Friday, December 31, 2010

Thursday, December 30, 2010

STANLEY UNWIN LIVES !!

Saints latest manager Nigel Adkins seems to be settling in nicely.   When he came to us from Scunthorpe we were languishing in 22nd place in the League One table.  Now we`re 5th, in the play-off places and on the back of a thumping 4-1 win over close rivals Huddersfield on Tuesday (I think it was Tuesday - at this time of the year I lose track of the days) there`s renewed optimism that promotion, once just a distant dream, might now be simply a dream.

Results over the last couple of days have been pretty good for Snopper Street.  Gillingham continued their impressive run of victories and are now looking up the table rather than down it.  Charlton, on the other hand, made the journey to fogbound Gaytown last night and came away with just a single point, despite Brighton having a man sent off after just seven minutes.  So we ended up with 7 points out of 9 which we would have taken had it been offered beforehand, so to speak.

But back to Nigel Adkins.   He is developing into a bit of of a `character,` something I suspected before he even joined the Saints.   I thought there was something different about him when he gave tv interviews and constantly referred to himself in the third person. "It`s important that Nigel Adkins gets a good night`s sleep after going up and down the motorway a couple of times in the last few days," said Nigel Adkins having arrived back at Scunthorpe from his interview at St. Mary`s.

Now, football  has always had a language of its own, to be fair. At the end of the day it`s a game of two halves, some you win and some you don`t. Some things are just never meant to be so there are times when all you can do is hold your hand up, wake up, smell the coffee, draw a line in the sand and just move on, leaving references to despairing custodians, getting to the by-line, being clinical in the final third, having a good engine and an eye for a pass for another day.

Which is why it`s good to see that Nigel Adkins is actively extending the phraseology of the beautiful game at every opportunity. Since he`s  been `in the building at the football club` he`s seen Saints` goalkeeper Kelvin Davis `pull off a few worldies` and the team being `up for it with their game heads on.`

As the much missed Professor Stanley Unwin advised those who had overeaten at Christmas dinner, "If you've done an overstuffy in the tumloader, finish the job with a ladleho of brandy butter, then pukeit all the way to the toileybox."   Nigel has a way to go to reach such proficiency, but the way he`s going, I`m sure he`ll get there.  To be fair.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010



I DON`T WISH TO KNOW THAT -
KINDLY LEAVE THE STAGE


"I wouldn't say the house was damp but the kids went to bed with a periscope."

Boom, boom, indeed.   Well he looks like Les Dawson, sounds like Les Dawson, so why shouldn`t ex-Deputy Prime Minister Lord Prescott make a few bob by doing a stand up routine on board the luxury cruise liner Queen Mary 2?

Yes, folks, direct from a laugh-a-minute career as a make believe politician, followed by a hilarious appearance before the Chilcot Inquiry when he expressed doubts about the validity of the intelligence leading to the Iraq invasion (pity you didn`t express those doubts in the Cabinet at the time, John,) Lord Prescott has been upholding the tradition for political dignity by being a guest of Cunard aboard their prestigious cruise liner.

In return for giving three stand-up `speeches,` he and the long suffering Pauline are on a £9,000 each jaunt on the super liner where the audience is mostly American and thus unused to the roly-poly, side-splitting badinage of our erstwhile Deputy Prime Minister.  He has apparently caused genuine embarrassment not only to his audience but also to the lovely Pauline who, one would have thought, was used to it by now.   The only relief apparently came courtesy of a norovirus which confined Lord and Lady Prescott to their luxury cabin for most of the journey, thus curtailing any repeat of his on-stage antics.

As if the spectacle of Ann Widdecombe prancing on television was not embarrassing enough for what`s left of the dignity of politics, we now have this ridiculous oaf bringing the game into even more disrepute.   The only difference this time I imagine is the damage being done to the reputation of Cunard for engaging this serial numbskull in the first place.   He is, as the wonderful Chic Murray would say, "as out of place as a left-handed violinist in a crowded string section." 

Boom, boom!!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010


"They did not listen, they did not know how.
Perhaps they`ll listen now."

So wrote the icomparable Don McLean in his homage to Vincent van Gogh.  But perhaps his message is relevant today more than ever before, for we have just witnessed yet another episode of `wide public consultation` being completely ignored by people who really should listen to what other people have to say.

Now it`s arguable that, being in my 70s and with Mrs. Snopper not far behind me, I ought not to concern myself with maternity services in this part of the world; but   for some years there has been an ongoing battle about transferring full maternity services from the General Hospital for Maidstone - the county town of Kent - to a brand new whizzo, state-of-the-art, super sized, all singing, all dancing hospital at Pembury near Tunbridge Wells, about 20 miles away down a long and winding road.

The Health Authorities (there are so many of them I forget which one) supposedly carried out `wide ranging public consultation` on this proposal with the result that virtually all the local GPs were `vehemently against it,` as was the local Member of Parliament and a 20,000 signature petition against the proposal was hand delivered to 10, Downing Street in an effort to ensure that the maternity services move didn`t go ahead.

But yesterday the Health Minister, Andrew Lansley, decided to ignore the results of the `public consultation` and agreed that the move should take place after all.   Conservative MP for Maidstone, Helen Grant, said she was "appalled by the puzzling and irrational decision" which failed to address the strong local opposition to the downgrading of maternity services at Maidstone.   Local campaigner, Peter Carroll, said he feared the extra distance from Maidstone to Pembury could result in the loss of babies' lives.  He described it as a "very bad day for all the mums and mums-to-be in Maidstone.  And most important of all it's a bad day for local democracy."

And his last comment is perhaps the most telling, especially as NHS managers have said that the changes, which will take effect next year, `are in the best interests of patients.`  It seems to me that we have yet another example of people in `authority` telling us what`s good for us, assuming that they know best, whilst all the time choosing, for whatever may be the real reason, to ignore the overwhelming wishes of local people.  If the real reason is to save money, then how can you put a price on the care and wellbeing of expectant mums and the babies on the threshold of life? 

In my simple naivete, I thought that people were appointed or elected to public office to reflect the needs, hopes and wishes of those who pay them to do so; but perhaps I should not be surprised at how often my assumptions are proved wrong.  One thing`s for sure - the last line of Don McLean`s homage to Vincent is particularly apt:-
"They did not listen, they`re not listening still.
Perhaps they never will." 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER

Late yesterday afternoon, I was out for a wander with Barney and we explored a wood which we don`t usually go into because the footpaths through it are often very muddy, resulting in Barney`s Golden Retriever coat resembling more that of a Black Labrador.

The wood is quite close to where we live but with the snow on the ground and the frost keeping the paths firm, it made a change and we skirted the edge of a fishing lake which itself was frozen over.

I managed to take a few photos including the one on the left. There was no-one else around, just Barney and me and a small gaggle of wildfowl skating on the ice.   It made for a quiet and peaceful interlude and seemed somehow to capture ther essence of the very bleak midwinter we`re having here in deepest Kent. 

 For today is midwinter day - the shortest day and the longest night - and as I look out of the window, all I can see is yet more snow and ice but also some freezing fog, low cloud and already a darkening sky.   Not sure I fancy a long walk with Barney on an afternoon like this but he won`t settle unless he goes out for his constitutional scamper and, truth be told, neither will I.   But at least we`ve reached the psychological barrier of the winter solstice and starting tomorrow, the only way is up.  Possibly.

Monday, December 20, 2010

 A SMILE, A SONG AND A SHEEPSKIN NOSEBAND

I really don`t have much of a problem with AP McCoy winning the BBC Sports Personality of the Year at last night`s televised shindig at the NEC in Birmingham.   After all, he`s been champion jockey for 15 seasons, has won over 1,000 races and my good friend on the Isle of Wight, the Itchen Sitter, tells me from personal experience that Mr. McCoy is a genuinely humble, nice family man.  

So good luck to him and I suppose I could be labelled curmudgeonly for introducing a couple of notes of disappointment about last night`s result.   Now I know nothing about horse riding at all, despite having a distant relative who lives at Lambourn (where McCoy lives) and who, before retiring, was a professional National Hunt jockey and rode in the Grand National a few times.   I wouldn`t know how to lay a bet and have never entered the mysterious world of betting shops - I just can`t see the attraction - so perhaps I am entirely unqualified to pass any comment on Mr. McCoy and his profession.  

 But I`m just a bit nervous of the fact that during Mr. McCoy`s career so far, no less than 16 horses have gone to the great stable in the sky whilst he has been piloting them around the racecourses of the world.  Maybe last night`s award should have gone jointly to him and the equine partners who have made his career so successful. 

My other concern is for the voting process itself.  Years ago we used to fill in a coupon from the Radio Times with our suggestion as to who might win it and post it off to the BBC who then counted the votes and declared a winner.   That had its flaws of course, for example when the show jumping fraternity bought up all the copies of the Radio Times, filled all the coupons in and, lo and behold, Princess Anne went and won it.

Oli assaulted by team mates
Nowadays, the BBC publish a list of candidates for whom we can vote by telephone ("calls cost 15p each from a BT landline; calls from mobile phones might be significantly higher") and I`m intrigued not so much by the choices on offer as by the undemocratic denial of those who we might have nominated ourselves, given half a chance.   For example, I might have wished to vote for Rickie Lambert Southampton`s Goal Machine and my close neighbour Mr. Slightly might have entered a plea for Gills midfielder Dennis Oli.  Indeed, our combined wish might have seen votes cast for our street`s hard working gay icon pacy flanker Scott "Buzzin` Six Pack" Wagstaff.  

But I should have know better, for last night`s event was all very `BBC,` all very Sue and Gary, all very nice and correct without a ripple of contention.   I find the whole thing deliciously ironic that the BBC can`t find a real personality to host their Personality of the Year show and it was such a waste that Ian Holloway was sitting in the audience rather than telling it like it was.  Now he can wear a sheepskin noseband with the best of them.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


It was three years ago - in December 2007 - when I had a brief encounter with the then Saints midfielder Jermaine Wright.  It was at Bluewater Shopping Centre and his eyes and mine met in a fleeting moment across the crowded sports section of Waterstones Book Shop.   In those few passing seconds, however, a mutual acknowledgement was marked by a small but knowing nod of heads as one box to box midfielder with a good engine and an eye for a pass recognised those same qualities in the other.  The mutual understanding needed no words and we just moved on and left each other with unspoken respect.

A similar experience yesterday.   This time the venue was Waitrose store in Paddock Wood.  Mrs. Snopper and I were waiting in the queue with our loaded trolley when once again I exchanged brief glances with a gentleman in the adjoining queue.   Once again the same mysterious, knowing look of mutual recognition was there, the only difference from three years ago was that this was an entirely different sporting acknowledgement. Yesterday`s brief encounter was with none other than `Deadly` Derek Underwood, one of the greatest bowlers ever to grace the cricket field. 


Deadly
 Derek Underwood’s contribution to cricket is impressive. He was the leading spin bowler in England for around 20 years and since retirement from the professional game has worked in cricket administration. He became an Honorary Life Member of MCC in 1993 and served as President of Kent County Cricket Club in 2006 and President of the MCC in 2009. 

 Underwood began his career in sensational fashion when he became the youngest player to take 100 wickets in a debut season. He would go on to repeat this feat on nine further occasions in his county career.  Playing in 86 Test matches, Underwood took 297 wickets at an average of 25, conceding runs at the rate of just 2.1 per over. He also played in 26 One Day Internationals. In a 24-year County career, he took 1,951 wickets for Kent, making him the third most successful bowler in their history.

As for me, my own cricketing career was played out on the village greens of deepest Kent where, bowling my right arm unpredictables and batting with a stylish elegance that should have produced more runs than it did, I regularly managed to achieve the Basted Double of 10 wickets and 100 runs in a season.   So small wonder that  those fleeting seconds of yesterday`s brief encounter in Waitrose checkout queue saw yet another mutual acknowledgment of sporting prowess from one to the other. 

I wonder if Deadly went home to tell his wife about it.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

BUT ESPECIALLY FOR GRIEVING FATHERS....

I`ll probably get in a bit of bother about this but now and then I hear things or read things that resonate with me as a father, a grandfather and, I hope, by and large a decent human being.  One such `event` occurred today and I don`t think I can do any better than to set out the text of a PA report that was issued at lunchtime.   It goes like this:-

`A failed asylum-seeker who left a 12-year-old girl dying under the wheels of his car while banned from driving will be allowed to remain in the UK, judges have ruled.  Mohammed Ibrahim, 33, an Iraqi Kurd, was already banned from driving when he ran off, leaving Amy Houston trapped under his Rover car.

Amy`s father, Paul Houston, 41, from Darwen, Lancashire, begged judges at a recent deportation hearing to bring "my seven years of hell to an end" by sending Ibrahim back to Iraq.  Mr Houston was left to make the decision to turn off Amy's life support machine hours after the crash in Blackburn, Lancs, in November 2003. He has since campaigned to get Ibrahim deported in a tortuous legal battle spanning seven years.

Last month he handed in a letter to judges, containing an impassioned plea asking for Ibrahim to be deported.  The Upper Tribunal of the Immigration and Asylum Chamber sitting in Manchester also heard Ibrahim, given leave to remain in the UK, had a string of criminal convictions.

Ibrahim's lawyers argued that his human rights would be impinged if he was sent back to Iraq. The lawyers claimed human rights laws permitted him to remain in the country, as his right to life and to family life trumped attempts to return him to his native Iraq.   And two senior immigration judges rejected a final appeal by the UK Border Agency to have him deported. Ibrahim will now be allowed to live in the UK permanently.

Mr Houston said he was "frustrated and angry" at the decision.  He said: "How can he say he's deprived of his right to a family life? The only person deprived of a family life is me. Amy was my only family."

I`m not sure the above calls for any real comment from me, for the conclusion reached by any `ordinary` decent person is obvious so I will confine myself to suggest that Human Rights, like political correctness and our old friends health and safety, have now gone too far and it`s time we put the twin virtues of common sense and common decency towards out fellow countrymen once more at the forefront of our consideration.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

DOORSTEP DISCOVERIES..


Barney and I have a kind of ritual, whereby each afternoon we go off in the car to different places for our walkies.   Yesterday, we paid a visit to the village of Trottiscliffe, pictured above, just a handful of miles from where we live.   Our journeys make sure that Barney stays used to car travelling and give me a chance to have a closer look at nearby villages, whilst Barney enjoys the new sniffs they have to offer.

Trottiscliffe is, for some reason, pronounced `Trosley` and it is one of those quiet, `nice` places with smart renovated houses, a couple of good pubs, a school, village hall, duckpond and a general air of rather well to do refinement that somehow belies its agricultural history.   It has two or three of claims to fame.  Perhaps the most well known is the 4,000 years old Coldrum Stones, the remains of a neolithic burial chamber overlooking the wide sweep of the Medway Valley.   It also has a medieval church, said to have been constructed between 1077 and 1107 by Bishop Gundolph of Rochester.  And Trottiscliffe was also the home of the artist Graham Sutherland, whio lived in the white house on the left of the picture above.  Here`s the same view in the recent snow:-


Curiously, for a village deep in the Kent countryside, it has a Country Park - inventively named `Trosley Country Park` and run by Kent County Council who are in danger of forgetting how Trottiscliffe is actually spelt.   No matter, for Barney and I parked by the church, had a wander around the village and found a footpath alongside a large field that ran up to the North Downs escarpment.   There was still snow on the ground but that didn`t deter Barney from making himself known to the local canine population, some of whom were also scampering around the open fields.  As we got back closer to the church, the ground became slushy, mud everywhere where the footpath had become compacted, so Barney, I and the car all needed a bit of a hose down and a good rub when we got home.

But, for all that, we found our visit to Trottiscliffe interesting - it`s good to discover what`s on your doorstep - but I think we`ll wait for the good weather before we venture there again.   For more about the village, have a look at their own website - http://www.trottiscliffevillage.co.uk/

Monday, December 13, 2010

IS IT ANY WONDER?


 The weather has perked up in the last couple of days to a daytime high of about 3 degrees but we`re promised the return of the icy Arctic blasts and more snow by the weekend.  In this country, bad weather is a recipe for chaos, as are some of the coalition government`s measures to rescue the economy.  It`s bad enough facing yet more tax rises (VAT going up again in January, etc.) bad enough having student riots against the imposition of student fees for Universities in England (note : not in Scotland -again,) but even worse when Her Majesty`s Loyal Opposition, aka the Labour Party just add to our woes.

I was coping with it all, shrugging my shoulders at the austerity measures needed as a result of feckless bankers screwing things up, I was stoically putting up with it and exuding my default brave face, when along comes Harriett Harman or, given her strident views on equality, Harriett Harperson.   Now she is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition - a heartbeat away from the Leadership of her party - but she has produced the tipping point that has triggered my disaffection.

At a recent meeting in her south London constituency, she is reported to have said that immigrants living over here on benefits should be encouraged and applauded for sending at least some of those state benefits back to their countries of origin.   Now if there are genuinely accepted immigrants who work hard, pay their dues and send cash back home, then I`ve no problem with that.   But when it`s my taxes that pay the state benefits then I think I`m entitled to feel a tad grumpy about them being sent abroad somewhere.  I thought we had a ringfenced overseas development/aid fund for that kind of thing.

So, as well as rising prices, huge cutbacks, income tax, VAT, fuel duty, Council tax and all the rest of it, Harriett now says I should rejoice in the fact that I`m contributing towards the benefits of people who are sending it back from whence they came.   Is it any wonder I feel like I do?  Oh well, at least the shortest day is only a week away - maybe things won`t look so gloomy after that?  Breath not being held again though.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A BITTER PILL..

I guess I know how it feels now.  And it ain`t nice.  The blue moon arrived for once this afternoon when Saints went down 0-2 for their first defeat at St. Mary`s for nine games.   Their opponents, Brentford, came with a game plan and executed it efficiently whilst taking advantage of the fact that at least four of Saints` first choice players were absent through a mixture of suspension and injury.

But no excuses, we lost but still stay within touching distance of the promotion spots if we can rediscover our goalscoring touch, stop leaking bad goals and find some creativity in midfield.   Not too much to ask for.

Now, the other evening Charlton went to Kenilworth Road and beat Luton Town convincingly 3-0, the first goal coming from a deft header from local pacy icon Scott Wagstaff.   The problem was that the game was televised on the obscure EPNS Channel  which is a channel you have to subscribe to to watch, so I didn`t see it.  When I was at school, EPNS stood for electro-plated nickel/silver and I can`t see the point of subscribing to a channel that is predominantly concerned with metal alloy based programmes. 

However, Charlton`s win in this FA Cup Third Round replay sees them now facing Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane in January.  Spurs are on a hot streak at the moment but it will be a big occasion for our local hero to pit his wits, his pace and his flanking skills against Tottenham`s mega stars, who include ex-Saint Gareth Bale.  I really hope Charlton can cause an upset, not least because us Saints fans have it in for Spurs manager Harry Redknapp, whose only contribution to Saints history was to mismanage us out of the Premier League after a stay of 27 seasons in the top flight of English football. 

But once again, the highlight for Snopper Street is again the burgeoning form of the Gills, who went to Macclesfield today and pulled off a 4-2 win at the Moss Rose - their third successive away win, which might be some sort of club record.   Good luck to them and to my Gills supporting neighbour, Mr. Slightly who must surely now change his nom-de-plume to something more in keeping with the Gills progress - Mr. Optimistic perhaps?

As for me, having swallowed the bitter pill of solitary defeat,  if I see any straws in the wind, I`ll be sure to clutch them.

Friday, December 10, 2010

LEST WE FORGET..

Despite not being very `religious,` I have been heartened in the run up to Christmas to read that, finally, some people are beginning to stand up against the pernicious political correctness that has the temerity to suggest that celebrating Christmas in the traditional way is somehow offensive and disrespectful to other religions.

I don`t know about you, but I`m as fed up with political correctness as I am with health and safety and the idea that we should go through life continually pandering to the perceived sensitivities of minority groups whilst undermining the traditions of the majority is frankly daft.  So it was good to see that the Archbishop of Canterbury has added his voice to defend Christmas against those allegedly marginalising Christianity.

Last week, the former Archbishop, Lord Carey, showed his support for the Christian Concern "Not Ashamed" campaign as he highlighted what he called attempts to "airbrush" Christianity out of public life. In particular, he referred to Christmas, saying that Christmas lights and nativity scenes had become something to be "ashamed" of.

Dr Rowan Williams, the current Archbishop,added, "The weary annual attempts by right-thinking people in Britain to ban or discourage Nativity plays or public carol-singing out of sensitivity to the supposed tender consciences of other religions fail to notice that most people of other religions and cultures both love the story and respect the message."

Nice one.  After all, as Homer Simpson once memorably recalled, "It`s easy to forget the real meaning of Christmas is to celebrate Santa`s birthday."

Wednesday, December 08, 2010


CHICKENS AND MARATHONS

Today`s press is all about the Adelaide Test Match.  Never mind Wikileaks, never mind the economic crises facing Euroland, never mind the shennanigans with North Korea or Iran, never mind even the shrill aftermath of FIFA`s open, transparent and perfectly fair selection of Russia and Qatar to host the next football World Cups.   Not much else seems to matter in the world of English cricket lovers than to read reams of newsprint and watch countless tv replays of England`s crushing defeat of Australia yesterday morning in Adelaide.

And on yet another bitingly cold, snow covered winter`s day, it all makes for good reading and watching.   It`s tempting also to revel in the verdicts dished out to Ponting`s hapless team by the Aussie press - the Melbourne Age calling for heads to roll, the Sydney Herald fearful that this Aussie team would struggle to beat Bangaldesh.  I haven`t been able to track down any condemnation from an Adelaide newspaper - maybe the Crafers West Bugle will have something to say?

But here`s the thing.   England captain Andrew Strauss, the England management and old hands like me are eschewing any sense of triumphalism, especially on the evidence of just one win so far in a five match series.   For we`ve been here before. We have counted chickens and lived to see them fail to roost and we remind ourselves that one thing the Aussies will never do is shrug their shoulders and give up without a fight.  

So whilst I might be inwardly punching the air and enjoying the moment, I remind myself that any proper Test Match series against Australia is almost the ultimate sporting marathon.   One thing it ain`t is a sprint and we`re a long way from the finish line yet.

So far, so good.  That`s all.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010


BEYOND PRETENSION ?

So, this year`s £25,000 Turner Prize has been awarded to some Scottish bint playing recordings of a 16th century Scottish dirge in a scruffy looking room at Tate Modern.   This year`s effort is obviously up there in weirdness terms with past winners - Tracey Emin`s bed, Rachel Whiteread`s concrete house, etc - but it`s a weird competition anyway, as it is restricted to `modern art` and to `artists` only under the age of 50.   I`m surprised they haven`t been done for ageism.

It really is the most awful nonsense, beyond pretension, and I think what makes it even more so is the fact that it is taken oh so seriously by the  gang of pretender art critics who heap praise on such mediocrity.   How JMW Turner must be spinning in his grave.

But, I have been heartened by the discovery of the alternative Turner Prize - the Turnip Prize - which is held annually in the Somerset village of Wedmore.   This year`s Turnip Prize has gone to Doug Pitt who produced a plate depicting the Chilli `n` minors - a big chilli with some smaller ones - and as daft as it sounds, this winning entry and the whole concept of the alternative prize turns out to be more meaningful, more legitimate and much more enjoyable than anything that goes on in Tate Modern.  In the name of reason, common sense and the rejection of artistic pretension, have a look at:-
 http://www.thisisthewestcountry.co.uk/news/8723166.The_Turnip_Prize__The_results_are_in/

....and a history of the Turnips and a list of past entrants can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turnip_Prize

Sunday, December 05, 2010

305 - 426..

Over the course of this year, I`ve been recalling what my memory is capable of recalling of the events of my enforced military career.  To help me, I`ve got a copy of this book by Tom Hickman, which is perhaps the most comprehensive history of National Service ever produced.   I`m reading it in bite sized chunks in the bath every night, so it`s getting a bit dog-eared, bordering on the soggy, but it does bring back all those ritual dances that we conscripts went through during our two-years stint.

I did some mental arithmetic this afternoon whist walking Barney through the snowfields of Kent and I worked out that by now, 50 years ago, I had completed 305  of the 731 days I had to do (one of the years was a leap year, hence the extra day.)  This left me with 426 days still to do but looking back, I was surprised how much I had been through in those first 305 days.

I had weathered the storms of a long, cold winter doing basic training in Catterick Camp and been posted to `my` Regiment - the 10th Royal Hussars - who were stationed at Paderborn in what was then West Germany.  I had settled in to the regimental routine, made good friends, got myself established in my part time job as a projectionist in the garrison cinema and made a few appearances for the Regimental football team as a box to box midfield schemer with an eye for a pass and a good engine.  I had spent my 21st birthday on guard duty in the middle of Luneburg Heath, guarding a squadron of Chieftain tanks with a pick axe handle - no pick axe, just the handle.   Oh, and I had passed the entrance test to become a fully fledged member of the PA Club by sinking eight litres of the local lager in one go down at the nearby Fritz`s bar.

Being part of the Regiment`s football squad had its rewards.  We were put through our paces each morning followed by a `special` breakfast.  In those days, the Army concept of a healthy diet for highly tuned footballers was to lay on a huge fried breakfast and gallons of bomide-laced tea.   Another bonus was playing away games at places like Detmold, Bielefeld, Hannover and other teutonic fleshpots where the hospitality of our opponents equally consisted of huge fried repasts with yet more bromide-laced tea.  Only we were never told about the bromide, even if we thought the tea tasted a bit funny.

On a more serious note, Tom Hickman`s book quite properly mentions the fact that hundreds of National Servicemen lost their lives in places like Korea, Malaya and Kenya and their enforced sacrifice has perhaps not been acknowledged as well as it might.   It`s one thing to be in the armed forces through choice by volunteering, but quite another to be conscripted without any choice at all and that was the fate for the millions of National Servicemen between 1945 and 1963.   Fortunately for me, I passed my time in the relatively peaceful backwaters of BFPO 16  and for that I am eternally grateful.  But it could well have been all so very different. 

Those of us who went through the National Service `experience` are all in our 70s now, but the friends I made then are friends even to this day - perhaps a little more than just friends, comrades even - and although 50 years have now passed, those 305 days and the 426 still to come are forever etched in my memory. 

Friday, December 03, 2010


MATURE REFLECTION?

I have resisted commenting on the FIFA World Cup fiasco for 24 hours, so as to let it all sink in a bit further.   And something tells me I should `get over it,` let sleeping dogs lie and all that.  But it`s difficult.

What`s difficult is not so much that England`s bid was not favoured by FIFA`s Executive Committee, but coming to terms with the selection process itself.  I had a bit of a go about that the other day, so I won`t repeat here what I said then.   But if anything, the selection process is now clearly much more open to question than it was even a couple of days ago.

Now of course, I`m disappointed but perhaps no more so than the good folk of Australia, America, Belgium, Holland, Spain, Portugal or any of the other countries who had submitted bids for both 2018 and 2022.   And whilst they might be dancing in the streets of Russia and Qatar, surely even in those successful countries there must be the odd twinge of doubt about the validity of the process which selected them.  

I am not going to suggest that England would have done a better job of staging the World Cup than, say, Spain or Portugal or anyone else, but I do believe that the bid was technically, financially and operationally as sound as anyone else`s.   So it`s clear that the final selection was made using other criteria.  I am left with the unpalatable conclusion that, when it came to it, the only criterion that really mattered was cold, hard cash, hammered out through backhanded deals, almost reverential fawning, ego massaging and whispered promises.  

Now, it`s claimed that the recent allegations in the English media were a telling factor in the almost out of hand rejection of England`s bid.   If that`s true, then it kind of reaffirms that FIFA have things to hide, that they blanch at any `outside interference` and that they cannot come to terms with a free press and want little to do with a country that, by and large, upholds the principle of free speech. 

On balance, therefore and given the choice between having a World Cup or a free press, I think I would prefer to have the latter.  And also, given the choice between winning a competition fairly and squarely or winning through means other than those which relied on transparency and objectivity, I would go for the former.   In the end, I`m probably relieved that England were not awarded the 2018 World Cup because the way that FIFA conducts itself is such that there can be little satisfaction in having their patronage.  In a curious way, perhaps those countries who were not successful with their bids might turn out to be winners after all.   At least they can sleep nights.

Thursday, December 02, 2010


FRIENDS TOGETHER

Over the past couple of days, we`ve had over a foot of snow here in deepest Kent, so this morning we took Barney (left) and his mate Max up to the nearby woods for a romp in the snow.   It was a magical time to be out in the fresh air, trudging through the deep snow but enjoying every minute of it.   Barney and Max loved it too and Max did especially well given that he`s all of ten years old now, but still going strong.

I spent some time clearing snow off the drive but it was a bit of a waste of time - it`s still snowing now!  It`s the worst early snowfall for 50 years and traffic chaos reigns with roads, airports and trains all affected.   I just wonder why it is that other countries who have far worse conditions to contend with than we do, seem to manage perfectly well.  Maybe we`re just not geared up for it, maybe to do so would be just too expensive.   Or maybe, just maybe, we actually enjoy a bit of a crisis so we can have a good moan.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

A GAME OF TWO HALVES..

So, tomorrow we will know which country has been awarded the doubtful privilege of hosting the 2018 Football World Cup.   The `selection process` almost confirms my contention yesterday that the `serious` people have a lot to answer for, whilst leaving  sanity and reason to those who play and follow the game.

For months now, the competing bids from England, Russia, Spain/Portugal and Belgium/Holland have been the subject of much scrutiny by FIFA and their self- appointed Executive Committee.   There have been all expenses paid, first class visits to the bidding countries, meetings with heads of state, prime ministers and football icons, presentations of official bid dossiers and, whisper it quietly, various attempts to influence the decision makers by holding out promises of considerable profit, sometimes involving covert hand manipulation.  Allegedly.

And all for the singular honour of laying on a month long event which will see teams from all over the world competing on chosen fields of dreams to kick a pig`s bladder between two sticks more times than their opponents.   Of course, it all makes for an enduring image, a rich spectacle and a month of high anxiety, tight security, soaring hope and the inevitable lingering disappointment.

It does seem odd that the selection of which country should host this event is made by people who, by and large, haven`t ever played the game at any reasonable level but who seem to have climbed the greasy pole of football administration through other talents.   The problem with that is that the ultimate choice of venue then rests more with `political` and other motives than with any true acknowledgement of worth.   In that respect, FIFA`s selection process more and more resembles the Eurovision Song Contest but without the songs. 

Of course, should tomorrow`s decision go England`s way, then there will be much dancing in the streets of the host towns and cities where the games will be played, much admiration for the bid team and also for those who have fronted the bid in Zurich for the last few days - including our future King, our present Prime Minister and the surely soon to be knighted David Beckham.   Having forgiven `Becks` for the cardinal sin of having played for Manchester United, I have actually `gone on` him recently - since he stopped playing seriously - for he seems genuinely to represent the true football fans, the `ordinary` folk, as he plays a compelling role in supporting England`s bid whilst deservedly treading the corridors of high office.

In the end, it`s all about the game.   It`s always been the working man`s game;  a gentleman`s game played by hooligans maybe, but a game that arouses a deep passion, a lifelong devotion and a willingness to suffer and rejoice in equal measure to follow its twists, turns and contradictions.   But  those who kick the pig`s bladder around and those who watch and support them represent only one half of the game.   The other half seems to be represented by the pampered, sedentary, open to offers chancers who have climbed their greasy pole for other reasons.   If ever there was a game of two halves, then the FIFA World Cup selection process is surely it.