Friday, August 31, 2012


HAVEN`T WE MET BEFORE ?

I`m pretty sure we have.   Let me think now.  Ah, yes, of course.   The Republican Party Convention in Tampa, Florida, where Ken lookalike Mitt Romney, aided and abetted by the Barbie-esque Ann, has won his party`s nomination to take on Barrack Obama in the upcoming Presidential election.

It`s really too depressing.  Once again the absurdity of American politics was laid bare before the eyes of the world.  We had the hootin` and hollerin,` the dyslexic placards, the bells, the whistles and the balloons.   And we had Mitt (whoever names their son Mitt?) all spruced up, gleaming teeth, Grecian 2000`ned and delivering the kind of rant to the assembled devotees that again could only have been delivered in the land of the free and the home of the brave.   For it`s more showbiz than politics, more cult of celebrity than reasoned debate, more rhetoric than measured policy.

Now I confess to being pretty ignorant about American politics and I suspect I should care more about it than I do and I am by no means in any position to `take sides` in the forthcoming contest even if I was so inclined.   But when I hear that Mitt is promising to `get tough with Eye-ran` I start to worry.   And I also begin to detect that we`ve met that kind of raving posturing before.   Let me think now.   Ah, yes, of course.   Here he is:- 



As I say, I know nothing of American politics but I do know that whoever becomes the next President will have a huge influence in the kind of world we will be living in, even here in the good ol` U of K.   So, if I may, I will bow to the cult of the celebrity but hope that a more restrained, dignified leader of the western world might re-emerge rather than the synthetic central casting wannabe placed before us in Tampa yesterday.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


BACK IN THE USSR..

Yet more contention about the UK`s (dis)honours system today.   The Parliamentary Public Administration Select Committee has reported that too many civil servants, politicians and celebrities are receiving honours - a statement of the bleedin` obvious if ever there was one - and are calling for a rise in honours for volunteers in the community and for increased transparency in the way honours are doled out.

The contention arises, I suspect, because of the number of Olympic athletes who might be honoured in the New Year Honours list, as well as a whole host of people who worked to make the Games such a success.  Well, maybe this gives an opportunity to overhaul the entire honours system and start again.

Now, back in the days of the USSR they had a quite separate system for honouring sports people whereby the honorary title of Honoured Master of Sport was awarded to those who had achieved outstanding success in national and international competitions and those who had become Olympic or World Champions.   So, although I suspect some political resistance to copying anything from the old USSR days, it would neatly overcome the log jam of honouring all our own medallists. 

Of course, setting up a separate system for sport would also make it necessary to do the same for other `walks of life.`   So I would expect to see honorary titles dished out for Honoured Master of Political Intrigue, Honoured Master of Time Serving Bureaucracy and Honoured Master of Possibly Entertaining People Whilst Stashing Cash Away In An Off-Shore Tax Haven.

Well, something needs to happen.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


THINGS THAT MATTER ?

Aficionados of these pages will know that the BBC is not one of my favourite organizations.   Reasons include the compulsion of the licence fee (I really have a problem with any form of compulsion, probably going back to my National Service call-up;) the seemingly unbridled profligacy with the money we`re obliged to cough up;  and the fact that a lot of the stuff it churns out is rubbish, pandering to the lowest common denominator in a retarded mass market and the ungainful employment of aberations such as Jeremy Clarkson, Chris Moyles, Graham Norton and that dreadful woman who does the breakfast news with Bill Turnbull.   I could go on but you get my drift.

But now and again, the BBC does something that makes the licence fee seem good value for money.   Their Olympics coverage was quite simply wonderful;   BBC 4 is probably my favourite channel - always `different,` always a little quirky and most times more than a little challenging.   Similarly BBC2 comes up with the occasional pearl, as it did last evening with another in its engaging `Horizon` series.

Last night`s edition posed the question, `How big is the Universe?` and it took us through the latest developments in the daunting but fascinating task of measuring and mapping the Universe.   No easy task when you consider the size of the thing and the fact that it`s getting bigger all the time and expanding more rapidly, rather than more slowly which was the conventional theory.   The conclusion seemed to point to the likelihood that we live in a flat, infinite Universe among an infinite number of Universes.  

My mind, not for the first time, was truly boggled once again at our fleeting existence in the enormity of space and time.   So I`ve decided to stop worrying whether the Saints survive in the Premier League and I suggest that all Saints fans should check out  http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01mgllj/Horizon_20122013_How_Big_is_the_Universe/.   

I might even stop grumbling about the compulsory licence fee.   No promises though.


Sunday, August 26, 2012

Well, the football season is here again - did it ever go away?  And from the safety of my bunker I have observed the first couple of weeks of the Football League and, now that Southampton have been promoted, the Barclays Premier League ("the best league in the world (tm)."   And what have I seen so far?   A few brief Snopper Street Footy Notes:-

The Saints, fresh from two consecutive promotions, have made a stuttering start to their Premier League campaign.   A plucky 3-2 defeat at the hands of Manchester City was followed yesterday by a 2-0 home defeat by Wigan.   So, nil points so far, lying in the relegation zone already and the trolls on the web forums are demanding panic signings and the head of manager Nigel Adkins.   You really couldn`t make it up.   After all, there are only 36 games left.

Meanwhile, I was pleased to see that Gillingham have now won all of their opening three games and lie in the promotion places already.  Their new manager, `Mad Dog` Martin Allen  is clearly making an impact and I hope it continues as the long suffering Gills fans deserve some good news for a change.

Charlton also find themselves in a new Division, having been promoted to the Championship and they have made a decent start to the campaign under manager Chrissy (`The Legend`) Powell, who keeps buying new players, the latest being ex-Saint Ricardo Fuller.  Our street`s pacy flanker Scott ("Six Pack") Wagstaff notched a goal in Charlton`s first game with a clever deflection but picked up an injury so hasn`t featured since.

My first impressions of the Premier League are, as expected, mixed.   Away from the results themselves, I`ve noticed a couple of things at St. Mary`s Stadium that seem to encapsulate much of the distaste I have for the `best league in the world (tm).`   The first is the installation of those annoying moving perimeter adverts around the pitch and the second is the installation of those posh comfy chairs in the dugouts, the Saints chairs being sponsored by Sunseeker, the boat people.   These new features provide yet more evidence that the game is more interested in commercial spin-offs and the comfy chairs provide almost an air of superiority for those who sit on them.   Oh for the days of proper dugouts, buckets and sponges, Dubbin and Sloan`s liniment.

Still it`s a game of two halves, it`s a marathon not a sprint and if the Saints can stiffen up the back four, find some creative quality in midfield and become more ruthless in the final third, then the struggle for survival might prove a shade more interesting than it does at the moment.  I live in hope.

Friday, August 24, 2012


ANOTHER CORNER TURNED ?

One of the upshots from the Olympics was to force a U-turn in the attitude towards winning and losing.   Of course the Olympic ideal is that it is not the winning that matters, but the taking part and, although unlikely, that ideal may have unconsciously driven the attitude in schools across the country for the past years. It seemed to reach the stage whereby winning was almost ignored as being socially unacceptable, whereas huge praise was heaped upon the losers - `There, there, it doesn`t matter that you didn`t win, you were brilliantly wonderful and we`re so proud of you.`

The Olympics may have changed all that and there are rumours of a change of attitude and political strategy which will encourage competitive sports in schools, presumably to breed another clutch of medal winners for future Games, such is the knock-on political kudos brought about for our elected leaders by the successes of Team GB.

And it seems that not only sport has been affected by the seduction of winning.   For more years than I can remember, there has been a year on year increase in the successes achieved through exam results in our schools.   That sustained level of improvement surely reached the stage when people suspected that either the questions were getting simpler and/or the marking system was more generous than perhaps it should have been.   Cynicism took over, which led to a growing perception that our young people might not have been as smart as their exam results suggested - probably an unfair conclusion to have reached.

There is, of course, a lot of unfairness in the world and, judging by the cries of anguish from teachers, parents and pupils, a lot of resentment that things might be getting just a little harder.   But in education, like in sport, there`s no substitute for hard work, dedication and determination to do well and if success comes as a result, then it is all the more satisfying for the work put in and the rigour of the test.

I suggest that any real satisfaction in life comes from doing things the hard way and that before you can enjoy the winning, you`ve first got to learn how to lose.   These latest changes in attitude might just allow us to turn another corner away from a cosy acceptance of being also rans in the game of life into becoming outright winners.   And not before time.  

Thursday, August 23, 2012


It must be the silly season.   For why else would the European Court of Justice come out with the barmy decision to allow expats living in warm countries to claim up to £100million in winter fuel payments.  

Until now, eldery people living in places like Spain, where average January temperatures can reach 17C (63F in old money) could only qualify for winter fuel allowance if they had reached the age of 60 before leaving Britain.   But the European Court now say that claimants need only `have a genuine and sufficient link with the UK,` including having `lived or worked in the UK for most of their working life.`   It means that anyone born on or before July 1951 can make a claim.

Now, given that there are some 444,000 British pensioners living abroad and with the payment worth as much as £200 or £300, the total bill will rocket to about £100million a year, just at a time when the economic state of the UK is the worst it has been for decades.   

Now I don`t mind pensioners upping sticks and living out their retirement in France or Spain but there are two nonsenses here.  The first is that if you choose to live in a country where the winters are mild, the climate warm and the living is easy, then why on earth would you need a chunk of money designed to help keep you from suffering the effects of cold weather?   So the idea of introducing a temperature test seems a good idea......always provided, of course, that the European Court will allow it.

Which brings me to the second nonsense.   And we`ve been here before, of course.   It is why we should simply accept the harebrained diktat of this remote, unelected, unaccountable Euro outfit anyway.   There are simply times when we should just say `No.`   And if they attempt to fine us for ignoring their daft pronouncement, just refuse to pay the fine.   Simples.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

HELLO !!

Had a phone call yesterday from the dental practice, reminding me that I have an appointment today to see angelic dentist Louise.   The young lady who rang was most apologetic that their SMS service was down, hence the phone call. 

I confess I had to ask what an SMS service might be, since I suspected it might be something to do with St. Mary`s Stadium, but it turned out it was a texting service. Possibly.  I think my problem with communications these days is that there is just too much of it and far too many ways to get in touch with people.   I don`t know just how many, but I`m vaguely aware of Facebook, Twitter, Bebo, now SMS, e-mail, snail mail, Skyping, mobile and good old fashioned telephone.   One thing that really annoys me is the constant reference to `apps,` which I take to mean applications but people seem too lazy to use the proper word - I might have thought an app could be my appointment today - why not indeed?

It`s all a bit daunting.   I don`t `tweet,` I have a Facebook page that someone else set up for me a few years ago, but I just don`t go there. I tried texting years ago on a hand-me-down mobile inherited from a granddaughter, but failed dismally and anyway it made my thumbs ache. So I`ve come to rely on e-mailing people, ringing them up or the much preferred option of actually meeting them and speaking face to face.   I`ve noticed how dangerous tweeting has become, as Kevin Pietersen has found out to his cost, thank goodness, which confirms that my Luddite view of steering well away from all this stuff might turn out to be pretty sensible after all.

So, instead of worrying about which form of communication I should be using to say hello you`ll forgive me if I just say goodbye, as the beguiling Louise and her magic drill awaits.


Monday, August 20, 2012


CROWDED HOUSE..

The criterion for awarding `honours` in the UK is that candidates should have `given valuable service to the nation.`   I suppose there was a time when this was strictly adhered to but more recent examples have made me wonder just what the value to the nation has been by the service given by those such as Sir Mick Jagger, Sir Tom Jones, Sir Elton John, aka Reg Dwight, Sir Brucie, not to mention the infernal Sir Fergie and those in receipt of `lesser` gongs such as former England and Portsmouth custodian David James, golfer Luke Donald and countless time serving civil servants.

Now there`s a lot of fuss about whether all our Olympic medallists should all be honoured and, if they are, then I have no problem with that as they have truly inspired a generation, even the older one - a service more valuable than many others.   But then there are so many other people who contributed to the outstanding success of London 2012 and who are in danger of being overlooked when the gong committee meets to sort it out - the construction workers, the landscape gardeners, those who worked through the night transforming the stadium and the thousands and thousands of volunteers.   They all deserve our thanks and our admiration and if there`s any justice in the honours system (don`t laugh, please) then they would all turn Buckingham Palace into a crowded house for an investiture fest.

On the other hand, if the trend continues to hand out honours on such a vast scale - and part of me wonders why not - then the day will surely come when I find myself the only one left known as plain Mister, at which point, I will finally be the recipient of literally a singular honour in recognition of the fact that I have singularly failed to give any sort of valuable service to the nation.. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012


ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER..

I think the choice of Roy Hodgson as England manager was inspired.  He is vastly experienced, successful, intelligent and articulate and the introduction of his tenure at the European Championships was encouraging. 

Now, the reaction of football, which literally kicks off today, to the performance of our competitors in the Olympic Games will be interesting to observe.   Our Olympians, along with those of other countries, have rekindled visions of a Corinthian age, when sport was played not for money but for the joy of it all, exemplified by graceful disappointment in defeat, respect for authority and for others taking part and genuine exuberance at winning, all of which has captured the imagination of the nation, for however long it may last.

Roy Hodgson seems to have bought in to all this post Olympic euphoria judging by the comments he made a few days ago when he declared that `the way athletes in Team GB conducted themselves at London 2012 and the atmosphere in which they performed, provided football, and other mainstream sports, with food for thought.`  I just wonder whether he had these noble sentiments in mind when he made it clear that he hoped John Terry would be `freed` by the Football Association so he could carry on playing for Hodgson`s England team.

Terry, found not guilty in a court of law of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand is, however, facing an FA charge after being caught on camera hurling a barrage of expletives and insults at his rival during the game against Queens Park Rangers.   It`s difficult to imagine Mo Farah, Jess Ennis, Laura Trott and their GB team mates ever being accused of bringing their own games into disrepute.

If Hodgson is serious about his `food for thought,` then maybe he should reconsider his support for the serially malcontent Terry.   That would be a good start.


Thursday, August 16, 2012

ONE RULE FOR ONE ?

It is with some reluctance that once again I feature the improbable visage of Mr. John Portsmouth Football Club Westwood.   He is an interesting character.   By day a mild mannered bookshop owner in Petersfield, Hampshire, with a royal warrant for picture framing no less;  by night he morphs into Portsmouth Football Club`s uber fan, bedecked in his Pompey colours, his Pompey tattoos and his Pompey engraved teeth.

The reason for my reluctance is that, as a lifelong Saints fan, the rivalry between the Skates of Pompey and the Scummers of Hampshire`s finest has been as keen as any in the football world.   And that rivalry is now in serious doubt, as Portsmouth hover on the brink of liquidation (the word itself brings such a sweet sense of finality) and with it the future of Mr. Westwood`s alter ego.

For years now, I have belonged to a Saints fans forum and the ongoing saga of Portsmouth`s problems has given rise to just one of the threads having almost 72,000 individual posts and over 4.5million views.   I confess to having made the odd comment myself, but it`s not just us Saints fans who are following the Pompey saga, as witnessed, for example, by this brief synopsis posted on a Walsall forum:-

2009 - Portsmouth go bust, owing £135m. They are allowed to continue to trade after agreeing a deal to pay 20% of debt to unsecured creditors.
2010-2012 - Portsmouth fail to pay the reduced debt to unsecured creditors, instead choosing to buy a squad of players they can't afford.
2012 - Portsmouth go bust again, owing £58m. They may be allowed to continue to trade after agreeing a deal to pay 2% of debt to unsecured creditors. This means that the businesses still owed from 2009 will have to write off 99.6p of every £1 they were originally owed.
2012 - Portsmouth continue to exist in League One and sign Izale McLeod, Luke Rodgers, Brian Howard and other players out of the reach of current League One clubs


The history of this saga involves a cast of characters which include a convicted gun runner, another accused of bank swindling and a succession of Arab sheiks, one of whom probably didn`t exist anyway - so much for the football authorities` fit and proper persons test.   The debts to HMRC, other clubs, former players, local businesses and charities remain but that did not stop the Football League today `allowing` Portsmouth to sign no less than 10 players, some of whom are named above, on monthly contracts, and confirming that they will not incur the 10 points deduction at the start of the season on Saturday when they play south coast rivals Bournemouth. 

Ah, Bournemouth - a club who were themselves deducted 27 points for `offences` which seem mild in comparison with those at Fratton Park.  Similarly Luton Town and others and even the Saints` holding company were punished 10 points for briefly entering into administration.  Small wonder there is widespread bemusement about the apparent leniency shown by the Football League towards the blue few of Krap Nottarf and with it the suspicion that there is one rule for Pompey and another for the rest of football.

So what`s the answer?   Well, in all of this, there are some decent, loyal Portsmouth fans who want nothing more than to wipe the slate clean and have a fresh start as a new community club even if that means playing their football in a minor league, at least to begin with.   I actually wish them well in this endeavour, difficult as it appears financially, for the basket case of Portsmouth FC as it currently exists surely cannot be allowed to continue. Enough has been enough for far too long.

And as for Mr. Westwood and his technicolour persona, his only hope of avoiding the agony of tattoo removal and teeth disengraving is that the Pompey Trust succeed where the present club,  to whom he has hitherto pledged his devotion, have failed so appallingly.   Maybe, after all, he might just prefer the studious tranquillity of his Petersfield bookshop.
   

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


MOVE ALONG PLEASE..

.......nothing to see here.   Or is there?   It seems that in the coming bleak midwinter, we`ll be expected to turn out and vote for a Police and Crime Commissioner. Sounds like a scene from Batman involving Commissioner Gordon of Gotham City and although I may not mind the Police bit, I could do without someone commissioning crime.

Anyway, here in deepest Kent and elsewhere in the country, the candidates for this high profile and highly paid job are lining up.  And it is truly sad to see that, once again, the dead hand of politics comes into play with most of the prospective candidates coming from the main political parties.   It seems that politicians are incapable of keeping their noses out of any part of our lives - even Dibley Parish Council has its share of political devotees.

So we are in for yet more political yah-booing, point scoring, name calling and other primary school activities as they fight over the sinecures being presented under the guise of progress and people power.   Perhaps the stand out example is shown above, where Lord Prescott is standing as Police and Crime Commissioner in Hull.   Now if a buffoon like him can presume to convince us that he`s just the chap to bring crime in Hull to an end, oversee complex budgets, determine policing strategies and motivate Hull`s boys in blue, then once more I fear for our collective sanity. 

It`s interesting to see that some of the candidates away from the main political parties include those  from the English Defence League, the English Democrats, former police officers (surprise, surprise) as well as former magistrates and a smattering of genuinely 
independent souls and it`s these who have a chip on their shoulders about the fact that, whilst the main parties can afford to mailshot voters singing the praises of their candidates, the smaller, more independent candidates may not be able to.

So they`re petitioning Downing Street and Parliament for a free mailshot for all candidates.   The cost is put at £25-£30million - too expensive says Police Minister Nick Herbert.   (There`s something deliciously appropriate about a Police Minister being called NIck.)   People can use the internet, he suggests, quite ignoring the fact that as many as seven million people in this country don`t use the internet and so would be disadvantaged by not having the details they need about the individual candidates.

There are fears in high places that these November elections will attract a very low turnout.   And those fears could be well founded not only because of the timing involved, the weird voting system that will be used and the natural turn-off if chumps like Prescott are up for election, but also because of a natural aversion to the intrusion of politics into yet another dark recess of our everyday lives.  I think, after all, I might just move along as there`s nothing to see here and give the whole thing a miss.

Monday, August 13, 2012

    
BANG CRASH..

So that`s that then.   The Olympics of London 2012 has ended as it began with a `spectacular` closing ceremony that kept me up way past my bedtime.   And it`s left me to wonder what to make of it all.

Well, I confess to having been enthralled by the opening ceremony not only for its sheer spectacle but also because I thought it got the heritage bit out of the way, so we could then concentrate on the games themselves.   So it was a pity that we had to sit through yet more tub thumping last evening with the likes of Timothy Spall hamming up Churchill and a succession of `stars`  showing the world our alleged musical `heritage.`   Frankly, I had never heard of some of the artistes on stage and having watched them I`m pretty sure I haven`t missed much.

I have heard of the Spice Girls, of course, and The Who and Ray Davies and George Michael and Take That but I`m constantly surprised that these and others are wheeled out as iconic musical figures to set before the world.   As for the `newcomers,` the whole rap thing is lost on me and it genuinely mystifies me how someone who just plays tracks on a fancy deck can ever deserve to reach iconic status.  

For me though, there was just a moment, a second or two, a flash of reality when a young lady known curiously as Jessie J poked her tongue out in a Rooney-esque way at the TV camera as she swept past shrieking her way through her routine.   Kind of summed up the difference, I suppose, between genuine entertainment, genuine talent and today`s obsession with noise and `celebrity`rather than music and personality.   Where, oh where, were Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, Russell Watson, Bryn Terfel and where was the music of Vaughan Williams, Holst and even Lloyd Webber?   Not loud enough, I guess.

So what began 17 days ago with a bang ended with something of an avoidable crash, but in between we were left with a wonderful array of true sporting talent, coming together under superlative organization in world class venues;  an almost overpowering feeling of good will, hope and promise and an event that deserves to be remembered for all the right things.  

(Although I can`t escape the feeling that the `heritage` we showed last night was surely not representative of how we are; moreover, we could do with curbing our chest beating enthusiasm which, whilst perhaps disguising an underlying insecurity, might just become more than a little tiresome.)

Over and out.


Friday, August 10, 2012


 STEADY ON, CHAPS..

I see that the BBC`s top executives, who we seldom see or hear from, are concerned that the reporters, commentators and newsreaders might be in danger of upsetting some people by their over-enthusiastic presentation of British successes in the Olympic Games.   Just who might be upset about this is uncertain, but it sure ain`t the home audience who, after all, are paying for the BBC.  

Seems to me that these top executives are more concerned not to elicit criticism than they are to accurately reflect the nation`s pride not only in the staging of the Games but also the achievements of Team GB.   In a sense, they seem almost as out of touch with the realities of `ordinary` people than politicians, who also live in their own gilded cage of remote privilege and assumed entitlement at public expense.

So, I have chosen the above image of Chris Boardman and Hugh Porter to illustrate the sheer excellence of commentating that has added so much to the enjoyment of our television viewing.   These two are cycling champions in their own right.   They know what they`re talking about, they`ve been there and done it.   So it`s no wonder that they get more than a little excited when they are covering the breathtaking performances of Hoy, Pendleton, Trott, Wiggins, Kenny and the rest of their pedalling chums.   These two provided measured, professional insight allied with huge enthusiasm for what they were witnessing which helped us all to appreciate it all the more.

And the last thing they and their presenting and commentating colleagues need is to be told to steady on, curb their natural instincts and spare a thought for the other nations of the world who might not be as fortunate as we are.   Some hope.   It`s just not in their nature.   And surely when we genuinely have cause to take pride in what has been achieved at London 2012, then they and we should be able to celebrate these magical days before winter sets in once more without worrying too much about the sensitivities of people in high places who should have better things to do.



Wednesday, August 08, 2012



A TIME AND A PLACE..

First the good news.   The BBC coverage of the Olympics is superb.   They have clearly learnt from the disaster of their Jubilee efforts, pulled out all the stops and done a terrific job with London 2012.   For me to give any sort of praise to the BBC is praise indeed.

So it was a pity that last night`s edition of Newsnight concentrated on things like the exclusion of certain sports, the minority from ethnic groups from participating, the lack of funding and facilities in state schools and even the imbalance in the awarding of contracts to local minority companies.   All very negative and particularly so on a day when Team GB secured the country`s largest ever medal haul in over a century.

The `guests` to discuss these matters included the inevitable Diane Abbott, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington and New Labour spokesperson for the downtrodden and the oppressed, with   the programme being `presented` by Kirsty Wark.   Now, Ms. Wark, like many of her compatriots, has an unfortunate rasping, guttural, whining accent that cries out for sub-titles.   Moreover, she has an interview `technique` that is not content to ask relevant questions and then listen to the answers she is given.  Oh no, she seems incapable of allowing anyone to finish a sentence;  they are frequently cut off in mid flow, especially when something is said with which might offend her political inclinations.   This is not interviewing, it`s more like hectoring.

But back to the subject matter.   Now, when all the sound and fury, the agonies and the ecstasies, the hopes and despair of these memorable Games are over, there might come a time when the issues raised in last night`s Newsnight should be discussed, perhaps lessons learned so we can all move forward at the end of the day, so to speak.   But whilst London 2012 is still in full swing and the nation is gripped by the positivity of it all, now is not the time and the BBC`s Newsnight is not the place for such negativity, especially in the hands of the dismissive Ms. Wark, who is rapidly becoming the Alex Ferguson of the BBC.

Monday, August 06, 2012


AN OCCASIONAL VISIT..

To Southampton on Saturday, my eldest son doing the driving as we had decided to go and see the Saints play Wolves in what promised to be an interesting pre-season friendly.   The Saints, of course, have now reclaimed their rightful place in the Premier League - the `best league in the world (tm)` - after an absence of seven years, whereas Wolves were relegated from the Premier League at the end of last season - you could say we passed each other on the stairs.

We parked in a pleasant road in Westwood Park and we walked down through the Polish quarter, on through the Sub-Continental quarter, narrowly avoiding the area of Derby Road, renowned for its nocturnal activities, arriving at St. Mary`s Stadium (pictured) in time to partake of a distinctly cordon noir hot dog and Pepsi.   We had a good seat in the sparsely populated ground and sat back to watch the Saints cruise to a comfortable 2-0 win in a game that never got out of third gear.   But such is the nature of pre-season friendlies.

Afterwards, we drove down to Town Quay and Mayflower Park in the hope of seeing some of the great ships that visit Southampton, but none to be seen.   In fact, there was a genuine air of peace and quiet, the streets seemed almost deserted, even the traffic was sparse.   I imagine that people were crowded around television sets watching the Olympics which might account  for the equally sparse turnout of die-hard Saints fans at St. Mary`s.

But at least we went on what I suspect may be one of only occasional visits to the stadium this season.   I think my decision not to buy a season ticket has been vindicated not only by my distaste for the `best league in the world (tm)` but also because all of that has been put into sharp relief by the decency, the splendour and the excellence of our young Olympians.  

Now one of the aims of London 2012 is `to inspire a generation.` Surely what we have witnessed in just the last week should inspire the next generation far more convincingly  than the parallel universe of the Premier League can ever hope to do.  


Sunday, August 05, 2012


LOSING IT ?

Went to a cash machine a couple of days ago.   Stuck my card in, menu came up, needed to tap in my pin number or whatever it`s called these days.

Stood there, knew the numbers, just couldn`t remember the order they came in.   After a couple of goes, I had to give up.   Walked away feeling a bit daft, if not a bit anxious.   Then as I wandered around in my senior daze for a while, I thought I would give it another go.   So, back to the cash machine, stuck the card in, and in what seemed to be an involuntary reflex action, I found I had tapped the right numbers in.


Now, I`m very good usually at remembering long numbers, like the 13 digit phone number of someone I regularly ring in Hamburg, so I don`t know why I had trouble with just this 4-digit one.  Am I beginning to lose it?  Is my memory going?   After all, it wasn`t long ago that I couldn`t remember what amnseia means.


But the really strange thing is that whilst I was having my senior bungle, I felt a bit like Eric Morecambe as I recalled his `interesting` attempt trying to play Grieg`s Piano Concerto.   You remember - when he played all the right notes but not necessarily on the right order.   Here`s a link to that wonderful sketch - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r7yb-JncKow.   Enjoy.

I knew the numbers of my pin OK....it was getting them in the right order that made me wonder if I`m heading for that blissful state of ignorance, so beloved by those in their second childhood.   Not that I ever left the first one.



Friday, August 03, 2012


SOMETHING TO HIDE ?

I suppose that with the Olympics in full swing in London and Parliament once more `in recess,` someone in high places thought it would be a good time to attempt to bury `awkward` news.   So, with a stroke of his pen, yesterday the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, in a last minute ruling blocked the release of minutes of crucial ministerial meetings leading up to the decision to invade Iraq in 2003.   This is, in fact, a repeat of the decision made in 2009 over the release of the same papers.


The now familiar `reasons` were again trotted out to try to support this decision - "Holding back the papers is necessary to protect the privacy of Cabinet discussions; releasing the minutes could undermine the frankness of decisions made in the future;  Ministers must not feel inhibited from advancing opinions that may be unpopular or controversial......."   We`ve heard all this trite nonsense before, of course.


Now it`s true that Cabinet minutes are not normally released for 30 years but a spokesman for the Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, said that his view "is that the significant public interest in this matter justified an exception to the general rule.  The Commissioner is disappointed that the Ministerial veto has been used to override his recent decision notice concerning the minutes of two Cabinet meetings held immediately prior to the commencement of military action in Iraq in 2003."


So there we are.   The Commissioner, whose job it is to protect the rights of the public regarding matters of governmental data and privacy, has come out clearly and critically against this latest refusal by the Attorney General.   It seems that, as a result, the Chilcot Inquiry, who have seen the papers, will not be able to release them and one is left to wonder what effect this may have if and when their long awaited report is finally published.   I think I know the answer, especially as Dominic Grieve`s decision yesterday  was only taken after consulting `relevant former ministers` (no guesses who they were) as well as coalition partners and the leader of the opposition Ed Milliband.   I doubt it takes a genius to work out what they all said when they were consulted.


Now, I know all about innocence until proven guilty, but if the players in that game are confident that they acted properly and with due consideration, then surely the release of the minutes will vindicate them.  Trouble is,  Grieve`s decision appears `convenient` and almost confirms that there might be something to hide after all.

Thursday, August 02, 2012


A DIFFERENT KIND OF JOY ?

So far, with the odd exception, the Olympics are going well for China and America.  They top the medal table by a country mile, China with a total of 30 medals, 17 of them gold;  America just one medal behind, with 12 of their also being gold.   As things stand, Team GB have just nine medals in total and just two of them gold, which came yesterday thanks to Bradley Wiggins and two of our lady rowers.

Now it seems that in America and especially China there are expectations that, at each Olympics, their respective teams will come home with a sack full of gold medals and, to be fair, they seldom disappoint.   For them, Olympic medals seem to provide a kind of reinforcement of their national status.  "Look at us," they seem to cry, "aren`t we great?"   Well, yes, they might be and I have no quarrel with that if that`s what makes them happy.

But what strikes me is the difference in attitude towards the winning of Olympic medals, especially gold ones.    In those two vast, heavily populated countries, the quest for Olympic glory and the expectations that accompany it are such that much of the joy seems to go out of it.  And when victory comes, the joy it brings becomes almost a simple, acknowledging shrug of the shoulders, almost as if it`s nothing special, since it has all been expected for so long.

Contrast that with the different kind of joy we had yesterday when our golden duck was finally broken.  We seem to celebrate our near misses, our close shaves, our gallant losers, almost as much as we do our medal winners and therein lies the difference, for when any sporting success comes our way, it`s embraced like a long lost friend and the celebrations are unrestrained, genuine and, in a word, joyful.  

For in China, the determined search for Olympic domination, whilst `succeeding` in a numerical kind of way, might well be squeezing out any enjoyment, any fun in sport for both those taking part and those who watch their every movement.   It seems a bit Orwellian but perhaps it was best summed up by H. H. Munro`s whimsical advice, "When baiting a mousetrap with cheese....always leave room for the mouse."

I hope it`s a trap that we never walk into, however tempting the cheese might be.


Wednesday, August 01, 2012


THE BETTER PART OF VALOUR

Yesterday was a conspicuous day.   The nation gripped by the fever of the Olympics, the financial world continuing to reel under the Eurozone crisis, the appalling carnage in Syria and so on.   And on the south coast, whilst the blue few of Portsmouth continue to lurch, like lemmings, towards the cliff edge of liquidation, I had an e-mail from Southampton advising me that yesterday was the very last day when I could purchase a season ticket for the coming Premier League season.

So I pondered on the conspicuousness of this invitation and the decision with which I was faced and tried to put it into some kind of context.   I thought about the 65 years of following the Saints since my Dad first took me to the Dell in 1947, about the enjoyment of meeting up with good friends, revisiting my boyhood village and retracing the steps of my many pilgrimages to follow the red and white.

And then I thought about the season ahead and the daunting prospects that await the return to the `best league in the world (tm)` and any enthusiasm I might have had began to melt away.   First, the cost of it all.   If I were to accept the invitation to purchase a season ticket, even as an old age pensioner struggling to survive on a fixed income during the most difficult of economic times, it would set me back around £600. 

Add in the cost of petrol for my 250 miles round trip, a matchday programme, a sumptuous repast in M. Hulot`s Patisserie on Town Quay, the odd `incidental,` and the expense involved begins to approach arm and leg proportions.   Never mind the tediousness of a long drive home in the dark winter nights, quite possibly after the occasional crushing defeat with only Alan Green and the assorted numbskulls of 606 for company.

But in the end what really made my mind up was the Premier League itself and I asked myself whether I really wanted to part with a shed load of cash to watch all the usual suspects invading St. Mary`s Stadium - the millionaire poseurs of United, Citeh, the Arse; the Neanderthal management of Ferguson, Pulis, Allardyce and their ilk accompanied by their Mongol hordes; Wenger and his incessant whingeing; the strange kick-off times to accommodate Sky television; the rampant greedy, excessive commercialism of it all and the added distaste left in the wake of the Terry/Ferdinand scuffle, the instant conclusions of the Twitterati and other unseemly appendages to what was once the beautiful game.


And it occurred to me that even asking the question of myself, provided the answer for me.   So, whilst my loyalty to and my affection for the Saints will remain undiminished, my preference will be, for this coming season at any rate, to follow their progress from a discreet distance, as I have concluded that I really can do without the Premier League and all it has to offer.   I suspect Mr. Scudamore and his chums will feel the same about me but sometimes considered discretion is better than some strange kind of compulsive, misguided `valour .`