Monday, March 29, 2010


Amazing what a difference 48 hours can make in a full and active life. Last Friday morning, I took Barney down to Woolacombe beach for a last scamper before our 250 mile journey home. There are three miles of unbroken, sea-washed, silky smooth sand at Woolacombe and in all that space there were only two other people to be seen. So whilst Barney was scampering away, I did what I always like to do at places like that. I stood with my back to the wind , hearing the roar of the surf, watching the spindrift being kissed away from the peaks of the rollers and looking out on the ocean, breathing in the fresh, clean air. Perfect peace, a feeling of being alone but at one with the forces of nature. I enjoyed that.
Fast forward to Sunday. Home from Devon, driving up the M25 to Watford, parking the car, getting the train down to Wembley Central and meeting up with 51,593 other Saints fans (according to official Wembley Stadium figures) in a crowd of 73,476 to see Southampton beat Carlisle United 4-1 to win the Football League Trophy, aka the Johnstones Paint Trophy, in the national football stadium. That scene was a bit different:-

A memorable, raucous, noisy, joyous day spent with good friends in a fantastic stadium on a very special occasion. But it got me wondering which of the locations I had experienced in those 48 hours had been the most pleasing. I`m still wondering.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


After the longest and worst winter for decades, I`m looking forward to a few days away in North Devon next week. We`ll be staying in Woolacombe (pictured) and no doubt moving the sheep along as we walk around the headland of Baggy Point and take in the spectacular views around to Morte Point in the far distance. Just hope the weather is like it is in the picture, but at the end of March, who can tell? It won`t really matter though, for the change of scenery, some sea air and revisiting old haunts will do us good and go some way towards lightening the mood after a difficult winter.

Back next Friday; just in time to have Saturday to get sorted out before heading off to Wembley early on Sunday to see Saints play Carlisle in the final of the Johnstones Paint Trophy. Yes, I know, but a final is a final and (gloomy thought) now being the wrong side of 70, I don`t know how many more chances I might get to see the Saints in a Wembley final.

So, apologies for absence for a short while. I think it is possible these days to `blog` remotely and I think one or two of my blogging friends might know how to do that. Not me, I`m afraid - I remain in the ranks of the terminally dim so far as hi-techy stuff is concerned - but I`ll be back on these pages in a week or so once I`ve dried out.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


So, Children`s Secretary Ed Balls (pictured) has criticised England's Children's Commissioner for "ill advised" comments about the killers of Jamie Bulger. The commissioner, one Dr. Maggie Atkinson, said children under the age of 12 were too young to understand their actions. The comments led Jamie`s mother Denise Fergus to call for her sacking because of the "twisted and insensitive" views. In a radio interview, Dr Atkinson reportedly apologised for the "hurt" caused to Mrs. Fergus, without having actually posted the letter of apology. It seems Denise Fergus did not receive the short handwritten letter of apology until a full 24-hours after the interview was aired.
Now, quite apart from the obvious issues involved here, there are a couple of other things that really don`t seem quite right. For example, Dr. Atkinson has no children of her own which I would have thought would be an obvious disadvanatage to be the £120,000 a year Childrens Commissioner. Moreover, The Children, Schools and Families Select Committee of the House of Commons were not convinced about Dr. Atkinson`s appointment when it was made last year and they asked for it to be reconsidered. However, true to form, Ed Balls overruled the Committee and went ahead and confirmed the appointment anyway. So it`s a bit rich - but entirely predictable - for Balls to be criticising his chosen candidate as soon as she makes some comments which are clearly politically sensitive, if not politically damaging.
Seems to me that the only person to come out of this sorry episode with dignity intact is Jamie Bulger`s Mum, with the politicians and the so-called professionals left once more to flail around defending their own interests rather than those they have been appointed to serve. Don`t know why, but Balls always reminds me of a rabbit caught in the headlights.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Barney`s feeling miffed. You see, when he does his weekly training with his Golden Retriever mates, he rubs shoulders with some of the Southern Golden Retriever Formation Dancing Display Team (pictured doing their stuff at the Crufts Dog Show.) Quite a few of the team and their owners come from around here and they practice locally, so Barney feels very honoured to share their company once a week as he struggles with the demands of the Kennel Club Good Dog Gold Award. But that`s not why he`s miffed.

There was a bit of fuss last year when people complained about the cross-breeding of dogs which produced things like labradoodles and cockerpoos and the fact that Crufts suddenly became politically incorrect for some reason. The BBC`s response was simply not to show Crufts at all last weekend and coverage was banished to obscure channels like More4. Even so, you might expect that the Golden Retrievers, doing their intricate routine, would have made for entertaining viewing, but despite an intensive search of obscure tv channels (some of which I really must revisit) Barney was able to catch just a fleeting background glimpse of his formation dancing friends, who must have been disappointed to have put in all that effort and hours of practice only to be ignored by the cameras.
This evening, it`s training night again and no doubt Barney will hear all about it from those who were on the team. He doesn`t aspire to join them in their pirouettes and their disciplined palais glides, as I`m sure he possesses other qualities, yet to be discovered. Anyway, to help him get over the disappointment of the tv blackout, he`s had a much needed bath this morning so that tonight, whilst he may not be the most obedient one there, he might for once just be the most pampered.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Fifty years ago today, the conscripts of 60/02 intake had by then been `basically trained` for over five weeks and time to visit the firing ranges to see if we could do the one thing that was the while point of being in the army. Shoot things.
So off we went to the Catterick ranges, where we were each issued with a Sterling sub machine gun. We were shown how it was supposed to work (without bullets) and shown how to take it apart and put it back together again. We were then issued with some ammunition and, under the watchful eye of a tremulous shooting instructor, we took it in turns to aim at small targets a long way away. I just didn`t get the hang of it, I`m afraid. I was hopeless. In fact, the guy next to me ended up with more holes in his target than he had bullets to start with. He became marksman, I was in some trouble again, as I couldn`t disguise the irony here.
The Dragon Guards had given me nearly six weeks of intensive training; I was fitter than I had ever been; I could march up and down, turn right and left, even stop when barked at. I responded to barks. It became second nature, like a reflex action. And yet, and yet, after all of that, when it came to the whole point of being in the army, I could barely see the target, let alone hit it. Now the army, in their relentless pursuit of logic, came up with the perfect solution, which was to shuffle me off to an armoured fighting regiment which had BIG CHIEFTAIN TANKS with ENORMOUS GUNS, which would make it far more likely that I might just hit something.
But the irony didn`t end there, for throughout all my time with the 10th Royal Hussars, I never once got to fire any of their ENORMOUS GUNS. My reputation must have preceeded me, as it was not a risk they were prepared to take. Pity really. I would have quite liked a go at it.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


Forget Manchester United. Forget Chelsea. Forget Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester City and all the BIG clubs. Even forget Saints` 1-0 home win over Leeds yesterday, for nothing, but nothing can compare to the performance of Durham City FC, pictured above. A few posts ago (see `INCOMPETENCE AND HEROISM` on 23rd February) I reported on the plight of Durham City and the fact that, at that time, they had played 25 games in the Unibond Premier League this season, lost them all, scored a measly 15 goals and let in 131.

Well, all that has changed. Yesterday, they travelled to FC United of Manchester - the club formed a few seasons ago by those disenchanted with the Glazers taking over Manchester United - and, before a crowd of over 2,000, Durham won the game 2-1. The three points gained were their first of the season. Their first goal from Andrew Stephenson was probably the cheekiest strike of the campaign as he lobbed United ‘keeper Sam Ashton from near the halfway line and then Durham ‘keeper Rhys Jobling became the North East side’s hero with a penalty save to his right although at times it was all hands to the pumps to keep United out.

The victory has been hailed by true football fans from all over the country, as witnessed by the congratulations and encouragement posted on the club`s website, even from fans of FC United of Manchester themselves:-

"Well done today, I'm an FCUM fan and I have to say well done, you deserved all 3 points for the battling spirit you showed. In the end I think everyone was in agreement you deserved the win and we can only wish you the best for the future".

The League table hasn`t changed much for Durham. They have now played 29 games, scored 18 goals and let in 138, giving them a goal difference of -120. They are still in negative points territory on minus three points, 26 behind the team next to bottom, Ossett Town. But none of that matters, for yesterday was a day to savour, not just for Durham but for all those who know of their problems and can at last rejoice in the triumph of the underdog.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


Somewhere, on an obscure estate in downtown Maidstone, the county town of Kent, there is a small ground floor flat where Baroness Uddin, pictured, claims to have spent quite a lot of time. As a result, she designated the flat as her `main residence` thus being able to claim a shedload of taxpayers` money on her `second home` in Wapping, east London.
Uddin was born in a Bangaladeshi village and moved with her parents to the UK in 1973, when she was 13 years of age. She grew up in London`s East End, went to school in East Ham and on to the University of East London where she earned a Diploma in social work. After a career in social services in Newham and Tower Hamlets, in 1998 she was raised to the peerage as Baroness Uddin of Bethnal Green in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. She was the youngest woman and the only Muslim and Bangladeshi woman to be appointed to the House of Lords. She was invited to the House of Lords for her `contribution to the advancement of women and disability rights,` swearing in by saying "Almighty Allah" as she took her seat in the parliament. How very `New Labour.`
In 1999, Uddin created the first purpose-built education and training centre for Asian women in the UK located at Whitechapel. In 2005, she was selected by Tony Blair as part of a delegation to tackle Islamic extremism and in 2008, she was made the chairwoman of the ethnic minority women's taskforce.
It`s all very commendable, of course, but not only very New Labour but also very `London` - East Ham, Tower Hamlets, Whitechapel, Newham - how much more `London` could it be? Nonetheless, the good Baroness asserts that her main home is the tiny ground floor flat in provincial Maidstone, of all places. Nearby residents have reportedly said they had not seen any occupiers in the flat since Uddin purchased it and that it has remained completely unfurnished.
However, Uddin claims: "The Maidstone property is furnished and I strongly deny that I have never lived there." Uddin's husband even denied having a property in Kent when questioned on the issue and she has appeared on the voting register at her London address from 1996 to date. Uddin claimed a total of £29,675 for accommodation in 2007/8, a time when the maximum daily accommodation claim was £165 a day. Her bill represents a claim at the maximum possible rate for 179 days, more days than the Lords actually sat that year.
Uddin has in fact claimed her main home has been outside of London since 2001, earning an extra £83,000 as a result. In January 2010 it was revealed in The Times that the property she had claimed for during this period was owned and occupied by her brother and his family, with Uddin's sister in law stating she couldn't recollect the Peer ever living there. She also has one of the highest claims for overnight subsistence of any member of the Lords.
The Crown Prosecution Service announced yesterday that Baroness Uddin would not face any charges on the grounds that a senior parliamentary official had ruled that a Peer`s “main house” might be a place they visit only once a month. So no wonder the Baroness has something to smile about this morning, while those who pay for her excesses can only look on with contempt and disdain. The whole business clearly raises many more questions than answers but the one question that needs to be answered above all others is, simply, how can it possibly be that people like this can ever become Peers of the Realm?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Jewell and Warris, Morecambe and Wise, Canon and Ball - all good knockabout comedy double acts. And I think, having watched Prime Minister`s Questions from the Mother of Parliaments yesterday, we might now add Brown and Cameron to the list.
It was a truly depressing experience. At the beginning of proceedings, there were the now usual tributes paid to those servicemen who had lost their lives in Afghanistan during the week since the last PMQs. Those tributes themselves are always a stark reminder of the seriousness of politics and they at least appear to be genuinely observed by our elected representatives on all sides. Trouble is, it doesn`t last and the air of seriousness and sombre reflection gives way in an instant to the yah-boo, schoolyard exchanges between Brown and Cameron.
They are like leaders of rival gangs caught up in a playtime vendetta, quite unable to do other than hurl insults and accusations across a despatch box which might be the only thing that keeps them from coming to blows. Their henchmen join in the hullabaloo, finger pointing, order paper waving and leaving the ineffectual Squeaker of the House, John Bercow, to shout `Order` more times than you hear in a Fleet Street bar.
It might be called Prime Minister`s Questions, but the Prime Minister never seems to give a straight answer to a straight question, preferring instead to use each question as an excuse to restate how wonderful he and his party are and how wrong, wrong and wrong again are the Opposition. After twenty minutes or so of these fol-de-rols, all semblence of the sombre reflection has vanished in a welter of claim and counter-claim, accusation and shrieking denial.
Now, it might - just might - be `funny` if it were not supposed to be so serious. Here we are on the brink of a General Election and the notion of considered, sober, even courteous debate never crosses the minds of our MPs, who delude themselves with the idea that the electorate cannot fail to be impressed by such performances. How wrong they are, for when Parliament is reduced to the level of the vaudeville, especially in the wake of the expenses scandal, the broken manifesto promises, the stark reality of a broken society and the biggest financial crisis in my lifetime, the electorate - far from being impressed - are likely to turn their backs on the whole thing and think, after all, that they might be just as well served by Canon and Ball, Morecambe and Wise or any of the other comedy gold double acts. At least they made us laugh rather than weep with despair.
Does it really have to be like this?

So, in the wake of a few recent serious incidents, HM Gov. are going to make it compulsory for all dog owners to have insurance. I don`t have a problem with that, especially as Barney is already insured against all kinds of things, including third party risk. He also has a chip under the skin of his neck which gives all the his details and, when he`s out and about, he always wears his collar with his name tag showing our name and phone number, so all in all Barney`s pretty well covered.
As a dog owner myself, I have genuine sympathy with those families whose members have quite literally been attacked by untrained dogs and the full force of the law should be brought to bear against their owners - if they can ever be traced. But, like the proverbial sledge hammer to crack a nut, the Government`s proposal, to require all dogs to be properly insured, will hit everyone. Even those, like us, who needed no telling to `do the right thing,` not just by our fellow citizens but also by Barney himself, pictured above in one of his more aggressive moments.
What might make more sense is a couple of measures that may not be included in the Government`s proposals, such as reintroducing the dog licence which was abolished years ago, I think because at 37p a year, it cost more to administer than the amount of cash it brought in. But the point of it was not so much to make money or to register the dog, but to register the owners. But perhaps a more useful idea would be to make dog training compulsory, administered through the Kennel Club, who already have an excellent `Good Citizen` award scheme which trains dogs to be well behaved and, crucially, well controlled. Barney`s already got the Bronze and Silver awards and he`s well into the Gold training. He`s finding it a bit demanding, which is no bad thing, for anything worth doing should not be easy.
In fact, we`re off this evening to extend Barney`s `education,` along with our own. I quite expect to see a posse of insurance salesmen waiting at the door of the village hall where the Golden Retrievers of mid-Kent assemble each Wednesday. I`m afraid the salesmen might be too late and so will have had a wasted journey. We`ve already compared the confused, thank you very much.

Monday, March 08, 2010


There was a time when, if England needed a new fast bowler, someone would arrive from Lord`s, whistle down the nearest coal mine and a lift full would appear on the surface. So why is it that the current England cricket team are stuffed full of South African born and bred players? There`s Kevin Pietersen, Jonathan Trott, even Andrew Strauss and now the newly qualified Englishman, Craig Kieswetter. Surely, at least three of them should be battling it out with Jacques Kallis, Graham Smith and their colleagues for a place in the South African side. I have the feeling that there is so much that is desperate about the depth of English cricket talent that we are quite happy to put up with the embarrassment of fielding half a team of non-English born and bred players just so we can compete on the world stage.
This weekend, in Vilnius, the Great Britain tennis team played Lithuania away in Group Two of the Euro-African Zone, the third tier of the Davis Cup. Since it was Ireland who beat Turkey, Britain is now officially worse at tennis than Lithuania and Ireland. And there could be further embarrassment to come in the summer. If Britain lose to Turkey the weekend after Wimbledon, we would drop into the lowest division, on the same level as Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Malta, Moldova and San Marino. The Great Britain team captain, John Lloyd, (pictured) became the first British captain to lose five successive ties, and he was considering whether to resign last night. “I’ll go away and think about things, and ask myself, 'Did I screw up? Could someone else do a better job?,’ he mused.
Good questions, Lloydy. But here`s a suggestion. Get down to Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban and have a look around the tennis courts down there. Who knows, you might find a few players knocking around with South African fathers and British mothers or even grandparents who might jump at the chance to smother their domestic inadequacies by becoming heroes over here. Greg Rusedski, the well known precedent-setting Canadian Brit springs to mind. After all, if it`s good enough for Lord`s, it must be good enough for Wimbledon, where £29million a year is just waiting to be spent on even the faintest hope of respectability.
New balls, please.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

It`s all going swimmingly well for Britain`s Baroness Cathy Ashton (pictured) who has now been in the job as the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy for 100 days. As one leading MEP puts it: 'Last year, she was unknown in Britain. Today, she is unknown all over Europe.' And others have been yet more scathing of her `performance` since she rose without trace to this new, unelected post, with one insider claiming that maybe her rightful place in the political firmament would be to chair a Parish Council.
Yet the peer, who is planning to use an appearance at the European Parliament next week to confront her critics, can take comfort from the fact she is riding the gravy train for all it's worth. Her basic pay of £250,000 is double that of her U.S. counterpart, Hillary Clinton (who's on £124,000). And on top of that, Lady Ashton is entitled to a raft of benefits including a £38,000 yearly accommodation allowance, £10,000 annual entertainment budget, two chauffeurs, and thousands of pounds more in allowances. If - and it is a very big if - she survives her five-year term, there will be a gold-plated £64,000 annual pension and a £464,000 golden handshake.
The personal benefits are only the beginning of the cost to the taxpayer of Baroness Ashton's new empire. Millions of pounds of taxpayers' money will be lavished on a new Brussels HQ. But that is small change compared with the estimated £43billion cost of the 5,000-strong team of civil servants in the newly formed European External Action Service, which has been set up to serve her.
The unelected and unaccountable European Commission has thrown money at Baroness Ashton in a desperate attempt to make the appointment work. But still her name barely resonates in Brussels despite serving as EU Trade Commissioner for more than 12 months before she took the new post.
In fact, she is so anonymous that security guards reportedly asked for her ID when she tried to enter the EU building during the summit of the 27 leaders which appointed her. It`s all very embarrassing but all so very EU, where the blatant disregard for the people of Europe, for the basic principles of democracy and for the decency to spend taxpayers` money as if it was their own is endemic. The whole thing is institutionally self-serving and nothing and no-one demostrates this more than Baroness Ashton`s unelected rise from provincial NHS Trust to her now exalted position.
Come home, Cathy, before it`s too late.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Rewind from two posts down. Over the moon becomes sick as a parrot. Here`s why.
At lunchtime today, Portsmuff beat Birmingham City 2-0 in the quarter final of the FA Cup, helped in no small measure by a sight-impaired lineman not spotting that a Birmingham header had crossed the line, which would have made it 2-1 with ten minutes plus Fergie time to go. So, the blue few are now off to Wemberley for an FA Cup semi-final. Cue reports about beleagured club overcoming horrendous odds with a performance of real grit and character, quite overlooking the fact that they have seemingly spent money they haven't got, been trading whilst obviously insolvent and signing players they shouldn't have been allowed to sign. No wonder I have a heavy dose of parrot sickness.
In the meantime, Saints - on the back of two successive five goal hauls - went to the wilds of Birkenhead only to lose 2-1 to Tranmere Rovers, who were awarded a dubious penalty with just a few minutes to go. In a lookalike moment shortly after, Saints defender Jose Fonte was up-ended in the box in a carbon copy of the incident which gave Tranmere their penalty, only to be booked for diving. Upset? Moi? You`d better believe it.

Thursday, March 04, 2010


Lots of hysteria today in the newspapers, on tv and radio about Justice Secretary Jack Straw`s decision not to make public the reasons why one of Jamie Bulger`s 10-year old killers has been returned to custody, having been released on licence for some years.
There seems to be a clamour for the information to be made public, but Straw says it is `not in the public interest` for that to happen. So we have a situation whereby there seems to be widespread public interest in the affair but that it is not in the public interest for the public to be told the reasons.
Now, I`m not sure I agree with the clamour, for it seems to me that the fact that Jon Venables, now 27, has been returned to custody following a breach of his licence shows that the system is working and that seems to me to be the most important part in all of this. But I noticed that Jack Straw has today apologised for his `silence` in not disclosing the reasons, saying that there were “very good reasons” for not giving the reasons. Maybe the public interest would die down a bit if the public at least knew the reasons for not disclosing the reasons in the public interest. Seems reasonable, if not very interesting. OK, I`ll move on.
Well, I`ve never known anything quite like it. Last Saturday, I went to see Saints take on Walsall, who were a few places above us in the league and so a stern test was expected. Despite the Saddlers scoring first, Saints ran out 5-1 winners with a performance that defied belief. There was strength, pace and power in all departments; a strong back four, inventive midfield and unerring finishing in front of goal.

On Tuesday evening, an even sterner test was expected, as the visitors to St. Mary`s were Huddersfield Town, a form team lying in the play-off spots and unbeaten in eleven matches. Saints won 5-0 with a performance that was even better than the one which overcame Walsall. I noticed just how much the players were actually enjoying it; playing for each other and for the manager, Alan Pardew who, it seems, has been under some pressure from the club`s chief executive, Nicola Cortese, who seems to be demanding that Saints make it to the play-offs despite starting the season on minus ten points and not winning a game until about the seventh attempt. A tough cookie, our Nicola, but to be fair, he and owner Marcus Liebherr have supported Pardew with £millions invested in players and they expect a return on that investment. It`s a big ask though - we`re still 14 points off the play-off spots but if the team continues as it has done in the last two games, it might just be possible. Breath not being held though.

In the meantime, our friends down the M27 are deep into administration, in and out of the High Court and their stay in the Premiership looks doomed as they are expected to be clobbered by a nine points penalty which will surely secure their relegation. Such a shame, but the mismanagement of the club, the ducking and diving, the succession of `fit and proper` owners who raise mystery to an art form and the smoke and mirrors style of financial management all suggest that they might, at last, be about to receive their just desserts, courtesy of HMRC. So, whilst us Saints fans are over the moon, we still spare the odd thought for our rivals:-

I guess we`re just all heart. Just like they were when we were in administration ourselves.

Monday, March 01, 2010

So far, I`ve kept out of the furore surrounding the Wayne Bridge - John Terry saga, but as a Saints fan I feel a sense of loyalty towards Bridge, who spent his formative years in our Academy and went on to grace our first team before moving on to Chelsea. In any event, I`m pretty sure his decision not to put himself forward for selection by England Manager Fabio Capello is correct.
But what has been revealing is the manner in which his decision was made and announced. Wayne Bridge has come across as the quiet man, almost the silent victim in a game riddled with ridicule and contempt. Apart from Wayne himself, his ex girlfriend Vanessa Perroncel and their baby son, there are others on the stage including the now former England captain, John Terry, the injured Ashley Cole and his soon to be ex wife Cheryl. It`s a complicated plot and there are other extras in the cast such as Vanessa`s `spokesman,` Max Clifford, John Terry`s `spokesman,` Phil Hall, then there is Simon Cowell, reported to be in full support of Cheryl Cole and even Jose Mourinho, who is alleged to care about Ashley Cole, which surely stretches the boundaries of one`s imagination.
Of all the statements made and the media extravaganza that has filled our screens and newspapers these past few days, a curious mixture of opinions has emerged. Take Max Clifford, for example, "I really think that Wayne should think long and hard and reconsider. I think he`s letting himself down as well as his country." I should imagine Wayne is less than impressed to have been lectured on patriotism and personal responsibility by such a blatant opportunist.
But the only statement that has mattered has been the one made by Wayne Bridge himself. With football reduced to the status of a soap opera and wallowing in a cast list of charlatans, poseurs, arrogant prima donnas and misguided attention seekers, it is soberingly refreshing to see what Bridge really had to say. It was this: "It has always been an honour to play for England. However, after careful thought, I believe my position in the squad is now untenable and potentially divisive. Sadly, therefore, for the sake of the team and in order to avoid what will be inevitable distractions, I have decided not to put my name forward for selection."
And with those sensitive and considered words, he introduced a note of sanity and restraint into a situation which was not of his making. Football is a funny old game but while the Terrys and the Coles of this world continue to drag it down to their indefensible level, it takes a humble and patently decent man to provide some dignity and some hope for the future. The game owes Wayne Bridge a lot, not least its understanding and its respect.