Saturday, April 29, 2017

OH TO BE IN ENGLAND... that April`s here.   So said Robert Browning and he may have had in mind the kind of scene in this photo that I took earlier this week along the stretch of the south west coast path near Lundy Bay in north Cornwall.   It was a perfect scene - blue skies, gentle breeze, birds singing, flowers along the way.

Trouble was, nothing really prepared me for what I discovered on my return home on Thursday.   Now we like to think that we live in a quiet-ish, peaceful, supportive community here in our Kentish conclave in what passes for the Garden of England.   And just 100 yards away down the road there`s a rather nice green area, flanked by trees with a stream running through it - a much treasured `amenity` for local residents, especially children.

Unfortunately, the area has once again been invaded - there`s no other word for it really - by about a dozen caravans, vans, trailers, etc. of the `travelling community.`  They simply break into the area, drive their vehicles over it, set up camp and know that the law and the authorities cannot touch them all over this Bank Holiday weekend.  Here`s what it looks like today:-

Just over the hedge on the right are three or four houses whose residents have to put up with the noise, the filth, the abusive behaviour and language but apparently there`s nothing the authorities can do apart from go through the tortuous legal process of serving Orders and hoping, optimistically, that eventually our visitors will be gone.  We local taxpayers have to pick up all the bills not least being the cost of cleaning up the mess they leave behind and leaving the area fit for human habitation again.

This is the third or fourth year this has happened and if I were not a tolerant, understanding chap who recognises the primacy of human rights, I could get a touch miffed about it all.   But this is England and it`s still just April...but I just wish I was back on that coast path again.

Monday, April 17, 2017


It`s not often that I get interested in mergers, acquisitions and takeovers but the last few days have seen two lots of good news for people, like me, with concerns about affairs in and around Southampton.

First the good news about the Hythe Ferry. I grew up in Hythe on the western shore of Southampton Water and the ferry from Hythe to Southampton`s Town Quay was part of the permanent fixtures of my happy childhood.  I used to be taken on the ferry by my mother when she needed to go shopping and by my father to go to The Dell to watch Southampton - the Saints - playing in the old Second Division.  

For some years the ferry operation has been under threat as a result of falling passenger numbers and increased running costs and has only been kept going with subsidies from Hampshire County Council, who see it as a vital part of the transport links between the city and the Waterside.  More recently the prospect of the ferry having to close has become more acute but the good news is that both the ferry and the unique pier from which it operates are to be taken over by Blue Funnel , a long established and vastly experienced company operating from Southampton.   As a ferry has operated between Hythe and Southampton since at least 1575, when it was shown on Saxton`s map of the area, the news that its future is now secure is good news indeed.

The second bit of good news is that the Chinese Investment Group, Lander Sports, have now confirmed to the Stock Exchange that their interest in acquiring a stake in Southampton Football Club has now been abandoned.  For over a year now, they have been in discussion with representatives of the Saints` current owner, Katharina Liebherr and have had a lengthy period of exclusivity as the discussions have taken place.  

For Saints fans like me, this is also good news, as the current ownership has proved to be both benevolent and efficient and has seen the club rise from the depths of the third tier of English football into an established place in the Premier League.   It might be a case of `better the devil you know` but, as a former shareholder, the prospect of the club changing hands and leaping once more into the unknown was not a happy one for me.

All`s well that ends well?

Saturday, April 15, 2017


A few days ago, the powers that run cricket introduced a range of new laws for the game. At first glance they seem sensible, which most of them are and there would seem little to complain about.  What is especially pleasing is the introduction of new powers for umpires to have more authority when dealing with bad behaviour on the field of play.   Unlike football or rugby, the powers open to cricket umpires have been limited but now they too will be able to award penalty runs, issue warnings and even expel players for bad behaviour.   About time too.

A number of technical changes will also be introduced including, for example, clarification of run-outs when a bat is in the air but not grounded; clarification about run-outs by the bowler when the non-striking batsman is backing up and, intriguingly, the fact that the new laws will be in a language which is `gender neutral.`   Having said that, however, a batsman of whatever gender will still be a `batsman.`

And it`s this perhaps timely encroachment into modern day `correctness` that might lead to the need for further clarification on the part of the lawmakers.   Will there have to be a `Third Person` in place of a `Third Man?`  What about the twelfth man?  And, in this oh so sensitive age, will fielding positions such as short leg, long leg, fine leg and square leg become accused of legism?   Perhaps most alarmingly `silly point` (which I have often mistaken for a parliamentary interjection by Diane Abbott) might have to become something like `intellectually challenged position.`   Well, it was always a daft place to field anyway.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

There have been a number of occasions over the past 77 years when I have felt something approaching genuine despair.   I remember, for example, the sinking feeling I had around the time I was doing my National Service when the Cold War was at its height and there was a real danger of being caught up in a collision between the old east/west protagonists.  

And there I was on the night of my 21st birthday supposedly `guarding` the regiment`s tanks in the wilds of Luneburg Heath armed only with a whistle and a pick axe handle.  No wonder I felt a tad vulnerable.

And just now I`m beginning to get that feeling all over again, what with the Syria disaster, the Russian involvement, the Trump thing, the madness of North Korea  and all that.  And so, perhaps like 56 years ago, I turn once more to the gallows humour of The Kingston Trio and their rendition of The Merry Minuet, which seems just as relevant today as it did all those years ago.   Here it is:-

Saturday, April 08, 2017


Among all the `news` assailing our senses just now I was sorry to learn yesterday of the passing of Tim Pigott-Smith, one of our more notable actors, perhaps best remembered, by me at least, for his portrayal of Francis Crick in the BBC production of `The Race for the Double Helix.`   And his quiet passing at just 70 reminded me of just how many personalities have left us in the past few months.  A long list, of course, ranging from David Bowie to Graham Taylor and so many more besides.  And on a personal note, I have lost some good friends, some from childhood, some from my army days and some from work - the most recent just a couple of short weeks ago.

And a favourite piece of musical excellence came to mind; one which also recaptures memories of the loss of George Harrison and Roy Orbison.  The Traveling Wilburys gave us some of the very best that `popular` music can offer, perhaps the best of theirs is `Handle with Care,` showing the unique talents of George and Roy as they take leading parts alongside Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty and Bob Dylan.   The words of the song have a particular poignancy and seem especially appropriate on yet another unsettling day.  Here it is.......

Friday, April 07, 2017


I`ve tried over many years now, to adopt an attitude towards other people that looks for the good in them - slow to chide and quick to bless, trying always to be tolerant and understanding - and most times it is possible, even on some `testing` occasions, to discover that if one looks hard enough then maybe the odd redeeming feature will emerge. 

For example, my former obsession with `Sir` Alex Ferguson reached perhaps startling proportions, given his persona of belligerence, wilful disdain and assumption that he could ignore the rules which most other football managers were compelled to observe.  He has long gone, of course and is well in to a comfortable retirement and it may be me becoming a little more `mellow` or even desperately trying to find something in him with which I have no issues.   And, of course, his one redeeming feature was that he was a winner - he won things even if the managerial practices by which he became successful were questionable.

But, try as I might, I have found it impossible to detect one single redeeming feature in `Big` Sam Allardyce, currently plying his managerial trade at Crystal Palace, having stopped off at the shortest reign of any manager of the England national side.  I`m afraid he comes across as lacking in any form of `charm,` and like Ferguson he somehow displays that natural belligerence and wilful disdain that marks him out as one who might keep Palace in the Premier League, as he did with Sunderland, but who does little for the public persona of the club which employs him.

I`ll keep looking for some chink of light in the darkness but I suspect it will, for me, be yet another in a long line of failed attempts.   Just don`t get me started on Diane Abbott