Wednesday, October 30, 2013


A DISTANT ECHO...

....of a bygone age came to me in a book I`m currently reading.  The book is Stephen Chalke`s `The Way it Was,` and is a collection of more than 100 articles he wrote for Wisden Cricket Monthly, The Wisden Cricketer and The Times, providing glimpses of English cricket from 1946 onwards.

One reason I`m reading it for the second time is to help stave off the onset of the shorter days and longer nights that have arrived.  Before long, winter will be upon us with all its misery and my seasonal affective disorder (SAD) will drive me to seek therapy in cricket books and The Ashes series in Australia in an attempt to recapture the joy of those summer days in the sun.


The picture above shows a game of village cricket being played on the recreation ground in the village of St. Mary`s Platt here in Kent.   Beyond stands the church where Mrs. Snopper and I were married 52 years ago and behind the church the wind shaken wood, where we used to wander and and make our discoveries and where even now I quite often take Barney for his walkies.   And all those years ago, as now, cricket was a passion for me.   I used to captain a nearby village team who played on Sundays  and on Saturdays I played for Platt on the `old` recreation ground where we would stop playing football one week and play our cricket the following week on wickets that were consequently `interesting.`


My wife spent her childhood with her family in a cottage opposite the church and next door, in a much grander residence, lived the Barton family.   Michael Barton also played for the village team and such was his presence on the cricket field that he was always referred to as `Mr. Barton.` Small wonder really, for he had been captain of Surrey from 1948 until 1952, when Stuart Surridge took over from him.


Those were the days of the amateur captains and his appointment at Surrey came after a blue at Oxford, impressive displays for the Free Foresters and a successful career at Dunlop and he found himself captaining a team that included the Bedser twins, Bernard Constable, Laurie Fishlock, Arthur McIntyre, Jim Laker, Tony Lock and even a fledging Peter May.  But Barton turned out to be a successful and popular leader and his captaincy included a joint championship with Lancashire in 1950,  paving the way for Surridge to go on and lead Surrey to seven successive titles.  


In all he played 147 games for Surrey, scoring almost 6,000 runs with a top score of 192.   After his spell as captain, he became a commodity trader in the City but retained his links with Surrey and became their President in 1983.  He died in 2006 at the age of 91 and when I next visit Platt churchyard I will make a point of seeking out his resting place.


Now I will refrain from calling the fact that I played in the same village team as him as a claim to fame, rather quite the reverse for, at the time, the dismissive ignorance of youth made me blissfully unaware that I was playing alongside a cricketer of such quality and prominence.   I simply never knew and, as I now understand the significance of that distant echo, I am left regretful that it is only now that I  appreciate just what a privilege was presented to me on that village green all those years ago.


Monday, October 28, 2013

It`s the same every week.   You hear about Suarez, van Persie, Rooney, Torres and the rest of the star turns in the Premier League - the self-styled `best league in the world`
(tm).   But there`s a whole cast of football heroes out there whose accomplishments in the lower echelons of the game deserve to be acknowledged.

Now I`ve no idea why but as well as following the fortunes of Southampton for well over 60 years, I also have a penchant for following the fortunes of a number of other clubs whose status in the game is perhaps a little more restrained.   Teams like Forest Green Rovers, Truro City, East Stirling and more latterly Bristol City, for whom our street`s local hero, Scott Wagstaff, now plies his trade as a hard working pacey wideman with a good engine, an eye for a pass and a growing reputation as a goal scorer.   But more on that story later.

Just recently - and again I`ve no idea why - I have become interested in Scotland`s Highland League, with clubs such as Fort William, Brora Rangers, Inverurie Loco Works, Forres Mechanics and Wick Academy.   And it is to Wick Academy that I turn for what must surely be the most impressive goal scoring achievement of last weekend - and quite possibly any other weekend.   On Saturday, they played Fort William at home and won 8-1 with all of their eight goals being scored by Gary Weir, thus breaking the club`s scoring record in a single game, previously held by Richard Macadie who scored five in Wick`s 7-0 win away at Buckie Thistle in 2012.  So congratulations to Gary and it gives me great pleasure to acknowledge his remarkable achievement.  

Bristol City were actually a whole team of unsung heroes last weekend because, having failed to win in their last 22 league matches, they made the long journey to Carlisle and secured their first win since April with a convincing 4-2 victory.  (Incidentally, some of the journeys made by these teams and their supporters are themselves heroic - 364 Bristol City fans made the 550 mile round trip to Brunton Park and the hapless Fort William team clocked up 325 miles on their return visit to Wick - there are no records to show how many, if any, Fort William fans made the journey.)

So we in Snopper Street are over the moon as converted Bristol City fans, especially as Wagstaff scored the third goal with a sublime piece of finishing which, quite seriously and without exaggeration, would have graced any Premier League game all season.

It seems churlish to end this testament to the weekend`s football by entering a note of disappointment. It is especially churlish since three years ago, Southampton were in the third tier of English football and on Saturday found themselves third in the Premier League,   However, thanks to Sunday`s results, the Saints have now plummeted down to fifth place, which really won`t do.   Pochettino out!!

Sunday, October 27, 2013


RIGHT FIRST TIME..

For some unaccountable reason, FIFA President Sepp Blatter was invited to speak at the Oxford Union the other evening.  He told the students: "Perhaps you think I am a ruthless parasite sucking the lifeblood out of the world and out of football - the Godfather of the FIFA gravy train - an out of touch heartless schmoozer."

By his own admission, of course, he is never wrong, so who am I to question his self-analysis?


DOCTOR, DOCTOR...

.....I need help.  I`m suffering from a severe case of vertigo, along with a dazed feeling of living in a kind of daydream and suspecting that I`ll wake up any moment and realise it can`t have been true.  Here`s why:-

PosTeamPGDPts
1Arsenal91122
2Liverpool9920
3Southampton9718
4Everton9418
5Chelsea8917
6Man City81116
7Tottenham8316
8Man Utd9214
9Hull City8-211
10Newcastle8-311
11Swansea8110
12West Brom9-210
13Aston Villa9-310
14Fulham9-310
15Cardiff9-59
16West Ham808
17Stoke9-48
18Norwich9-78
19C. Palace9-133
20Sunderland8-151

Friday, October 25, 2013


ANNOYING BUT NOT MALICIOUS..

Sometimes life produces minor triumphs, inconsequential darts thrown at the ramparts of convention, tiny moments of satisfaction in a world of relentless frustration.   And I have to confess to experiencing one such joyful moment this morning, of all places in the book aisle of the local Tesco mega-market.

We had been there to do our weekly shopping and, as tradition has it, I toddle off to do the man stuff like putting the empty plastic bottles in the recycling bin, visiting the cash machine (more out of curiosity than ambition) and then trying to find Mrs. Snopper who by this time is well into the fruit and veg.   On my search for her, I tend to have a little detour to look at magazines and books but seldom feel the urge to buy one.   

And today I was especially discouraged from buying `Alex Ferguson - My  Autobiography` despite the fact that it was on sale at half price.  But I have to admit that it caught my eye, especially as there were quite a lot of them on show, all with his face scowling down at us.   

Now my handy dictionary defines `mischief` as `annoying but not malicious behaviour,` so I`m hopeful that the CCTV cameras will ignore my little bit of mischief in turning all of the Ferguson books round the wrong way, so that only the back covers of the books were visible and showing Ferguson`s back as he trudged back to the dressing room at Old Trafford, hair-dryer at the ready.  


So my apologies to the Tesco staff if my annoying but not malicious behaviour caused them any inconvenience and perhaps a marginal drop in sales, but it was really quite irresistible and, for a few brief moments, gave me a feeling of quiet contentment.   I know, I know - I`ll be fine when I grow up.   Possibly.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

MUTUAL CONSENT..

Football Club Manager :  "Well, Mr. Chairman, I`ve come to the conclusion that I`m crap."

Football Club Chairman : "I agree.  `Bye, then.   Next, please!!"

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


WELCOME HOME ?

Re-entry into the `real world` is a sobering experience.   After another wonderful week on north Cornwall`s coast path, there has already been a bewildering selection of `issues` crossing my consciousness, none of which I was aware of whilst savouring the great escape in the far west.   Too many to name them all and anyway they all have the common denominator of seeming important to the `real world` when in reality they are but examples of the frantic insecurities of modern day Britain.

So I`ll just mention one - the naming of a street in Manchester after former United manager `Sir` Alex Ferguson.   Now hereabouts in deepest Kent there seems over the years to have been a fairly sensible approach to naming streets.   They tend to follow themes - close by there is a Birds Estate (Swallow Road, Plover Road and other chirpy names); a Poets estate (Thackeray, Keats, Auden, etc.) roads named after counties (Essex, Hereford, Somerset) and, of course, let`s not forget the trees - Maple, Laburnum, Sycamore and others of a woody disposition.

There were even rumours around here that a new `development` close to a nearby golf course would pick up that theme and have roads with names such as The Bogies, Bunker Crescent, Birdie Walk and yet another housing development on the site of a former mental hospital might, but for some hefty intervention by a concerned parish council, have gloried in street names such as The Nutters, Bonkers Avenue or even Loopy Mews.  Just don`t get me started on diseases of the body - The Shingles anyone?

So it`s with some mild amusement I see that, in keeping with the aforementioned insecurities of modern day Britain, a street in Manchester has been named after one of the most abrasive, charmless, intolerant individuals imaginable.   Mind you, it could have been even more appropriate if the street in question was on an estate which had such matching qualities as its very own theme - he could have found himself among The Tossers, Pillock Drive or The Rantings...and not been out of place.

I think I would prefer to have stayed in Cornwall.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013



A curious thing.   When I started this blog way back in 2006, my very first stumbling effort into Bloggerland was to celebrate the 100th anniversery of the birth of the late Sir John Betjeman.   I wrote that first `piece` as we had just come home from visiting that very special area of north Cornwall and had made the pilgrimage to St. Enodoc church, where Sir John was laid to rest.

One of his most celebrated poems captured the unending appeal of the place where he lived and which he loved so well.   Here it is:-

TREBETHERICK

We used to picnic where the thrift
Grew deep and tufted to the edge;
We saw the yellow foam flakes drift
In trembling sponges on the ledge
Below us, till the wind would lift
Them up the cliff and o’er the hedge.
Sand in the sandwiches, wasps in the tea,
Sun on our bathing dresses heavy with the wet,
Squelch of the bladder-wrack waiting for the sea,
Fleas around the tamarisk, an early cigarette.

From where the coastguard houses stood
One used to see below the hill,
The lichened branches of a wood
In summer silver cool and still;
And there the Shade of Evil could
Stretch out at us from Shilla Mill.
Thick with sloe and blackberry, uneven in the light,
Lonely round the hedge, the heavy meadow was remote,
The oldest part of Cornwall was the wood as black as night,
And the pheasant and the rabbit lay torn open at the throat.


But when a storm was at its height,
And feathery slate was black in rain,
And tamarisks were hung with light
And golden sand was brown again,
Spring tide and blizzard would unite
And sea come flooding up the lane.
Waves full of treasure then were roaring up the beach,
Ropes round our mackintoshes, waders warm and dry,
We waited for the wreckage to come swirling into reach,
Ralph, Vasey, Alistair, Biddy, John and I.

Then roller into roller curled
And thundered down the rocky bay,
And we were in a water world
Of rain and blizzard, sea and spray,
And one against the other hurled
We struggled round to Greenaway.
Blesséd be St Enodoc, blesséd be the wave,
Blesséd be the springy turf, we pray, pray to thee,
Ask for our children all happy days you gave
To Ralph, Vasey, Alistair, Biddy, John and me.
----oOo---

And the curious thing?   Well, on Friday we`re off to stay in Trebetherick for a week;  to see the tamarisks hung with light, the golden sand, the rocky bay, to struggle round to Greenaway and lose ourselves in the timeless wonder of just being in that very special part of this sceptred isle.

Back in a week or so, but I`ll leave you with a piece of music from Nigel Hess`s score for the film `Ladies in Lavender,` which was set in Cornwall and somehow quite magically captures what it feels like to stand on a Cornish cliff top and look out to an endless, sparkling sea.  Enjoy:-


Tuesday, October 08, 2013




BRICKLESS IN BURSLEM..

Our street`s local hero Scott Wagstaff travelled with his Bristol City team mates to Burslem in the Potteries on Saturday to take on Port Vale, one of their former teams shown above.   An interesting place, Burslem, perhaps best summed up by this selection of notable people originating from the town - Robbie Williams, the ex-Take That warbler; Josiah Wedgwood the famous potter; Lemmy of Motorhead and Phil ("The Power") Taylor, permanent world darts champion.

Anyway, to the match.   After 55 minutes, Waggy put Bristol City in the lead with a thumping strike which Paul Merson would surely have described as a `worldie,`  only for a suicidal back-pass late in the game to gift Port Vale an undeserved equaliser, thus stretching Bristol City`s winless streak to sixteen league games and counting.

Much as Wagstaff`s fine effort was appreciated, there was however some disappointment among his followers that he eschewed his trademark celebration - The Brick.   Instead he seemed content to stay on his feet and be embraced by his team mates in a more conventional show of mutual chuminess.   So, here`s a brick forged in Burslem to make up in some small way for Saturday`s disappointment:-


Astonishingly, Bristol City`s next scheduled game, this coming Saturday against Creepy Crawley, can`t take place as City have three players missing on international duty.   Sadly, Wagstaff isn`t one of them but perhaps his disarming honesty, demonstrated here in his post match interview, might not be quite what Roy Hodgson is looking for:-




Sunday, October 06, 2013



So, let me see if I understand where we are with this European Union thing.   I have vague recollections of the referendum back in 1975 which decided by a slim majority that Britain should remain a member of the EU, which it had joined by a parliamentary vote when we all thought it was joining a `Common Market.`  That `title` had a nice, comforting ring to it and the majority thought it a good idea to have common trading relations with our continental partners, be part of a community that might provide mutually assured security and generally be nice to each other.

Little did we know that the European organisation would turn into the burgeoning behemoth that it has become - with over 7,000 EU officials; 137 embassies around the world;  44 diplomats permanently stationed in Barbados;  with £31.7million being the cost of running the EU each and every day;  the sharing of EU Parliamentary sessions between Brussels and Strasbourg costing £150million a year and the whole thing costing each UK household £584 a year.

The EU is riddled with absurdities and it`s easy to trot out the nonsense about bananas being straight and hairdressers not being allowed to wear high heels or jewellery but the real scandals include the fact that, for 18 years now, the EU`s own auditors have refused to sign off the EU accounts and the EU has a £2.4billion annual budget for advertising simply to tell EU citizens what a jolly good thing the EU is.

So it really is time we were asked again whether we want to stay in this club and I know all the arguments about economics, jobs, freedom of movement and all the rest of the so-called advantages of membership.   But the only issue that matters to me is that old fashioned concept of sovereignty, a commodity that has been drifting away from us over the years but one which we should cherish above all others.

Governments of all political persuasions have promised a referendum about whether we should still stay in the EU and at the last General Election here, each of the main parties promised in their manifestos that we would have one.   As ever, manifesto pledges are soon forgotten when it suits the political agenda rather than the promises made to the electorate.   But what we have now is Dave Cameron promising to `renegotiate` some as yet unstated terms of Britain`s relationship with the EU and ask the people to approve them or otherwise in yet another promised referendum....but not until 2017!!

Now, for this to happen, Dave must have a good deal of success with his renegotiations, he must win the next General Election and he must overcome the objections of EU Commission President Barroso who only last week said that Cameron`s plans would never be allowed to happen - such is democracy in present-day Europe.

And then along comes one Adam Affriyie, Conservative MP for Windsor who says that the public don`t believe the promises made by politicians so let`s stop pussy footing around and have an in-out referendum next year.   Sounds like a beezer wheeze but already the political apologists are declaring that that can`t happen either.   So it seems unlikely that we will get any sort of meaningful renegotiation, any sort of early referendum and any clarification of the confusion that has reigned over this issue for far too long.

And all the while, the EU continues to cost £31.7million a day and rising, spend £265,000 on cocktail parties, dump £130million worth of fish under the daft Common Fisheries Policy and even squander £160,000 on a fitness centre for dogs in Hungary that still hasn`t opened yet.   If I ever had any doubts that I live in a world that gets more crazy each day, I only have to look at the EU and the shameless arrogance of politicians who allow it to continue unchallenged by the hand of democratic reason.   Confused?  You bet!

Friday, October 04, 2013

CORDON NOIR..
From Serge Osvaldo - our Restaurant Critic

I have to report that the family of Monsieur Snoppeur had an `interesting` visit to a local restaurant the other day and he has asked me to pass on the benefit of his experience as a warning to other potential lunchtime hosts. His son, daughter-in-law and two grandsons were spending a few days with him from their home in Hamburg and M. Snoppeur thought it would be good to take them for a nice lunch.

He decided to visit a restaurant he had not been to for over 30 years - an imposing looking building enjoying peaceful riverside surroundings a little up river from the centre of Maidstone.   The menu looked appetising - plenty of `traditional` English fayre - frequent references to chips and an enticing dessert menu including Snoppeur`s own favourite, Le Mess Etonique.   Just to be sure, he pre-booked a table for six and he and his party arrived at the appointed time.

A very bubbly waitress quickly took their drinks order, which arrived swiftly and promptly took the orders for their main meals.   And they waited....and they waited...until after 50 minutes with no sign of any sustenance, our host decided to enquire as to progress under the guise of leaving the table to `inspect the plumbing.`   There followed what can best be described as a controlled rant in the direction of the waitress, whereupon the meals miraculously appeared after about an hour`s wait.

Ah, le cuisine.   Most definitely cordon noir - black belt catering on an industrialised scale and whilst one or two of the party were reluctant to find too much to complain about, I fear our host found that his `ultimate cod - chunky Atlantic cod freshly battered to order and fried until crisp and golden` turned out to be anything but ultimate, but rather a small, limp, overdone attempt at culinary subterfuge.   After the inordinate wait and the disappointing fayre (which wasn`t cheap and failed to live up to its extravagant billing) the party were disinclined to risk desserts, coffee, etc., and departed  as quickly as they could.

This all left our gallant host feeling embarrassed, cheated and determined never to darken the restaurant`s doors ever again, but he did send an e-mail of complaint to the company concerned.   He hopes that they do not offer him the ultimate insult of vouchers for a free meal but then he has received no response so far.  He may have a long wait - if it takes an hour to produce an indifferent collection of cordon noir dishes, it could be a few months before he gets a reply - if he gets one at all.

Sacre bleu bien sur!! 

Tuesday, October 01, 2013


Breaking news from the Vatican is that a couple of ex-Popes are going to be elevated to the sainthood.   It`s a weird thing being religious;  not something I`m really into given my own personal philosophy that if, when my clogs are finally popped, I get up there and find it`s all true, then I`ll be quick to apologise for having had any doubts.

And it`s things like turning ex-Popes into saints that confirms my belief (yes, I do have a few) that whilst I`m in no position to question the existence of an omnipotent being responsible for it all, then his, her or its representatives on earth leave me puzzled.   Religion has, of course, over the centuries been responsible for wars, the denial and suppression of education and realism, never mind the `issues` that the industry of religion has faced, or rather not faced up to, in recent times.....or maybe it was forever thus?

In some ways, religion reminds me of the Premier League - `the best league in the world`(tm) - determined to market its brand and its product to a largely captive audience, leading its disciples to a land of milk and honey whilst at the same time involved in practices that regularly bring the game into disrepute.

Now it seems that to obtain sainthood requires the candidates to go through a tortuous process involving them having had to be extremely pious, getting nominated by a live Pope and having a couple of miracles attributed to their name.   And it`s at that point that we enter the realms of the tooth fairy with `miracles` they have performed having been identified to speed their passage towards their saintly elevation.  

It seems that Pope John Paul II was responsible for the inexplicable recovery of a French nun, one Sister Marie Simon-Pierre Normand, who was apparently dying of Parkinson`s disease but was cured after she and her fellow nuns prayed for the intercession of the late John Paul II who had himself died of the same disease.  Then there was a second miracle, this time in the case of a 50-year old Costa Rican woman, Floribeth Mora, who claimed she was cured of a brain aneurysm after a photograph of John Paul apparently spoke to her with doctors later claiming that the aneurysm seemed to have disappeared for no apparent reason.

Similarly the miracle attributed to Pope John XXXIII also involved curing a woman and it seems that, in his case, that will do as no second `miracle` appears to be needed as he was such a good egg.  Seems coincidental that these miraculous events always involve healing women - never any mention of teams avoiding relegation or gaining promotion on the last day of the season.  Each of these identified papal miracles happened, of course, after the respective Popes had died so the whole business becomes even more obscure.   But then the catholic church, like other churches, has always dealt in arcane rituals and bizarre mystique, so why should the process of turning dead Popes into saints be any different?

Of course I already know all about the rebuttals that those who believe in all that stuff will trot out in response to my own disbelief and I don`t wish to offend anyone, since we all have the freedom to choose what we believe and what we don`t.   But maybe, in the end, the most astonishing miracle of all is that people actually do believe in all this earthly hokum rather than, like me, keeping their options open for when they might come in handy in the great unknown.