Friday, January 31, 2014

ARRIVEDERCI, DANI..

So, Dani Osvaldo, Saints record £15million signing of just a few short months ago, has been shunted off to Juventus on loan for the rest of the season with every prospect of the move becoming permanent.

It`s a good move for all concerned but especially for Southampton who have largely based their rise from League One obscurity to, well, Premier League obscurity on the extraordinary succession of accomplished young players emerging from their Academy - there were five of them featuring in Tuesday`s 2-2 draw against Arsenal.   The other main factor has been the team spirit amongst virtually all of the players in the squad, which is a priceless asset in any competitive environment.

So when Signor Osvaldo began to invite trouble onto himself by being suspended for a touchline fracas at Newcastle and followed that up by being suspended again for allegedly head butting Saints` defender Jose Fonte in an training ground incident, that precious team spirit seemed to be under threat.   So whilst it`s good to see a club putting its toe in the water of `marquee signings,` when it becomes obvious that that can be a disruptive policy, it`s time to step back, assess the situation and go back to relying on the largely home grown talent and the long standing principles which have served the club so well in recent years.

We have hopefully learned the lesson that if you have a fly in the ointment it`s best to get it out as soon as possible.   I shed no tears for Osvaldo`s departure, especially as the three goals he scored cost £5million each along with a weekly wage that of itself could have caused yet more unrest.  Arrivederci, Dani - although I suspect it will be doubtful that we ever meet again.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


DROWNING IN BUREAUCRACY

On journeys down to Devon or Cornwall, we pass through Somerset - something we have done for 40 years or so - and it`s a pity really because Somerset is a beautiful county with spectacular scenery.  And each time we have passed through the Somerset Levels I have been fascinated by the landscape and the insularity yet the community feeling of the villages - Muchelney, Huish Episcopi,Westonzoyland, Burrowbridge and the rest.

Of course, the Levels have been in the news as a result of damaging floods, which have been going on for weeks with little sign of a let-up - yet more heavy and persistent rainfall is predicted in the next few days.   No wonder the beleaguered villagers and farmers are in despair, especially as this is by no means the first time they have had to endure all the hardship and despondency that flooding on this scale brings.   OK, we`ve had our share here in Kent - Yalding, Tonbridge, East Peckham and the like, but we`ve experienced nothing like that in Somerset.

And so, after weeks and weeks, the Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, finally set foot in Somerset yesterday in a `fact finding mission.`   Unsurprisingly he was assailed by local residents and the farming community as to why nothing had been done to help them and to alleviate the problems.   His response?  Well, he was always on a hiding to nothing but he didn`t help his cause by saying, "I hope we will have a very clear action plan presented to me in six weeks` time so that I can make a categoric decision once and for all, but then long term look to see how, with partnership funding, local agencies such as the internal drainage boards, the Environment Agency, the county council, the four district councils, NGOs and people like the RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts can work together......."

Drowning in bureaucracy.   It all reminded me of one of the management slogans I used to employ in a former life - "For God`s sake do something, even if you just say goodbye!"

Sunday, January 26, 2014



To Southampton to see the Saints play Yeovil in the 4th round of the FA Cup.  A `workmanlike` 2-0 win against lower league opponents but whose large contingent of over 3,000 fans contributed greatly to the matchday experience.   The afternoon also saw the appearance of club owner, Katherina Liebherr and her beaming smile as the first goal went in , courtesy of a penalty scored by our very own Brazillian, Guly do Prado, back after a long injury lay off.   The second was slotted home by another of our seemingly endless Academy products, Sam Gallagher, who seems to have a bright future ahead of him.

A good journey there and back, thanks to my carer and his watchful driving;  we renewed our acquaintance with Southampton Town Quay and its exorbitant car parking charges, the cordon noir catering of the Red Funnell Booking Office and the major roadworks which plagued our walk to and from the stadium and which seem to have totally obliterated Vokes Park.

But a day out is a day out, although sometimes - especially in the depths of winter - things such as loyalty to the cause and embarking on a sentimental journey are perhaps more than a little tested.  I have just heard that the reward for yesterday`s win against Yeovil is to face Sunderland away in the 5th round of the Cup.   Somehow I suspect that may be a journey that neither I nor my carer will be likely to make.

Friday, January 24, 2014

TAKE THAT..

Ah, Wolfgang Amadeus.   You can live a lifetime and never truly get to grips with all the treasures he bestowed upon us - great symphonies, concertos, opera from the forbidding darkness of Don Giovanni to the risqué ebullience of the Seraglio....and all points in between.   But it is the area of sacred music that the most captivating melodies are found. 

Now I`m the last person in the world that you would expect to wax lyrical over solemn vespers, but I  have confessed before to my admiration and enjoyment of religious architecture and music  It seems you don`t have to belong to the club to enjoy its fringe benefits.

But when I look at the image of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart looking down on me with that accusing glare, it`s almost as if he is challenging me to give up my scepticism of the fairy tales, the mumbo-jumbo, the smoke and mirrors and just wallow in the glory of his Laudate Dominum.  Now this has been performed by choirs and sopranos the world over - Dame Kiri, Hayley Westenra, even Katherine Jenkins has had a warble at it, but I`ve chosen this version by  Cristina Piccardi, who has provided it with all the reverence, all the delicate clarity and all the timeless sincerity that it deserves.  I can almost hear Mozart chastising me for my lack of conviction,  "You miserable unbeliever - cop this lot":-



Wednesday, January 22, 2014


UNIVERSITIES AND UNIVERSITIES..


I was intrigued by Jeremy Paxman`s assertion that he "could have been even tougher if he had served in the Armed Forces."   He said he felt guilty that he had had such a privileged life whilst his parents` generation had to fight in the Second World War.  He went on to say that conscription and National Service taught the importance of duty, whereas modern generations are expected to `do nothing but gratify themselves.` 

"I`d have done better for having time in uniform," he said, "I`m not arguing in favour of National Service but I feel in awe of the generation who had to do that and I feel a bit guilty having had such a privileged life.  We`ve had it pretty easy and never been tested. Obviously I`m not wishing war on anyone but it might have been better for all of us if we`d been obliged to do something rather than choosing for ourselves."

And it got me thinking once again about my late father`s experiences and, to a lesser extent, my own;  the difference between he and I was that he `volunteered` for an army career whereas I was conscripted into National Service without any choice.   And although there`s no doubt that his experiences were far more traumatic than any I encountered in my 731 days of relative peacetime, we both had the learning curves, the `lessons` of army life and the enforced compliance with Regulations, good order and military discipline.

And so I take Mr. Paxman`s point which is, basically, that those like him who were not subjected to those experiences might well feel themselves in something of a privileged position.   But he shouldn`t worry too much, for some of us who were made to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous conscription might also feel a tinge of envy that we were never given the opportunity of a University education and that we might feel a little in awe  of those who were not so deprived.   

It cuts both ways, of course, and it`s all about circumstances and opportunities.   But I do wonder whether Mr. Paxman would really have swapped Malvern and Cambridge for the University of Life, and I do suspect that I would have preferred those seats of learning to anything my father lived through or even the 731 days I was forced to spend in the green hell of BFPO 16.  But the curious thing is that, even after all these years, I`m still not sure whether my service to the nation was as valuable as the nation`s service to me.......

Monday, January 20, 2014


....WELL, MAYBE....


I was speaking with a friend of mine last evening.  He`s a devoted West Ham fan and he and I were reviewing the respective fortunes of our clubs. The Hammers suffered yet another dispiriting home defeat on Saturday against Newcastle and Southampton snatched a draw from the jaws of victory at Sunderland.   In a way I suppose those results sum up the relative performances of the two clubs over the season so far, for there is genuine concern for West Ham`s Premier League survival now that they have slipped into the relegation zone whilst The Saints seem marooned on an island of their own in ninth place.

Now I might be accused of being smugly complacent about Southampton`s position but we are still short of the points total to secure survival and there are still 16 games to go. Chickens not counted yet - and with a week of boardroom traumas behind us, anything is possible - but surely it would take a disaster of monumental proportions for the Saints not to survive and prosper.   Rather, we are looking to the future;  things like ownership of the club;  and this is where it gets quite literally intriguing.   It seems the benevolent ownership of the Liebherr family might be coming to an end with rumours of a takeover by China`s richest man - one Wang Jianlin, said to be worth £16billion and counting.

It seems increasingly likely that the ownership of my club will remain in `foreign` hands, like so many of the Premier League clubs and it`s no coincidence that those clubs at the top of the league table are all foreign owned - Manchester City (United Arab Emirates;) Chelsea (Russian;) Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United ( all American) and so on.   There is a minority of clubs still in the hands of English owners - Norwich, Everton, Stoke City and one or two more including my friend`s beloved West Ham.  Ah, yes, West Ham, currently in the ownership of two porn barons and playing a brand of football under the tutelage of `Big Sam` Allardyce reminiscent of my own playing days for Maidstone Dolphins on the hallowed turf of Mangravet and Mote Park.

Now as a Euro-phobic out-of-time little Englander, I make no bones about my preference for the days when all football clubs were owned by the local butcher, car dealer, coal merchant, what have you, and I regret the foreign influence and domination that has pervaded the Premier League - `the best league in the world (tm)` - as yet another slice of Engerland gets swallowed up in the rush to globalisation, in the process of which football clubs, like countries, can lose their identity and their soul. 

So, surely my beleaguered friend and the cognoscenti of the Boleyn can at least take heart from the fact that they are almost the last bastion of the good old fashioned English football club, with their English owners, their English manager, their fervent Knees-up Mother Brown following and their prospect of moving into the Olympic Stadium.  You see, every cloud has a silver lining.  Well, it does, doesn`t it?

Friday, January 17, 2014


THE WRONG ARM OF THE LAW ?

I see that a couple from Shropshire have been fined almost £1,000 for taking their children out of school during term time so they could have a family holiday together for the first time in five years.   Their `crime` was to do so without the express permission of the children`s school and thus they infringed recent legislation introduced by the Government.

Now on one hand it`s hard to disagree with the notion that it is wrong to compromise the education of children in such a way and yet on the other hand I remember very vividly how difficult it can be to afford a family holiday during school holiday times, simply because of the grossly inflated prices charged by holiday companies at those times.

We go away quite often and we rent holiday cottages and we have noticed the steep rise in prices from `term times` to school holiday times - summer, Easter, even half terms see prices almost doubled.   Quite simply, the holiday companies see the families coming, know they are ripe for being ripped off and proceed to do just that.

So, instead of having a law which penalises families  if they have the effrontery to have a family holiday during school time, why not have a law that penalises holiday companies from inflating their prices during school holidays?  They will kick and scream, of course, but all they have to do to maintain their profit margins is to even out their prices across the year.   Those like me wouldn`t complain about paying a little more if it meant that families could afford to go on holiday without compromising the education of their children.  Simples?

Thursday, January 16, 2014


NORMALITY RETURNS ?


MELTDOWN.....TURMOIL.....CHAOS.....the headlines are screaming in joyful unison at the news that Southampton FC Executive Chairman, Nicola Cortese, has resigned and left the club after five years of unrivalled success.   A climb of 58 places in the football pyramid under his watch has seen Saints rise from Administration and the bottom of League One to the top 10 of the Premier League.   And there is renewed frantic speculation that team manager Mauricio Pochettino along with his backroom staff might also leave, as well as an unspecified number of players.  To add to the confusion there is now the prospect of the club being executively chairpersoned by the owner, Katharina Liebherr, who apparently know nothing about football.

On the face of it, it all seems to add up to meltdown, turmoil and, yes, even chaos and yet you get the feeling that those dire predictions are more the currency of the media than they are of die hard Southampton fans.  We`ve been here before, you see, on more than one occasion and at times that were arguably much more worrisome than this one.  

As a Saints fan for over 60 years, I`ve grown accustomed to meltdown, turmoil and their ilk but what I have never grown accustomed to in all that time is stability, consolidation and security both on and off the field of play.  For most of us, our default condition has invariably been anxiety, bewilderment and confusion and there is almost a sense that the present situation might enable us to return to our own rather unique version of normality.

Que sera, sera.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Had he lived, tomorrow my father would have been 102.   As it is, he passed away at the age of just 62 and each year when his birthday comes around, I get to think about his life and the difference between his and my own.  We all live in our own time and in our own circumstances, of course, which makes it impossible to compare a life in today`s world with one in a former age.   And I`m not quite sure why I feel the need to write this at all - it might be a sentimental reflection on years gone by;  it might be that I feel an urge to say things about my father that might make me feel better;  or maybe it`s a way of expressing regrets and missed opportunities.

Anyway, I won`t bore you with all the details of my father`s life, but the main chapters in his story included being sent off to become a boy soldier at the age of 15, as the family bakery business would not sustain another family `employee;  spending 18 years in the army, five of which were spent in a Prisoner of War Camp (Stalag V111B at Lamsdorf in Silesia); surviving (just) the `death march` before repatriation;  being discharged from the army as his physical condition no longer `met the requirements`; working hard before a premature retirement and living constantly with the effects of his wartime experiences which contributed to his sudden and untimely passing.

Not a lot of joy there and I compare it all to my own experiences which were always coloured by the fact that I really didn`t see and meet my father until I was nearly six, when he staggered up the road from the bus stop in his demob suit with a kit bag over his shoulder.  For me, the sudden appearance of this stranger in my life changed everything and I`m not sure either he or I ever came to terms with that change.  

Maybe I can best sum it up by suggesting that my own life has, with one or two notable exceptions, been a series of crossroads leading to choices as to which journey to take, whereas my father seemed always to be confronted with a series of one-way streets or roads with `No Entry` signs barring the way until eventually he settled for a cul-de-sac which resulted only in his anxieties becoming more and more acute.

And it leaves me thankful that my own life has been more blessed than my father`s ever was, that I have had the crossroads of choice and the good fortune of living a life more full and secure than he ever knew. I sometimes worry about getting older but I have already outlived my father by almost 13 years and I hope to carry on for a good while yet. As someone once said, "Do not regret growing older.  It`s a privilege denied to so many."  

Monday, January 13, 2014


THE BRICK IS BACK..

This photo shows our street`s local hero Scott Wagstaff performing his own patented extraordinary celebratory contortion - The Brick.   It followed his rasping drive which nestled in the back of the net beyond the despairing clutches of the opposing custodian in the 11th minute of Bristol City`s game away at Bradford City on Saturday.  

His goal equalised the one scored by the Bantams after just 49 seconds of the game to earn hard pressed Bristol City a deserved point that could well prove crucial at the end of the season as their fight to escape the League One drop zone gathers momentum under new manager Steve Cotterill.  So, our street is over the moon about Scotty`s 5th goal of the season - a useful return for a hard working pacey midfield flanker -even though few of us have ever ventured to Bristol`s fair city.

(Apologies for the absence of posts in the past week, due to an attack of man flu and a Google glitch, now happily overcome, that prevented me uploading photos from my computer.)

Tuesday, January 07, 2014


HERE ONE MINUTE..

Well, almost in answer to my recent rant about the media`s obsession with our weather, Mother Nature has been throwing everything at us in the last couple of weeks - torrential rain, hail, thunder, gales, all leading to widespread flooding, the distressful loss of lives and destruction of property.   Where we live, we`re a long walk from the beach and so I have not been able to experience these events at close range.   Instead, I`ve been watching the television reports, especially those on the BBC south west regional Spotlight programme - Channel 967 on Sky - although one day we did drive down to Sandgate on the Kent coast and were astonished at the power of the sea and the waves crashing against the sea defences.

But that was nothing compared to the events in other parts of the country - Devon, Cornwall and Wales in particular - and the picture above shows one of our favourite haunts, Porthcothan on Cornwall`s north coast.  Last year, we enjoyed a couple of visits there and the coast path walks from Porthcothan to Bedruthan Steps and the other way along to Treyarnon and back.   Here`s a photo I took last summer of the rocks and the natural arch at Porthcothan Bay:-



......and here`s a picture of the same spot taken yesterday after the arch simply collapsed into the sea as a result of the power of the storm force wind and the waves:-



A classic case of `Here one minute, gone the next` but it has reminded me that being on the coast path in Cornwall in all the glory of high Summer is a very different prospect from being there in Winter when the Atlantic storms can wreak this kind of destruction.   (I`m just sorry I wasn`t there to witness it.)

Monday, January 06, 2014


Now some of my good friends and neighbours are devoted fans of West Ham United and I have no wish to compromise those friendships by sounding overtly critical of their beloved club.   But yesterday things really did come to a pretty pass with the Hammers 5-0 defeat away at Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup third round.   My focus is not so much on the result, which was a fair reflection of the respective abilities of the two teams, but more on the circumstances which have brought West Ham to this position.

And my suspicion is that there are basically two reasons for their seeming decline.   The first is the ownership of the club, currently in the hands of the Davids - Sullivan and Gold - who made their considerable fortune from a pornographic empire and whilst they have thrown money at their boyhood club almost as if it were yet another plaything, there remains something of a feeling that those riches might just be a little `tainted.`   

The second problem appears to be the manager, `Big` Sam Allardyce, who has raised a talent for blaming others for the team`s failures almost to an art form.   In recent weeks, he has blamed the players, referees, the fixture list, injuries and illness - anything but taking responsibility himself for his team`s shortcomings.   And it`s all done with an air of being persecuted by the gods of football - those who decree that things `just weren`t meant to be.`   

Now these pages have been well known for their criticisms of another of the game`s dinosaurs - the now thankfully retired Alex Ferguson, late of Manchester United, although he still seems to be a threatening presence in the dark recesses of Old Trafford. And I accept that I might be guilty of seeking an alternative source to criticise when I appear to be picking on `Big` Sam.   But in truth he seems to be doing a splendid job of coming out of the shadows of the oafish Ferguson and assuming the mantle of the archetypal paleolithic football manager, full of self-delusion as exemplified by his assertions that he could not understand why he had not been appointed to manage Real Madrid, never mind England.

In truth, Allardyce does represent, along with the West Ham owners, the complete reversal in style, attitude and culture of a once proud club - the one time `Academy of Football` - from the days of Ron Greenwood and John Lyall, when people like me admired not only the way the club played the game but also the way in which its public face was so much more agreeable.  And whilst I accept that, once again, I may be looking back with wistful sentimentality to the golden age of Upton Park, I suspect too that some of my good friends and neighbours may feel the same?

Thursday, January 02, 2014

GONG HO !

Well, the New Year Honours came and went and seemed to leave behind the much vaunted knighthoods for David Beckham and Andy Murray.   I can only conclude that, far from it being `too early` for them to become knights of the realm, the powers that be were understandably fearful of the effect it might have on  Mrs. Beckham`s inherent shyness and modesty and, as for Mr. Murray, well it`s just possible that with the referendum on Scottish independence looming later this year, it was felt to be a bit daft to make him Sir Andy only for the `honour` to be rendered worthless in what might become a foreign country.

Incidentally, the parliamentary three stooges - Cameron, Clegg and Miliband - are all urging the Scots to remain part of the United Kingdom, all for blatantly political reasons rather than any hint of unity.   As for me, I remain miffed that we here in England along with those in Wales and Northern Ireland are not being given the chance to vote on whether the United Kingdom might become even more disunited than it already is.

But back to the honours, for there might now be a slim chance of more gongs heading in the direction of Snopperville.   The New Year Honours this time around included a British Empire Medal for a local lady in recognition of her services to recycling domestic household waste and for ensuring the welfare of seagulls and it surely cannot be long before another award is handed out to the local nocturnal malcontent in recognition of his/her services to ringing door bells late at night, disturbing the peace of elderly residents and running away.

All of which will merely add to the farce of awarding British Empire Medals anyway when there`s no British Empire any more. But then the whole `honours` business is a faded relic of the days of yore and, like our football team, it`s time for the Honours Committee to wake up and realise that any past glories there might have been are now but distant memories.   But at least the seagulls are happy.