Saturday, December 31, 2011


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


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


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 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


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

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 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


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


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


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 -

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


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


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

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


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


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."