Wednesday, April 29, 2015


Things seem to be getting more and more desperate as the General Election approaches.  Or rather childish, what with the Milliband/Russell Brand travesty, the wee Scots lassie, chuntering Nige, Cameron and his faux `passion`, the bonkers Aussie Sheila and the irrelevant Clegg.   Fols-de-Rols have never been such fun.  Trouble is, it`s supposed to be serious but however hard I try I can`t bring myself to have any trust or faith in any of them.

Here in my Kentish enclave, there`s a tradition on Polling Day to hire a JCB and cart the votes down to the nearest weighbridge rather than bother with the traditional count - the Tories have been in control so long and I can`t see it changing, especially as we have before us a list of Parliamentary candidates of whom only one actually lives in the constituency and I can`t see myself voting for him.

So I tend to look across the border at the neighbouring constituency of Maidstone and the Weald for any entertainment that might be going on around this time.   Now this has also been a traditional Tory stronghold, held before the last election by the self-appointed national treasure that is Ann Widdecombe.   She had a majority of something like 12,000 when she was re-elected for the last time and before she retired to Devon and a series of cringe-worthy appearances on television and in pantomime.

Her successor was one Helen Grant, bussed in by the Tories, despite having stood as a Labour candidate previously, with the required and politically correct qualifications of being of ethnic background and being a woman.   Her majority last time was, however or maybe therefore, reduced to about 6,000 - half that of the sainted Widdy - and I hear reports that she might struggle to retain the seat this time against determined opposition from the LibDems and in the wake of her pitiful Ministerial performances in the last Parliament and her `difficulties` over expenses claims and staffing issues.   And as a mark of the Tories` desperation, the other day she visited the sleepy Wealden town of Cranbrook and brought Widdy along for support.   

Of all the images of this woeful campaign, I think the one I will remember most vividly is the truly terrifying sight and sound of Grant smiling her way around the town with Widdecombe using a megafone to harangue the good folk of Cranbrook  whilst leaning out of the car window.   Now my side of the border might be dull, boring and utterly predictable but at least I don`t have to endure the kind of embarrassment inflicted on the unfortunate electors of Maidstone and the Weald.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


These were the scenes last evening as Bournemouth virtually secured their promotion to football`s Premier League for the first time in their 125 year history.  For much of that time, the local rivalry for Southampton fans has been with our neighbours, Portsmouth, along the other end of the M27 but it now seems possible that we have new rivals in Bournemouth, 30 miles or so along the A31.

Now whereas the resurgence of Portsmouth would most certainly not be something to celebrate, somehow the elevation of Bournemouth to the peerage of English football provides almost a warm glow and I for one am pleased for them, the club, the players, staff and most of all the supporters who must be pinching themselves at the club`s meteoric rise from near extinction just six short years ago.

It was back in the late noughties that Southampton were in dire straits with the real prospect of going out of business.   At that time, we were more or less forced to sell one of our better players so that the transfer fee could keep the Saints afloat for a little longer.   That player was Andrew Surman, raised in Southampton from eight months old, a product of the Saints Academy along with the likes of Theo Walcott and Gareth Bale, and someone who almost burst with pride playing for his home town club.

When Wolverhampton Wanderers came along with a £1.2million bid for Surman, the Saints were in no position to turn it down and so he left for Wolves, who were then in the Premier League.   It was a serious wrench for Surman who was on record at the time of saying he left Southampton `with a heavy heart` and describing the Saints` situation as `unbelievable.`

From Wolves, he moved on to Norwich and from there he went on loan to Bournemouth, where his signing was made permanent last year and he has formed an important part of their promotion winning team.   So whilst there is joy unbounded among the Cherries fans, I am especially pleased to see Andy Surman making a welcome return to the Premier League and it will be good to see him back at St. Mary`s next season, even if he is playing for our new-found local rivals.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

I know I always feel and say the same every time I get home from a time away in the south west and this time is arguably worse than others.   After a week of being a long way away from it all in the sanctuary of Cornwall, I come home only for my senses to be assaulted where they left off by the cacophony that is the General Election campaign.

That`s depressing enough but I`m sure that the events in Nepal, Lampedusa, Sicily, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere in this troubled world perhaps put the General Election campaign into the realms of irrelevance in the great scheme of things, so perhaps I shouldn`t complain quite so much.

But I think I have a genuine case for grievance when I learned last week that `it is unlikely that the Chilcot Inquiry report will be published until 2016 at the earliest.`   Maybe again I shouldn`t be surprised at yet another Establishment stitch-up, following on from countless others over the years - whichever government may have been in charge at any time.   They look after themselves, it seems, rather than looking after those they are supposed to represent and respect.

The General Election looks to be heading for a bit of a mess, leaving political parties scrabbling for position and the electorate in a state of confusion.  Maybe that almighty muddle might bring a change in attitude, but I seriously doubt it, and so there is likely to be no escape from the oppressive self interest of the Establishment.  So you can hardly blame me for wanting out again - and in a couple of weeks I`ll be off to my spiritual home of the New Forest.   Not much changes there either, thank goodness.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


Once more the call of Kernow becomes irresistible and it is perhaps yet more so following a long, cold, dark winter and with the arrival of longer days, warmer temperatures and a healthy dose of Poldark on the television.   Of course it helps to have relatives living down there along with a host of locations to choose from for a break away from it all.

And there seems to be a lot to break away from just now, especially the fol-de-rols of the General Election campaigns, the Party Political Broadcasts and the interminable analysis of manifestos, opinion polls and the shallow promises being banded about as the battle between the parties hots up.  I`m more than happy to leave them to it.

My earnest hope is that, if I ever manage to get there next week, the little beach and hamlet of Porthgwarra (pictured) is a little less crowded than when Ross Poldark took his kit off there and went for a dip in the azure waters.   Any onlookers might have to make do with me although, to be fair, I`m quite adept at bodice ripping.

Back at the end of next week.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

From our Golf Correspondent

As the Golf Correspondent for these pages over many years, I`m often asked after the whereabouts of past heroes of the Royal and Ancient game.  One of those is Snopper himself, who has been absent from the fairways (and bunkers) of the world for perhaps too long.

In his case, the answer is depressingly simple.  For some time now, he has been suffering from the kind of injury or affliction which affects highly tuned sporting idles (sorry, that should be idols.)  Snopper has seen the onset of conditions such as acute bunions, a wonky knee and a hip that decides for itself whether to restrict his mobility.  

It`s all very unfortunate, especially since the US Masters over the last weekend showed an increased interest as to Snopper`s whereabouts and whether he was likely ever to resume his lifelong losing battle with the game.   Well, I can report that he has no immediate plans to scrape the vestiges of time from his shed-bound eclectic set of clubs, although just in case he has retained the collection of balls - currently standing at about 1100 - which were retrieved from nearby golf courses by a much missed and highly efficient Golden Retriever.

As Snopper himself once opined - there`s no point in taking golf seriously unless you`re Tiger Woods, as there`s always going to be someone better than you.   That someone now seems to be Jordan Spieth, one to whose talents it is now far too late for Snopper to aspire.  I doubt Mr. Spieth would return the same sentiment.

Sunday, April 12, 2015


I`m not claiming a victory for reverse psychology but my `piece` yesterday predicting a home defeat for the Saints as a result of being `bigged-up` by Brucie seemed to have done the trick.  After a lacklustre first half, Southampton went on to secure a 2-0 win to see them climb back to 5th in the Premier League and leaving Brucie`s Hull City worrying about relegation.

It was a good day all round for Snopper Street`s footy fans.  As well as the Saints win, my neighbour`s beloved Gillingham also secured a home victory against high flying Bradford City.  There`s a bit of a connection here, as the Bantams manager, Phil Parkinson, was at one time very keen on recruiting the services of local hero Scott ("Buzzin` six pack") Wagstaff, having been impressed with Waggy`s performances as a pacy flanker whilst the two of them were together at Charlton.   At the time, my neighbour and I offered to be Waggy`s joint agents, an offer which he inexplicably declined and moved instead to Bristol City, who seem destined for promotion from League One back to the Championship, where Waggy`s experience should prove invaluable.

In other news, Truro City now seem to have assured themselves of a play-off place in the Evostik Southern Section where they will come up against either Corby Town, Poole Town, Hungerford Town, Weymouth or St. Neot`s Town for promotion to the Evostik Premier League - could be a sticky time ahead for my Cornish heroes.   Forest Green Rovers continued their good run with a 3-1 win over close rivals Macclesfield Town and so retain their own play-off place for a tilt at the Football League.  

And to round off a day of splendidly encouraging results, Saints`arch-rivals Portsmuff continue to languish in the lower reaches of League Two and went all the way to Morecambe yesterday to suffer yet another defeat, this time 3-1.  The fans of Southampton do, of course, closely follow the fortunes of their south coast neighbours, as witnessed by a thread on the Saints fans forum which currently stands at 2047 pages long, with 102,306 posts and 8,491,599 views, on which it is reported that there is currently a truism doing the rounds at Fratton Park - kraP nottarF which suggests that the Portsmuff player who can trap a bag of cement is king.   Maybe they could do with Steve Bruce giving them a `big-up.`  Well, it worked for me and the Saints.  

Saturday, April 11, 2015, that will be Saints 0 - Hull City 1 this afternoon at St. Mary`s then.   Think I`ll take the dog for a walk.......

Friday, April 10, 2015

It`s getting depressing.  The other day I mentioned the passing of Bill Ellerington and today comes the news that yet another hero has left us.   Richie Benaud will rightly have a million obituaries to his impeccable career as a cricketer, a journalist, a broadcaster, commentator and as a man and so it will not be my place to add too much to the sadness we cricket lovers feel at his loss at the age of 84.

Except perhaps to say that, in so many way, Richie personified the sharp contrast, the divide, between cricket then and cricket now.   He played his cricket at the very highest level - the first Australian to score over 2,000 runs and take over 200 wickets in Test matches - but he did so with dignity, with grace, elegance and a deep regard for the spirit of the game.   Now these are qualities that are difficult to find in the modern game, which has become more concerned with results, personality and razzmatazz, perhaps encapsulated by the persona of players such as Kevin Pietersen, late of South Africa, Nottinghamshire, Hampshire, Surrey (twice), Royal Challengers Bangalore, Deccan Chargers, Delhi Daredevils, St. Lucia Zouks and Melbourne Stars.

Pietersen is an undoubted talent, don`t get me wrong, but he has built a large part of his reputation on being a `character,` beginning, I suppose, with his bleach blonde streaks when England beat Australia in that memorable series in 2005 (was it really ten years ago?) and developing into the disruptive, self-obsessed, avaricious chancer we see today. Such clamour as there is for him to be returned to the England team is based purely on his batting ability whilst his contribution to team morale and togetherness are set aside in the headlong quest to win matches.

Despite the undoubted talent of players such as Pietersen, I doubt Richie Benaud would have given him a second thought in choosing a team to represent his country.  Benaud was concerned, of course, with success on the field of play but not at any price.  Maybe it`s another generational thing, quite probably my own, but with Richie Benaud leaving us, so too do many of those things that cricket once represented.  Times change, of course....but not always for the better.   Told you it was getting depressing.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015


I`ve tried, my God I`ve tried, to keep away from all the sound and fury of the General Election campaign.  But it`s not easy when something like Tony Blair comes back to haunt us.  Like millions of others, I will never forgive this self righteous chancer for taking us into the Iraq War and so when he takes to an election platform I suppose I am automatically put on my guard and likely to dismiss anything he says as highly dubious.  

Yesterday, when he gave his `speech,`I was not disappointed.  He warned us that David Cameron`s pledge to hold a referendum on Britain`s EU membership would cause economic "chaos."  Cameron, he said, had put "exit on the agenda" by pledging a referendum and that leaving the EU would threaten the UK`s position as a "great global nation."

Now, I`m a simple soul and I confess to a large dose of naivete when it comes to the world in general and politics in particular and I like things to mean what they say.  For example, I thought I knew what democracy meant.  My dictionary tells me that democracy is "government by the people or their elected representatives."  Sounds fair enough.

But in Blairland it clearly means something else.  Yesterday he suggested that the question of Britain`s membership of the EU was too important to be left to a democratic vote.   In other words, people like Blair think they know what`s good for us and so they seek to deny any chance that we might have to express our own opinion. 

So, when he suggests that it would be a disaster if we had an EU referendum and an even bigger disaster if we voted to leave the EU altogether, he forgets that, in my simple notion of what democracy means, the biggest disaster of all would be to deny the people the democratic right to determine their own future - a right that has already been denied to them for over half a century.  I think that what would be really good for us would be for Tone to just go away, count his money and leave us all in peace. 

Tuesday, April 07, 2015


Today is a beautiful Spring day.  The birds are singing, lawns are being mown, leaves are appearing on the trees and God is in his, or her, heaven.   So why does today remind me of falling leaves?   Well, I heard the sad news that yet another of my boyhood heroes has passed away and there have been a growing number of them falling in recent times - Derek Shackleton, Bernard Hedges, Brian Langford, Sir Bobby Robson (another ex-Saint) and the list goes on.   Now I imagine it`s inevitable that as you grow older you become more and more aware of people passing and I`m just grateful I`m not one of them.   Each week I buy the Kent Messenger newspaper, read the obituary column (something else that people of a certain age tend to do) and if my name isn`t in there, then I just carry optimistically on.

Bill Ellerington left us over Easter, aged 91.   He was arguable the most elegant footballer ever to play for Southampton, his home town club, - he never seemed to kick the ball, always stroked it, like a golfer would.  He played right back in the days when teams had right backs and he was so accomplished that he kept a certain Alf Ramsay out of the team to the extent that Ramsay upped sticks and moved to Tottenham.

Bill played 238 timed for the Saints and twice for England and he was in the team when my Dad took me to my first ever Saints game at The Dell in April 1946.  That was an awe inspiring experience for a six year old emerging from the war years and the long day included a ferry ride from our home in Hythe on Southampton Water to Town Quay and a long walk to The Dell.  I remember being passed down to the front of the packed stand where, with the other small boys, I watched what I could see of the game through the railings.  That day the Saints beat Derby County 4-2 and, as well as Bill Ellerington, I had my first glimpse of other Saints legends such as Eric Webber, Don Roper and the wonderful Ted Bates.

Ted Bates is rightly remembered not only as a player, a captain and a manager but also as President of the club and his bronze statue beams down at us from its place of honour outside the main entrance to St. Mary`s Stadium.  I doubt there will be a statue to Bill Ellerington but the football club he represented with such dignity has already paid fulsome tribute to one of its great servants and Saints fans everywhere will, like me, mourn his passing but be grateful for the privilege of having seen him play.  I`m not sure they make `em like that any more.

Saturday, April 04, 2015


Over the years there have been many memorable newspaper headlines.  Here are just a few:-

PEDESTRIAN ALMOST HIT BY CYCLIST - Isle of Wight County Press (Black and White and read all over)








But this week`s prize goes to the Kent Messenger, our local weekly newspaper here in deepest Kent, which proclaims TWO ARRESTS AFTER FIGHT AT BOXING CLUB.  In the newspaper report, the Divisional Police Commander is quoted as saying, "We take incidents of this nature very seriously and will seek to prosecute anyone who causes trouble....."

Truly the power of the press knows no limits.

Thursday, April 02, 2015


And so the responsibility falls to those who are left. And there are only a couple of us who can carry it out. I suppose it happens to families all the time - loved ones pass away and their places of rest are tended to by living relatives.   

And so yesterday my recently retired eldest son and I made the pilgrimage from here in deepest Kent to a seriously remote churchyard in the depths of the Berkshire countryside.   We found the family grave, where the remains of my grandparents, aunts and my father`s ashes rest in peace;  we tidied up as best we could and left some flowers, promising to do a more thorough job next time.

We then drove further down south to my boyhood village of Hythe on the western shore of Southampton Water and visited the spot where my mother`s ashes were scattered in a place where she spent her happiest years.  Again, we left some spring flowers and paused, as we had done earlier in the day, in memory of loved ones, lost but never forgotten.

I think we both felt the responsibility, the urge even, to honour the memory of our forebears but we did so not out of any sense of duty or compulsion, but simply because we wanted to, because it seems the right thing to do and maybe because we ourselves might wish to be remembered in the same way.   It was a good `father and son`day, which included an excellent lunch but perhaps for me in particular, each location seemed to engender a kind of inner peace - I felt at ease with myself in those surroundings, recalling the memories of well over half a century made so very special by those dearly departed.