Sunday, October 31, 2010

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT...

Once again, yesterday`s footy results leave room for improvement in Snopper Street. 

First, our quest for nine points out of nine from the fortunes of the Saints, Charlton and the Gills has been thwarted once more.  The Saints went away to Notts County (the oldest football league club) and mounted a stirring second half come back from a one goal half-time deficit to emerge 3-1 winners, thanks to goals from Rickie Lambert Southampton`s Goal Machine (RLSGM,) Lee Barnard, who continues to play with his wrist in plaster following an unfortunate encounter with the flying jaw of a bystanding malcontent in a Southampton nite spot;  and a sublime 25-yard strike from the sublime Adam Lallana.

The fact that the full house of nine points again eluded us was once more down to the Gills, who suffered a 2-1 reverse away at Sixfields, where Nothampton Town had not won for six matches.  They have now.

But pride of place must again go to our street`s footy hero Scott ("Charlton`s Joint Top Scorer Gay Icon Pacy Flanker Buzzin` Six Pack") Wagstaff, pictured, whose 23rd minute strike rifled into the Sheffield Wednesday net for the only goal of the game.   But now that he is scoring regularly, it really is time that he worked on his goal celebration technique.   It`s all very well training all week on basics such as fitness, pacy flankness, getting to the byeline, taking on the last defender, picking out a pass and planting the ball beyond the opposing custodian, but what really catches the eye of fans, agents, scouts and opposing managers  is the goal celebration.  Duff celebration = duff prospects.  Ace celebration = every chance.

And so yesterday, when Scott scored his winner, connoisseurs of the finer points of the game such as my neighbourly Gills groupie Slightly and myself, would have been puzzled by the allegedly pre-rehearsed celebration  that followed.  In truth, it was more Norman Wisdom than Rudolph Nureyev, so as you can see from the photo taken whilst he wasn`t looking,  we are encouraging Scott to spend a little more time down the village green practicing his routine for next time he finds the back of the net. This could come as early as next week, when each of our teams are in the First Round Proper of the FA Cup, which always leads me to suspect there might be a First Round Improper. Surely the Gills will see off plucky Dover;  surely the Saints will spoil Shrewsbury`s Big Day Out;  and Scott and his chums must surely overcome the upstarts of Barnet.  Keep practicing, Scotty - there is certainly room for improvement but it`s coming along nicely.  To be fair.

Friday, October 29, 2010

MOUNTING PRESSURE

As our picture shows, the pressure is beginning to tell on Barney as the day for his second attempt at the Kennel Club Good Dog Citizen Gold Award (KCGDCGA) is now just over a week away.

For almost a year now, ever since he passed the Silver Award, he has been attending the training sessions but with the Gold Test looming the stress of expectation is beginning to get to him.  He  is now going through a programme of intesnse activity with extra training sessions lined up for tomorrow, next Tuesday and Wednesday before he has the exam. next Saturday.

He`s being given every chance, as they say, although I fear his natural tendency to see everything as a game, run around and have a good time, wag his tail a lot and lay on his back kicking his legs in the air, might not be quite what the examiner is looking for.  But then they do say that dogs are like their owners, so maybe it will be down to me if he doesn`t make it this time.  Or ever.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

JUST SAY `NON`..

Each November, the report of the Court of Auditors on the accounts of the European Union are presented to the EU Parliament and this year their report promises to be little different to those of the previous 15 years.

Except for one thing.   For we learn that the EU are seeking to approve an increase in their budget of 6.9% for the coming year.  Just at the same time as we in the UK are facing £81billion of budget cuts, countless job losses and huge changes to the benefit system.   Now, for the past 15 years, the EU auditors have been unable to `sign off` the EU accounts and it seems reasonable to assume that the same failings will show themselves again this time round.  Weak accountancy, weak internal controls both at the Commission and in the member states were given as the main reason why no less than 80% of the EU budget failed the audit last year.

"Reasons for the errors in the underlying transactions include neglect, poor knowledge of the often complex rules and presumed attempts to defraud the EU budget," Court of Auditors President Hubert Weber said. "I believe that the EU's citizens are entitled to expect EU funds to be properly managed and controlled across the Union", he added.

Quite right, so rather than just impose another 6.9% budget increase on us all, why don`t the EU just take his advice?   It`s high time David Cameron just said `Non` to the imposition of yet more taxes by this largely unelected and unaccountable EU fairyland who, in their disregard for any form of reasonable budgetary control, in their relaxed attitude towards squandering other people`s money and in their determination to assume they know what`s good for us, remind me more and more of the basket case that is Portsmouth Football Club.   

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


CHEER UP, MRS...

Don`t look so glum, Mrs. Uddin.  Cheer up.  For it seems we taxpayers might end up paying the £125,000 you`ve been ordered to pay back for fiddling your House of Lords expenses.

 It emerged over the weekend that the peer, who claims that she cannot afford to repay the £125,000 she has been ordered to return, may be able to dip into taxpayer funds again to pay off the bill issued by the Clerk of the Parliament.  Officials confirmed that she won`t have to pay the money back until she returns from suspension, but when she does return at the start of the next parliament, Mrs. Uddin would then be entitled to begin claiming parliamentary expenses again, including a new £300 day attendance allowance. If she attended for the 140 sitting days a year the Lords meets for, she could accumulate enough of our cash to repay the money within three years.

It has also been reported that the Crown Prosecution Service might re-open the investigation into Mrs. Uddin`s case, which did not proceed earlier for `lack of sufficient evidence.` However, police obtained statements from 12 neighbours who all said that she had never been seen at the flat in Maidstone and that they referred to the property as the “empty flat”. Water bills showed close to zero usage, leading the water company to replace Lady Uddin’s meter, assuming it was broken because usage levels were so low. At one point, some shirts blew off a nearby washing line on to the balcony of the flat, and were left to gather mould because no one was ever there to remove them.

Neighbours said that they could see that there was no furniture in the flat until press reports about her case, and no signs of occupancy other than a single unshaded light bulb, which was set on a timer switch.   Lady Uddin had asked the letting company to forward all correspondence to her London home.  

Sounds like game, set and match to the Crown Prosecution Service to me and the quicker the Lords are rid of unelected chancers like Mrs. Uddin the better.

Monday, October 25, 2010

NEAT AND TIDY..

For more years than I care to remember, I`ve taken our successive golden retrievers for walkies up around East Malling Heath, a couple of miles from home.   Years ago, it was a well tended market garden area, with extensive strawberry fields but for years now  the area has been left for nature to take its course.  As a result, there has been a large tract of natural countryside to explore with the public footpaths that run through it giving access to woodland, heathland and open fields - just the kind of areas that dogs love, as well as the dog walkers.

I hadn`t been there for a few weeks until yesterday, when Barney and I set off on our accustomed ramble.  What surprised us was that in the space of those few weeks, the natural environment has been turned into a more formal `wildlife nature area.`   Now for quite a few years , the `development` that is Kings HIll has been growing.  It`s a sought after residential development with an attendant business park, a shopping centre, community hall, cricket ground, leisure centre and all the other trimmings normally associated with the `built environment.`

It`s all very neat and tidy - manicured verges, manicured houses, no washing lines in sight, no litter anywhere, semi-mature planted trees maturing nicely - it`s almost Stepford-esque in its tidiness.  The latest `phase` of the development  now gives access to the natural countryside area which has been left untouched until now, but with that development has come the perceived need to `formalise` things.   So, there are now signs showing you where to go and where not to go, signs telling you to behave, to pick up any dog droppings (which I do anyway,) there are well defined paths with nice new kissing gates, there are whole areas of my former haunt that are now fenced off, there are litter bins, dog bins and all the stuff you would expect to see in a formalised inner city park.  Very neat and tidy.

But this is not the inner city.  This is an area in the middle of the Kent countryside.  What has clearly happened is that, in a pointless effort to remind the Kings Hill incomers of their former urban environments, the developers have turned an area where we used to ramble free, explore, get lost now and again but see nature as it really should be seen, into a controlled,  restricted, neat and tidy, risk-assessed adjunct to the controlled, restricted, neat and tidy, risk-assessed housing estate that has invaded this corner of the Garden of England.   Mr Fussy would love it.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


THE FIRST OF MANY?

A very good day yesterday. For the first time ever, I had the real pleasure of taking my grandaughter to St. Mary`s, this time to see the Saints take on the Latics of Oldham.   She has just embarked on a three-year history degree course  at Southampton University, so it follows that she should be exposed to the cultural life of the city and broaden her education still further by sampling the experience that is a Saints home game.  

This was, however, something of a gentle introduction, as the only tickets I could get where the two of us could sit together was in the KIngsland Stand.   You see, the Kingsland Stand is the quiet one, in direct contrast to the barage of constant noise from the Northam Stand or the sharp banter of the Itchen, where I normally sit.   But we had a good view and the game ended in a 2-1 victory for the Saints.

I`m not sure, however, whether the football was the highlight of Sarah`s day or whether the couple of visits we made to the Cowherds Inn (pictured) at the lower end of Southampton`s extensive Common were more to her taste.   After our long drive we were ready for a good feed and the Cowherds certainly provided it.  I`ll spare you the details, but let`s just say that any trace of anything remotely foreign was conspicuous by its absence.  Trouble was, we ate so well, there was no room left for pudding, so off we went on the longish wander down to the stadium, possibly harbouring thoughts of an after match return to finish the job.

And so it proved.  After the game, we walked back to the car, which we had left quite close to the Cowherds and a brief consultation concluded that we really should go back for more.   We had tea for two and our overdue puddings - butterscotch and toffee pudding and custard for Sarah, treacle tart and ice cream for me. Exquisito!! 

With Sarah safely returned to the University, I then had the long drive home, but it left me with a collection of very satisfying thoughts to reflect on my very good day - always a pleasure to visit St. Mary`s, especially after a home win;  an even greater pleasure to have my grandaughter`s company for a whole day; and the discovery that an excellent cuisine is just down the road from where she is staying, along with an extensive menu that we might just work our way through in the next three years.  Time will determine whether Sarah`s loyalty grows towards the Saints, but already she seems much taken by the Cowherds.  Me too.  http://www.vintageinn.co.uk/thecowherdssouthampton/

Friday, October 22, 2010

HOW COME?

Fair play to the House of Lords who, without any grunts of discontent, yesterday doled out the `sentences` to the three `Noble` Lords who had transgressed the rules relating to the claiming of expenses.   Labour peers Baroness Uddin and Lord Paul, and crossbencher Lord Bhatia, were suspended after the upper chamber approved the damning judgments of its Privileges and Conduct Committee.

Baroness Uddin was suspended until the end of the parliamentary session in 2012 and told to repay £125,349.  Lord Bhatia was sidelined for eight months and has  ­already repaid more than £27,000.  Labour grandee Lord Paul was suspended for four months and has already ­returned £41,982.

Baroness Uddin (pictured) claimed more than £100,000 by ­stating that her main home was a small flat in Maidstone, Kent, not far from where I live.   But she has been living in east London for more than 20 years. The arrangement allowed her to claim almost £30,000 a year in expenses she would not otherwise have been entitled to.

Now, whilst these may be the harshest penalties dished out by the Lords for 300 years, what do they amount to in reality?   Well, this ignoble trio have simply been required to repay the cash they fiddled from the taxpayer anyway, so there`s no element of `fine` involved, and they are not allowed into the Lords until their suspensions have been completed.   I presume this means they will not be able to claim the daily attendance allowance or any other expenses that go with being a member of the House of Lords.   But that`s it.   No prosecutions for what amount to clear cut cases of defrauding the taxpayer;  no problem with them coming back to start claiming all over again and no question of their titles being taken away.

In the real world where most of us don`t have the privileges enjoyed by the ermine clad members of the House of Lords, we would have been fired from our jobs, prosecuted and jailed for committing the kind of offences carried out by this trio.   So how come these three are getting away so lightly?   I`ve no quarrel with the judgements reached by the House of Lords yesterday - they were simply invoking the sanctions at their disposal - but it really is time for a fundamental change so that elected politicians, whether in Parliament, the EU or local councils and especially the unelected Members of the Lords, are subject to the same laws and judicial procedures as the rest of us.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


STRUCTURAL DEFECT..

There was a time, many years ago, when I used to admire Manchester United for all kinds of reasons.  It may have stemmed from the Busby Babes, who played football with a smile under the guidance of the urbane Sir Matt Busby and my sympathy for them was clearly enhanced by the tragedy of Munich which resulted in the loss of so many lives.

I`m not sure when admiration turned into disenchantment but I suspect it was around the time of `Big` Ron Atkinson who seemed to impose his own brand of arrogance on the club, a quality that has been taken to new heights in recent years.  For me, there have been quite a few times over the years when I have taken immense satisfaction in that bubble of arrogance being pricked.  I especially revelled when my own club Southampton beat them on that glorious 1976 day in the FA Cup Final.  So I admit I`m biased.

But events on the pitch are one thing;  events off the pitch say perhaps more about the nature of the club and we are now witnessing once more the shenenagins that have been the hallmark of `Sir` Alex Ferguson`s tenure at Old Trafford.   Now, no-one can deny the trophies his `management` has brought to the club - I think the total is now 35 -  but it`s the methods used, the absence of any managerial style, the arrogant assumptions, that have perhaps taken a little of the shine away from those successes.  Beckham, Stam, van Nistelrooy, Keane and many more were all shipped out by the club for having the temerity not to slavishly acquiesce with Ferguson`s dictatorial `style,` which seems to rely on handbags, hairdryers, bullying and rant.   Sir Matt Busby he ain`t, never was and never will be.

Rooney`s publicly stated desire to leave may genuinely be because of his perceived lack of ambition by the club but I get the feeling that it might be that he has simply had enough of being treated like some errant schoolboy caught behind the bike shed doing something of which the headmaster disapporoves and so wants to give him a lesson he won`t forget.

Now I hold no candle for Rooney - he might be a decent player but even in the Alice in Wonderland world of Premier League football, no-one but no-one is worth £250,000 a week.   Especially at the same time as HM Gov. is cutting £81billion of expenditure from anything from benefit claims to aircraft non-carriers and leaving at least 490,000 people out of work.  With Manchester United, it seems the ironies just keep coming.

Rooney`s timing is awful and maybe we shouldn`t be surprised at that but in a curious way it`s at least refreshing to suspect that, for once, Ferguson isn`t in charge of the situation. This time, someone else is  and however misguided Rooney might be, it might just be the catalyst for Ferguson to finally pack it in, go away and shuffle off back to the swamp with the rest of the dinosaurs, leaving a great club the chance to begin  restoring at least some of the affection it used to command all those years ago.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

 NICE TRY..
From our Crime Correspondent

An anxious wait has come to an end with the arrival on Snopper`s doormat of the results of his pathetic, lame duck, plaintive attempt to hoodwink Rother District Council.  A couple of weeks ago, Snopper`s unfailing disregard for the startlingly obvious resulted in him receiving a parking ticket from the Council, having failed to notice a ticket machine in their car park at Camber Sands.

He sent off his cheque for the damage, along with a letter explaining that he was an elderly pensioner struggling in these hard times to eek out a living for himself, Mrs. Snopper and their dog, Barney, and would they mind terribly if they could overlook his senior blunder and let him off.

The result arrived today courtesy of an official communication from the Council, pointing out the error of Snopper`s ways and `respectively (sic) drawing  attention` to the location of the ticket machine which I`m sure will come in handy if he ever returns to the scene of the crime.

He has, however, with his usual sang froid, taken a little comfort from his assertion that, "the Council`s understanding of the plight of the elderly seems to be in inverse proportion to their ability to spell."  Neither was he surprised that `respectfully` does not appear to feature in their vocabulary.

Nice try though.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


SMALL MERCIES...

Each week Snopper Street is on tenterhooks awaiting the outcome of the football matches followed by neighbours who support different teams. There are a few peripheral supporters who follow Premier League clubs, but the true football fans among us are content to leave that make-believe fairyland to its own devices and instead follow our own clubs in the `lower divisions.`

Our goal is simple - one week to achieve the maximum of three wins by the three teams we follow; Charlton, Gillingham and Southampton (alphabetical order.) That would secure the maximum of nine points out of nine but so far this season that ambition has eluded us. We`ve come close - last week we managed seven points out of nine and yesterday there were high hopes that our goal would be achieved. After all, Charlton were at home to Brighton and their supporters had the added incentive of a matchday programme featuring our street`s local hero, Scott (`Charlton`s top scorer this season`) Wagstaff; the Saints were on a roll, unbeaten in five games but facing a stern test away oop north at Huddersfield whereas Gillingham made the journey to Vale Park to take on promotion contenders Port Vale determined to end their record breaking run of 32 away games without a win.

Charlton went and lost 4-0, not helped by Waggy being confined to the bench for much of the game with a foot injury. Southampton went and lost 2-0 with a sub-standard, below par, hapless performance, leaving only Gillingham to salvage a little pride for our street with a hard fought 0-0 draw away in the Potteries. They may not have ended their away win drought but at least they provided the one point out of nine that we managed yesterday.

Small mercies indeed.

OLD HAUNTS...

I guess it`s what happens to other people too but, as I get older, I find I look back on things, events and places I experienced years ago and one of the many things I enjoy is to revisit those places, revive the memories and see what changes the years may have brought.

It was well over 40 years ago, when times were hard and we were bringing up three children, that I took on the part time job as Clerk to the West Peckham Parish Council. The money wasn`t great - £10 a year if I recall correctly - but it represented a kind of Christmas bonus which came in handy at that time of the year. I inherited the job from a colleague who had been doing it for years and was nearing retirement. He told me how much I would enjoy it because there were good people in West Peckham and it was a nice village to be associated with.

He was dead right. The heart of the village is at the end of a semi-gated cul-de-sac, off a beaten track, and there you will find the village green (pictured,) the village pub (The Swan) and the church of St. Dunstan, which has stood for over 900 years. The whole parish has a population no more than 300 at most and is mainly farm land, with orchards, woods and rolling fields. Archetypal English village scenes - almost a throwback to another age. Not much happened to disturb the peace of the Parish Council all those years ago and so my tenure as their Parish Clerk was trouble free but somehow richly rewarding. I`m not talking about the £10 a year but more about the place and the people. The chairman of the Parish Council was a gentleman farmer, who I got to know, like and respect, not least because his roots - like many of my own family - were in the Hamshire/Berkshire borderland.

This morning, I put Barney in the car and drove the few miles back to West Peckham. Armed with the Ordnance Survey map, we headed off down part of the Wealdway, the long distance path that runs from Gravesend to the Sussex coast near Eastbourne, across a field and into a wood before emerging back on the village green where, on this quiet October Sunday morning, the sweetest sound of silence was broken only by the breeze and the birds. How it should be.

On the way back to the car I paused outside the smart new looking village hall (40 years ago it was a corrugated iron job) and read the events recorded on the agenda for an upcoming Parish Council meeting. I noticed that the chairman bore the same surname as the gentleman farmer who chaired proceedings all those years ago, which seemed to confirm that very little had changed in all that time. And for West Peckham and all the other timeless villages which enrich our sceptred isle, I hope it never does.

Friday, October 15, 2010


SIGN HERE PLEASE..

A week ago, I wrote of my surprise to discover that I was living in `Rowland Hilder Country,` having also discovered his grave in a nearby churchyard. It reminded me of the countless times I have driven through another literary country en route to St. Mary`s Stadium. Just beyond Farnham on the A31, you leave Surrey and enter Hampshire, at which point there`s a sign saying `Welcome to Jane Austen Country.` A little further along towards Alton there`s another sign pointing you towards Chawton and `Jane Austen`s House` and my journey takes me close to Winchester, where Jane died and eventually to Southampton where she lived for some time.
Last week when we were in the Bluewater Shopping Thingy I had a browse in Waterstones Book Shop. What struck me was the collection of notices outside proclaiming the impending programme of book signings. Among the authors beating a path to Bluewater in the coming weeks were literary giants such as Katie Price, she of the pneumatic chest and little else; Michael MacIntyre, who thinks that all you have to do to be funny is shout a lot and shake your head about; Danny Dyer and Ross Kemp, both of whom appear to be making a vicarious living under the guise of being `hard;` and one Ricky Villa.

Ah yes, Ricky Villa, he of the memorable winning goal for Tottenham Hotspur in some long forgotten FA Cup Final, but clearly yet another in this array of `characters` who have tales to tell with creative prose and a keen eye for tempting a deluded audience to part with their cash in return for a signed copy of their `book` and a fleeting interaction with what passes these days for `celebrity.
`
Somehow I could not imagine Jane Austen turning up at Mrs. Miggins` Literary Emporium to sign copies of Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and all her other immortal works just to make a few bob whilst smiling sweetly to her admirers. You see, Jane would not have needed to do that, which says much about the motives, the quality and the transient desperation of today`s opportunistic `authors.` Katie Price Country anyone?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

SNOPPER NICKED AT LAST
Our Crime Correspondent reports

Rother District Council, who operate out of Bexhill-on-sea in Sussex, have a car park at Camber Sands which is just up the road from Rye. It`s a nice area, very popular with visitors, especially dog owners, as a big chunk of the beach is where dogs are allowed to go and do their thing. A couple of weeks ago, the Snopper family, including grandsons and Barney the Retriever, paid a visit to Camber Sands. On arrival, there was a wooden kiosk with a nice young lady inside taking money and issuing car parking tickets.
Last week, Snopper thought it would be nice to take Mrs. Snopper and Barney back for a return visit. On arrival, the wooden kiosk was boarded up, no sign of nice young lady, so Snopper concluded that, as the summer season had drawn to a close, the car park operation had closed down and parking was therefore free. On returning to the car after their seaside ramble, Snopper was surprised to see a penalty notice from Rother District Council, demanding payment of £80 as he didn`t have a parking ticket. This after over 50 years driving and never once exceeding the speed limit brought on an immediate feeling of shame, as much for being found out as for committing the `offence.`
With a painful shrug of his elderly shoulders, Snopper duly wrote a cheque along with a covering letter to apologise for his oversight but also confirming that he is an old age pensioner struggling to survive on a fixed income during the deepest financial crisis for decades and that perhaps Rother District Council would look to providing a clear notice on the boarded up kiosk so that visitors - especially the terminally dim - might purchase a ticket from the pre-payment machine, wherever it might be situated. And he thinks that pensioners shouldn`t have to pay anyway, a campaign being launched, as our picture shows, by a band of Snopper`s golf groupies gathering outside the offices of Rother District Council. The outcome is awaited, but there is real worry that his hitherto unblemished (well, nearly) reputation might finally come to an unfortunate end. Et tu, Snopper?


Monday, October 11, 2010


I NAME THIS SHIP...
As I got back to Southampton`s Town Quay on Saturday evening, where I had parked my car before seeing Saints 2-0 win over Tranmere Rovers, I took this photo of the new Queen Elizabeth as she was being lit up when the light began to fade over the Ocean Terminal.
Today, of course, the real Queen Elizabeth is performing the naming ceremony amid much pomp and circumstance coreographed by Cunard. They`re pulling out all the stops to ram home the fact that this is a British ship run by a British company operating out of Britain`s premier passenger port - the Coldstream Guards, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Lesley Garrett will all be taking part in this very British ceremony, never mind the fact that the ship was built in an Italian yard.
I just wonder how much influence Her Majesty might have had over the ship`s name, for it must be a bit difficult to "name this ship Queen Elizabeth. May God bless her and all who sail in her." Harping back to my harpie friend Ann Widdecombe, it occurred to me that, as the ship is more akin to a bulk carrier than a traditional cruising vessel - more block of flats than elegant ocean going edifice - maybe Her Majesty might be more at ease naming "this ship the Ann Widdecombe. May God bless her and all who sail in her." Bet she won`t though.
YOU`RE HAVING A LAUGH...
I confess that I don`t watch Strictly Come Dancing or The X Factor or any other `show` that relies on humiliation and ridicule to keep its audience and so I agree I may not be qualified to pass any comment.
But I think I`ve seen enough and heard enough about the antics of former Maidstone MP Ann Widdecombe to reach a conclusion about a perception of her that has been with me for some time. Now, some people may see it as `entertaining` that this awkward, portly, clearly unstable, talentless non-dancer should invade our tv screens under the guise of being a `character.`
It`s entirely possible that those who vote for her continued presence on `Strictly` are doing so simply to prolong either her own embarrassment - in other words have a laugh at her expense, which is a bit cruel - or because they have a misguided sense of what passes for talent in this unscrupulous world. Either way, they are doing Ms Widdecombe no favours and, as she has so often claimed to be a bastion of fair mindedness, she really ought to see the reality of it all and retire as gracefully as her unsteady pins will allow. I see that some people claim that she is a `national treasure` but I fear for her as much as the rest of us that she is fast becoming a national embarrassment.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

PHEASANTS 1 - BARNEY 0
Every picture tells a story and this one is no exception. Our walk this morning was up on the North Downs where, even in this busy area of Kent, there are still large tracts of countryside where you can `get away from it all.`
Barney and I went across an open field and then through a little wood before coming out onto a footpath that`s high up above the Medway Valley. No-one else around, although we did hear a few gunshots in the distance which disturbed the local pheasants. Some of them were silly enough to take to the skies and Barney thought this was a good game, so off he charged through the undergrowth and through the trees, all the while sending more and more pheasants squawking skywards.
Of course, it`s in the nature of golden retrievers to retrieve pheasants that have been shot down, so maybe Barney was getting some practice in or simply following his natural instinct. Either way, thankfully he didn`t catch any and after a while he gave up, exhausted... and that`s when I took this picture, which says it all really.

Thursday, October 07, 2010


A SURPRISING DISCOVERY..

In September 2008, I wrote a piece on here about the landscape artist Rowland Hilder. Rather than repeat it all again, you can find it by typing `Rowland Hilder` in the search box at top left of this page and it tells something of his life and his association with the area where I live.

This afternoon, Barney and I went for our walkies around the village of Birling, just a couple of miles away. I parked the car behind the church and we set off for an hour`s ramble across the fields and lanes which are beginning to look a bit bleak at this time of the year. Barney enjoyed frightening the life out of squawking pheasants and scampering rabbits and I enjoyed the peace and quiet of a truly rural area. It reminded me of Rowland Hilder`s own description of Birling - "....miles from anywhere. Even people in the next village of Ryarsh were considered foreigners."

Our route back to the car took us through the churchyard and I discovered that Rowland Hilder was buried there along with his wife Edith, herself an accomplished flower artist. In an article appearing in The Countryman in April 1980, Hilder wrote that although born of English parents in Great Neck, Long Island, the family returned to England each summer to stay at Birling with his grandparents. It was during those early years that he fell in love with the Kent countryside and especially the area between Shoreham eastwards towards Maidstone, so often depicted in much of his work.

Looking back on the obituaries for Hilder, it becomes apparent that he was very highly thought of in the world of watercolours. Denis Thomas`s notes in The Independant following Hilder`s death in April 1993, recalled that this particular area of Kent had become known as `Rowland Hilder Country` evoking as much significance as the `Constable Country` of the Suffolk Stour. Rich praise indeed.

So my surprising discovery now becomes twofold, for it is one thing to have admired the artist for so many years and to have discovered his resting place in Birling churchyard, but quite another to be reminded that this part of Kent is indeed `Rowland Hilder Country.` I suspect that `label` is far better known outside the area than it is in it and I do wonder whether Kent County Council, in their endless quest for `marketing opportunities,` might perhaps be making more of this cultural heritage right on their doorstep. After all, it`s not every county that can boast associations not only with JMW Turner but also a landscape artist of such distinction that he became known as `the Turner of his generation.`
SIR NORMAN WISDOM, OBE
I was very sorry to hear of the passing of Sir Norman Wisdom on Tuesday aged 95.
He was in the same Regiment as me - the 10th Royal Hussars (Prince of Wales Own) - although not at the same time, of course.
He was in the Regimental Band. I was in the Retreat Section.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

IF ONLY..

I make no apology for focussing once more on the rise and rise of our street`s gay icon pacy flanker Scott ("Buzzin") Wagstaff, for once more he has lifted the autumnal gloom, this time by netting the winning goal in Charlton`s televised encounter away at MK Dons last evening.

Following a particularly depressing episode of Emmerdale Farm and an even more angst ridden EastEnders, it was indeed a relief to switch over to Sky Sports and watch this Johnstones Paint Trophy Southern Area Round Two encounter played out in front of just over 3,000 hardy souls in Milton Keynes, the Gorky of Buckinghamshire. As to the game itself and pacy flanker`s contribution, I can perhaps do no better than repeat the remarks made this morning by my good friend and neighbour Hurting Even More Than Ever of Leybourne, who said this in a comment on the next article down from this one:-

"And gay icon six pack buzzin` Waggy has just lifted the Tuesday night gloom with yet another goal and post match interview. Parky (Charlton`s manager Phil Parkinson) describes him as one of the best athletes he`s ever worked with. So, Parky, keep him in the side. He`ll keep improving. All gay icon needs now is a decent agent. Oh, how he must regret turning down Snopper and Slightly."
Waggy`s career is clearly on an upward path and he`s now Charlton`s top scorer with five goals from nine starts. He is developing into every manager`s dream of an archetypal player. He has a good engine, gets from box to box, has an eye for a pass, gets wide, tracks back, gets to the byeline, takes on defenders and has now added the goalscoring touch to his burgeoning repertoire. And we`re all very happy for him and his engaging family.
So it`s all very positive on the playing front but Slightly (who has morphed into HEMTEoL following the Gills` descent into serial abject failure) does have a point concerning Waggy`s off-field activities. If only he had taken up the offer that Slightly and I made a season or so ago to become his joint agents, he would now be in the comforting care of two men of the world, men of substance who have been there, done it and lived to tell the tale - the SAS of football agency. We would have ensured that, as Wayne Rooney`s star is on the wane, Waggy`s recent rise would see him well placed to take Rooney`s mantle as a worldwide icon, rather than one who is recognised only in the back streets of south east London or the sylvan lanes of the Garden of England. TV appearances, product endorsements, book deals, even an end to tongue-in-cheek ironic name tags - all this and more could have been his. If only. But there it is. Life, like football, is a game of two halves, a marathon not a sprint and at the end of the day it may be time for Slightly and me to draw a line in the sand and move on from the rejection we suffered all those months ago when Waggy turned us down. But we know it could all have been so very different. To be fair.

Monday, October 04, 2010


A SPORTING WEEKEND..
I suppose it all began last Friday when the Ryder Cup stuttered into life at Celtic Manor down in Wales. The default Welsh weather has meant the event has been carried over until today when hopefully the European team will bring the Cup back to these shores. I still wonder at the excitement that is generated by hitting a small ball with a long stick into a small hole about a quarter of a mile away but if it beats the Americans then there will be much dancing in the streets of Cymru.
The weekend`s football produced some `interesting` results. Liverpool losing again, this time at home to alleged no-hopers Blackpool, resulting in pressure being applied to `pool manager Roy Hodgson, who I used to watch playing left back for Maidstone United back in the `70s. I felt sorry for my neighbour, the newly dubbed Hurting More Than Ever of Leybourne, whose beloved Gills went down 7-4 at Accrington to extend their run of away games without a win to 32. (Hurting`s heartfelt comments can be viewed by clicking on the `comments` below the item `MIXED RESULTS` a few items down the page). On a slightly more positive note, I was pleased to see our street`s gay icon pacy flanker Scott (`Buzzin` Six Pack) Wagstaff score Charlton`s consolation goal with a stunning volley in a 2-1 reverse at Griffin Park.
On the Saints front, we managed a 2-0 win, thanks to two penalties by Rickie Lambert Southampton`s Goal Machine, in the first league encounter with Bournemouth for half a century. Sadly, a couple of `incidents` marred the victory. The first was when a contingent of Bournemouth fans, clearly overcome by the opulence of St. Mary`s, attempted to break through barriers and police cordons in their anxiety to `pit pat back to their egg in its cosy, their crisp toast-fingers, their homemade plum and butter pat` and return to the gentility of their Dylan Thomas-esque seaside resort.
The second was the disappointing news emerging today that one of the Saints` star players was allegedly involved in a fracas during the early hours of Sunday morning in a `nite-spot` in downtown Southampton. Details are sparse but it appears that a nightclubbing malcontent launched his jaw in the general direction of the Saints player`s defenceless hand, leaving him needing hospital treatment and an appointment with our boys in blue. We could really do without yet another `incident` in this trying season.
But there were things to cheer the spirit, notably Manchester United`s encouragingly dismal away form and the start of the Commonwealth Games in Delhi which promises to write a new chapter in the growing volumes of sporting indifference. Seems such a shame for all those highly tuned athletes who have trained for months in preparation, only to discover that no-one`s very interested. Time this anachronistic remnant from the days of `empire` was put out of its misery?

Saturday, October 02, 2010

WORTH THE WAIT?
Another day, another night, another queue. A while ago, I reported on the saddest queue ever witnessed in the Bluewater Shopping Thingy, when Michael Barrymore was due to sign a copy or two of his autobiography. A couple of nights ago, yet another gathering began to form outside Waterstones bookshop, this time in Piccadilly in London.
The occasion was the announcement that Cheryl Cole would be turning up to sign copies of her latest tome at 1.00pm yesterday. Now, I`ve always been intrigued by people who write (or have ghost-written) autobiographies whilst still in their 20s. Had I done so at that age, it would have resulted in a very slim volume indeed. Never mind, no doubt the fragrant Mrs. Cole has crammed more in to her tender 27 years than I have still managed in my 70s.
Mrs. Cole clearly has many devotees. The early arrivals on Thursday included a contingent from Lancashire, whose spokeslady declared that, `Cheryl is so wonderful, my role model and it`s such a thrill to be here to catch a glimpse of her.` To be fair, they - and other later arrivals to the steadily lengthening queue - displayed a devotion above and beyond the call of duty by sticking it out throughout a long, cold, wet night on the pavements of Piccadilly. So much so that when she heard of their fortitude, Mrs. Cole immediately sent for 20 flasks of hot chocolate for them. Fair enough.
It takes all types, of course, to make the world interesting, but I do sometimes wonder at the mindset of people being prepared to wait outside all night in the cold and wet just to spend good money on the post-malaria literary ramblings of a bimbo-esque Geordie chanteuse who, by the way, isn`t Mrs. Cole any more anyway. I hope she`s not cashing in on Ashley Cole`s name - if so, sales will be sure to plummet.

Friday, October 01, 2010


WELL OUT OF IT..
From our Golf Correspondent
Now that the Ryder Cup has made its stuttering start at rain soaked Celtic Manor, I caught up with Snopper to find out what the less than average golfer thought of the worldwide event that the Ryder Cup has become.
Snopper`s disappointment at being overlooked by Captain Montgomerie as one of his picks was taken as read, but in truth I detected a note of relief that he had not made the team this time round. "Well," he opined, "I guess if truth be told, my self-appointed handicap of 28 and my last round of 96 left me with only an outside chance. But I wouldn`t have fancied the rain down there in Wales....or the pomp and circumstance, the parades, the speeches, the tv interviews.....and as I`ve never had a caddie in my life I wouldn`t have been too sure what to do with him.....and I think there might be strict rules about how many balls and clubs you can have which wouldn`t have suited my game very much. No, I think I`m well out of it to be fair," he concluded with his usual magnanimity.
Mind you, he did hit upon something that had at least some semblence of reason to it. "You know the Olympics, the Commonwealth Games and stuff like that? They all have seperate but related competitions for the less able members of society and I think its high time there was a kind of Ryder Cup type competition for the less talented among the golfing fraternity. I might be in with a chance then."
And with that frightening prospect chasing frantically in search of the fairways of my mind, I left him to it. You see, it`s one thing to have delusions of adequacy, but quite another to have delusions of even approaching inadequacy.