Friday, July 31, 2015

A CURIOUS LOVE-IN..

So, BBC Political Editor Nick Robinson is off to join Radio 4`s Today programme starting later in August. Having shrugged off the shackles of political analysis, he is also making a documentary, to be shown on BBC1 later this year, about his idol, none other than `Sir` Alex Ferguson, the curmudgeonly former manager of Manchester United.

Now Ferguson is no stranger to these pages and those who follow my rants might recall my unbounded joy at the news that Ferguson had finally said goodbye to Old Trafford a couple of years ago.  At that point I reasonably expected that we might finally have seen and heard the last of him.  But since then he seems to have been in demand as a lecturer (at Harvard University if you please) on `management.`

It seems that Robinson has been a lifelong fanatical supporter of Manchester United - maybe coming from Macclesfield had something to do with it - but I thought he went perhaps a shade too far when describing Ferguson as `the greatest living Briton.`  It seems his admiration for Ferguson persuaded the BBC to commission the upcoming documentary, their agreement to which is puzzling, given that Ferguson refused to speak to the BBC for seven years amid issues concerning their reporting of Ferguson`s then football agent son.  Perhaps the BBC thought they owed Robinson something.

According to the BBC, Robinson and Ferguson will get `up close and personal` as the retired manager `discusses his leadership strategies and reveals the secrets behind his managerial career.`   Should be simple really.   Ferguson`s leadership strategy can perhaps best be summarised as management by rant, fear and intimidation allied to the liberal application of hair dryers, sustained abuse of match officials and a total absence of any respect for the authorities in charge of the game.

I suspect the whole documentary might have the effect of doing nothing to enhance Ferguson`s reputation whilst inflicting damage on Robinson`s own which until now has been nothing but enviable.  I think I`ll give it a miss.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

IT`S GETTING SERIOUS..

I`ve lost count of the number of days Operation Stuck has been with us here in Kent - it`s been on and off for the best part of the summer but right now it looks like being on at least for the rest of this week.

There`s been a lot of talk concerning what to do about it but not much action and so a whole series of people are being inconvenienced either through striking French seamen or, more recently, increasing hordes of migrants invading the Channel Tunnel. 

We`re told that the migrants, all of whom seem to be male and between the ages of 18 and 30, are desperate people;  desperate to get away from war torn middle eastern countries or poverty stricken African ones and I absolutely understand the situation they are in and their determination to improve their circumstances and find a better life for themselves. 

But having made the perilous journey to mainland Europe, they don`t seem too desperate to want to stay in Italy, or go to Spain, Portugal, Greece, Germany and they indeed seem even more desperate to get out of France and into England.  They don`t seem bothered about Wales or Scotland and Ireland never gets a mention in their ambitions.   There must be a reason and I think we all know what it is but we seem reluctant to admit to it, let alone do anything about it.  

And the knock on effect of the mayhem in and around Calais is that the M20 is closed, now in both directions as the lorries stack up;  the M2 alternative is not much better (someone I know took two and a half hours do get to Faversham which would normally take 40 minutes);  and the villages strung out along the A20 are suffering gridlock.  Dave Cameron says the position is `concerning` and he feels for the lorry drivers and the holiday makers who want to get to France.  Haven`t yet heard much sympathy for us residents of Kent who have to put up with the chaos that surrounds us.

So it`s getting serious, to the extent that my son and I have a planned visit to Canterbury tomorrow to watch Kent play Hampshire in the 50-over One Day Cup competition at the St. Lawrence Ground, but that is now in serious doubt.  The traffic problems might just be too daunting and we can do without the hassle and the uncertainty of it all.  Now that is serious.

Where`s Wat Tyler when you need him?


Monday, July 27, 2015


TOUR DE FORCE..


I don`t know too much about cycling but I now know a lot more than I did three weeks ago.   My own cycling experience is limited to having owned, thanks to a family bequest in my early teens, a custom built Norman Invader with GB Superhood brakes, 1" wheels and even a holder on the handlebars to put drinks bottles in.  It cost me all of £25 but it was over 60 years ago and I rode it a lot until I was whisked away to do my National Service. Afterwards, my ambitions turned to motor cars and I developed the notion that cycling somehow seemed to deny the invention of the internal combustion engine.

But in the last few years I have become quite keen on following the exploits of our professional cyclists - all stemming from the deluge of medals that came our way in the 2012 London Olympics.  I was captivated by the triumphs of Sir Bradley, Sir Chris, Victoria, Jason, Laura and the rest, all choreographed by Sir Dave to bring the sport to the forefront.   But more than that, on that occasion I was also captivated by the incisive, passionate commentary from Hugh Porter and Chris Boardman who drew on their vast experience to bring the events to life in our living rooms.

And so the past three weeks have seen me following the Tour de France with eager anticipation of yet another success for Sir Dave, Chris, Geraint, Richie and the rest of the Sky team and back up staff.  And what another triumph it has been - a historic one with Chris Froome being the first from Britain to win le Tour twice.   They deserve all the plaudits and acknowledgement that will surely come their way.

But once again the whole event would not have been so enjoyable to watch without the commentary from Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen (pictured above) and the summaries from Chris Boardman (again) and David Millar. 


They know their stuff, these guys, they`ve been there, done it and got tee-shirts by the score and it has added so much to the enjoyment of the cycling uneducated like me to learn about the tactics, the positioning, the team strategies and so much more.  And all of it anchored by Gary Imlach in his individual style which is restrained, low key, controlled and a million miles away from any self-promotion or pretension.

So I`ve learned a lot more in the last three weeks and it`s just a pity for it all to have been shown on the relatively `obscure` ITV4 Channel - the event itself and those responsible for bringing it to our screens deserve high praise and a bigger audience.  It almost made me wish I hadn`t give up on my Norman Invader - I could have been a contender.

Sunday, July 26, 2015


LET`S GET REAL...

It`s interesting that the two female candidates for the Labour Leadership have started to play the `sexist` card in their increasingly desperate attempts to fend off the challenges from the two male candidates.   In many ways the whole thing is not only a bit of a shambles but also is becoming more entertaining, especially with the advent of Jeremy Corbyn who at least seems to believe in what he is saying even if no-one else does.

But Yvette Cooper - aka Mrs. Balls - has lead the counter offensive by asserting that both she and Liz Something, the other lady involved, are perfectly capable and certainly strong enough to lead the party and become Prime Minister, despite what Blair crony Lord Falconer may suggest.

She may be right but as she seems loath to stay at home and comfort Mr. Balls and the Balls children in their time of need following his own election defeat, perhaps she might consider the reality of how things were back in the day, when things were nicely straightforward.  Here`s what I mean:-


Saturday, July 25, 2015

I noticed that the main headline story on the BBC news yesterday was all about the fact that Barrack Obama was off to Kenya and in the process relegating other `stories` such as Turkey, Iraq, Syria and things like the Channel Tunnel problems making Kent, the one time Garden of England, the Lorry Park of the south east.

The BBC news headline went on to include an interview which President Obama had given to the BBC`s North American Editor, Jon Sopel and, of course, the BBC - being the Europhile, leftish, publicly funded outfit they are -  could not pass up the chance to get the President`s views on Britain`s place in Europe.  Perhaps unsurprisingly and citing things like global influence being lost, Obama went to some lengths to declare himself unhappy with the prospect of the UK pulling out of Europe if the referendum results in that conclusion.

Now I had really expected Obama to be at least `neutral` on this issue, given that it isn`t for leaders of other countries to try to influence us in the way we may vote - it`s bad enough having our own leaders doing that -  but at least that exchange gave me the chance to have a mini-rant about two issues which trouble me - the BBC and the EU - and in the process kill two birds with one stone.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

WHAT ARE THE CHANCES ?..

High degree of excitement for cosmologists when NASA announce this afternoon that they may have found a replica Earth in a far corner of our galaxy. The Kepler Space probe has been searching for planets like our Earth in the `Goldilocks` zone - neither to hot nor too cold so life might be sustained - and has so far discovered at least 4,000 candidates.

Problem is that the most likely candidate for being a replica of Planet Earth, called Kepler186f in the constellation of Cygnus, is 2939 trillion miles away or 500 light years, which means that the light we see from it now left there 500 years ago.   But if it turns out to be exactly like Earth then I wonder what the chances are that, right now, some septuagenarian crank is busy typing away up there on his ageing key board and speculating whether there`s anyone out there.

Wouldn`t surprise me.


Tuesday, July 21, 2015


SCHOOL`S OUT..


Today`s the day when both the House of Commons and the House of Lords pack up for their summer `recess.`  They won`t be back until early September and then only for a week or so before they have another month off for the `conference season.`  Then they`ll have a half term holiday and about another month over the Christmas and New Year period.   It all adds yet more legitimacy to their recent 10% pay award along with the corresponding increase in their pension pots.

Schools are also about to break up for the long summer holidays, followed by a half term break and then Christmas and the New Year.  All very familiar.  Now I might be wrong but I thought the long school summer holidays were introduced in the age of Captain Swing in order that children could help farmers at harvest time.   So I look forward to the teaching profession, at their upcoming `conference season` passing a resolution calling for MPs and peers to spend their summer break helping farmers to bring in the harvest bounty. Seems fair.

Sunday, July 19, 2015


TROMBONE TIME..

And so another of life`s elusive milestones has been achieved.  As I lay mewling and puking in the gloom of The Verne on Portland`s granite isle all of 76 years ago this minute, I never imagined that here I would be, 76 years later, reaching yet another landmark in life`s rich pageant.   And I can`t begin to tell you how grateful I am for the privilege of still being here with most of my `faculties` still working well enough for me to appreciate it.

So I`ve had a look at the company I keep - those born on the same day - and I see that the selection is `mixed.` Amongst others Benedict Cumberbatch is 38 today; Brian May 67, Nicola Sturgeon is 44, Vitali Klitschko 43, Helen Skelton 31 - youngsters all - and Degas the painter and decorator was born on this day in 1834.

And it seems that in most years someone of `note` was born on 19th July, although Wikipedia`s list shows that some were born in 1938 and some in 1940 but none in 1939, when the 19th fell on a Wednesday, hence me being full of woe I imagine. I think that`s an omission that needs rectifying.  

Friday, July 17, 2015

DEMOCRACY RULES - OK?..

I`ve just seen the lunchtime news and almost buried away among the reports of tragedy are two items that makes me glad I live in a civilised western democracy. 

The first is that the Government commitment to cap care costs for the over 65s and younger people with disabilities at £72,000 is to be delayed.   The commitment promised that this cap would be introduced in 2016 in England (care costs are already free in Scotland of course) but will not now happen until 2020 at the earliest.  In other words, it ain`t ever gonna happen, despite the manifesto pledge that it would.

The other was the report that UK air strikes have been taking place in Syria for some time, despite the fact that the UK Parliament voted against sanctioning such strikes as long ago as 2013.

So we have one instance where the Government said it would do something but isn`t going to and another instance where the Government said it would not do something, but is.   Ain`t life grand?

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A DIFFERENT GAME ..

In many games - football, hockey, tennis, even the game of life - being 2-0 down is always a testing time.  It calls for determination to claw it back and a strong desire to win in order to climb the mountain and not just avoid defeat but even to go on and achieve victory.

So it`s interesting to see what`s really going on in Europe with the reality heightened by the recent and ongoing saga surrounding Greece, the IMF, the EU, the ECB but most of all the Greek people.   They are the ones caught in the crossfire of the Realpolitik being played out across the continent, from which the UK is happily semi-detached, at least for now.  It`s interesting to recall that the phrase actually derived in Germany when Realpolitik was coined by Ludwig von Rochau in the 19th century and defined as `politics or diplomacy based primarily on power and on practical and material factors and considerations rather than explicit idealogical notions or moral or ethical premises.` Indeed.  Very telling.

So maybe we shouldn`t be surprised that Germany, finding themselves 2-0 down as a result of their failed military exploits in the last century, are seemingly determined to regain their place in the pecking order but this time through financial hardware rather than military.   Now there are several countries and peoples in Europe with sharp memories of the past which I understand all too well, having been born in 1939 and been lucky enough to survive this long.   That may be another of my generational generalities and the difference may be that the younger generations, not having had such experiences and their consequences, may feel differently.

But no wonder the Greeks, for all their fiscal failings, feel a sense of betrayal, that they`ve been here before and that the outcome is likely to be the same.   And no wonder France hangs on like grim death to the dream of a European Superstate and the coat tails of its neighbour as insurance against a repeat of the past.  And no wonder also that the UK is, however optimistically, hoping to achieve serious change in the way the EU is run in the hopeful quest to  retain at least some semblance of sovereignty over its own affairs.

I get the feeling it`s half-time in the game of Europe and that the winners of the first half had better be more defensively mindful of the strength of the opposition midfield dynamos.   Anyway, my dilemma for today, now that the half-time team talks are taking place in Athens, Brussels, Berlin and Paris, is whether to watch the Test Match from Lord`s, the Golf from St. Andrews or the Tour de France from, well, France I imagine.   I don`t know who will win those either.......

Monday, July 13, 2015


WHAT MAD PURSUIT..

Don`t worry - I`m not going to lapse into the poetry of Keats.   But these three words from his Ode on a Grecian Urn somehow seem entirely appropriate. Of course, there is the mad pursuit of keeping Greece in the Euro zone which is really about keeping the European Project alive and kicking, politically if not financially. (Whatever happened to democracy?)  But there are other pursuits which are equally bonkers.

Now, here we are in the middle of summer - England have just gone 1-0 up in the Ashes series, Wimbledon has happily just drawn to a close for another year, Chris Froome is powering his way around France, the weather is benign yet still the impudent Premier League refuses to let summer take its course, this time with the `news` that Manchester City have paid Liverpool £49 million for the services of Raheem Sterling, who is alleged to have agreed a weekly wage of £200,000. 

Not his fault, of course - if people are willing to offer you that kind of deal, you aren`t going to turn it down (unless you`re Matthew Le Tissier) and so the real culprits in the mad pursuit of Premier League success must be the owners of `big` clubs like Manchester City, United, Arsenal and Chelsea and the Premier League itself, whose `product` has overshadowed what used to be merely a game

A couple of years ago, almost to the day, I had a similar concern about the way the Premier League was heading and if anything it`s got worse.   The `top 6` seem not only to have a bottomless pit of money (whatever happened to financial fair play?) but also the idea that whatever and whoever they want, they get.   It`s all about money, of course, but all the while those at the top of the food chain are allowed to behave with impunity, then there is little hope for the rest.   I`ve long hankered for the day when the top 6 go off and join a European Super League and leave the rest of us to enjoy a more competitive and enjoyable `match day experience.`

I think what brought it all home to me was the last time I bought some razor blades. I was surprised how expensive they have become;  but then I remembered that the price must be going to pay for all those Gillette Super Saturdays which I might watch on Sky, who in turn pump £billions into the Barclays Premier League, resulting in the £200,000 which Mr. Sterling and his chums get each week.  I just wonder how long this particular mad pursuit can be sustained before we all get tired of it all and turn instead to the more civilised reaches of the game.   

The fixtures for the next season in the National League South have just been published and I see that, next April, my local team, Maidstone United, are away at Truro City.   Now that`s more like it.  I could well be tempted.  And I might grow a beard as well.

Friday, July 10, 2015


EEEK !!!


There are so many sad and awful things going on in the world right now, so it was truly heart warming to hear all about the christening of baby princess Charlotte the other day. For a few brief moments I was able to forget about things like Greece, Tunisia and Syria and instead revel in the sheer joy of such a wonderful occasion.   Here is the family photo which records the occasion for posterity :-


Don`t they all look happy?  And so they should, for I have lost count of the millions it all costs us each and every year.  It`s a bit like the Premier League - the excesses, the privilege, the self-serving attitude of entitlement all lead me to turn away from it all in dismay.  There`s a new concept here - not the politics of envy but the politics of dismay.

But some people like it.  Just two examples.  The first is the kind of mindless enthusiasm which would suggest that a bit of Sectioning under the Mental Health Act would not come amiss:-


And the other is the happy parents at least having the goodness to pause and wave to us to thank us for providing them with the kind of lifestyle that will see them through life`s rich pageant without a care in the world and, for good measure, expect us to bow, curtsy, doff our caps and give lifelong thanks that we have them to cherish and to hold:-



And to cap it all, there`s the threat in today`s newspaper that tomorrow`s edition will carry a 32-page Extra Special Supplement showing all the photographs of this happy day in the parallel universe of the pampered and the privileged. Curiously, the only person in all of this that I have any sympathy for is Princess Charlotte.   As they say, you can choose your friends but you can`t choose your family.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

SIGNS OF IMPROVEMENT..
From our Golf Correspondent..

Snopper`s tentative re-entry into the world of golf took another turn yesterday when, once more, he entertained a phantom gallery by hacking his way around the short course at Poult Wood.  But perhaps I should not be too critical on this occasion, for in truth there were definite signs of improvement in his generally losing battle with the Royal and Ancient game.

His round got off to a predictable start as his first tee shot cannoned into a nearby woodland which, quoting an obscure passage from the Rule Book, encouraged him to `have another go.`  By the third hole, however, his touch showed signs of its old adequacy, when somehow he managed to par the hole without his usual recourse to creative accountancy, subterfuge or sleight of hand.

The rest of his round was `respectable enough` and although a few more balls disappeared into the Kent countryside, he managed to replace them with balls found whilst taking a `comfort break` in some convenient bushes.   In an after match interview, he lapsed into whimsy by humming an extract from Mark Knopfler`s `Walk of Life,` viz:-

"He got the action, he got the motion,
Yeah the boy can play.
Dedication, devotion
Turning all the night time into the day."

It seemed a vain attempt to convince a highly sceptical audience that those lines might accurately describe Snopper`s upward trend; nonetheless you have to admire his septuagenarian determination to continue with his very own walk of life. However, despite the unfortunate injury to Rory McIlroy, Snopper has announced that he will not seek to take his place in next week`s Open.  Sometimes, you see, it is possible for reality to creep in to his fantasy world. 

Tuesday, July 07, 2015


HARD AS NAILS.....

To begin on a sad note.   It`s about a year ago when a good friend of mine from our National Service days passed away rather suddenly.  But, instead of dwelling on his untimely loss too deeply, I find myself remembering the good times we had together and our long lasting friendship which was forged in the two years of our compulsory military service, largely in the comparative backwater of Germany`s BFPO 16.

Now I have the utmost respect - admiration even - for those who make the armed forces their career of choice and so nothing I say here will in any way be critical of them.  But the fact remains that, in those days of the call-up, conscripts like me and my departed friend were very different in out attitudes to life and to the concept of good order and military discipline.  

But we learned early on that to survive in that environment, one had to become `hard.` Not just as a result of the training we endured, but also in the persona we tried to convey to our fellow inmates and especially towards those regular soldiers who we assumed were `hard` anyway.   Somehow we had to compete.   And there were ways of going about that. 

One ploy I particularly recall was the ritual of the NAAFI break - a mid morning sojourn to the NAAFI canteen for a mid-morning snack.   We thought this gave an opportunity for us to demonstrate our `hardness` and so, eschewing the more favoured cup of tea and sticky bun, we both plumped for a pint of Paderborner Export and a pork pie.   This brought admiring glances in our direction along with the assumption that, therefore, we ourselves must be `hard.`

But there were other means of achieving that status, one of which, curiously, was through music.   I suspect it`s still the case that the `harder` the music you go for, the `harder` you are perceived.   It`s all nonsense, of course, but what other reason can there be for inflicting the likes of AC/DC, or The Running Sores on an unsuspecting world than to demonstrate `hardness` in the ear of the beholder? Anyway, back in the day, we trawled the airwaves for `hard` music and we went for songs that told `hard` stories like the `hard` western saga `El Paso` by Marty Robbins, which we played loud and long for all to hear and admire our `hardness.`.   Here it is:-


It doesn`t sound very `hard` any more, but it did in those days, and like the friend I lost a year ago, it`s still fixed in my memory.   

Saturday, July 04, 2015


CAP IN HAND....

Oh, dear.   I don`t know about you but I`m getting more frustrated living in a country caught in the dying embers of a once great empire.   I accept, of course, that history is simply repeating itself and that it is the fate of `empires` to wither on the vine but I can`t see that it`s necessary for us to be losing our dignity and self respect in the process.

A couple of examples.  One is our Prime Minister`s `negotiations` in his quest to secure reform of Britain`s relationship with the European Union.  I thought it was very telling that he felt it necessary to go on a whistle stop tour of EU nations, chatting up those countries` leaders as he went and especially galling to see him going off cap in hand to Brussels, Paris and, most embarrassing of all, Berlin on what already seems a doomed mission.  Why can`t we just do our own thing and get on with it?

Last week the Commons began considering whether the time has come to start joining in the air strikes in Syria, partly I suspect as a reaction to the appalling events in Tunisia but also perhaps to overturn the `embarrassment` that Cameron suffered a year or two ago when the Commons narrowly defeated a move to authorise UK air strikes back then.  It was instructive to discover that, following that Commons defeat, Cameron had to go cap in hand to explain it all to President Obama.  It might be Independence Day in the Good Ol` US of A but we over here truly seem to have lost our own independence.

One day last week I had occasion to visit a nearby town, more out of necessity than choice, and that too was depressing, not only because I failed to get what I went for but also because the `town centre experience` was yet another example of how very different this country has become.   I suspect it could have been any High Street in any town in England so I am not singling out the one I visited for any special criticism.   But there was indeed much to criticise, not perhaps so much the town itself but the `demeanour` of what seemed a majority of people on that hot summer day.

Obesity was much in evidence;  so too tattoos; unemployment or more likely unemployability;  and conversations seemed to be conducted largely in foreign languages whilst those carried out in what passed for English seemed to consist largely of indecipherable grunts or shouts, with a hefty dose of obscenity thrown in for good measure.  Perhaps it was best summed up by the spectacle of a man sitting on the pavement with an empty violin case and what looked like a ferret on a string.    It all made me wonder whether, if these street scenes are being replicated across the land, a clear contradiction emerges - and it`s this. 

As our leaders go cap in hand around the world in missions of increasing impossibility it seems that the issues that concern them - and perhaps little middle Englanders like me - are a world away from those that enter the heads of Mr.and Mrs. Obese-Tattoos, whose principle concerns seemed to be to find their way to the benefits office and get home to watch the next instalment of pulp fiction television whilst munching their way unthinkingly towards the local A and E Department.  So I beat a hasty retreat with my heartfelt wish for a national rediscovery of dignity and self-respect very definitely confirmed..... as yet another pig flew over my roof .

Thursday, July 02, 2015



EVERY LITTLE HELPS....

So, Operation Stack is now in its fourth day with little prospect of the chaotic consequences being eased any time soon.   Now here in my very own Kentish enclave we are not (yet) directly affected by the closure of the Ferry Ports and the Channel Tunnel, all thanks to yet another daft strike by some French malcontents.   At the last count, there were 40 miles of lorries - about 6,000 vehicles - stacked along the M20 Motorway all the way from Maidstone down to Folkestone and beyond.   

That`s bad enough, but the less fortunate Kentish enclaves a little further down the road - Leeds, Hollingbourne, Lenham, Charing, etc. - are suffering the logjams to their villages as a result of non-commercial traffic being diverted from the M20 onto the now inadequate A20.   Villagers are stuck, complaining that it`s impossible to get in or out. 

And all of this in the grip of a heatwave, the likes of which have not been experienced  in July since records began.  There are just so many people to feel sorry for but it seems that those worst affected are the lorry drivers stuck on the motorway with nowhere to go and little in the way of `facilities.  And so it was literally refreshing to see that Kent County Council, through its Emergency Planning regime, have so far distributed something like 7,000 two-litre bottles of water and 700 snack meals to lorry drivers in partnership with the Red Cross, community volunteers, the Fire and Rescue Service and other agencies.

So well done to all those involved in what has become a genuine humanitarian issue.   Now I read somewhere in the numerous reports about this fiasco that the supplies, whilst `organised` by Kent County Council, were actually donated by Tesco - this seems to be confirmed by the photo above.   But so far there has been no mention of this in any of the KCC Press Releases or media interviews.  If it`s true, then we all owe a debt of gratitude to Tesco, which needs to be acknowledged, especially by KCC who are particularly adept at trumpet blowing.  

If on the other hand the cost of supplying these drinks and meals falls on the Council Tax Payers of Kent, then I have no problem with that.   But I hope the KCC are sending the bill to the French authorities, whose collective indolence has given rise to the unprecedented chaos which not only  the lorry drivers but also the good folk of Kent are having to put up with.