I guess I must be mellowing in my old age. It was only a couple of days ago that I had something nice to say about Manchester United. Now I find myself having similar thoughts about the royal family. Well, the Queen anyway.
Once again over the years I have had the odd poke at the royals - the privileged lifestyle, the excesses, the fact that there are too many of them largely supported by the long suffering taxpayer and all that. I may have mentioned too that I was once invited to one of the Queen`s Garden Parties but declined gracefully on the basis that I really didn`t want to go.
But I have to say how encouraging and entirely fitting it was that Her Majesty took the time, trouble and effort (no small matter at her age) to travel to Manchester and visit the victims of the terror attack in hospital. I got the impression that it was something she wanted to do and her visit was a poignant demonstration of the country, at all levels, coming together in the face of such an outrage. Your Majesty - I salute you.
I must be careful. If my tendency towards mellowing continues, I might find something nice to say about the European Union....... even if it is `goodbye.`
Aficionados of these pages will know that, over the years, I have developed an almost pathological dislike of anything and everything to do with Manchester United. (I`ve long thought I need help!) From the brutal assaults of Roy Keane, through the ranting, thuggish `management` of `Sir` Alex Ferguson, to the modern day when the self-proclaimed `Red Devils` continue to display all the arrogance and assumed entitlement encapsulated by the antics of their current manager, Jose Morinho, who had to dub himself `The Special One` simply because no-one else would.
And yet I found myself wishing and hoping that they might actually win the Europa League against Ajax of Amsterdam in last night`s Stockholm final. And so they did - by 2-0 - and for just once it seemed entirely fitting for Manchester to have that victory to provide at least something to hang on to given the appalling events suffered by so many just two nights ago.
And yet again it has taken events such as this to provide a context, a perspective and a reminder that the excesses and spurious bubble of the Premier League become almost irrelevant against the backdrop of the reality of the wider world. But if nothing else, last night`s victory in Stockholm being dedicated by United to the city of Manchester was a fitting demonstration of solidarity with the community they represent. And so, for once, I congratulate them on the two accounts of winning the Europa Cup and conducting themselves with the kind of dignity which goes some way to enhance their reputation. (Maybe I don`t need that help after all?)
Thank goodness for that. It`s been a long season for us Saints fans - 53 competitive matches played - and we end up eighth in the Premier League, having had some `interesting` times in the EFL Cup (where we were narrowly beaten by Manchester United in the Wembley Final) and the Europa League, where we hit the highs by beating Inter Milan but hit the lows with something of a whimpering exit.
And now that it`s all over, there is speculation about our French manager, Claude Puel. Now he has been in charge for this season following the defection of Ronald Koeman to Everton, and Claude has struggled to win over the fans, whose expectations have reached unrealistic proportions. Each of the last six or seven seasons has seen an improvement from the depths of League One to reaching 6th in the Premier League under Koeman. When Pochettino left us for Tottenham, we finished eighth that season, the same as this term, so on the face of it there should be little for Claude to be worried about. Trouble is, whilst we don`t concede many goals, we just don`t score enough - in the last five home games the Saints have failed to score at all - first time that`s happened since 1937, when even I wasn`t born. And it`s this kind of negativity that suggests that Claude might be off to pastures new. I`m not sure I agree with the hue and cry, as it`s not Claude who misses gilt edged chances and it`s not Claude who misses three penalties in the last five games. But he is a decent and humble man and whilst I think he deserves at least another season in charge, I fear that we might be looking at yet another summertime circus at St. Mary`s. Looking on the bright side, we have finally seen the departure from Stamford Bridge of John (The LegEnd) Terry - whose choreographed substitution after 26 minutes yesterday to coincide with his shirt number must surely lead to a judicial inquiry; and I doubt Wayne Bridge, Anton Ferdinand and a host of others, me included, will mourn his departure. In other news, my local club, Maidstone United, finished creditably half way up the National League in their first season at that level; our street`s local hero, Gillingham`s very own Scott ("buzzin` six pack") Wagstaff, sadly missed the excitement of the Gills` narrow escape from relegation, thanks to an Achilles tendon mishap; other teams I follow saw Forest Green Rovers promoted as the smallest village ever to have a team in the Football League; and Truro City, they of the long heroic journeys, just, but only just, maintained their place in the National League South I`m looking forward to the cricket - I think - even though Hampshire have just been stuffed by Essex in an innings defeat at Chelmsford. As Claude might say, "Sacre bleu, mais c`est la vie." Au revoir mes amis.
Maybe it`s just me but you would think that I would have more `important` things on my mind. But ever since I posted some stuff about the May Day celebrations in Padstow, the music - as it invariably does - has been playing on my mind, to the extent that I just can`t seem to shift it.
Now I`m not talking about the hauntingly repetitive song that insistently declares that `summer is acome unto day.` Instead, I`ve become almost obsessed with the Dirge. You see, throughout the whole event, the Evening Song and the Day Song are accompanied by massed accordions and pulsating drumbeats and all the while, the Obby Oss twists, turns and cavorts to the beckoning of the Teaser.
But there comes a point - a lull in proceedings - when the Oss falls to the ground, either out of exhaustion or as a determined reference to the dying of winter. The accordions and the drums fall silent and the Dirge is taken up, unaccompanied, by the assembled throng. It seems to consist of a stanza full of unconnected lines, random phrases and oblique references to St. George and `Aunt Ursula Birdwood.` So you can see why the Dirge puzzles and intrigues me. It goes like this:-
O where is Saint George
O where is he now?
He`s out in his longboat
All on the salt sea O.
Up flies the kite.
Down falls the lark O.
Aunt Ursula Birdhood
She had an old ewe.
And she lies in her own parc O.
And at about 6 minutes into this video, you can hear it as it was sung in Padstow in 2016........
At the end of the Dirge, the Oss leaps up with renewed vigour to signify that summer has indeed acome, the accordions strike up and with the drums beating again the procession through the town resumes. Now I`ve done a bit of digging around and it seems possible that the reference to St. George implies a strong connection with the Solar Deity, whose Saints Day is around 1st May. "He`s out in his longboat....." might well refer to a funeral ship, thus referring to the death and rebirth of St. George through the choreographed fall and rise of the Oss. It was often the custom in the distant past to place an important body, along with all his or her worldly goods, in a ship; put it to sea and even set it ablaze. As for Aunt Ursula Birdhood, her appearance in the Dirge might allude to the Saxon Bear-Goddess, Ursel. The constellation of the Big Dipper, Ursa Major, is often called the Great Bear. Ursel is another Deity, this time the Moon Goddess, who was canonised and made Saint Ursula by early Christians. But, these speculations aside, the mystery of the true origins of the Dirge remain and so when I am next in Padstow, in October, I will pay a visit to the local museum so that my inquisitive mind might be satisfied, at least until next May.
Don`t know about you but already, with three weeks to go, I`ve had enough of the General Election campaigning. There`s the old saying about statistics, of course - you know the one - lies, damned lies and statistics - and the more I hear from our campaigning politicians the more it seems there are lies, damned lies and election campaigns.
We seem to be spoilt for choice this time round between a mixed assortment of party leaders. The Labour Party is rumoured to be led by Jeremy Corbyn. Now I would have thought that anyone who was once the alleged paramour of Diane Abbott is automatically barred from holding any responsible position. Then there is one Tim Farron, who found himself leader of the Liberal Democrats who are so democratic that they want to reverse the democratic decision of the majority of voters and crawl back on bended knee into the European Union. Oh, and they want to legalise cannabis. Of course they do. Maybe when Tim`s gap year is over he`ll think differently. The Green Party always intrigue me. Until last year they had a Leader, Natalie Bennett, who was Australian and barely comprehensible. She apparently supports polygamy and doing away with the monarchy whilst the current leadership want to legalise prostitution. Sounds par for the green course. The current leadership is held jointly by Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley, presumably because the membership couldn`t decide which one to choose or maybe they were worried about inflicting mental health issues on whichever one was rejected. Bartley`s claim to fame seems to be that he had an uncle who was married to Deborah Kerr, whereas Lucas unfathomably escaped prosecution for obstructing the highway during the Balcombe anti- fracking demonstrations a couple of years ago. Which leaves the Conservatives, UKIP and any other even more bonkers parties that may emerge from the woodwork. The Tories are now led by Theresa May, who seems to be Maggie Thatcher without the handbag (yet) and UKIP are currently led by Paul Nuttall who reminds me more and more of Peter Kay. Their mission is surely accomplished, job done and our democratically arrived at decision to leave the EU can surely be left in the hands of David Davis, Liam Fox, Boris Johnson and their chums. Well, it can can`t it? I`m thinking of starting The Football Party, led by Matthew Le Tissier, when everything will be decided over 90 minutes plus stoppage time at Wembley. It might be just as sensible..........
OK, so Fleetwood Mac didn`t work, so last night I thought I would give Gustav Mahler a go. His 5th Symphony is reckoned to be his masterpiece and the 4th movement, the Adagietto, is said to have been written as Mahler`s expression of passion and love for his wife, Alma. Anyway, I`m sure it did the trick for her, as it did for me in ensuring a decent night`s sleep........
Don`t know why but I`m having a period of sleepless nights. Well, I get off to sleep OK at the usual time and then, half way through the night, age-related bladder issues disturb my slumbers. I get back in to bed, close my eyes and try to get back to where I was in my interrupted dream.
Most times I lull myself into unconsciousness with my photographic memory of journeys to favoured destinations, mostly down the A303 towards the Devon or Cornwall coast and normally by the time my mind has travelled as far as Wincanton I`ve fallen asleep again.
Lately, however, music has taken over and I find myself replaying favourite items of music in my mind. Now, with soothing classics like the Adagietto from Mahler`s 5th or the lilting strings of John Barry`s `Out of Africa` I have no problem dropping off. But you know what it`s like - you get a piece of music in your head and you just can`t shift it. Right now it`s Fleetwood Mac who are to blame and I keep replaying `Go your own way`and especially Lindsey Buckingham`s epic guitar along with Mick Fleetwood`s driving drums - not the kind of thing to lull me back to sleep.
Anyway, at least this gives me the excuse to play it on here.......Goodnight, all
A few days ago I had a little fun at the expense of Portsmouth FC by posting a photo of their open top bus parade in honour of the club finishing third in Division Four. Fast forward and what do I find? Yes, against all odds and expectations the blue few of Fratton Park (Krap Nottarf) went bonkers yesterday and beat struggling Cheltenham Town 6-1. That result, coupled with front runners Plymouth and Doncaster both failing to win their games, meant that Portsmouth finished the season as champions of League Two.
Now there is, of course, a very long standing rivalry between Portsmouth and Southampton, which often takes the form of mutually assured abuse and I confess that I have myself perhaps indulged in a little banter towards our friends down the other end of the M27. However, to give credit where it`s due, I offer congratulations to Pompey and hope they can now enjoy a real open top bus parade to the adulation of their supporters. After all, next season they will be in the company of such football giants as Fleetwood, Bury and Shrewsbury. Not sure it gets much better than that.
They say a picture paints a thousand words and this one just about sums up today here in deepest Kent, where we have all the fun of yet another election - this time for the Kent County Council.
Now I have to be careful what I say here not least because at least one good friend is gainfully employed by KCC. But it always strikes me that any county council is stuck between a rock and a hard place - between the central government and more local councils such as districts and parishes. The central government and all its doings arouse passionate debate about national and international affairs, whilst district and especially parish councils are concerned with the more local issues that affect out daily lives.
All of which suggests that county councils, whilst perhaps largely and unfairly perceived, are thought of as a bit remote and, of course, like most politicians, theirs share a tendency for us voters to hear from them only at election time.
My personal insider knowledge of Kent County Council is limited to the time when, in a former life over half a century ago, I worked in `administration` at the office of the County Clerk. I had just finished my national service and was pretty desperate for a job to support both myself and the fragrant, recently betrothed Mrs. Snopper and so I was grateful for the opportunity presented by KCC.
But the experience left me with a jaundiced view of life in the marbled halls of County Hall. I would dictate a letter to a comely shorthand typist, get it back, make sure it was OK and then initial the carbon copy, whereupon it was passed on to two other more senior administrators who would themselves initial the carbon copy before the stamped signature of the county clerk himself (one GT Heckels) would be applied. That stultifying, almost Dickensian regime, coupled with my penchant for minor rebellion, ensured that my tenure at county hall was understandably short lived.
I`m sure things are very different today, with the emphasis on management rather than administration, but I`m still left with a feeling of apathy towards those who seek to spend their time as elected members of that organisation, so is it any wonder that I`ll give today`s election a miss especially as the choices on offer are less than compelling. It`s the wrong decision, of course, but I confess to being underwhelmed by it all, despite the teachings of Plato........
First and foremost, congratulations to Gillingham Football Club for securing their place in League One for next season. In a nail-biting climax to a difficult season the Gills needed to avoid defeat away at Northampton and hope that their nearest rivals for relegation, Port Vale, failed to win in their game away at Fleetwood. In the end, each game finished 0-0 and so the Gills survive, leaving Port Vale to plunge into the murky depths of League Two, aka Division Four.
My next door neighbour, the renowned Gills fan, has been remarkably quiet following this great escape - perhaps he is still savouring the moment or possibly still under sedation - but it shows the touch of class which Gills fans have in accepting those twin impostors of triumph and disaster with restraint and moderation.
Sadly, but perhaps predictably, the same cannot be said of Portsmouth, who, despite the rise of Bournemouth and Brighton, still consider themselves to be the Saints` main south coast rivals. Now, Portsmouth have just secured promotion from that same Division Four back to League One, which is seen by the club and their supporters as a sporting achievement that warrants an open top bus parade through the streets. This was the scene as Portsmouth once again displayed the kind of class for which they are themselves renowned.........
Maybe, as they will be in the same division next season, they will get some helpful advice from Gillingham as to how to go about this sort of thing........
MAYDAY, MAYDAY..... "With the merry ring, adieu the merry spring, For summer is acome unto day, How happy is the little bird that merrily doth sing, In the merry morning of May."
Well, it`s the first of May and I look out of my window and it`s raining, grey, dull and a measly 12 degrees. Bit never mind, the good folk of Padstow in Cornwall have been up all night celebrating adieu to the merry spring and the little bird is happy now that summer is acome unto day. The origin of the Padstow May Day celebrations are lost in the mists of time but each year they provide a raucous, passionate glimpse if what it means, especially for curmudgeons like me, to know that summer is on the way. There`s no way I can hope to do justice to the traditions of Padstow and the Obby Oss, but here`s a short video of what it`s about:-
There`s no denying that the music of the day song and the night song is both haunting and hypnotising and the more I hear it the more compelling it becomes. So here`s a longer version which perhaps captures the real atmosphere and charm of being part of it all.......
All of which makes me wish I had stayed in Cornwall for a bit longer rather than coming home last Thursday to deepest Kent with its dull, grey, rainy 12 degrees and its May Day `travellers` gumming up our village green..