Tuesday, March 31, 2015


AGAINST THE TIDE..

So we`re off and running then.  The Great General Election Campaign has begun and already I`m tired of all the noise, the sniping, the accusations, the insults and the media frenzy.   Now there seems to be an assumption that one of the two `major parties` will be governing us after May 7th, improbably on their own with a workable majority or in coalition with some other outfit, some `minor party,` intent on grasping the greasy pole, unable to resist the lure of `power` for its own sake and seducing us with platitudes and false promises.

Does it have to be like that?  Well, maybe it does given the unwillingness of the electorate to see beyond the cross on the ballot paper.   Now my `problem` - if that`s what it is - is that I can`t find it in my heart to support either of the `major parties.`   Been there, done that and most of the time I`ve followed the unthinking, meandering herd and inevitably been disappointed.   So this time I`m determined to vote for someone different.  I don`t know who yet and I`m pretty sure it won`t make much difference anyway - maybe things would be different if voting was compulsory or there were boxes on the ballot paper such as `None of the above` or `You`re having a laugh.`   If only there was a Football Party.

So I`ll be swimming against the tide, I suspect.  But when I do so, it will be as a result of a genuine conviction, which is that I am desperate for change.  Change in the way we are `governed,` change in the way our `leaders` are selected and change in the assumptions that the political elite have developed and protected for themselves over the years.

My conviction will doubtless be doomed to failure - it might be pointless, a futile gesture even.....but in sticking by it at least I will be making my small challenge to the status quo and the inherent smugness of our political `leaders.`   But what if we all did it?

Sunday, March 29, 2015


A DAY TO REMEMBER..

I feel a bit nervous of sharing personal photographs, but this one was taken five years ago almost to the day when Southampton won the Johnstone`s Paint Trophy at Wembley.  And Bristol City`s win last weekend has rekindled memories of that day in 2010 which was the culmination of something of a struggle in earlier rounds to reach Wembley. 

I had the pleasure of being at Wembley back in 1976 when Southampton beat Manchester United to win the FA Cup thanks to the late Bobby Stokes`s decisive strike so I was determined to make the 2010 JPT Final.  The `group` in the photo are the Southampton Codgers - an exclusive collection of the more mature, discerning Saints fans, whose slogan, emblazoned on their flags, is `Have Some Tea and Cake,` which sums up their attitude to football and life in general - nothing too serious, all about enjoyment and good company.  We even had our very own calling cards, to be left in strategic locations or handed to deserving acquaintances as we pass through life`s journey:- 




As the years have gone by, I have become less enamoured at the prospect of driving through London, so my journey to Wembley took the form of a drive up the M25 to Watford, where after some excursions up and down cul-de-sacs and asking directions a few times, I found the station, bought my ticket and took the train to Wembley in the company of some amiable Carlisle fans who had travelled down for the day.

Getting off the train, I found Greggs, sat in a park and ate my `lunch` and made my way to The Green Man, the pub designated as the Codgers meeting place.   With one of the younger Codgerettes nominated as my carer, we made our way the to Stadium and  with the other 55,000 Saints fans there that day, we revelled in the 4-1 victory, courtesy of goals from Michail Antonio, Adam Lallana, Papa Waigo and Rickie Lambert, shown left to right.  (Of the team that day, only Jose Fonte and Kelvin Davis are still at the club, so does life move on.)

Back to the Green Man, more restrained revels, a brief tour of the sights of down town Wembley and then the return journey home, groping my way out of Watford but feeling like a kid again, like 1976 all over again, despite my septuagenarian status as one of the more senior Codgers (my silver locks and wizened features giving away my identity in the photo above?)   And so the memories of that big day out are still remembered, cherished even, as one of almost juvenile excitement in the company of like minded  devotees of the south coast`s finest.

And strange to say that, although winning the trophy that day marked a milestone in the extraordinary rise of the club from those League One days to the heights of the Premier League, I suspect we Codgers got as much pleasure from that day to remember as we do from the dizzy heights to which the Saints have now ascended, however long that may last.   Maybe we`re just easily pleased?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015




SUCH ARE PROMISES..


Today, mercifully, we had the last Prime Minister`s Questions in Parliament before the General Election in just 43 days time.  Suddenly, however, 43 days seems an awfully long time because, as one chapter drew to a close today, the next one in the pre-election cacophony arrives.    PMQs today showed up this weekly joust for what it really is - a set piece of yah-boo politics, claim and counter claim, questions asked but seldom answered and all conducted in an atmosphere that would see schoolchildren in class kept behind for detention (do they still do that these days, I wonder?)  if they behaved like we saw today from the Honourable and Right Honourable Members.  

We`ve already had the start of it - people we have never seen before banging on the door, asking if there`s anything they can do for us, leaflets being handed out or stuffed through the letter box.  And it`s going to get an awful lot worse, of course, what with TV coverage, `debates` - nothing too serious, mind you, just yet more points scoring and personal attacks - more leaflets, more unwelcome visits from party activists armed with little more than a handful of promises.  They could do worse than remember the lyrics of Paul Simon`s Boxer, then perhaps they might escape the illusion that what they have to say is in any way relevant to the man on the Clapham Omnibus:-

I have squandered my resistance
For a pocketful of mumbles
Such are promises.
All lies and jest
Still, a man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest.

We may now have escaped the onslaught of PMQs, replete with stifling heat but woefully lacking in any chink of light, only to find we are locked in a 43 day assault on our patience, our senses and our intelligence.  Happy days!



Monday, March 23, 2015



Someone once suggested that sport is `the last refuge for those who find it impossible to idle.`   But these days sport seems to be more and more the first port of call for those who are bewildered and  disillusioned by the pressures and stresses of modern day life.

And what a glorious weekend of escapism it has been.  Saturday morning began with the news of Martin Guptill`s staggering innings in New Zealand`s win over the West Indies to reach the semi-finals of cricket`s World Cup.  Guptill scored 237 not out including 11 sixes and 24 fours in just 163 balls and for me it put into context the probability that I never once scored 237 runs in a season, let alone in 20 blistering overs.

Then the Six Nations Rugby Tournament ended with Ireland winning the trophy by a whisker with England and Wales losing out on points difference.   But it was not just the enthralling and unpredictable spectacle of Saturday`s three games because, once again, Rugby showed football just how games even at the very highest level should be played and conducted with the utmost respect for the laws of the game and the match officials. Another breath of fresh air.

As for football, we had yet another inkling of what the Premier League is really all about in some brief, ill-considered post match comments by West Brom Manager, Tony Pulis. Now with some justification he was complaining that the referee had sent off the wrong player but his main concern seemed to be about the damage that decision had caused to `the product` rather than to his team.  "The Premier League is a fantastic product," he declared.  "It`s a product enjoyed by millions the world over and it doesn`t help when we have decisions like the one today."   

And so I turned to what is condescendingly referred to as the lower reaches of the game and the final of the Johnstone`s Paint Trophy played at Wembley yesterday afternoon between Bristol City and Walsall, with the added attraction that our street`s local hero, Scott Wagstaff, was in Bristol City`s winning squad.   Five years ago almost to the day I made my own pilgrimage to Wembley to see Southampton beat Carlisle to win the same trophy.  That day there were over 70,000 spectators, the vast majority from Southampton and we witnessed a joyous occasion. 

Yesterday there were 72,315 at Wembley - by far the biggest crowd at a sporting event in the UK this weekend and second only to the Barcelona/Real Madrid game in the whole of Europe.  So the Johnstone`s Paint Trophy is a prize worth winning, not just for its own sake but also because it provides a memorable occasion for loyal fans of teams who are far removed from the relentless glare of the Premier League and it reminds us that football is still a game to be played, watched and enjoyed, rather than a product to be sold in a results driven global market.

Yesterday morning I painted the walls in the bathroom - well, it needed doing - and as I did so I felt a tinge of regret that I wasn`t using Johnstone`s Paint.

Friday, March 20, 2015

A PIOUS HOPE...

Okay - firstly a disclaimer.  I am not, never have been and quite probably never will be a member of any political party or organisation.  And so this is not a criticism either of the parties themselves or anyone who sees fit to join them.   Rather my complaint - not for the first time - is with the BBC  who, especially in the run up to a General Election, should surely be demonstrating the degree of political impartiality that we are entitled to expect from a publicly funded organisation.

Early this morning, at the end of a BBC South East Today news bulletin, up pops failed LibDem MP Lembit Opik to proclaim that he will be hosting a phone-in on BBC local radio about the suspension of a UKIP MEP following allegations of some financial impropriety.

Now I could roll out the litany of failure, embarrassment and comic desperation that has dogged Mr. Opik over the years, but that would be to miss the point, which is simply one of bewilderment that the BBC should be inviting a political `figure` to host a discussion into the problems of another political organisation.   Mind you, other television channels are just as bad - for example, SKY inviting former Home Secretary and expenses cheat Jaqui Smith to be part of their Press Review collective.

But when all is said and done, the hope I have for the BBC to act within their original and admirable remit is clearly a pious one.  

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

FIRST THINGS FIRST...



I hesitate to enter into the brouhaha between David, Reg, Domenico and Stefano.  How they live their lives is neither my business nor my concern.  But they have made their little tiff public and in the process have provoked a deluge of opinions, prejudices and commentaries from perhaps too many bystanders, many of whom seek nothing more than a little attention for themselves.

I have no doubt that there are a large number of people who find it all rather difficult to come to terms with, especially among those who hail from a different time, when things were oh so very different.   I`m not suggesting that those times were either any better or any worse - they were just very different and, as a result, like old dogs struggling with new tricks, there is a whole generation who are puzzled by many aspects of today`s world and wonder quite what to make of it all.

But surely the most important people in all of this are the children, born through a wonderful medical process into `families` who will surely cherish them, care for them and love them, which is all that children crave really.  I`m sure that what they won`t crave is to be caught up in the  public and social media hysteria promulgated by people whose unsolicited opinions are of doubtful relevance and who seem quite incapable of realising that it should be all about the children rather than about themselves.

Monday, March 16, 2015


ONE DOOR CLOSES..


One of the most contradictory moves in recent years was the appointment of Tony Blair as Middle East Peace Envoy.   Belief was seldom beggared to such an extent as when, as long ago as 2007, he was shoehorned into the role by The Quartet of the UN, USA, EU and Russia with the brief to sort out the Israeli/Palestinian impasse, acting as a wandering statesman on the international scene with access to world leaders.  Words such as gross and grotesque somehow sprang to mind.

No surprise then, that after all these years in the job, the failure to achieve any semblance of success suggested that the most helpful thing he could do was to fall on his sword.  But world statesmen and charlatans don`t do that.  Instead, it`s reported that he is `stepping back,` that the role is being "reconfigured," with Blair saying that he hopes still to be involved in the discredited `peace process.`   Sources from the US Government, however, state that the role "is no longer viable"  and that Blair has "no credibility" left in that process.

So what will Tone do now, I wonder?   Well, fortunately a suitable vacancy has just emerged in his north-east spiritual home.  Perhaps he would fancy managing Sunderland for in Blair land, as soon as one door closes, another one opens........

Saturday, March 14, 2015


PULP FICTION..


Two years ago when Manchester United manager `Sir` Alex Ferguson finally retired I rather rashly assumed that that might have  been the last we would see or hear from him. I should have known better.   Since he left Old Trafford, with its `Sir` Alex Ferguson Stand and trotted off passing the `Sir` Alex Ferguson statue to his new life down `Sir` Alex Ferguson Way, he seems to have been popping up with annoying regularity.

First it was the announcement that Manchester United had appointed him as a `global ambassador` at a salary that worked out at over £100,000 a day for each of the taxing 20 appearances he was contracted to make;  then he went off to Harvard University as an unlikely lecturer at their Business School on the subject of `the business of entertainment, sport and media.`   Says much about the Harvard recruitment process that they engage someone who, yes, has achieved spectacular results but has done so with a management style that can generously be described as management by fear, intimidation, a healthy disregard for any form of authority and the liberal application of hairstyling accessories.

Then he `produced` his updated autobiography, with the imaginative title `My Autobiography.` This sold well among the fawning and the gullible and Ferguson is reported to have pocketed at least another £1 million from the proceeds.  In total it`s estimated that he has received almost £10 million since his `retirement` just under two years ago.  All good convincing stuff from a dyed in the wool Labour supporter. But there`s more.  He has agreed yet another deal for a new book, entitled Leading which promises to `analyse the pivotal leadership decisions of an astonishing career.` 

It`s an exciting prospect;  I can hardly wait because, you see, I have developed one or two disturbing habits since Ferguson`s books started appearing on the shelves of book shops, supermarkets and other outlets.  I find myself tidying the shelves, making sure the books are nice and straight but also ensuring that Ferguson`s books are placed face down, partly to avoid seeing that smug Caledonian smirk, but also in a desperately  vain attempt to discourage sales. 


But my cunning plan might be working - for example the stacks of `My Autobiography` I have seen recently have been marked down to half price, alongside the rest of the pulp fiction.  Well, as they say, every little helps.


Thursday, March 12, 2015


A HAPPY ENDING..

A poignant episode in Southampton earlier this week in marked contrast to the scene when Her Majesty The Queen bade a tearful farewell to her much loved royal yacht Britannia all those years ago.  As far as the royals go I confess to being pretty much of an agnostic and so when the decision was taken to decommission the royal yacht, I wasn`t that bothered about it.  

But looking back - and despite my misgivings about the royalty - I have to confess a considerable admiration for our 88 year old monarch.  I now think that that decision, taken by the newly formed Blair government following months of indecision by the outgoing Major one, was perhaps a sad affair, especially for the Queen, to whom Britannia meant so much.  In hindsight, it seemed cheap, mean spirited; a political rather than a financial decision.

But this week saw Her Majesty launch the latest and biggest in a long line of cruise ships - and she named it `Britannia.`  As she did so, I thought I caught a fleeting glimpse of regret pass across her regal features, almost as if all the happy memories she had of her time aboard the royal yacht were flooding back, along with her sadness at being forced to say goodbye to one of her favourite retreats from a hectic world.

But there was a happy ending.  Just being in Southampton again - the jewel of the south coast - along with the spring sunshine, seemed to lift her spirits and rightly so.  Oh to be in Southampton now that Spring is here, blessed as it is with the country`s most agreeable and progressive football club and, to mark the occasion of her visit the Queen was presented with an impressive gift as a token of mutual affection and admiration.  Her Majesty looks to be wearing it with pride and it certainly complements her chosen outfit for the day.

This rare and distinctive gift will surely be treasured in the royal household and it certainly brought a smile back to the royal countenance. It is so pleasing to report that  it all ended happily after all.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015


DISTURBING THE PEACE..


It`s years since I went to the cinema, probably as long ago as when we used to take our three boys to see James Bond when he was Sean Connery and the Chitty Chitty Bang Bangs of that long ago era.  Those days were not many years after I finished my National Service, during which time I moonlighted as a projectionist in the local AKC Globe Cinema in Paderborn, Germany, to supplement the Army pittance.   

It was a proper cinema with all the trimmings of CinemaScope, excellent sound system, decent seating and curtains and lighting that produced a relaxed air of expectancy for the waiting audience.  Up in the projection room, we did our stuff on carbon arc Bauer Projectors with films that ran up to six reels, which had to be changed (in the right order) without the audience being aware that the changes had happened.   The programme changed about three times each week and included a main feature, a B movie, newsreels, adverts and trailers, so it was challenging but interesting work.

But we were of an age - late teens/early twenties - and given that most of our lives were spent conforming to good order and military discipline, we were always on the lookout for little escapes, little opportunities to shake off the burden of conformity and express our youthful selves.   And we found them in the music of the times.

And we suspected that our captive audiences may have become bored with soothing music from the likes of Mantovani, Joe Loss, Victor Sylvester and his Ballroom Syncopators and we thought we should try some of our own.   My very good friend Alec Craig (RAPC Att. XRH), now sadly passed on, was a devotee of the  Modern Jazz Quartet - the MJQ with Milt Jackson on vibes and he persuaded us to play The Golden Striker as a nightly prelude to the film show starting.  

It seemed to go down well, so we tried some more.   Now this was pre-Beatles and so the music of rebellious youth came from those such as Stan Kenton, Woody Herman and my own personal favourite Ray Conniff.   So I treated the audience to S`Wonderful and especially Smoke Gets in your Eyes whilst at the same time changing the lighting in time with the music.  The cinema management were not as keen as we were on this break from tradition which disturbed the peace of the waiting punters and we were subjected to dire threats descending on us from the AKC hierarchy in their Minden HQ. 

But we weren`t to be put off - we were in rebellious mood - the latter day Jeremy Clarksons and Russell Brands of our time......and this was edgy stuff with the voices being used as instruments.  And despite now being terribly dated, well past its sell by date and seriously out of time, I still enjoy Ray Conniff to this day.   So, for old times sake, here it is:-





Monday, March 09, 2015


THE STAR OF THE SHOW..

Quite rightly, the BBC`s new production of Poldark, screened for the first time last evening, is receiving very favourable reviews.   Partly because of the superb acting, the costume design, the production values but also, of course, the stunning locations.   It`s a costume drama, all heaving bosoms, intrigue, rivalries, goodies, baddies and the inevitable love triangle.   It seems to follow closely the characteristics and be true to  Winston Graham`s original novel, Demelza, which he crafted  in a wooden bungalow that he rented above Perranporth beach.

The leading actors will doubtless be catapulted to greater things following their captivating performances, not least Aidan Turner who plays Ross Poldark with a brooding conviction that will surely set pulses racing.  But perhaps a note of sadness is that it also features Warren Clarke in his last production before his untimely passing just last November, aged 67.

But for me - and I know of one or two others who will feel the same way - the real star of the show has to be the locations, especially those along the Cornish coast.   Last night`s first episode showed fleeting glimpses of places I have visited and grown to love and the list of locations shows that filming took place at such favourite haunts as Constantine Bay, Gunwallow Church Cove, the Camel Estuary, Porthgwarra (pictured above) and Botallack, which whilst showing the Crowns engine houses also demonstrated the usefulness of computer generated images.   

Now all of this leaves me convinced that I, along with like-minded devotees of the Cornish coast and the South West Coast Path, might happily do without the drama, the intrigues, the rivalries and, yes, even the heaving bosoms if we could just have a series of programmes that just shows the coastline and the 630 miles of the Coast Path.  Whilst I am full of admiration for the Poldark series, I confess that all I`m really watching it for is the chance to see those glorious places which call me back much more than even the most compelling costume drama ever can.

Friday, March 06, 2015


TWO`S COMPANY..

....and the papers today
full of war and of waste
but you turn right over to the tv page.....(Neil Finn)


62 days to go to the General Election and I don`t know about you but I`m already tired of the noise.   The latest playground scuffle concerns the televised `debate(s)` between party leaders, who seem to be under the illusion that their own soap opera can match those others that grip an easily seduced nation.   There`s an argument about whether these debates should be just between the two `main party` leaders or whether no less than seven political parties should be involved.   

That in itself has brought cries of anguish from the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland as they have been excluded from the magnificent seven.  But why stop there?  For example, and especially as yesterday was St. Piran`s Day, surely Mebyon Kernow should be invited.  And there are a number of other `political groups` who could also claim to be included in what could be a truly democratic event.

Within the seven so far included we already have the obscure represented by the Lib Dems and the bizarre in the form of the Greens so why should others holding legitimate views be excluded, thus denying the electorate the benefit of hearing what they have to say?   Especially that, as of December last year, the Electoral Commission showed that the number of registered political parties in Great Britain and Northern Ireland amounted to no less than 422!!  A few examples - The Peace Party; The Pirate Party; The Workers Power Party; Wessex Regionalists; Yorkshire First; The Fancy Dress Party and not forgetting the Official Monster Raving Loony Party.   

So, a lot to choose from and if democracy means anything then each and every one of the 422 should be allowed to debate the issues which concern them and which might inform the electorate before polling day. Two`s company alright, but 422 simply makes for a house so crowded that keeping order in such a televised  farce would test even Paxo`s political adroitness. So it won`t happen, of course, and we`ll turn right over to the tv page to catch up on the other soaps. If for no other reason because, to borrow yet more from Neil Finn, there are.....

Only shadows ahead
barely clearing the roof
Get to know the feeling of liberation and relief

Tuesday, March 03, 2015


A QUESTION OF PRIORITIES..

Crismill Lane in the village of Bearsted here in Kent is an ancient lane that leads from the outskirts of the village up to the Pilgrims Way.   It`s quintessentially English and in years gone by you can imagine it making its way through the countryside of the Garden of England with views to the North Downs and the rolling Kent farmland.   Not much happened then but these days the lane is crossed by the M20 Motorway and the High Speed Rail line which carries the Eurostar trains from London to the continent.  Crismill Lane overcomes these obstructions by way of bridges and tunnels before meandering on its way.

Yesterday came the tragic news that someone had died having been hit by a train on the railway line in the morning.  British Transport Police are describing the incident as `non suspicious`but it seems to have all the hallmarks of a genuine human tragedy, details of which are yet to emerge.   Consequently, the high speed line was closed in both directions, affecting services between London and Paris and in all nearly 20 trains were cancelled throughout the day.

What was not only interesting but which also provided an accurate summary of life in today`s fast lane was the reaction to these events.   These were mainly from passengers stranded at St. Pancras station who were complaining about the lack of information from Eurostar.  The Twitterati were in full swing, of course, with such comments as `Have waited five hours for the train and now there`s not enough room for everyone.`   One gentleman from Belgium was bitterly inconvenienced when being told that he could not get home until today.

And in all the sound and the fury, not one single note of understanding, of compassion, of sympathy for the fact that someone had lost their life in whatever tragic circumstances had befallen them.   Maybe today we are more concerned with the priorities of time and our personal convenience than we are with sparing a thought for our anyone else?   

Sunday, March 01, 2015

  

It`s not been a comfortable weekend for us English sports fans.   I woke up this morning to the news that the England cricket team had once again been stuffed by a former colony, in the process of which England became only the second team in World Cup history to lose by nine wickets having posted a total over 300.   The endangered species to which I referred last week is now in danger of becoming extinct.  Yikes!!

This afternoon, against my better judgement on a fine Spring day, I watched the England Rugby team lose to Ireland in Dublin and thus deny themselves any chance of the Six Nations Championship.   No complaints - Ireland were the better team and deserved their victory.  I guess it just wasn`t meant to be.

Yesterday, in keeping with Snopper Street tradition, the fortunes of our various football teams were, as ever, followed with eager anticipation.   The Saints, having gone a goal down after just 72 seconds, lost to the Throstles of West Bromwich Albion and with other results not going our way, the Saints now drop down to sixth in the Premier League, leaving their Champions League hopes in considerable doubt.   I guess it just wasn`t meant to be.

Elsewhere, my respective neighbours saw both West Ham and Gillingham lose at home and to compound the felony, Truro City went down 2-0 to Cirencester, thus putting a bit of a damper on their play-off hopes.  I guess it just wasn`t meant to be, to be fair.

Some years ago, the Chelsea leg end that is John Terry was interviewed following an unexpected reverse in some Cup Final or other.   His reaction?  "Well, I guess it just wasn`t meant to be."   We here in our slightly depressed enclave know what you mean, John.  Or maybe it`s our old friend Karma rearing its head again and striking back following my derision of Dejan Lovren and his hopeless but infinitely enjoyable penalty miss the other evening?