Friday, August 28, 2015


TWO SIDES..

I get the feeling we`re being softened up by the BBC.  In the last few days and weeks I`ve noticed a concentration of effort in their reporting of issues such as the `migrant crisis.` For example, yesterday we heard the scale of net migration to the UK for the past year - 330,000 is the figure quoted - and they`re just the ones the Government knows about. The BBC`s report suggets, however, that this is a good thing because, according to worthies such as the Institute of Directors, without people coming to work here our economy would collapse.

Other representatives of industry and commerce are peddling the same message - the chap who runs recruitment for the NHS says that nurses should be allowed to come and work here unfettered by restrictive rules because, without them, the care of the elderly and patients in hospital cannot be sustained.

I`ve noticed too that the BBC reports from the Serbia/Hungary border, from Kos, Calais and other key migrant destinations all seem to pull at the heartstrings by emphasising the plight of the migrants  and the awful conditions they find themselves in as they are determined to start a new life in the northern states of Europe.  

Now I do not deny that there`s a problem - a crisis even - and on a human level I have great sympathy for those forced to flee war torn countries and find a better life for themselves.  But there are two sides to every story, of course, and I am still waiting for the BBC to tell us (as if we didn`t know already) what the other side of the coin looks like.

Seems to me the BBC news and current affairs output is institutionally left leaning and thus not fulfilling its duty to be impartial and report a wider, balanced context on most of the big issues of the day.   I quite expect them to come out, quietly but determinedly, and start softening us up for the next great debate - Britain`s relationship with the EU. 

And it may have started already with the BBC recent report that one of the bigwigs running the TATA Steel Group assuring their reporter that Britain voting to leave the EU will be disastrous as we rely so much on the benefits of the common market.  Excuse me, but all those decade ago we agreed ot join the Common Market rather than the Superstate the EU is fast becoming.   I wonder if, one day, the BBC will put the counter argument.

Watch this space.......

Thursday, August 27, 2015


Despite the cartoon, I absolutely promise that I am not about to make light of what has been a truly terrible event. The air accident near Shoreham in Sussex last weekend has claimed the lives of eleven innocent people and left families, friends and the nearby community completely numb.

I have noticed more and more that, in these modern times we live in, tragedies like that give rise to a welter of messages of sympathy largely expressed through what is laughingly described as `social media.`.  So too do the passing of certain people, mainly `celebrities` but also the passing of `ordinary folk.`  For my sins, I do belong to a couple of internet forums, Facebook pages, things like that and I`ve noticed that, as soon as tragedy arrives, there are instantaneous messages from complete strangers.  Quite often they say no more than `RIP.`   And I just wonder whether their motives are borne out of genuine sympathy or perhaps from a desire to be seen to be saying something and thus making themselves feel better. 

If the latter, then it amounts to little more than attention being sought.  At which point it becomes glib, superficial, inadequate, self-indulgent even.  But you can be absolutely certain that when I express my own deepest sympathies to the victims of this terrible event, I do so with genuine feelings for them, their loved ones and all those who have been - and continue to be - caught up in it.   

Just be wary of those who were on the cartoon`s sales course.   And sometimes just saying `RIP` simply won`t do.


Tuesday, August 25, 2015


MY HEART SINKS..


Just read that Jermain Defoe is going to pay someone £60,000 a year to carry out a range of menial tasks that he can`t be bothered to do for himself.  That`s about what Defoe gets in about three days.   Then the sullen egotist rumoured to manage Chelsea is complaining about his captain, John (the leg-end) Terry, being sent off in the weekend`s game, although this is the same Terry fighting to retain his place in the starting line-up and seemingly going out of fashion for Morinho.

I then heard that Manchester United, not content with unsettling Saints` very own pacey flanker, Sadio Mane, and snaffling Saints` defensive midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin, are reportedly to offer £240million for Brazilian international Neymar if they can`t prize ex-Saint Gareth Bale away from Real Madrid.  The arrogance is breathtaking but sadly typical for them.  At the last count, Neymar became the 103rd player linked with a move to Old Trafford in this transfer window so it`s entirely possible that he won`t get a game.

It all adds to the nonsense, the unthinking excess, the pantomime fantasy world of the self-styled Best League in the World (tm) and I begin to wonder for how long it can be sustained before genuine supporters, purchasers of razor blades and television subscribers have had enough.

And to cap it all, the BBC have recruited `Big` Sam Allardyce, who has all the charm of a charging rhinoceros, to give us the benefit if his neolithic insights as a pundit on Match of the Day.   The Premier League has only been going for a couple of weeks and already it`s no wonder that my heart sinks.


Monday, August 24, 2015


A CHANGEABLE OUTLOOK..

The picture shows BBC weather lady, Carol Kirkwood, either hearing the news that she has been pitchforked into Strictly Come Dancing or that the Met. Office have lost the contract to supply weather forecasts to the BBC.  Instead, the BBC are putting the service out to tender with a hint of delicious irony.  They claim that the move is being made so as to guarantee `value for money` which would be fine, were it not for the fact that they have more management layers than you would find in a mille feuille as well as high altitude salaries and expenses both internally and to `talent.`

Now if they are genuine in their search for `value for money` for the licence payers, maybe they should look at other areas than might be ripe for tendering.   For example, the burgeoning number of regional programmes - both TV and radio.  At the last count there were 15 separate regional television stations in England alone and an extraordinary 48 local BBC radio stations.   

Now I must confess to watching about three of the 15 TV stations - South East Today, `cos that`s where I live;  South Today to keep tabs on Southampton FC; and BBC Spotlight, the regional channel for the south west, where I have vested interests.  And I`ve noticed that they all have their cast of news and weather presenters, their Political Editors, their Environment correspondents; Sports sections, Social Affairs persons, Education correspondents and on and on it goes - they all seem to mirror the main BBC News channels, so I guess the whole of the BBC News output could do with some `value for money` examination.

It will be interesting to see what the change from Met Office forecasts brings.  I imagine the weather itself will be whatever it will be, but the presentation might be very different.  I can see announcements such as, "And now for the weather, brought to you by Ryan Airways."    Or the next spell of cold and frosty weather will be sponsored by Snuggles Duvets.  

As for Carol and her chums, well there are loads of them scattered across the 15 regional channels as well as in Salford and I wish them no harm in this process, but there is always Strictly Come Dancing, The Voice, Britain`s Got Talent, Bargain Hunt and Big Brother to turn to.  


Sunday, August 23, 2015


AND THEN THERE WAS ONE..

1948 looms large in the depths of my memory.  War had not long ended, rationing was still in force, the winter before had been one of the longest, coldest and snowiest even on the south coast of England.   I was nine years old and in those pre-television days (for us at least) my boyhood heroes were captured through newspapers and the good old fashioned steam radio.   And in the 1948 cricket season there was no shortage of heroes; only problem was that most of them were Australian.

The picture shows `Bradman`s Invincibles,` who toured England in 1948 and were arguably the strongest, most complete cricket team ever. And even if you make allowances for England having staggered out of wartime, the Aussie touring team of that year not only beat all before them but, in some cases, played a completely different game to their hapless opponents. 

Perhaps the best illustration is their annihilation of the Essex team at Southend in May of that year.   Batting first, the Australians scored 721 runs in a day (Brown 153; Bradman 187; Loxton 120; Saggers 104....and on and on it went.)  In reply, Essex were all out for 83 in their first innings (Toshack 5-31) and all out for 187 in the second (Johnson 6-37.) There were two notable absentees from the Australian team that day - one playing, the other not.   The playing absentee was Keith Miller who, witnessing the carnage all around him and wanting no part of it, lifted his bat from the first straight ball he received and was bowled without troubling the scorers. 

The other, real absentee that day was Arthur Morris and I was saddened to learn that he died a couple of days ago at the age of 93, marked by the current Australian team wearing black armbands at The Oval Test.  Arthur (they had names like Arthur in those days) was a key member of the Australian team and one of his country`s finest opening batsmen, scoring 3,533 runs in 46 Tests, averaging 46.48.   He was the leading run scorer on the 1948 tour, and scored 196 in the final Test at The Oval - his innings being overshadowed by Bradman`s duck in his farewell innings, thus denying himself the remarkable feat of retiring with a Test Match average of 100.

And so another of the Invincibles  has left us and now there is only Neil Harvey, at the age of 86, remaining from that 1948 touring party.   And whilst it marks the departure of yet another of my boyhood heroes, it also brings back lingering, wistful memories of that year and those far away formative times.  It was, of course, a different age, a time of real austerity, a time when nine year old boys growing up in a small village learned respect and where acceptable boundaries were clearly defined.   Arthur Morris was universally respected not just for his cricketing prowess but also for simply being a  true gentleman of the game of cricket and the game of life.  And even though England have regained the Ashes, it would be remiss not to pay tribute to one of the Australian heroes of the past.   

Tuesday, August 18, 2015


MUST TRY HARDER...


I admit to knowing very little about politics and I have never joined any political party; neither am I likely to with the possible exception of the Football Party or, at a push, Mebyon Kernow.   But it`s hard not to get interested in the contest for the leadership of what`s left of the Labour Party.  I suspect that what troubles me most about it - and which we keep hearing - is that whoever wins will lead Her Majesty`s Loyal Opposition in Parliament and, as such and in theory at least, become a potential Prime Minister.

So, what are the choices?  Well, taking them in the order of the photo above, first there`s Liz Kendall.  She seems very well educated (Queens College, Cambridge and all that) and has five years experience as an MP.  Seems a nice lady but I`m left, unfairly I`m sure, with the impression that she should be back at home doing the ironing rather than pursuing the self delusion that one day she might be Prime Minister.  Maybe it`s significant that until the recent General Election she was `in a relationship` with a Welsh stand up comedian.

Yvette Cooper worries me.  She is really Mrs. Balls but chooses not to use her married name, presumably in a desperate attempt to distance herself, at least professionally, from Ed Balls, recent shadow Chancellor and who can blame her?.   Yvette is desperately intense and, despite her Cambridge and Harvard education, gives the impression of a startled chicken caught in the headlights of her own self importance.  

There`s a lot of angst about the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn actually winning the leadership contest.  There`s almost panic in the air that a democratic process might produce the wrong result but I get the feeling that at least he is perfectly genuine and consistent in his beliefs and maybe that`s what scares the pants off his opponents who may find such qualities to be quite alien.

Andy Burnham seems to be the ultimate chancer - involved in so many things, so many causes, so many populist campaigns that it`s difficult to detect whether he really stands for anything in particular or simply blows with the wind - "happy to have Jeremy in my team," he says..   Anyway, he`s an Everton fan and I don`t like Everton, who stuffed the Saints 3-0 on Saturday.

So it`s all a bit depressing really, especially when we need a good, strong, credible Opposition to provide a serious counterpoint to the rampant Tory Government.  I`m not sure we`ll get that with any of the candidates on offer.  Must try harder.

Monday, August 17, 2015

NOT JUST ME THEN...

Had a late night staying up to watch the end of the PGA Golf Championship from somewhere called Whistling Straits in Wisconsin.   It was eventually won by Aussie Jason Day who became the first player in the history of the game to win a major tournament with a score of 20 under par.  Good for him.  And it`s impossible to deny the talent of players like him, their mental toughness, composure under pressure and towering skill overcoming a course that, if golf wasn`t hard enough to begin with, was rather silly for its plethora of bunkers, tight lines and awkward targets.

And whilst all the attention was given to Day, Spieth, Rose and the other contenders for the prize, I found myself perhaps more interested in those players who really did struggle. I know all about struggling round golf courses - I`ve been doing it for years and it doesn`t seem to get any better.   So I`ve trawled the details of the scores returned by all the players who took part in the PGA Championship and found the kind of comfort I can never find by watching the leader board.  

I discovered that amongst those who `failed to make the cut` were two gentlemen who each ended their two rounds on 169 - no less than 25 shots over par.  Alan Morin returned scores of 87 and 82 whilst Ryan B Kennedy notched up a 79 followed by a spectacular 90 which included a 9 on one of the par threes.  I do that quite often.

Now I no nothing of their circumstances but I do think they deserve the thanks and admiration of hackers like me who, to be fair, would jump at the chance of returning scores like that, especially on a course as silly as the one in Wisconsin.   Just once or twice over so many years I have got below 90 which was something of a triumph and so it was encouraging to discover that it`s not just me then.

The quotation above from the sainted Seve just about says it all really.


Sunday, August 16, 2015

MY KIND OF BOOK...


Just finished reading this wonderful book, written by Robin Down, the treasurer of Allendale Golf Club in Northumberland.   Now I`m a bit fussy about what I read and I confess to having a limited `taste` - certain authors, certain subjects - and I tend to read a novel, then a non-fiction book, then a novel and so on.   This book, however, seems to cover both in that it provides fascinating glimpses of history combined with snippets from the author`s life story, his passion for motor sport and, of course, golf.

He took it upon himself to embark on a journey from his home course in Northumberland through the west coast of Scotland as far north as Durness in Sutherland.  As he went, he played golf on courses which were out of the way, where you put your green fees in honesty boxes and which had unexpected stories to tell.  For example, the cover photograph is taken from the third green of the remote Traigh golf course looking over to the isles of Eigg, Muck and Rhum near Arisaig in Scotland`s West Highlands and it was here, I discovered, that there was a major training base for SOE Special Operations during World War 2.


His descriptions of playing the courses are vivid and informative - you can almost imagine what it`s like to be playing in the wild places he visited -but I suppose my only disappointment with the book was that the author, whilst by no means a champion golfer, is clearly infinitely more accomplished than I am.   But then he doesn`t have my `value for money` golfing philosophy which insists that, having spent all that cash on the gear, clubs, balls, green fees, etc., I then try to hit the ball as many times as I can.  And most times I succeed.

So, if you like golf, motor racing, history, wild places and lyrical prose, then this book is for you. Well, it`s my kind of book anyway.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

LIFE BEYOND..


Away from the brouhaha surrounding the spat between a glamorous doctor and a fantasist football manager and away too from the nonsense whereby, at the last count, Manchester United were reportedly interested in signing at least 93 new players, it`s worth spending a moment or two reflecting on life lower down in football`s food chain.

I think I`ve mentioned before that, as well as being a devotee of Southampton FC, I also follow the fortunes - or more often the misfortunes - of teams such as Forest Green Rovers, Maidstone United and especially Truro City, who last season gained promotion to the new National League South, aka Vanarama Conference South.  And last Saturday Truro played at Margate, coming away with a creditable draw.

But what intrigues me are the sheer logistics of playing in this competition both for the players and club officials but particularly for the team`s travelling supporters. There was a supporters bus which left the club ground at Trelew Road at 6.30am, arriving in Margate just in time for kick-off.  The return journey saw this intrepid collection of real fans arrive back in Truro around midnight.   The journey took in the A30, the M4, M25, M26, M20, A249, M2, A229 and the A28.   According to the RAC Route Planner, this journey amounted to 736 miles there and back.

And the figure of 732 above?  Well, that was the number of spectators, including those from Truro, at Margate`s Hartsdown Park to witness this encounter, so if you spaced them out individually along each mile of the route from Truro and back,  there would not quite be enough to stretch the whole way.    Now I know it works, both ways - supporters of Hayes and Yeading Utd. saw their team win at Truro 2-0 on Tuesday evening, which was a 7.45pm kick-off, so goodness knows what time they got back to west London.

So there is life beyond the Premier League and I suspect that it holds perhaps more enjoyment, more passion and more romance than the antics that go on at Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford.


Tuesday, August 11, 2015


A DOWNHILL STRUGGLE..

What a pleasant scene.  A gentle downhill slope as the road meanders through the Ayrshire countryside.   But all is not what it seems, for this scene has both enchanted and puzzled me for many years.   It`s the Electric Brae, a quarter of a mile stretch of the A719 near to the Scottish town of Ayr and it`s here that the laws of gravity appear to operate in reverse, for what you see in the photo above is, in fact, the road going uphill.

So what`s going on?   How can it be that motorists regularly pull up at this spot, turn off their engines, disengage their handbrakes and marvel as their cars apparently roll uphill? Magnetic fields?  Minerals in the rich coastal soil?  Faeries or some other unknown phenomenon?  Sadly none of these, but rather the fact that whilst the road is on a hill with a gradient of 1 on 86, the surrounding landscape tricks the eye into believing that you are heading downhill when you are actually going uphill or believing that you are going uphill when you are really going down.

The road has baffled travellers from far and wide for years, including General Dwight D. Eisenhower who visited the Brae when staying at Prestwick during the Second World War. And so it`s a shame in a way that science - the scourge of imagination - has come up with the answer.   Here it is:-



Despite which, it`s one of those places I must visit before it`s too late.


Sunday, August 09, 2015

SOMETHING NOT QUITE RIGHT..


You feel it in your bones when something doesn`t seem quite right.  There are lots of examples, like the one pictured, but here we are on a glorious day in high summer, England have regained the Ashes in exemplary style and you would think that all is well in my world.

But then along comes football once more after what seems but a week or two since last season ended and already I have the weird, out of time notion that cricket should really be left in peace to play out its season before the madness of the Premier league assails our senses once more.

Well, I said it was a weird notion, one which is most assuredly out of time and which harks back to those days when I would finish playing cricket for the village team one Saturday, a quick mow and a bit of line marking and off we would go and play football the following Saturday - a pattern repeated at all levels of the two games in those halcyon days long, long ago.   But I think what saddens me most is that the imperious victory of the England cricket team is already being overshadowed by the antics of Mr. Scudamore`s all embracing `product.`  And as I write, yet another felony is compounded by the Saints being 2-1 down away at Newcastle. 

UPDATE :   It ended 2-2 although Saints would have won it at the death had Sadio Mane not missed two golden opportunities.  Still, if someone had offered me that before the game I would have bitten their hand off and taken that, to be fair.   But however much the clich├ęs of football`s lexicon return to my consciousness, it`s still not cricket and it still doesn`t feel quite right.


Saturday, August 08, 2015


MESMERISING..

Apropos Dave Cameron and his defence of allowing senior civil servants to be overruled by his Ministers, there is the suggestion that he was `mesmerised` by the tantalising persona of one Camila Batmangelidjh, rumoured still to be the founder of the Kids Company charity, into nodding through a series of taxpayer funded grants to keep the charity going. The last one - for £3 million - was nodded through against civil service advice just days before the charity folded.

Now I hesitate to get in any way involved in the kerfuffle that has caused but as one of the aforementioned taxpayers, I might just be interested in how my hard earned cash has been used.   And I really don`t want to stray into the realms of personal criticism, far from it, but I`m beginning to be mesmerised as to how much taxpayers` money has gone towards not only haute couture but also haute cuisine.   And as far as Dave is concerned, I can only conclude that he`s easily mesmerised.

Friday, August 07, 2015

TIME FOR ANOTHER ONE ?


I see that the other day Dave Cameron was asking for a timetable for the publication of the Chilcot Report into the Iraq debacle.  I`ve just about given up with this.  The Iquiry began in 2009 and finished taking witness statements over four years ago, since when progress towards final publication has been thwarted by the process of allowing those who are likely to be criticised in the report to be `consulted.`  

In addition, of course, there has been the ongoing wrangling about whether the details of the Blair/Bush communications in the lead up to the war can be included in Chilcot`s report.  Not so much "Yes, Minister," more "Not sure about that, Minister."  What compounds the litany of felonies is the fact that the Inquiry has so far cost us taxpayers over £10 million and still no sign of any answers.   No wonder Dave is getting annoyed - or so he says - and he has now demanded that Sir John Chilcot comes up with a timetable and a publication date which of itself may take some time to materialise, if indeed it ever does.

Seems to me the only real solution is to have a full Judicial Public Inquiry into why the Chilcot Inquiry is taking so long to finalise its report. That should keep the establishment happy for another few years whilst continuing to prolong the agony of the families who lost loved ones in that abominable misadventure.


Wednesday, August 05, 2015


FLYING TONIGHT ?

It must be 40 years ago that West Malling Airfield finally closed.  It had had a long and distinguished career as an RAF Air Station and during World War 2 was, for a time, the home of 29 Squadron amongst whose pilots was Guy Gibson, VC, later to become Commanding Officer of 617 Squadron -  the Dam Busters.  He said of West Malling Air Station, "Of all the airfields in Great Britain, we have the finest."

After the War ended the station was used for a time by the United States Navy and various other aircraft related uses until it finally closed as an operational air station in 1963.  Then came the question as to what to do with it.  Various schemes were proposed including use as a prison, a young offenders establishment and a public consultation was held to gain the views of interested parties, not least the local residents.

I remember having to act in a purely private capacity to submit my suggestion for its future use  and it seemed to me that the obvious thing to do with an airfield was to fly aircraft from it.   It didn`t happen, of course, and today the site of West Malling Air Station is home to the Stepford-esque Kings Hill - a mixture of 2,000 houses, retail and business with only the old control tower - now a coffee shop - and a fitting memorial to those RAF days to perpetuate the history of the site.

And so to Manston in east Kent (pictured above), which has been the subject of much panic-stricken recent discussion as to whether it can be used to alleviate the slings and arrows of the outrageous Operation Stack which clogs up the highways of Kent.  Now Manston is another air station with a long and distinguished history arguably more so than that of West Malling.  It includes another reminder of the Dam busters, for it was Manston that Barnes Wallis used as a base for testing his bouncing bomb on the north Kent coast.

But in recent times, since commercial flying ceased to operate from Manston, there has been controversy about its future too and although the Operation Stack proposal is supposed to be temporary and limited, the long term future of the site remains uncertain. If there ever is a public consultation about that, I may be tempted yet again to suggest that the best thing to do with an established airport is to fly planes from it.  Maybe that`s too naive, too obvious, too simple for today`s over-complicated world, but it`s worth a second try.

Monday, August 03, 2015


WAS YOUR JOURNEY REALLY NECESSARY ?..


To Southampton yesterday with my eldest son to see the Saints take on Barcelona`s second football club Espanyol, in the last pre-season `friendly.`

Now here in Kent, for 26 of the last 44 days, we have been pretty much gridlocked thanks to the ongoing Operation Stack, courtesy of striking French seamen and the occasional migrant.   The result has been that we have not dared venture onto the M20 and turn right or have any intention of heading eastwards towards the Kent coast, since the traffic snarl-ups on the alternative roads have been the stuff of nightmares.

So yesterday we left home and turned left, optimistically expecting a carefree, leisurely drive down to Southampton and it was OK until we got near Leatherhead on the M25, from where we crawled and crawled until, in a fit of desperation, I turned off the motorway at Wisley and went down the A31.  Good progress until we reached Guidford - another crawl - and yet another one at Farnham;  but we rejoined the M3 at Winchester and arrived at Southampton`s Town Quay just in time for a quick bite before the walk to St. Mary`s.

We thought the return journey might be better;  after all it`s a summer evening in early August and surely there won `t be that much traffic about.   But we hadn`t bargained for the `long term roadworks` on the M3 all the way from Basingstoke right up to the M25 and we hadn`t expected the logjams on the M25 itself.   So our day was spent mostly on the super highways of southern England, tiresome to the extent that I began to wonder if the journey had really been necessary.

But then again it`s more than a pleasure to go back to my boyhood roots, to retrace the steps of the walk from Town Quay to St. Mary`s Stadium and to experience once more the special feeling of being a lifelong Saints fan.   The game itself was inconsequential, sandwiched between the first and second legs of the Saints Europa League tie against Vitesse Arnhem and the start of the Premier League next weekend, but the highlight was seeing Jay Rodriguez` stunning 25-yard volley to level the scores at 1-1. Especially pleasing for him as he has been out of action for 14 months with a serious knee injury.

So, to answer my own question.  Was the journey really necessary?  Just about.  And I dread the day when I may not be able to make the journey again.