Saturday, December 29, 2012


It`s strange how, during the dead interlude between Christmas and New Year, there`s always someone who comes along to give me something to grumble about.  No shortage of candidates this year, so let`s start with `Sir` Alex Ferguson who, once again, has behaved in a manner more fitted to the Govan back streets from whence he came, than a knight of the realm.   

Again he has shown contempt for authority and deployed his old friends  - Messrs. Intimidation and Bullying -  in order to kick and scream and shout his obsessive desire to be right in all things.   Trouble is, he`s wrong again but the football authorities seem either powerless or reluctant to dish out the kind of sanctions to Ferguson that they would not hesitate to impose on other managers.   I will watch with interest how the Newcastle fans react to Ferguson`s latest rant and I suspect that even now some of them are plotting to blow up the statue outside Old Trafford.

The mandarins of Whitehall are apparently holding up publication of the long awaited and now almost forgotten Chilcot Inquiry into events leading up to the Iraq War.   There`s a stand off between Chilcot and Whitehall over the reluctance of the mandarins to publish the records of conversations between the then Prime Minister,Tony Blair, and the then USA President George W Bush.   The result is that publication of the report, if at all, is now likely to be towards the back end of 2013 or even into 2014, all of which confirms suspicions that the very long grass beckons as the report might well throw up some uncomfortable revelations, none of which brings any comfort to the families of our armed forces lost in that almost certainly illegal conflict.

Mentioning Blair brings me finally on to Mrs. Blair who has surprisingly been `honoured` in today`s Honours List by the award of a CBE allegedly for her services to charity and women.   Circumspection encourages me to comment no further, for I`m sure conclusions will be drawn that might not be entirely charitable.   However, I have no such compunction in dismissing as a sick joke the `honour` awarded to Tracey Emin which I can only imagine is made for her services to both personal and professional mediocrity.   I`m left with the nagging feeling of being cheated as, if the unfortunate Ms. Emin can be gonged, then how come Rickie Lambert Southampton`s Goal Machine (RLSGM) - already losing out in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award -  is denied once more?  

The season of goodwill just keeps on coming.......

Thursday, December 27, 2012


Of all the countless images of the `festive season,` I think this one is the most telling.  In the background, you can just make out a Christmas tree as a token Yuletide symbol, which is just as well, as there`s nothing else at all `festive` about the scene.   Of course, it shows the mayhem when the Boxing Day sales started yesterday morning and there are a number of things that are troubling about this image.

The first (and I expect I`ll immediately be labelled an `ist`) is the almost total predominance of non-white, possibly non-British customers.   Now this might be for a variety of reasons, including the genuinely international attraction of the big London stores, but I suspect it may be more an accurate vision of modern day London and the other big conurbations of this sceptred isle.   Whatever, it looks as if the locals have no chance.  Ah, England, my England.  Wherefore art thou?

Then there is the manic clamour for `stuff.`   I`ve no idea what goods were on offer in this sale but again I have my suspicions that they were probably things that, if pressed, the manic clamourers really could do without, so it`s probably all about mindless acquisitiveness for its own sake.

But, of course, this is the festive season, the season of goodwill to all men and it`s images like this one that confirm, to me at least, that the world seems to losing all sense of what`s important, along with any real sense of priority and reason.   It doesn`t matter what it is, I`ve got to have it and I will queue up all night and fight the good fight so I can get it.  And too bad if anyone gets in my way.

Such is the rampant commercialism these days that Christmas stuff starts appearing in the shops around the end of September and on and on it goes with just a pause on Christmas Day until the jamboree starts up again the day after.  So we might as well stop kidding ourselves, for Christmas, at last, shows us the true meaning of Santa`s birthday.....and we are all the poorer for it.   Anyway, can`t stop - I`m off to buy my Easter eggs.

Monday, December 24, 2012

....even Margaret Moran...
(I`m all heart really)

Sunday, December 23, 2012


Despite fiddling us taxpayers out of thousands of pounds whilst she was MP for Luton South, Margaret Moran was found unfit to plead when her case involving 21 criminal charges of false accounting and forgery came before Southwark Crown Court a year or so ago.   She was, however, found by a jury to have committed the acts alleged and sentenced to a two-year supervision and treatment order with the judge commenting that some might feel she had `got away with it` although the court `had acted according to the law of the land and on the basis of evidence before it.`

Now just some of Ms. Moran`s claims were indeed eye-watering.  For example, her MP`s expenses claim for 2004-05 somehow amounted to £168,569 with a large chunk going on `stationery and postage.`  Then there was £22,500 spent on treating dry rot in a house in Southampton, which she had `flipped` as her second home, a mere 100 miles from her Luton constituency.   Her second homes claims for five years came to £87,206, whilst her neighbouring MP for Luton North, Kelvin Hopkins - who lived in the same street as Moran - claimed just £8,894.  It also came to light that Moran had claimed for driving no less than 26,028 miles even though her constituency is a mere 32 miles from Westminster.

The abuse of trust and accountability just went on, so no wonder the Crown Prosecution Service brought the charges against her.   Now, although one might have been seduced into a feeling of sympathy for the pathetic figure she struck during her court proceedings and although it may be true that she did repay the princely sum of £6,000 of the expenses she received, nonetheless it comes as a startling reminder of just how out of touch the Commons Authorities still are that Moran has now been paid almost £27,000 in a `resettlement grant` given to MPs when they leave Parliament. 

Far from having any sympathy with her current situation which, after all, includes an alleged £1million property portfolio, it`s us taxpayers who should be doing the weeping as yet another chunk of our hard earned cash is squandered on yet another undeserving case.    

Friday, December 21, 2012


Well, I was all geared up for it.   At 11 minutes past 11 this morning, I was ready for it all to end and I had wondered where I might be and what I might be doing when the end of the world happened.   In the end, I decided to keep calm and carry on with my `normal` Friday morning ritual.

And so it was that at the appointed moment I found myself stuffing empty plastic bottles into the recycling bank at our nearby Tesco WhizzoStore.   Now this might sound a trifle mundane, but at it least had the merit of me preparing to meet my maker doing something useful to save the planet, thus earning brownie points for the final reckoning.

But the moment came and went, leaving me to wonder what had gone wrong with the Mayan calendar, which might well have been one from Tesco`s value range otherwise I might not be here now.  But this morning there was anarchy in the Tesco car park - horns blaring, fists being shaken, obscenities chilling the midwinter air (I really must learn to control my frustrations);  in the store it was predictably crowded with pre-Christmas shopping - food and drink being stacked into high-rise trollies and then the seemingly endless queue for the checkout.

It all made me wonder whether the Mayan prediction had come true after all. Jingle bells!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


You know what it`s like.  You hear things, read about them and instantly think it can`t be true.   It`s just too fanciful for words, someone`s having a laugh.   And then you discover it`s true after all and in a lingering moment of disbelief, you cry, "Unbelievable!"

In just the last couple of days, reports have come in of events that are so bizarre that it comes as a real shock to find out that they are for real.   For example, I see that Manchester United manager, `Sir` Alex Ferguson, has been lecturing at Harvard Business School about his management philosophy.  Yes, Harvard Business School.  A bit like the Marquis de Sade addressing the Hans Christian Andersen Society.

My immediate reaction was to wonder what the motive was behind Harvard`s invitation, for Ferguson`s management `style` has included such essential business aids as hairdressers, rant, bullying, intimidation, a complete aversion to constructive criticism and a dismissive attitude to any form of authority.   And then it came to me - perhaps Harvard are more interested to establish what management `techniques` not to encourage, so maybe not so absurd after all.

And then there is Mario Balotelli.  Ah, Super Mario.   22 years old and in receipt of (I nearly said earning) £170,000 each and every week of his contract with Manchester City.   So, Mario gets more in a week than the Prime Minister does in a year and what does he do for it?   Well, he kicks a football around, sometimes into the opposing net and on those occasions when either he can be bothered or is not suspended from playing due to some on-field misdemeanour or other.   Last season, he received 9 yellow cards and 3 red ones, which severely curtailed his usefulness to his employers who fined him two weeks` wages (£340,000) which he has graciously agreed to accept in an `out of court settlement.`

What is absurd here is the fact that, after 4.3million years of human existence, we finally arrive at Mario Balotelli and a situation whereby a 22-year old footballer receives huge amounts of money for what he does or, on numerous occasions, what he doesn`t do.   But then Mario is a `character,` providing good press for a rapacious media, as much for his off-field antics as for when he is playing.  And so he is indulged.  And it is wholly absurd.

The examples go on and on, of course, but I cannot leave without mentioning the phenomenon that is David Beckham. My goodness, he works so hard to reach the goal of knighthood so cherished by Lady Posh that I almost feel for him.   Football hero, Olympics ambassador, fashion icon, style guru, friend of the great and the good.   Surely it`s only a matter of time.  But then if I too lived my life with as many role and image changes as I change my underwear, people might think me absurd as well. 


Monday, December 17, 2012


I missed last night`s BBC Sports Personality of the Year mainly because, especially in recent years, it has become very `BBC` with a kind of stiff, formalised bonhomie that doesn`t quite hit the mark.   Anyway, I was pleased to learn that Bradley Wiggins won it, not least because he actually does have a personality although I confess to a tinge of disappointment that Rickie Lambert Southampton`s Goal Machine (RLSGM) wasn`t even nominated.

But such is the `correctness` of the BBC event that it would not have surprised me in the least if, on the back of their recent almost unbelievable victory at the Nobel ceremony in Oslo,  the prize had gone to the European Union and been collected by Barrosso and van Rompuy, the Little and Large of the EU.

I expect they were sorry to miss out but at least they can look forward with some confidence to romping away with the Eurovision Song Contest next year.   A smile, a song and a directive?   You`d better believe it!!

Sunday, December 16, 2012


It`s an old saying, of course, but nonetheless true that the only constant thing in life is change.   And it seems to me that the older I get the faster the changes come about. This week has seen the publication of details from the last Census and the most rapid change in this country`s demographics appears to be within the area of immigration.   Perhaps predictably, the London Borough of Newham has only 17% of its residents describing themselves as White British.   Compare this with the figure for Redcar in North Yorkshire where 98% have declared themselves to be White British.

Not surprising I imagine, as there has always been a marked difference between metropolitan areas such as London and the more rural backwaters of the country.   But I was interested to see something close to my heart in that, in the previous Census of 2001, 37,000 people had recorded their nationality as `Cornish` by manually writing it on the Census form. Good for them.  This time, despite campaigns within Cornwall, no tick-box was provided on the form to select Cornish as a nationality.   Thanks to Cornwall Council, however, posters advised residents that they could identify themselves as Cornish by writing it in the section dealing with national identity, ethnicity and main language, the result being that no less than 83,000 have declared themselves as Cornish this time round.   So that sounds like a change for the better.  

Now, maybe it`s a generational thing but I find some of the changes taking place a little troublesome.   For example, the whole business of communication is now so instant, what with Twitter, Facebook and all, that people seem not to think before they tweet - it`s all about instant reactions which are invariably to be regretted later on.   As for me, I don`t need it, I don`t want it and I feel absolutely no need to be part of it either.

There`s a lot on the country`s agenda right now and I get the feeling that some are there just to be seen to be doing something, rather than concentrating on things that might almost certainly be more important.   The controversies surrounding women bishops and gay marriage, for example, are issues about which my own generation might harbour views honed through upbringing and decades of experience.   

I might have a tendency to support one but not the other but in doing so I run the risk of being pilloried as some kind of `ist` by a growing, self righteous lobby of `reformers,` when all I might be doing is reflecting the genuinely held views of a generation that finds itself more isolated in a world that is changing much too much and much too quickly.   I wonder if we might be exchanging one form of implied intolerance for another?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


A couple of days ago, quite by chance, I came across an obituary notice in a local newspaper which does not circulate in the area I live.   In fact, I was searching the internet for something else when this notice popped up telling me that a dear lady had passed away earlier this year at the age of 85.  It`s odd how even random things can trigger memories.   I knew her before she and her husband moved away from this area but it was her husband who I knew much better.   He had at one time been a work colleague but he sadly passed away some years ago.   He was an intriguing character with a life that yet again reminded me of the essential conflict between status and persona.  Let me explain.

He was a soldier, an officer and a gentleman, a proud member of the family that is the Gloucestershire Regiment, the Glorious Glosters, so called after their epic part in the battle of the Imjin River during the Korean War in 1951.  He was a Major in the regiment that carries more battle honours on its regimental flag than any other line regiment in the British Army.   And, as you might expect, he possessed a military bearing and a quiet stoicism that comes only from the kind of experience he had during that conflict.   

Following his retirement from the army, he became Personal Assistant to the head of a rural local authority.....and it`s here that the conflict between status and persona becomes interesting.   His new boss had not experienced the military life, had no concept of the qualities needed to survive in that environment at all, never mind during hostilities.   But, quietly observing from a discreet distance, it became obvious to me that having a battle hardened Glorious Gloster Major as Personal Assistant provided a cache not only designed to impress but also to enhance any inner delusions of adequacy that seemed to exist.   It therefore became clear, if unspoken or even unrecognised, that the one with the status, the rank, perhaps saw in his Personal Assistant a persona that he might have admired and wished for himself.

It`s not unusual, of course.   When I attended a Guidon Ceremony for my own old regiment some years ago, I shared a lunch table with a couple of other former national servicemen.    After they had done their 730 days, one of them went back to work on the family farm, leading a simple but hard and fairly unrewarding life.   The other had gone on to become the Personnel Director of a big national company.    But although their relative status seemed worlds apart, it was the farmer who was clearly in charge of the relationship.   His persona, you see, was perhaps the more admirable which I suspected that the Personnel Director recognised and acknowledged.

And the moral of these tales?   Well, if nothing else it might give a note of caution to those for whom status is everything, for in the end it may not matter what position you reach, what label you may have, if you lack the persona to go with it.   It happens too often, I suspect, but I`m left with the memory of my now sadly departed Gloster friend sighing wistfully to me, "Little did I think when I was fighting my way up Hill 357, that I would be doing this for a living."

Monday, December 10, 2012


There`s to be an election here in Dibley for a seat on the Parish Council.  The official polling cards have arrived telling us that the election will be on Thursday 17th January and that the polling station in the village hall will be open from 7.00am to 10pm - so no less than 15 hours for us to toddle along and cast our votes.

Trouble is, there are alleged to be somewhere in the order of 15 or 16 candidates, such is the furore within the parish over, well, parochial issues.   These include the fraught question of where, if anywhere, to locate some kind of outdoor gym facility supposedly for the elderly population; keeping the footpaths clear, a new changing room for the playing fields, what to do about the resident newts preventing access to an open space as they are a protected species (I`ve suggested a controlled explosion,)  and such like.  Cameron thinks he has problems?  He should try running Dibley.

I imagine the next few weeks will see the candidates canvassing away, festooning us with leaflets, hiring megaphones and being nice to us.   But the qualities I look for in a candidate for the Parish Council include a penchant for football, an eagerness to apply common sense rather than any political party line and a determination to cut through the bureaucracy that seems to result solely in the Parish Council talking about things rather than doing them.

I think I know just the man....and it ain`t me.  

Friday, December 07, 2012


Speaking of gloom, I read somewhere that 60 years ago today, the great London Smog of December 1952 had just descended on the capital, where it would stay for some time.   My father had just been made redundant from his job at the BOAC Flying Boat maintenance depot at Hythe on Southampton Water.  My parents then decided to enter what was then - and still might be - known as `the licensed trade.`  The phrase has always puzzled me, as it kind of implies that other trades might be unlicensed and thus a touch on the shady side.

Anyway, as part of their learning curve we found ourselves in an Off-Licence in a back street of Catford in south east London - a far cry from the Solent shores for a callow youth of 13 - and it was there and then that the great smog arrived.   I remember not only the fact that you literally struggled to see a hand in front of your face but also that you could actually taste it.   It had an acrid taste, reminiscent of some weird foreign gastronomic concoction which is probably why I eschew any `foreign` food even to this day.   The smog seemed to be yellow, we all had to wear `smog masks` and hundreds if not thousands of Londoners either died from or were seriously affected by acute respiratory problems.

Having been born just before the outbreak of WW 2, I slept for most of my first five or six years in a bed under the stairs in a house along the Solent shore, hearing the nightly bombing of Southampton and being convinced, in the absence of any other experience, that that was just how life was.   At the age of seven, I contracted a serious disease that kept me in Southampton Children's Hospital for six months and off school for a whole year.

So by the time I was 13, I had had the bombing, the serious illness and then the smog and so I sometimes think it`s a wonder I`m still here. All of which probably accounts for my smog ridden brain, my increasing deafness and my pathological aversion to anything medical.  Formative years indeed.

Thursday, December 06, 2012


I`ve just finished watching the end of the second day in the Test Match between India and England in Kolkata and marvelling at the heroics of England captain, Alastair Cook, scoring his 23rd Test century, thus moving ahead of such bygone greats of the game as Colin Cowdrey and Len Hutton.   While here in deepest Kent, it`s bitterly cold, dank and gloomy, yesterday`s Autumn Statement was hardly a barrel of laughs and the season of alleged goodwill is fast approaching, as our first two Christmas cards arrived in this morning`s post.

So we needed something to lighten the gloom and Alastair Cook and his chums have certainly provided it.  So much so that you begin to wonder what other memorable sporting moments may yet take place in the final knockings of this truly great sporting year.   Back in late Spring, the Saints reclaimed their place in the Premier League - the `best league in the world (tm)` - we then had the London Olympic Games and the Paralympics - `the best Games ever`-  the Ryder Cup victory in America, last weekend`s stuffing of the All Blacks and now the exploits on the England Cricket Team in the sub-continent - `the hardest place to go in international cricket.`

It`s a pity the BBC Sports Personality of the Year contenders for this year`s award were announced as early as they were, for Cook`s achievement ranks with the very best gold medallists and it was significant, I feel, that there was no place among those selected for the BBC award for anyone from the world of cricket or, perhaps less surprisingly, from football.  The quicker they change Sports Personality to Greatest Achievement the better, for only then will Andy Murray stand a chance.

Now for me, cricket has always been the most beautiful game, played as it sensibly is only when the sun shines.   It has a long and singular tradition and it`s one of very few team games played individually, by which I mean that you become the batsman, the bowler, the keeper, the fielder and it`s what you alone do in those individual moments that define the success or otherwise of the team.

My own cricketing years are so many years behind me now, but I still look back through wistful memories of warm summer days, convivial friendships, courtesy to opponents and, yes, the very occasional times when I was modestly pleased with my own individual contribution.   So, if nothing else on this drab, cold, bleak midwinter`s day, Alastair Cook has shone some much needed light for those of us for whom cricket is the ultimate game.  It has lifted the spirit, brought a warm glow and made life a little more bearable, for which we should all be truly thankful. 

Tuesday, December 04, 2012


I could hardly believe my ears yesterday afternoon when the news broke that Kate and Wills are going to be parents.   It was indeed wonderful news, tinged only by the concern for Kate as she fights the severe morning sickness and I know we all wish her well as hopefully she will overcome it soon.

What makes it even more exciting and memorable is, of course, the fact that we can now enjoy the real benefit of the 24-hour news reports, the pages in our daily newspapers and other forms of media which will keep us all up to date with progress over the next weeks and months.   I don`t know if they still post bulletins on the railings giving daily medical reports but I`m sure there will be an anxious crowd gathering from wherever any sort of news may emerge.

It`s at times like this that we should all be grateful for the coverage, the in-depth analysis as the pregnancy proceeds and it is of course quite fitting that this happy event should take precedence over any other news item that might be around.

You can tell that I`m over the moon about it all and I`m so looking forward to the next few months when all other issues we might have had to contend with will just have to take a back seat.   I know you all feel the same and join me in celebrating this truly wonderful news.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

A tentative note of dissension

Some months ago now, a very good and kind friend lent me his copy of Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel`s 2009 MAN Booker Prize winning historical novel centred around the intrigues and exploits of Thomas Cromwell.   Quite apart from the praise it received in winning the prize, Wolf Hall has been hailed as a masterpiece, a literary triumph, a must read book if ever there was one.

I suppose my suspicions were roused when I turned the first few pages to discover that there were no less than 33 extracts from literary reviews, each proclaiming just how wonderful it was.  Now I may be cynical but I`m always wary of any book that goes to such lengths to tell me how good it is - it`s almost as if the publishers don`t quite believe it and are trying to convince themselves as much as the rest of us.   

Anyway, I gave it an initial go but I gave up after a while as I found it hard going.   Maybe if I had a degree in history I might have been a little more forgiving.   About three weeks ago, not finding anything else readily to hand, I picked it up again and this time I made a determined effort - I`m up to page 603, so I`m on the final furlong with just a gripping climax to come in the final 50 pages or so - possibly.

The other thing that makes me nervous is that it has almost become sacrilegious not to join the clamour of praise for Ms Mantel and all her works but I do wonder how much of that clamour is a simple fear of being excluded, not being up with the fashion, not `with it.`   So for me to offer a tentative note of dissension might be bordering not so much on sacrilege but more on bravado.

In the end, I can but speak as I find and I am finding Wolf Hall to be tedious, confused and self-indulgent in that it cries out for clearer narrative and accepted grammar. Maybe it will be redeemed by the gripping finale, but whilst I expect to be disappointed, I might find its sequel, Bring out the Bodies, to be irresistible, if only to discover whether Ms Mantel has improved her style or whether it`s just me after all.