Saturday, October 29, 2011


PILGRIMS PROGRESS..

Well, it`s Saturday again, so why not write about football?   On second thoughts, let`s just concentrate on the off-field events at Home Park, home of Plymouth Argyle.   Two seasons ago, Argyle were mid-table in the Championship but so rapid has been their decline that they now sit uncomfortably at the foot of League Two, staring yet another relegation in the face.

Throughout that time, there have been comings and goings amongst those who `run the club` including the much travelled Peter Ridsdale, the much admired Peter Reid, a succession of would-be owners and a fraught Administrator in Brendan Guilfoyle.   And throughout that time, players and staff have barely been paid their due - in fact, some backroom staff have not been properly paid for something like ten months.  

It`s hard to contemplate a more depressing situation for a football club but one with which I and thousands more up and down the country, can appreciate.   For Plymouth have not been alone in suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous administration - we at Southamnpton and at other clubs know what it`s like.

But it now looks as though Pilgrims fans can look forward to a brighter and more secure future thanks to James Brent, pictured above, who has finally succeeded in taking ownership of Argyle, paying off debts, paying players and staff and even presenting Peter Reid with a replica of the 1986 Cup Final runners-up medal he sold months ago to help pay wages and electricity bills.

Mild mannered Clark Kent lookalike Brent has a formidable business background in banking, hotels and other ventures and clearly has a keen business brain to bring to the travails of Home Park.   He confesses to know little about football as such and only attended his first ever game a few short weeks ago.   But he seems to have picked up on the importance of the football club to the city and the region, he seems in tune with the supporters and perhaps relishes the challenge of turning the club around from its current plight, back to more respectable times. 

So I share the relief felt by Pilgrims fans today and hope they and their club have the brighter future that James Brent might bring.   For this is proper football at a proper football club at a level with which `ordinary` folk can identify.   It`s provincial, it`s local, it`s the source of pride and affection amongst football fans who are content to support clubs as far removed from the excesses of the Premier League as it`s possible to get.

I noticed today that whilst the national newspapers are full of the latest episodes of alleged misdemeanours by the latest collection of Premier League malcontents, nowhere could I find any reference to the good news that today is Plymouth Argyle.   The priorities seem skewed in favour of sensation, myopic opinion and dreamworld speculation rather than the genuine good news down in Devon.   Perhaps Clark Kent might change all that?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


"For the last time, George, if you don`t do as you`re told, we`ll have to invade you."

A MERRY MINUET..

It`s reported today that the last of America`s most powerful nuclear bombs has finally been dismantled after 50 years `service.`   The B53 was capable of releasing nine megatons of energy - 600 times more than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.   It was so powerful that it was capable of inflicting lethal burns on anyone within 18 miles, destroying all buildings within nine miles and could even penetrate to 230 metres underground.

So, good riddance.   But it did remind me of living through all those years ago when the threat of nuclear devastation was very real and the tensions and futility of MAD (mutually assured destruction) were only relieved by resorting to a kind of gallows humour.   One of the best examples was the Merry Minuet, composed by Sheldon Harnick and popularised by the Kingston Trio.   It went like this:-

They're rioting in Africa,they're starving in Spain.
There's hurricanes in Florida and Texas needs rain.
The whole world is festering with unhappy souls,
The French hate the Germans, the Germans hate the Poles;
Italians hate Yugoslavs, the Yugoslavs hate the Dutch,
And I don't like anybody very much!

But we can be tranquil and "thankfill" and proud,
For man's been endowed with a mushroom-shaped cloud.
And we know for certain that some lovely day
Someone will set the spark off,
And we will all be blown away!

They're rioting in Africa,
There's strife in Iran.
What nature doesn't do to us
Will be done by our fellow man!

Whilst the prospect of nuclear annihilation may have diminished, there are threats of a different kind confronting the world today and I can`t escape the feeling that, as mankind continually fails to learn the lessons of history, an updated version of the Merry Minuet might be timely.

Monday, October 24, 2011


LIES, DAMNED LIES AND POLITICIANS..

The `debate` in Parliament today is, of course, entirely academic, simply because the result of the vote at the end of it is a foregone conclusion.   But once again any prospect of even discussing a referendum on Britain`s membership of the EU send politicians into paroxysms of panic.

Successive Prime Ministers - Thatcher, Major, Blair, Brown and now Cameron - have all promised a referendum in their pre-election manifestos which, years ago, used to mean something approaching a promise to the electorate to be honoured.   Not any more.

And so today Cameron is coming the heavy with his back bench `rebels,` who aren`t really rebels anyway because they are simply seeking to keep faith with those pre-election manifesto promises;   the Tory Whips are going around issuing dark threats in dark corners, a three-line whip is in place along with all the paraphernalia of heavy handed political persuasion.   Simply to put the lid on a discussion that might lead to a non-binding vote in favour of doing what they said they would do.  

All of the trite excuses are being trotted out - it`s not the priority at the moment - there are other more important things - it`s not the right time - and so on.   All in the face of overwhelming opinion polls that show a large majority in favour of having a referendum now - the respected YouGov poll published today shows  as many as 66%  in favour, 20% against and the remaining 14% unfathomably seeming not to know.

Now, for me at least, the issue of the referendum itself is almost secondary to the wider concern that, if promises were made to have one and the vast majority of the electorate say they want one now, then it`s pretty clear that the political class are once more treating the electors with contempt, ignoring public opinion and failing to represent those they should be representing.   And all because they are terrified of the answer the electorate might give.   It really does come to something when elected representatives are terrified of the majority wishes of those whom they are supposed to represent.

And they wonder why they themselves are treated with the contempt they deserve by those like me who are tired of being lied to, tired of being taken for granted and, most disturbingly of all, tired of having our intelligence continually insulted.  Time for another riot, I think.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


TRIAL AND ERROR ?

Well, it`s Saturday so why not write something about football?   On second thoughts, why not write about the latest `news` to come out of the Boleyn Ground, where - in all seriousness, it seems - West Ham manager `Big Sam` Allardyce has offered El Hadji Diouf the chance of a trial with a view to offering him a contract if he can prove himself.

Now, professional football has many characters who are, shall we say, less than savoury.   But Diouf is one of the most unsavoury ever to be let loose on a football pitch.  In  
March 2003, whilst playing for Liverpool, he was involved in an incident when he spat at   fans during a televised UEFA Cup quarter-final against Celtic. His club fined him two weeks' wages, UEFA gave him a two-match ban and Diouf was charged with assault.

 Whilst he was on loan at Bolton, Diouf was charged by the police for spitting at an 11-year-old Middlesbrough fan during a 1–1 draw in November 2004. Then, on 27 November 2004, Diouf spat in the face of a Portsmouth player.   He was fined two weeks' wages by Bolton and was banned for three games by the FA after pleading guilty to a charge of improper conduct.  The then Bolton manager, the aforementioned Big Sam Allardyce, later revealed that he had considered sending Diouf to see a sports psychologist.

On 20 September 2009, Diouf was questioned by police after allegations that he had made a racist slur to a ball boy during a match at Everton, telling him to "f*** off, white boy." Diouf defended his actions by saying that the ball-boy had thrown the ball to him "like a bone to a dog" and that Everton fans were racially abusing and throwing bananas at him; police found no evidence of this.

On 8 January 2011, following Blackburn's 1–0 win over Queens Park Rangers in the FA Cup third round, Diouf was accused of taunting QPR`s Jamie Mackie whilst the latter lay on the pitch injured with a broken leg.

The charge sheet just goes on an on with the above being just edited highlights.  Despite all of which, `Big Sam` seems keen to bring Diouf to West Ham, even though the West Ham fans themselves have been subjected to Diouf`s penchant for spitting at paying customers as well as opponents.   Allardyce believes that "as most of the fans have taken to him everywhere he`s been, they`ll love him" (at Upton Park.)  "Dioufy is a quality player who West Ham fans will appreciate if they see him.   Our relationship (Allardyce`s and Dioufy`s) is born out of respect for each other," he opines.

Now, I haven`t anything against West Ham as a club - they have a long and proud tradition and have contributed hugely to the footballing landscape of the nation - but something in my water suggests that the combination of Big Sam, his mate Dioufy and the style of play in prospect may not be to the liking of the Boleyn Ground faithful.  Diouf may be on trial, but I sense yet another grave error of judgment may be just around the corner.

Friday, October 21, 2011


OUCH !!

A confession.   Despite having an uncle who was a National Hunt jockey, I know absolutely nothing about horse racing - the so called sport of kings.   As for betting, I wouldn`t know how to place a bet even if I wanted to, which I don`t since my only foray into the gambling world was once to buy a lottery ticket.   I didn`t win, so that was that.   At least I was true to the family motto, `if at first you don`t succeed, give up.`

Anyway, I could not help but notice the furore going on about jockeys using the whip and the peculiar rule that apparently says that jockeys are allowed to use the whip `only` five times during the last furlong of a race.   The matter seems unresolved and it left me wondering whether the rule means that horses can be whipped unmercifully until they reach the final furlong, after which jockeys have to ease up a bit.

In all my innocence of these things, I imagine also that my conclusion might also be shrugged aside as the ignorant ranting of the ill informed.   But I did conclude that surely the way to stop the controversy is to ban the whip altogether.   Simples?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

WAYS AND MEANS..


npower Championship Table - October 18 2011
PosTeamPWDLFAGDPtsLast 6

This is how the npower championship table looks this morning.   And what a pretty sight for us Saints fans who have not experienced such highs since the days of beating Manchester United to go fourth in the Premier League all those years ago.   What`s more, records keep tumbling - last night`s record crowd of 32,152 was the biggest since St. Mary`s Stadium opened ten years ago, Saints are having their best start to the season for what is now 52 years and the winning run of home games now extends to a record 17 in all competitions, the last defeat at St. Mary`s being against the aforementioned Manchester United in an FA Cup game in December 2010.

Indeed, Southampton Football Club seems finally to be on the rise, with settled ownership, a talented manager, dedicated backroom staff and a hard working group of team players.   Football, like life, is of course transient and no-one has any idea how long this euphoria will last, so please forgive me for enjoying it all while it does.  It might not be for long.

Now, some of my close neighbours and at least one of my very best friends are diehard West Ham United fans and so I will excercise restraint in my comments about the 1-0 defeat West Ham suffered at St. Mary`s last evening.   But on last night`s evidence, there is a comparison to be drawn  between the current West Ham and the much loved football academy of years gone by.  West Ham`s current pornographic owners, their neanderthal manager and their primitive style of play which seems to rely on size and strength rather than anything resembling subtlety are all a far cry from the style, grace and elegance of the days of Ron Greenwood and John Lyall.  

Football is a results-driven business, of course, but there are ways of achieving results and there are means of projecting the image of a club.   In the end, West Ham`s current persona may take them back to the Premier League which will obviously please their supporters.   But I wonder how many of them might quietly wish for a different approach to restore their club`s affections amongst the wider football fraternity.

1No ChangeSouthampton128222713142611windrawlosewindrawwin
2No ChangeWest Ham United12633221111218drawwinlosedrawwinlose
3No ChangeMiddlesbrough125611486217windrawdrawdrawdrawlose
4No ChangeDerby County1263317143219winwindrawlosedrawdraw
5up 3Crystal Palace12624171252010loselosewindrawwinwin
6up 4Ipswich Town126241819-120

Monday, October 17, 2011


 A STRIKING DECLINE..



I read today that the hobby of stamp collecting is having a sticky time.   It seems the number belonging to Kidstamp - an organisation for young stamp collectors - has fallen from 100,000 in the 1990s to about 1,000 today, thanks to e-mails, texting and other forms of communication taking the place of snail mail.  

Which is a pity, since I have long believed that the pace of life is dictated largely by the speed of communication available.  For example, if over 100 years ago you sent a letter to Australia, then you could be pretty sure that you might get a reply some months later, whereas these days communication is just about instant, which can lead to instant decisions which are not always the best ones.

So I`m sorry to see the decline in stamp collecting and when I read about it this morning my mind went back 60 years or more to what, with 20-20 hindsight, seemed for me to be an idyllic boyhood at Hythe on the western shore of Southampton Water.  I recalled that in those days, in comics like the Hotspur or the Rover, there were always tempting advertisements inviting you to send a 1/6 postal order to some mysterious PO Box, in return for which you would receive a package containing `assorted postage stamps from across the Empire.`  

I squandered the odd 1/6  (7p) and so acquired not so much a collection, more a small gathering of stamps, but philately never really caught on in Hythe, as the rival attractions of phillumeny were more readily available.   The small boys of the village (there were about five of us) used to comb the shoreline at low tide, especially after the great liners had either arrived or just left Southampton Docks - the Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mary, the Unions Castle liners and many more.

Our prizes were empty matchboxes, tossed overboard from those passing ships and washed ashore at the waters edge along the obviously named Shore Road - round about here:-
 Shore Road, Hythe.

We built up quite a collection between us and all these years on I still have mine although the boxes have long since gone and just the labels remain, pressed into a scrapbook.  In fact, as my phillumeny progressed, I have some complete sets that have never appeared on boxes, including a set of about 50 large sized ones on rice paper depicting scenes from the Hokkaido Road in Japan.   But the most prized ones of all are those sea-washed and tar- stained from maritime destinations the world over - from South Africa thanks to the Union Castle ships, the USA, Scandinavia and even from Argentina.

I started off this ramble bemoaning the lack of interest in stamp collecting these days and I guess the same will happen to matchbox labels as smoking becomes more and more the territory of social outcasts and no-smoking zones are springing up everywhere, even, I imagine, on cruise ships.

In a wistful moment, I wondered whether my collection had any value and a quick gander at the Internet told me that, quite possibly, one or two of my treasures might fetch anything up to 70p at auction, which won`t change my life much, so they will remain as a tangible memory of those boyhood days when children were allowed to go off beachcombing without a health and safety care in the world.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


A DESERVING ACCOLADE..

It`s a rare event for a town or city in this country to be honoured with the prefix "Royal."  There are only a handful of them - Windsor, Leamington, Tunbridge Wells along with some chunky London Boroughs like Greenwich, Kensington and Richmond.  Most of those were as a direct result of royal patronage, but today has seen the addition of the small Wiltshire town of Wootton Bassett for quite different reasons.

The four years long association of Wootton Bassett with the repatriation of service personnel lost in middle east conflicts has come to an enforced end with the closure of  nearby RAF Lyneham and the subsequent transfer of repatriation to RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire.   Those four long years have seen 355 occasions when the town of Wootton Bassett, its townsfolk, bereaved relatives and service associations come together to pay respect to the heroic departed.

It seems to me that all the other `Royal` towns and boroughs became so for reasons so much less legitimate than this small town in Wiltshire.   No-one asked them to do it, nothing was organised, but what we have had are 355 examples of the quiet dignity, the essential decency of ordinary folk wanting to do something to show their gratitude and sadness for the loss of life and to show their support and understanding to the grieving families and friends of those who gave their lives.

The story is well known now, so it doesn`t require me to add to it,  but here is a brief reflection of the spontaneous beginnings, the steady growth and the essential Englishness that has seen Wootton Bassett become perhaps the most deserving of all the `Royal` towns and cities- http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-14691139


Saturday, October 15, 2011


Two Mr. Happys for the price of one.   On the left is yours truly, looking duly smug as the Saints took a well deserved point away at Derby to maintain their place at the top of the Championship.   It was their first draw of the season with Rickie Lambert Southampton`s Goal Machine (RLSGM) equalising a third minute strike from Rams Theo Robinson, thus putting RLSGM firmly in contention to take the place in the England set-up vacated by the rightful suspension of Wayne Rooney from international competition.  Well, why not?  After all, RLSGM is also a scouser, to be fair.

On the right is perhaps an image that captures the prevailing mood of my neighbour Mr. Slightly, whose Gillingham side made the long journey to the English Riviera and came away 5-2 winners against Torquay United at Plainmoor.   I imagine he`s over the moon, on cloud nine but cursing the fact that only a bout of man flu prevented him  treating Mrs. Slightly to a weekend on the sunny south coast to watch his heroes pull off a stirring victory, having been 2-0 up and pegged back to 2-2 before romping away with the points to raise them to ninth in the table.

So, they`re the only highs from today`s Snopper Street teams.   And so we come to Mr. Bump and the Addicks of Charlton, who were also playing away, this time at Broadhall Way against Stevenage Borough, only recently elevated to League One.
Now the table topping Addicks had remained undefeated in the league this season, but they came down with a bump this afternoon, going down to the only goal of the game in a 1-0 defeat (to quote David Coleman.)   Until a couple of games ago, Charlton had pretty much kept the same team but manager Chrissy (The Legend) Powell decided to make a few changes with the result that their fortunes have waned.   One of his changes was to drop our local hero Scott (Buzzin Six-pack) Wagstaff to the bench, only to bring him on with just 17 minutes to go in the hope that his blistering pace might see him take on tiring leg weary defenders and turn the game in a game turning cameo.

Didn`t happen, I`m afraid, but maybe The Legend has learnt the lesson that you don`t change a winning team unless you have to, especially one that includes a pacy flanker of the quality of our street`s hard working gay icon who has already proved that he can ghost past defenders, reach the by-line and provide pin point crosses for onrushing strikers to plant the ball into the top corner beyond the despairing clutches of opposing custodians (to quote Herbert Marshall.) 

Thursday, October 13, 2011



 SCRUMPING - A LOSING BATTLE..

I sense a conspiracy.   Over the years living in what used to be known as The Garden of England (it`s arguably now the Compost Heap thanks to motorways, high speed rail links, channel tunnels and a preponderance of urban sprawl, unacceptable ribbon development and overintensification of the use of development sites, to quote the planners) it used to be possible to live quite healthily on the discarded or unwanted vestiges of orchard crops.

Cherries, Victoria plums, assorted apples, both cooking and eating, conference pears, all used to be grown within a radius of a few miles from home and, always sticking to the official  public footpaths, of course, I along with our successive golden retrievers, Barney being the latest,  used to go on our walkies and were constantly surprised at how often various assorted fruits used to find their own way into a plastic carrier bag that I always had with me in case of emergencies.

I don`t think the farmers minded too much - after all, the percentage of fruit `lost` by this miracle of coincidence was almost incalculably small and, in any case given my keen eye for health and safety concerns, I always looked upon it as an excercise in helping to keep the public footpaths clear of unforseen underfoot hazards to passing pedestrians.

But in the last couple of years, things have changed.   First the Victoria plums went, to be replaced by some twiggy looking young trees that have labels on them saying `Galaxy.`   Then the Bramley apple orchards went, closely followed by the cherry orchard and already there are serried ranks of polytunnels springing up, presumably for growing`soft` fruit, such as the Wimbledon bound strawberries.   The pears are still there - or at least they were until they were picked clean, leaving just a few non-EU conforming misshapen stragglers which aren`t too appealing to the discerning connoisseur.   Beggars and choosers though.

It must be a sign of the times - farmers coming to the conclusion that the only way to stop plastic carrier bag carrying pedestrians legitimately using the public rights of way who just happened to coincide with the loss of a few bits of fruit, was to rip up the orchards and stick in polytunnels.

But the downside for us rambling dog walkers is that the bounties of the Kent countryside are declining just at the time when pensioners like myself are struggling to survive on a fixed income during the most severe economic climate since scrumping began.

I think I`m right about the conspiracy - where`s Captain Swing when you need him?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


I was heartened to read yesterday that years of painstaking research has drawn the conclusion that people are not now officially `old` until they have reached 75.   It went on to suggest that these days 75 is the new 65.   Well, suits me, as it means I have another three years to go before the dead hand of officialdom declares that I`m `old.`

Now I think in all fairness to what I am about to say  I must confess to `having my moments.`   They include such things as going upstairs for something but by the time I get up there I`ve forgotten what it was I came upstairs for.  I also have the problem of always forgetting a face but never remembering a name.   Even my own.

But whereas I might have reached the stage whereby I might be forgiven the odd mental lapse, the thing that is truly worrying is when you find evidence of `losing it` in those who are not only considerably younger but also expected to be a bit sharper than your average `senior.`  And today there has been a sad example of someone in the public eye to whom that concern applies.

I refer to our old friend `Sir` Alexander Chapman Ferguson, CBE, manager of Manchester United, who has now given his verdict on the recent red card dismissal of his £200,000 a week superstar Wayne Rooney.    "He's shown tremendous improvement in terms of his temperament, his reactions to being tackled and things like that over the last few years. As maturity comes along, then it brings other things. It brings the responsibility, which he is improving all the time."

Quite so.   So, if Rooney`s petulant reaction in kicking a Montenegro defender up in the air, being dismissed and possibly banned for as many as three matches in next year`s European Cup Finals, is an example of his `tremendous improvement,` then I can only conclude  that, sadly, Ferguson is once again showing  signs of `losing it.`  It would be a fitting conclusion - and not before time - if, like his predecessor Sir Matt Busby, he were to be elevated to the directorship upstairs.  Provided, of course, that he knows why he is there when he gets there.

Monday, October 10, 2011

DECLINING AND FALLING..

There`s a fine line between disappointment and embarrassment  and between what is acceptable and what is not.   This weekend has been one to forget as far as the sporting nation is concerned.   And yet we forget it at our peril, for there are lessons to be learned, reviews to be undetaken and changes to be made.

I suppose it all began on Friday evening with Ingerland scraping  a 2-2 draw away at Montenegro to secure qualification for next year`s European Championship finals.   But once again it will be for the antics of Wayne Rooney that the game will be remembered.   His petulant assault on a Montenegro defender saw his rightful dismissal and resulted in all round condemnation.   The result was perhaps disappointing but Rooney once again proved to be an embarrassment for the game, for himself and his seemingly dysfunctional family and for the nation.   Not a good start.

On to Auckland and the inept `performance` by the England rugby team which, perhaps mercifully, resulted in defeat against the French and an early departure from the Rugby World Cup.   Now, sometimes defeat is honourable, even heroic, but it seemed to me that all the off field nonsense perpetrated by this England team during their stay in New Zealand was somehow transferred onto the field of play - the carelessness, thoughtlessness and false sense of entitlement merely confirmed that the whole venture to the antipodes also became embarrassing.  

I think my despair brought about by this weekend was summed up late last night, when former Home Secretary and serial taxpayer swindler, Jacqui Smith, popped up on tv once more to give her verdict on today`s newspapers.   I`ve grumbled about her before, of course, only this time she appeared on BBC News 24 rather than Sky.   Her appearance, this time paid for by the compulsion of the licence fee,  seemed somehow to encapsulate the malaise flowing through the country right now - it really doesn`t matter how disappointingly or embarrassingly you may have behaved, the lessons go unlearnt, the changes go unmade and you can just carry on regardless.   The prevailing culture of drawing a line in the sand and moving on at the end of the day as if nothing has happened is once again confirmed.

For decades now, this country has been in decline and right now, as I look around, I see nothing that suggests we wont carry on falling.  Small wonder then, that I feel like Pooh sitting in his puddle with his empty honey jar and it`s not just because it`s Monday morning.
  

Thursday, October 06, 2011


A QUESTION OF BALANCE..

I`m all for fair play, even handedness, equality and all that stuff.  It`s just that sometimes the balance of fairness seems tilted too far one way or the other.   For example, I`m a big admirer of the awards given for Music of Black Origin - the MoBOs......so I look around for an awards ceremony for Music of White Origin - the MoWOs....and I don`t see one.   In a similar vein, if, say, Brighton wants to hold its annual Gay Pride thingy, that`s fine but I don`t see them having a Straight Pride equivilent.   There are countless other examples but you get my drift - sometimes it all seems a little bit all one way.

Now, I confess I haven`t followed the intricacies of the Meredith Kercher murder appeals just heard in Perugia against the sentencing of Amanda Knox and Raffele Sollecito and I`m in no position to pass any comment on the case, so I won`t.   But I have been struck by the different reactions to the outcome, which say much about the question of balance I`m pursuing here.

On the one hand, we have witnessed all the razamataz of the homecoming of Amanda Knox with her journey from Italy, via Gatwick, to Seattle being followed every step of the way by the world`s media.   We have seen the predictable hootin` `n` `hollerin` bordering on triumphalism, the Oscar-esque speeches and the promise of more to come with multi-million dollar book deals, film deals and goodness know what else.   In a way it`s understandable - after all, this is America.

But on the other side of all this are the Kercher family, showing  admirable understated dignity in the face of an Italian court decision which, as they say themselves "puts us back to square one` and makes it impossible for them to even contemplate `closure` of the tragedy they have suffered.

So, in my unending yet unrealistic quest for some sort of balance, I think I would prefer to hear a little more of the Kercher family and much, much less of what America is likely to inflict upon the Knox family and the rest of us.