Friday, January 29, 2010

I was at a function last night and met a chap who had just sold his business and retired. He had a small chain of shops mainly along the north Kent coastal towns, one of which was at Birchington. We got chatting and he said he was retiring to Minnis Bay (pictured,) which is very close to Birchington.
Minnis Bay was where we had our first family summer holiday, well over 40 years ago now. Our eldest son was about three, our middle son was about one and our third son was simmering nicely in the oven from whence he would emerge as the following Christmas drew near. In those days, we had very little money, no car, but we thought we deserved a week away by the seaside, as much for the boys as for ourselves. So off we went, changing trains a couple of times and walking with two and a half children and all our luggage for the week piled in the pushchair from Birchington station down to Minnis Bay to find our holiday flat.
On the drive home from last night`s function, I got to remembering that first holiday and the real pleasure of being in Minnis Bay in a week of unbroken sunshine, just enjoying the beach, the sea, the sand and being together as a family. They were difficult times financially; one month I had to cash in my £7 worth of Premium Bonds to see us through, but it didn`t seem to matter and I looked back on that week with immense satisfaction, with much joy but also some regrets that those times that went by so quickly are now gone forever. I guess I miss those happy family times when we were just us and getting on with life, oblivious to the difficulties but content with just being and being with each other. The words of Neil Sedaka`s song came to mind:-
"I miss the hungry years
The once upon a time,
Those days of me and you,
We didn`t have a dime
Looking through my tears,
I miss the hungry years."
Such a shame we`ve all got to grow up. One day, I just might.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


Saints` Swiss billionaire owner, crane magnate Markus Lienberr (pictured) seems very happy. And so he should. He comes to all the home matches and, for all I know, some of the away ones too and since he brought us back from administration and the brink of extinction, he has seen us progress from being ten points adrift at the bottom of the league table to a respectable mid-table position, with even an outside chance of reaching the play-offs. Although, to be fair, we are still `only` four points above the drop zone.
Moreover, he has seen us progress in the Johnstones Paint Trophy to the point where we are but one game away from a first appearance at the new Wembley Stadium. Then there is our progress to the 5th round of the FA Cup, where we have been drawn at home against our bitter rivals from just down the road at Portsmouth. Now that draw has all manner of interesting implications, not least given the thin financial ice that Pompey are skating on right now. They are facing at least two winding-up petitions and could conceivably be out of business by the time we are due to play them.
For the sake of both clubs, I hope they survive at least long enough for the game to go ahead, otherwise we will each miss out on another local derby and also £257,500 worth of tv money as well as the gate money and other revenues. Now whilst that income would be welcome for Southampton, for Portsmouth it could be vital in helping them continue to limp through a depressing season. I don`t want to appear patronising and I don`t want to appear smug, coming from Saints` new position of financial security, because this time last year we too were in dire straits, allegedly just days away from going out of business ourselves.
So having been there and done that, I know only too well how the Portsmouth fans must be feeling. And the fans of Crystal Palace, thrust into administration themselves only yesterday. And Luton Town. And Chester City, who are up for sale for £1 and whose debts amount to `only` £26,000. And all the while, it seems that the biggest Premier League clubs are somehow allowed to run up debts of hundreds of £millions and allowed to carry on as if there`s no problem. Somehow, it doesn`t seem quite fair and I wonder how long before some of them too might hit the buffers.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Today, 26 January, is Australia Day and might well be the cause of much dancing in the antipodean streets. I don`t know enough about the feelings there are down under about the day that commemorates the arrival of the first fleet at Sydney Cove in 1788, the hoisting of the British flag there, and the proclamation of British sovereignty over the eastern seaboard of Australia. But I can guess that the feelings might be mixed, as some cling on to the colonial heritage whilst others are sure the time has come to finally break the ties with Britain and others still remember that they are occupying 60,000 years of homeland.
I have some sympathy with both of the latter, but whatever I may think is immaterial. What matters is what the Australians collectively want for themselves as being best for all of them and I would like to believe that, whatever that turns out to be, then the British establishment will go along with. I think I may have been strengthened in my sympathy that the time has come for a definitive decision by the appointment of Baroness Amos as Governor General - an overtly poltical appointment of a waspish personality rather than anyone of compelling stature. The Australians deserve better.
So, on this day, how - if at all - is it being marked here in `the old country?` The short answer is hardly at all, which is pretty unforgiveable. The History Channel are showing a two part Irish documentary about the failed Burke and Wills expedition (well, Burke was Irish) and the Biography Channel are treating us to the life story of Nicole Kidman, who bears a remarkable resemblance to my optician.
All of which seems a pity, when one considers the contribution Australia has made throughout its history since that day in 1788, not least being their unswerving commitment to providing fighting forces in all the major conflicts over the past two centuries. And it seems strange to `honour` the failure of Burke and Wills and not recognise the achievements of John McDouall Stuart in being the first to cross the dead heart of that land from south to north and to return safely having blazed the trail for the route of the overland telegraph and the vital link that the Stuart Highway has become. But then as an unlikely member of the John McDouall Stuart Society, I guess I`m biased.
For now though, I wish my antipodean friends and correspondents a g`day and extend my best wishes and admiration for a culture and a society that, in truth, could teach the old dogs over here a few tricks. We could learn - if only we would listen.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

"Revenge is sweeter far than flowing honey." Author: Homer : The Iliad (XVIII, 109)

The last time Roy Keane visited Southampton FC`s St. Mary`s Stadium was on the last day of the 2004/5 season. That day, he captained Manchester United in a game which was meaningless as far as they were concerned but which was momentous in the history of the Saints. We needed to win in order to maintain our top flight status in the hierarchy of English football, which we had enjoyed for 27 continuous seasons. We lost 2-1, other results went against us, we finished bottom of the Premier League and were relegated.

At the end of that bleak day, the anguish amongst the home supporters was tangible, tinged with despair and a feeling of genuine sadness. We sat there, watching our players trudge from the pitch, applauding the support we had given them but knowing that they might not tread the hallowed turf of St. Mary`s ever again. Manchester United`s players acknowledged their own visiting fans and made their own way towards the tunnel. Except for Roy Keane, who, in an act of petulance and unwarranted malice, treated us to an exaggerated wave of goodbye and a repeated gesture of `thumbs down.` We knew we had been relegated. We didn`t need `Keano` to tell us.

Today, Roy Keane returned to St. Mary`s as the manager of Ipswich Town in an FA Cup fourth round tie which pitched Saints against a team playing in a higher division. Saints won 2-1, dumping Ipswich out of the competition and providing a little sweet revenge for that infamous day five years ago.

I used to admire Ipswich as a club - the late Sir Bobby Robson, the Cobbolds in the boardroom and the feeling that they, like Southampton, were a provincial club trying to maintain the true traditions of the game. But the Cobbolds are long gone - for them, a crisis was when the boardroom ran short of Chablis - to be replaced by the anonymous Australian millionaire business tycoon, Marcus Evans, whose name is emblazoned on the players` shirts. Evans, in turn, has appointed Keane to manage his club. I suspect they deserve each other and they most assuredly deserved today`s result. I suspect too that Alf Inge Haaland might have had a wry smile on his face at Ipswich`s defeat. And Mick McCarthy. And all the opponents assaulted and all the match officials abused by Keano over the years. I know I did.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A while ago, Barney passed the silver award in the Kennel Club`s Good Citizen scheme which means he`s a pretty much well behaved dog, good in company, polite, eager to please - much like his owner.
After a few weeks away from the training ground, due to bad weather and the festive season, last night Barney took his place once more with his fellow golden retrievers in the pressure cooker atmosphere of a packed village hall, this time to embark on the long and winding road that might lead to the gold award. It`s a long haul and I foresee many pitfalls along the way but there`s no reason to suppose that, after the months of training that lie ahead, Barney will not make it. And after that, who knows where his journey will take him? Then he might face the challenge of the platinum award followed, I imagine, by the diamond award and so on until the ultimate goal - the dilithium crystal award. Beam me up, Barney.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


It was without a hint of irony that this sign was spotted next to Portsmouth FC`s Fratton Park `stadium` over last weekend. The travails of that once respected football club seem to be piling up as each day passes. Take just the last 24 hours as an example of their current plight.
Yesterday, they went to the High Court in an attempt to rescind the winding up petition which Revenue and Customs have served on them for unpaid tax, VAT and National Insurance. The attempt failed and, unless they lodge a desperate appeal within the coming week, then the petition itself will be heard on 10 February. If a winding up Order is granted then, well it could mean that Portsmouth FC will go into liquidation. They may well be in administration before then, however. Today, one of their former players, Sol Campbell, has sued the club for £1.7million he claims to be owed for outstanding bonuses and image rights and this morning, the club`s chief executive, Peter Storrie, was in court facing charges of `cheating the public revenue.` That was just the last 24 hours.
Now, the events surrounding Portsmouth are but one of a number of examples which give the feeling that all is anything but well in the parallel universe of professional football - at least in England. Yesterday too, West Ham United, the self-proclaimed `Academy of Football,` were taken over by a couple of millionaire pornographers. Last evening, in the Manchester `derby,` United`s captain Gary Neville is alleged to have set the unfortunate example of extending an obscene gesture towards City`s Carlos Tevez. Then there are the debts. Manchester United have debts of £700million, Liverpool have their problems both on and off the field of play, Queens Park Rangers seem riven by internal politics and a managerial revolving door, oh and of course, `Arry Redknapp and his former chairman at Portsmouth, Milan Mandaric, also have cases due to be heard in the courts of the land before too long. I could go on, but you get my drift.
I`m beginning to wonder just how much longer the professional game can survive given the Bank of Toyland wages paid to even journeymen players, the doubtful pedigree of some owners and executives, the absurdities of some managers and, perhaps most telling, the seemingly over exposure of the game by the media. I haven`t looked, but I`m pretty sure that if you wanted to you could watch at least one football match on tv every day of the week - and two or three on Sundays. It`s all too much - I`ve stopped watching Match of the Day probably because I don`t care enough to watch it any more. It`s become predictable and boring in keeping with its presenter,the boy Linacre.
Apart from still following the Saints in the third tier of English football and following the fortunes of close neighbour Scott Wagstaff as he builds his career at Charlton (he scored the winner last night against Hartlepool, so we`re all dancing in the street again today,) I find little to capture my imagination in the higher echelons of the game. Au contraire, I am increasingly finding it annoying, irrelevant, offensive even, which is a real shame after spending over half a century playing, refereeing, supporting and spectating what used to be called the beautiful game.
Must go - Saints are playing MK Dons this evening in the first leg of the final of the Southern section in the Johnstones Paint Trophy. Proper, debt-free, no nonsense football. Possibly.

Monday, January 18, 2010

So, Childrens Secretary, Ed Balls, has condemned the Tories` plan to reintroduce tax breaks for married couples as `social engineering.` Now, I`m not talking politics here - I have no allegience to any poltical party - but his assertion has come across to me at least as an attack on the `institution` of marriage. And that`s beginning to make me feel a bit guilty.
I was born just before the outbreak of World War II and my father was a prisoner of war for five years, having been captured at Dunkirk. This meant that I really didn`t see him until he finally came home, by which time I was getting on for six years old. But for all that time, during those difficult and dangerous years, I had the benefit of a `family` around me - uncles, aunts, grandparents, each of whom seemed to take it in turns to give a home to my mother and me and provide the support we needed to see us through. After the war was over, we finally became a `proper` family and I spent a happy boyhood in a loving, caring, safe environment.
Fast forward to 1961 and to a marriage which, despite the ups and downs that all marriages have, is still going after 49 years. We had three sons (we still have) and we now have four grandchildren. We are still a family, but I have not once ever felt `socially engineered.` I don`t care about tax breaks and I don`t apologise for subscribing to the notion of a close, strong family environment being best placed to provide children with a good start in life. And equally, I don`t apologise for seeing marriage as the most likely way of providing that environment.
So Mr. Balls has succeeded in making me feel a bit guilty about being married for all these years and for providing my own children with a stable background from which to launch their lives. Not only that, but he has also succeeded in making me angry that what might be a genuine attempt by the Tories to acknowledge the value of marriage as an institution has been condemned as nothing more than an election bribe. Balls by name, balls by nature, it seems.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The other day, I mentioned Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd being honest. I`m currently reading Duncan Hamilton`s award winning biography of Harold Larwood who is best remembered for his part in the infamous `Bodyline` tour by England`s cricket team in Australia in 1932/33. There was much more to Larwood than that, however, but one `incident` during that fateful series somehow made me think again about `honesty.`
Harry Houston "Bull" Alexander, pictured above (the nickname was well-earned) was a strong, broad-chested man and a pacy and combative right-arm bowler. He played only one Test for Australia, at the end of the Bodyline series, but his appearance was eventful. Alexander had first encountered Douglas Jardine, the England captain, when he played his second match for Victoria four years earlier. He took 4 for 98 against MCC but Jardine complained that he was running on the pitch and forced him to bowl round the wicket; Jardine scored 115.
No one had forgotten the incident when Alexander came to play for Australia. In the second innings, with England needing just 164 to win, Jardine again accused him of roughing up the pitch whereupon Alexander bowled bouncer after bouncer, scoring several direct hits. `A disgraceful exhibition,` droned Wisden. It was not bodyline bowling as such, as he did not have a packed leg-side field, but it was the nearest Australia had come to retaliation and the Sydney Hill roared with delight. It did not last long: England won easily and Alexander's match figures were 1 for 129 and 0 for 25.
In later years, he admitted that Jardine had `a ton of guts.` But he insisted: "It's part of a fast bowler's trade to give 'em a few in the ribs occasionally. Keeps 'em honest." Seems to be an Aussie characteristic, of which I heartily approve.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

It must be a sign of grumpy old age setting in, but these days I find there is so much to be grumpy about. Today I have been faced with the tough choice of being most grumpy about Alistair Campbell and the Chilcot Inquiry or about the Islamic protestors who have been found guilty `of using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress.`
Alistair Campbell`s visitation to the Chilcot Inquiry today was entirely predictable in that he resolutely defended his involvement in the Iraq affair, the dodgy dossier et al, declaring that he `stood by every word` of that now discredited document. All it needed was Edith Piaf singing, `Je ne regret rien` as an accompaniment and the scene would have been complete. Now, I suspect that neither I nor anyone else expected Campbell to turn up, roll over, confess and plea for mercy and I suspect too that it was little more than a dress rehearsal for the appearance of Geoff Hoon, Jack Straw, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, all of whom are due to appear before the Inquiry. Words like squib and damp come to mind, so I won`t go on about it but instead turn my attention to the business of the Islamic protesters.
I`m sure you recall that angry scenes broke out during a parade in Luton for the 2nd Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment on March 10 last year, shown in the picture above courtesy of the South Beds News Agency. Those found guilty have been fined £500 each but it seems they view their conviction and fines as something of a badge of honour as they seem determined to carry on demanding the introduction of Sharia law in Britain and heaping abuse on anyone who disagrees with them. I`m not sure the punishments fit the crimes, especially as those concerned are all on benefits and so their fines are more than likely to be paid by the long suffering taxpayer. Now that makes me more grumpy than Alistair Campbell did.
There`s something very wrong somewhere and events like this remind me once again of the wisdom of Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd who made it perfectly clear to `immigrants` to his country that if they could not bring themselves to respect and abide by the laws, the culture and the customs of their adopted country, then they were free to leave. He`s not grumpy, just honest.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

The gloomy mood brought on by the harsh winter weather of the past week has been lightened by the Test Match between England and South Africa in Cape Town. It`s turning out to be one of the great series of Test Matches and although England may be 1-0 up and therefore can`t lose the series, the outcome of the final match starting next Thursday is anyone`s guess.
This series, like last summer`s Ashes and the one in 2005, has confirmed once again - if any confirmation was ever needed - that Test Match cricket is real cricket, the pinnacle of the game and however commercially successful the other forms of the game might be, it`s still the five day game that really matters. And in a series in which there have been so many outstanding performances of skill, determination and concentration, I have been especially pleased to see Ian Bell, pictured above holding his own, finally establish himself.
Now, Bell has played in over 50 Test Matches for England but he has never really been sure of his place. Despite scoring nine centuries and making other useful contributions, he never been really convincing or inspired confidence. Until this week, when he played an innings of hitherto uncharacteristic grit and determination to help stave off England`s likely defeat. I confess to have been critical in the past about Bell`s selection and his apparent fragility and so it is a real pleasure now to see that he has at last come of age, shown that he has what it takes and, for his sake, hopefully dispelled any doubts about his talent and ability. In short, I`m pleased for him.
Watching the game from Newlands on tv, which was played in glorious sunshine and high temperatures, it struck me that international cricketers really do have life worked out. They follow the sun, they are to be seen playing the game they love in the summers of all the cricketing nations of the world and they seldom, if ever, have to contend with the arctic conditions we are currently having here.
If only I had stuck with the game rather than giving up playing when I was in my early 20s, if only I had built on the foundation of consistently doing the Basted Double of 100 runs and ten wickets in a season, if only I had sharpened up my right arm unpredictables and curbed my penchant for flashing outside the off stump, I might now not be suffering the slings and arrows of this outrageous winter. If only......

Wednesday, January 06, 2010


I really don`t want to dwell on the travails of Portsmouth Football Club, but since I wrote the other day about John Anthony Portsmouth Football Club Westwood, the situation has, if anything, got even worse for the long suffering fans. It`s late on Wednesday afternoon and according to the club officials, the players wages were to be paid today without fail. No sign of it so far. That`s after they were not paid by 31 December as they should have been, then not paid last Friday and again by yesterday, all due to circumstances allegedly beyond the control of the club, a spokesman said.
Apart from that problem, mystery continues to surround the ownership of the club and it`s becoming more difficult to identify a `fit and proper person` who might be the real owner. Then there is the winding up procedure issued by HM Revenue and Customs which is due to be held in court soon. Then the amounts owed to other clubs, former `owners` and agents, beside the wages owed to the players, about which the Professional Footballers Association are getting very exercised.
Then there is the fact that Portsmouth are bottom of the Premier League, not helped by a ban imposed on them which prevents them signing any new players and the certainty that they will have to sell their best players to prop up their finances. Finally there is their `stadium,` Fratton Park. The photo above shows a dwindling band of supporters demonstrating outside the ground following the team`s recent severe tonking by Arsenal. And who can blame them?
Fratton Park itself is a bit of a crumbling heap of a football ground, barely `fit and proper` for purpose. It is a relic of former times, when supporters wore flat caps, shook rattles and never dreamt of adorning themselves with tattoos or engraved teeth.
In their current plight, Fratton Park and Portsmouth Football Club are beautifully synonymous, as is the engaging fact that if you say `Fratton Park` backwards, you get `Krap Nottarf.` Somehow it seems entirely appropriate.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

It was just a few short weeks ago that the world conference about climate change and global warming took place in Copenhagen. Sometimes, things happen that reveal something about the character of the planet which seems to have an eye for teaching its inhabitants lessons as well as a penchant for irony.
As I write, we are currently into the longest and coldest winter weather we have experienced for decades; temperatures hover around zero and for much of the time they fall well below; snowfall is predicted to get even heavier overnight, leading to the inevitable travel disruption tomorrow and for days to come, as the forecast is anything but cheerful. We in the UK could be heading for the harshest winter for almost half a century and, of course, half a century ago no-one had even thought of the notion of climate change or predicted global warming.
Now, the Copenhagen conference was, in the end, a failure of seismic proportions in that it produced virtually nothing apart from some weasel words, some strident intentions and some sheepish departures. And I am beginning to suspect that the planet witnessed all that and decided that it could no longer stand idly by whilst the leaders of homo sapiens - the current tenants - simply confirmed their ineffectiveness. The planet`s response seems to have been to remind us of the power it has to look after itself and to ebb and flow as it always has of its own accord without any help or hinderance from us. Hence we are stuck in snowdrifts and our minds have wandered from the myth of global warming or at least that tiny bit of climate change for which mankind might be responsible.
I see they are remaking `Edge of Darkness.` I wonder whether the updated version will have the black flowers blooming on the hill and the reaffirmation that, after all, we live on a self-regulating planet. If the zealots have their way, somehow I doubt it.

Monday, January 04, 2010


So, the `festive period` is over and done with once more and today it seems that things are getting back to normal - whatever that might be. Kids are back at school (well, they are here,) people seem to be back to work, tv programmes returning to normal schedules and the patterns of life are picking up where they left off before the mayhem began.

This weekend produced a mixed bag of `news` to awake me from my festive slumber. Some of it was uplifting, such as Manchester United being dumped out of the FA Cup by Leeds. Now, I`m not a big fan of Leeds as a club, but any team that enrages the ridiculous Ferguson gets my thanks.

Some of it was, however, decidedly depressing, the most prominent being the obvious fact that the election campaign has truly begun. Yesterday, we were treated to the cringe-inducing sight of Dave Cameron holding a newborn baby whilst sitting at the bedside of an anxious mother where a camera crew just happened to be passing by. I don`t trust politicians and I certainly distrust the motives of those who think it appealing to be seen holding innocent babies. Mind you, Gordon Brown`s weekend was no better. I`ve completely given up trying to find any semblance of credibility in anything he says or does, for it is patently obvious that his sole purpose is to ensure that he stays `in power`, even if he is only `in office.`

There`s speculation about when the general election might be, but as Gordon wasn`t elected in the first place, you can be pretty sure he will hang on like grim death until the latest date before he has to call the election. Looks like May then, but that means we could have about 150 days of this pointless `campaigning,` at the end of which we might end up voting for neither of them. Nick Clegg and the LibDems, UKIP, the Greens and all the others have been remarkably quiet so far, which may be the wisest and the most appealing thing for them to do.

One would imagine that following on from all the furore over the MPs expenses, the broken promises over such things as the referendum on the EU constitution and the total discredit which this Parliament has brought upon itself, then we would face the prospect of a general election with at least some enthusiasm as a golden oportunity to be rid of the culprits. However, at the end of 150 days of tortuous, incestuous, schoolboy antics, I`m not sure we will care very much about any of it any more. Which is normal.

Friday, January 01, 2010

The gentleman featured in the photo is Mr. John Anthony Portsmouth Football Club Westwood (he changed his name by deed poll a few years ago.) He is an enigmatic character. By day, he is a mild mannered bookshop owner from Petersfield but, when Saturday comes, he morphs into this rampaging, bell ringing, fanatical camp follower, resplendant with his 60 tattoos extolling Portsmouth FC and his teeth engraved with `PFC.` He does indeed need help in all kinds of ways, for apart from the obvious, his football club are in serious straits.
I cannot begin to list all the financial and other problems that beset the club; sufficient to say that they are of such magnitude and complexity that their very future must be questionable. Now, as a diehard Southampton fan for over 60 years, I should perhaps be rejoicing in the quagmire in which Pompey are immersed, for the rivalry between the two cities and the two football clubs is as intense as any other and more so than most.
Two particular moments of unforgiveable offence caused to Saints fans by our rivals from 17 miles down the M27 live long in the memory. One was when Saints played Pompey at St. Mary`s just after the death of Ted Bates, who for over 60 years served Southampton FC as player, manager and president. During the period of silence before the game as a mark of respect, some Pompey fans shattered the silence with shouts of abuse at a particularly poignant moment. The other was when Mr. Westwood was banned from St. Mary`s for urinating on the seats in the away fans` area. Not surprising that feelings run high.
And yet, for all of that, I cannot really find it in my heart to hope that Pompey go under, for what is football without the rivalry, the passion and the bragging rights? For the past five years, the Saints have been on the slide and during that slide I doubt we had much sympathy from the majority of Pompey fans. But even they must have missed the titanic battles when the teams played each other in those extraordinary, vibrant encounters before packed houses. If we don`t have Pompey as our rivals any more, we may have to search for less deserving alternatives, although it`s hard to see any real rivalry springing up with the likes of Bournemouth, Brighton, even Aldershot - they don`t quite have the same cache.
So what do I hope for Mr. Westwood and his football club? Well, I think they should get their just desserts in the form of points deductions, relegation, sorting out the culprits, maybe even criminal proceedings and they may well have their own slough of despond to wade through before the light begins to show at the end of their self inflicted tunnel. But I hope they pull through, for as the Saints` fortunes are now on the rise I look forward to regaining those elusive bragging rights that have been denied us for too long. Besides which, what on earth is Mr. Westwood going to do with his 60 tattoos, his engraved teeth, his bell and his Saturday afternoons?