Saturday, November 30, 2013

Well, the title says it all really.   I`ve just watched BBC4`s excellent two-part series presented by Professor Jim Al-Khalili which explored the properties of light and dark matter and the implications of discovering that the light we see throughout the universe is only 4% of the `stuff` that`s out there.

Now I like Jim - he`s quite probably the best communicator of science on television and is the kind of guy you can take seriously when he explains things - it`s all about the subject with Jim and not about Jim himself, which makes a healthy change from some, perhaps more high profile, `presenters.`   And BBC4 just gets better and better, providing an impressive output of interesting, sometimes quirky, but always compelling documentaries. Now, my views on the profligacy of the BBC are well documented but I readily admit that BBC4 is worth the licence fee all by itself.

So I got interested in Jim and I discovered that quite apart from his brilliant career there is another side to him.   You see, it turns out that he lives in Southsea, which is a bit of Portsmouth really and that he supports Leeds United.   Just shows that in everyone`s life there is always a bit of dark as well as the light we see. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


This photo shows Sports Minister Helen Grant, MP, attending the opening of Maidstone United`s new ground a year or so ago.   Now, Mrs. Grant, just a couple of years after resigning as a member of the Labour Party, was selected from the `A` list as a parliamentary candidate for the Conservative Party. She was duly adopted by Maidstone and The Weald to succeed Ann Widdecombe, now happily retired and put out to grass in Devon, and Mrs. Grant duly won the seat at the last General Election, albeit having cut the Conservative majority down from 14,000 to under 6,000.

Her Parliamentary career has been `chequered,`involving controversies about her expenses and there were issues concerning the employment of her husband as an `advisor` and the employment conditions of a former employee.   She rose almost without trace to become Justice Minister, which was singularly ironic, but where her performance was less than memorable and so in a recent reshuffle she found herself as Sports Minister in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

As such, a couple of days ago she was interviewed on Meridian TV about matters under her portfolio and was asked a series of not terribly searching questions to test her sporting knowledge.   After all, she seemed pretty sporty, having apparently represented Cumbria in hockey, tennis, athletics and cross-country, as well as being an under-16 judo champion for the north of England and southern Scotland, so you would assume that, as Sports Minister, she would know her sporting stuff.   Not a bit of it.   Despite some frantic off-camera prompting from an `aide,` she fluffed each of the questions which included `Who is the current England Rugby captain?,` `Who is the current Wimbledon Ladies champion?,`When did Maidstone United leave the Football League?` and `Which team currently holds the FA Cup?`

Now, I`m of an age when tolerance, forbearance and forgiveness have kicked in, so I can possibly find it in my heart to overlook Mrs. Grant`s `difficulties` over political indecision, expenses claims and even her tenure as Justice Minister.   Indeed, I will go as far as saying that I quite understand her inability to give the correct answer to at least some of the questions she was asked.  

But my powers of forgiveness were stretched beyond reason by her frantic searching for the answer about who were the current FA Cup holders when, despite her plea for help, she could only mutter, "Manchester United because it`s my favourite club." It represented the final insult to the intelligence of sports lovers everywhere, especially those in Wigan. They, along with Westminster watchers, may have hoped that at last  we may have found a Sports Minister who knows her stuff, whereas in reality it seems we have yet another opportunistic chancer who has found a convenient niche on the greasy pole. 

You see, for Mrs. Grant and her ilk, it`s all about the career, but I do wonder how long this phase of her career will last.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


With much tub-thumping assertion, the SNP have today launched their `Independence Encyclopedia` - a 670-page tome setting out all the advantages and debunking any anxieties about independence from the rest of the UK.   Well, it has been a fragile union and whatever the outcome of the referendum there`s little doubt that the Kingdom (why isn`t it a Queendom?) will never be truly united ever again.

The whole business is curious - weird even.   If there was a truly United Kingdom, united as one in a close-knit family, then if one member of that family wanted to leave, then surely the other members of the family might think they should be asked for their opinion?  But it`s not happening, is it?   And so I can only conclude that there are two reasons for that. The first is probably the cost of holding the referendum across the whole of the UK, so even democracy, it seems, has its price although I imagine (perhaps wrongly) that the cost of holding the referendum is being wholly borne by the Scottish taxpayers?   But the second reason may well be because, if England in particular was able to vote, then the probable outcome would be a resounding `Yes, please` reflecting the majority desire to be rid of these turbulent Scots.

The madness doesn`t stop there, however.   In yet another cunning ploy, the vote is being given to 16 and 17-year olds in Scotland, to Scots living abroad but not to those living in other parts of the UK.   It`s the kind of stuff that you would find difficult to make up or would only find in some dark Orwellian plot.

Here in the erstwhile Garden of England, the more I see and hear of the piscine sounding Salmond and Sturgeon - rapidly becoming the George Burns and Gracie Allen of politics - the more I look forward to them retreating to their Caledonian  stronghold beyond Hadrian`s Wall and leaving the rest of us in peace.

Say goodnight, Gracie.

Monday, November 25, 2013


`The Media` are all over Jonathan Trott and his decision to come home from the Ashes tour and try to come to terms with his stress-related issues.   I wish him well in that and, pious though it may be, I hope he truly is left in peace and given the time and space he so clearly needs.   So I for one will be commenting no further on that subject.

Now it may seem unrelated but I couldn`t help notice the announcement today that serial do-gooder Esther Rantzen is setting up `SilverLine,` designed to provide a lifeline for lonely elderly people.  Ms. Rantzen of course, has a reputation for this kind of thing, having launched the successful ChildLine some years ago.   However well intentioned her latest wheeze may be,as someone in his mid-70s but fortunately not yet lonely enough to seek help, I think if that day ever came then the last person I would want on the other end of the line would be a gushing, attention-seeking, Damehood hunting former television `personality.`

Given the news from Australia, however, I do wonder how long it will be before she jumps on yet another bandwagon and sets up SledgeLine?

Sunday, November 24, 2013


My apologies for absence for a while but I had some `unwelcome visitors,` who now seem to have gone away.  I hope they stay away and that my tactic of simply ignoring them has worked.   Anyway, I`m dipping a toe in the water with this one just to see if things are now `back to normal` - whatever that may be - and how better to test the water than to comment on yesterday`s sporting `performances.`

It was an inauspicious day all round for my sporting heroes, culminating this morning when I got up a bit early to see how the Test Match was going only to witness the death throes of England`s cricketers as they slumped to a 381 run stuffing by the rampant Aussies.   Now throughout my entire career as a devotee of the beautiful game, I doubt I ever scored 381 runs all told, so England`s defeat was indeed comprehensive.

On the footy front things were no brighter - my beloved Saints suffering their first defeat in the Premier League since August, thanks to a goalkeeping blunder of heroic proportions by `Mad Artur` Boruc and a dodgy penalty generously awarded by referee Clattenburg when Saints defender Jose Fonte brushed a couple of bits of fluff off Per Mertesacker`s shirt.  2-0 to the Arsenal then, but at least the Saints stay in the top four....until this afternoon.

But my heart really goes out to my next door neighbour, avid Gillingham devotee Mr. Slightly, who once again had to suffer the indignity of his team losing at their Priestfield ex-fortress, this time to lowly Oldham.   On my way back from taking Barney out for his walkies this morning, I noticed Mr. Slightly`s car speeding off in the direction of Cuxton, presumably he was on his way to the local community refuse tip to throw his season ticket into the bin that has been especially provided for exasperated Gills fans.   Et tu, Slightly ?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Friday, November 15, 2013

Sorry about this but I`m afraid I`m...

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


I don`t do horror films.   I can see no fun or entertainment in being frightened out of my wits, so I avoid them.   But every now and again, one comes along that contains something quite memorable.  Just such a case is Ridley Scott`s 2001 film `Hannibal,` featuring our cannibalistic friend Hannibal Lecter, played with all the threatening enthusiasm you would expect from Anthony Hopkins.

What makes it truly memorable is the short aria written for it by Patrick Cassidy - Vide Cor Meum (See my Heart), based on Dante`s `La Vita Nuova` - a piece of music so hauntingly beautiful that it is unsurprisingly listed as one of the greatest 40 arias ever composed.  It is in such stark contrast to the rest of the gruesome nature of the film that it seems quite incongruously out of place.   But it is glorious, especially this version by Katherine Jenkins and the wonderful Rhys Meirion.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do:-

Monday, November 11, 2013


An incredible journey for Southampton Football Club, from three years ago at the bottom of the third tier on minus 10 points to third in the Premier League with 22 points from 11 games - just another 19 needed to almost guarantee survival in `the best league in the world (tm).`

In the past week especially, seemingly unremitting praise has been heaped on the club following its excellent start to the season, three players called up to the senior England squad, two to the Under-21s and two more to the Under-19s;  other international call-ups for our players from Japan, Croatia, Poland, Uruguay, Northern Ireland, Kenya and Italy;  and the manager Mauricio Pochettino being named Premier League Manager of the Month.

It`s all very heady stuff and no wonder they`re dancing in the streets of Southampton  as times like these have not been experienced for 30 years, when we finished second in the old First Division to Liverpool.

And yet experienced Saints followers like me are getting worried.  Surely it can`t go on like this, especially when the team currently appears at the top of the `form table`:-

You see, we`ve become accustomed to knowing our place, we have lived through years of perpetual struggle, through two administrations, we have suffered under the misguided regime of rogue managers and incompetent chairmen but all the while we have lived with the hope of financial security, inspiring management, beneficial ownership, a successful team and an end to our fears and default anxieties.

And now that the club seems finally to have achieved all of those long held hopes and aspirations, we can`t quite believe it.  And we worry that, in true Saints tradition, it will all come crashing around our ears and we will be back where we have nearly always been, knowing our place and dreaming of better times.  There is almost a sense of embarrassment with the attention we have been getting and maybe a sense of longing being developed for those good old days of torment and perennial disappointment, for such has been the transformation that we suspect the only way may be down.....but we`ll enjoy these good times while they last, however long that turns out to be.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Harping back to my recent post concerning the centenary of the outbreak of World War 1, amid fears that the way in which Britain might mark the Great War could affect relations with Angela Merkel`s administration,  a couple of months ago Germany  sent a special envoy to call on Britain `not to celebrate the centenary but to focus on the idea that the European Union brought peace to the continent.`

I got the sense that the German government was almost pleading with Britain not to go on mentioning the war too much.  Now I`m sure we`ll all try our hardest to comply with the wishes of our Teutonic chums but I wouldn`t be surprised if the war isn`t mentioned now and again over the next few years but we`ll just have to hope that we`ll get away with it. 

Thursday, November 07, 2013

I see that millions of Euros have allegedly been trousered by the Mafia instead of reaching the intended destination of helping disaster victims and rebuilding of the town of L`Aquila in Italy which was badly affected by last year`s devastating earthquake. More than £450million from the EU`s `Solidarity Fund` went to the town where thousands of homes were destroyed and where over 300 people died.  

But in a draft report on the effectiveness of the aid, it is claimed that some of the money was paid  to companies `with direct or indirect ties` to organised crime and accuses the EU Commission of allowing fraud to take place on its watch.   The Commission has predictably rejected the allegation of misuse and insists that the distribution of funds has been `monitored carefully.`  So that`s alright then.

It also transpires that British taxpayers will have to cough up an extra £800million after the EU spent nearly £6billion `in error` last year.   The European Court of Auditors have refused yet again to sign off the EU accounts - for the 19th year in succession - and revealed that EU spending errors are 23% up on the year before.  It seems that a staggering £5.7billion was paid out to `ineligible projects` of which Britain`s share is £832million.   The Auditors also found that control of another £117billion was only `partially effective.`  A European Commission spokesman attempted to defend the situation by insisting that taxpayers would not have to pay the £832million of Britain`s share, claiming that instead it would be `clawed back.`  So that`s alright then.

Now if I was a paid up member of a club that treated its members with such patronising contempt and which conducted its business in such a cavalier and unaccountable manner I`m pretty sure I would have ripped up my membership card by now and walked away from it for good.   But with the EU it doesn`t really matter - it`s just other people`s money.   So that`s alright then.  Isn`t it?.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013


I think I`m right in saying that HM Gov. is proposing to spend more than £50million over the next four years with a programme to `commemorate` the First World War - The Great War as it became known once it was over.   In making the announcement, Dave Cameron expressed the hope that remembering the `sacrifice` of British troops would "capture our national spirit in every corner of the country, in every school, workplace, town hall and local community in a commemoration that, like the Diamond Jubilee in 2012, says something about who we are as a people." 

Politicians and officials in Westminster and Whitehall are beavering away on detailed plans to mark this pivotal time in our history and already an extensive list of events has been drawn up.   Now it`s clearly true that occasions such as this do provide an opportunity for us to reflect on "who we are as a people" but if the only purpose of remembering The Great War is to provide us with a warm glow of national pride, especially when compared to the Diamond Jubilee by the Prime Minister no less, then I fear that the reality of that conflict will be buried in a welter of sentiment.

In searching for a more realistic reflection of The Great War, I was reminded that my old school chum, the late poet and critic William Scammell, wrote one of the most raw and evocative interpretations of what it must really have been like:-

Opaque and resonant as sacred texts
the names alone sound out a litany:
Passchendaele, Ypres, the Somme, Verdun...

Some dropped perfect but for a sweet
smudge of gas - others, dispersing, spanned
earth in the wildest hug.

Men flashed hissing to their elements
like spit gobbed on a stove.  One officer
in nomansland apologised to his troops

behind for lasting in such loud slow screams.
Four men unwound their lives to staunch
his uproar - failed, like the concerted knuckles

hammered round his teeth.  Gowned neutrally
for christenings, deaths, history thumbs
its cheap editions, weltering in echoes.

I think of Sassoon`s tall heart, contracting
fiercest love for his own men, one of whom
shot him from excess of zeal;  of Graves`s

stretched contempts.  The fires they grazed rot down
in village squares.  On memory`s floor words rut
and root, nosing blind and ghastly at the tongue.

Instead of four years of superficial tub thumping which runs the risk of merely creating a trivialised sideshow, surely our time, energy and resources would be better spent on a truly meaningful celebration of the centenary of the end of the Great War in 2018.   And  in the meantime, we should tread softly and respectfully in memory of the countless millions who perished or whose lives were changed forever.   We should remember them, rather than making the centenary of the start of the Great War an excuse for us to feel good about ourselves.

Monday, November 04, 2013


The revelation that 340 MPs have claimed over £200,000 for fuel costs in their constituency homes comes as no surprise as the `lessons` of the great expenses scandal - such as they were - are clearly forgotten.

And yet is seems that these tax payer funded energy bills are perfectly legitimate and approved by the Parliamentary Standards Commission as being `within the rules.`  Now I seem to recall that these `rules` allowed MPs to claim expenses on items that were essential for the proper discharge of their duties as Members of Parliament....or some such gobbledegook speech.

So, I`m wondering whether I can now claim my own energy costs on the basis that they are essential for the proper discharge of my duties as an aged pensioner struggling to survive on a fixed income in harsh financial circumstances.   All part of the job?

Saturday, November 02, 2013

An Update from Serge Osvaldo
Our Restaurant Critic..

A little while ago, I reported on M. Snoppeur`s unfortunate experience when he took his family to lunch at a nearby riverside `restaurant.`  I won`t repeat the details here but they can be seen in my article `Sacre Bleu` posted on 4th October.   But I did mention that he had written to complain about the dismal standard of service and the quality of the food and I suggested he might have a long wait for a reply.

Mais voila!   A special delivery envelope arrived from the company yesterday with a letter of apology and a voucher for him to spend at any of the `restaurants` run by that company any time within the next six months.

M. Snoppeur`s reaction has been, how you say,... predictable.  First the surprise that it took only a month for the company to reply, given how long it took for the food to arrive after they had placed their orders but, secondly, the cruel irony of being handed a voucher to repeat the experience which caused him to complain in the first place.  Le Snoppeur likens it to being on a cruise ship struck by the norovirus.  You suffer its effects, you vow never to go on a cruise again and the shipping company offers you the chance of a trip round the harbour next time you`re in Southampton.

I am told that you English have a saying;  something about being once bitten and twice shy.   So too do we connoisseurs of cordon noir cuisine.   Merci, mais non, merci.