Saturday, December 31, 2011


A QUIET REFLECTION..

So here we are on the last day of another year and I guess like most people I`m having a look back over 2011 - not at the shattering events that have changed the world (tsunamis, economic meltdown, the relentless march of war) but in a quiet way, looking back at things that stand out for me personally.

Now, when I started this blog back in September 2006 following a visit to Chaddleworth with my eldest son, I stumbled into `designing` the layout.   And I think there are probably three  things in that design which say a lot about me.   The first is the image of Godrevy island off the north coast of Cornwall, which tells you straight away about my affection for that mystic land.  


The second is my `username,` which is in fact a nickname given to me by my boyhood school friend, William Scammell, now sadly departed after a distinguished career as a poet, critic and biographer.  He and I spent our formative years in that `village by the sea` of Hythe on the western shore of Southampton Water.....and it was only a couple of weeks ago that I was back there again also with my eldest son and my grandaughter.


The third element of my `design` was the quotation from Robert Browning - `Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be.`   And it`s on that note that I come to reflect on the year just gone.   You see, I`m not at all sure it can get much better - we had no less than three visits to mystic Cornwall;  we celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary and we have been blessed by the arrival of our fifth grandchild.   


More prosaically, until last night, the Saints went the whole year undefeated at St. Mary`s Stadium;  I revelled in the cricket season and already I`m longing for the return of the sun and the sainted game; and I`m also looking forward to resuming my endless battle with the Royal and Ancient mystery of golf.


But most of all, I`m just grateful to be able to do these things and to enjoy life and its simple but satisfying pleasures.   I know I`m blessed, very lucky, and I have friends who are less fortunate than myself and for whom I hope 2012 will be much kinder.   As for me, as I look back to 2011  in what is now my 73rd year, I realise just what a good year it has been and how right Robert Browning was when he wrote those prophetic lines.   


Happy New Year.....and I hope the best is yet to be for you too.

Friday, December 30, 2011


MEMORIES ARE MADE OF THIS ?

There`s a lot of stuff around right now about Margaret Thatcher.   There`s the film `The Iron Lady` which I haven`t seen yet so I`m in no position to comment, but by all accounts Meryl Streep gives yet another in her long line of outstanding performances.   And today there are Cabinet papers released under the 30-year rule, by which events during Thatcher`s stint as Prime Minister become public knowledge for the first time.   I haven`t read them yet so again I am in no position to comment.

But what these references have brought back are the memories of that day when Margaret Thatcher finally left office, kissed goodbye to 10 Downing Street and exited stage right.   It`s a day I recall quite vividly.   I was in the office at work when the news came through.   Now, I have never taken politics very seriously - it`s just too bizarre for that - and so my reaction on that day was nothing to do with politics.

Instead, my reaction was one of instant relief, as if a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders.   I still don`t really know why, but I felt the kind of relief when the full time whistle is blown after a classic encounter and the three points are finally secure.  Like the day when James Beattie nodded home in the 86th minute to secure Saints 1-0 win over Manchester United to go fourth in the Premier League. A day that brought  a warm glow of contentment that still lives in the memory and lifts the spirit.

Now on a human level I hope in a way that the Iron Lady is left in peace as she lives out her final years and it`s certainly not for me to pass any sort of judgement on her time in office or on her as a person - once again, I`m in no position to do so, although it always surprises me how many people do feel qualified to comment.   But I can`t escape the notion that the one thing I will remember her for was that feeling of relief I felt on that memorable day.   And I wonder if that feeling was in any way mutual.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011


YOU AIN`T GOT NOTHIN`..

Well, that was Christmas for another year and I`ve often been quoted as saying that the best thing about Christmas is January.  You see, there are things about Christmas that I find objectionable;  I object to the rampant commercialism, the panic buying, the fear that if you don`t send someone a Christmas card they won`t love you any more, the awful television programmes, the strange kick-off times, `decorating` the place with all kinds of tat just because it`s Christmas....you get my drift.  


Even the counterfeit nature of `good will to all men` has taken a battering with the news that there was a fight that turned into a full blown riot among the congregation attending a midnight mass at a Southampton church.   Chairs were thrown across the aisle, punches were also thrown, chaos reigned and the police  arrested three men aged 24, 27 and 31 and charged them with affray.....will these Portsmouth fans stop at nothing?  Have they no shame?


And then into my festive cynicism comes our new one month old baby grandson and his proud and doting parents....and then we are joined by our two grandaughters and their proud and doting parents.....and then we hear from the proud and doting parents of our grandsons who live in Germany.....and suddenly the joy of family becomes the joy of Christmas.   And it all reminds me (as if I needed reminding) that if you ain`t got family, you ain`t got nothin`.


I hope your Christmas was as wonderful as mine.

Friday, December 23, 2011


A PRIZE WORTH WINNING?

The football club I have supported since 1946, Southampton, are sitting pretty at the moment.   No money worries, a good squad of players, a bright manager, a lovely stadium, an ambitious chairman, good support and at Christmas standing top of the Championship.   Tradition has it that the team that finds itself top of the league at Christmas invariably gets promoted at the end of the season.   If that happens, Southampton will return to the top flight of English football where they were for 27 seasons before falling on the hard times from which they have only now recovered.   All sounds good doesn`t it?

And yet.   And yet I`ve been observing the Barclays Premier League - the self-styled `best league in the world` - and I`m not at all sure that`s a club I`m looking forward to joining.   The antics both on and off the field of play seem to belong to a wholly different culture to the one I`ve been used to during Southampton`s `wilderness years` in the Championship and League One.   

I may not have been treated to the most technically gifted football but instead I`ve witnessed honest endeavour.  I`ve watched a team which includes talent emerging from the club`s own Academy with only a smattering of overseas players to boost the ranks - at the moment, we have a Frenchman in midfield who has been with us for years and an enigmatic Brazilian who may not be.   The rest are, by and large, competent, committed professionals doing their best to achieve the glittering prize of promotion that most people crave.

Trouble is, joining the Barclays Premier League is like joining a pantomime.   A lavish production, a product to be sold worldwide where the audience become more customers than supporters.   Where clubs become the whimsical playthings of the rich and richer, where players become millionaires and adopt attitudes that demand entitlement and privilege rather than the well earned admiration of home town fans.   And where a selection of managers adopt personae ranging from the absurd to the insufferable.

There are exceptions to this prejudicial rant, of course, but they`re few and far between.   I could cite the essential decency of, say, Roberto Martinez at Wigan, the genuine advancement and acceptability of recently promoted Norwich City and Swansea and the rather niceness of West Bromwich Albion and their urbane manager Roy Hodgson.


But for every Martinez there`s a Ferguson, for every Swansea there`s a Manchester City, for every Hodgson there`s a Pulis, for whom football is a war to be prosecuted by size, brawn and unremitting aggression.   There are haves and have nots, heroes and villains, the good, the bad and most certainly the ugly.


I might stand accused of a lack of ambition for my club, but I see little reward in struggling to survive in a league that has taken the beautiful game to avaricious extremes, where the pressure to survive can be debilitating for managers, players and fans alike - Blackburn Rovers anyone?   And so, whilst my club may be on course to rejoin the circus at the end of the season, something within me wonders if it is a prize worth winning.   That`s not being defeatist or fearful so much as simply exercising a choice.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011



MOVING UP..
From Our Golf Correspondent

As a result of yesterday`s dramatic turn of events, Snopper today finds himself one place higher in the world all time golf rankings.   The passing of North Korea`s Infinitely Wonderful Leader, Kim Jong-Il, has in fact seen everyone move up a notch, leaving Luke Donald as the undisputed number one in world golf.  


The Astonishing Being who ruled North Korea for quite a long time was, of course and without question, the greatest golfer the world has ever seen, having carded a 30-under par score of 38 on the 18 hole Pyongyang course, including 11 holes in one, the very first and last time he ever played the game.   There`s no question about the authenticity of this remarkable feat as it was witnessed by the 11 security guards who accompanied him on that memorable day and has been officially documented ever since.

The Fantastically Brilliant North Korean Leader was also, of course, naturally gifted at classical music, having composed six operas in two years, mainly to celebrate the completion of hydro-electric dam projects.   But I expect that the memories of Mozart, Rossini, Wagner and all the other great operatic composers may still trail in the wake of Kim Jong-Il`s unforgettable achievements, for while golf can be seen as a  transient pastime,   music can be immortal,  certainly  when written by such genius as he who graced North Korea for so long.


And so the world of music, like that of golf, finds itself in deep mourning at the loss of such a towering figure and it seems deeply unsatisfactory that lesser mortals should now find themselves advanced in their respective orders of merit simply because of this awful loss.   But it was the only way that Snopper was ever going to be able to climb the golfing ladder from being stuck on the bottom rung to now achieving total obscurity.  


I`ll end with just one fact to illustrate the point of this ramble.   It has taken Snopper well over 30 years to record just two birdies in all that time.   His Amazingness the Great Leader gets 11 holes in one on the only game he ever played.   But I wonder who enjoyed it most. 

Saturday, December 17, 2011






THE BEST POLICY ?..

The marble halls of Kent County Council`s Maidstone edifice have been rife with rumours about the departure of its £197,000 a year `Managing Director,` Katherine Kerswell.  A statement  from Kent County Council said: "Katherine Kerswell has done an exceptional job at Kent reshaping our approach to service delivery and recasting our overall management arrangements.  She is a first-rate public servant with tremendous skills at making large organisations work well.  Her management direction has helped produce very significant savings to the Council and confirmed Kent's position as a leading authority.  In just 18 months we have shifted from an approach that was highly departmental to one based on the whole organisation working together for the people of Kent."

A glowing reference if ever I saw one, even if it is in `council/management speak,` and therefore all the more surprising that if Mrs. Kerswell was as good at her job as the statement suggests then surely the council would want to hang on to such talent.  


Now it seems to me that large public organisations quite often run the risk of becoming too insular.  In times of difficulty they have a tendency to close ranks, to adopt a siege mentality, to try and hide the realities from those, like me, who pay through our taxes for their very existence.   And so, once again, Kent County Council, despite the praise heaped on the now departed Mrs. Kerswell, are not allowing those who pay the piper to hear the tune being played and so doubts remain as to the nature of her departure and the reasons why she leaves clutching a cheque to the value of a reported £450,000 of taxpayers` cash.


In the aftermath, the `Leader` of the Council, one Councillor Paul Carter, is fleeing the country as he takes three weeks off to take part in a vintage car rally from London to Cape Town.   Everyone deserves a holiday, of course, as he says himself, but we are left wondering who, if anyone, is left holding the County Council fort, taking the ultimate responsibility for this huge organisation at a critical time.   My fear is that Councillor Carter will be in constant touch with Maidstone as he hurtles through the seering Sahara and the African bush thus assuming some kind of `control` himself.   It all sounds a bit desperate.


He should keep his eye on the road and perhaps reflect on the notion that one of the things the good council taxpayers might appreciate more than anything is a little honesty.The very existence of a `confidentiality agreement` suggests that someone has something to hide, something we are not allowed to know about, I suspect because someone might be embarrassed.   


And so our suspicion grows, not just of the circumstances but also of those involved with such cloaks and daggers.   Time to open the windows of County Hall, let some light and fresh air into the place not only so the taxpayers can look in but also so that the Paul Carters of this world might see a little more of those whom they claim to represent......and probably feel so much better for doing so.


I know we`re dealing with politicians here but there are times, even for them, when  honesty might well be the best policy.  

Thursday, December 15, 2011


A TRAIL OF COINCIDENCE..

About a week ago, we went to Maidstone.   Mrs. Snopper went off shopping and, as I frequently do, I went to the Oxfam Bookshop at the bottom of Gabriel`s Hill.  It`s an excellent bookshop and I usually manage to find something interesting.   I bought a few books to keep me going - a history of a Kentish village about a mile from where I live;  an illustrated volume depicting the life and work of John Betjemann: a guide book to the Island of Mull for a friend of mine who is a Mullophile despite living on the Isle of Wight: and last but no means least a biography of John Arlott, written by his son, Tim Arlott and published in 1994.


On Sunday I drove down to Southampton with my eldest son to meet up with his daughter at Southampton University.   We decided to go the pretty way, down the A31 to Guildford, across the Hog`s Back, past Farnham, Alton, Four Marks and Ropley and, on another of my whims, I eschewed the by-pass to drive through Alresford on the quiet Sunday morning.   It`s a lovely old town, quintessentially English and steeped in a history of its own.   As we passed, I pointed out the house, pictured above, where John Arlott lived for 20 years before he spent the last years of his life on Alderney.


Last night, on the excellent BBC 4, there was a re-edited conversation between John Arlott and Mike Brearley, originally broadcast in 1984 and broadcast again last night to mark John Arlott`s passing 20 years ago yesterday .   It made for a nostalgic, charming hour and recalled Arlott`s principle role in bringing Basil D`Oliviera to England all those years ago.   It was poignant, of course, not only for the fact that D`Oliviera himself left us only recently but also to recall Arlott`s mastery of language, almost poetic description, his delivery with that inimitable Hampshire burr and recalling the quite remarkable way in which he drew the line on his years of cricket commentary : "....and after Trevor Bailey, it will be Christopher Martin-Jenkins."


Even John Arlott had heroes and his greatest hero of all was Sir Jack Hobbs.  Arlott had developed a close friendship with Hobbs, who ran a sports shop in Fleet Street after his retirement from cricket. Arlott`s admiration and respect led him to establish the Master's Club to honour the great man's birthday, on December 16.  Membership of the club has increased over the years and the annual lunch is now held in the Long Room at The Oval. Members of the Master`s Club meet for lunch every year either on, or close to, Hobbs' December 16 birthday and, in keeping with tradition, the lunch always consists of Sir Jack’s favourite meal of roast lamb followed by apple pie.


So, what started out as a visit to the Oxfam Bookshop has developed into a trail of coincidence centred around the subject of  just one of the books I bought a week ago.   It`s a far cry from the Oxfam Bookshop to the Long Room at The Oval but as I write here on 15th December, I`m acutely reminded that 20 years ago yesterday one of cricket`s great personalities left us and that 129 years ago tomorrow, England`s greatest ever batsman was born.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


TRANSPORT OF DELIGHT ?

This coming Sunday, Southampton Football Club are playing Portsmouth Football Club at the latter`s medieval tumbledown Fratton Park.   It`s a pretty rare event, the clubs having managed to avoid playing each other too often, which is just as well given the deep seated rivalry which exists between them and, more particularly, their supporters.

There have been problems in the past with fans from both clubs clashing and so these fixtures attract more than usual attention from the Police and other authorities.   That said, the measures being put in place for this Sunday, as well as the return fixture when Portsmouth play at Southampton`s St. Mary`s Stadium next April, are unprecedented.

It`s one thing to get a ticket for Sunday`s encounter but quite another to actually make the 17 mile journey from Southampton to Portsmouth down the M27.  This will involve the Southampton fans travelling in a convoy of coaches with police escort along the route.   Aircraft will be flying overhead to monitor the situation, 8ft high barricades will be erected at the entrance to side streets close to Fratton Park and once in the ground the visiting fans will be strictly supervised by 50 of their own stewards.


The Southampton players will be made to leave their training ground at Marchwood early and be escorted to Portsmouth by four motorcycle outriders from neighbouring Thames Valley Police.
The Police Commander in charge says that the intelligence received suggests that these measures, costing hundreds of thousands of pounds,  may be necessary but that he hopes the visiting supporters will "have a safe and enjoyable day out."


In many ways this whole business is a microcosm of today`s society - loads of money, police time and resources being thrown at an event, this time for people who want to travel to an event which basically consists of 22 players running around a field trying to kick a pig`s bladder into opposing goals, such that any sense of priority or restraint is forgotten in a desperate quest to acquire bragging rights.


This game is not about the football any more;  it`s more about those who follow it for varying reasons, one of which might be as simple yet sad as trying to achieve the dubious distinction of having a rivalry that outdoes Manchester, Glasgow, LIverpool and the rest.   At which point, I lose interest.  

Monday, December 12, 2011



WHAT IF ?..


The short, cold, wet days of December are not the best for visiting interesting places but yesterday I went to Southampton with my eldest son, where we picked up his daughter, my grandaughter, from University, had a nice lunch and then wondered what we might do in the remaining hour or two until darkness fell.

In the late 1940s, I lived with my parents at Hythe on the western shore of Southampton Water.   My father worked for BOAC at their flying boat maintenance base at Hythe and we lived in a cottage with a garden that went down to the sea.   I don`t know how he managed it but my father bought a car - a black Ford Popular (I think they were all black in those days) and I can even remember the car`s registration - CHY 624, which indicated that its first home had been in Bristol.

Anyway, on Sunday afternoons in high summer, we used to go for little rides either to seaside places such as Bournemouth or around the New Forest and I vividly recall that when I was about eight we drove to see the Rufus Stone, deep in the forest off the main A31 road from Southampton to Ringwood.   In those days the roads were very quiet and the forest seemed very mysterious to a small boy and I remember being almost spellbound by the significance of the Rufus Stone and the tale it told.

Years later, when my own sons were very young, we took them to see it too and at that time, possibly 40 years ago now, the location still retained its air of seclusion.   Yesterday, I went back there again on a bit of a whim but also with the excuse that as my grandaughter is reading history at Southampton University then perhaps a visit to a historic location might be forgivable.  Read all about the Rufus Stone here - http://www.new-forest-national-park.com/rufus-stone.html

So here we were on this cold, wet, drab winter`s afternoon just fleetingly visiting a place of historical significance and by no means doing it justice.... and a couple of things occurred to me. The first was the stark counterpoint between this historic location   and the endless noise throbbing down the forest glade from the traffic on the A31 - ancient and modern almost coming to blows.  
The second thought I had was to confirm the extent to which chance shapes people, lives and history itself.   What if Sir Walter Tyrrell`s arrow had not glanced off that oak tree and struck King William dead all those 900 years ago?   How different the history of England might have been and how different we all might now be as a result.   If we would be here at all.



Saturday, December 10, 2011


GET IN..

Well, it`s another Saturday, so why not talk about football?   Whilst most of the country is focusing today on David Cameron`s veto of the European treaty proposals, those of us who consider football to be the one true religion and the foremost concern of our politicians are viewing Cameron`s action in its proper context.

It seems obvious that the British veto has been quite properly used as a justifiable act of retaliation against the excesses of Johnny Foreigner who, in the past few months, has made life very difficult for the footballing nation.   First there was the scandalous FIFA vote to announce the next hosts for World Cups which resulted in England`s flawless bid receiving just one vote - and that was the vote we cast for ourselves.

More recently, there has been the blatant relegation of both Manchester clubs to the Europa League and only yesterday Wayne Rooney`s three match ban from next year`s European Championships was reduced on appeal to two games, meaning that Rooney will now sadly be able to play in the last group game against Sweden, thus almost guaranteeing England`s elimination from the competition.

It`s against this background that David Cameron was left with no alternative but to veto the EU plans for greater fiscal union and sorting out the Eurozone crisis.   Let`s hope that Jose Manuel Barroso and his eurofanatic chums get the message - you mess with England`s football at your peril.  To be fair.


Nice one, Dave!

Thursday, December 08, 2011


CLOUDS OVER SURREY - SUNSHINE IN STOKE..

Manchester United`s exit from the Champions League last night has been greeted with dismay in the heartland of their support.   And whilst the clouds of despair gather over Surrey this morning, large swathes of the nation are finding it difficult to hide their smirks of satisfaction, not to say relief, that Ferguson and his assorted poseurs will now be confined to turning out on Thursday evenings to `compete` in the Europa League - the BlueSquare Conference of European football.


I don`t know what it is about Manchester United that attracts so much disdain, but I suspect it might be a couple of things.   One is their insufferable arrogance which seems to suggest  that winning everything in sight is their God given right.   Then there are their reactions to defeat, illustrated once again by `start striker` Wayne Rooney remonstrating with the match officials at the end of last night`s game with his usual sullen truculence.  


Today, Rooney`s appeal against his dismissal and three match ban from next year`s European Championships will be heard at UEFA headquarters.   He will be represented by a team of lawyers from the Football Association and Manchester United, who will seek to have the ban overturned or reduced to one or two matches.  It`s yet another sign of that arrogance that almost demands that the rules which apply to others should not be applied to Manchester United, simply because of who they are.


And then there is Ferguson, who last night attended the obligatory press conference to give his verdict on United`s exit from "the best competition in the world."   He complained about having to play on Thursday evenings in the Europa League, by implication suggesting that it is beneath Manchester United`s dignity to play the likes of Stoke City live on Channel 5.   "It`s embarrassing," chirped Nani.   


Ferguson`s mutterings are becoming less and less intelligible and once again the dignity of Manchester United`s stature is undermined by these recalcitrant mumblings rather than enhanced by any semblance of graciousness.   And while the good folk of Surrey may fret at the decline of their heroes, they`re dancing in the streets of the Potteries now that Stoke City are competing in the Europa League for the very first time, which simply illustrates the difference of approach to those two impostors that are triumph and disaster.  Sometimes, it seems, how you are is determined by who you are.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011


ARGOS IT ?..
Our Golf Correspondent reports

It`s been over three months now since I last reported on Snopper`s golfing world.   At that time, in late August, he had just recorded his second ever birdie and so it has perhaps been surprising that we haven`t heard more of his exploits since.


When I caught up with him to ask how his game was going, he said that he would have  found it difficult to better that performance on that sunlit August day and so he has been engaged in other activities since.   When quizzed as to what these might have been, he confessed to another holiday in Cornwall, the onset of the football season, family matters extending to the arrival of another grandchild but also to some difficulty in  maintaining his golf equipment.


He has kept in touch with golf through his annual scavenging of local courses in the quest to stock up on his reserves of golf balls but he has so far declined to pick up a club in anger.   But, with Christmas just 18 days away, Snopper thinks this might be the chance to put some of his eccentric equipment to right.   Now, he is one of those rare people who seem to want nothing but need quite a lot and one of the things he needs is a new golf trolley.


The one he has been hauling around the course for the past, oh I would guess, 30 years was bought by Mrs. Snopper from Woolworths as a birthday present all those years ago.   It`s done well, but in recent years has developed an annoying fault, namely, that the wheels keep falling off. In many ways, this problem mirrors that of Snopper`s golf, the wheels of which fall off with predictable regularity.


Having already invested in a golf bag from the Argos catalogue earlier this year, Snopper is reluctant to shell out even more wonga on a new trolley.  But Christmas is around the corner and the lure of the Argos catalogue burns brightly once more with a seduction that may be hard to resist if he is to resume his endless battle with the Royal and Ancient game.   As you can see from the picture above, he is at least making a determined effort at hint dropping and in 18 days time, we will know if it has worked.

Monday, December 05, 2011


F`SURE ?

With £6million a year Fabio Capello declaring that he will leave his post as England Manager after next year`s European Championships, the search is on for his successor.   There seems to be a growing clamour for the next manager to be English.   Trouble is, there aren`t that many `suitable candidates` around.   Roy Hodgson seems to have the experience, the ability and the diplomacy to be a leading candidate and that`s about it. 


But, of course, there is always `arry Redknapp, the loveable rogue, the scamp of a thousand transfers who has a growing band of admirers pressing his case to the Football Association.   Then again, he has those who may not be quite so convinced by his avuncular facade.  They cite, with some suspicion, the circumstances in which he took over as West Ham manager from Billy Bonds.   They are not seduced by his ducking and diving, his wheeling and dealing which gives the impression more of market trader than football manager.  


Hardly a day goes by without Tottenham Hotspur being the subject of some transfer speculation.   And this for a club currently riding high in the Premier League, with arguably the strongest squad of players in their history and a club for whom it is doubtful that even more player comings and goings can be a pressing matter.  But that`s `arry - can`t stand still, can`t let the grass grow under his feet all the time there`s a deal to be done.


Those who remain unconvinced also recall the extraordinary juggling act he performed when managing Portsmouth, only to abandon them for bitter rivals Southampton, who he managed to get relegated from the Premier League before returning once again to his `spiritual home` at Fratton Park.   There he contrived to effectively buy the 2008 FA Cup for Portsmouth with money and players the club couldn`t afford  before the lure of White Hart Lane proved too strong for him and his faithful phalanx of assistants.


When he left Portsmouth for the second time they had a debt so huge that they eventually went into Administration and are still bearing the consequences of those years when money grew on trees and when the priorities of management were confined to dealing with player transfers and agents.  And now there is the little matter of an upcoming court appearance early next year when `arry is up before the beak accused of tax evasion.


So it is against this background that the Football Association must consider whether `arry  is to be the next manager of the national team.   It`s a difficult choice.  F`sure.


Saturday, December 03, 2011


AGENDA ITEM 1..

The row over prayers at Bideford Town Council meetings was heard in the High Court yesterday after the National Secular Society began judicial proceedings against the council after it twice voted to keep prayers on the agenda at the start of their meetings.


Bideford Town Council defended the action and were represented at the High Court hearing by Manchester firm Aughton Ainsworth which previously acted for the Cornish Christian bed and breakfast owners who refused to accommodate a gay couple.  The legal action from the society was prompted by Bideford councillor and atheist Clive Bone, who twice failed to get the council to take prayers off its agenda.


It`s reported that the High Court`s decision may not be know for some months, which will keep the good folk of Bideford on a knife edge as they await the verdict.

Here in Dibley, we have no such problems.   Rather than worrying too much about prayers before the Parish Council meetings, we tend to gather outside the village hall as our elected representatives leave and quietly mutter to ourselves, "God, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

Wednesday, November 30, 2011



FIT AND PROPER ?..

As a dyed in the wool Southampton supporter, you might expect me to be enjoying the mayhem that has been surrounding Portsmouth Football Club for too long.   The rivalry between the two cities and their respective football clubs goes back a long way, heightened by their proximity along the M27 and the fact that they now both compete in the Football League Championship.

Like my own club, Portsmouth have suffered the anguish of going into Administration, change of ownership and management as well as mixed fortunes on the field of play.   The difference is that, whereas the Saints were probably fortunate to come under the benign ownership of the Liebherr family, Portsmouth have had a whole series of owners making up a bizarre cast of scamps, rascals and men of mystery.

These have included the son of an Israeli convicted of arms trafficking, a mysterious Hong Kong business man, a sheikh from the United Arab Emirates and another who may or may not have even existed.   The latest, one Vladimir Antonov, has been arrested and released on bail for alleged fraudulent  activity surrounding a bank he owns in Lithuania prior to his resignation as Portsmouth chairman yesterday.

My photo above shows Mr. John Portsmouth Football Club Westwood.   He is shown with one of his minders resplendant in his matchday garb, so different from his weekday persona as a mild mannered bookseller in Petersfield.  Mr. Westwood is clearly a devotee of his football club - he literally wears it on his engraved teeth - and he probably represents the pinnacle of the passionate support that Pompey have had over the years.  Like all football clubs, Portsmouth have a devoted following and they deserve better than the traumas they have had to endure as this endless stream of dubious owners keep the door at Fratton Park continually revolving.

As a result of all this to-ing and fro-ing, there are obvious questions to be asked about the running of the club but there is an even more fundamental question which can only be answered by the football authorities and it`s this.   How come that this collection of rogues, malcontents and chancers have seemingly passed the Fit and Proper Person test for football club ownership?  

Maybe now, following this latest episode, the question might finally be addressed, especially as it seems likely the club will suffer a points deduction, if not an even worse fate as a result of serial mismanagement.   And all the while Mr. Westwood, his minders, his acolytes and the rest of the football club`s loyal followers can only guess at what the future may hold - or whether there is a future at all.

As for me, I hope there is, as I know how I felt when the future of the Saints was uncertain and for their sake I hope a secure future can finally be found for the Fratton Park faithful.   After all, what`s the point of a rivalry if there`s no rival any more.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


THE PLOT THICKENS..

Yet more dark rumblings coming out of Brussels with the latest Merkosy Plan to force countries in the 17-strong Eurozone to submit their budgets for EU approval before they go to national parliaments.   They will also be required to sign up to new rules on the size of debts and deficits and will be sued by the European Court of Justice for any breach of those rules.

Now, the exorbitant and self-serving antics of the EU are nothing new to these pages, however, the notion of submitting budgets for approval to an organization whose very own auditors have refused to sign off their own accounts for 18 years, is exactly the kind of thing that brings bureaucracy a bad name.   Makes me wonder what jack-booting plot will be next. 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

`OH YES HE DID`..

This alarming image shows former MP and Prisons Minister Ann Widdecombe in rehearsal for the upcoming panotmime season at Dartford`s Orchard Theatre.   Widdecombe will play Widdy in Waiting, the long-suffering servant of the Wicked Queen, played by Strictly’s acid-tongued judge Craig Revel Horwood in a camped up version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.   My mind has been duly boggled.

In a statement full of classic irony, Widdecombe is reported as confirming that she believes  Prime Minister David Cameron deliberately denied her a seat in the House of Lords following her retirement as a Member of Parliament.   Miss Widdecombe told the BBC that, as she was an "obvious candidate" for a seat in the House of Lords, it was clear the PM had deliberately decided to exclude her.

Now, it`s one thing to have been a shrieking harridan as a Member of Parliament but quite another to turn to performing cringeworthy `appearances` on things like Strictly Come Dancing and now a pantomime to challenge the antics at Westminster.   In parts of mid Kent, where Widdecombe `represented` the good folk for so many years as their MP, it`s bordering on the sacrilegious to suggest that Widdecombe is anything other than Mother Teresa in disguise, but the reality for the rest of us is that she has become little more than a self-serving caricature, suffering from the delusion that she is popular, admired and talented.

And that delusion is clearly the one which convinces her that she should have been elevated to the peerage, to pick up her £300 a day allowance and sit alongside all the other self-serving caricatures who already form the cast of the Lords very own pantomime - Lord Prescott anyone?

Anyway, David Cameron saw it coming, so he would have nothing to do with Widdy and her wishful thinking.   I think he saw what most of the rest of us now see - a self-appointed national treasure turned into a national embarrassment suffering the advanced stages of delusions of adequacy.   Widdecombe may complain ( yet again) that Cameron didn`t see that she was the `obvious candidate` for a seat in the Lords.   Didn`t he?    Oh yes he did.

Friday, November 25, 2011


OLIVER`S ARMY..

Hugh Grant....Sienna Miller....Max Moseley....Charlotte Church.... Steve Coogan....Sheryl Gascoigne....JK Rowling (once rumoured to be buying Southampton FC)....even Gary Flitcroft (once rumoured to be a footballer.)   The roll call of celebrities turning up at the Leveson Inquiry grows daily as the accusations of privacy being invaded by paparazzi, phone hacking and bin rifling become more widespread.

And all quizzed by a Queen`s Counsel looking  suspiciously like Elvis Costello.   I`m beginning to wonder whether I`m the only one in the entire country who has not been targetted for some kind of press intrusion.   I could almost feel disappointed that I have not been the recipient of their attention.

On the other hand, I think I would rather be anywhere else but there today.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


COUNTING DOWN..

Self indulgence alert!!!   The grey drab mists of November have finally descended on deepest Kent and on days like this, my mood seems to match the weather.   So I feel a bit grey, drab and misty eyed this morning and my mind has once again gone back 50 years to the grey drab days of my National Service spent largely in the military outpost of Barker Barracks, Paderborn, West Germany - BFPO 16.   The more recent photo above shows one of the main HQ blocks, where I spent a lot of my time and, beyond, one of the barrack blocks, in which I also spent much of my time.  It looks much greener now than it did back then. 

By 22nd November, 1961, I had completed 657 days of my conscripted 731 (one of the years was a leap year) and so I had `only` 74 days to go before being released back into a changed world.   And by then my time in the 10th Royal Hussars had taken on something of a settled pattern.   I had `got some in,` I had become a frighteningly efficient fighting unit, I had come to terms with `good order and military discipline` and I like to think I had become part of the fixture of the `Regimental family.`

So there was a danger, I suppose, that I was getting used to it, becoming a little comfortable with life, more confident in myself and my place in the military scheme of things.   After all, I had reached the dizzy heights of substantive lance-corporal, my National Service weekly pay had, thanks to getting married, rocketed to something like 21/6d  (£1.20.)  I had successfully negotiated trials and tribulations such as that summer`s Guidon Parade for the presentation by the Duke of Gloucester of new regimental colours and a spell on Luneburg Heath where the regiment was practicing its gunnery techniques.

I had long since mastered my evening role as a projectionist in the AKC Globe Cinema which paid quite handsomely and so, as well as salting some of it away in readiness for my demob,  it also allowed me to indulge in the liquid refreshment on offer at the nearby Fritz`s `restaurant` where, in good company, hours were whiled away consuming bowls of oxtail soup, lovingly prepared by Fritz`s comely daughters, and downing steins of Paderborner Export.  

So life, despite its conscriptive nature and its military eccentricities, became passably agreeable, which is perhaps easier to recognise with the hindsight of these 50 years than ever it seemed at the time.   But with 74 days remaining, my mind began more and more to think of being released back home to an uncertain future as opposed to the relative certainty of life with the Shiny Tenth.  

At home, I imagined that the fragrant Mrs. Snopper was busying herself honing her wifely skills in readiness for my return - I was certain that advanced domestic science was engaging her as much as her work in the Solicitor`s office - and I was acutely aware that there was a whole world outside the confines of BFPO 16 that was waiting for me.   What I didn`t know was just how much, in 74 days time, I would miss the company of good friends and, paradoxically, the strange security of regimental life and finally leave the 731 days behind knowing that I, along with the world, had changed forever.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

DANCING IN THE STREET (again)..

The happy smiling faces in Snopper Street  reflect the fact that, once again, our three footy teams all won their games yesterday. Charlton went to Griffin Park - never an easy place to go to - and came away with all three points following a narrow 1-0 win over battling Brentford to see them stay five points clear at the top of League One.

  
It seems that Charlton manager Chrissy (The Legend) Powell may have lost his sense of timing though, as it wasn`t until four minutes into injury time at the end of the game that he sent on our street`s flying icon, Scott Wagstaff. Too late to deliver the much anticipated game changing cameo, Chrissy, but at least Scotty will get his appearance and win bonus.   Won`t he?

My neighbour will be slightly pleased that his beloved Gills came away from the EBB Stadium in Aldershot - always a difficult place to go to - with another narrow victory, this time a 2-1 win over the Shots, with two first half goals from West Ham loanee Frank Nouble and Chris Whelpdale. A spirited fightback from the home side saw them narrow the Gills` advantage with an 81st minute strike but Andy Hessenthaler`s men held on to retain their place in the promotion hunt in League Two.

Meanwhile at St. Mary`s, the Saints extended their winning run to 20 home games with a resounding 3-0 romp against Brighton, who found that St. Mary`s is never an easy place to go to.   So, like Charlton, Saints also stay five points clear at the top of their league - the nPower Championship -  following a second half hat trick from Ricky Lambert Southampton`s Goal Machine (RLSGM) who has now notched 14 goals so far this season. 


Snopper Street footy fans gear up to celebrate

As can be seen from the photo above,  much dancing in Snopper Street is expected this morning where the inhabitants really know how to celebrate with modest restraint, in sharp contrast to the ebullient celebrations that greeted RLSGM`s goals at St. Mary`s yesterday.   At other times and at other venues, such unconfined joy  might have been heralded with cries such as `We can see you holding hands` or `Does your boyfriend know you`re here?` and in recent times  such chants have given rise to a degree of discomfort for Brighton fans both at home and away. Of course, I could not possibly condone such discourtesy.   Honest.

Friday, November 18, 2011

PEACE IN OUR TIME ?..

There`s more to report on the Parish Council front.   Hard on the heels of organizing `events,` they have also recently taken a shine to invoking obscure bits of legislation.  It`s almost as if they`ve just discovered that there are bits of legislation designed so that parish councils can impose their will on the local community.

The new(ish) `older children`s` play area is quite big, with large swathes of grass and inviting hillocks and even a small wood - ideal for dogs to  have a good time.   But the parish council are advertising their intention to ban dogs - even those on leads and under the control of responsible owners and it seems even those who are blind and deaf - from the whole of this sizeable area, along with banning them from another smaller childrens play area a little way away. 

The same area also bears the threat of dire consequences for anyone caught drinking, causing a nuisance or `refusing to leave having been ordered to do so by an authorised officer` under an even more obscure bit of legislation.

As an upstanding pillar of local society and a spinster of this parish, I haven`t got a problem with any of this as long as the parish council are doing it all for the right reasons, which are that these bits of law are being invoked in response to public demand or an identified need, as opposed to introducing them simply because they can and thereby massaging the egos of minor local officials.

Anyway, a local consultation period is under way and we have until the middle of December to lodge any comments with the parish council.   In a way I hope it all goes through smoothly, as I imagine the parish council will want to organize a celebratory Christmas event when the chairman returns home from his European mission, brandishing a piece of paper in his hand, bearing the seal of approval from our friends in Berlin and Brussels.

Oh what fun we have when democracy rules.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

CHECK THIS OUT..


Our village Parish Council seem to be developing a penchant for organising `events.`   They did a few in the summer centred around the opening of the new(ish) kiddies playground , they organised something around bonfire night and now they`re advertising a family shindig for New Year`s Eve in the village hall at a knockdown £35 for a family of four.  Well, I guess they have to spend our money on something but they really should be looking for sponsorship .

I wonder what the chances are of them applying to Tesco`s to pay for the long awaited Parish Straight Pride extravaganza? 

Monday, November 14, 2011


SHE`S HAVING A LAUGH..

It was in May 2009 that this country`s first female Muslim peer, Baroness Uddin, was exposed as being the biggest expenses cheat among a host of fiddling MPs and peers.   It was subsequently established that she had cheated the taxpayer out of £125,000 by claiming that a tiny flat in downtown Maidstone was her  designated main residence, although there was little evidence that she had ever  visited there.   This enabled her to claim £147 a night whilst all the time she was living in her Housing Association family home in Wapping, paying a heavily subsidised rent of £104 a week.

The upshot was that she was found guilty, banned from the House of Lords until April next year and ordered to repay the aforementioned £125,000.  Now despite owning three properties with her husband she is claiming not to be able to repay the money and it seems the Lords authorities have no power to prevent her resuming her seat in the Lords at the end of her suspension.  

A ruling by the committee for privileges and conduct in the Lords reckons it would be illegal to require her to repay the £125,000 as a condition of returning to the House and the committee is concerned that such a condition would amount to a permanent ban which would infringe her right as a peer to be called to the House at the start of a parliament.   My reaction is - so what?  

But there`s more.   There is now the prospect that the Baroness might use her tax free daily allowance of £300 to repay her debt.   If so, and if she assiduously turns up at the Lords and claims her daily allowance, then theoretically she could repay the outstanding amount in about three years.   If that happens, then the most ludicrous and unacceptable situation of all in this sorry case would be that the taxpayers would be paying her daily allowance so that she could repay the taxpayers what she owes them.

Here`s a thought.    Issue her with a statutory demand for repayment and if she doesn’t sell one of her three properties to repay the £125,000 she owes, then apply for her to be declared bankrupt.  After that, apply for a restriction order. As a result, she will automatically  be ineligible to sit in the House of Lords.   Simples.

But frankly, something really ought to be done to stop the self-serving Uddins of this world from being allowed to get away with stunts like the one she has already pulled and the one she might yet pull off.   Better still, make sure in future that people like her should never ever be allowed anywhere near Westminster to have a laugh at the taxpayers` expense.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Peter Roebuck batting against Glamorgan in 1986.

HIGHS AND LOWS..

It`s turning out to be a curiously mixed sporting weekend.   Hard on the heels of the Rugby Union fiasco concerning the lack of discipline by England players at the recent World Cup in New Zealand, comes the depressing news that England head coach Martin Johnson feels he may have to resign.   Sad on two counts.   One because he is one of the most inspirational personalities available to England and two, because the things that happened out there were not of his making. Nonetheless he feels he must take the ultimate responsibility for what went on.   I would have thought that English rugby is in a big enough mess without losing Martin Johnson as well.

Last night`s football saw an encouraging display by England in their 1-0 defeat of world champions Spain.   The backs to the wall defending, especially of Phil Jagielka, Joleon Lescott and Scott Parker was reminiscent of Rorke`s Drift and it calls into question the need to recall the troubled John Terry for Tuesday evening`s joust with Sweden.  But Fabio Capello knows what he`s doing.   Doesn`t he?

I`ve just been watching our street`s hard working pacy wideman Scott Wagstaff playing for Charlton in their televised 4-0 FA Cup win away at Halifax and it was good to see the massed ranks of the Wagstaff family there in the Shay Stadium lending their support to the fleet footed flanker.  

More disturbing was the news that one time Somerset cricket captain, Peter Roebuck, committed suicide by jumping from his sixth storey hotel window in Cape Town whilst being questioned by the South African police.   Now of course, it`s always sad to learn of suicides, especially those involving those such as Roebuck, described today by Derek Pringle as  a`driven and tortured soul.`  

But cricket is no stranger to suicides, with well over a hundred players  having taken their lives over the years.  Some have been leading high profile players - Shrewsbury, Stoddart, Gimblett, Bairstow, Jack Iverson, Sidney Barnes, Jim Burke and now Roebuck.   As a player he was good enough to score over 1,000 runs in each of nine seasons and to captain Somerset albeit with a bookish approach which always seemed a little out of tune with that county`s cider driven image.  

 He will perhaps be best remembered for the falling out with Ian Botham following his (Roebuck`s) decision not to renew the contracts of Viv Richards and Joel Garner.  Botham left for Worcestershire and other ports of call and it took Somerset years to recover.   It`s perhaps telling that the county ground at Taunton boasts the Sir Vivian Richards Gates and the Sir Ian Botham Stand.   I wonder what they will do to remember Peter Roebuck.

Friday, November 11, 2011


NOT AMUSED..

I`ve said a few times in these pages that football can learn a lot from rugby union.   Total respect for referees and their assistants, sin bins, immediate on-field sanctions for dissent, after match citing, compulsory rest periods following concussion and so on.   If football were to apply even half of those rules to itself then the game would undergo a transformation.

And yet there seems to be at least one area where rugby union lags behind and which has come to light with the sanctions dished out today to Mike Tindall.   Now this is a player with 70 caps for England, a World Cup winner and a consistent performer both for Gloucester and for England over the years.   In the recent World Cup tournament in New Zealand, however, Tindall was at the centre of a series of less than savoury incidents which brought the reputation and standing of the England team, both management and players, into disrepute.  The players went on to do themselves no favours on the pitch and the management did no-one any favours by not taking the necessary disciplinary action immediately after the incidents took place.

What happened yesterday was that the Rugby Football Union finally decided on what action to take against Tindall, who was perceived as being the main protagonist in the offending incidents.   The result was that Tindall`s contract as an England squad member has been immediately withdrawn and he has been fined £25,000 into the bargain, all of which would seem to bring an unfortunate end to what has been a distinguished England career.  

Now football seems to have a fairly speedy process for dealing with disciplinary matters both on and off the field and until recently I imagined that rugby union had too.   However, this business with Tindall has gone unresolved for weeks which is bad enough for all concerned.   But what really makes it worse is the uncermonious way in which the sanctions have been applied. 

Now I doubt anyone would have found the conduct of Tindall and a few of his team mates in any way acceptable and there`s no doubt that they deserved to have disciplinary action taken against them.   Two of Tindall`s chums have received suspended fines of £5,000 each but Tindall`s fine and contract withdrawal seems almost dismissive, taking little account of the distinction of his career and the contribution he has made to English rugby.

No wonder he`s lodged an appeal.  Strikes me that no-one is amused with this episode, including Tindall himself, certain members of the royal family and not forgetting the dwarfs, but those who should be least happy of all are the muddle headed Rugby Football Union who have spent far too long with a much too complicated process to produce their questionable verdict on something that should have been settled weeks ago in New Zealand.   Wouldn`t happen at the Football Association, would it?