Wednesday, May 28, 2014


So, after 16 months at the helm, Southampton Football Club once more find themselves without a manager following Mauricio Pochettino`s resignation to try his hand at Tottenham Hotspur.  And with him also go his entire backroom staff, so it`s quite an exodus.   Saints fans fear that this event will hasten the departure of a number of players to other clubs, quite possibly Tottenham amongst them.  

So the eternal lot of Saints fans to dwell in uncertainty, bewilderment and anxiety continues.  Or does it?   Seems to me that in football as in politics and most other areas of life, the world is divided between those for whom events like this signify the end of their world, those who really couldn`t care less and those in the middle whose shoulders are used to shrugging and accept that these things happen and there ain`t a hell of a lot they can do about it.  

I guess it`s the case for the latter category, to whom I willingly subscribe, that when a football club chooses you to support it then that`s just what you do, especially if that club represents your spiritual home, whether it be in the upper echelons of Barcelona, Madrid, Manchester or the lower reaches of Truro, Droylesden, Bashley of even East Stirling.   And clubs like Southampton, Norwich and more latterly Swansea seem to fall into the category of representing sizeable, identifiable, provincial communities without really being equipped to mount a sustained challenge to the metropolitan elite.....a bit like politics again.

And so another manager moves on and another one will emerge to take his place.  The fans will still give their support knowing that another page has been turned but that life goes on.   Until next time.


Monday, May 26, 2014



IN NAME ONLY...

Like most communities up and down the land, here in Dibley the Parish Council are planning to mark the centenary of World War 1.   And in common with most other communities, we have our very own memorial outside the village church in memory of those service personnel who died in that dreadful conflict.   However, there are possibly six names missing from the war memorial and the Parish Council is attempting to establish a definite link with the village and to seek relatives to obtain their permission for names to be added.  

It`s then proposed to produce a booklet giving brief biographies of all residents of the village who are recorded by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as having perished in the Great War.  This initiative would then be followed by producing a brief history of the village during the conflict and, finally, to include on the war memorial the names of local residents who have died as a result of service in any of this country`s conflicts since the end of the Second World War.

Now for good reason I may have been a tad critical of the Parish Council in the past but this initiative is well founded, wholly admirable and heartfelt and I hope it gets the support it needs to make it succeed.

Now all of this has the effect of making us reflect yet again on the appalling events that beset the world 100 years ago and at this distance it`s impossible to really imagine how things must have been.   But perhaps at least a flavour of those times may have been captured by my old school friend, the late William Scammell, in his poem `Remembering the Great War:-

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 christening, 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.

Bill`s poem, like those of so many others, gives us a chilling glimpse of the almost indescribable horror that we, 100 years on, are struggling to comprehend.   And it has long occurred to me as surprising that it is still referred to as The Great War, but perhaps in name only, for in reality it was - and should be remembered as - the Most God-awful Horrific War there has ever been.

Saturday, May 24, 2014


ADDING INSULT TO INJURY..

This is Professor John Curtice, FRSA, FRSE, who is alleged to be what is intriguingly known as `an academic.`   He is currently Professor of Politics at the University of Strathclyde and is reported to be particularly interested in electoral behaviour and researching political and social attitudes.

He turned up last evening on BBC News 24 giving us the benefit of his wisdom following the local council election results.   He admitted that UKIP`s success had been `a remarkable achievement.   The party`s vote is proving to be highest in wards with more older people, fewer graduates and few ethnic minorities,` he opined.   He then went on to suggest that the reverse was true in London, where UKIP had not performed as well and where voters tended to be `more intelligent` than in the rest of the country.   Seriously. I`m fairly sure he didn`t make it up.

It`s really quite astonishing but perhaps not all that surprising that these remarks go unnoticed and unreported (possibly because not many people watch BBC News 24 midway through a Friday evening) but they strike me as being at least as offensive as anything we heard during the election campaign.   But I think what his comments do confirm is that London has almost become a country of its own, separated from the rest of the UK by its own unique `culture,` its own demography, its inward looking assumed entitlement and self importance.  

In Curtice`s world, it seems the rest of the UK is populated by dimwitted forelock-touching bumpkins who have failed to come to terms with the reality of life in modern day Britain. There might be an argument that suggests a generational divide as much as anything else, with an increasingly elderly population who find it difficult to acknowledge changes in social behaviour, but that does not mean that they are therefore less intelligent or perceptive than inhabitants of the great smoke.  They`re just older and having been injured by the crass assumptions that surfaced during the election campaign, they now find themselves insulted by the kind of sweeping assertions that could only come from `an academic.` 
  

Friday, May 23, 2014



IF ONLY...


So, it`s the morning after the elections for the EU and some local councils.   Counting for the council seats hasn`t finished yet and the EU count doesn`t start until Sunday but already the signs here in the UK are pretty clear.   UKIP look to have done very well indeed but already the predictable clich├ęs are being spouted from the Westminster bubble. 

"UKIP are a one-man band....a one issue party.....racist views.....a mid-term protest vote.....we`ll learn the lessons....come the General Election next year voters will return to the main parties....."     And so it goes on and it`s all very tiresome.  We`ve heard it all before.

Yes, there is a year almost to the day before the next General Election and it promises to be a year of living stressfully, mainly for voters who now face the prospect of a year of yet more abuse hurled at anyone who actually has the nerve to hold views contrary to those of the `main parties,` The Guardian or the BBC, such is the tolerance of our `society.`   And yet I detect a change of attitude towards `the establishment.`   People seem genuinely tired of the same old same old and I`m not sure they are prepared any longer to be treated with the kind of disdain and contempt dished out over recent years from Thatcher to Blair to Brown to Clegg and Cameron.   

They may view these results as yet another in a long line of wake-up calls but if there is one lesson that should really be learnt it is that votes will not be garnered by those who insist on school-yard bullying, on personal attack after personal attack and on continuing to deny the genuine and heartfelt concerns of  a sizeable number of `ordinary` voters.

So, what with all this facing us in the year ahead, never mind the World Cup, the Saints in apparent meltdown and Big Sam still in charge at the Boleyn, I`ll be looking for a stress free zone of my own. If only.......

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


IRONY OF THE WEEK..

Hate to admit it but Mrs. Snopper and I seem to be the oldest residents of our little enclave here in deepest Kent.   From time to time, like everyone else in the street, we get `charity bags` shoved through our letter box, asking us to donate stuff.   It`s an interesting experience to see what the `charities` are and what they are asking for - anything from British Heart Foundation and other good causes like Save the Children and MacMillan Nurses through to some apparently dodgy ones like the one allegedly supporting Mongolian hill farmers.   Yeah, right.

Trouble is, most of them seem a bit fussy about the stuff they`re prepared to take off our hands - some only want clothing, others say no bric-a-brac or no books or no electrics, no throat-singing manuals or flat pack yurts.  So it was a refreshing change to get a bag from Age Concern UK who were keen to take just about anything.  We duly took advantage of their felicitous pleading and filled their bag with clothing, books and assorted bric-a-brac and put the bag outside for collection on the appointed morning.

Now our street is much like any other - a good mix of people, age groups and occupations - but come the morning for the Age Concern bags to be collected and what do I find?   Yes, you`ve guessed it.   The only bag put out for collection was the one from the oldest couple in the street, which is irony in itself, of course, but especially so when we aged couple have given loads of stuff to the one organisation who are supposed to be concerned about us.

Monday, May 19, 2014


BACK TO THE PLOUGH..

To Wimbledon to visit one of our sons who lives in one of the smart apartments shown above.   This imposing development is on the site of what, for eighty years, was Wimbledon Football Club`s ground at Plough Lane and so it is steeped in history.   In recognition of that, the developers were encouraged by Wimbledon supporters to name the various apartment blocks with the football club theme and in a way that perpetuated some of the important names associated with the football club`s past.

And so, amongst others, names such as Batsford House, Lawrie House, Cork House and Bassett House, where our son lives, now grace the site.   Names revered in the folklore of SW19.

Allen Batsford was arguably Wimbledon`s most successful manager, leading them to three consecutive Southern League titles and election to the Football League.  Lawrie Sanchez, a distinguished player for Wimbledon and a manager of clubs including Wycombe Wanderers, Fulham and Northern Ireland on the international stage, but whose defining moment was scoring the winning goal for Wimbledon in the 1988 FA Cup Final against Liverpool.

Cork House celebrates the very substantial contribution made by Alan Cork with 430 games and 135 goals over a period of 14 years with the club, ranging from the Southern League days right through to the First Division of the Football League and the famous 1988 Cup win.   His son Jack is a much admired  midfielder for my own club, Southampton.

And so we come to Bassett House, where my son resides.   Named for Dave Bassett, one of the true `football men.`  A playing career that saw him appear 141 times for Wimbledon was followed by a long managerial career starting at Plough Lane before moving on to other clubs including Watford, Sheffield United, Crystal Palace, Nottingham Forest, Barnsley, Leicester City, Leeds United and, briefly, Southampton alongside the Armani suited serial scuffler Dennis Wise, another product of Wimbledon`s own version of an Academy.   Perhaps Dave Bassett`s persona is best summed up by his insistence in referring to the gifted Arsenal midfielder Kanu as `Canoe.`


And so my son resides on hallowed ground in SW19, although it is said that, in the dead of quiet midwinter nights, it is still possible to hear the echoes of ghostly anguished squeals as Vinnie Jones grabs Paul Gascoigne by the appendages.  

What was it that Bernie Taupin wrote for Elton John?  Oh, yes.  "You can`t plant me in your penthouse.  I`m going back to my plough."

I hope my son sleeps well.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

SOUNDS LIKE IT TO ME...

I think it was as long ago as November 2009 that I first wrote about Sir John Chilcot`s Inquiry and since then I have commented on the progress or otherwise of this £7million look at the run up to the Blair/Bush invasion of Iraq.  And still we wait.

Now you would be correct in accusing me of becoming obsessive about this and you might be right, but I really do think that we are due an explanation as to how this misguided and quite possibly illegal  conflict was allowed to happen in our name.   Someone once described it as the most humiliating moment in British foreign policy since Suez and who would argue against that analysis?

Anyway, in recent days Dave Cameron has got interested in the delay in publishing the Inquiry`s Final Report and today he has expressed his wish that the report is published `before the end of the year.`   The fly in the ointment seems to be one Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary and thus the head honcho of the Civil Service.   His problem appears to be a worry that disclosure of allegedly private communications between Blair and Bush might jeopardise the `special relationship` between Britain and the USA.  

Now of course, he is entitled to his opinion about that, although I tend to the view that any `special relationship` that might still exist is more likely to be jeopardised by obstructing the Chilcot Inquiry to tell us the truth of what took place all of eleven or twelve years ago, rather than trying to hide it to avoid any `embarrassment.`

Dave says that `It`s frustrating but it is not in my gift;  this is an independent inquiry.  My understanding is that they will be able to publish before the end of the year and I very much hope they can deliver on that timetable.`   Sounds good but unless I`m mistaken, Sir Jeremy Heywood is a paid official - a very important one, maybe, but still a paid official - whereas Dave Cameron is the Prime Minister with all the power and authority at his disposal.   

So maybe it`s time for him to use that power and authority to tell Sir Jeremy his fortune about just who really is in charge and order the publication of the Report without further delay.   If not, people will suspect this is a case of the tail is wagging the dog.  Sounds like it to me.

Thursday, May 15, 2014


A BRIEF CONVERSATION...

Ring, ring...

"Yo, bro?"

"Hello, Ashley, it`s Roy......thought I should let you know that I`m having to let you go from the party for Brazil."

"Just as well I decided to retire from international football then."


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

MAD THURSDAY...

.....is looming large.  You can tell by the excruciatingly awful party election broadcasts appearing on television each night.   And we`ve had the polling cards shoved through the door and the party leaflets are beginning to appear in our letter box.   Do these people really expect me to display their posters in my window?  If so, I fear they are going to be disappointed.

Now in a former life I had quite a bit to do with elections of all kinds - Parish, District, County, Parliamentary, European - in various capacities ranging from humble Poll Clerk to humble Acting Returning Officer, so I`ve seen it all from the `other side` of polling day and it wasn`t always a pretty sight.   It always reminded me of when I was in my teens and I used to help out in my parents` pub when things got busy.  I was given tasks such as ensuring that the bottles of assorted beverages behind the bar were always stocked up for the voracious consumption by assorted patrons and experiences such as these had the effect of making the delights of bars and pubs less and less agreeable until it reached the point whereby I stopped drinking any sort of alcohol and haven`t touched a drop since.  Seeing the `other side` of things wasn`t always a pretty sight and just turned me off it all.

And so it is with the paraphernalia of elections - the canvassing, the red tape and sealing wax, the utter superficiality of party election literature and broadcasts but also - and perhaps most of all - the dubious qualities and doubtful motives of most of the candidates. It all reminds me of the late, great Dennis Potter and his timeless observation of `democracy at work` in his play Vote Vote Vote for Nigel Barton.  Nigel was someone who had stood unsuccessfully as a Conservative candidate and so became a Labour one in the following election.   Ring any bells, Mrs. Grant?

Now here in Dibley we only have an election for the European Parliament - it seems that the Parish, District and County Councillors are safely tucked away from exposure to the electorate for another year - but it seems we are going to be faced with a choice of the Usual Suspects - Tory, Labour, LibDem, UKIP, BNP, English Democrats - the list goes on but what seems to be missing is any cause worth voting for - most of them seem to be causes to vote against which is probably why UKIP will do rather well.

I`m surprised there isn`t a Football Party candidate as it seems to me that football is the single most important issue that concerns the voting public in modern day Britain, what with the Premier League, all the other leagues and this year`s World Cup, the news is dominated by the game and the comings and goings of players and managers.   Oh, and in other news, over 200 miners have died in Turkey and Chilcot still hasn`t published his report about the fiasco of Iraq.

Mad Thursday is looming large......but maybe it won`t be much different to any other day?


Monday, May 12, 2014


So that`s it.   Another football season comes to a shuddering halt.  Well, almost;  just the FA Cup Final, the Play-Off Finals and the World Cup to get over and we can all sleep peacefully in our beds for a night or two.   

For us Saints fans, the season has been a good one - eighth place in the Premier League, the self-styled "best league in the world (tm)" and hopes for the future.  But wait a minute.  At the last rumour count, the price of that relative success could see the departure of.....

.....Manager Mauricio Pochettino and his backroom staff to Tottenham
.....Left back Luke Shaw to Manchester United 
.....Captain Adam Lallana to Liverpool
.....Centre back Dejan Lovren to Liverpool
.....Midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin to Arsenal
.....Right back Callum Chambers to Arsenal
.....Striker Jay Rodriguez to Tottenham

.....all of which would tear great big holes in the team, the club and the peace of mind of supporters.   But in the madcap parallel universe of Premier League football anything can happen.  Who knows?  Time will tell.  

This season, as ever, I have also followed the fortunes of neighbourly interests and seen both Mr. Slightly`s Gillingham and our street`s gay icon pacy flanker Scott ("Buzzin` Six Pack") Wagstaff and his Bristol City chums reach the sanctuary of mid table security in League One. But I sometimes wonder what it must be like to be a supporter of teams lower down in the football pyramid and it has been events even lower down that have caught my attention with the likes of Droylesden, Totton, Truro City and the New Forest`s very own Bashley. 

Of all of those, I`ll just pick out the season experienced by aficionados of Droylesden in the Evo-Stick Northern Premier League.  In their 46 league matches, they won two, drew three and lost the other 41.   They managed to score 40 goals all season but conceded 182, leaving them with  goal difference of minus 142 and ending the season with just nine points and relegation to the Evo-Stick First Division North.

Now my beloved Saints may have hit their glass ceiling - their resources, the size of their stadium and catchment area may make it difficult to aspire to the mythical `next level` but being a Saints fan is for life, not just the Premier League and so if a turning point has been reached where the only way is either down or settling for  mid-table obscurity then que sera sera indeed.  No complaints from me.  After all,  I could have been a Droylesden fan.

Saturday, May 10, 2014


A STING IN THE TAIL...

For well over 50 years now, I have faithfully paid the BBC licence fee, admittedly somewhat grudgingly as I have a rebellious nature as far as any form of compulsion is concerned.   A few weeks ago, I had an e-mail telling me that my licence fee of £145.50 for the coming year was now due.  However, the small print revealed that if you were about to reach the age of 75 in the coming year, there was `a process` by which your fee could be reduced to reflect the fact that, after 75, you wouldn`t have to pay it any more.

Seemed like a good deal and, as I will reach that milestone in a couple of months time, I embarked on `the process.`  It wasn`t too difficult although the Licensing outfit are taking their time about it, presumably to work out the amount that I might have to pay.  So, negotiations are continuing but my guess is that I might be asked/forced to pay about £30 which will give me access to extremes ranging from this evening`s excruciating banality of Graham Norton and the Eurovision Song Contest to the glories of Radio 4 and BBC Four.

But there`s a sting in the tail, of course.   There always is.  As the picture above shows, even the Chairman of the Commons Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport has joined the rising clamour for the licence fee to be scrapped.   Why do they wait until I reach the point of not having to pay it anyway before it seems increasingly likely that it might be done away with entirely?   

I detect a cunning plan.  It`s simple really.  One of the slight regrets I might have for being immune to the compulsory fee is that I may feel perhaps a little reluctant to complain about the BBC and its alleged organisation - and there is more than enough to complain about.   But if the licence fee is done away with and nobody has to pay it any more then maybe that reluctance will become more widespread, which will suit the BBC rather nicely.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014


THE DEAREST AND THE BEST

It was with much sadness that I learned today of the passing of the author Leslie Thomas and although I don`t intend for this to be an obituary (others more skilled in that art will do that) I wanted - felt the need really - just to jot down a few thoughts about Leslie Thomas, as he is someone with whom I have identified over the years.  Here`s why.....

Like me, he did his National Service, mainly in the far east, on which he based his first best selling novel, The Virgin Soldiers and its sequels, Onward followed by Stand Up Virgin Soldiers.  But from the bawdy raucousness of those beginnings, he developed a style which became more wry, more reflective of the times in which he lived - Tropic of Ruislip just caught the social atmosphere and turmoil which we lived through.   He produced travel books about this country - I still have The Hidden Places of Britain which includes an evocative portrait of the north Kent marshes not far from where I live and an account of the deep midwinter in Cape Cornwall and St. Just in Penwith.

He may not have produced great literature in its truest sense but he produced stories about people and places that he clearly held dear - the delicate harshness of Chloe`s Song set largely in and around Southampton, for example.   Now my choice of illustration shown above might appear odd in the context of this ramble - it shows a hidden corner of the New Forest but it might also be a subtle tribute to his best work.   One of my best loved English composers is Gustav Holst, of Planets fame, and his uplifting homage to Jupiter The Bringer of Jollity includes the haunting melody that became I Vow to Thee My Country.  Cecil Spring Rice`s lyrics include the lines:-


The love that asks no questions, the love that stands the test
That lays upon the alter the dearest and the best

......and I can well imagine Leslie Thomas using these lines and the sentiment they express as the inspiration for his novel based on wartime in the New Forest with all its barely disguised settings of Beaulieu, Lyndhurst and others and all the anguish that wartime brought to the Forest villagers and their sacrifice and horror as they lost The Dearest and the Best of their own.

Now and again Mrs. Snopper encourages me to `have a sort out` of my eclectic bookshelves and I admit that almost all of my Leslie Thomas collection has gone to deserving charities over the years and it is only today, with the news of his passing, that I appreciate them even more.   I make a habit of visiting book shops and lately I have been looking to replace two or three of my favourite Thomas novels but sadly he seems to have gone out of fashion.   More`s the pity, for he beautifully and faithfully captured the essence of those times, those places and those people which he held with such true affection, in return for which he was himself held with affection and admiration by those of us of a certain age who cherish the same things as did he.  I am so sorry that he is no longer with us.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014


My Hedge End correspondent was kind enough to comment on my last post about my return visit to the New Forest last week.   In it, I had mentioned that I had spent much of the war years in a house in Blackfield on the edge of the Forest and he imagined that "wartime in Blackfield was rather interesting. You must have a few tales to tell, Snopper."

With my father away in the war, my mother and I stayed with my aunt and uncle in a house in Hampton Lane, Blackfield, until the war ended and my father came home. It was all over 70 years ago now but there are a few memories still lurking in the recycle bin of my mind that refuse to fade away.  Perhaps the two most compelling ones concern firstly the bombing raids on Southampton and the Waterside and secondly the intense activity in the run up to D-Day in June 1944.

As a large port, Southampton was a strategic target for the Luftwaffe and a concerted blitz of the city took place early on in the war with further bombing raids continuing for the remainder of the conflict.  As Blackfield is close to Southampton and other targets along the Waterside, in what became a loving attempt at wartime health and safety I was put to bed in a cupboard under the stairs each night, where I lay awake listening to the nocturnal percussion overhead.

Mercifully, the house in Hampton Lane was spared otherwise I would not be sitting here writing this but a bomb did fall at Mopley on the road down to Lepe and I remember being taken down there to see the huge hole caused by the impact.  I can still recall the sound of the planes overhead, the splutter of the V1 flying bombs and the eerie silence as their engines cut out.   But looking back on it all, the thing that strikes me perhaps more than most was my shoulder-shrugging innocent acceptance that that was the way life was, for I had had no other experience and it wasn`t until the war ended that I really became aware that there was another way of life after all.   It was called peacetime and with it came an end to sleeping under stairs, to air raid warnings, to gas masks and it heralded new defining experiences nurturing a lifelong appreciation of life and all it has to offer.

By the time of D-Day in June, 1944, I had somehow managed to be just a month away from my fifth birthday and so the image of a seemingly endless stream of military vehicles and hardware thundering down Hampton Lane towards Lepe became etched forever in my memory.  Lepe, just a couple of miles from Blackfield, played an important role in the D-Day preparations as a major departure point for troops, vehicles and supplies; as a construction site for part of the prefabricated Mulberry Harbours and as the main base for the PLUTO (Pipe Line Under The Ocean) fuel supply.

I remember standing outside the house in Hampton Lane in short trousers and in all my urchin-like bewilderment as the convoys passed by and on one occasion being thrown a packet of gum and a few sweets from a passing American truck full of soldiers en route to becoming part of the invasion force.  I gratefully picked them up but I wasn`t quite sure what they were or what to do with them.

So there we are - just a couple of reminiscences from a very formative boyhood which would immeasurably improve and develop once we moved from Blackfield to nearby Hythe and, at last, became a proper family.   Now, I`m conscious that the world may be divided between those who like to live in and for the past and those who, perhaps like me, identify with the sentiments of Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield:-

Yesterday is yesterday
The past is dead and gone
Nostalgia just gets in the way
Let`s stop hanging on.

Sunday, May 04, 2014


ROOTS..

Just back from a week in and around the New Forest in Hampshire and in many ways it was a return to the area where I spent my formative years until my family moved away when I was about 13 or 14.   You never forget those early years, of course, and my first few years coincided with wartime spent in the village of Blackfield before, when my father returned from having been a prisoner of war, we moved to Hythe on the shores of Southampton Water.

It was almost the perfect location to be a boy, with the waves of Southampton Water lapping at the bottom of our garden and with the New Forest just inland.  The long summer days seemed filled with adventures and in an era without television or PCs or iPads or smartphones or Twitter or Facebook it was only seriously inclement weather that kept me indoors and away from the activity on the Water or the secrets of the Forest.

And so last week I ventured back again to Blackfield and Hythe, where the march of time has seen much change and we also visited Beaulieu, Bucklers Hard, Exbury, Calshot, Lepe and explored once more the hidden glades of the Forest where, at Boldrewood, I managed to capture this sight of feeding deer:- 

It`s exactly the kind of experience that makes it highly likely that we will be spending more time in the land of my roots.