Thursday, December 31, 2009


Nearly there. I hope the new year brings peace, good health and happiness to you, your friends and family.
Best wishes,
Browsing through today`s published New Year Honours, I see that I have been overlooked again. It`s one of life`s rituals, on a par with reading the obituary column in the local paper each week to see if I`ve passed away.
Anyway, I`m pretty sure I neither deserve nor desire any form of official honour, especially one dished out by this Government, who always seem to have an eye for a headline rather than the recognition of true merit. How else can knighthoods for such luminaries as Mick Jagger, Tom Jones, Bob ("I don`t like Mondays") Geldof, Terry Wogan and the rest be justified? And today, honours have been awarded to none other than Rick Parfitt and Francis Rossi of Status Quo. Rossi welcomed this event in fitting terms, " "I'm not sure that we deserve it, but fuck it, I'm so made up it's ridiculous. " Such dignity.
And so, after all, maybe any feeling I may have harboured of being shunned is tempered with relief that I will not be joining their ranks or, indeed, have the problem of going to Buck House to collect the gong. In fact, in a former life, I was once invited to the Queen`s Garden Party but I declined on the reasonable grounds that I really didn`t want to go. Anyway, the drawer in which I have housed my collection of awards over the years is pretty full already with such priceless treasures as my Cycling Proficiency Badge (CPB,) my 50-metre breaststroke certificate, my football medals including runners-up in Division 7 of the Maidstone and District Football League 1963/64, medals for refereeing including being Assistant Referee at the Kent Youth Cup Final (so there!) and my certificate for passing the trade test as a projectionist on Bauer B7 Cinema Projectors (BCP.)
I think I`ll just rest on my own laurels, thank you very much.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

From our Golf Correspondent
Whilst the golfing headlines are concentrating on the antics of the stars of the game, I thought I should find out what occupies the minds of golfing mediocrities at this festive time of the year. So I caught up with Snopper who has been absent from the courses of Kent these past few weeks.
I found him on Boxing Day as he was about to take his faithful retriever Barney for a wander through the snow covered Kent countryside and he kindly invited me to accompany him as he felt sure I would find his outing `interesting.` We found ourselves a few short miles away from Snopper Towers and parked alongside a well known local golf course. It being Boxing Day, there were large signs indicating `Course Closed` so I was beginning to wonder what we were doing there. It soon became apparent that, as well as giving Barney a good scamper through the undulating course (making sure he kept to the public footpaths of course) Snopper`s real mission was to see if he could find any lost golf balls in order to stock up in advance of his new season.
Now, the trouble with good courses and nice private clubs is that they tend to attract good players who, on the whole, don`t tend to lose too many balls. So it needs a canny eye to judge where, if anywhere, any lost balls might be lying. No good looking near the tees, no good looking just off the fairways, what`s needed is a more intrepid expedition into adjoining woodland and banks of heather, seeking out the kind of places where Snopper`s own balls would likely end up if he were playing the course.
Despite feeling a little furtive, after about half an hour of experienced ball hunting, utilising all the tracking skills that he has obviously acquired through years of malpractice, Snopper found eleven balls which pleased him no end and I can confidently predict that his bounty from this one day alone, will see him through, oh, about four holes when he comes to resume his career in a few weeks time.
He tells me that, in all the years he has wrestled with the royal and ancient game, Snopper has never ever actually bought any golf balls, but has always relied on finding lost ones on various local courses. Some years ago, he had a retriever named Rupert who was carefully trained to sniff out golf balls buried in the undergrowth and return them to his master. As a result, Snopper ended up with about 1500 balls, most of which he has managed to lose again, hence the need for re-stocking.
My `interesting` day made me realise the extremes that exist within today`s golfing fraternity. At one end of the spectrum the most successful golfers are actually given countless golf balls to lose, but they seldom do; whilst at the other end, struggling pensioners like Snopper are reduced to scavenging local golf courses to unearth just a few balls, which they promptly go and lose again. But maybe, just maybe, Snopper`s contribution to this endless recycling of finding and losing brings him a quiet satisfaction and the comfort of knowing that he doesn`t have to worry about tomorrow`s headlines.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The immortal words of Bart Simpson ring in my ears this morning, "Don`t you think it`s about time we remembered the true meaning of Santa`s birthday?"
A couple of days ago - may have been three - we thought we should go to the supermarket and get our stuff for Christmas. We tried one but couldn`t park anywhere. People were driving around, some just stationary, waiting in their cars for a parking space to become available. We gave up, tried another one and eventually got what we thought we needed for the festive season. Note the careful use of the words "we thought we needed" as I`m never sure we really need all the stuff we buy before Christmas as the shops seem to be closed just for the one day. It`s a form of mayhem panic buying, which seems to be repeated the day after Christmas as the sales begin.
I know about sales on Boxing Day. They are to be avoided as the same mayhem breaks out once more. Same parking troubles, same crowds, just different things to buy. Just different things we think we need. And yet we still do it, every year. It`s as if it`s obligatory to join the crowd, follow the herd and collectively, even if euphemistically, jump off the cliff into a sea of despond. Bart Simpson is right to remind us that, however misguided he may seem, there are other things in this yuletide life beyond the self-inflicted scrambles of before and after. It`s the bit in the middle that really matters.
And my good friend Wurzel was right too to remind me of the irony that, however much I may complain about the pre-Christmas shopping and the post-Christmas sales, if I trudge dutifully around them then I become one of the lemmings myself. We really should know better.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Wherever you are, whoever you are, I just hope that your Christmas is as happy, as peaceful and as good as it can possibly be for you, your friends and your family.
Best wishes,

Monday, December 21, 2009

There are some dates in the calendar that are ingrained into my being and today is one of them. It`s the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year or we`re about to enter the longest night. I guess it all depends how you look at it.
Now at places like Stonehenge there is always a dedicated gathering to see the sun rise on these almost sacred mornings, although today`s `crowd` was no doubt dwarfed by the one that turns up for the summer solstice and who can blame them, for winter`s icy grip is with us. So I rejoice in the day from the snug comfort of my own home and as I do so, I am keeping a close eye on the clock, for in just over an hour - at 17.47 - the solstice moment occurs exactly when the earth's axial tilt is farthest away from the sun at its maximum of 23° 26' and from then on the days will grow longer, the nights shorter and I will look forward to 20 March at 11.43, when the vernal equinox will arrive and summer will once more be in prospect.
I remember 22 September last when, at 21.18, the autumn equinox arrived and it seemed that from that point until now I have been waiting for today, when the world will turn once more. My problem is that I don`t `do` winters, I don`t `do` dark or cold, I guess I`m a summer kind of guy. But in an hour`s time I will know that things will be on the up and maybe my winter gloom will lift, steadily but certainly as the evenings begin to draw out once more.
I sometimes think I should have been a dormouse - they`ve got it worked out. Maybe next time.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Today`s matchday programme for Charlton`s home game against Millwall features a full length article about Scott Wagstaff, the Addicks` left sided pacy flanker. Moreover, the programme cover shows an action shot of Scotty in full flow. I think this must be a welcome attempt by the football club to bring Scott and his talents to a wider audience, rather than a desperate attempt to boost programme sales.
But given that he has been with Charlton since the age of eight, it`s high time Scott`s engaging persona and the steady progress he has made with them over the years is at last given the attention it deserves.

Friday, December 18, 2009

This is the scene here in deepest Kent this morning. The promised overnight snow has produced about eight inches or so and, as always happens when we get a bit of snow, panic sets in, schools are closed, travel is disrupted - it`s almost as if we revel in the inconvenience.
My morning started off with an appointment to see winsome dentist Louise, following one the fillings she put in a few weeks ago escaping whilst I was enjoying a beef sandwich - which quickly turned into a beef and tooth filling sandwich. I set off in good time, having decided to leave the car in the garage and I quite enjoyed the sunny, snowy walk. I got there about five minutes late, only to be told that Louise wasn`t well and so my appointment has been put back no less than three weeks, as the festive season is upon us - apparently. No real problem for me - but it does mean my Christmas diet may have to be revised to exclude things like nuts which might give my choppers a problem, being sans filling and all.
Barney loves the snow - he went out for his morning constitutional with Mrs. Snopper and had a great time romping around with his mates and it was also good to see so many children out sliding down the nearby slopes and enjoying this very seasonal weather. Made me wish I was about twelve again. It`s one thing retaining a mental age of twelve, which I have succeeded in doing, but quite another to think that my body would be up for slope sliding.
And apart from the weather, today`s news is dominated by the discussions in Copenhagen about climate change and global warming. Such sweet irony.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

This is Scott Wagstaff, who lives a few doors down the street and it`s fair to say that most of us living in this quiet backwater follow Scott`s progress with a kind of benign avuncular interest, as we`ve watched him grow up and establish himself with Charlton Athletic FC.
Last Saturday, he made another in what now seem to be regular starts for the Addicks as they took on the Hatters of Stockport County at the Cheshire club`s Edgeley Park ground. Charlton`s official website variously describe Scott as a `starlet` and even a `pacy flanker,`which is something I imagine he thought he would never be called.
Now late on Saturday evenings the BBC devote at least an hour to highlight the games played in the Football League that afternoon. The programme follows March of the Day which is, of course, exclusively concerned with the Barclays Premier League. By the time that`s finished, the wee small hours are approaching, so I normally record the Football League show and catch up with it at a more leisurely time. Of course, I watched it to see the highlights of the Saints` game and I enjoyed seeing Rickie Lambert Southampton`s Goal Machine (RLSGM) smashing home a penalty and a 30-yard free kick which, along with Dan Harding`s pile driver, completed the 3-0 win over Tranmere.
But I was also able to catch up on the highlights of the Stockport-Charlton encounter, in which Scott Wagstaff featured heavily in a few `incidents.` The first was when he was put clean through on goal only to forget all he had been taught about striking bovine derrieres with banjos. The second was when he redeemed himself by scoring Charlton`s second goal, which turned out to be the winner, as the home team came back into it late on to make the final score 2-1. Being a pacy flanker, Scott found himself with time and space out on the left to receive a measured pass from a colleague. He then cut inside the full back and curled an incisive strike to nestle the ball in the far corner of the net well beyond the despairing clutches of the opposing custodian.
Now, we have been encouraging Scott to get his celebtaion act together and, as this was his fourth goal of the season, the matter of his goal celebration is becoming more pressing. On Saturday, clearly bereft of any preconceived celebratory antics, he simply seemed to wander up to a random member of the crowd, smile engagingly and back off whilst the going was good, which was a pity really, as it took a bit of the shine off an otherwise impressive afternoon`s work.
Don`t get it wrong, Scotty - the street is still right behind you, but it`s no good being a goalscoring pacy flanker with a good engine and an eye for a pass if you can`t round it off with something better than random crowd wandering. Something to work on possibly ?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Well, I guess it does. Especially if, like me, you are still suffering the effects of piglet `flu and especially at this time of year when the depths of winter take hold, daylight is at a premium and you can`t wait for the shortest day to arrive in a week`s time so we can get on with the festive season, start the new year and see the light once more.
But for all of that, there were a couple of things that raised my spirits this weekend and which made this particular Monday at least bearable. The first was the 1-0 defeat of Manchester United at home by Aston Villa, which left United`s manager,`Sir` Alex Ferguson, ranting away at the match officials for only allowing three minutes of added time, rather than the time it took for United to score and salvage a point.
And then my beloved Saints swept Tranmere Rovers aside with a 3-0 win at St. Mary`s to lift themselves into mid-table security, at least for now. The piglet `flu prevented me from going, but I was much cheered by these two results which, in many ways, represented a thoroughly satisfactory outcome to a weekend that would otherwise have `sucked` at least as much as Monday.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Yes, I know it`s the season of goodwill and all that but there are times when my natural inclination towards generosity turns a bit Scrooge-like and the things that set me off are those when my money - such as it is - is seemingly `disbursed` by those in power. A couple of examples might explain.
First, our old friend the European Union, which swallows up £12,366 of UK taxpayers` cash each and every minute, 24/7 and this net contribution continues without the EU accounts being signed off by auditors for years. Now, at Copenhagen this week, the EU contribution to help Third World countries, particularly in Africa, cope with `climate change` has apparently been agreed at £2.1billion for each of three years as its share of the proposed £7billion a year global fund.
You`ll forgive me I hope if, tempting though it may be, I resist straying into the `debate` about the legitimacy of global warming et al, but I was struck by the largesse displayed by Gordon Brown regarding the UK`s contribution to the EU share of the global fund. A few days ago, Britain`s pledge stood at £800million over three years; by Thursday morning, it was revised to £1.2billion and by the afternoon, Gordon had upped it to £1.5billion, the £500million for each year making Britain`s contribution the largest of all the EU countries.
Now, of course there may well be the need for this kind of help to be doled out by the so-called developed countries and if the need is proven and the money is put to good use, then fair enough. But I have worries when Gordon Brown tells us taxpayers back home that we `should all be proud` that Britain is the biggest contributor to the new global warming fund. I worry because I`m not sure that global warming is `the moral issue of our times.` I worry because I detect once more an obsessive desire on Brown`s part to be seen as being one of the leading figures of the EU but who seems to be buying favour with our money; in any case, what on earth are we doing even thinking of buying the favour of the likes of the poseur Sarkosy and the insufferable Merkel.
But most of all I worry because of the danger yet again that shedloads of EU taxpayers` cash might be on its way to poorer countries, `partricularly in Africa,` with every prospect that a good chunk of it might end up in the numbered Swiss bank accounts of despotic African dictators. For I see little mention of how -or even whether- there will be processes in place to ensure that the contributions we make will represent `value for money,` especially as the EU itself is demonstrably not the most efficient when it comes to matters financial.
I don`t mind paying my money and taking my chance but I do mind when someone else takes my money and plays roulette with it without really understanding the rules of the game or, indeed, whether there are any rules. In short, I think we should be insisting on receipts for services rendered.
BREAKING NEWS : Just after I posted the above rant, a report came through that the UK is withholding any further payments to Kenya following investigations into the suspected fraud of £615,000 which has gone missing and which was intended to pay for classrooms, books and other necessities to bring free primary school education to the country`s poorest regions. We need more of that kind of intervention.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Barney, ably `handled` by Mrs. Snopper, was successful in passing his Silver Award last evening as part of the Kennel Club`s Good Citizen Dog Scheme. After a nerve-racking delay whilst waiting for the Bronze Award entrants to have their test, Barney and his chums were put through their paces by an expert judge in the forbidding surroundings of Wrotham Village Hall. In some respects, I think the magnitude of the occasion took the edge off some of Barney`s well rehearsed manoevres but he managed to convince the judge that he really was quite a well behaved and obedient pooch.
So, as you can see from the photo, he is well pleased with himself, sporting his fancy rosette and he seems to have adopted something of an air of confidence about him, as if knowing that he has done well to get this far in only 13 months. There`s still a way to go - after a welcome break for the Christmas season, he will then launch into the daunting programme leading up to the formidable Gold Award. After the Gold Award comes the Platinum, then I imagine something like the Dilithium Crystal Award, all of which will keep Barney focussed for some time yet rather than thinking he can relax, take on a few mistresses and let his impeccable image and his endorsements be compromised by temptations that might be put in his way.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009


It`s not been a good week so far. Apart from suffering from what could be a mild form of swine flu - possibly piglet flu - I`ve been seriously confused about a number of the big issues clogging up the news media. There`s a lot going on right now - too much to comment on all of it - but taking just three items of current affairs leads me to the conclusion that it`s becoming more and more difficult to trust what anyone says about just about anything.

The first big issue is our old friend climate change/global warming, currently being discussed by no less than 15,000 delegates to the Copenhagen Conference. Now I simply don`t know whether climate change is happening at all and, if it is, whether mankind is responsible for any or all of it. The science is baffling, the politics are, as usual, not to be trusted (how else can a `fuel escalator` be justified when it does nothing but raise taxes?) passions are raised by the believers, deniers are ridiculed and those in the middle of it all, like me, are really none the wiser. But I have my doubts. I have a feeling in my bones that whatever mankind does or does not do, the planet will look after itself and continue with its own periodic cycle of cooling and warming, as it has done for millennia. I will take some persuading that it is otherwise.

Today`s big issue has been the Chancellor`s Pre-Budget statement to the House of Commons which has confirmed the unholy financial mess we are in. Now, if it was my personal financial mess, I would have done something about it by now or faced the consequences, so why hasn`t HM Gov. grasped the nettle and got on with it? Quite simply because there`s an election on the horizon and so yet another in a seemingly endless line of self-serving political decisions is intended to convince us that there`s nothing to worry about. I don`t trust them to do what`s best for the country or what`s best for me, but I do trust them to do what`s best for their own narrow political interests.

And then there is the ongoing big issue of the Chilcot Inquiry into Iraq, the coverage of which is getting further down the agenda. So far, there have been some useful `contributions` from people like Sir Christopher Mayer, Lord Boyce and Sir Jeremy Greenstock but far too often the opportunity to even ask the searching question has passed the Inquiry members by. The latest example being the appearance of Sir John Scarlett, the former Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee who had some guarded comments to make about the difference between the text of the `dodgy dossier` and its foreword by Tony Blair. The Inquiry seemed reluctant to question him about the influence brought to bear on the presentation of the case for war by such luminaries as Alistair Campbell. If they can`t be trusted to ask the right questions, you can be pretty sure we`ll never get the answers we deserve.

And so, with just these few examples, you can see why I find it difficult to trust anything that anyone in any kind of `authority` says any more. I thought I might have been confused this week, but actually it`s all very clear. And, as once more I shrug my weary shoulders, crawl back into my shell and resume my battle with the piglet `flu, I guess nothing really changes and that it truly is as ever was.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

About six months ago, Barney passed his bronze award for being a well behaved dog. We have now been told that next Wednesday he will be having the test for the silver award in the Kennel Club`s Good Doggie Award Scheme (or whatever it`s called.)
We have a copy of the various elements of the test and, to be fair, for most of the past six months Barney and his Retriever chums have been practising most of them. So although there`s no need for him to panic, we have suggested to him that he should be spending some time between now and next Wednesday on revising, honing his skills and preparing himself mentally.
The test involves things such as coming back when called, not being distracted by `outside influences,` not interrupting when people are talking, not snatching food when people are eating biscuits, walking nicely down the road on the lead, getting in and out of the car and, perhaps most appealingly, laying down and not moving much for two minutes. Very much like my basic training for National Service. It`s as much a test for his `handler` as for Barney himself, so Mrs. Snopper, who does the training with him, is also revising for the questions she will be asked on the night about how to be a good dog owner. The tension will be mounting in the next few days as anxieties take hold but I`m sure it will be alright on the night. Won`t it?

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Most afternoons, Barney and I go for at least an hour`s walkies but this afternoon, we got a bit lost. I try to take him to different places so that he doesn`t get bored with the same walks so today I put him in the boot of the car and drove to Trottiscliffe Church, where I parked and set off on what seemed to be, from the OS map, a fairly gentle circular walk. We left the church and took a footpath up to the Pilgrims Way, the 119-mile ancient trackway from Winchester to Canterbury, which we stayed on for a while before heading down another path signposted `Coldrum Stones.`
Now, the Coldrum Longbarrow (pictured above) is the least-damaged megalithic longbarrow in Kent and takes its name from the now demolished Coldrum Lodge Farm. It is possible the name 'Coldrum' derived from the old Cornish word 'Galdrum' which means 'place of enchantments'. Owned by the National Trust since 1926 in memory of local antiquary Benjamin Harrison, an Ightham historian, this 3,000 year-old burial chamber is the only one in the Medway Valley to remain virtually intact.
For all that though, Barney didn`t seem too`enchanted` by the history so much as by the chance to scamper through the adjacent fields and wallow his way down the muddy path. Keeping an eye on him meant that I missed the `turning` which would have taken us back to the church. Instead, we found ourselves going down the Wealdway - an 80-mile long distance footpath from Gravesend to Eastbourne - and before long I decided that we had better keep going, on the assumption that we were bound to come to a proper road soon. Eventually we did and we soon found a path across muddy fields of winter wheat which took us back to where the car was parked.
It was a long walk but worth it to be out in the air, getting some exercise with man`s best freind for a companion. The route was interesting, not just for the Coldrum Stones but also for the contrast between that ancient construction of 3,000 years ago and the thunderous din of the modern M20 motorway which we could hear for much of the way. I was surprised to see catkins out in early December and, as the sun set on the distant hill, the scene reminded me of Rowland Hilder, the local artist who brought so much of this part of Kent to life in his glorious landscapes. Not sure Barney was too bothered about that either though, for by now his mind was clearly focussed on getting home and getting his tea. Me too.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

365 days in 2009 and for 334 of those days, Saints have not been out of the relegation zone in either of the leagues they have competed in during the year. First it was relegation from the Championship and the for the first 16 games of this season suffering the ten points deduction for going into administration.
So it was with keen anticipation that I made the 240 miles round trip to Southampton yesterday to see Saints take on the Chairboys of Wycombe Wanderers, themselves languishing in the drop zone of League One. A win for Saints, along with other results going their way, would finally haul us out of the danger zone and see us begin the climb to safer waters. As it turned out, Saints managed a narrow 1-0 win against limited opposition, but the margin of victory could and should have been much greater than the single goal scored just before half time by Ricki (Southampton`s goal machine) Lambert, who notched his 15th of the season so far. That result, coupled with Charlton beating Brighton 2-0, with their second slotted home by near neighbour Scott Wagstaff, saw Saints climb to 20th in the league. So there was dancing in the streets of Southampton last night as the 334 days of embarrassment finally came to an end.
My journey down was a long one, caught up in the rush hour traffic on the M25, the A31 at Guildford and Farnham and the M27 from Winchester and it took three hours to make the journey, but I had given myself plenty of time for the 7.45 kick-off. I thought that the journey home might have been easier and for much of the time it was. However, there were a few interruptions to my smooth progress, with overnight roadworks causing delays on the route out of Southampton and again, along with diversions, at various points along the motorways, all of which meant that I didn`t get home until about 1.00am this morning.
Two things struck me about it all though. The first was that for all the inconvenience caused by the roadworks, the guys who carry out that demanding essential maintenance work in the dead of night, in the freezing cold, in the pouring rain and on the most dangerous stretches of road, deserve our admiration and our thanks - my delays and diversions were nothing compared with all they have to contend with.
The second was that people might think I have lost my mind, at 70, driving all that way to see a football match with significance only to followers of the lower reaches of the third tier of English football. But, as a good friend of mine reminded me recently, `You`re a long time dead,` so get on and do what you enjoy doing while you can. And I do. So there.