Friday, March 29, 2013

A THOUSAND WORDS..

It`s true, of course, that a picture paints a thousand words and I think this one, taken at a cash point in Nicosia, very accurately sums up the current state of EU politics and the ill fated Euro:-




My thanks to `a friend` for supplying it and my apologies for being unable to resist posting it here.


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

SOMETHING NOT QUITE RIGHT ?


You know how it is.  Sometimes you see things or hear things and instinctively you know there`s something not quite right about them.   A case in point is that of the MP for Maidstone and the Weald, Helen Grant.   After first joining the Labour Party in 2004, she then demonstrated the uncertainty of her political convictions by joining the Conservative Party on a free transfer two years later, citing `disillusionment` as the reason for the change.

She applied to become a parliamentary candidate and in May 2006 was adopted as the Conservative candidate to fill the boots of the departing Ann Widdecombe in the Maidstone constituency - a safe seat if ever there was one - and Mrs. Grant was elected in the General Election of 2010 albeit with a much reduced majority.

In 2012 she was embroiled in an expenses controversy when it was revealed that she was claiming the maximum allowed under the rules - almost £1700 a month - for a flat in London despite having her family home in Reigate in Surrey.  Now Reigate is within a zone around London in which MPs cannot claim expenses for a London rental but, as she represents Maidstone which is outside the exclusion zone, her expenses were allowed.

There was also a problem relating to her employment of her husband who subsequently resigned over an issue concerning an apparent disparity between the terms of his own contract and those of other employees of the MP.   Just recently it was reported that Mrs. Grant`s son  lives with his grandmother at her home near Maidstone and is thus able to attend the highly regarded Maidstone Grammar School in Kent - one of the last bastions of selective education on the country.

Now none of these issues in any way falls foul of any law and, as such, might well be perfectly legitimate.   But, like Beatrix Potter`s lamb burgers, it doesn`t feel quite right and things that don`t feel right usually aren`t.  It seems to me that these issues conspire to question whether the spirit of her position as a Member of Parliament should perhaps receive a little more attention than simply the letter of what might be permissible. 

As the Labour MP John Mann, a long standing campaigner on MPs expenses, said, "MPs do need to abide by the spirit of the rules."   Especially, I suggest, one who is a Justice Minister.   Perhaps at the next General Election the good folk of Maidstone and the Weald might look for a more deserving alternative.

Monday, March 25, 2013


ON HEARING THE NEWS..

It`s turning out to be a long, long winter - the longest and coldest since our first son was born 50 years ago come Sunday.  And so we`ve been on the lookout for anything that will raise the spirits, bring some much needed relief and revive us with some good news.   And as you can see from the celebrations shown above, it has come with the news that Posh Spice, aka Mrs. Beckham, has finally announced that she will not be singing any more.

She found fame, fortune and Mr. Beckham via the commercial vehicle of the Spice Girls some years back when they collectively assaulted our senses with the contrivance of `girl power` and a succession of hit records.   What is not so well known perhaps - and I have this on good authority from someone in the business who should know -  is that those hit records were largely the result of literally weeks of tinkering by studio sound engineers in order to bring some order and harmony to the warbled proceedings. 

So, on hearing the news that Posh`s singing career is finally at an end, I found it difficult to stop myself wondering whether it ever started.  But I must resist being curmudgeonly for I am forever grateful for small mercies.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

1953..


....is 60 years ago now.   But what a year it was.   I remember it well.   It was the year of the Coronation, the year when England won the Ashes for the first time in 19 years, the year of the Matthews Cup Final and England getting a football lesson from Hungary with a 6-3 defeat at Wembley.   Crick and Watson discovered the structure of DNA, with more than a little help from Rosalind Franklin.   Some famous births in 1953 included Mike Oldfield, Victoria Wood, Nigel Mansell and Andrew Wiles, he who finally cracked the proof of Fermat`s last theorem.  Among the arguably less celebrated were Stephen Byers, Tony Blair, Michael Portillo, Peter Mandelson, Hillary Benn and Alastair Darling.  


But for me, in all the uncertainties and apprehensions of my burgeoning adolescence, the thing I recall celebrating perhaps more than anything else in that year was the conquest of Everest.   The timing was impeccable, almost like being a Coronation gift to Her Majesty the Queen by the successful party led by John (later Lord) Hunt and comprising a group of experienced climbers and Sherpas.   It was, of course, Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay who became the first to reach the summit.

I remember saving my pocket money and the proceeds of some dubious extra-scholastic employment so that I could buy a copy of `The Ascent of Everest` by John Hunt - the original cover of the book is shown above.   It was a volume I treasured for many years until, like my collection of vinyl albums, it became victim to one of our many `clear outs.`   And yet I still recall the members of that famous expedition - Hunt and Hillary and Tenzing of course, but also others - among them George Band,  Tom Bourdillon, Alfred Gregory, MIke Westmacott and George Lowe.

George, like his fellow New Zealander Hillary, was an outstanding climber and explorer and after Hillary and Tenzing had achieved their unforgettable feat, the two men were met on their descent to the South Col by George Lowe.  It was then that Hillary delivered his immortal summary of their achievement, "Well, George, we knocked the bastard off." 


George Lowe died yesterday at the age of 89 and he was the last climbing member of that famous expedition to leave us.    It almost seemed to close the book on that era when heroes came as modest, unassuming, dedicated and utterly genuine.   I wonder how many of those born in that remarkable year will be remembered with such admiration and affection as George Lowe.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

A TEN YEAR WAIT..

It`s a big day here in deepest Kent with the inauguration (if that`s the right word) of Justin Welby as the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury.   There will be much pomp, circumstance, ceremony and symbolism in the proceedings  this afternoon in Canterbury Cathedral.   But perhaps not quite as much as at the Vatican just a few days ago when Pope Francis accepted the job.

There are a couple of ironies here though.   The first is that you wait ten years for this kind of pageant and then two come along at pretty much the same time. The other more important one is that Justin Welby`s ceremony of `enthronement` will be performed by a Venerable lady Archdeacon of Canterbury Cathedral, Sheila Watson, but still the Archbishop will not be the head of the Church of England, which role is, of course, for Her Majesty the Queen.  Fid def and all that.

So we end up with an Archbishop enthroned by a woman to a Church headed by another woman but yet women are still not permitted to become bishops of the same church.  For a cynic like me, the antics of these religious organisations grow ever curiouser and curiouser.  Maybe Justin will bring a change and an end to at least this inequality but I suspect he may be in for a bumpy ride.   Hold very tight, please.  Ding, ding.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

`WHEN SOME SAD OLD DREAM REMINDS YOU`..

The other day I came across a box in a cupboard in a spare bedroom which hadn`t been opened for years - the box, that is, not the bedroom. Or the cupboard.  The box contained quite a collection of old 12" vinyl LPs, all the property of one of our long gone sons.   They must take after me, as the collection can only be described as eclectic.   Among them were albums by Level 42, ELO, Steve Winwood and others of that genre and those times, maybe 30 years ago?

The discovery made me think of my own collection which disappeared some years ago as a result of one of our occasional `clear-outs.`   And in turn it brought back memories of my days (or rather my nights) as a projectionist in the AKC Cinema in Barker Barracks, Paderborn, Germany, where I spent most of my 731 days of National Service.   My pay as a National Serviceman was about 26 shillings a week - about £1.30 in new money - so my cinema job, for which I was totally unqualified, brought in a useful additional income.

Now I haven`t been to the cinema in years so I suspect that things are much changed from my own experiences over 50 years ago.   In those days, as the audience were taking their seats and settling in, it was customary to seduce them with soft lights and mellow music selected by the management.   I thought this needed ramping up a bit so I used to serenade them with proper music of my own - the Kingston Trio, the Modern Jazz Quartet and their Golden Striker and especially Ray Conniff letting the audience know that s`wonderful.   And it was, especially as I indulged myself by treating them to lighting colour changes in time with the music.....until the dead hand of management intervened.

One of Steve Winwood`s unforgettable songs contain the lines, "When some sad old dream 
reminds you.......`   Well, opening the box certainly reminded me that I might now be sad 
and old but I can still dream wistfully of those times, that place and that music.  


Friday, March 15, 2013

A SMILE, A SONG AND AN `SSSI`..


We don`t have a housing problem here in deepest Kent.   It`s just a rumour put about by people with nowhere to live.  But help seemed to be on the way with the proposal to develop a former Army base just outside Chatham.   The 640 acre site has been earmarked for 18 years as being ideal for the construction of something like 5,000 houses, giving employment, helping the housing problem and giving a much needed boost to the local economy.

Trouble is, it has been discovered - after all that time - that the area is a breeding site for 88 nightingales and this has caused the area to be designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) - quite possibly the highest order of protection going.  So it`s entirely possible that our warbling feathered friends will prevent the development going ahead although, to be fair, Medway Council are lodging an objection to the designation.

Now I quite like nightingales and I wish them no harm and, after all, they probably have a right to a peaceful family life and to remain undisturbed in their family home.   But you do begin to wonder whether it is right for them to be able to put a stop to the much needed and long awaited housing development.   I would have thought they were perfectly capable of flying off and finding a few trees somewhere else where they can warble away to their hearts` content.   Somewhere like Berkeley Square for instance?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A WEEK OF TWO HALVES..

It`s been a week of two halves for Argentina.   First they got stuffed in the referendum on the Falkland Islands, when only three of the resident population voted not to remain British.   (No wonder successive British Prime Ministers, despite solemn promises, shy away from giving us a referendum of whether we in the UK want to stay British or be subsumed into the farcical parallel universe of Brussels.)

Now Argentina have their very own Pope at last.   A wait of over 1,000 years finally sees the Pope hailing from outside Europe so there`s much dancing in the streets of Buenos Aires right now.   But of course, events in the Vatican have exposed yet another parallel universe, one seemingly governed by hocus pocus, mumbo jumbo and smoke and mirrors.

My own religious views are well documented in these pages so I won`t go on about it out of respect for those who do believe in the fairy tales, the pagan myths and the arcane process by which His Popeness has been selected.   But it has always puzzled me as to how God`s representatives on earth can bring the game into disrepute to the extent they have and yet still elect someone who changes his name, acquires the ability to never be wrong about anything ever and gets worshipped as though he was the real thing.  Goodness knows what Her Upstairs thinks about it.  Now, if the new Pope had chosen the name, say, Eric, renounced his infallibility and made Lionel Messi a Saint, then he might have got off to a good start.

Which brings me on to football and the plight of Southampton`s Argentinian manager, one Mauricio Pochettino, who took over the reins from the inestimable Nigel Adkins a few short weeks ago.   Pochettino`s record so far has been `mixed` with just one win in seven games although he has achieved something I don`t recall ever happening before.   The fracas at the end of last week`s game at Norwich saw a gang of Saints players along with Pochettino and presumably his interpreter haranguing referee Mark Clattenburg for awarding Norwich a dodgy penalty.

The fact that the penalty was saved didn`t deter Pochettino & Co. from their harangue which has resulted in the Saints being charged by the Football Association for `failing to control their players.`   This is the first time in over 60 years of following the Saints that I can ever recall such a charge being levied against my club and it might say much about the new attitude prevailing at St. Mary`s.

I suspect, however, that the Football Association may have picked the wrong target as Executive Chairman Nicola Cortese has built up a reputation for odd decisions, with the sacking of Nigel Adkins not only the oddest but also one which could yet see the Saints drop out of yet another parallel universe - that of the Premier League.   Maybe the Saints should be charged with `failing to control their Chairman?`   Football - the one true religion - could yet point the way to redemption;   but I`ve long since given up believing that dreams come true.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

WHAT LIES BENEATH..

This is a photo I took last October, when we were having another of our frequent stays in Cornwall.   It was taken from the coast path and shows Gwithian beach on the north coast as we dodged the occasional shower.

I make no secret of my affection for Cornwall.   Yes, it`s got places like this, beaches to die for and if you go just as a `tourist` then you will never run out of places to visit.   But for me there is so much more to explore, to experience, to learn from.   The history, the culture, the language, the heritage of industries such as fishing and mining, much of which has been misrepresented by misty eyed romantics and commercial travellers.

And I`ve just finished enduring Caroline Quentin`s latest television series about Cornwall which over the past few weeks has revealed her to be just that - a commercial traveller flitting across the county and getting involved with people and events whether they liked it or not.   Now, throughout the series, she gave the impression that she was something of a native with her references to `my Cornwall` but having been born in Reigate in Surrey, educated in Hertfordshire and living in Tiverton in Devon, she is as much Cornish as, well, I am.

I`ve mentioned before that there is a growing tendency for `travel documentaries` to drift into the danger of the presenters becoming more important than the people and places they are supposed to be presenting - `Coast` and `Countryfile` are prime culprits.   But Caroline Quentin has raised `presenter power` to a new level.   She not only found it impossible to resist imposing her strident personality on unsuspecting local people and events but she did so with such an assault on the senses that I breathed a genuine sigh of relief when the series ended last night and I didn`t have to contend with her gushing insincerity any more .

Now I imagine that from the point of view of the Cornwall tourism industry, the series was a welcome advertisement and if it adds to the economic well being of the county then all to the good.   But Cornwall deserves better.   I live in hope that one day perhaps the enlightened and constantly inventive BBC Four will produce a programme or a series that shows Cornwall as it really is - with all its economic struggles, its social deprivation, the harsh reality of what lies beneath the tourist hotspots where, for example, Redruth and Camborne are among the poorest places in Europe - and in the process widen the horizons of those for whom Cornwall is nothing more than a holiday retreat and those who are seduced by superficialities such as Caroline Quentin.  

Friday, March 08, 2013


TAKE IT AWAY PLEASE..

This photo shows a 94-year old member of the Salvation Army who, along with others, form a group which has just been selected to represent Switzerland in the 2013 Eurovision Song Contest to be held in Malmo, Sweden.   And good luck to them, but I wonder if I detect a growing trend by countries who are not that keen on winning it.   After all, the initial glory of victory in this most unlikely of competitions quickly fades when the winning country realises that it has got to host the next one, with all the grief, expense and technical challenges involved.

We in the UK woke up to it years ago - ever since 1997 when we won it with Katrina and the Waves our entries have been entirely forgettable and our places in the league table of results have mercifully declined at a steady rate.   Last year we came next to bottom thanks to Englebert Humperdink`s sterling determination and this year we will be represented by Bonnie Tyler, who has been holding out for a hero for getting on half a century.

Now I quite like Bonnie, aka Gaynor Hopkins - she of the big hair, big shoulder pads, big voice, big everything really - but I`m fairly sure her selection is pretty much to guarantee that we won`t win it again and thus be spared the glittering prize.  It`s not really a heartache though, or even anything approaching a total eclipse of the heart.  To be fair.


Wednesday, March 06, 2013

....WELL, MAYBE NOT AFTER ALL ?

Even the pre-match predictions of the sainted Matthew Le Tissier and his Sky pundit chums were confounded on Saturday when Southampton went down to an unlikely home defeat to bottom club Queens Park Rangers, managed by `Arry Redknapp who has apparently airbrushed his dismal tenure at St. Mary`s from his memory banks.   That defeat was hard to take, especially as the Saints managed 70% possession and had 19 shots on target.   Just the problem of sticking it in the back of the net.

But football is a game of two halves and just when I needed a pick-me-up, along came Manchester United against Real Madrid in the Champions League last night.  Now, such is my aversion to the contrasting antics of Ferguson and Mourinho that I make a point of never watching a Manchester United game live on television.   However, having heard that the game ended, amid the usual controversy, in defeat for United, I felt I must watch the `highlights` later on in the evening.

A game which the self-publicising Mourinho laughingly predicted would `stop the world` seemed to hinge on a decision by the Turkish referee to send off United`s Nani for a flying drop-kick on Real`s Arbeloa and was decided by a goal from Christiano Ronaldo returning to Old Trafford to haunt his former employers.

Cue outrage from Ferguson who `was not in a fit state` to face the media according to his assistant stooge Mike Phelan in a post match interview.   Cue endless and pointless analysis from the media as to whether Nani`s dismissal was correct.   Cue the fact that United are out of Europe and that no other English club side remains in the Champions League competition this season.

And cue relief for those of us who really don`t care or, if we do, rejoice not only in Manchester United`s displeasure but also in the fact that God, wherever She may be, is smiling on us once more.  How could I ever doubt Her?

Monday, March 04, 2013


NEWS FROM THE OTHER WORLD..

Interesting to see that the EU`s £420million a year foreign ministry has been condemned as wasteful and clueless in a damning report from `legal experts,` including Belgian law professor Greet Da Maere.   Baroness Cathy Ashton (she of parish council and NHS Trust fame) and her European External Action Service has been accused of `confusion, poor management, lacking even elementary knowledge of diplomacy and squandering money by duplicating functions.`

After five months of research into the organisation, the report has warned that morale is falling because of `lack of trust, internal quarrels, clashes with other European institutions and an opaque chain of command.`   In response, a spokesman for Baroness Cathy said, "The service has broken new ground and it is unrealistic to expect it to be perfect from the outset."

Now the `service` has been going since 2009 - four years ago - so it`s hardly at the outset stage and at £420million a year, so far the cost has amounted to almost £1.7billion.  Why, you could buy Arsenal Football Club for that money, but then you might just pick up another organisation full of `confusion, poor management, lacking elementary knowledge of diplomacy and squandering money.` 

Tough choice.

Friday, March 01, 2013


SOMETHING MORE ?

Yesterday`s results in the Eastleigh by-election are producing the predictable responses from the candidates that we always get on these occasions.  But then we`re dealing with politicians and their tenuous hold on reality.   I suppose it was also predictable that the only responses we`ve heard, at least so far, have come from the main contenders out of the 17 candidates who were on offer.  Pity that, as I would like to have heard what the Wessex Nationalists had to say.

Some are sick as parrots, of course - chiefly the Conservatives who came a poor third to the UK Independence Party who, having come second in the election, have every reason to be over the moon.  The winning candidate for the LibDems seems almost to have won the seat by default, but perhaps the good folk of Eastleigh, in returning a LibDem candidate with a greatly reduced majority, have taken a fancy to controversy and scandal and are now eagerly awaiting what, if anything, can be raked up about the latest LibDem MP.

Now If you listen to the reactions of those who were unsuccessful, especially from Labour and the Conservatives, the usual trite clich├ęs are being trotted out - "it`a a mid-term by-election," there will be a different result in the general election," "people are registering their dissatisfaction with the way things are at the moment," we will redouble our efforts to ensure we take the seat next time," and most worrying of all - "this was a mid-term protest vote but UKIP have no chance of winning at the general election."

Well, maybe it`s just me, but I live in hope that it`s none of the above;  instead that it might just be something more - even perhaps something of a true reflection of the hellplessness felt by more and more people about the black hole of the European Union.  

But I`m old enough to know that, whilst hope is one thing that may spring eternal, expectation is quite another.   After all, it was the bard himself who proclaimed that `expectation is the root of all heartache.`