`t have a problem with `authority` as such, as long as it is fair, reasonable and democratic. But I sure as hell have a problem with `authority` when it is unfair, unreasonable and plainly undemocratic. We were promised a referendum which was denied to us by an unelected Prime Minister and I find his refusal to honour democracy not only deceitful but also deeply offensive;
- delusions of adequacy coming to the fore once more in the form of Tony Blair, who is apparently the front runner for the Presidency of the EU. I imagined, in my crushing naivety, that Presidents of countries, never mind continents, should by and large be upright, honest, decent people who can set an example and inspire confidence in those over whom they preside. So how come we are likely to get a warmongering, sycophantic, self-serving, lying- through-his-teeth, grandiose poseur? Oh, of course, it`s the EU we`re dealing with, where it takes one to know one;
- sorry seems to be the hardest word if you`re `Sir` Alex Ferguson. He has issued a statement which is little more than getting his retaliation in first before the FA consider what action, if any, to take following yet another loudmouthed outburst against match officials. The statement was apparently issued via the Manchester United tv channel for which one has to pay a subscription to view and which one is unlikely to view anyway unless one is a Manchester United fan - preaching to the converted, I think it`s called. I just hope the FA take strong action, for unless they do then the football world will continue to be bullied by this serial offender. But I`ll believe it when I see it.
So is there any consolation to be found? I could go on as there is so much more to dull the senses and depress the spirit, but despite the rantings of the insufferable Ferguson, I have, like Albert Camus, found some small solace in the world of proper football where, on a dark and wet Friday evening, the Saints overcame the shrimpers of Southend and so take a giant leap towards respectability. What was it Camus said? Oh yes, "All that I know most surely about morality and obligations, I owe to football." They should put a sign saying that on the walls of Old Trafford and Soho Square.
Enjoy your Sunday.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Back in March, 2008, I wrote a piece on this blog about the decision by Marcus Trescothick that he could no longer continue to play test cricket and that, instead, he would concentrate on serving his county, Somerset, with whom he had been associated for 17 years having been born in the county at Keynsham. His decision followed a series of difficulties he had encountered and which had been documented in his award winning book `Coming back to Me,`that catalogued the mental torture he could no longer endure when being asked to leave home for tours abroad.
Eighteen months on and it seems that the most talented of English opening batsmen is at least beginning to face down the demons that have plagued him for so long.
I`ve just finished watching - on the Eurosport channel - Trescothick`s Somerset Sabres clinch a thrilling one-wicket win over the IPL champions Deccan Chargers in the Champions League Twenty20 in Hyderabad. Trescothick had been granted special dispensation by Somerset to delay travelling until three days after his team mates and to be accompanied for the short tour by his wife, Hayley. His ability to make the journey at all, let alone feature in the game, represents a huge turning point for him and I could not be more pleased to see him with a smile on his face once more.
He does, indeed, have plenty to be pleased about. With Justin Langer`s retirement, Trescothick has been asked to captain Somerset next season and just last week, he was named Player of the Year by the Professional Cricketers Association for his achievements in the season just gone, in which he scored just under 3,000 runs in all competitions. In his darkest days, he reminded me of those other Somerset and England openers, Harold Gimblett and Mark Lathwell, who both also suffered similar difficulties. Gimblett tragically took his own life and Lathwell simply walked away from cricket for good.
I don`t expect to see Trescothick playing for England any more, but it looks as if he is enjoying his cricket and I hope this short, carefully managed tour of India will not only keep the smile on his face but also on the faces of those who, like me, wish nothing but good for a hugely talented and decent man. Welcome back to you, Marcus.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Ray Mears, eat your heart out. You ain`t seen nothing yet. You might think it`s rugged battling to survive in the wilds of far off countries but until you`ve explored the hinterland of far west Kent your claim to be a survival expert looks a little thin. In a day or two, Mrs. Snopper and I, along with Barney the Retriever, are heading west to spend a week in the far flung reaches of the county. The reason? We`ve volunteered to dog sit their soft wheaten terrier (Judy) whilst our relatives go off to Turkey for a holiday.
We`ve been over there before and on Sunday we went there to find out how to survive in their surroundings and get to know the locality a bit. We were seduced by a spectacular steak pie dinner which we enjoyed and we were taken on a whistle stop tour of the area to be shown where we might take the dogs for walks and restock our dwindling supplies if necessary. We were warned about the wildlife and we did indeed encounter a deer strolling across the road on our way home. There are also reports of big cats, pumas even, roaming wild - this part of Kent has become well known for the number of confirmed sightings over the years. And we`re told the owls might keep us awake at night.
So it`s wild, untamed, unknown territory. I`ve been and bought a large scale ordnance survey map which should help us keep on the straight and narrow and this morning we have been shopping to make sure we have enough essential supplies of crunchy nut corn flakes, assorted cakes and pastries, pots of custard to go with Mr. Kipling`s exceedingly good apple pies and other indispensable items to sustain us during our adventure. You can tell from the shopping list just how courageous and daunting our week promises to be.
So wish us well. It might be a while before I can post any news of our pioneering quest so in the meantime, I`ll leave you with this image of the untamed wilderness we are about to enter:-


Click on the photo and with a little patience, a larger image should appear. It looks really daunting, doesn`t it? And I think at our age, we`re very brave to even attempt it.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Well, my next door neighbour didn`t have to find his own way home and he doesn`t have to move house after all. A 4-1 humbling of his Gillingham team by a rampant Saints side at St. Mary`s yesterday finally hauled us out of the ten points penalty and into positive territory. Mind you, we are still anchored at the bottom of the league but yesterday`s performance gives real hope that Saints can climb to a position of respectability before too long.
Apart from the result, I think my neighbour enjoyed his day out and I showed him some of the sights of the imposing and historic city of Southampton on our stroll to and from the stadium. The return fixture at Gillingham`s Priestfield Stadium is not until 1st May next year. My neighbour has kindly offered to return the compliment by showing me the sights of Gillingham, encaptured by the picture above showing their expectant fans en route to Priestfield through the captivating environs of that beguiling Medway Town. I can hardly wait.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Our Golf Correspondent reports..
The par 3 hole on the challenging Princes Course at Hever Castle is the one that bears the title of `stroke index 1.` And not surprising, for it is almost all water. The tee, set with a slight elevation, is placed about 20 yards from the edge of a daunting lake which leads to a tiny island green 170 yards away where today the pin was placed only a few feet from the far edge of the water. A daunting prospect, therefore, for any golfer and one which has defeated Snopper almost every time he has attempted it. Even he has lost count of the number of golf balls he has lost in those dark forbidding waters.
But today, on his return to the fairways after a few weeks absence due to matters beyond his control, Snopper took his little grandfatherly four wood, struck the ball sweetly and saw it rise majestically over the lake and land a few feet from the pin. Two putts saw him par the hole for the first time in a long and undistinguished career. "About bleedin` time," he beamed in a post match interview.
From then on, however, the euphoria and the adrenalin rush of that moment seemed to play on the rest of his round, which inevitably ended in the now familiar mediocrity. No matter, for in that one moment on that testing hole, Snopper felt what it would be like to be a real golfer rather than persist with the haphazard, hit and hope hacking which is the hallmark of his game.