Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A SAD LEAVING..

It was particularly sad to see that Paul Elliott had voluntarily resigned from all his positions with the Football Association following his text message to former business partner and black footballer Richard Rufus.   Elliott`s text included language that was clearly bad tempered and racist in the extreme and he was really left with no alternative but to resign from positions that he had filled with distinction for a number of years.

As a player, Elliott was a cultured defender for clubs including Charlton Athletic, Chelsea, Celtic and Pisa in the Italian League.  On retiring from playing, he devoted much of his time to working with young players and with ant-racism initiatives in football and, having already been appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 2003 he was appointed a Commander of the Order (CBE) in the 2012 Birthday Honours list for his services to equality and diversity in football.

Now his resignation has left the Football Association looking for a credible ant-racist leader.   Elliott was in line to replace Lord Ouseley as head of a new inclusion advisory body being set up to replace the Race Equality Advisory Group overseeing new anti-discrimination regulations.  Lord Ouseley himself resigned from the FA Council in protest at the Football Association`s "mealy-mouthed approach" to the John Terry and Luis Suarez cases.

I`ve no problem with any of that - it all sounds reasonable and sensible stuff in keeping with the modern day approach to these sensitive and important areas of concern, but just one thing puzzles me.   It always seems to be the case that the leaders of these anti-discrimination bodies all come from a minority background and whilst that may be accepted wisdom, it could be claimed to be leaning in just one direction, whereas I`m sure the FA can find the credible leader they`re seeking, from any background?

Monday, February 25, 2013

HEART-WARMING...

Maybe it`s my new found image as born again Mr. Nice Guy that is encouraging me to see things from a different perspective, but I found little to complain about and much to warm the heart in this weekend`s sporting events.

It started with England winning the limited over series against New Zealand in fine style and it might have been the glorious sunny weather down there that made watching it that much more enjoyable, as we here seem to be stuck in a very determined spell of cold, gloomy weather.   But well done to Alastair Cook and his troops and especially the upcoming group of young players coming through and boding well for future days in the sun.   (I still have regrets about not becoming an international cricketer, but that`s another story.)

I followed the heroics - yet again - of our cyclists in the World Championships in Minsk and was astonished to see that they had lost none of the momentum they had from their triumphant Olympics.   What an inspirational group of young talent we have there.

On the football front, it`s good to see my neighbour`s beloved Gillingham regaining top spot in their division but things were not so good for our street`s fleet-footed wideman Scott Wagstaff and his Charlton chums, who lost at home to Nottingham Forest.   As for the Saints, well, I`m consoling myself with the notion that I would have taken two points from the games against Manchester City and Newcastle, whereas in fact we managed three.   Silver lining time.

But the most heart-warming events were probably the Capital One Cup Final yesterday and England` Rugby Union win over France.   Not so much for the results or even the performances, but more for two aspects which the rest of professional sport would do well to emulate.   Yesterday`s Wembley Final was memorable for so many reasons - Swansea`s first ever major trophy and Bradford becoming the first club ever to reach a Wembley final from the fourth tier of English football - but it was the sheer enthusiasm and enjoyment displayed by the supporters of both teams that was so refreshing.   No hint of trouble, no malicious chanting, nothing other than raucous, genuine encouragement and mutual respect.   

And once again the attitude and behaviour of the English and French rugby teams was quite remarkable in a game of considerable intensity, non-stop endeavour and not a little brutality.   But not once was there the slightest hint of dissent towards the referee, who was, as always in rugby, respected and appreciated for the difficult job he had.   If only football`s Premier League would show even half the restraint and respect shown by yesterday`s football crowd and Saturday`s rugby players, how much more heart-warming might the `matchday experience` in the `best league in the world (tm)` become.


Friday, February 22, 2013


THE PRIVILEGE OF BEING..

Forgive me if you`ve seen this before.  I may have e-mailed it to you and you may already have seen it on the internet where, I`m told, it has gone `viral,` which I take to mean that it`s been viewed rather a lot.  But just in case you`ve missed it, please have a look at http://vimeo.com/58385453

It doesn`t need any explanation from me, as it`s all there on the video but I wonder if seeing it has the same effect on you as it did on me.   Wonderful, beautiful and words like that don`t come close to adequately describing what you see.   It`s more than that.  It`s one of the closest things I`ve come to that approaches something spiritual and it made me stop and pause for a minute.

Most of the time, I come on here and grumble about things, rant about others and generally display my penchant for being a malcontent, dissatisfied with the way the world is.   But this short video has provided me with a feeling of privilege - the privilege of just being and being able to appreciate the majesty of the heavens and the world in which we live.   See if it does the same for you.

(I might be in danger of turning into Born Again Mr. Nice Guy?)


Wednesday, February 20, 2013



..."an alternative location..."

I see that the Enabling Services Directorate of Warwickshire Police have produced a mission statement for HR, IT and communications.   With me so far?  Splendid.   Included within this document is the comforting assertion that "Warwickshire Police aims to protect people from harm with a range of outcome focused functions that are professionally competent and understand the operational policing context of their services, ensuring that they are quality assured, effective and efficient.`

The force has also advised its officers not to use the word `black` in a negative context, such as `black day` and also to avoid `terms of endearment that may cause offence, such as `my love` and `my dear.`

So that`s alright then, all good stuff and no doubt the good folk of Warwickshire can sleep safely in their beds knowing that their boys in blue are on the ball and up to speed with contemporary phraseology and sensitive inclusiveness.   Just a pity that in the whole of the `mission statement` the word crime doesn`t feature at all.

If it was me, I suspect my mission statement for the police would be something along the lines of "Nick criminals."   But next time I happen to be loitering with intent in Rugby, Leamington Spa or even Stratford-on-Avon, I might expect an awfully nice police officer to respectfully request that I `move along, please Sir, perhaps you would be so kind as to remove your personage to an alternative location as you will have observed that there is nothing of significance to be seen at this one.`

Monday, February 18, 2013

NO NEWS IS GOOD NEWS..

So, BBC journalists are on a 24-hour strike today and the BBC  news output is in bits.   It seems to be all about the proposal to make 2,000 compulsory redundancies over the next five years and immediately you begin to wonder why on earth they`ve got 2,000 journalistic posts to begin with.

I imagine the union protagonists believe that their strike will find sympathy with the licence payers who have no choice but to cough up the licence fee whether they watch the BBC or not.   In reality, however, I for one am breathing a hefty sigh of relief as, for once, no news really is good news.

It means we will be spared the outpourings of the overstaffed, over-managed, left-leaning, Europhile, global warming advocating, London and Salford-centric, metropolitan blinkered output from what is supposed to be an unbiased, balanced, neutral organisation.   

Could be a good day.

Sunday, February 17, 2013


HAPPY ANNIVERSARY ..

This rather fetching image shows a determined supporter of the Blue Few en route to Fratton Park, Portsmouth.  Now it`s not clear whether her journey (it is a `her` isn`t it?) is to get to a football match, whether she`s (surely it must be) just toddling back from picking up her benefits from Fratton Post Office or, indeed, whether this is Portsmouth`s idea of getting some exercise.

More likely the journey is being made to join in today`s celebrations as Portsmuff FC mark the milestone of being in their latest administration for precisely one year to the day.  In a way, the demise of the Skates from being FA Cup winners and plucky battlers in the Premier League to their current situation propping up the third tier of English football, is lamentable for their faithful and decent supporters, of which there actually are some.  

On the other hand, a succession of doubtfully fit and proper `owners` including at least one middle eastern gentleman who probably didn`t exist, a history of unpaid creditors, including local charities and the like and a seemingly unstoppable descent into inadequacy and self delusion all, along with other factors, conspire to arrive at the conclusion that just desserts have been served up.

A year on from being placed in the hands of yet another firm of administrators, the hapless team have now notched up 20 league games without a win, have a 10 points deduction hanging over them for whenever, or if ever, they stagger out of administration and relegation to the basement division of English football seems assured.

The Pompey Supporters Trust are seeking to become `community owners` of the club and I wish them no ill will in that endeavour, but one is left to enquire about the attitude of the football authorities for allowing this state of affairs to run on for so long.   And the only logical conclusion is that the authorities are hoping that, somehow, the club can finish the season, thus avoiding the nightmare of having to deduct points from the other clubs who have had the dubious pleasure of playing Skatesville FC this season.

The football authorities should then pull the plug, the Supporters Trust might then become owners  of a reconstituted club playing in the lower reaches of the game, from whence the only way  for them might be up.   It will be a satisfactory finale to a farce that has trodden the boards for far too long but it will perhaps be treated with some regret by those Southampton fans who have so far contributed over 84,000 comments to an internet thread concerning the Skates` fate that has been viewed almost six million times.   Clearly, the mutual concern between the rival south coast football clubs  is alive and well.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


LEAP OF FAITH..

Now that the Pope has jacked it in, the Catholic Church has a rare opportunity to get up to date, move with the times and reflect modern day living here on Planet Earth.  It will involve something of a risk, of course, but no pain, no gain.  All that`s needed is a leap of faith.

The jostling for position is doubtless going on behind the splendiferous fa├žade of the Vatican, but the leading contenders for the Popeship will mostly be getting-on-a-bit, male, possibly Italian and already high up in the hierarchy - Cardinals of whom there are 200 or so, along with a packed bench of substitutes, eager to come on for a game changing cameo.   All the usual suspects, in other words - jobs for the boys once more.

So, how about a more up to date approach, perhaps more becoming of the twitter, f***book, i-pad, Costa coffee age in which we live?   Stand out candidates might then include Tony Blair, Jose Mourinho and even Ann Widdecombe, all of whom have already convinced themselves, after much practice, that they have the right aptitude for the job.

Then again, if the Church wants to be really assertive and show the kind of leadership demanded in this modern era, maybe they should grasp the nettle, take the leap of faith and go ahead and appoint a disabled, black lesbian to the job.   That`ll show `em and, after all, as they already believe in fairy tales, why shouldn`t this one come true?


Monday, February 11, 2013


AND I THOUGHT I NEEDED HELP..


It`s been an interesting couple of days for (`Sir`) Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager.  First he was fined £12,000 by the Football Association for the comments he made concerning an assistant referee at a recent game when the hapless official failed to give Manchester United a penalty that never was.   Now this is not the first time that Ferguson has been up before the beak and in receipt of a hefty fine and I doubt it will be the last.

Next he had a right go at England Under-21 Manager, Stuart ("Psycho") Pearce for disclosing to the world that Manchester United defender Phil Jones had been suffering from a bout of shingles which kept him out of the recent Under-21 game.   Ferguson was claiming `medical confidentiality` but I haven`t heard him make a similar complaint when things like groin strains, hamstrings and dead legs have seen players on the treatment table and become public knowledge.   Maybe he doesn`t class these things as `medical` and therefore shingles is a real affliction or some kind of disease that needs to be kept quiet.

Then there is his current complaint that Manchester United should not have been expected to play Everton yesterday (Sunday) as they have to go to Madrid to play Real in a Champions League game on Wednesday.   Real, on the other hand, played on Saturday and thus have one extra day to prepare.

Now Ferguson is, like me, in his 70s but unlike me he has yet to embrace the qualities of restraint and modesty which, after all his achievements as a football manager, he would  be entitled to assume.  After all, he`s got his statue, a stand at Old Trafford named after him, a dynasty of patronage for his sons and his brother and you would think it was time for a little humility, a more dignified acceptance that his place in the history of the parallel universe of football is secure.   His problem, of course, is that he finds it impossible to change his `management style` - I use the term loosely - which has always been based on intimidation, rant and disregard for authority.

Ferguson is no stranger to these pages, for I have had cause to criticise his character and his behaviour more often than has been good for me.   It has become something of an obsession, I grant you, and one which has made me pause and reflect on whether I might need some counselling, some professional help to exorcise this tempestuous Caledonian oaf from my consciousness.   

But now I`m not so sure.   His ravings in just the last few days have convinced me that it`s not me that needs the help, although I could perhaps do with a little care and attention since my beloved Saints tonked United`s main rivals on Saturday and virtually handed the Premier League title to the infernal Ferguson.   It seems that even in one of Southampton`s more agreeable moments, the dark, oppressive shadow of Manchester United is inescapable.   Maybe it just serves me right?


Saturday, February 09, 2013

NEVER MIND HORSE MEAT...

Following the recent saga here in Dibley concerning the fact that a gang of great crested newts are preventing the opening of a bit of open space we`ve been hoping to get access to, there`s news today of yet another example of newt power.

It seems that work on Durham Constabulary`s brand spanking new, hi-tech, state-of-the-art £12million headquarters has had to be put on hold.  Why?  You`ve guessed it.   A great crested newt has been discovered on the site and, as he and his crested chums are all protected under the Protection of Newts Act, 2005, (or something) he has to be left in peace until he decides to come out of hibernation sometime around May.

The spokesman for Durham`s boys in blue couldn`t really say anything other than, as the law of the land makes these critters a no-go area, the police have to uphold the law and just wait it out.   All very reminiscent of our experience here in Dibley, although there was the marked difference that, whilst the Durham Police Force are resigned to their situation, the Parish Council here couldn`t really be bothered to do anything about it other than to shrug their shoulders and declare that, at the end of the day, the newts seem to have won the battle.

It`s all very well, but I really begin to wonder whether this species protection obsession isn`t going just a tad too far.   After all, I`m pretty sure the newts won`t even think of thanking us for our concern on their behalf.   Newt burgers anyone?  Could be a tasty alternative.   Should slide down well with a nice chianti.  

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS ?..

As a member of the generation brought up at a time when homosexual practices were illegal, I confess to struggling with the many changes in the world.   Some of those changes seem eminently sensible, others less so, especially those which have more than a hint of political chicanery about them.

Anyway, I`ve been observing - merely as a casual observer, of course - all the fuss there has been about the gay marriage business.    (My dictionary does indeed record that `gay` means homosexual but it also suggests  that the word equally means `merry and carefree.`   Is it really the same thing?)

Now, let`s see if I`ve understood this.   Gay couples have had the right to civil partnerships but not content with that there has been rooftop shouting for gay couples to have the same rights to be married as heterosexual couples.   It`s interesting that those who  shout the loudest are those who keep their counsel when there are other, arguably more important, matters to be championed.   So, the great British Parliament has now agreed that gay couples can now be married in church.   Except the Church of England, the church in Wales, the Catholic church and any other religious outfit that doesn`t want to do it anyway.   Smoke and mirrors.  Now you see it, now you don`t.

But if they are really, really serious about equality, it seems only fair for heterosexual couples to be allowed to enter into civil partnerships?   And whilst we`re at it, I am inclined to petition Dibley Parish Council to organise a Straight Pride Parade through the village streets so we can enjoy a merry, carefree day of our very own.   

I might just volunteer to help with that.  After all, you may have guessed from my intriguing photo above, just where my allegiances lie.  Ah, those were the days!

Monday, February 04, 2013


IT`S THAT DAY AGAIN..

The picture above conjurs up memories of 53 years ago today when I was dragged from my provincial innocence and pitchforked into two years of National Service.   Very much like in the picture, I had arrived, along with a number of other callow youths, at Richmond station in north Yorkshire after an all day journey from my southern comfort into the frozen wastes of a north Yorkshire February.  We had been greeted at the station by some malevolent corporals, invited to take our places in the courtesy three-ton truck and driven to Catterick Garrison.  

I can almost see myself in the line-up of querulous conscripts and can almost hear the first question barked at me by a rigidly metronomic sergeant, "You, lad, what`s your `orrible spewy name?"   From that moment, things got progressively worse as I doggedly endured six weeks of stern discipline, endless square-bashing, kit-bulling and physical and mental exertion, all the while being shouted at and being fearful of the dire consequences involved for transgressing even the most minuscule demand.                                  

It was all a bit weird, bordering on the bizarre, sometimes descending into such farce that I began to develop my now long held view that the most accurate contradiction in terms must surely be `military intelligence.`   But what can you do?   There you are, called up at Her Majesty`s pleasure, knowing the 731 days have to be done, so you shrug your shoulders and get on with it.  After all, acceptance of sufferance is a useful experience....or so I was told, not altogether convincingly.

And of course, it came and it went, as all things do, and as I now recall the events of 4th February 1960, I also recall the same day two years later when my time was done, my duty  to Queen and country at an end and I left the green hell of BFPO 16, back in my civilian clothes, clutching my completed demob chart and being called Mr. once more.

Those times are imprinted on my memory and every year when today comes around, I look back on those days with a mixture of resentment at the compulsion of it all, amusement at the futility of most of it, wistfulness at the good times, gratitude for the  things I learnt about myself and fond memories of good friends with whom I still have the pleasure of being in touch.

In writing what has now become almost an annual ritual for me, I begin to feel a bit like Wallander`s father, forever painting the same landscape.   But it has become something of a pilgrimage to look back on two years which had such a profound effect on the rest of my life.   I hope you will forgive the self-indulgence.


Saturday, February 02, 2013


ANCIENT 0 - MODERN 1


For over 150 years, the Britannia Coco-nut Morris Dancers of Bacup in Lancashire have been performing their traditional 12-hour Easter Saturday ritual of dancing through seven miles of the town.   It`s an extraordinary event - at once bizarre, quirky, colourful, unique and wonderful.   The all male troup was formed as the Tunstead Mill Nutters in 1857 and they passed the tradition on to workers at the Britannia Mill in the 1920s. So it`s a long standing feature of English folklore, although probably originating from the Moors who settled in Cornwall in the 17th century, became tin miners and then moved to the quarries and mines of Lancashire.   This lineage may be confirmed by the fact that similar dances are performed in Provence - le Danse des Coco.

The name Coco-nuts refers to the wooden nuts worn on their knees, waists and wrists, made from the tops of bobbins, and are used as as a percussion accompaniment by the dancers who wear white turbans, red and white skirts, white hose and black clogs and the whole event, including the dance and the dress, tells a story and forms an important role in maintaining the traditions of English folk dance and custom.  But perhaps the most striking feature to modern eyes is that the faces of the dancers are blackened, either to reflect the origin of the dance or to ward off evil spirits.

In recent months, however, the Britannia Coco-nutters have encountered problems.  First there was the issue of road closure orders and traffic management which could cost the group £1,000 and now we have our old friends Health and Safety, apparently requiring voluteers to go on a traffic safety course.   It seems that Lancashire County Council cannot or will not fund the £600 cost of the course which they say must be met by the Nutters.   "They will have to apply for the road to be closed under the Road Traffic Regulation Act and to provide appropriately trained stewards," a Council spokesman said.

A couple of things are interesting here.   First, the event raises funds for local charities - last year it raised £600, coincidentally the same amount as the Council wants for its  `safety course.`   And then, whilst it naturally goes unsaid, one is left to wonder whether this sudden upsurge of bureaucratic interest is as much to do with the political correctness of our times as a slavish adherence to health and safety and obscure regulation.   It all sounds like another example of ancient tradition being overwhelmed by the absurdities of the modern day and it is at best regrettable and at worst outrageous.

Here`s what we might be missing:-