Monday, April 29, 2013


It`s just like old times.   For an unbroken period of 27 years Southampton Football Club maintained a place in the top echelon of English football until, under the tutelage of one Mr. Redknapp, relegation finally happened.   You know Mr. Redknapp, the self-confessed `most disorganised person in the world, can`t use a computer, don`t know what an e-mail is and my dog Rosie runs my Monaco bank account for me.`  He`s just ensured the relegation of Queens Park Rangers and was at Portsmouth when the rot set in and which has now led that club to operate next season in the fourth tier, aka League Two.

But for all of Southampton`s 27 seasons in the top flight, almost all of them were spent struggling to avoid relegation and that meant that the default condition of Saints fans was one of almost perpetual anxiety to the extent that the very low reaches of the Premier League became our spiritual home.   This season has seen a return to the Premier League after years of fighting our way back from adventures in League One and the Championship and as I write the Saints occupy 13th place in the Premier League with just three games to go.

Now you would think that, having accumulated 39 points and a healthy(ish) goal difference, Saints fans would relax in the virtual certainty that the club has retained its Premier League status for next season.   But not a bit of it, for our default condition means that our collective bums may squeak until it is mathematically certain that we will survive.

There is much discussion and speculation in the fans forum over the question `Will we survive?`   And you almost get the feeling that at least some of the faithful might actually prefer relegation to the backwaters of the Championship if only to escape the perpetual anxiety that comes with being in our Premier League spiritual home.

But the statistical reality indicates that the probability of getting relegated on the 39 points we currently have is around a measly 1%;  the probability of getting relegated if we pick up just one more point is 0.1%, if we get to 41 points the probability reduces to just 0.05%, whereas if we win one more game or draw all the remaining three then it will be impossible for us to be relegated at all.

Two things, however.   The first is that, statistically, 2.3% of all statistically based predictions may, under certain unpredictable circumstances, prove to be incorrect and the second, of course, is that no manner of statistical evidence will prevent bums devoted to the red and white cause continuing to squeak in the time-honoured tradition of being a Saints fan.   It is, it seems, as ever was. 

Friday, April 26, 2013


I guess most of us have a phobia about something, why I even know someone who is a Europhobe.   As for me, I have a thing about snakes.   It`s called Ophidiophobia and when I did some `research` about it I was heartened to discover that about a third of all adult humans are ophiodiophobic, making this the most common reported phobia of all.   So it`s not just me that needs help then.

Recent studies suggest that humans may have an innate reaction to snakes, which proved vital to the survival of the human race as the reaction allowed dangerous threats such as snakes to be immediately identified.   Hmmm.   Whilst that may be true, my own case goes back to when, as a very young child, my Mother and I were walking along a track on Hardy`s Egdon Heath when she suddenly ran off, leaving me bewildered as she screamed, "Snake!!"   

Be that as it may, I truly do have a fear of snakes and I cannot for the life of me understand why they - and particularly our only venomous snake, the adder - are now a protected species under some daft pinko legislation.   So yesterday I went walking with Barney around the edge of a pretty large open space only to see one or two of our reptilian friends enjoying the Spring sunshine, as adders do.

I managed to get Barney out of harms way and high-tailed it myself before the cold sweat broke out.   I reported the incident to the people responsible for the `nature reserve` as I thought they should be aware of what`s lurking in their undergrowth - insurance, health and safety and all that - and to be fair they are going to put up some notices to draw attention to the problem.

However, I confess to cursing inwardly to myself that on the odd occasion when walking with my dog that I could have done with a spade, there wasn`t one to be seen.   I`m convinced that perhaps a strategically placed rack of spades would be of much  greater use to casual walkers like me and the rest of the third of the population than some law-abiding advisory notices will ever be.  And of course the rack of spades would have to bear a notice drawing attention to the fact that adders are a protected species and  on no account should the spades be used for slicing their heads off. Anyway, I won`t be going there again in a hurry. 

Thursday, April 25, 2013


I guess it all depends on your definition of reality.   But I`m struck by the contrast between last week, being away from it all in the relative isolation of Cornwall, and this week, back in the so-called reality of the south-east of England.

The contrasts of topography are obvious - the wild, inspiring solitude of the south-west coast path and the overcrowded logjam of what used to be the Garden of England.  But there are other contrasts too.   They `feel` different - in Cornwall, I can get away from things in what in my perception is a foreign land;  I can be immune to `events` in the wider world which don`t concern me when I am standing on a cliff top with the wind in my face and where the contentment of just being means that not much else else really matters.   Back here the pace of life, the speed of traffic, the instantaneous, immediate, non-stop twittering all conspire to raise the tension and create self-imposed, man-made pressures. In short, a classic case of different environments determining our well being.

And yet I feel almost obliged to catch up on `events` that might have slipped down my agenda whilst enjoying my cliff top reverie.   So what have I missed?   Well, our walk last week from Land`s End to Gwennap Head coincided with the Conservative Party Political Funeral of Baroness Thatcher but all that did was to confirm in my own mind that, when the time comes for my own clogs to be popped, I really don`t expect or need any sort of  ceremonial exit    ( The hypocrisy of it all means I might be turning humanist.)

I`ve come home to the news that there will be elections for the County Council next week and, mercifully, there is a candidate who probably won`t win but who might at least provide me with the chance to register my objection to chucking £53million a day into the black hole of Brussels.

More significantly - and so much more in keeping with my quest for reality - the Gills were crowned champions of League Two, so my neighbour is over the moon - he`s even got a blue car;  the Saints now need just one point from their remaining four matches to guarantee another season of Premier League anguish; and of course there is the latest Luis Suarez episode, where the Football Association have again dodged the issue of punishment fitting crime by imposing a 10 game ban, whereas the obvious sanction would have been to require Suarez to have his teeth extracted.

And you wonder why, having reconnected with some people`s version of the real world, in just over two weeks time we`re off again to be inspired by the true reality of Cornwall once more.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


A couple of nice, warm sunny days and you sit down and relax after months of seemingly endless cold and gloom.   You begin to breathe in the fresher air, the birds are squawking in the trees, green shoots are appearing and you think life is OK after all.

And then it starts.   Some bloke over the road always starts it off, gets his mower out and shatters the calm.   And as he has now mown his grass, next door thinks they should do the same, so off they go.   And then next door to them.   And it spreads over the road and before long you yourself get caught up in what rapidly descends into choreographed formation mowing.   The only difference being the varying intensity of the decibels produced by the assortment of mowers brought coughing and wheezing from overwintering  in their sheds.

Well, I`ve done mine this morning and joined in the ritual dance and the older I get the more my mind wanders almost wistfully towards green coloured concrete or even Astroturf. 

Monday, April 22, 2013


Well, that was good.   Our week in Cornwall came, as ever, up to our expectations and despite strong winds we managed some more of the south west coast path.  A week ago today we went to Land`s End, really just to park the car, which cost £5 for the day.   Now normally I would consider that pretty expensive but it turned out to be value for money.

Not the `attractions` of `Legendary Land`s End,` with its captive audience paying £10 to have their photo taken beneath the famous signpost, the overpriced do-nuts and the general air of `tat` which pervades the commercial opportunities on offer.   But the £5 car parking charge was worth it as we took a left turn onto the coast path and headed away from the madding crowd.

After about 20 minutes walking, we soon reached the rugged solitude of Pordenack Point, passing the Armed Knight and Enys Dodnan on the way and took in the superb lichen-covered, flower topped, castellated pinnacles of the granite rocks.  No wonder the artist JMW Turner was so inspired by this land and seascape that he tried to capture the majestic beauty in a drawing. 

It always seems to be the case that if you are prepared to leave the car parks and walk just a short distance you can have the glories of the coast path almost to yourself.   Our short distance turned into quite a long one, at least for us, as we reached Nanjizal Bay and scrambled up to Gwennap Head, which we had reached last October from the car park at Porthgwarra further along the coast.   We thought we should then make our way back to the car, where I confess we were seduced by an overpriced plastic cup of tea and a couple of legendary do-nuts.

But I was left with the thought that it didn`t really matter, for it is impossible to put a price on the sheer joy that the coast path can bring.   The best things in life, it seems, are almost free.

Thursday, April 11, 2013


After the long winter months and weeks of cold and gloom, tomorrow we`re off at last to the very far west of the granite kingdom of Cornwall.  It will be good to revisit some bits of the south west coast path - Pendeen, The Gurnard`s Head, Porthgwarra, Gwennap Head - but a lot depends on the weather.   

One thing I like to do to keep in touch with the south west is to watch the local BBC Spotlight programme each evening which gives news items and also weather forecasts sometimes presented by the winsome Emily Wood.  Here she is presenting what seems to be a fairly representative forecast for that part of the world:-

.....She might be right but we`ll just get on with it and hope for the best.  After all, surely Spring must arrive at some point - why not next week?  Back in a week or so.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


It would be remiss of me not to send warmest congratulations to my next door neighbour, Mr Slightly, who is over the moon following his beloved Gillingham FC becoming the first team in the country to secure promotion.   Their narrow 1-0 win over Torquay last Saturday was enough to secure the three points needed to guarantee promotion back to League One.   So congratulations to all the local Gills fans, to the club and especially to manager Martin `Mad Dog` Allen whose tutelage has made this advance possible.

It was a couple of seasons ago that my neighbour kindly took me to the Gills` Priestfield Stadium when Southampton were playing them in a lower league fixture, we both having attended St. Mary`s Stadium in the reverse fixture a few months earlier.   My visit to Priestfield will live long in the memory.   On the way there we noticed a huge pall of black smoke coming from the general direction of Aylesford and discovered later that some malcontent had set fire to the local Homebase.   It was totally destroyed, malcontent jailed and a new improved store has risen from the ashes.  It`s an ill wind indeed.

As to the football that afternoon, of course my neighbour and I went our separate ways - he to the snug confines of the Rainham End, me to the opposite end of the ground, where I took my seat among the other travelling Saints fans in The Brian Moore Stand.   This turned out not to be the most fitting memorial to much missed long time Gills fan and football commentator Brian Moore, rather we found ourselves perched on some rickety planking in a stand with no roof;  it poured down with rain all afternoon and Saints lost 2-1 I think it was.   Since then, of course, the Saints have managed two back-to-back promotions back to the Premier League whilst the Gills took an alternative route via League Two from which they have now emerged.

But my visit to Priestfield was an experience in a traditional, old fashioned, studs and liniment football environment and as I now have the doubtful privilege of following the fortunes of Southampton from the heady heights of Premier League mid-table, I allow myself a wistful reflection of that afternoon in the Priestfield deluge and realise that my neighbour being over the moon at his club`s promotion is almost certainly more meaningful than my own relief that Southampton seem to have avoided relegation.

Monday, April 08, 2013


This is the crestfallen Paris Brown, Kent`s new Police Commissioner for Youth.  Her predicament has hit the headlines and been the subject of much media attention,so I don`t need to go on about the background too much here.   Perhaps suffice to say that if Ms. Brown was `selected` from 164 applicants for the post, one struggles to come to terms with the qualities of the other 163.

Of course, it may not be Ms. Brown`s fault and I do have some sympathy with a young person thrust into the media spotlight and palpably struggling to cope.   So my criticism will not be directed towards her personally but rather towards the concept of a Police Youth Commissioner and the antics of the real Police Commissioner for the blighted county of Kent.

Now according to Kent`s Police Commissioner, Ann Barnes, the role of the Youth Commissioner will be `to build a bridge between the world of young people and policing.  This will be a hands on role and I`ll be relying on Paris to guide my office on how we can deliver a better service for all young people in the county and tackle youth offending.`  Which, of course, fully justifies the £15,000 salary, the car and office support.

Now what surprises me here is that Mrs. Barnes seems blissfully unaware of the other existing sources of advice about young people, their problems, priorities and aspirations.  There`s the Kent Youth Service, a Kent Youth Parliament and a host of others, not least the Police on the beat and especially the Community Support Officers who keep their ears to the ground and know what`s happening locally on the streets.   But of course, the Youth Commissioner was a manifesto pledge given by Mrs. Barnes when she stood supposedly as an independent candidate alongside the usual suspects from the political parties.   So maybe she thought she ought to honour that pledge.

Trouble is, the elections for Police Commissioners received probably the lowest voting turnout for any election ever, such was the antipathy shown by the public towards a daft and expensive system which is already beginning to show rifts in its lute.   Now I would be very surprised indeed if there wasn`t at least one of Mrs. Barnes advisers who took her to one side and politely suggested that going through with her manifesto pledge would simply invite an accident waiting to happen - a banana skin awaiting her slippage - and that the good folk of Kent would hardly notice or even care too much if her less than beezer wheeze to have  a Youth Commissioner was quietly forgotten.

As it is, not only is the unfortunate Paris Brown having an entirely avoidable experience but once again the money of the Kent taxpayers is being squandered on the altar of political tokenism and leaving Mrs. Barnes`s with a credibility gap that will be difficult to narrow.   Surely, enough`s enough.  Innit?

Sunday, April 07, 2013


Well, you`ve got to admire their enthusiasm.   The good burghers of Plymouth in Devon are getting very worked up about the 400th anniversery of the sailing of the Mayflower to the brave New World in 1620.   The Lord Mayor, Councillor Tudor Evans, is writing to Barrack Obama  to invite the President of the United States, whoever that may be in 2020, to come over and join in Plymouth`s celebrations of this historic event.   He is also writing to David Cameron seeking support for the event, especially as Britain will be chairing the G8 summit that year.

All good stuff and I wish Plymouth well in this long term strategy they are putting in place. However, lest we forget, there are at least two others who can claim that the Mayflower actually sailed from there.   The first is none other than Rotherhithe in the London Borough of Southwark who have claimed their piece of history by sticking up this plaque:-

But arguably the most significant event in this historic saga took place in 15th August 1620 when the Mayflower set sail for real from Southampton`s West Quay.   It`s shown as almost an afterthought in the photo at the top, showing the plaque on part of Southampton Town Walls.

I`m beginning to suspect that, like the Eurovision Song Contest, there might be a reluctance on the part of Southampton City Council and the London Borough of Southwark to get too exercised about marking the occasion in 2020.   It`s a lot of work, a lot of angst and a lot of money so maybe they are shrugging their civic shoulders whilst being content to pass the burden over to that fine historic city in Glorious Devon.  After all, they were merely service stations along the way.   And we don`t want to start celebrating service stations, do we?

Friday, April 05, 2013


Now as one myself I really don`t want to begrudge any pensioner a rise in their annual income, especially as we are all in it together as we struggle to survive on our fixed incomes in the most severe of financial climates.

So it was with some passing interest that I noticed Her Majesty the Queen has been handed a £5million increase under new `rules` recently introduced.   As a result, her tax free, taxpayer funded Government grant for 2013/14 has risen from £31million to £36.1million.   

The new `Sovereign Grant` replaces the old Civil List and grants-in-aid and this change results in the Queen receiving 15% of the profits from the Crown Estates two years earlier.   So, as the Crown Estates made a profit of £240.2million in 2011/12, the grant figure for 2013/14 comes to £36.1million.

A nice little tax free earner.   A Buckingham Palace spokesperson said that "the majority of the grant will be spent on the backlog of property repair works to the royal palaces."  So that`s OK then and as I have a soft spot for Her Majesty - after all she is an 86-year old national treasure - I find it difficult to be in any way critical.   

But I do wonder whether she really needs all those royal palaces that require so much repair works and whether if, for example, just one of them were to be flogged off, the taxpayer funded, tax free grant might just come more into line with the kind of financial discipline we`re all having to adopt?

I`m pretty sure there must be a wealthy oil rich sheik or even a Premier League footballer out there somewhere willing to take Sandringham or another of the collection off her hands.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013


There is more than one curiosity about the goings on at the Stadium of Light in Sunderland.   Whilst the prime focus of the media`s attention has been on the panic appointment of Paulo Di Canio as the football club`s head coach, rather less has been said about the `resignation` of David Miliband as Vice-Chairman and Executive Director of the club.

Miliband was appointed to the post a couple of years ago at a salary reported to be £50,000 a year to `be the voice of the club around the world,` but has apparently spent just 15 days at it.  And this despite him being a keen Arsenal fan.  He has also recently resigned his seat in Parliament representing South Shields, an area with strong local connections to Sunderland`s arch rivals Newcastle.   He is due to take up a role in New York with International Rescue Committee.   Gee, Mr. Tracey, here comes Brains.

Miliband`s reason/excuse for leaving Sunderland is `entirely due to Mr. Di Canio`s appointment and his past political statements and nothing to do with his forthcoming move to New York.`  So that`s OK then.   But for all Miliband`s faux indignation there remains the equally convincing suggestion that Mr. Di Canio himself insisted that a condition of him accepting the role of Head Coach was that Miliband resigned.   

You see, I`m always nervous of people who, having been in high places, set up `an office.`  The Office of David Miliband has been set up with registered offices in London`s West End in a move reminiscent of his former mentor Tony Blair, who set up The Office of Tony Blair when, mercifully, he stepped down as Prime Minister.   Delusions of adequacy seem to abound but at least Miliband won`t have to pose in a Mackems shirt waving a banana around any more.   I suspect the Sunderland fans might well view Di Canio`s appointment with fortissimo mixed feelings but Miliband`s departure with soto voce indifference.

As for me, I`m thinking of setting up The Office of Snopper with registered offices in the Land of Nod, which will have as much legitimacy and value as others I`ve mentioned.  

Monday, April 01, 2013


Recent pronouncements have created at least the illusion that various pillars of our society are confused about their respective roles in the well being of our alleged society.

First, according to former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, David Cameron `has told religious leaders that they should stand up and oppose aggressive secularisation when it appears that Cameron`s Government is aiding and abetting the aggression every step of the way.`   Now it may or may not be true but there seems little doubt that the penchant for politicians to curry popularity over such issues as gay marriage and religious freedom does little to deny the notion that they stray too often into matters best left to church leaders.

And in what appears to be a tit-for-tat rejoinder, the new Archbishop of Canterbury is going on about Cyprus, the euro and how awful it is that the Government is introducing welfare and benefit reforms,  which does little to deny the notion that church leaders are straying into matters best left to politicians.

I hope these and other examples of attention seeking don`t lead to an all out popularity contest.   If so, I think I know who will come out worse off....and it won`t be either of them, but the rest of us.   At least we know our place.   Don`t we?


The last time Southampton were this high up in the Premier League, the then Manager, Gordon Strachan, vowed that rather than going out to celebrate he was going to stay in, turn on the television and watch Teletext:-

1Manchester United30252370313977 
2Manchester City30188455262962 
3Tottenham Hotspur31176853381557 
8West Bromwich Albion31135134141044 
9Swansea City311010114140140 
11West Ham United30106143544-936 
13Stoke City31713112736-934 
14Norwich City31713112847-1934 
15Newcastle United3196164156-1533 
17Wigan Athletic3086163656-2030 
18Aston Villa3179153258-2630 
19Queen's Park Rangers30411152648-2223 
No wonder Mr. Happy is, well, happy......