Wednesday, November 30, 2011


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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.


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


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? 

Wednesday, November 09, 2011


Bobby Moore, Billy Wright, Bryan Robson, Alf Ramsay, Alan Ball, Jimmy Armfield.   Just a small selection of players who have captained England in the past 50 years.   There are a lot more, of course, and as a Southampton fan I will never forget the time when we had no less than five England captains in the same team - Ball, Keegan, Shilton, Mills and Watson.

But it`s a singular honour betstowed on a small number of players who have represented their country at the highest level.   Thinking back to the days of Wright, Moore, Armfield and others, I`m reminded of the fact that, certainly back then, to captain the team was more than just wearing an armband and tossing a coin.   The captaincy was for those who would not just lead the team on the field of play but would also represent the team and the nation in the eyes of those countries we might be playing against and thus to a wider audience.

There were, in short, responsibilities to discharge on behalf of the nation towards the wider world, so the captain needed to have a presence about him, a certain bearing and be ever mindful not just of the honour he had been given but also the responsibilities that went with it.

More recently, those qualities have been conspicuous by their absence, none more so than in the `captaincy` of John Terry.   Now, Mr. Terry seems to have run up a fairly lengthy charge sheet which includes episodes such as allegedly charging £10,000 for facilitating tours of Chelsea`s training ground and causing considerable disquiet over his involvement with Wayne Bridge`s erstwhile paramour.   I won`t go into the latest controversy regarding the alleged issue of racism concerning Anton Ferdinand as the jury is currently out.

But even putting these issues to one side, it`s still difficult to recognise in John Terry  the necessary presence, the respectful bearing and the selfless dignity of his  more distinguished forebears so that he might discharge the responsibilities of captain of his country in a way that will garner respect amongst the football audience here and further afield.  

Which is a pity, for however practiced Mr. Terry might be in the dark arts of central defending, he along with the Football Association and the expensive Signor Capello need to be reminded that there`s so much more to being a captain than wearing an armband and calling heads or tails. 

Tuesday, November 08, 2011


I`m getting a bit worried about next year`s Olympics in London.  For all the satisfaction the nation may have felt at being `awarded` the Games and for all the pride that might be felt about the development of the Olympic Park in east London, there are some things around the edges of this event that are becoming annoying.

Now it`s normally just the little things that cause annoyance and they`re here in abundance.   The logo for a start - there it is shown above and although some visual dexterity makes it possible to make out 2012, I for one could have done with something a bit more straight forward, more graphically representative, less hard edged.   Then there was and still is the fiasco over the tickets for the opening and closing ceremonies as well as the events themselves, the felonies having been compounded by the news that something like £750,000 of British taxpayers` money has been spent by the powers that be in hoovering up 9,000 tickets so they can be handed out for free to a collection of politicians, `dignitaries,` foreign `guests` and assorted hangers on.   And we won`t be told who they are until after the Games have finished!

It`s always the same - those in privileged positions who can quite easily afford to buy their own tickets, travel, accommodation and hospitality get it all for free on the back of those who have no chance of getting tickets even if they could afford them.

Just recently we`ve had the unedifying spectacle of the Olympic posters being unveiled.   They rival the logo in their pretention, their artlessness and their crassness all in a vain attempt to appear `arty,` `trendy,` `challenging` - none of which is surprising when you see that the equine Tracey Emin is among the `artists` commissioned to produce this embarrassing drivel.   Where`s a seven year old when you need one?

The route of the Olympic flame has been revealed with much ceremony to lull us into believing that a journey to a nearby roadside to watch a flame on a stick being staggered along by some panting runner is the true symbol of the inclusiveness of the London Olympics for the whole of the country.   Sorry, forgive me if I don`t bother with that one.

But for all those gripes about things around the periphery of the main event, I suspect my biggest complaint, apart from the exhorbitant cost of it all, is likely to be the Games themselves.   The whole event has just got too big with competitions in obscure sports and the unavoidable doubt in my mind about what I might actually be watching. 

Cricket has been outrageously tainted lately with betting scams to the extent that it might in future be difficult to determine, with any certainty, the validity of the spectacle.   In much the same way, I have long wondered whether Olympic sports are competitions between athletes or chemists and so I wish the whole thing would go back to basics, to the days long ago when the Olympic Games were just about running jumping and throwing things.   They won`t, of course, there`s too much money involved, too many egos to massage, too much corporateness, pomp and circumstance, all of which takes away so much from what used to be innocently enjoyable.   Fings really ain`t what they used to be.  Perhaps they never were.

Monday, November 07, 2011


So, FIFA have banned England players from wearing embroidered poppies on their shirts for the upcoming game against Spain  at Wemberley on Saturday.   Football’s governing body do not want to create a ‘provocative political precedent which would potentially cloud a future match because of historical difference.`

The England Football Association had their request for poppies to be sewn into England’s kit for Saturday’s match against the world champions declined by FIFA, to the dismay of war veterans and England’s governing body.

England`s £6million a year Manager Fabio Capello wore a poppy while watching Tottenham beat Fulham yesterday, so if he`s not bothered about it as an Italian, why should anyone else care?   Also, Frankie Lamps,  the player likely to captain England on Saturday in the absence of the troublesome John Terry, is apparently calling on FIFA to relax their ban.

However, a FIFA spokesperson has responded thus: ‘What would happen if England played Germany around the time of Remembrance Sunday, for example? The international aspect of the regulations gets overlooked when people want to feel it’s England against FIFA.   But the rules are there in case political inference could potentially be far more provocative."

It seems the sanctions open to FIFA, if England defy their rules over this issue, include sending nasty letters to the players, fining the English FA and even expulsion from FIFA.   Well, here`s a thought.   If sticking poppies on shirts constitutes sticking two fingers up to FIFA then so what?   It`s far more important for our football team to be seen to be supporting the nation`s proud remembrance in a way which is neither `political` nor `provocative` than it is to pander to the sensitivities of Herr Blatter and his questionable chums.

The solution for FIFA  might be simple - just ban England from playing Germany any more.  That way everybody wins !!

Saturday, November 05, 2011


Went on the occasional pilgrimage to Bluewater Shopping Thingy a couple of days ago.   Our visits usually consist of Mrs. Snopper going off with a steely determination to get what we came for, leaving me to pass the allotted time having a browse in the bookshops.   I used to go and have a coffee but it`s got silly - the cups are enormous, the coffee`s awful and the price is exhorbitant;   I`m guessing, but I suspect it`s one of those things one must `do` to be seen to be `doing` it, rather than for the enjoyment of the dubious`refreshment.`

Anyway, back to the books.   Over the last few years there has been a sharp rise in the number of `biographies` and `autobiographies` of so-called celebrities, possibly to the detriment of those for whom such tomes are more justly warranted.   There are, of course, biographies and biographies.  But some of the most compelling are of figures either from history or modern times who have lived extraordinary lives or achieved great things.  I have enjoyed and profited from reading the lives of, say, Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen, Harold Larwood John McDouall Stuart.  Not every one`s cup of tea maybe but still infinitely more substantial than some of those currently on offer in the pre-Christmas bonanza.

And so it was with an air of shrugging resignation that I noticed the `authors` who were due to turn up at Waterstone`s in Bluewater to sign copies of their volumes for an expectant gaggle of admirers.   The pneumatic Katie Price, whose claim to fame seems to be that she is, errr, Katie Price. The insolence that is James Corden, who is one of the ranks of modern day `comedians` who peddle the notion that if you are offensive and loud then you are automatically funny.   Couldn`t be more wrong.   And the third `author` billed to arrive is one Tinie Tempah.   No, I`d never heard of him (or her) either.

Now it`s one thing for these and a whole host of other self-publicising nonentities to make a few bob on the back of their counterfeit status (and who can blame them for that) but it`s quite another to realise that they might actually represent the popular culture of modern day Britain.  And even more sadly, those who will make the journey, queue up, buy the books, have them signed and go away thinking they have acquired something of value and with it some status of their own, says it all really about the  way we are these days.  

 I`ve been told that Claire Tomalin has a new biography out - of Charles Dickens who, despite being born in Portsmouth, seems to fall well within the category of being both extraordinary and achieving great things.   I quite expect to get far more from that than I ever will from the combined ghost written ramblings of Price, Corden, Tempah and the rest.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011


Not long after his surprise announcement calling for a referendum on the EU bailout package, it was reported  that Greek Prime Minister George Papandreaou had been "summoned" to an emergency meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President  Nicolas Sarkosy, presumably so he could explain what on earth he thought he was doing.   Cue the naughty step.  

Now here`s a curious thing about Angela Merkel.  In 1977, the then Angela Kasner married physics student Ulrich Merkel. The marriage ended in divorce in 1982. Her second and current husband is quantum chemist and professor Joachim Sauer who has largely remained out of the media spotlight. They first met in 1981, became partners later and married privately on 30 December 1998.  

So why isn`t she Angela Sauer?   One can only surmise it`s to avoid being labelled by certain sections of the tabloid press as Mrs. Sauerkraut?   Sauerkraut can be eaten raw, which has many vitamins and minerals. However, if you are not used to the high amount of lacto-bacilli found in raw Sauerkraut, it can easily upset your stomach.   So mind how you go, George.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

"Is it five referndums you think you`ll need, George, before you get the right answer?"


History tells us that democracy was `invented` in ancient Greece.   The word itself comes from the Greek word δημοκρατία  (dēmokratía) "rule of the people", which in turn was coined from δῆμος (dêmos) "people" and κράτος (Kratos) "power", in the middle of the 5th-4th century BC.   So we shouldn`t be surprised that Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou has announced a referendum on the EU proposals for tackling the Greek debt crisis.   Papandreou told the Greek voters it was up to them to decide the country's fate.   "We trust citizens, we believe in their judgment, we believe in their decision," he told Socialist party deputies. "In a few weeks the (EU) agreement will be a new loan contract... we must spell out if we are accepting it or if we are rejecting it."

Unlike some other EU countries I could name, it sounds to me like the principles of democracy might be alive and well in its country of origin and to that extent it should be welcomed.   But it won`t be, of course.   Already the markets are reacting negatively and the Eurozone leaders seem genuinely appalled by Papandreou`s announcement and are threatening all kinds of dire consequences - all such reactions predicated, of course, on the prophecy of the Greeks rejecting the EU bailout package, which may or may not be a foregone conclusion.

It might all depend on what the question is - "Do you want 50% of our debt to be wiped out?" might encourage an overwhelming vote in favour.   But "How do you fancy years of grinding poverty brought about by the demands of other countries in the Eurozone?" - might find a different response.   So it will be interesting to see what question the Greek people will be asked.....and that of itself is something of a test of the democratic process.

But if we are truly to live by the democratic rules, then elected politicians should not try to bend them just to come up with answers that might suit them but that might not suit the people who elected them - vide the Irish referendum fiasco, the Lisbon Treaty fiasco et al.

Now I know I`m naive, politically innocent and too simple minded to be taken seriously, but if it`s the case that a Greek referendum result, rejecting the Eurozone proposals, brings about their default and expulsion from the Eurozone and plunges the rest of the Western economies and the EU project into even greater uncertainty, then if democracy is to mean anything at all, then so be it.   It may be a heavy price, but if the Greeks are willing to pay it, so too should the rest of us.   Unless true democracy has already been abandoned, of course.  Or was never here to begin with?