Sunday, February 28, 2010

Those of you who study these ramblings will by now have come to understand that one of the things that gets to me is the UK`s membership of the European Union. I`m all for free trade and having good, friendly relations with our continental brothers and sisters (especially the sisters) but I have grown increasingly tired of the UK chucking £40million a day of taxpayers` money into the black hole of the EU`s finances. I`m not sure what we get for our money except seemingly an increasing interference with things that affect our daily lives, a largely unelected, remote, self-serving bureaucracy that is so out of touch with those who pay for it, a refusal to display any semblance of democratic integrity, a penchant for making up the rules as it goes along, an arrogance which produces its own flag, anthem and illusory clubbiness and an inability to have its accounts signed off for more years than anyone can remember. Apart from that, it`s ok.
So I have always been on the lookout for those who speak up against the EU`s flagrant profligacy and sense of self importance and one such has been Nigel Farage of the UK Independance Party and MEP for the south east of England. But I`m afraid he overstepped the mark in the week, when in the EU Parliament he referred to the newly appointed EU President, Herman van Rompuy, the well know Belgian, as having `the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low grade bank clerk.` Now, even given that such description might just chance to have a degree of accuracy about it and given also that van Rompuy was elected President of 500million people without them having any say in his appointment, Farage`s farrago lost him any credibility he may have had as a serious politician when he descended into his personal van Rompuy rant.
It seems that Farage is going to stand as a Parliamentary candidate in the next UK General Election for the seat of Buckingham, for which the current bizarre Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, is the sitting member. Apart from having a little sympathy for van Rompuy, given the choice which awaits them I`m beginning to feel distinctly sorry for the good folk of Buckingham.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A MAP, A COMPASS AND A MISSED OPPORTUNITY

As this is the 50th anniversary of my entry into National Service, I`m sure you will forgive me for digging up some of the `events` of those lost 731 days from my fading memory. After all, who knows, but one day these ramblings might fall into the annals of military history...possibly. Well, maybe not, but here goes anyway.
Fifty years ago today, I along with the others in B Troop, 60/02 intake had been `basically trained` by the 4/7th Royal Dragoon Guards at Catterick Camp for exactly three weeks. (I had got into a bit of trouble thanks to the soon to be Mrs. Snopper posting letters to the `Dragon Guards!`) On yet another cold, snowy, wintry day in North Yorkshire we were herded into the ubiquitous Bedford 3-ton truck (pictured,) and driven off for half an hour or so until it stopped and four of us were invited to step outside into the sharp air of that Yorkshire morning.
I don`t know why, but of the four of us, I was handed a map and a compass and told to escort the other three back to our barracks at Catterick in time for tea. With that, the truck sped off, presumably to deposit other groups of four at various locations. I didn`t have a clue where we were, so the first thing to do was find a road, hopefully a crossroads with a signpost and then check the map and find the route back to camp.
But hang on a minute. Here we were, by ourselves, dumped in the middle of nowhere and we could have taken the option to just look at the compass and head south. But 50 years ago, after three weeks of military training, the thought never crossed our minds and after a few travails, we just about made it back in time for tea. Those Dragon Guards had done a job on us, so much so that we considered our return to Catterick as something of a triumph rather than a missed opportunity.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

INCOMPETENCE AND HEROISM
Like most people, I`ve always had a soft spot for the underdog - it`s a bit of a national trait. In my case, at least in sporting terms, it might be down to being something of an underdog myself. I always enjoyed `playing the game,` but I never really took it seriously enough to be too bothered whether we won or not...it was the taking part that gave me so much pleasure.

All of which might account for the fact that for years I have followed the (mis)fortunes of football teams like East Stirlingshire who have traditionally ended each season at the foot of Division Three of the Scottish League. I have a friend who follows Stenhousemuir for similar reasons to my own and so it is with some twisted sense of regret that both of these teams seem to be doing rather well these days. Our attention may have to focus elsewhere.

Now, of course, there are football clubs and there are football clubs and right now we are seeing the results of incompetent mismanagement at clubs such as Portsmouth whose future is uncertain. But there are others whose situations appear at face value to be as perilous as that of Porstmouth`s but who, in reality, deserve much credit for carrying on against all odds.

One such club is Durham City FC, whose ground is pictured above. I came across Durham City purely by the chance of scrutinising the details of football results in last Sunday`s newspapers. There they were, at the foot of the Unibond Premier League, having played 25 games so far this season, winning none, drawing none, losing all 25. They have scored 15 goals but conceded no less than 131. Their home game against Bradford Park Avenue last Saturday ended 0-7. I wondered how all of this could possibly have happened.

Well, it seems that the Unibond league dealt them a hammer blow just before the season started by saying that the artificial pitch used by Durham meant that, should Durham gain a good enough league position to be promoted, they would not be permitted to move up a league because of the pitch and if they gained a playoff spot they would be unable to contest the playoffs. This meant there was no way to progress any higher than they were.Their main sponsor duly pulled out and most of the squad left immediately. The club was forced to field a team full of mainly young 16 - 18 year olds from New College Durham who unfortunately are outclassed at this level of football.

These yougsters go out every week and give their all for the club and how ever hard they try, the gap in skill ultimately leads to heavy defeats. But even though they will probably lose every game this season, they should be proud of trying their best under very difficult circumstances. Now that, to me, is a form of heroism - a learning curve, a rite of passage for those young players who are a million miles away from the pampered poseurs of Portsmouth, where heroism is in short supply, but incompetence reigns supreme. Play up, Durham.



Saturday, February 20, 2010

HOW COULD I EVER DOUBT IT?

Well, maybe not Lou Reed perfect, as a couple of things brought a couple of downers but nevertheless a very good day.
For a start, Manchester United were soundly beaten by Everton, where the boy Rooney had his upbringing, bursting onto the Premiership scene with much badge kissing and assertions that he was an Evertonian for life. And then he went off to Old Trafford. And this evening, our old friends from down the M27, the blue few of Portsmouth, lost at home to Stoke City to cement their rightful place at the foot of the Premier League table. Meanwhile, the Saints went to Norfolk and beat Norwich City 2-0 to inflict league leaders Norwich`s first home defeat since the first game of the season. Wycombe away on Tuesday, then Walsall at home next Saturday. Heady days indeed. No, really.
And I don`t know, but I may at last have stumbled on a political party that suits me. Not the Tories, not the LibDems and most certainly not `new` Labour. Nothing extreme or nasty but an outfit that talks my language - the English Democrats!! Now I haven`t studied them or their policies at all carefully, but from the report I heard of their `conference` held today in a modest venue in Doncaster, they, like me, are fed up with England being run by a Scottish Prime Minister, a Scottish Chancellor of the Exchequer and loads of other Scots in the Government. They don`t like uncontrolled immigration, they are opposed to `political correctness` and they want out of the EU. And they want the same devolved powers and an Assembly or Parliament for England, the same as those already enjoyed by the Scots, the Welsh and the Northern Irish. Of course, I know they`re not going to win the General Election and they might not even win one seat, but I suspect that if I vote for them at least it will make me feel better.
There have been a couple of downers today, one being the Winter weather which just goes on and on and the other being the launch of Labour`s election campaign, marked by a slogan that defies belief and headed by a grinning, self-satisfied, robotic Gordon Brown. So the discovery of the English Democrats has lightened the political gloom and that discovery might turn out to be just as satisfying, if not more so, than today`s results at Goodison Park, Krap Nottarf and Carrow Road. Maybe there is a God after all - how could I ever doubt it?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

TRAGEDY AND FARCE..
Just about every day, you hear things both tragic and farcical and today has been no exception. First the tragedy. The bodies of five more young, brave British servicemen were flown home to RAF Lyneham and, as the cortege made its way through the small Wiltshire town of Wootton Bassett, once again the town came to a standstill as hundreds lined the streets to pay homage and respect to the loss of yet more lives in the dubious peradventure in Afghanistan.
Their loss of life is tragic for themselves, their families, their friends and their comrades and whatever we may feel about the war in Afghanistan, I`m sure we all feel the utmost sadness that once again young lives have been lost and give real thanks to the good folk of that small town for becoming the conscience of the nation and the personification of respect and decency.
Now, it`s just 141 miles from Wootton Bassett to Macclesfield in Cheshire and today`s daily dose of farce has been provided by Macclesfield`s Member of Parliament, one Sir Nicholas Winterton. He is very exercised about the suggestion that MPs should no longer be able to claim first class rail travel because, as he says, `standard` class travel is full of `a different type of people.` His remarks are not only deeply offensive but also demonstrate just how out of touch he is. Maybe he should remember that his salary and burgeoning expenses along with those of his wife, also an MP, are paid from the taxes paid by those very `different type of people` that he wants nothing to do with. Seems to me his attitude is along the lines of `the trouble with Macclesfield is that it`s full of constituents.`
To be fair, the Tory Party have dismissed Winterton`s remarks as his own private ones rather than anything to do with the party itself and they remind us that neither of the Wintertons will be standing at the next election. Small mercies and all that.
So, the 141 miles distance between today`s tragedy and farce isn`t too far, but Winterton`s world is so far away from that of the realities of people in Wootton Bassett, from grieving families and the young lives cut so short. Don`t know why, but I was reminded of the lyrics of the late lamented Kirsty MacColl`s `Walking down Madison,` which includes:-
"From an uptown apartment to a knife an the A train
It's not that far
From the sharks in the penthouse to the rats in the basement
It's not that far
To the bag lady frozen asleep on the church steps
It's not that far
Would you like to see some more?
I can show you if you'd like to."
Tomorrow is another day, but you can bet that tragedy and farce will once again feature in equal measure. C`est la vie.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


LESSONS IN LIFE - PART 1960
Funny how money can get you into trouble. Just before I started my National Service - 50 years ago this month - Her Majesty The Queen sent me a postal order for one shilling through the post. I stupidly accepted it and so unknowingly entered into a `contract` with her to spend 731 days of my life in service to Queen and country. If only the post had gone astray...
When I took the train to Catterick, I took with me a supply of `stuff` that I thought would come in handy - notably a selection of `toilet requisites` and some cash from my savings. It quickly dawned on me that the opportunity to actually spend any cash was severely limited to the odd packet of fags and tins of blanco and boot polish. When, after our first week, the first pay parade happened, we were marched to a table in the corridor, behind which sat an officer, whose job it was to dole out our pay for the week and a pay sergeant, who made baffling entries in our pay books.
I was handed the princely sum of 15/9d (about 78p) for which I had to spring smartly to attention, salute crisply and loudly declare that my `pay and allowances` were correct, sir. I found it hard to resist muttering words to the effect that if that was the best they could come up with, then maybe I should hand it back as they seemed to need it more than I did.
Big mistake. The upshot was that I was frogmarched to the canteen, where I was to spend the next three days from 6.00am until 7.00pm up to my elbows in greasy tepid water, cleaning out cooking tins, dinner plates and assorted cutlery. (In army parlance, those items were, of course, known as `tins cooking,` `plates dinner` and `cutlery assorted, eating for the use of.`) Army 1 - Snopper 0.
I have never once looked a gift horse in the mouth since.

Monday, February 15, 2010

SOMETHING IN THE WATER...

The sun sets behind Hythe Pier, as the little train meanders its erratic way from the shore to the pier head where the ferry leaves for Southampton and the waves of Southampton Water lap gently in the evening breeze.
Hythe has a few claims to fame. The inventor of the hovercraft, Sir Christopher Cockerill, lived and died in Hythe. T. E. Lawrence (of Arabia) lived in the village from 1931 to 1932. He was then known as T. E. Shaw and he lodged in Myrtle Cottage at the junction of St John Street and Shore Road. My old school friend, William Scammell, a leading UK poet, critic and biographer, was born in Hythe in 1939. The author and ship historian, David Ellery, is based at Hythe. The adventurer and TV Presenter, Bruce Parry, was born 17 March 1969, in Hythe and, of course, the reknowned blogger, golfing fantasist and former midfield dynamo, Snopper, spent his boyhood days in that village between the forest and the sea.
And it`s high time that the name of Michael Scammell, William`s brother, was added to the list. I always remember Mike being sent down from the Scammell household in Alexandra Road to retrieve William ("Billy") who spent many happy hours with me playing at the bottom of our garden where the tide lapped in twice a day and we watched the great ocean liners as they came and went to and from all parts of the world. Mike was educated at Nottingham University and obtained his doctorate at New York`s Columbia University, where he is professor of creative writing and the translation of slavic languages. He has just published his long awaited biography of Arthur Koestler, which has been hailed by the Washington Times thus:-
"It takes talent to write about someone else's interesting life in a book that is interesting itself. The biographer would have to be, say, an author, scholar and translator. Such a person could write a biography about an intellectual polyglot, polymath, "journalist, novelist, essayist, autobiographer, and writer of scientific speculations" — and Casanova.
Michael Scammell is such a biographer. His new book on Arthur Koestler (1905-1983) took two decades to complete. He has flushed out details that Koestler himself left out — in some half dozen autobiographies. He shares Koestler's long, convoluted life in a thoroughly enjoyable read. The British-born Mr. Scammell comes with top credentials. Currently, he teaches creative writing and translation at Columbia University. Previously, he chaired the Russian literature department at Cornell. His Solzhenitsyn biography won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and English PEN Nonfiction Prize. Translations from Russian include Nabokov, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy."
I confess to having badgered the Parish Council in Hythe to start a programme of `blue plaques` to commemorate leading figures associated with Hythe. There are already plaques for Sir Christopher Cockerill, Lawrence and Billy Scammell, so I may have to start badgering again to give Mike the recognition he deserves locally.
One thing`s for sure. They won`t be putting up a plaque for me, especially as the house I lived in has long been demolished and since even I would doubt the legitimacy of a plaque to commemorate a former box to box midfielder with a good engine and an eye for a pass. But there must be something in the Southampton Water for such an abundance of other local talent to emerge.
For more on Mike Scammell, please see http://michaelscammell.com/
NO, IT ISN`T..
`Incredible` seems to be the most overused word in the English language these days. Well, maybe not overused so much as wrongly used. My dictionary`s definition of incredible is "so extraordinary as to seem impossible." And yet we are asked to believe that....
- Cheryl Cole is incredibly beautiful;
- Ashley Cole is incredibly talented;
- The snow is incredibly deep;
- `He`s incredible for his age;`
........and so on. You hear it all the time and it just ain`t right. Even if they might be true, all of the above examples, along with the countless others you hear every day on radio and tv, are capable of being understood and none of them come close to `so extraordinary as to seem impossible.`
What are incredible are things like time and space and infinity. I just can`t get my head around the concept of infinity, for example, which suggests that there are no boundaries to space or time, either backwards or forwards, no beginning, no end, just `infinity.` Now that`s truly incredible. And it brings into sharp focus the blink of an eye lives we lead on this speck of dust in our obscure corner of incredible vastness. So I wish people would use `very` instead of `incredible,` even if that might also lead to undeserved and unwarranted exaggeration.


Saturday, February 13, 2010


PARROTS AND PEACOCKS..
So that was that. Southampton 1 - Portsmouth 4. The scoreline suggests an easy victory for today`s visitors to Southampton`s nice, family-friendly, modern St Mary`s Stadium. But it was anything but. For 70 minutes, Saints more than held their own and really should have been 3-0 up at half-time.
But the difference between the Premiership and Division Three was obvious in the last period of the game, when Pompey`s pace and finishing power contrasted with Saints` lack of pace at the back and missed chances in front of goal. But whilst I may feel as sick as a parrot about the result, I also feel as proud as a peacock about the performance, the sell-out crowd of 31,853 creating a memorable atmosphere and the way in which my football club conducted itself in the face of deep-seated intimidatory rivalry.
So, no complaints about the result, although I`ve reminded myself of the old saying, "Show me a good loser and I`ll show you a loser." But at the end of the day, I guess it just wasn`t meant to be, so we will now concentrate on the league and our visit to Wemberley for the Trophy Final on 28th March.
Portsmuff are still in a perilous position financially, as news comes this afternoon of the reluctance of the Premier League to advance them any end-of-season cash until, err...the end of the season. Next Wednesday they have to present their accounts to the High Court, where the Winding-Up Petition turning into a Winding-Up Order is still hanging in the balance. After today, I hope they survive, otherwise they will take the south coast bragging rights into liquidation with them. And we really can`t have that, can we?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A DAY OF CONTRASTS...
For a lifelong Saints fan, this morning is one to be savoured, as last evening Southampton FC saw off the challenge from MK Dons to reach the Final of the Johnstones Paint Trophy. Don`t laugh. This competition has history. It is really the Football League Trophy, open to all clubs in the second and third tiers of the Football League. However, with sponsorship being what it is, the trophy has taken on many guises over the years, viz:-
Associate Members' Cup (1983-1984)
Freight Rover Trophy (1984-1987)
Sherpa Van Trophy (1987-1989)
Leyland DAF Cup (1989-1991)
Autoglass Trophy (1991-1994)
Auto Windscreens Shields Trophy (1994-2000)
LDV Vans Trophy (2000-2007)
Johnstone's Paint Trophy
And so we`re off to Wemberley (pictured above) for the Final against Carlisle United on 28th March. The last time I was at the old Wembley Stadium for a Cup Final was in 1976, when Saints beat Manchester United 1-0 with a goal by the late Bobby Stokes. I still have my programme and my ticket as a lasting reminder of that glorious day - so glorious that HM The Queen handed out the medals that day and clearly decided that football couldn`t possibly get any better, so she has never been since.
But as we Saints fans are dancing in the streets this morning, at the same time our near neighbours and fiercest rivals Portsmouth FC are in the High Court fighting a winding-up petition from HM Customs and Excise, to whom they owe millions in tax and national insurance payments. I`ve been following their progress this morning and, as I write, the case has been adjourned until 2.00pm this afternoon. Whatever the outcome, however, it is clear that they are in dire straits with an uncertain future, not least our televised FA Cup game against them on Saturday.
Now, maybe I should be celebrating their problems as much as I do the resurgence of the Saints. But then I remember that about this time last year, we ourselves were placed in administration. My shares became worthless, my loyalty stretched, the bottom of a deep slough of despond reached. So I won`t rejoice at the plight of our neighbours because we`ve been where they are and it ain`t pleasant. But something inside me suggests that they should at least suffer the same fate that befell us - administration, points deduction, relegation, all of which we suffered as a result of mismanagement by a series of misguided incompetents but who, in contrast to those responsible for Portsmouth`s decline, now appear positively benign.
So it`s a day on contrasting fortunes in south coast football. Saints fans are over the moon. Pompey fans might end it as sick as parrots. After all, it`s a game of two halves. To be fair.
BREAKING NEWS : It seems that the High Court have adjourned Portsmouth`s `case` for seven working days for them to demonstrate their ability to pay their debts - presumably not just to HMRC but everyone else who are owed - and to return to the Court to resume the case at the end of next week. That may sound like a stay of execution but the fat lady is still gargling. (Snigger!)

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

OTHERWISE ENGAGED..
My apologies to my readers and world-wide correspondents for the recent delay in communication but I have been otherwise engaged on redecorating the lounge and dining room at Chez Snopper. It has been a daunting task for a skilled craftsman of my age - ceilings, walls, woodwork - but now almost finished.
I`m thinking of getting one of those boards that `tradesmen` put outside properties they`re working in. Mine might say `M. ANGELO : PAINTER AND DECORATOR : CEILINGS A SPECIALITY.`


GET UP, BOY...
Despite the many good causes that benefit from it, I`ve always found the whole business of sponsorship a bit embarrassing. It`s tricky to go around with a sponsorship form almost begging people to sponsor you for some bizarre event - and it tends to be family and friends who get asked; and they`re embarrassed to turn you down.
Just recently, the Golden Retriever Society decided to organise a sponsored `down stay,` so we were given a sponsor form to try and persuade peole to sponsor Barney. The down stay is simply what it says on the tin - Barney and his mates were seriously expected to lay down and stay perfectly still for a maximum of ten minutes. I guess for people like me, if it was me being sponsored to lay down and stay still for any length of time then there would have been no problem and we quite expected Barney, who is still only 15 months old and very lively, to become fidgety very quickly and get up after a couple of minutes.
As the sponsoring was so much for each minute he `stayed down,` I was sure his effort would tuen out to be a cheap option. Not so. He`s obviously been well trained by Mrs. Snopper as he settles in to the gold award routine, so he managed the full ten minutes. Now, the sponsor form didn`t have too many names on it and those who did appear were all included by ourselves - a mixture of family members and mythical friends - so that when we came to hand it in it didn`t look too pathetic. The upshot is that, thanks to Barney`s uncharacteristic behaviour, I`ve now got to write a check for £40. I`ll know better next time.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

ON THIS DAY...

On this day, 4th February 1960, a few things happened. For example, after a brief interview, President De Gaulle fired the post of Deputy Prime Minister for Algeria, Jaques Soustelle. Soustelle, the highest ranking French government official in the overseas Department, was the first of the European Algerians to be dismissed as part of De Gaulle's rule by decree.
Also on that day, the Soviet Union`s support of Cuba as a Communist ally was forged as Soviet Deputy Premier Anastas Mikoyan was welcomed in Havana by Fidel Castro. Meanwhile, Jordan offered citizenship to any Palestinian (defined as a person who "used to have the Palestinian Nationality before May 1948, excluding Jews") living abroad.
But for me, the most significant event on 4th February, 1960, was that I made the long and tedious journey to Catterick Garrison in North Yorkshire, to begin my 731 days of conscription into National Service. And so it seems right for me to reflect on this the 50th anniversery of that momentous occasion.
The day long journey ended by being bundled into a three-ton truck at Richmond Station, arriving at the Bourlon Barracks (pictured above) and being thrust into a quite alien world of confusion, not to say bewilderment. I think there were about twelve of us thrown together as `B` Squad in the 60/03 intake and we were alloted a barrack room where we were left to unpack our belongings. The first things that struck me were, firstly, the diverse dialects, from Hartlepool to Esher, calling at Manchester, Derby, London, Glasgow and it seemed all points of the UK compass. The second was my exposure to more`industrial` language than I ever knew existed, to heroic blasphemy, to obscenely colouful descriptions, such that the constant use of technicolour swearing simply resulted in negating its intended effect. It became the norm.
I suppose I grew up fast, became resourceful, became immune to the constant pace, hustle, bustle and sheer pointlessness of military life. I learnt to go with the flow, to accept that I was there for 731 days and to just get on with it, to grow accustomed to being asked what was my "`orrible spewy name" and accustomed to all the other abuses and attacks on what was left of my innocent, provincial sensitivities by bawling, masochistic, one-stripe drill corporals. But after a few months of Catterick, I was whipped into enough shape to be posted to a regiment - the 10th Royal Hussars (Prince of Wales` Own); the Shiny Tenth, the XRH - in the green hell of BFPO 16 in Germany.
Photobucket

But the 10th turned out to be something of a `family,` with a sense of togetherness, of `comradeship` and even as a mere National Serviceman, I was seduced into believing that I had found a kind of acceptance. If I had not been on my guard, I could equally have been seduced into returning that acceptance, for when the day finally came to leave, 731 days on from being pitchforked into Catterick`s three-ton truck, I was asked by the Shiny 10th`s Commanding Officer whether I might like to stay on and become a `regular` soldier - with vague promises of promotion and a secure future (in an armoured fighting regiment? I don`t think so) - but I declined gracefully and headed for the exit door.
And so, on 4th February, 1962, the 731 days of my military circle were complete. I was free at last of the army, the conscription, my duty done, my life transformed, my growing up on the way to being complete. I left behind some strident memories, some good, some dreadful, some hilarious, some tinged with genuine pathos. But I also left behind some good friends, some of whom I am still in touch with these 50 years on. And I know that at least one of them will be reading this shambling ramble with similar memories to my own. Somehow, it only seems like yesterday.

Monday, February 01, 2010

ALL CHANGE...
On my way to Southampton on Saturday (Saints 2 - Stockport County 0) I once again paid a visit to my boyhood village, Hythe, which sits between the shore of Southampton Water and the New Forest. I paid my respects to my late mother`s resting place and had a walk around those familiar surroundings.
The picture (click on it for a larger image) shows Hythe`s High Street, which has seen many changes over the years but whose landscape is much the same, except perhaps for the introduction of a Waitrose supermarket at its far end, on the site of what was a large house, the Villa Amalthea. One other noticeable change has been the pedestrianisation of the High Street, but the shops are still there and the Lord Nelson pub. What`s happened of course is that the shops had all changed hands over the years with the exception of Madgwick`s Fish and Chip shop.
I went to Hythe Primary School with John Madgwick, whose parents ran the fish shop and John inherited the business and kept it going until he retired a few years ago. He installed a manager to run the shop for him so he could spend his days pottering in his bungalow garden in School Lane. On Saturday, I noticed that the shop sign no longer said ER Madgwick and Son and it was obvious that John`s interest in the shop has finally come to an end.
John and I also went to school there with William Scammell, who went on to become a leading poet, critic and biographer. In one of his books, Five Easy Pieces, John was thinly disguised as Dabwick, as `Billy` Scammell, as he was known to us, recalled his own boyhood days in that `village by the sea.`
"If you wrestled with Dabwick, the fishmonger`s son, you got beaten twice, once by his weight and forever by oil of herring and cod. He was the first among us to have a real job - in the shop, of course, - a fisher of housewives - and treated himself liberally to cigarettes and beer on his wages. In the Lord Nelson, whose back bar looked out across Southampton Water to the leviathans of P & O, Cunard, the Castle Line, he escaped from the cruelty of classmates. He took to wearing terrific brogues at one end of him and a checked cap at the other and became a globe with interesting poles, vanishing into the promised land of grown-ups."
Of course, the only constant thing in life is change, but I was sorry to see that the last of those familiar High Street shop signs has finally disappeared. Billy Scammell sadly left us ten years ago but I hope John is still in his School Lane bungalow and still getting his daily cod and chips. Next time I`m there, I`ll find out, even though with some trepidation.