Monday, June 30, 2014


A RITE OF PASSAGE ?

Hopefully, although I haven`t heard yet, one of my granddaughters is now safely home from Glastonbury.  She`s a young woman now - grown up, sensible, quiet, courteous, with a good degree and a responsible job.   Her qualities represent almost the exact opposite of those of her grandfather, which may account for the fact that I have never been to the Glastonbury Festival and, in truth, never really thought about going.

To me, the whole thing is everything I can do without - crowds, noise, desperate conditions, third world facilities and a hefty price tag.   And yet, the younger people of today seem to feel almost a compulsion to attend this annual shindig in the normally tranquil backwaters of rural Somerset.   I wonder why.

I have a sneaking feeling that they feel it is something they have to do - almost a rite of passage, one which, as the definition goes, `is a ritual event that marks a person`s transition from one status to another.` If so, then fair enough, although I suspect there might be more agreeable ways to mark that transition than spending three days and nights engulfed in a sea of humanity, wondering what you`re doing there and wishing you were back home.

Hang on though - maybe my own rite of passage was the 731 days and nights I was compelled to spend doing my National Service, engulfed in a sea of bewilderment, wondering what I was doing there and wishing I was back home.   And maybe that`s why I never needed Glastonbury after all?   Answers on a postcard please. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

SMALL MERCIES..

I`ve been watching bits of the World Cup with a kind of detached ambivalence.   Some weeks ago, I was genuinely pleased that so many Southampton players had been chosen to represent their respective countries.   Now, however, that pleasure has been diluted by recent events surrounding the club`s World Cup representatives.   It goes like this:-

- Rickie Lambert, once Southampton`a Goal Machine, now transferred to his spiritual home at Liverpool;

- Luke Shaw, nurtured through the Saints Academy for ten years but, encouraged by ambitious parents and a quite obscene amount of money, now transferred to The True Damned United;

- Adam Lallana, Saints` captain and another from our Academy production line, has also agreed terms to go to Anfield;

- Croatia`s Dejan Lovren, after just one season at Saint Mary`s, is reported to be going on strike to secure a move to Liverpool (I`ve de-friended him on F***book, so there!);

- Uruguay`s Gaston Ramirez, promised much at Southampton last season but has yet to really deliver his undoubted talent and following his exploits in Brazil, may seek pastures new;

- Maya Yoshida, stalwart centre-back for Japan but like his other Saints team-mates listed above, now home again after his country failed to progress in the competition;

- Morgan Schneiderlin, another from our youth set-up, has just gained his first international cap with France and seems poised to join the quasi-Gallic outfit at the Emirates Stadium;

So, only Schneiderlin remains in Brazil at the World Cup and although he may be the last one from the original Saints` representatives, it seems increasingly likely that the lure of Arsenal will also see him depart the beautiful south.

And with the departure of manager Mauricio Pochettino to Tottenham, there was much speculation about who might replace him.   In the end, the appointment of Dutch legend Ronald Koeman might turn out to be an inspired choice, so there may be hope yet.

As for me, being ever mindful of the subtle difference between supporting a team and supporting a club, I look for small mercies in all of this.  It could have been worse.   It could have been Sam Allardyce!

Friday, June 27, 2014


ROLE REVERSAL ?....


Odd things going on in the world right now.  Nothing unusual you might say as the world is an odd place. Take the latest examples of FIFA and the World Cup and the ultra democratic process that sees just one candidate put forward for the Presidency of the European Commission.

FIFA is run by one Sepp Blatter and has been for more years than I care to remember.  His leadership has given rise to rampant criticism, suspicion and downright cynicism about the way that organisation is run.   However, it carries serenely on with every indication that Blatter will seek to carry on for another four years, thus making the root and branch reform which it is crying out for, even less likely.

In the European Union, the one candidate to be the next President of the EU Commission was one Jean-Claude Juncker, an arch federalist and one who in Dave Cameron`s opinion is yesterday`s man, entirely incapable and unwilling to contemplate any reform of the EU but instead is quite probably going to promote even greater centralised power to Brussels.

In today`s vote, Dave lost 26-2, with only Hungary as his sole supporter in opposing Juncker`s `election.`   I put `election` in quotes, as my idea of an election for the President of the EU is that there should be a choice of candidates and a vote of all the `citizens` of the EU rather than it being left to the whimsical notion of EU members.   But this is the EU, of course, where their idea of democracy is to ignore the wishes of those who pay for it all, ignore the results of democratic ballots in member states and carry on regardless because they know what`s good for us.

Juncker, of course, was supported by the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who seems to have assumed the political leadership of the EU, which is very odd indeed, given the fact that Germany are 2-0 down after extra time.  Now the truth is that the leadership of the EU so far has also given rise to rampant criticism, suspicion and downright cynicism about the way that organisation is run (is it 19 years now that their accounts have not been signed off because of the institutionalised financial mismanagement?)  And with Juncker`s `election` the EU will carry serenely on, thus making the root and branch reform which it is crying out for, even less likely.

So, two conclusions.  The first is to say well done to Dave Cameron for at least giving it a go, although his defeat does mean that any chance of acceptably renegotiating the UK`s relationship with the EU is dead in the Channel, so we might as well have the in-out referendum now and get on with it.

The second is to suggest that there might as well be a role reversal between Blatter and Merkel - she could run FIFA (well, the Germans with their largely non-German team seem to be doing OK) and Blatter could become the eminence grise of Brussels.  It may be fanciful but I`m not sure we would notice any difference.  After all, there`s no hope for any reform of either organisation and every chance that they will both continue to bring the game into disrepute.  

Thursday, June 26, 2014


Simples.......just become 75!  Well, that`s the theory.  When I was asked/told to renew my TV licence a few weeks back, I ticked the box to indicate that I would be 75 later this year - in about three weeks in fact.   They believed me, so I only had to pay about £22 to cover the period between my old licence running out and my birthday.  That was that I thought.

Now I`ve had a nicely worded letter from TV Licensing up in Darlington - the Portsmouth of the north - saying that they `need` my help to issue my free over 75 licence.  I`ve been asked to prove my age by sending them a copy of either a passport (don`t have one; don`t want to go anywhere foreign) ; an EU or EAA national identity card (they`re surely joking); a UK driving licence or a UK birth certificate.   I plumped for the latter and sent it off today, having completed another form to go with it giving my National Insurance number, my telephone number, my date of birth, my home address and my inside leg measurement.

I`ve no problem with any of this as they can`t dish out free TV licences to just anyone and the whole exercise has been dealt with efficiently and sympathetically, if perhaps a shade patronisingly - well, they are dealing with people in their second childhood, approaching their dotage, short of a few marbles, I guess. Perhaps that`s why they sent a pre=paid business reply envelope.

But my only regret is that I qualify for the free licence - so much living to do;  so little time?  Oh, and of course I will feel awkward moaning about the BBC any more - possibly.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

SUPPLY INTERRUPTED...

There`s a man coming today to replace our electricity meter.   Not quite sure why, but he`s coming just the same. We are advised that we should unplug `all sensitive electrical equipment within the property, to safeguard against any possible electrical damage.`

More worryingly, whilst the meter is being replaced, for about 30 minutes we will be without any elec

Sunday, June 22, 2014


To Wimbledon again for the real pleasure of spending some time with our middle son and our youngest grandson.  Another visit to Bassett House on the site of Wimbledon FC`s Plough Lane ground and once again I was reminded of Dave (Harry) Bassett, Wimbledon legend and former Southampton joint manager, for whom the `development` is named.  I could almost hear again  Claus Lundekvam being encouraged by Dave to `get up his dirtbox,` such was Dave`s gritty style of football management and vocal exhortation.

It was a good afternoon, one we enjoyed almost despite a couple of minor irritations.   The first was entirely my own fault, for I simply don`t `do` London.  I think there`s something in the air and the contrast between the streets of even rather refined Wimbledon and the clean sea breezes of Cornwall that I breathed last week was very marked.  Anywhere near central London and I taste the air as well as breath it - it has an acrid, curry-flavoured taste and also my eyes feel as if they have been sprinkled with grit.

We went to the big park close to the All England Tennis place and I should not have been surprised but there were queues forming already for tickets to the opening day of Wimbledon fortnight which starts tomorrow.   Now I know it`s part of the English summer season but the attraction of queueing up and paying all that cash to watch a game where people hit a ball across a net until it stops coming back to them, is lost on me.

Now our English season isn`t going particularly well.   We have lost to New Zealand in the Rugby; there might be a glimmer of hope for the cricket against Sri Lanka but the football in Brazil has gone tits-up (another Dave-ism) and some reporter today seriously suggested that our sporting summer now seems to hinge on a recalcitrant Scot winning Wimbledon again, thus lifting our English spirits.    To whom will such desperate reporters turn if Scotland vote to leave the UK, I wonder?   Well, there`s always Dave Bassett.

Saturday, June 21, 2014


SO THAT`S WHERE THEY`RE HIDING..

Got home yesterday after a fabulous week in the Roseland - superb location, wonderful weather, our favourite coast path walk possible at last now that the bridge at Molunan on the stretch from St. Anthony to Place has been repaired - but the journey home from deepest Cornwall was, how shall I say....interesting.

A3058 - A390 - A38 - M5 - A358 - A303, so far so good.....but that`s when we saw the warning signs flashed in bright letters about severe delays at Stonehenge because of the Solstice thingy with 37,000 pagans and druids doing their thing. So, being ever resourceful, I decided to go through Yeovil on to the A30 which, whilst a bit slower, is a bit more picturesque and it eventually rejoins the A303 around Andover, thus missing out the Solstice throngs.

Made good progress until we saw signs that the A30 was closed at Wilton for road repairs. Now, it`s reasonable to expect diversion signs when you get near the road closure but not this time.  We did eventually reach Wilton, not having seen a diversion sign, but were turned back by a diligent official and told to go back along the A30 the way we came and follow the diversion signs.   To be fair, there were some signs going back that way but the diversion took us all the way back to Shaftesbury, thence down to Blandford Forum, on to Salisbury in the rush hour and eventually to Andover and the relative haven of the A303.

It got worse.  We stopped at Fleet Services only to discover that Waitrose had sold out of yum-yums and arrived home after a journey of over ten hours and 357 miles.   Next time, I`ll know better than to trust diversion signs which seemed to be hiding away in cold storage; but was it worth it?   You bet, just for the delight of the Roseland in mid summer. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014


A GREEN HILL FAR AWAY..

A captivating scene;  people walking the south west coast path above Porthcurnick beach; a swathe of golden sand; in the distance a glimpse of Portscatho, which as well as being a Wycliffe location might also double as Kernow`s very own version of Llareggub; and the cordon bleu Hidden Hut nestling beneath the green hill looking out to Gerrans Bay, Gull Rock and Nare Head.

Now I`m a simple soul really and one of so many criticisms levelled at me over the years is that I may lack a little ambition.   I suppose this might be illustrated by my choice of holiday destinations and activities.   Not for me the mayhem at airports, the long haul flights - or even the short haul ones come to that - or the crowded, umbrella`d, Teutonic towelled loungers in foreign resorts, full of people I can`t understand and where I`m expected to eat stuff I don`t understand either.

So, for me, the simple but undeniable pleasure of letting these long summer days drift slowly by, watching the tide come and go, breathing proper air, walking that wonderful coast path, maybe wandering along to down-town Portscatho (pictured) for some essential supplies but, most of all, just being, is all I ever need.  

One day, perhaps to coincide with my upcoming 75th birthday, I`ll do a bucket list.  I think it will be a short one. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

YET MORE CONFIRMATION..

This is a box of frogs.  Now boxes of frogs are normally associated with madness.   I`m not sure why but I have this growing suspicion that it`s unfair on frogs. Here`s why.

It might just be the effect of midsummer but I look around on this glorious sun-filled day and what do I see? Well, there`s the Michael Gove/Teresa May spat which has seen them hauled up before the Cameron beak, told not to misbehave in class and one of the unelected, unaccountable SPADS given her marching orders.   Now of course there is a problem with schools in Birmingham which needs sorting and the early signs are encouraging.   It`s just that it has taken the Gove/May leadership manoeuvring farrago to give the problem the exposure it needed.

The allegations of cultural strife in Birmingham reminded me of the recent case in deepest Devon, of all places.   The village school at Payhembury was marked down in an Ofsted report as it consisted entirely of white British children - hardly surprising in rural Devon. The solution to overcome this innocent challenge to `diversity` has been to get the parents in Payhembury to cough up £35 each to send their little treasures to an inner city London school where the demography is exactly he opposite.   I wonder whether - in the interests of balance, of course - schoolchildren from the depths of Newham, Brixton, Tower Hamlets and certain parts of Birmingham would equally benefit from visiting rural Devon?

Now I see that FIFA President Sepp Blatter is accusing critics of the daft Qatar 2022 World Cup award of being racists as they have the effrontery to question the logic and the process of awarding World Cup Finals to a baking-hot country which had absolutely no football pedigree, no football stadia and no recognised teams.  Apart from that it was the obvious choice.

In Sweden EU leaders are arguing about who might be the next unelected President of the EU Commission; mayhem continues unchecked in Iraq, Syria and Pakistan; greed and corruption seemingly rife almost everywhere you look; celebrity culture and unsocial networks dumbing down those who go near them; .....the list goes on of things in today`s world that give me yet more confirmation that we are living in God`s blueprint; the draft; the dummy run; the prototype where we are the guinea pigs to demonstrate how not to run a planet and from all this experience He or She will produce the perfect paradise.

And all the while in their croaking, slime-covered, amphibious innocence, the frogs look around and conclude that what they see is as mad as a box of humans, whose prime attention in the coming weeks will be to ignore the lunacy they have already created and instead devote their attention to the even greater madness of worrying about grown men kicking balls around fields in a faraway land which has troubles of its own.  

The frogs might be right after all?.........

Sunday, June 08, 2014


DRIVE-BY IRONY...


.....especially as the wording on the rear nearside window proclaims `COLLISION INVESTIGATION.`  

No idea why this accident happened although it occurred to me that this might, in fact, be the latest Ann Barnes car crash in her troubled reign as Kent Police and Crime Commissioner.


Saturday, June 07, 2014


WE MEET AGAIN...

It`s a delight when after many, many years, old friends and acquaintances meet up again. And it is especially so now that those old friends and acquaintances are, like myself, well into their 70s.   It started just two or three years ago when, thanks to the internet and some judicious searching, I met up with an old school friend who I had not seen since we played cricket together on a Kentish hillside in the late 1950s.   Fortuitously, his niece had a village pub where we arranged to meet and I think our first words to each other after over 50 years may well have been, "Now, what were we saying?"   A much treasured  and continuing friendship revived.

A month or so ago, our local Parish Council had, as they are required by law to do, given notice of the Annual Parish Meeting, which is traditionally poorly attended.   This year, however, they had gone to the admirable trouble of producing a seductively glossy brochure, delivered to every door in the parish, containing the annual report and announcing that a talk would be given by a well respected Kentish historian, whose name I recognised, about the development of the county over the years. 

Now I`m not a great fan of Parish Council meetings but even I could not resist meeting this much heralded historian.   You see, the last time he and I met was again all of 50 years ago on the same cricket field on that same Kentish hillside when he captained a team from Sevenoaks and I had the honour of captaining the village team.   We didn`t speak much about the history of Kent but we did speak a lot about the glory days of village cricket.   More treasured memories revived.

And last evening I ventured to the last resort that is Folkestone - all heaving bingo, fairground noise and what passes these days for entertainment - to meet up with an old friend and his wife who were staying overnight en route to France from their Yorkshire home.   He and I had met fleetingly well over 30 years ago now and before that we had spent most of our National Service together in Germany, by day in our armoured cavalry regiment and at night working as projectionists in the AKC Cinema.

The coincidence being, of course, that we should happen to meet up again on the 70th anniversary of D-Day, when the casualties and veterans of the real war were recognised once more for a sacrifice and a triumph that enabled people like me to survive long enough to enjoy the company of good friends remembering good times.   

Wednesday, June 04, 2014


SOUND AND VISION..

To begin at the beginning.   It was January, 1954.   My father had bought a television set the year before promising my mother how much she would enjoy seeing the coronation whilst his real motivation had been the Matthews Cup Final when Blackpool beat Bolton Wanderers 4-3 in a memorable encounter.   Television in those days was limited - just one BBC channel as far as I recall - and so radio was still a popular alternative in our household.

  
And we were entertained by such rib-tickling shows as Take it From Here, The Goon Show and perhaps most bizarre of all, Educating Archie, which revolved around a ventriloquist having problems with his adolescent dummy, the aforementioned Archie. Even then, in my own 14-year old burgeoning adolescence, I could see the absurdity of having a ventriloquist on the radio.

And then on that January evening along came Dylan Thomas`s Under Milk Wood.  I`m not sure I was supposed to listen to it because, at the time, there were parental concerns that it might have been a shade too risqué for my youthful innocence and in any case Thomas, like Brendan Behan, was alleged to have been possessed of a lifestyle, a persona and characteristics that might not provide memorable literature or a shining example for the callow youths of the time.  How wrong can you be?

But I managed to hear it all right.....and again a couple of nights later when, in response to public demand for increased doses of risqueness, Under Milk Wood was repeated.  And what wonders it evoked; the music of the language full of lyrical, dreamy, flowing prose bringing fantasies to my listener`s mind of those people and places that  Dylan Thomas mustered from his own imagination and experience in observing life, death, hopes and dreams in Laugharne and New Quay.  So many characters with so much to say and I found myself identifying with Llareggub`s very own recalcitrant scamp, Nogood Boyo, who wanted to be good boyo, but no-one would let him.  Maybe that was the root cause of my penchant for minor rebellion.

Fast forward 30 years or so and I found myself on an extended management development course at Bristol University`s School for Advanced Urban Studies.   The course was run by very demanding people who were keen to show just how terribly clever they were.   We were given tasks and I began to feel like one of Mrs. Ogmore - Pritchard`s two shambling phantoms, Mr. Ogmore and Mr. Pritchard.   We were given tasks.  ("In order.  I must take my cold bath which is good for me.  I must take my salts which are nature`s friend.  I must make my herb tea which is free from tannin.  And have a charcoal biscuit which is good for me.....")   And we were sent to bed and expected to prepare for the next morning`s management task.

Fortunately, I had taken my copy of Dent`s  1974 edition of Under Milk Wood (price 85p) and I turned to it, like an old friend, for consolation and escape, losing myself in my own dream of Rosie Probert ("33, Duck Lane.  Quack twice and ask for Rosie") who Captain Cat implored to "Lie down.  Lie easy.   Let me shipwreck in your thighs."


Some years ago, I bought the video (yes, the video) of the 1972 Burton/Taylor/O`Toole film and I also had the CD of the original 1954 radio broadcast which I still have in the car as well as my 85p volume, courtesy of Dent and Co.  So Under Milk Wood has been something of an obsession of mine, perhaps even a passion.   And a few nights ago, I managed to record the BBC Wales television production, shown on BBC Four, with an entire cast of Welsh actors - Michael Sheen, Jonathan Pryce, Matthew Rhys, Sian Phillips, Bryn Terfel, Katherine Jenkins, Charlotte Church and even Sir Tom Jones as a convincing Captain Cat.   Well, it`s not unusual.

It was terrific and where the 1954 radio version provided the sound of genius, the 2014 television version provided the vision and brought light to the original play for voices. It beautifully, sensitively and accurately captured the images and the feeling of Thomas`s imagination and if you`re quick, you can catch it on BBC i player in the next few days.   Perhaps the best compliment I can give is that it made my own `wind shaken wood spring awake for the second dark time this one Spring day.`

Monday, June 02, 2014


TIME FOR ANOTHER ONE ?


I suppose, like most people, I have vivid memories of where I was when certain events took place.   And one of them took place close to Alresford in Hampshire on 22nd November, 2003.   I was driving from home in Kent to Southampton to see the Saints play Chelsea in a Premier League encounter at St. Mary`s Stadium.   

It`s a long drive and so I had the car radio on for company.  Now I would normally have been listening to Classic FM`s top 20 but on that particular morning a very special event was taking place on the other side of the world - the Rugby World Cup Final between England and Australia in Sydney.   And it was on the A31 close to Alresford that I heard Jonny Wilkinson scoring the decisive drop goal that secured the Webb Ellis Cup for England.   What a moment!   And as well as remembering where I was at the time, I still have the memories in my mind of the jubilant commentary of that moment by the BBC`s Ian Robertson - "And Jonny Wilkinson is England`s hero, yet again."

Now over the last weekend, Wilkinson played his last ever competitive game - for the French club Toulon winning the French Top 14 Final in Paris by defeating Castres 18-10.   The week before, Wilkinson led Toulon to their Heineken Cup triumph in Cardiff, beating Saracens 23-6.   

And so a glorious playing career comes to an end - 91 caps for England, second only to Jason Leonard;  1179 International points scored, second only to New Zealand`s Dan Carter and Wilkinson stands amongst the most revered and admired in the history of the game, not only for his remarkable contribution as a player but also as an example of how to play the game and conduct oneself off the field of play.


Now of course various honours have come his way during his 17 year career.  However, there aren`t too many knights of the realm from the sporting world and Rugby Union seems especially sparse - Sir Clive Woodward, Sir Ian McGeechan and a small handful of others bestowed with knighthoods but it`s arguable that any player has given so much to the game as Wilkinson, so maybe it`s time for another one.

Oh and by the way, Chelsea won 1-0 but on that day it really didn`t matter as the spirits which had been raised on the outskirts of Alresford on that unforgettable morning stayed with me throughout the day and the long drive home.   And even now, each time I make the journey to Southampton and drive along that stretch of the A31 the memories of that glorious moment always come flooding back.   

Sunday, June 01, 2014

TOO MUCH TO ASK ?


I suppose at my age I should know better but it seems that the older I get the more frustrating things become.   And important things too.   For example, the Chilcot Inquiry into the run-up to the Iraq War, which is already four years late thanks to a ridiculous wrangle between the Inquiry team and the unelected chief mandarin, Sir Jeremy Heywood.

The argument was all about the release of communications between Tony Blair and George Bush with Heywood citing confidentiality and compromise to the so-called `special relationship` between whoever might be the future US President and the UK Prime Minister.   Last week, in a blaze of indifference, reports emerged of a deal whereby the `gist` of some of those communications could be released but not the actual detail of what went on.   Fudge masquerading as progress.   What will now follow is the extraordinary process of `Maxwellisation` whereby anyone likely to be remotely criticised by the Inquiry will be sent drafts of the Inquiry report and invited to submit comments which might be reflected in the final report.

And so it goes on and despite indications that the final report might appear `before the end of the year` I`ll believe it when I see it - or what`s left of it following doubtless copious `redaction`, aka censorship.   Sometimes the truth seems forever out of reach and I wonder if it`s too much to ask for people to have the courage to tell it like it is - or was in this case - and understand that `the public` will be more impressed with honesty, however painful, than with obfuscation and denial.

It`s the same with the often promised referendum on the EU.   We are seriously supposed to believe that IF the Tories get back into power after next year`s General Election, IF Dave Cameron can successfully renegotiate Britain`s relationship with the EU and IF the other 27 EU countries led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel will all agree to Cameron`s demands then we will have a referendum in 2017 which the Tories will campaign for the UK to stay in Europe anyway.   

It`s all Alice in Wonderland stuff.  Once again, reality seems to be elusive and out of reach and I wonder if it`s too much to ask that politicians might one day keep their manifesto promises and for once, just once, heed the frustrations and expectations of those they claim to represent.   

But then I`m a Saints fan, so I know all about frustration and expectation, don`t I?  To be fair.