Monday, May 31, 2010

It`s good to be back home after our week in Cornwall. After about 800 miles driving, after six days of unbroken, warm sunshine (it rained all the way home on Saturday) and after being cut off from the rest of the world. We stayed in the `hamlet` of Porthallow just up the hill from Talland Bay and there was no shop, no pub, just a beachside cafe and so no newspapers to keep us up to date with events back in the so called `real world.`

And what do I find when I get back? Well, at least a couple of `curiosities.` The first was that the good ol` U of K came last in the abominable Eurovision Song Contest. It was in 1997, I think, that we last won the thing, when Katrina and the Waves wowed us with `Love Shine a Light` or something, since when there has been a regular pattern of heroic failure. Now, whilst they are dancing in the streets of Germany for having won this year, we on the other hand, who refuse to take it seriously, are finding at least some kudos in being bottom of the Euroclass and, of course, relieved once more at not having to fork out the mega money needed to `host` the event which always falls to the winners to do. So, all in all a good result.

The other curiosity was the elevation of John Prescott to the peerage. I thought he had always said that he would have nothing to do with the Upper House, however it seems his good lady wife has harboured other thoughts. Now, I don`t want to be unkind to John Prescott but here we have an ex-cruise ship steward who somehow rose to the status of Deputy Prime Minister whilst all the time displaying a vibrant talent for womanising, croquet playing, punching and brawling with voters and generally bruising his way through life. But his most endearing quality has always been his effortless ability to systematically mangle the English language, to the extent that most of the time we never really understood what he was talking about. Neither, I suspect, did he.
And so how come Lord Prescott of Kingston upon Hull can take the ermine and presume to add to the quality of debate in our second chamber? The answer must be that the `honour` and the title has really gone to the fragrant Lady Pauline who has shown remarkable courage, persistence, loyalty and long suffering above and beyond the call of duty and who has now reaped the reward for standing by her man. Still, I`m looking forward to Lord Prescott`s maiden speech (I use the word advisedly) in the Lords, in the confident belief that he will yet again leave us baffled, whilst Lady Pauline smiles knowingly from the gallery.
The so called `real world` just gets curiouser and curiouser.

Friday, May 21, 2010

THE CALL OF THE WEST

It seems that each time we go off on holiday, we head south west. I don`t know whether it`s because of my West Country origins or the fact that we have always done it, but apart from a brief (and very wet) flirtation with Wales, we have always headed to the south west of England. Too many places to mention but we just love it there and although it has reached the point whereby we have seriously considered going elsewhere (Yorkshire has been mentioned, `appen) we strongly suspect that if we were to go somewhere different, we would get there and wish we were back somewhere off the A30.

Anyway, tomorrow, we head for Cornwall once again, but this time to a part of that magic kingdom we haven`t been to before (it seems you can spend a lifetime going to the West Country and never get to see it all.) We`re off to Talland Bay, pictured, between Looe and Polperro. It looks like a quiet place and apart from its spectacular coastal scenery, it has one claim to fame in that Richard and Judy have their holiday home there. If I see them I`ll ask them which is which.

More on that story later.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

FRYING PANS AND FIRES
Well, that may be what some of the more deluded Pompey fans believe, but the truth is that Avram Grunt has been at Nottarf Krap for only a few months, during which time he successfully confirmed their relegation from the Premier League and, oh yes, succeeded in taking the team to the FA Cup Final at Wembley last Saturday where they were mercifully put out of their misery by Chelsea.
That journey to the `Home of Football` was, of course, made possible only by Portsmouth defying belief and the rightful attentions of the authorities by continuing to trade whilst insolvent (a criminal offence in any other `trade,`) buying players with money the club didn`t have and then not paying said players, Mr. Grunt and other staff, not to mention local florists and charities, for months on end, then going into administration with debts reported to be £140million and rising. Sounds awfully like bringing the game into disrepute.
So, what now for Avram, the true spirit of Pompey? Well, it seems he may be off to West Ham United, who themselves only narrowly escaped relegation, which cost the admirable Gianfranco Zola his job as their manager. Now, some of my very best friends are avid West Ham supporters and I have no wish to compromise that friendship in my comments about their beloved Hammers. However, that club seems to have come such a long, long way from once being, quite rightly, hailed as the Academy of Football via a succession of dubious managers and even more uncertain owners until now, when the club is owned by David Gold and David Sullivan who made their millions thanks to their burgeoning pornographic empire.
A slippery slope indeed for a club whose reputation perhaps needs more repairing than the two Davids are likely to provide. The recruitment of Avram Grunt may not help their rebuilding exercise either, for it was recently alleged that he was much taken with the services offered by a `massage parlour` on an industrial estate in Eastleigh and, in a profession where charisma is valued more highly than integrity, one has to question his chances of improving the image of affairs at the Boleyn.
But, for him, any form of escape from the madness of Pompey must come as more of a relief than was ever on offer in Eastleigh and I have a feeling he may be jumping from the Fratton Park frying pan straight into the incendiary fire of Upton Park. But, given all that has gone before at both clubs, he seems eminently suitable to become the True Spirit of present day West Ham United. I wonder what Ron Greenwood and John Lyall would make of it all.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

CHUCKLE BROTHERS TO HEAD STAR CAST ?
Well, the election is over and done with....for now. And Labour have gone off licking their wounds and no doubt wondering what to do next. It seems the first item on their `agenda` is to elect a new leader, now that Gordon Brown has disappeared onto the back benches.
Now, I am not a member of any political party, so please do not interpret this particular ramble as in any way politically biased. There was an occasion when I seriously considered joining the Monster Raving Loony Party since I imagined we would have much in common, but of course to seriously consider anything would immediately disqualify one from membership of that outfit.
One of the blessings of the election was the disppearance of most of those MPs who were caught up in the expenses scandal, not least of which was, of course, the aforementioned Jacqui Smith, the former Home Secretary. Her job has now gone to Tory matriarch Theresa May, she of the killer shoes and who shares the same name as a leading `adult film actress`- not that I would know anything about that. But somehow, I can`t see Theresa May being given quite the same `welcome` to the Home Office as the one Jacqui Smith enjoyed, for I have it on good authority that, on being introduced to the Permanent Secretary at the Home Office, Ms. Smith was invited to `put the kettle on, there`s a good girl.`
So, as the coalition government of our ConDemNation gets down to business, eyes might after all be focussed on the choice Labour (and the Unions) make for their next leader. So far, there have been two declared candidates - the brothers Milliband, pictured above. The eldest, David, has now apparently finished his gap year and is ready to take on his younger brother, Ed, who claims to be a Leeds United supporter. Not a good start, boys. I don`t know who else might emerge from the shadows but whoever gets the job, they are likely to be in opposition for quite some time, given the stitch-up proposed by the ConDemNation coalition to have a fixed term parliament for five years.
But it could be mildly entertaining to observe the desperation of the Labour membership and the Unions to find anyone within what`s left of their ranks with enough gravitas to really be taken seriously. Somehow, I can`t quite imagine the Chuckle Brothers, Ed Balls, Auntie Harriett or anyone else doing anything other than convincing me that the Monster Raving Loony Party is, after all, alive and kicking.

Friday, May 14, 2010

WHAT`S IN A NAME ?..
I`ve had a request from my antipodean correspondent to show a bit more of Barney`s progress now that he`s 18 months old. Well, here he is posing on top of the dais with his retriever mates, Shane and Wilson. I should explain that neither Barney nor his friends have won any competition - and it`s not really a dais, as such, but simply a device to help horse riders mount and dismount before or after they cross a nearby pedestrian footbridge over a busy road. But it looks imposing, doesn`t it?
Anyway, Barney`s back in the groove of training for his gold award. He went back to the classes the other evening and joined up with his other compatriots who, for one reason or another, were deemed `not ready` to pass the test when it was held a couple of weeks ago. Barney did very well - he seemed to remember what he had to do and did most of them very nicely, so maybe there`s some hope for him yet.
His two mates in the photo - Shane and Wilson - belong to friends of ours who have a particular penchant for western movies and I believe Shane is unsurprisingly named after `Shane` of the film of the same name starring the late, vertically challenged Alan Ladd. As for Wilson, my initial hunch was that he may have been named after Cotton Wilson, the dodgy marshall in Gunfight at the OK Corral, but no. It seems this Wilson was named after another character in `Shane,` such is the extent of our friends` devotion to that celluloid epic.
As for Barney, well Mrs. Snopper and I, being of a certain age, needed a name we might remember, so we just named him after a bit of the road we live in (Old Barn Road.) On that logic, he might equally have been named Oldie or Roadie, either of which might have suited him just as well, but there`s a fair chance we`ll remember his name is Barney, even if he doesn`t.
G`day, Barb....it is Barb, isn`t it?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

THE NEWS THAT REALLY MATTERS..
I haven`t gone on too much lately about Southampton football club, partly to save my neighbours from feeling any worse than they already do, but also partly because there has been an air of uncertainty about all things Saints over recent weeks.
It started round about the time of the JPT final at Wembley, when speculation rose concerning the future of manager Alan Pardew (pictured) and has grown since, fuelled by media reports that Pardew was about to get the sack. I have been concerned that this might happen for all kinds of reasons, mainly to do with the fear of going back to the bad old days when Rupert Lowe would sack any manager who didn`t agree with him, when what we really need now is some long overdue stability.
Also, I couldn`t understand or accept the logic that suggested sacking a manager for failing to achieve promotion in his first year, despite starting the season with a 10 points deduction thanks to the aforementioned Lowe, not having a pre-season at all, not winning a game until the season was a month old and not having had the chance to build either a backroom staff or a team on the pitch until well in to the season.
The last few days have seen a welter of media `stories` about Pardew`s imminent sacking, disenchantment shown towards him by the club`s owner and chief executive and speculation about where Pardew might be off to and who might come in to take his place at St. Mary`s. But today, thank heavens, the chief executive, Nicola Cortese, has come out and issued a long and comfortingly upbeat statement decrying all the media nonsense and making it clear that Pardew is going nowhere and that the future is indeed bright and red and white.
I should think so too. For we have had our most enjoyable season in years, revelled in a spectacular day out winning at Wembley, finished just one place off the play-off spots and conceivably would have been promoted anyway had it not been for Lowe`s negative ten points. So, with my keen eye for the real priorities of life and after a week of what might laughingly be described as more important news - General Election, political horse trading and all that - the news that really matters to me and thousands of other Saints fans has finally arrived this morning. There, that`s better and you`ll be relieved to know that I won`t mention Saints fc any more until next season. Possibly.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


IN GOOD COMPANY..
Another bit of self-indulgence, I`m afraid. Part of my day last Saturday - apart from going to the football and having a luxurious ferry crossing - was spent having a short walk around my old boyhood village of Hythe. A few years ago now, I had a hand in a plaque being put up to mark the birthplace of my old school friend, Billy Scammell, who died in 2000 but who achieved recognition as a distinguished poet, critic and biographer.
At the time of the talks with the Parish Council, who kindly funded the plaque, they said that they were keen to provide other plaques to commemorate people with a connection to the village. One of those can be seen in the photo above, which I took whilst standing outside Myrtle Cottage looking along the road to where our own cottage stood all those years ago. TE Lawrence (of Arabia) is reported to have enjoyed his time in Hythe, living in Myrtle Cottage, whilst working with the British Power Boat Company on the development of high speed launches and he and his family had other connections with the area.
Billy Scammell`s was the first in the series of plaques to be provided, with Lawrence`s put up on Myrtle Cottage in 2007. The Parish Council have plans to also provide plaques in memory of Sir Christopher Cockerill of hovercraft fame and also Richard Eurich, RA and if they wish to extend their programme then other notable local residents also include David Ellery - the author and ship historian, not the former football referee - and Bruce Parry, the adventurer and TV Presenter, who was born in Hythe in 1969.
For a small village sandwiched between the New Forest and Southampton Water it has a lot to interest the visitor and the Parish Council are to be commended for safeguarding its heritage. Must be something in the water...or in the air. So, Billy Scammell is in good company and quite right too. Oh and by the way, Myrtle Cottage is currently on the market for sale - yours for £350,000, complete with plaque.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

MANY A TRUE WORD..
So, here we are five days on from the General Election and, if anything, the question as to who `governs` the country is more confused than ever. One thing`s clear, however, and that is the blatant determination on the part of Gordon Brown and his New Labour outfit to hang on to power for as long as they can.
That is despite losing close on 100 seats at the election, which represented a clear rejection of their `performance` over the past 13 years. Last Thursday, the people spoke -`Enough is enough,` they said, `Time for change, time for Gordon and his cronies to go.` But they`re still here!
The situation we`re in reminds me of rats in a sack. Quite often I feel we`re heading for third world country status, if we`re not there already. To illustrate the point,I agree with the guy on the radio on Saturday who said that we never voted Gordon Brown in and now it seems we can`t vote him out either.
The real sadness in all this is that at least another two of our servicemen have been killed in Afghanistan since the Election, which has all but gone unnoticed in the welter of political infighting and self-interest. We`re told they are `working hard in the national interest.` As yet another pig flies over my roof.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

WHAT ARE NEIGHBOURS FOR?
Oh, dear! I have it on good authority that my Gillingham supporting next door neighbour took his wife to Adams Park, Wycombe, yesterday in the hope of seeing their beloved Gills gain the one point they needed to stave off relegation. Well, sadly for them, the Gills went down 3-0 to the Chairboys of Wycombe Wanderers who themselves had already been relegated to League Two.
No surprise then that this morning curtains are still drawn next door, there is an eerie silence and an aura of depression surrounding their house. I and the rest of our football mad street will share in their grief, as most of us (except perhaps the posy Chelsea fan just up the road) have been there, done that and got the tee shirt. My own club have, of course, suffered relegation from the Premier League and also the Championship, so I know the feeling all too well.
So, what to do this morning? I can`t really bring myself to knock on the door as I know that at times like this, you really just want to be left alone, but being a neighbouly soul, if they want to talk about it with someone who has been there and understands then my door is always open. After all, what are neighbours for but to offer sympathy and hope at times like this?
Yet is there any hope? Can there be for a team that has failed to win a single game away from home all season? For a club that consigns its visitors to standing in a roofless, scaffolding-supported `stand` throughout an incessant deluge and a narrow defeat? Somehow, I have my doubts. But they might console themselves with the thought that this might be an opportunity, rather than simply a relegation. They might invoke the gallows humour of the Southend fans at St. Mary`s yesterday who know how to handle despair and disappointment and who lustily sang the song that Gillingham can now join in. It goes like this:-
`Que sera, sera,
Whatever will be, will be,
We`re going to Shrewsbury,
Que sera, sera.`
(Anon.)
THIS WAS DIFFERENT..
Last game of the season yesterday - Saints 3 - Southend 1 - and, as I promised myself two weeks ago, I went back to Hythe and got the ferry over to Southampton before walking to St. Mary`s Stadium. I was surprised to discover that the usual ferry boats were both out of action. `Great Expectations` was being serviced and apparently the `Hotspur` had broken down.
So instead, we were treated to a ride on the Ashleigh R, pictured above, which had been `chartered` by the Hythe Ferry operators from Blue Funnel Cruises. They are based in Southampton and offer a wide range of cruises to view the boats in the docks, trips along nearby rivers and even to Portsmouth! I was quite taken by the luxury we were confronted by on the 12 minute ferry crossing to Town Quay - the Ashleigh R even had a dance floor and a bar and I quite expect that stashed away somewhere is a glitter ball.
It was certainly a different experience to the crossings I have made on a series of `Hotspurs` since I first made the journey in about 1945 but despite the bar, the dance floor and all the other trimmings, somehow it didn`t seem quite the same.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

BARNEY BOWS OUT..
Sadly for Barney, he wasn`t well enough to take part in the Kennel Club`s Good Citizen Dog Gold Award Test (KCGCDGAT) recently, so he had to bow out gracefully. His `handler` didn`t feel too good either, so the chance was missed to add to the Bronze and Silver Awards he has already got.
Even if he had been able to take the test, however, I fear he would have been declared `not ready` (the Kennel Club don`t like to use the word `failed` as it might have psychological repercussions for both the dog and the handler.) Barney can do most of the things required for the test apart from staying down and not moving whilst his handler goes out of sight. He either gets up and tries to follow her or he just lays on his back kicking his legs in the air with a smile on his face. Well, he`s a happy dog.
Anyway, to get over his disappointment, now that he`s back to normal, he had a good run through the bluebells in our nearby woods with his mate Woody. I think you can tell by their expressions that the last thing on their minds was the KCGCDGAT. And who can blame them? So, back to the training classes and better luck next time, Barney.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

AND STILL THEY WONDER WHY...
I know I said I would try and steer clear of anything to do with Thursday`s General Election, but I`m afraid the photo above proved irresistible. It shows, of all people, Tony Blair on the steps of a summerhouse in Redditch on Bank Holiday Monday. He was there to support New Labour`s campaign for the re-election of the Redditch MP, Jacqui Smith.
So, we have the almost Chaplinesque spectacle of a disgraced, warmongering, misleading, money-grabbing poseur of a former Prime Minister actively encouraging people to vote on Thursday for a disgraced, expenses-cheating, hopelessly inadequate former Home Secretary.
Blair`s crimes and misdemeanours are, of course, as well known as those of Ms. Smith, whose real claim to fame was to have us believe that a bedroom in her sister`s flat was her `main residence,` as opposed to the family home in Redditch where her husband pursued his penchant for taxpayer-funded porno films. But perhaps one of Blair`s most disingenuous remarks actually came on the summerhouse steps on Monday, when he quite seriously declared that, "Jacqui is one of the finest and most decent people I know."
Says it all really and yet they still wonder why we hold them in the utmost contempt.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

AN APPROPRIATE MEMORIAL?
A rare treat yesterday. Back in October, I took my next door neighbour, a lifelong Gillingham fan, to St. Mary`s to watch Saints take on the Gills and win 4-1. Yesterday was the return match so it was my neighbour`s turn to take me to the Gills` Priestfield Stadium.
On this occasion, the Saints had little to play for but the Gills needed to win to be almost sure of avoiding relegation. And it showed. Saints` manager Alan Pardew took the opportunity to include some young players with one, Aaron Martin, making his debut. Some senior players were also rested after a gruelling season, so there was a good deal of confusion and uncertainty around. But no excuses. The Gills harried and fought and, in truth, deserved to run out 2-1 winners. As for Saints, if you don`t start playing until you`re 2-0 down, you only have yourselves to blame.
But enough of that. The real purpose of this item is to report on the `arrangements` for opposition fans visiting the Priestfield Stadium, which were altogether rather civilised. The staff in the away section were polite and helpful and I was unaware of any `trouble` or difficulty despite the usual raucous singing and bantering which are all part of the `matchday experience.`
The Priestfield Stadium has four `stands` surrounding the pitch - the Rainham End, the Gordon Road Stand, the Medway Stand and, for visiting supporters, the Brian Moore Stand. Brian Moore was, of course, one of the most knowledgeable and well respected football commentators of his or any other generation. He was born at Benenden in Kent, educated at Cranbrook School and was also a Gillingham supporter and a director at the club for many years. As a consequence he was the most popular choice to have a new stand named in memory of him following his death aged 69 in 2001.
Trouble is, the Brian Moore Stand is really a temporary structure and has been since it was built in 2004 - financial constraints preventing the club from building the permanent stand. It is supported on a network of scaffolding, has no roof and is consequently open to all weathers and, my, didn`t it rain yesterday. For us Saints fans, the game itself might have been inconsequential but it struck me that it would have been so much more fitting to Brian Moore`s memory, for one of the three other stands to be renamed for him rather than the rather ramshackle temporary structure we found ourselves in. I`m pretty sure neither Medway, Gordon Road nor Rainham would mind too much, for Brian Moore was anything but ramshackle.
Anyway, honours are even, bragging rights are shared and peace has broken out in Snopper Street. I wish the Gills well in their last game of the season next Saturday, when they go to Wycombe seeking the one point they need to guarantee their survival. We Saints fans will, mercifully, be back in the dry, warm and welcoming confines of St. Mary`s Stadium for our last game against Southend. If all goes well, my next door neighbour and I should be visiting each other`s stadiums (stadia ?) again next season. I can hardly wait! Neither, I suspect, can he.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

HERE WE GO AGAIN..
From our Golf Correspondent
After an absence of six months, yesterday Snopper once again took up his clubs and ventured on to the hallowed fairways of the Princes Course at Hever Castle deep in the countryside of West Kent.
Prior to making his entrance, he had of course spent, oh, ten minutes or so making sure that his equipment was in tip top condition. Over the winter, he had been toying with the idea of buying himself a new golf bag and possibly a trolley, but it seemed that Mrs. Snopper had other priorities, so this idea became another job for the back burner. `C`est la vie,` he sighed.
As I have reported in earlier dispatches, a good deal of Snopper`s winter was taken up grazing the deserted rough of nearby courses so that he could restock his supply of golf balls for the battles that lie ahead. He must have `acquired` close on 200 balls of varying quality and just as well, for yesterday saw him lose no less than seven, but having found two he was, in fact, only five down on the day. Only 195 to go then.
It would have been pleasant to report at least some modest success on Snopper`s part yesterday but, sadly, in the immortal words of John Terry, it just wasn`t meant to be. In fact, Snopper failed to record a score, having walked away from a particularly vicious par three which is nearly all water and having landed most of his lost balls in the lake. However, on an encouraging note, his first tee shot on the first hole saw the ball sail a good distance and land in the middle of the fairway some 200 yards away. Nonetheless, I feel obliged to report that, after that, the rest of the afternoon saw the inevitable downward spiral of decline.
But as so often in sport, show me a good loser and I`ll show you a loser and, in the final analysis, Snopper is at least consistent in that respect.