Friday, August 30, 2013


Well, maybe.  And I sincerely hope so.  And being of a forgiving nature, I find myself wanting to believe that the lessons of the run-up to the invasion of Iraq may have finally been learned - at least here in the UK.   There`s little doubt that we were press ganged into that fiasco by the disingenuous assurances given by Blair, his rotweiller Campbell and their duplicitous chums as a result of quite pitifully seeking the approbation of Bush, Rumsfeld and company.

So the fall-out from Cameron`s defeat in the Commons last evening could be interesting, not only for the `special relationship` and for Cameron himself but also for other reasons. For instance, we have been reminded repeatedly over the last few days that our elected leaders have understood, perhaps for the first time with such vivid clarity, just how sceptical, cynical even, the great British public has become given the experience of Iraq. And I just wonder whether that reality might now embolden Sir John Chilcot and his long running Iraq Inquiry at last to publish their report in the knowledge that the public might actually welcome any condemnation it may contain of those responsible.

But maybe the most encouraging lesson from last night`s Commons vote was the reminder to both politicians and voters that Parliament is there to represent the electorate and to provide a check on the activities of the executive.   For too long in recent times, those in power have assumed that they can more or less do as they wish and get away with it and if that arrogance has been hauled back into line then so much the better for all concerned. After all, we have seen that absolute power can indeed corrupt absolutely and if nothing else, a sharp reminder has been issued that in our modern day democracy absolute power has a very limited shelf life.

I find it disappointing but predictable that, in all the sound and fury of the last 24 hours or so, we have heard nothing from Blair who, just a couple of days ago, was once more pressing the case for Britain to dangle under the apron strings of America and join in yet another doomed misadventure.   Neither have we heard from the EU and its `High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy,` one Cathy Ashton.   Come to think of it, maybe it`s just as well.

I guess, in the end, what we have witnessed is yet more proof, if any more were needed, that like all `empires` before it, Great Britain has had its day as a world power and it should perhaps finally accept that as the sun goes down on its horizon, maybe in the calm of its fading twilight, Britain will find that there is much to be desired from playing the world game in pianissimo rather than the strident fortissimo it used to assume as of right. And maybe that will be the most profound lesson of all to be learned.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


To Sevenoaks, twice today, for appointments with my dentist (nothing too serious but needed two visits and turned out to be less expensive than the original quote.)   Anyway, it`s a good half-hour journey each way so I had plenty of time to tune in to the radio and catch up with world events.

Problem is that, like television, there are so many radio channels booming out so much noise that it`s difficult to find anything remotely appealing.   Now in my finely tuned naivete I somehow imagined that the main topic being aired at least on most of them would be the looming madness concerning Syria and to be fair the news bulletins did give it the attention it demands.   (And madness it seems to be as, despite Dave Cameron`s assertion that what`s going on in Syria is `morally indefensible,` we still run the same old risk of barging our way into a sovereign country which seems to be having its very own private civil war.   Parliament has been recalled but the die is plainly cast and my earnest hope that they know what they`re doing is likely, not for the first time and certainly not the last, to be confounded.

So, in a quest to seek some refuge from that particular madness, I tried TalkSport, where the main topics of concern veered from the low jinks of the England cricket team to the morally indefensible shenanigans surrounding multi-millionaire footballers such as the unfathomable Wayne Rooney and former Saint Gareth Bale for whom I am beginning to feel some sympathy, as he is pushed from pillar to post as a pawn in the transfer cattle market and looking despairingly glum as a result.  It seems more and more like a Greek bailout than a football transfer and I fear it might turn out to be a Greek tragedy for him. If not a Spanish one.

Not a lot to soothe the savage breast there then.  So I turned once again to the refuge of music and spent a tranquil drive home, orthodontically revived, basking in the rustic serenity of George Butterworth`s Banks of Green Willow, the quiet peacefulness of Gerald Finzi`s Romance in E and the rural Gallic simplicity of Canteloube`s Songs of the Auvergne - all from my eclectic CD collection.  Music, as Shakespeare` suggested, may be the food of love but it is also one of life`s refuges from the madness and the warped sense of priority that surrounds modern day Britain.    So, Keep Calm and Play On.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Well, the above sums up the results for Snopper Street`s football interests today with each of the games we followed ending in draws.   My own team, the Saints, came from behind to secure a 1-1 draw against Sunderland;   Bristol City, which we now follow since our street`s footy hero Scott Wagstaff joined them, secured a creditable 2-2 result away at MK Dons;   my neighbour`s recently promoted Gillingham managed an equally useful 2-2 draw away at Swindon (always a difficult place to go);   my neighbour the other side is an ardent West Ham fan and I`m sure he will be content with the 0-0 result picked up away at Newcastle;   and even Mike (just up the road`s) Ebbsfleet went away and forced a battling draw at Eastbourne Borough in the Conference South.  


But surely pride of place today must go to the brave minnows of Portsmouth who left their Fratton Park/ kraP nottarF fortress and made the trip to mighty Mansfield Town, just finding their way back in the Football League after a few years in their own particular wilderness.   The fact that even that game ended 2-2 has sparked riotous celebrations back in Portsmuff, where a hastily arranged open top bus celebration was organised to satisfy the delirium of their faithful following:-
  

This is what it meant to Saints` one-time rivals as they claw their way back from total obscurity to, well, just obscurity, to be fair.  It brings a warm glow, doesn`t it?

Thursday, August 22, 2013


To my boyhood village of Hythe on the western shore of Southampton Water yesterday to pay my respects to my late mother`s resting place and reconnect with the place and days of my happy youth and childhood.   There were a couple of things to lift the spirit on what might otherwise have been a solitary melancholy journey as well as a sentimental one.   

One was the pleasure of having my recently retired eldest son for company - we are now able to do things that elderly retired gentlefolk do; another was the enjoyment of a good lunch at the excellent Boathouse restaurant at Hythe Marina; then there was the excitement of seeing not only Saints captain Adam Lallana being interviewed by a media crew on the Boathouse balcony, but also seeing his car - a very smart white Porsche with a distinctive registration number (I won`t disclose it here for security reasons) and inside a Saints shirt with LALLANA written on the back which gave us a bit of a clue as to the car`s owner.  Nice one ADZ!

We then continued our journey home to Kent via the Hampshire/Berkshire border country, to the peace, solitude and Norman splendour of Padworth`s thousand year old church where, in the churchyard, is the grave of my paternal grandparents, along with my father`s ashes and those of two maiden aunts.   It needed a little attention, which we were happy to provide and again we paid our respects to our forebears.  

Of course, visits like this can bring all kinds of emotions to the fore but perhaps my feelings yesterday are best summed up by Felice Mancini`s poem, which is here with a little minor poetic adjustment:-

"Sometimes, not often enough, we reflect upon the good things
And those thoughts always centre around those we love
And I think about those people who meant so much to me
And for so many years had made me so very happy
And I count the times I had forgotten to say "thank you"
And just how much I loved them."

Somehow it seems it`s never too late to say `sorry,` but it can be too late to say `thank you?`



Monday, August 19, 2013


A FINE LINE...

He seems to have it all - long hair, Alice band, designer specs, bling, tattoos and at first glance you might take him for Cap`n Jack Sparrow taking time off from the set of Johhny Depp`s latest blockbuster.   But no.   This is Pablo Daniel Osvaldo, just signed by Southampton Football Club from AS Roma on a four year contract for a reported fee of £15million.

He becomes the latest expensive foreign import to St. Mary`s, following the arrival of Victor Wanyama from Celtic and Dejan Lovren from Lyon, bringing the Saints` spending so far in the cattle market of the transfer window to £36million, with only Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur spending more.

At his welcoming press conference today, Osvaldo confirmed that he agreed to join the Saints because they had shown most interest in him;  he had worked with head coach Mauricio Pochettino previously at Espanyol and knew just what a super manager he was; it was always his dream to play in the Premier League; (and he really didn`t mind moving to Southampton from the eternal city and playing at the 32,000 seater St. Mary`s Stadium instead of the 82,000 Stadio Olympico - honest.)

What`s intriguing is that all this investment is happening at the same time as another group of talented young players emerge from the Saints` Academy which has already produced the likes of Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.   Now we are seeing the emergence of Luke Shaw, Callum Chambers and James Ward-Prowse, all aged 18 and all in the starting line-up for Saturday`s win away at West Brom.   And as there are yet more on the launchpad of the Academy ready to lift off into the Premier League, it will be instructive to see how this blend of home grown young English players and expensive foreign imports gel as a team. 

Maybe they will learn from each other - from your pupils you`ll be taught and all that.   Now I think it was Aristotle who said that there was a fine line between genius and madness and so it will be equally instructive to see just how Saints Executive Chairman Don Nicola Cortese`s strategy for the development of the club evolves.   It can equally be a disaster or a triumph and with Cap`n Jack on board it could go either way.   For us Saints fans, life has never been easy, nothing has ever been settled, uncertainty has always ruled and anxiety has been our default condition.....but at least it`s never dull.  

Saturday, August 17, 2013

ANOTHER QUESTION OF BALANCE ?

The demonstrations about the oil and gas exploration in the sleepy Sussex village of Balcombe are getting out of hand. It`s not just the cost of policing - now £750,000 and rising - it`s what they are doing to the quiet, dreamtime of a quintessentially leafy Sussex retreat.  Here`s a taste of what it looks like (or did until the last month or so):-

Of course, Balcombe is in the news because of the exploratory drilling going on and the resultant demonstrations against the disturbance of the peace and the prospect of fracking for new energy reserves.   Intriguingly, the name `Balcombe` may mean `Mining Place Camp.`   Bal is a Cornish word meaning a mining place and the word may go back to Ancient British Celtic.   And although Combe  can mean a valley, it can also come from the Roman `camp,` so the name of Balcombe could once have described a Romano-British mining settlement.  So maybe we shouldn`t be surprised that the area is being explored for its underground reserves.

I`m not sure I`m qualified to enter into the debate about oil, gas and fracking but I am interested in the gaggle of protesters who continue to descend on this quiet backwater.   I think it was the local villagers (pop:1765) who first raised eyebrows about the drilling proposals even though a licence had been granted after the usual consultations and bureaucratic hoops had been gone through, but their concerns have now been transformed into a bandwagon, onto which all the usual suspects are gleefully jumping.

They`re all there, of course, like Lenny Henry`s advert for Premier Inns - the well meaning ones, the scruffy ones, the professional agitators, the misguided ones, now even the rich and famous - Chrissie Hynde`s daughter, the absurd Dame Vivienne Westwood and any minute now I expect to see guest celebrity appearances from the likes of Stephen Fry, Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow, all hell bent on being seen to be on the side of the righteous, always assuming they know which side that might be.  

Now, being ever in search of equality and balance in all things, as witnessed by my call for a Straight Pride Parade to even up the gay one, I think it`s time for the mild-mannered silent majority of little middle-Englanders to set up their own alternative camp around Balcombe, as an evening-up protest against the protesters.   It would all be very genteel, of course, be quietly unassuming and would require no policing, but simply make the point that the great unwashed should not be allowed to run roughshod over private property, legal processes, rural tranquillity and police budgets.  There might just be another voice, an alternative view, to be heard. 

Tea and cake anyone?


Thursday, August 15, 2013

THERE ARE TIMES...

.....rare though they are, when England footballers can lift the spirit.   Here`s one of them:-


No wonder they`re dancing in the streets of Southampton.

What was pleasing about Rickie Lambert`s introduction to the international scene was not just his footballing ability but also the story of how he got there  Here is someone who has done it the hard way (well, playing for the Saints it would be) but I imagine that his journey from putting lids on beetroot jars to national hero cult status has seen little change in his personality and his manner.   He is Roy of the Rovers writ large - no WAGs but a wife and three children at home;  no bling;  no tantrums; no daft goal celebration - just a celebration; and just getting on with being the best he can be, as his engaging post-match interviews confirmed.   

I don`t know why, but it all reminded me of two things;  first the sporting one, when David Steele came in to bat against the rampaging Aussies in 1975, with his spectacles and grey hair, with Jeff Thompson wondering whether it was Groucho Marx coming in to bat and with the commentator remarking that Steele looked more `like a bank clerk going to war.`   Of course, like Rickie Lambert, David Steele succeeded where others had failed and in his eight Tests achieved an average of over 47.  

The other thought I had was that Rickie Lambert avoided as many footballing clichés as possible with just the odd token one popping up, in marked contrast to others who seem unable to resist the latest cliché on offer, which I suspect might be, "Well, it`s up there." 


The origin of that particular example is interesting.    Back in the early 16th century, an Italian painter and decorator  by the name of Michaelangelo ("Ceilings a Speciality") finally completed a job that had taken him four years to finish.  The Italian equivalent of modern day touchline interviewers asked, "Tell me, Mike, how does this Sistine Chapel job compare with other ceiling jobs you`ve done?"

"Well, it`s up there," came the reply.

At least Rickie Lambert Southampton`s Goal Machine (RLSGM) didn`t resort to such mindless platitudes and we Saints fans could not be happier for him now that he`s `made up` and his `dreams have come true.`   Nice one, Rick.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


A PAUSE AMONG THE EUPHORIA..

Like most cricket loving Englishmen I was captivated by yesterday`s dramatic Ashes win at Chester-le-Street but during a lull in proceedings, either rain or tea I can`t remember, an interesting conversation took place between three England captains turned pundit about the respective times early in their careers.   They were mentioning the value of learning the trade through playing in club or league cricket - Gower, for instance, spent some time playing for a club in Perth, Western Australia;  Atherton recalled his time in the Lancashire and Cheshire leagues and Botham happened to mention the formative time he spent playing club cricket at Yeovil in Somerset.

Ah, Somerset.   That quite breathtakingly beautiful county, shown above, is the south- western outpost for county cricket in England and the county club has a history that is both chequered and unique.   As soon as Botham mentioned it, however, my mind went back to the days when Somerset cricket seemed to mirror the character of the county itself - beguilingly full of charm, a certain pace of life and a pastoral promise around every corner.

Botham`s reference to Yeovil cricket club sent me to an internet search, whereupon I came across a quite unexpected obituary.   It was for Brian Langford, who had passed away a few short months ago at the age of 77.   He was raised in Bridgwater, made his  county début as an off spin bowler when only 17 and went on to captain the side, score over 7,000 runs and take more than 1400 wickets, as well as being the only player to have bowled a full complement of eight overs in a 40-over match without conceding a single run.   He was, in short, a genuine legend of Somerset cricket.

But more than that, he seemed to represent an era, a time when Somerset cricket tended to consist of a mixture of landed gentlemen and hardened professionals, playing the game with a unique blend of serious intent and rustic panache and what characters it produced - Harold Gimblett, Horace Hazell, Bertie Buse, Dasher Denning, Colin Dredge the Demon of Frome, Maurice Tremlett, Mervyn Kitchen and a whole host more.   Through the mists of time their memories conjure up visions of sun kissed days in the lea of the Quantocks where the game was played as an entertainment rather than a business, a pleasure rather than a nerve-shredding trial.  Que sera, sera coming to cider land.

And so, as the euphoria of yet another Ashes victory is hailed and recognised for the triumph it is, yesterday`s brief conversation between the three former captains made me pause as it reminded me of another time, another age when heroes came with quiet restraint, decency and modesty and none more so than Brian Langford, who personified the charm and lasting appeal of cricket in that most captivating of counties.

It`s strange how cricket, like no other sport, can encourage wistfulness, even romanticism, which might mask the realities of how life might have been for those faraway heroes, but I was genuinely sorry to learn of Brian Langford`s passing and even more sorry that it has not been more widely acknowledged.  

Sunday, August 11, 2013

DRIFTING AWAY?

To Southampton yesterday for the pilgrimage to St. Mary`s Stadium to see the Saints overcome a talented Real Sociadad side 4-3 in an entertaining encounter.   OK, it was the last pre-season `friendly` before the Premier League begins in earnest next Saturday but it was a chance to see how the team is shaping up under the tutelage of Mauricio Pochettino.

In some ways it was deja vu all over again - Saints were fine going forward but gave away daft goals at the other end, hence the scoreline.   If they can sort that out then a decent season beckons although the portents for next week`s Premier League opener away at West Brom look uncertain as so many Saints players are away on international duty in the coming week.

Amongst those missing will be Rickie Lambert Southampton`s Goal Machine (RLSGM) in the England squad, Artur Boric away playing for Poland, Dejan Lovren for Croatia, Stephen Davis captaining Northern Ireland, Emmanuel Mayuka off to play for Zambia, Victor Wanyama for Kenya and - most extraordinary of all - Maya Yoshida will be playing for Japan in Tokyo against Gaston Ramirez in the Uruguayan team.   There could well be others I`ve missed but it all adds up to a non-existent week`s training which might have ironed out the defensive bugs and finally settled on a starting line-up before taking on the Throstles at the Hawthorns next Saturday.  The price of progress?

At the end of the game, my carer and I walked back to Town Quay where we had left the car, just in time to see the Queen Elizabeth drifting away on the evening tide.  I hope it wasn`t an allegory for the Saints` chances of an encouraging start to the new campaign which may have been diminished by the ludicrous timing of international fixtures. 

Thursday, August 08, 2013

ABOUT TIME TOO..

There is much dancing in the streets of Southampton today with the news that Rickie Lambert, Southampton`s Goal Machine, (RLSGM) has finally been selected for the England squad to play Scotland at Wembley Stadium next Tuesday.   About time too.  

RLSGM has done it the hard way, spending his journeyman years in the lower divisions of the Football League and joining the Saints four years ago in a £1million swoop from Bristol Rovers.  Since then he has been the club`s leading scorer each season and a talisman figure as the club has risen from the obscurity of the bottom of League One, through the Championship and in to the Premier League last season, when he became the joint leading English scorer with 15 goals.  

So, many congratulations, Rickie and I hope next Tuesday provides you with a more satisfying experience than that which befell James Beattie, the last Saints striker to be called into the England squad.  Like Rickie, James was the leading English scorer in the Premier League 10 years ago, which earned him a call up for the England team. Problem was that the `established` England players at the time simply refused to pass the ball to James and you can`t score goals if you don`t have the ball.  

I`m not altogether convinced that the current bunch of `established` internationals - mainly from the damned United, Chelsea and Arsenal - will be any more inclined to accommodate one who they might see as an upstart from a `small town provincial club` although the England team will also include the likes of Alex Oxtail-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott, former graduates of the Saints academy, so there might be some hope for Rickie getting a fairer crack of the whip than did James all those years ago.

And Wayne Rooney, for one, most certainly won`t dare mess with him, as he has already been intimidated by Rickie`s presence and his assertive propensity for planting the ball beyond the reaches of opposing custodians, as defensive walls shrink from his power and accuracy.   Here`s a good example:-  



Whatever happens, Rickie, the reward is richly deserved and we in our `small town provincial club` could not be more happy for you.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!!

A puzzling mystery has recently been solved here in the sylvan glades of Dibley.   We are lucky to have a network of footpaths, fields and woodland where the parish dogs have their daily walkies, but some time ago a gate leading from a field into the wood was inexplicably padlocked.   It wasn`t much of a deterrent, as it proved very easy to just walk around it but the puzzle was to find out who had padlocked the gate and why.

The answer has been revealed following in-depth enquiries and the culprits have turned out to be none other than our local boys in blue.   Apparently they were acting on `intelligence` received from unknown sources that poaching might possibly happen in the vicinity.   Now whilst I admire their diligence, I have yet to hear of any self respecting poacher who might be put off by a padlock on an easily negotiated gate.  Maybe the police`s next move will be to put a sign up. Something like this? -
  

All of which got me thinking about the security of my own house and I`m thinking of putting up a sign saying `NO BURGLARS` which should be enough to persuade any nocturnal malcontent to look elsewhere for his swag.   They, like the mythical poachers, have been warned and we here in Dibley can now rest easily in our beds knowing that any scallywags in our midst will take their criminal intentions elsewhere.   Well, they will, won`t they?

Monday, August 05, 2013


WHO ARE YOU ?

Pope Francis has apparently said that gay people should not be marginalised but should be integrated into society.   Flying home from his visit to Brazil, he reaffirmed to reporters that the Roman Catholic Church continues to consider homosexual acts as sinful, but that homosexual orientation was not.   He responded to questions as to whether there was a `gay lobby` in the Vatican by declaring that "If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?"

Well, Frank, you are the Almighty`s head honcho in Rome, so I guess you`re in a better position than anyone else to make that judgement.......or is that a glazed expression I detect in your photograph?

Sunday, August 04, 2013


HERE WE GO AGAIN..


It`s really quite extraordinary.  Here we are in the very first week of August and a full programme of Football League matches kicked off yesterday;  well, Friday evening to be precise, with more games today, tomorrow and Tuesday and quite probably each and every day until next May.   

Anyway, we here in Snopper Street have had our involvement already with my next door neighbour`s newly promoted Gillingham going down at home to a late goal by visitors Colchester - a portent of things to come now that my neighbour has invested in a season ticket?   For his sake, I hope not.

The highlight for us here in Snopper Towers, now we`re Robins fans, was our street`s pacy flanker Scott Wagstaff, making his home league début for his new club, Bristol City, and scoring the opener in a 2-2 draw against Bradford City.   He is shown above just after scoring his deftly taken goal, which was followed up by a return of his trademark celebration - The Brick.   Here it is:-


video


As can be seen from the above clip, this remarkable contortion involves running to the touchline and falling down flat on his back whilst his joyous team mates then fall down on top of him.   The Brick, as featured on TV and with an in depth analysis on Talksport, clearly has marketing potential so let`s hope that yesterday`s season opener is just the start of a happy and productive stay at Ashton Gate for our street`s local hero, whose post match interview can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q9grh3pvxmA.  Fame at last?