Sunday, December 24, 2006

It's precisely 5pm on Christmas Eve. Santa will be starting his round any time now, he'll have to be quick if he's to reach every child in the world before morning breaks.

Let peace reign once more among mankind. A very merry Christmas to one and all.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

It's 2.20am. The fourth day of the third Ashes Test in Perth begins in ten minutes and I figured I should make the effort to watch it, if only because I think it may be the last time England hold the Ashes for some considerable time!

I feel sorry for those thousands of people who will be flying out of the UK for the Melbourne and Sydney Tests, traditionally the two biggest matches of the series. Unless something truly miraculous happens today and tomorrow, the series will be done and dusted and those games will be utterly meaningless. I'd be pretty unhappy if I'd forked out thousands for that.

A few weeks ago on these very pages, I tipped Australia to win handsomely but even I did not realise just how uncompetitive England would be. It's been a throwback to the bad days of the 1990s - Australia have dominated from the start and every time England have had a good couple of sessions and looked like they could get themselves into a really strong position, the Aussies have dug deep and ripped the game from England's grasp.

The turning point was the last day of the second Test at Adelaide. Despite the hammering England received in Brisbane to go 1-0 down, had they managed to draw the second match, they would have gone into this Perth test in good heart, only one down with three to play. As it is, that slow lurch to calamity on the final day at Adelaide ensured that England would lose the apparently unloseable game and finished the series there and then. That dramatic shift in momentum and morale was irreversible.

Questions will be asked about selection although there's no doubt that England were a little unlucky to have to play the entire series without three of their biggest names - Michael Vaughan, Marcus Trescothick and Simon Jones. In addition, Andrew Strauss must have run over umpire Rudi Koertzen's cat in a previous life having received three poor decisions in a row. But England have never given themselves a chance. By selecting a skipper who had not played for months, and given the impression, rightly or wrongly, of an old mate's network, where certain players are selected regardless of fitness or form, they made a rod for their own back - and Australia, burning with desire and hunger after the events of last year, have taken full advantage.

They will look to seal the Ashes today and then humiliate England 5-0. And they might just do it....

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Today's Guardian contains an interview with author DBC Pierre, who wrote my favourite book of recent times, the Booker Prize-winning Vernon God Little. It's interesting how it was something as simple as seeing a picture on his television of a young lad in a hoodie being shoved into a police car in America that encapsulated all the feelings of anger, disillusionment and 'the tapestry of commercial lies and political spin' that passes for contemporary reality, summed up by shows like Jerry Springer and Oprah Winfrey.

Just as interesting is that the creative process was stimulated in 1999 by that picture and it took just five weeks to produce 300 pages of thoughts, but it required a further 18 months of 'learning how to write', to distil Vernon's angst and experiences into what is truly an outstanding book.

Check out the interview -,,1961827,00.html - and definitely check out the book. I can't recommend it highly enough.

Last song on the iPod: James - How Was It For You?

Monday, November 27, 2006

Well, the bit about England having to start well obviously struck a chord, although not with the people it was supposed to! It's going to be an uphill battle now.

On an entirely separate note, those who know me will be well aware I don't watch much in the way of TV but I've finally found a show I really like. 'Lead Balloon', starring Jack Dee on BBC2 is outstanding - extremely funny in a slightly depressing way - the main character is a comedian, disillusioned with the way his work is turning out, with an agent wife, stroppy daughter and downright rude home help. He's a total neurotic, who can't bear the thought that people might think he's fat, gay, or simply not very funny. And there but for the grace of God goes nearly every 30- or 40-something bloke I know, especially me!

I understand that it owes a lot to the US show 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'. But as I've never seen that, I can't recommend it and must content myself with thoroughly endorsing 'Lead Balloon', Thursday nights on BBC2.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

It all begins tonight. It's 124 years since a full-strength England first lost to Australia on home soil, whereupon the body of English cricket was cremated and the Ashes taken to Australia.

Battle will be rejoined at 11pm in the UK and I simply cannot wait. Australia are unbeaten in nearly 20 years at the Gabba ground in Brisbane, the traditional venue for the opening Test of an Ashes series. If England are to maintain their fragile hold on the urn, a good start at the fortress of Australian cricket is essential.

Australia will start as favourites and justifiably so after England's winning team of last year has been decimated by injury and illness. Can the replacements - the likes of Alistair Cook, Sajid Mahmood and James Anderson - repeat those heroics?

For what it's worth, I think Australia will fulfil their burning desire to right last year's wrongs and prevail by a victory margin of 3-1. Good luck to both sides and let the games begin!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A footnote to the last entry. The Australian cricket team has a victory song - 'Under The Southern Cross' - which is sung by the entire team after a Test match win. One member of the team has the honour of leading the team in the song, and this honour is passed down reverently as time passes, players retire and a younger team member, now established in the side, takes the baton. It's not a difficult hymn.....

Under the southern cross I stand
A twig of wattle in my hand
A native of my native land
Australia, you bloody beauty

I only mention it because, on my trip to Australia in 2002, I took a yacht trip out in the Whitsunday Islands, off Queensland. Moored up in a bay on a warm clear night with the heavens resembling a glittering sheet of silver, I asked the skipper to show me the Southern Cross, the constellation that appears on the flags of Australia and New Zealand. Lying on deck gazing at it, surrounded by unimaginable silence and beauty, even this Pom found himself muttering the verse and uttering the immortal words 'Australia, you bloody beauty'....

Last song on the iPod: Sarah McLachlan - I Love You

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The contest for the Ashes begins in just over a week. Cricket's oldest rivals will go head-to-head in a series that means more to both teams than for many years. England, finally the holders once again, must prove they are worthy and ready to step up to challenge the Aussies for the title of 'best team in the world'. Australia, wounded by their first defeat since 1986/87, will be burning to show their sport-mad countrymen that last year was just a blip. Looking forward to it, as I do every series.

What is it about Australia that makes their sportsmen and women so competitive? Is it that they are a relatively young country and are therefore desperate to be noticed on the world stage? Is it the concept of 'mateship' that's drummed into them from an early age and team sports are a natural progression from that, underpinned by the ideal that you never ever let your mates down? Or is it the climate, which encourages young people especially to spend a large amount of time outside?

It's probably a mixture of all three and more but there's no doubt that a nation of only 20m punches well above its weight on the sporting front. Sir Don Bradman, Dawn Fraser, Cathy Freeman, Kieron Perkins, Ian Thorpe, David Campese, Mal Meninga, Shane Warne and many more - these are some of the great names of sport. The Aussies are our rivals but in most cases, rather than hating them, I reckon we see them as our slightly irritating but essentially good-natured cousins - the ones we're secretly jealous of cos they're younger and fitter than us!
A rather bizarre question struck me today as I sat in traffic on my way to Bristol. Which town appears the most in songs? It only occurred to me today as I had my Beatles' compilation CD going in the car and listened to 'Get Back', which mentions Tucson, Arizona in the first verse. The same town appears in Paul Simon's 'Under African Skies' from the album 'Graceland', which incidentally might just be my favourite album.

What is it about Tucson that means it appears in two wholly different songs nearly twenty years apart? What's in Tucson that makes it popular? Does the town appear in any other tracks? I know the likes of New York, Chicago and San Francisco are so famous that they have their own tracks recorded in tribute but what about the smaller towns? I once went to Chicago with work and the hotel I stayed at made all employees wear badges carrying their name and home town. My contact came from Saginaw, Michigan - which appears in another track by Simon, this time 'America'.

What about towns in the UK? Again, the likes of London are mentioned in hundreds of songs - but are there any that mention the likes of Clitheroe, Dewsbury, Evesham and Stirling? Answers on the proverbial (and metaphorical) postcard...

Monday, November 13, 2006

This is the time of year when we offer our tributes to those who have sacrificed their lives for their country in the great conflicts of the twentieth century.

Having grown up in Rugby, Warwickshire, I make no apologies for selecting Rupert Brooke's poem 'The Soldier' as one that has particular poignance for those who love their country (and it is possible to love it without resorting to jingoism, xenophobia or nationalistic fervour, I promise....) Brooke was born in Rugby and attended Rugby School and his statue adorns the town centre. I reckon that millions of schoolchildren must have grown up quoting the first few lines of The Soldier and it probably still brings a tear to their eye.

If I should die, think only this of me
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be,
In that rich earth, a richer dust concealed
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware
Gave once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam
A body of England's, breathing English air
Washed by the rivers, blest by the suns of home

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

So Saddam Hussein has been sentenced to death. The latest chapter in a pretty sorry chain of events which the UK helped to bring about. It won't bring about an end to the violence that we see on a daily basis.

Nobody would deny that Saddam Hussein is a vile human being. He deserves no compassion or sympathy. But surely a life sentence would have been the best way to make him pay for his crimes, left to rot, forgotten. This way, quite apart from the fact that the UK does not support the death penalty, (although we can hardly trumpet the 'fledgling Iraqi democracy' we claim to have created and then condemn its findings), it surely just allows him one more moment in the spotlight and risks making him a martyr?

What also appears to have gone unnoticed by those who have hailed yesterday as a 'good day for Iraq' was that Saddam will go to the gallows as a result of a massacre in the village of Dujail in 1982. That was in the middle of the Iran-Iraq war when Saddam was backed wholeheartedly by both the US and the UK. Our favourite Middle Eastern son, battling against the evil Islamic clerics in Tehran. Oh, the bitter bitter irony.......
A fun weekend to lift a little of last week's gloom. Friday saw a visit to a bonfire party in the Wiltshire village of Broughton Gifford with my colleague and good friend Max. Saturday and Sunday saw a rugby fest with the highlight a trip to Twickenham to watch England take on the might of the All Blacks. I'm pretty neutral when it comes to international sport, far less tribal and partisan than club rugby or football, so was happy to sit back and enjoy the All Blacks sweep to a deserved victory.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The US mid-term elections take place on 7th November. With the President's Iraq woes growing by the day, surely the Democrats should be looking forward to a good night?

Well, indeed they might, but if this article by the author and journalsit Sharon Smith is anything to go by,, we'll be waiting a long time for a reversal of the intolerant, illiberal policies that have been a feature of the last few years, not just in the US but the UK as well.

How utterly depressing....

Last song on the iPod: Pet Shop Boys - So Hard
Been away for ages. Way too long. Lots of stuff been happening, not all of it good.

The world has just kept on turning in my absence though - and look where we are. The Stern report is released and finally confirms what we all knew - that global warming, if left unchecked, will be utterly catastrophic and 'business' will not escape. So what happens? Mr Blair pops up and says 'why, this is terrible - something must be done!' And yet just last week, I could have sworn he said that setting targets for cutting carbon emissions was unhelpful becasue the targets could never be met - and that any agreement on cutting emissions must be 'good for business'. Suddenly, when it's his beloved 'business' that's staring down the barrel, he's all over the television.

Of course, I'm not really complaining that he's suddenly developed such a passion for all things green. But this relentless drive for 'growth' - across all peoples, companies and governments worldwide - is so pernicious. Is it really so awful that some folk should be happy with their lot? Obviously there are great many nations worldwide who suffer from abject poverty and drought, I'm not talking about them - but the UK is better off than most.

Would it really be so terrible if UK PLC stood still for a couple of years and simply redistributed its not inconsiderable wealth to aid its relatively few poverty-stricken citizens?

I'm speaking from a personal viewpoint here as well as from a global economic one. My beloved employers will make a profit of something in the region of £12m - £15m this year. That's not too shabby, you might say - and you'd be right. But it's not enough for them - and they have made the requisite 'restructure' to their business....with the result that a small number of people whom I care about deeply have lost their jobs.

All this applies to individuals too and I cannot help but think that this relentless desire for 'more, more, more' makes fools of us all. I still have a job, which pays the mortgage on the property I will one day own. I'm married, I own a car and in short, though by no means wealthy, I am comfortable. So why the hell am I so bloody disillusioned........

Monday, September 04, 2006

The cricket season is over - going out with a whimper rather than a bang.

After a slightly bewildering run of 4 straight wins, we had a shot at promotion in the last game on Saturday, had we managed to win and other results gone our way. Sadly, Mother Nature decided that it wasn't to be - a downpour throughout Friday night and most of Saturday morning rendered the pitch unplayable and forced an abandonment - to the benefit of our opponents, Combe Down CC, for whom the resulting two points clinched the second promotion spot from Division 2 of the North Somerset Cricket League. Many congratulations to them and good luck in the top division next year.

I think we can be proud of our efforts this season. After the horrendous nature of last season, when we did not win between early May and the end of the season in September, the club was on its knees in terms of performance, if not personnel. Three straight defeats at the start of this year darkened the picture even more and the previously unthinkable prospect of successive relegations loomed large.

Since then however, the mood has lifted considerably as a couple of victories at the start of June, combined with the return of previously unavailable players, gave the whole club an unmistakeable boost. Since those opening three defeats, we have completed 12 games. Of those, we have won nine and lost only three, enough to finish a highly creditable fifth.

It's my honest belief that, when we have been able to field a full-strength team, we have been the best side in this division. Next season, with a bit of luck and a few less injuries, will bear that out and I may be proved hopelessly wrong but for now, there's a bit more spring in the step of Harptree Villages CC. Roll on May 2007....

Friday, August 25, 2006

What seemed like a serious but by no means life-threatening incident at The Oval last weekend has now escalated into a full-on catastrophe for international cricket.

The revelation that Darrell Hair offered to resign his position as an ICC umpire in return for a one-off payment of half a million dollars is just staggering. I'm not entirely sure what the ICC's reasoning was for making the e-mail public as they must have known what would happen.

Last week, Darrell Hair was damaged by the allegation that his actions were unwise, although not against the rules, when he changed the ball without speaking to Pakistan skipper Inzamam-ul-Haq and, to be blunt, a little bit childish when he refused to come back out on to the field of play following Pakistan's protest. But there's a world of difference between being damaged, and possibly not being picked for matches that involve teams from the subcontinent, and the situation we now find ourselves in whereby he surely cannot continue as a professional Test umpire under any circumstances.

Not to put too fine a point on it, he has lost his moral authority and that is the cornerstone of an umpire's position. Every player now knows that Hair has a price. We're used to allegations involving players - anything from match-fixing to providing information about the pitch to bookmakers has been thrown in the past. But umpires must be seen as incorruptible. I can see it now - if he were ever to stand as an umpire again, the first time he turns down an appeal for lbw, he will get the question from the fielding side 'well, how much do you want to give it out?'

That situation is intolerable and Hair's position is now untenable. His offer to step down will surely now be granted - but he won't walk off into the sunset with half a million dollars, just the last tattered remnants of what used to be his reputation.

Last song on the iPod: The Divine Comedy - A Lady Of A Certain Age

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Found a list of 'top 10 books on the darker side of adolescence' in the Guardian archives the other day. Unsurprisingly, Golding's 'Lord of the Flies' sits proudly at number 1 but I was pleasantly taken aback to see DBC Pierre's 'Vernon God Little' make the top 10.

It's one of the best new novels I've read in the last few years and I'd recommend it to anyone. A deserving winner of the Booker Prize in 2003 - check it out!
Following last week's alleged foiling of a 'terror plot' (is no modern news story complete without the 'T' word?), it's difficult to escape the feeling that the general public is simply very very sceptical about this kind of story in the light of the public relations disasters that have been the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes and Forest Gate.

Scotland Yard and the Government need to be as transparent as possible about how this situation came about, without compromising the security services. People have been misled, ignored and simply lied to for so long that their first thought when a story like this breaks is no longer 'how terrible, we are prepared to put up with any inconvenience to protect our safety and support the police' but 'what are they trying to achieve by staging this?' Is it to convince us of the need for ID cards or other security measures that compromise our hard-fought liberties, or to try to shore up support for their wars in the Middle East by insisting that there are hundreds of cells full of Western-hating Islamists ready to unleash their fury on us?

And that's a dangerous game. Scotland Yard may find that, by crying wolf once too often, they're not taken seriously if and when the apocalypse really does arrive.....

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Tonight is the first opportunity to see the Perseid meteor shower in the eastern sky. The best nights are rumoured to be tomorrow and Saturday for a look at one of the most dependable meteor showers of the year.

Check them out from around 10pm onwards each night until around 15th August - it's usually well worth it.

Last song on the iPod: Beastie Boys - No Sleep Till Brooklyn
An emotional farewell to my good friend and colleague Mr Todd tomorrow as he leaves the office to go back to college and study art and design.

It's been a thoroughly enjoyable 20 months working together - conversation topics have ranged from the drift towards the centre in British politics and corresponding lack of ideology to whether a Jaffa Cake, despite its name, is really more of a biscuit than a cake.

It'll certainly be quieter and less fun in the office now - although it may be more productive - and I really wish him every success in his new career.

Good luck for the future Toddy, and don't you dare be a stranger.

Last song on the iPod: The Rolling Stones - You Can't Always Get What You Want

Sunday, August 06, 2006

A successful sporting weekend indeed. Yesterday, HVCC completed a routine win over rock-bottom Bristol 3rd XI. Most of the Bristol lads were 16 or under and our biggest opponent was complacency. There appeared to be plenty of that as we allowed them to race to 50-1 in a flat, subdued atmosphere but we managed to pull it round and dismiss them for 121 before racing to the target in under 20 overs.

I felt sorry for them, having to trek out to an away game knowing they would most likely be on the receiving end of a hammering. We did plenty of it last year and it's not a nice feeling. With luck, they'll be better off next year - in a lower division and they'll all be a year bigger, quicker and stronger. Good luck, lads.

More good sporting news today as CCFC launched their season with a victory over Sunderland, coming from behind to win 2-1. The Championship is really strong this year so to start with a win over a team that were in the Premiership last year, albeit hopelessly outclassed, is encouraging.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

My ego demands that I commit the story of the shot of my career to paper - or at least a PC. Picture yesterday's scene - a drizzly afternoon at Lansdown, on the northern slopes of Bath, where the sun never shines. The 39th over of a 40-over innings is about to commence so quick runs are a necessity.

Yours truly has been at the crease for a while but the bowling has been tight and not much has come off the middle of the bat but I hung around while others have departed to ensure that the team receive their full complement of overs. Move the guard from middle stump to middle and leg to give oneself a bit more room.

Up comes the bowler, it's his last over, he knows he needs to keep it tight for just six more balls and his job is done. The very first ball, as luck would have it, is right on middle and leg where I'm standing. To be honest, there was little that was technical about it. I simply moved towards the ball and swung the bat straight through its line of trajectory. It felt good straightaway because, ironically, I didn't feel a thing. Those shots that require a lot of effort are invariably the ones that have not been timed properly.

So I watched the ball soar upwards and cursed as I saw a fielder moving backwards. And then I realised that he was going to have retreat quite a bit further as it flew over his head, over the boundary and eventually clattered into the small shed by the scorebox where the home side's groundsman keeps his tools.

Cue momentary stunned silence from team-mates who have watched me bat for six years without ever suggesting that I had that in me, to be replaced by an outbreak of hollering and shouts of 'massive'! I was bubbling inside but was desperate not to show it - one has to appear cool, as though one does that all the time. So I simply stayed in my crease and tapped the pitch with barely a glimmer of emotion. It was only as the ball was retrieved and handed back to the bowler that the umpire caught my eye and winked at me and I could not stop the broadest smile from breaking out.....!
We're told that there is absolutely no difference of opinion amongst Cabinet members regarding Israel's attacks on Lebanon. This is clearly not the case since Jack Straw, whose Blackburn constituency has a high Muslim population, used the word of the moment 'disproportionate' over the weekend.

What puzzles me here is why we should expect anything other debate and disagreement. The idea that a number of people (the Cabinet currently numbers 23) should have the same opinion about everything, all of the time, is frankly ridiculous. It doesn't mean people can't get on, or put together a coherent policy, (although I admit these have been sadly lacking of late in some areas.) A number of my beloved colleagues in the office stand to the political right of Genghis Khan and Margaret Thatcher. But it doesn't stop me getting on with them. Admittedly, the standard of political reporting, where every event is couched in negative language, does not help. A disagreement is invariably a 'split', or even worse, a 'rift'.

Would it not be more sensible for the PM's office to say 'Tony thinks X, Jack thinks Y, and the matter has been discussed at length among the Cabinet and the majority view has prevailed'. It's called democracy, I think. You might remember it - I believe it used to be the system upon which the United Kingdom was governed......
Harptree Villages CC 169 all out
Exiles (Bath) CC 173-6
Exiles (Bath) won by 4 wickets

It's quarter past one in the morning and I'm still fretting about how we lost this one. We were simply a bowler or two short - due to a mixture of ailments, holidays and work commitments. From a personal point of view, it's probably my best game of the season - the second highest score of the innings, 29 not out, and 3-16 with the ball. But it doesn't mean much when you blow a chance to beat the league leaders on their own patch.

Last song on the iPod: Inspiral Carpets - Dragging Me Down

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Well, that's Saturday afternoon entertainment for the winter sorted!

Came home today to find my shiny new season ticket for 2006/07 at my local rugby union club, Bath. Getting ready to stand for two hours at The Rec on a freezing January afternoon watching people belt hell out of each other! Happy days!

Monday, July 24, 2006

One wouldn't have thought there was a positive for the UK and US authorities to come out of the current crisis in Lebanon but one by-product is that I haven't seen Iraq on the news much this week. Maybe they've forgotten about it, or hoped that we have?

Well, allow me to refresh their memories. According to the UN, 3,149 Iraqi civilians were killed in the month of June, more than 100 a day. The website claims to keep a count of the total killed. It lists the minimum number of casualties as 39,284 and the maximum as 43,744.

You can be damn sure that their families haven't forgotten.

Sunday, July 23, 2006,,1826978,00.html

Andrew Rawnsley in today's Observer argues that the Prime Minister's relentless cosying up to the White House actually diminishes rather than enhances the UK's standing when it comes to serious international issues like the current war being waged by Israel on southern Lebanon with a view to crippling Hezbollah.

One can easily see why successive PMs have decided that it's better to be with the world's only superpower than against them but will that power decline as China and India become economic powerhouses? Will it decline as Islamist nations rise up against them? It's difficult to say - there's no doubt that the US still has a massive military and diplomatic influence on world affairs but Rawnsley's view that 'Britain has ended up looking like an unconditional supporter of - at best as an awkward apologist for - the United States' is hard to argue with.

The PM would argue that it is a price worth paying to maintain some kind of position of influence on the world stage as Britain's status continues to decline. There are many who share that view but to what extent does it imperil us if we're implicated by association with crimes like Guantanamo Bay?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

How much longer can Israel's bombardment of Lebanon and the carnage of slaughtered civilians continue? While nobody would condone Hezbollah's capture of Israeli soldiers, nor their bombing of the Israeli border towns of Haifa and Nazareth, this kind of indiscriminate bombing is guaranteed to exacerbate the tensions around the regions and is hardly the actions of a government looking for peace.

Safe in the knowledge that the US will support them regardless, the Israeli military machine rumbles on without fear of international reproach. It would be nice if the UK saw fit to condemn the attacks and call for a ceasefire but our oh-so-predictable PM stays onside with both Israel and the US by blaming Iran and Syria. Of course these two countries support Hezbollah but it's hardly conducive to getting back on the 'road map' fora lasting settlement.

Both sides have little to be proud of but you can hardly blame Hezbollah for insisting that, by resorting to bombings and attacks, they are simply responding in the only way that Israel appears to understand.

Last song on the iPod: Creedence Clearwater Revival - Bad Moon Rising

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

So the World Cup is over. England were awful, Germany likeable, Brazil disappointing and finally, Italy triumphant.

The final will be remembered for what is being universally referred to as Zinedine Zidane's 'Moment of Madness'. I was extremely upset at first, Zidane is an idol of mine and the thought of his farewell and legacy being tarnished was tough to take.

But the reaction of the press in England and France has varied enormously. James Lawton in the Independent has been true to form - 'a disgrace to the game, an act of betrayal' etc etc while the French have forgiven their hero already - and marked his retirement simply by thanking him for his wonderful contribution to their nation. A stark contrast indeed to the column inches of vitriol that were poured upon David Beckham by the English media following his indiscretion at France 1998.

I'm biased and I know we always make excuses for those we love but my memory of the great man will not be tarnished. Yes, it was dumb but which of us has never done anything dumb? Five Live were comparing him to Eric Cantona last night which is ludicrous. Quite apart from the fact that Cantona attacked a supporter, he was not fit to lace Zidane's boots as a player, let alone insult his mother.

When I think of Zinedine Zidane, I shall continue to think of the two goals that won the World Cup for France, the sublime volley that won the 2002 European Cup and countless examples of the balance, passing and vision that made him the best player in the world over the last 15 years. He'll always be a hero to me. Cheers Zizou!

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Back in dear old Blighty. Two weeks of sweltering heat in Alonissos, and most enjoyable they were too - it's a while since I had any blonde hair but the heat has turned my eyebrows a definite shade of yellow although the pate remains as shiny and hairless as ever!

Plenty appears to have occurred in my absence. England play Portugal soon for a place in the semi-final of the World Cup, with the nation no doubt ready to go delirious with joy or plunge into abject despair depending on the outcome. I'll stick my neck out and say that I believe England will win this one, which will undoubtedly mean an agonising defeat on penalties.

England's greatest fast bowler, the legendary (and legendarily grumpy) Fred Trueman, has died. A sad loss indeed, 307 Test match wickets in only 67 matches is an outstanding performance and although his reputation may have suffered a little in the years after his retirement as a result of his bloody-minded 'professional Yorkshireman' approach to life and modern cricket - that silky action and terrifying pace and swing, which the old black and white pictures never quite do justice to, puts him right at the top of the tree when it comes to bowlers born in these isles.

Quick footnote before the football starts - Andre Agassi's Winbledon career is over after defeat to the outstanding Rafael Nadal. Agassi will be sadly missed at the All England Club - one Championship and one runners-up spot do not really do justice to the greatest returner of serve in the game but he at least has the distinction of being one of only five men to have won all four Grand Slams. A place in the pantheon of tennis greats awaits him and rightly so.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Another long break coming up. Flying to Alonissos in the Sporades Islands of Greece for two weeks of doing precisely nothing. I promise I'll improve the frequency of these senseless inanities when I return...

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Harptree Villages CC 224-8
Stanton Drew CC 85
HVCC won by 139 runs

Would you believe it? You wait 13 months for a victory and then two come along at once. We look like a different team now. We bat a long way down (even yours truly was a partner in a stand of 53) and we have a good mix of bowlers now that our youngsters are more experienced. We have been a joke team for over a year but yesterday's demolition of second-placed Stanton Drew means that other clubs won't be so quick to laugh at us now.

I don't think for one second that we'll start winning every game but I do believe that, with something resembling our first-choice team, we will be competitive in every match. It's just a shame that I will miss the next two games. Although two weeks in sunny Greece is some kind of consolation, I guess!

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Harptree Villages CC 286-5
Bristol CC 3rd XI 91
HVCC won by 195 runs

Redemption at last - and how! After 13 months without a win, we came good in style yesterday on a scorching afternoon. I managed to pick up 4 wickets and a catch as we finished them off cheaply but the star of the show was my good friend Phil. He and I, along with another mate, Martin, have regularly had evening net sessions for ages, just the three of us, in an attempt to improve our games. Yesterday, it all came gloriously to fruition for Phil who hammered a wonderful 152, including fourteen sixes. He will probably never play another innings quite like it.

I'm just glad I was there. Nice one mate!

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Not been around for a while - had a long Bank Holiday weekend in glorious Cornwall, a three-day celebration of Mrs Momus's 34th birthday and plenty going on the office.

Normal service now set to be resumed, happily. Cricket again today and a chance to redeem ourselves after my first shot at captaincy ended in rank and abject humiliation - a 127-run defeat in a 20 over game! Which is hefty even by our recent standards.

Another chance today to end our losing run. I haven't been on a winning cricket team for over a year now and am starting to tire of being a good loser. Mainly because I ain't!

Monday, May 22, 2006

Would you believe it? The closure of Secession Books, a small independent bookshop just round the corner from the office, makes today's Guardian in an article wondering how the small bookshop can compete against supermarkets, Waterstone's and Amazon.,,1780436,00.html.

I picked up a couple of bargains myself in Secession's closing down sale a couple of weeks ago and was struck by the passion for his work of the young man that served me. He certainly wasn't to know that he was preaching to the converted and it was a joy to browse there, which can't always be said for Waterstone's on Milsom St.

Secession referred their customers to the Oldfield Park Bookshop in Bath and I'd urge all Bathonians to give it a go. There's something indescribably satisfying about browsing in a quality bookshop where the staff know their business and are happy to share their knowledge with you.

Last song on the iPod: Scott McKenzie - San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair)
Crikey, just returned from the selection meeting with the news that I shall be skippering the side in Thursday's cup tie with Dyrham and Hinton. Be very very afraid.....

Actually, the forecast for Thursday is terrible and I shall be amazed if we get a game but even so, I need to ring round half of the Chew Valley and then try to work out how we're going to get 11 players there! If we don't get a game, it will allow me to slope off early and attend the leaving do of the delectable Bekah, who is leaving the International jet-set to join her boyfriend in Glasgow. So a postponement will have its benefits!

Last song on the iPod: The Kinks - Dedicated Follower Of Fashion
After 15 years of fighting, bloodshed and atrocities too terrible to mention, the battle for a greater Serbia is over. Montenegro's vote for independence yesterday ends the dysfunctional union between Serbia and Montenegro and means that the last link to the country formerly known as Yugoslavia has ceased to exist.

The secessions of Slovenia, Macedonia and now Montenegro were relatively peaceful affairs. The wars to achieve independence for Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo were three of the most horrendous episodes since the Second World War.

On the positive side, if there can possibly be one from the misery that these conflicts have caused, it's that the Serbs can now focus on their own core republic and start to reform and rebuild their lives, both socially and economically. The peace-loving folk of Serbia, and they, surely, are the vast majority, deserve that opportunity.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Momus is no Arsenal fan but the news that Thierry Henry has signed a new contract with the Gooners is wonderful news for all sports fans in this country. Henry is a class act, both on and off the pitch and to have this master of his art ply his trade on these shores is an honour.

His equaliser against Spurs, that sublime flick of his right boot, remains my favourite goal of the season and he's arguably the best player to have played in this country. A good day for English football.

I daresay that Calliope isn't too upset at the prospect of four more years of Monsieur Henry on her TV screen either.........
Well, I didn't think it possible but those shadowy figures who manufacture car accessories have managed to come up with a product even more irksome than the ubiquitous 'Baby On Board' sticker. Every other car I see on the road at the moment has got those flippin' England flags stuck on the side windows. They're tacky and rubbish, if you didn't know!

Great viewing last night - we're not great TV watchers in the Victorian household but last night I caught a programme where Bristol's favourite presenter, Justin Lee Collins, had to get the three surviving actors from 'The A-Team' to meet up for the first time since the show ended. He did a similar type show re-uniting the actors from Grange Hill a few months ago and that was thoroughly watchable too.

The lads in the office raised their eyebrows at the news that I watched TV that they considered to be somewhat lowbrow for Momus but I simply explained that I'd watched the last of my stack of old editions of 'The South Bank Show'.....

Monday, May 15, 2006

My flight to Barcelona leaves in three hours - off to check out venues for our party there in October.

'I'm leaving on a jet plane. I don't know when I'll be back again....'

Actually, it's tomorrow at 1530 but you know what I mean - there's something slightly melancholic about hopping on a plane, I think it's because of the distances involved and the dangers inherent in flying. You can never be 100% sure that you'll come back home.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

I've missed the last two games of the cricket season due to other engagements but we've now lost three out of three and are bottom of the league - an all too familiar feeling. We need to start winning soon to give us ourselves a chance of avoiding a second successive relegation. I'm back in the team for next Saturday, fingers crossed I can help the team.

A most enjoyable weekend, with Mrs Momus's Uncle Peter's 60th birthday party in the village hall last night followed by a barbecue at lunchtime today in glorious sunshine in the back garden. The Hill clan is closer than the Corleones and family occasions are always wonderfully social affairs, it was well past two in the morning when we called it a day. I vaguely remember promising to arrange a friendly cricket match between Compton House and Harptree and we've also agreed a 'Cousins Reunion' - the instigation of an annual event where the ten of us will meet up in a cottage somewhere in the UK and generally carouse until the early hours. Good times...

Last song on the iPod: Green Day - Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)

Saturday, May 13, 2006

In the same Observer magazine is a brief interview with the screenwriter Andrew Davies. His most noteworthy piece of advice to men is not to get divorced as 'it's a terribly expensive way to finish up with somebody you don't like any more than the first one'!!

It's an interesting thought. How many people are considerably happier over a long period of time in their second marriage than they were in their first? I wonder what the statistics are as to what percentage of second marriages survive?

I attended my cousin's wedding when he married for the first time some 15 years ago or so. Within five years, he was divorced. He married again soon after and he and his second wife seem extremely happy and now have a child together. So it does work out and had he followed Mr Davies' advice, he would still be with a woman he has since described as 'mental'!

I guess we must simply follow our hearts and do what feels right although one never forgets one's first love. Indeed, my good friend Nick and I were discussing first girlfriends just the other day and that brought the memories flooding back. The Lake District in the spring - mmm, happy days!
Interesting interview in last week's Observer magazine with actress Gillian Anderson, a long-term regular on the list of Momus' pin-ups. Nominated for a Bafta for her appearance in Bleak House, she lives in Notting Hill now and has just separated from her second husband. She comes across as extremely likeable but never really settled - she loves doing up houses and moving on, with Canada, California and London on her list of previous addresses.

She's 37 now and looks more stunning than she did when she shot to fame aged 24. If she ever does want to settle down - or even better, wants a companion to travel the world with her - I hope she knows where to find me!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

David Cameron, along with half the Parliamentary Labour Party if you believe the newspapers, has called for Mr Blair's resignation. I fear it may be wishful thinking on his part, at least for the immediate future . Although it's true that divided parties never win elections, I wonder if Labour's poor showing is more due to headlines about the NHS and schools, the fact that the Tories are showing something of a resurgence under a new leader, and the simple truth that the Government has been in power for nine years now and people see it as an opportunity to kick them - it was ever thus. I'm not remotely convinced that uncertainty about the timing of the handover is the reason for last week's council election losses.

Moreover, love him or loathe him, Mr Blair has proved himself the consummate political survivor on many occasions. If I were Gordon Brown, I wouldn't start measuring up No. 10 for curtains just yet.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Watched the Top 50 One-Hit Wonders last night. Usually, I avoid this kind of programme like the plague as they're normally packed with Z-list celebs, wannabes and never-weres, boasting about how they spotted the underlying drugs and sex related themes of children's TV from the start.

However, I had a feeling I might enjoy this particular trip down memory lane and I wasn't disappointed. Some great songs but also some trivia that I never knew. Who would have thought that Renato, from the great Renee and Renato, has a son running a restaurant in Birmingham where Renato regularly 'delights' the customers by belting out 'Save Your Love'? Renato is apparently his real name and that magnificent jumper in the video really belonged to him!! Renee's real name, however, is Hilary and she didn't want to be in the video so they found a vaguely similar looking girl and plonked a blonde wig on her! Even better, 'Aneka', who was No.1 nearly 25 years ago with 'Japanese Boy', which my sister loved, appeared on Top of the Pops in a suitably Oriental outfit but was really a doctor's wife from Scotland who was trained in singing Scottish folk songs!

The No.1 One-Hit Wonder was the inimitable Carl Douglas with 'Kung Fu Fighting' from 1974. Great scenes - that line 'in fact, it was a little bit frightening' never ever fails to tickle me....but the track doesn't quite make 'Momus' Top 5 One-Hit Wonders', in no particular order...

Toni Basil - 'Mickey' (1982)
'You take me by the heart when you take me by the hand'! And that cheerleader outfit in the video.....:-)

The Archies - 'Sugar Sugar' (1969)
Yes, I know they're a bunch of cartoon characters. But it's so catchy!

The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band - 'I'm The Urban Spaceman' (1968)
It's mental but it's flippin' brilliant...

Grange Hill Cast - 'Just Say No' (1986)
OK, it's not a great song. Actually, it's rubbish and the video is terrible. But I was in love with Zammo's girlfriend Jackie, alright!!

The Knack - 'My Sharona' (1979)
Hey, it's about a boy who's dead keen on a girl and reckons some physical action would be, ahem, no bad thing. What's not to love??

Friday, May 05, 2006

And so it proved - indecisive and difficult to call. David Cameron can call it a victory of sorts with a strong showing in London but no progress at all in the north. Little to shout about for the Lib Dems, some tiny gains for the Greens (including their first seat in Bristol, good news) and the suspected gains in Essex for the BNP.

What odds on a new Home Secretary by end of play Friday?

Last song on the iPod: New Order - Run 2

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Steve McClaren will take over as the manager of the England football team from August. Oh. My. God.......
Local elections today in councils around the country (although not here in Mendip) and it's tricky to call. Psephology is a notoriously inexact science at the best of times and although Labour will do well to avoid an almighty kicking, it's difficult to see who will benefit. Will David Cameron's blue-green Conservatives do well? Apart from Mr C's new-found and very welcome conversion to the environmental cause, there's little other reason to vote for them right now. Lib Dems traditionally do well in council elections on the back of a protest vote but their recent troubles resulting in the leadership campaign means that Sir Menzies Campbell may not be celebrating either.

Is is too much to hope that Greens will see their vote rise as climate change embeds itself in the national consciousness? Sadly, I think it is - I just haven't seen them winning any coverage either on the televison or in the papers. So where will all the votes go - one shudders at the thought of a BNP success but it may not be out of the question in some of the more deprived wards. We'll see tonight and tomorrow morning.

Off to the Lakes tomorrow for the social event of the year - the wedding of Mr Jimmy McCheyne and Miss Lindsey Jung-Burton on Saturday. The highlight of the day for guests will surely be the three-hour jazz cruise around Windermere in the evening. Good luck guys.

Last song on the iPod: Billy Bragg and Wilco - California Stars

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Combe Down CC 252-3
Harptree Villages CC 137 all out
Combe Down won by 115 runs

As is so often the case, the murder took place in a delightful setting. In the Limpley Stoke valley, in the shadow of Brassknocker Hill, it took all of three hours for that carefully-engendered spirit of optimism and hope to fizzle out and drain away as we were comprehensively hammered by Combe Down.

I was first at the ground and was taking in the surroundings when I got the first inkling that it might not be our day. Three members of that 'strongest team available', selected so painstakingly seven days earlier, were conspicuous by their absence as the rest of the team made their way over the field. One of them, our best all-rounder, had broken his finger playing in a friendly on Saturday and is ruled out for some weeks.

From there, it all went downhill as we lost the toss and fielded first. I bowled my usual mixture of unplayable genius and total dross but had a couple of catches dropped off me, and managed to drop a sharp chance myself off my own bowling, which is heresy for a bowler! With those missing players though, we simply lack strength in depth and although we did well to restrict Combe Down, a strong batting side, to just 80-odd off the first 20 overs, they took full advantage of our lack of a 4th and 5th bowler by taking us apart in the second half of the innings to post 252-3. Our fielding was poor and it was an all too familiar story.

For us to get anywhere near 252, at least one person had to get a ton and when we lost our first three wickets for just 17, it was game over. I was promoted to no. 6 in the absence of our missing trio and I must admit I enjoyed myself, hammering four boundaries in a quick 24, the second top score, before getting a ball that kept low and cannoned into the bottom of my off stump. From there, the end was mercifully swift as the temperature had dropped alarmingly by 7.15pm.

About the only positive I can take from the game is my batting. After two winters of extra nets at Writhlington, I am clearly good enough to make runs regularly, which is encouraging. From the team's point of view, it's clear that we need our strongest team available every week to stand a chance of being competitive. That's unlikely to happen, I'm missing the next two games and the injury to the other Rich is a real blow. We need to get our younger players involved and get them to start contributing asap.

The one bright spot came as darkness fell. Our number 11 was practising whilst waiting for his turn at the crease and nudged the ball towards the river that runs around the ground. Chasing it, he overbalanced and finished up falling head first into the river in full kit, including his helmet! I never knew that a camera on a mobile phone would come in so handy! The end-of-year awards in November includes a 'Champagne Moment'. It's rare for the award to be clinched on the season's opening day! We won't let 'Poseidon' forget that one for a while.....

Last song on the iPod: Depeche Mode - Master And Servant

Friday, April 28, 2006

Out on the monthly team night out tonight and out all day tomorrow so this'll be the last chance to update before our season starts.

Sunday sees us travel to Monckton Combe school in Limpley Stoke on the outskirts of Bath to take on Combe Down CC. They look like a strong side, having finished third in Division 2 last year and only just missed out on promotion, while their skipper scored more centuries than anyone else in the entire League last year. But we'll have what is probably our strongest side available too. We don't have anything like the strength in depth of our Championship-winning side of five years ago but we should be able to give a decent account of ourselves. The forecast isn't great but I'm desperate to play, particularly as I'll have to miss the next two games.

I have absolutely no intention of suffering the kind of regular thrashings we were subjected to last year. Bring it on.

Last song on the iPod: The House of Love - Gotta Be That Way

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Do we get the media we deserve? That bastion of values, the Daily Mail, has today been forced to issue a public apology and offer 'substantial' damages to Sharon Stone for a story it 'now accepts was untrue'.

This follows hard on the heels of The Sun apologising to Wayne Rooney for publishing the allegation that he beat his girlfriend in a club, and the News of the World also settling a libel case out of court. What sticks in the throat is the phrase 'we now accept that the story was untrue.'

Which begs the question 'why the hell did you publish it then?' Surely it's a disgraceful act to publish something one knows to be false. Similarly, if one is not sure of the veracity of a story, does one not have a duty to establish it before the publication of potentially hurtful allegations?

The ironic thing is that people will no doubt wring their hands and say how terrible it is that newspapers get away with it so lightly - before going out and buying tomorrow's Mail as well.

In the office, my colleagues and occasional drinking buddies, Bekah and Rachel, have a collection of the weekly celebrity magazines which litter the newsstand. Taking a quick look at the coverlines, Heat leads with 'Stars Who Binge Eat', while the delightful Closer goes with a picture of Z-list regular Kerry Katona and the caption 'Wrecked, Spotty and Rowing'. Quite frankly, who cares? These magazines led the way in saying how fabulous she was when she first shot to what is laughably called fame, and now they take delight in kicking her in the most brutal and public fashion. Most depressingly of all, Heat's ABC is nearly 600,000.

Momus's current pin-up boy, Charles Clarke, gave a speech to the LSE a few days ago, bemoaning the 'pernicious and poisonous' tendencies of the media in the UK, following questioning of his relentless attack on the freedoms of the population of this nation. The ironic thing is that his headline point is absolutely correct - it's just that the example he's using is way, way off the mark.
One chink of sunshine in the darkness of the devastating news of Charles Clarke's troubles is the news of John Prescott's affair with his secretary. It's no fun being Pauline Prescott right now (if it ever was!) but the news that the Deputy PM, when not busy concreting over the southern half of the United Kingdom, is actually quite a fun, emotional guy who can pull a very attractive 43 year old lady gives hope to every single one of us.

It's more bad news for the Government on a real Black Wednesday for them. It's good news for every male who ever had dark nights of the soul wondering about their potential attractiveness (or lack thereof). Good on you, sir!

Last song on the iPod: Don McLean - American Pie

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

So Charles Clarke, who, carrying on the work of his predecesor Mr Blunkett, has presided over the most illiberal, authoritarian Home Office I can remember, may be brought down to earth by the accidental release of over 1000 hardened criminals. And even worse (or better!) - having taken steps to ensure that foreigners are viewed with nothing other than the utmost suspicion by UK authorities, they were foreign criminals!

Oh, stop it Charles - I don't think my aching sides can take any more!!!

Last song on the iPod: Gioacchino Rossini - Largo Al Factotum (The Barber of Seville)

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Biarritz 18 Bath 9

Not unexpectedly, Bath's European campaign is over at the semi-final stage, their hopes washed away by the driving rain in the north of Spain. And yet, the frustrating thing is that they weren't actually that far away from winning it. Biarritz's rock-solid defence was outstanding but it was the continuous concession of silly penalties that eventually closed the door. The home side's outstanding scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili kicked five penalties and Bath were unable to respond but were certainly never humiliated.

Frustratingly, the club will not qualify for next season's Heineken Cup as a result of their abysmal form in the league earlier in the season . The turnaround since Brian Ashton's arrival has been phenomenal and I suspect that if he were to stay, really exciting times at the Rec would be just around the corner. But England will come calling and no coach can turn his country down.

The rain has made its way over the Channel and ensured the abandonment of our pre-season friendly today. Winford's ground is waterlogged, meaning that a number of our players will go into the League season proper next week having had no kind of practice whatsoever for about eight months. Grrr.....

Saturday, April 22, 2006

A sport-filled weekend in prospect. This afternoon, Bath travel to San Sebastian to play Biarritz in the semi-final of the Heineken Cup. It's the biggest game for years and the Basque side is packed full with French internationals. Logic suggests that Bath should be on the receiving end of a thorough pasting but I was saying the same before we travelled to Leicester for the QF. You just never know, if they can reproduce the sparkling attacking rugby that destroyed Bristol in the first half last week, there may yet be a trip to the Millennium Stadium in store.

Either way, we'll be heading into Bath to find a place to watch the game. The other semi-final is an even more mouth-watering affair - the small matter of a local dust-up between Leinster and Munster. Between them, the two provinces make up practically the entire national team of Ireland and I suspect that half of Limerick will be upping sticks and heading for Dublin this weekend.

Closer to home tomorrow, it all starts again. The new cricket season commences with a pre-season friendly. Weather permitting, I'll begin my vice-captaincy career with a trip to our Chew Valley neighbours Winford in a game we should win although the main thing is for bowlers to get loose and batsmen to play a few shots after a winter off before the serious stuff starts next weekend. I suppose I should say that the result doesn't really matter but Mr Momus Snr will confirm that I've always been a terrible loser!

Last song on the iPod: Adam Faith - What Do You Want?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

A survey of the nation's favourite lyric found that the line 'One life, with each other/Sisters, brothers' from 'One' by U2 is the most popular.

What on earth is that about? 'One' is a good track, but it's never struck me as a lyrical masterpiece. Second placed track was the line everyone knows from The Smiths' 'How Soon Is Now'. I love The Smiths as much as the next tortured soul but wonderful as the song is, it can't be called Steven Patrick Morrissey's finest hour.

There are a number of tracks vying for that particular honour...

'London' - 'You left your tired family grieving/And you think they're sad because you're leaving/But did you see the jealousy in the eyes of the ones who had to stay behind?'

'Ask' - 'Shyness is nice/And shyness can stop you/From doing all the things in life you'd like to........Spending warm summer days indoors/Writing frightening verse to a buck-toothed girl in Luxembourg'.

'Cemetery Gates' - 'Keats and Yeats are on your side but you lose/Because Wilde is on mine'

Great stuff.

But even those can't compare with Soft Cell's 'Say Hello, Wave Goodbye'. Every line is a dark gem to be savoured and you'll see that opening line 'Standing at the door of the Pink Flamingo, crying in the rain' somewhere else someday soon.

Last song on the iPod: The Primitives - Crash

Friday, April 14, 2006

Well if it wasn't official before, it certainly is now. The government's own scientific adviser, Dr David King confirms that greenhouse gas emissions are set to heat the Earth by a further three degrees if our current rampaging hedonism continues unchecked. That's enough for serious drought to bring famine to 400 million people on this planet.

I know that the UK isn't acting in isolation and that increased energy output in China and India plus the resolute refusal of the US to set a target in cutting emissions means that any efforts on our part may have a miniscule effect. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't take the lead. Margaret Beckett and Tony Blair should be all over the news channels immediately after Easter telling us precisely how the UK will do just that. But though industry is responsible for a large percentage of the emissions, ultimately it's down to citizens to change their lifestyle. Every one of us should be looking at ourselves to see how we could do more. And that includes me.

Last song on the iPod: Midge Ure - May Your Good Lord

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Sunday's Observer suggests that a number of Whitehall departments have failed to meet their own targets for switching to greener vehicles. The deadline was 31st March for all departments to have at least 10% of their fleet producing low carbon emissions. Hilariously, the Ministry of Defence and the Home Office haven't even managed 1%. Whether the cause is indifference, lassitude or sheer ego, it tells you all you need to know about the current commitment to reducing the carbon emissions that contribute to global warming.

Last song on the iPod: Billy Bragg and Wilco - Hesitating Beauty
A wonderful service was a fitting send-off for Laurie yesterday. There wasn't a spare seat in Eastbourne Crematorium as we paid our respects to the Grand Patriarch of the tightly-knit Hill clan. Practical, frighteningly intelligent and unstintingly patient and wise with those who sought his advice (and there were many who did), he was a truly remarkable man. An eloquent and emotional tribute from his son Peter was the perfect way to sum up what the man known universally as 'Gramps' meant to his family.

Rest in peace Laurie.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

I'm such an donkey! Bought a couple of T-shirts online but was too careless to check the sizes and one has turned out to be XS. Too proud to admit my mistake, I'm going to take to the gym even more until the day comes when I can wear it out as a skinny-rib top!

A fun evening last night at the cricket club skittles evening. Half the village appeared to have turned out for the occasion and it was great to see our old neighbours, Rob and Sue, who were particularly kind to us when we first moved to East Harptree. No success at the skittling, but a good night had by all and a renewed determination to enjoy a successful season.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Did you know that, under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, one requires advance permission from the police to make any kind of protest with one kilometre of Parliament?

The same Act now brings the prospect of a 12-month jail sentence for any person who protests at any one of Britain's military bases. The ID card bill, finally allowed through by the House of Lords last week was originally promised to be voluntary. Now it is 'voluntary to be rolled out alongside the renewal of passports', meaning that you will have to have one if you wish to to travel abroad after 2009. On the basis that that group would include most of the UK population, that sounds compulsory to me.

Slowly, the government is ripping the last civil liberties from every one of us and the UK citizen, notionally a free man or woman, at liberty to live as they please, is now seen by the state as a potential enemy, somebody to be mistrusted. The war on terror is a godsend to the Government. Since time immemorial, governments have yearned to take more control of the lives of their electorate and dampen any disquiet but would not dare to for fear of the uproar that would undoubtedly result. Now, the reason that 'it's for your own good' is being used to justify all kinds of surveillance and quashing of differing opinions. Even worse, we seem to be sleepwalking towards this state of legalised servitude.

That 'beacon of Western democracy' that we so wish to export to the supposedly repressed people of the Islamic world is flickering and dying before our very eyes.

Last song on the iPod: Simon and Garfunkel - Homeward Bound

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The World Resources Institute is an environmental think-tank with the aim of 'moving human society to live in ways that protect Earth's environment and its capacity to provide for the needs and aspirations of current and future generations.'

Their Earth Trends website suggests that the vast majority of the scientific community is now confirming what many of us have suspected for a while. They reviewed 40 scientific papers in 2005 and released an issue brief called 'Climate Science 2005: Major New Discoveries' which they have summed up thus.

2005 was a year in which the scientific discoveries and new research on climate change confirmed the fears and concerns of the science community. Findings reported in peer-reviewed journals last year point to an unavoidable conclusion: the physical consequences of climate change are no longer theoretical; they are real, they are here, and they can be quantified.

So can we please stop messing around with half-hearted, piecemeal efforts to combat it and start taking this seriously because it's right here, right now?
Oh, and speaking of all things political.....who would have thought that Calliope would make Margaret Thatcher look like a namby-pamby social democrat?!?!
There's a piece on the Guardian's website that should concern all of us who believe in tolerance and respect for others. University professors in the US who have espoused views that are considered 'left-wing' or 'radical' are alleged to have been targeted, not just by organisations who might be considered sympathetic to the US neo-conservative cause, but by their students as well.

There are many examples but just one involved the chair of African-American studies at Yale who questioned the morality of the Iraq war and implied that the interests of Israel were not unrelated. He wouldn't be the first to have done that but a critic wrote the Wall Street Journal comparing him to Adolf Hitler of all people and the professor then found himself named on a website 'exposing' radical academics and the e-mail threats came flooding in.

Who would have thought McCarthyism was still alive and well? If it's true, it would appear that the land of the free is only free if you hold the same views as the authorities....
The obituary of Mrs Momus's grandfather appears in today's Daily Telegraph. Unbounded love and respect to Laurie, a man held in universally high esteem by all who knew him.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

History will simply record the facts thus: Leicester 12 Bath 15

But for those of us fortunate enough to be there, yesterday's Heineken Cup quarter-final was an occasion that will be revelled in and talked about over a pint and round the camp fire for years to come. The conversation will begin something like..'Do you remember when Bath, undoubted underdogs and missing their inspirational skipper, went to their fiercest rivals and, through a mixture of unquenchable spirit, heroic defence and, it must be admitted, a large slice of luck, came away with a famous victory in front of 30,000 Leicester fans?'

Leading by three points but with two men dismissed and still 10 minutes to play, it seemed as though Bath simply could not hold out against the mighty Tigers. But the minutes ticked away and still the tackles kept flying in. The crucial moment came as the match entered its final minute. Leicester and England fly-half Andy Goode had the ball, racing towards the Bath line and had three team-mates outside him, all of whom would have had the simplest of tasks to run in the match-winning try. But in a split-second that will probably stay with him for a long long time, he went for glory himself and was swallowed up by the wall of defenders. From the ensuing melee, the ball came back on the Bath side and was hacked clear. Seconds later, the ball was belted gleefully into touch, the referee signalled the end of the contest and sparked jubilation among the small pocket of blue, black and white-clad supporters around me. I may even have hugged a man I had never met before!

It was a wonderful day out and the Tigers were predictably sporting in the face of a defeat which must have been hard to swallow. Mr Momus Snr hasn't been to a rugby match for many a day but I reckon even he had been converted to the cause by 2.30pm on Saturday.

Bath were totally dominated up front in the second half, normally their strong suit - and the semi-final brings an intimidating trip to San Sebastian to play the mighty Biarritz. But any navel-gazing can wait, we're going to enjoy this one for a few days first!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Britain is set to miss its target for cutting carbon emissions by 20% by 2020. In fact, emissions are actually up since 1997. That commitment has been in the Labour manifesto for the last three elections. Failure to hit the target is being blamed on high economic growth, not only here in the UK but in developing nations like China where, according to researchers, more energy is used in the manufacture of goods than is the case in Western nations. But of course, it's much cheaper.

Trust humankind to sacrifice the planet on the altar of the almighty dollar.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Mrs Momus and I have begun the preliminary plans for our US road trip in the summer of 2007. It will be the partial fulfilment of a long-held dream and although actual destinations are still sketchy, I do have an outline in mind. What I don't want is a repeat of our honeymoon when we crossed Western Canada. Although we saw a number of wonderful places, we were in a different hotel practically every night. Coupled with the driving distances involved, it turned what should have been the best holiday of our lives into, frankly, something of a slog.

The starting point will be San Francisco. I need to check out northern California to find out what is worth checking out north of SFO. In the absence of a pink camper van, and with only two weeks to do it in, rather than the ideal 12 months, I intend to concentrate on a few destinations but spend lots of quality time there.

Back in the Chew Valley, as opposed to Napa Valley, I attend my first committee meeting as vice-captain on Thursday night. It's a dual role as I am also Press Officer for the club. It's the closest I'll get to being a proper journalist.....

Saturday, March 25, 2006

There's a total solar eclipse due to take place next week, 29th March. Sadly, the UK will only see about 25% obscuration at best. Brazil, Turkey and East Africa are apparently the best places to be. With luck, the weather will be clear and we'll get some decent photos, if nothing else.

Having recently been to Morecambe Bay, I can see how those Chinese immigrants picking cockles would have been terrified as the water came rushing in. It's such a vast, arcing sweep of sand and mud that it's really disorientating. Apparently the tide comes in across those sandbanks quicker than a horse can gallop. They wouldn't have stood a chance.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Incidentally, two days after our return, I would recommend Berlin as a city break destination to anyone. While it's not an attractive city in the same way as Rome or Paris, one never loses the feeling of, to steal a quote from the PM, the hand of history on one's shoulder. Here lie the events that shaped the 20th century.

And it's not all politics and suffering. On our walk from the hotel in the old East to the Brandenburg Gate, we came across no end of churches, cathedrals, opera houses and museums, while bars, restaurants, cafes and clubs thrive. It's a city rebuilding itself and it's brilliant.
The Man In Black dominated the music box today. If the great man is good enough for Andrew Flintoff and the rest of the England team, he's certainly good enough for me!

Last song on the iPod: Johnny Cash - The Ballad of Ira Hayes

Friday, March 17, 2006

According to today's Independent, the Prime Minister says he would 'do it all again' regarding the invasion of Iraq. Surely even the God who he reckons will judge him would blanch at unleashing this cataclysmic hell a second time?

103 British troops dead, 2311 Americans and who knows how many Iraqis? Sunni turned against Shia and the West's standing at an all-time low in the Muslim world and ever more vulnerable to terrorist attacks, which in turn produces a further clampdown on the civil liberties of UK citizens? Please don't 'do it all again'.....

Last song on the iPod: Rilo Kiley - Does He Love You?

Thursday, March 16, 2006

So the Prime Minister has got his Education Bill through the House of Commons. Is he a modern-day Ramsay MacDonald, whose name was reviled throughout Labour clubs up and down the land after splitting his party and forming a national coalition with the Tories? Probably not, there's certainly no prospect of David Cameron getting his hands on any share of power any time soon and it's not the first time that a Government has had a Bill passed with the help of the Opposition.

But it does add to the general feeling that pervades no. 10 at the moment that Mr Blair is just finding the whole thing a bit of a hassle. There are rumours of loans for peerages - a throwback to David Lloyd George - and with Iraq descending further into the pit of despair, things are tough indeed for the PM. I don't hate Mr Blair as some do, although there can be no question that he, and many others, let's not forget, got it badly wrong on Iraq, but it does seem a long time now since that sunny day at the beginning of May 1997 when he and Cherie strode beaming up Downing Street and all seemed right with the world.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Woo-hoo! Big excitement as a BBC film crew were in Shepton today. The incident in question is the forced removal of a bunch of protesters who have tried to stop the demolition of a derelict factory, and the necessary chopping down of a number of trees, to make way for a new Tesco store in the centre of town.

I'm no lover of the evil behemoth Tesco but to those who claim that a more central Tesco will kill the town, I'd point out that Shepton Mallet has been dead for years.......
Much hilarity in the office just now. A spot of mickey-taking at yours truly's expense reached a climax when KB, bless her, got one of my noms de plume wrong and inadvertently called me the 'Gorilla of Love', to the delight of the rest of the team!!

I had no idea she'd seen me naked!
Just got the currency for our weekend trip. Bring it on!

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

How ironic that, barely a couple of weeks after musings over the whereabouts of General Ratko Mladic, the man behind the misery of the 1990's in the Balkans is dead. Slobodan Milosevic led Serbia on a wave of nationalism into conflicts in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo which cost the lives of around 200,000 people.

We'll never know how the war crimes tribunal at the Hague would have judged him but the bloodshed, brutality and hatred that were the result of his desires for a Greater Serbia mean that few will mourn him.
A thoroughly enjoyable weekend, on both the social and sporting front.

Spent the weekend in Grange-over-Sands, Cumbria with Mrs Momus and Christine. Many thanks to Josie and Richard for allowing us the use of their cottage. Spent Saturday doing touristy stuff in Bowness, Windermere and Ambleside, and spent far too much money on gear from White Stuff, which is currently Momus's apparel provider of choice! Serious snowfall overnight on Saturday and we woke up to proper snow, which you see so rarely back down south.

On the sporting front, Bath claimed a crucial 20-18 win over Newcastle to further banish the spectre of relegation which has been hanging over the Rec all season. It was a vital win against fellow strugglers, made all the more impressive by the fact that most of the front five were off in Paris getting their backsides kicked all over the Stade de France.

CCFC claimed an equally impressive win, 2-0 at home against high-flying Sheffield United, who have not been out of the top two all season. I think the play-offs are just out of our reach, but six straight wins at home and an unbeaten record since November at 'Fortress' Ricoh bodes well for next year and suggests that, finally, the club might, just might, be emerging from the darkness.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Flippin' heck, how did that happen?

I've just been offered, and accepted, the post of vice-captain of Harptree Villages CC 1st XI. I wasn't angling for the job but events have moved pretty quickly in the last week and now I can't wait to get on with doing my bit to try to improve the fortunes of the club.

I was never going to turn it down - as befits a political animal, once we get our fingers anywhere near the levers of power, it's the devil's own job to prise them away!

Better get in touch with my personal trainer now though - whoever heard of a vice-captain with love handles??!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Woo-hoo, the digital camera has arrived! Farewell, Mr Chuzzlewit!

It'll make its debut up in the Lakes this weekend. I've no idea what to do with it but it looks mint!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

It's a bit late, but I'd like to offer an apology to Mr Joe Calzaghe.

I'm not a massive follower of the not-so-noble art of boxing but I was one of those who thought he was never quite of the highest calibre, a world champion for a long time but had never fought a big name, he beat Chris Eubank but Eubank was on the way down after a couple of beatings at the hands of Steve Collins.

Anyway, in my knackered and slightly hungover state on Sunday, I slumped in front of Tony's TV which just happened to be showing a re-run of Calzaghe's contest the previous evening against Jeff Lacy from the USA, who was unbeaten, a world champion with a different organisation and reputed to be a seriously hard puncher.

As I gradually emerged from my state of half-consciousness, I realised that I was witnessing the finest display of boxing I've ever seen from a British fighter. Dazzling footwork and blistering hand speed soon rendered Mr Lacy something of a wreck and the bell at the end of the fight must have come as a blessed relief to save him from further punishment. Calzaghe's accuracy was phenomenal and he was regularly landing flurries of eight or nine punches right on the button without response.

There's little pleasure to be gained from watching a man getting a serious hiding but seeing a highly trained athlete perform to the very highest standard was a joy. It was a truly magnificent display against a very dangerous opponent.

So I'm very glad to put the record straight and admit that I was totally wrong. Joe Calzaghe, you are top-class.

Last song on the iPod: Nirvana - Jesus Doesn't Want Me For A Sunbeam

Monday, March 06, 2006

A truly memorable weekend ended on a sad note when Calliope confirmed that Brenda had indeed passed away on Sunday evening. Still thinking of ya....

Friday night saw what is now fast becoming the International tradition of a night out on the first Friday after payday. A number of us set up camp in the Lounge at around 5.45pm and didn't move a muscle, except to refill our glasses, until 11.15pm when I insisted on going to get some food. Left Abi, Avi, Bekah and Rach at the door of O'Neill's just before midnight as I was driving home. Would you believe, I only missed out on O'Neill's playing Macarena, although the girls had the good grace to phone me and leave a message on the answerphone with the tune in the background!

Saturday was a wonderful sporting and social occasion at the Powergen Cup semi-finals in Cardiff that not even Bath's agonising one-point defeat against Llanelli Scarlets could spoil. We motored up to Ross-on-Wye to pick up sister-in-law Ali and her chap Tony then onto Cardiff to meet up with Tony's dad Mike and his family and friends to pick up the tickets. Cardiff was awash with colour as supporters of the four semi-finalists descended on the city centre, the green, white and red of Leicester, the blue, black and white of Bath, the black and yellow of Wasps and the, erm, scarlet of Llanelli! Mike's friend Gordon is a season-ticket holder at Leicester Tigers and he'd got the tickets for us, so we found ourselves sat among the Tigers fans and allied ourselves with them against the mutual enemy, Wasps. What a magnificent theatre the Millennium Stadium is!! It wasn't quite full, there were around 51,000 there but you wouldn't need a Wildean imagination to suspect that, when Wales are at home and on song, roared on by a capacity crowd, it would be a wonderful experience. Sadly, Tigers couldn't quite prevail against a Wasps side who were outstanding in defence and scored a scorching breakaway try near the end to seal the win. So it came to the second semi-final and although we couldn't persuade our Welsh friends to join us in supporting Bath, we all enjoyed a enthralling encounter. When Bath scored an excellent try early in the second half to take a 23-10 lead, we allowed ourselves to start planning the route to Twickenham, but the Scarlets fought back wonderfully well to score two tries themselves and clinch a nailbiting 27-26 win. We took some good-natured ribbing from the jubilant Scarlets fans but not even defeat could spoil the day. Back in Ross, we staggered round the corner, still in our colours, for an excellent Indian at Cafe ZamZam, the town's new balti house.

Sunday morning dawned cold but gloriously sunny and we took the opportunity to go walking round Ross along the picturesque River Wye. It's not uncommon to see the local rowers out on the river and yesterday was no different. Ross Rowing Club has a very smart boathouse and a couple of single scullers and an eight were just taking to the water as we wandered past. Stayed for lunch and then headed home, a simply cracking weekend.

Following on from last week's thoughts about continuing my advance into the 21st century, Mrs Momus and I purchased a digital camera online last night to take to the Lakes this weekend. Luddites? Pah.....!

Last song on the iPod: Arctic Monkeys - When The Sun Goes Down

Thursday, March 02, 2006

On a serious note, thoughts are with Calliope as she heads up north to see her mother-in-law for what may well be the last time as Brenda is seriously ill.

Thinking of you, buddy.
Continuing the Dickens theme, today saw the death of the actor Jack Wild, the Artful Dodger in Lionel Bart's musical 'Oliver'. It's one of my favourites and Wild's enduring image will be his arm around the shoulders of Mark Lester singing 'Consider Yourself - one of us!' Rest in peace, sir.

Liking musicals gets me into no end of trouble with Calliope. I forgive her, for she knows not what she does. In the office today, I offered to lend KB my copy of 'Bugsy Malone' on DVD. You'd have thought I'd offered her my syphilis......

Those two, sadly, are a pair of cultural pygmies.......!

Last song on the iPod: Billy Bragg - Like Soldiers Do
This weekend is the first of a string of busy weekends for us and I'm wondering whether I should make the final step to dragging Mrs Momus and myself out of the Dickensian household era which we have inhabited for so long.

We've finally got a DVD player and we've finally got broadband. Now, with a host of trips coming up, I quite fancy waving goodbye to Bob Cratchit once and for all and getting a digital camera. I chatted with my colleague Mr Toad some time ago about this very subject, upon which he is most knowledgeable - and need to pick his brains if we are to make the most of the exciting times ahead.

This Saturday, we visit the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff for the double-header of the Powergen Cup semi-finals. Leicester play Wasps at 2.30 and then we'll don the blue, black and white of Bath for their tie against Llanelli Scarlets. It's a shame that the WRU have refused to release Scarlets' Dwayne Peel for the match. His absence helps Bath's cause but it's always more enjoyable to watch the really good players and Peel is probably the best scrum-half in the northern hemisphere right now.

Next weekend, we visit Cumbria with Christine and a digital camera there would come in very handy. After that, we will celebrate our wedding anniversary - seven years, can you believe - with a long weekend in Berlin. I've been waiting a long time to visit the German capital. Definitely need a camera for the Brandenburger Tor, Rathaus and Gedächtniskirche.

After that, we have my good friend and former colleague Tim to visit, with his lovely wife Helen. A weekend's hospitality is the least we owe them, after their thoughtfulness allowed us to visit Boston for a song back in November. Finally, it ends where it started - with rugby. Saturday 1st April will see us travel up to the Midlands to follow Bath in their Heineken Cup quarter-final against Leicester at the Walkers Stadium. Really hoping it's a good, close game as we'll be taking Mr Momus Sr. Not sure the last time my dad went to a sporting event because he's always working Saturdays. I owe him so much that it's the least a dutiful son can do. Stopping over at my folks' house in Rugby - am hoping to persuade my parents that a curry would be an excellent idea!

So - busy times ahead, but happy times. Bring it on.
Sir Menzies Campbell has won the Liberal Democrat leadership contest. If I'm honest, I'm a tiny bit disappointed. With the centre ground looking ever more crowded, I still believe there's a place for a genuinely radical third party in British politics and I'm not sure that the Lib Dems under Campbell will occupy that spot. I felt that Simon Hughes was the most likely to put issues such as transport, energy and the environment at the top of the agenda and engender real debate on these questions. With climate change happening right here, right now, there can surely be no justification for further delay.

Nevertheless, congratulations are due to the winner and if he and his new team can put together a raft of socially liberal ideas that combat inequality in all walks of life and also start to suggest ways in which we can generate a high proportion of energy from clean, renewable sources - then I'll strongly consider voting for them again next time round. My image in the office is that of the token namby-pamby, 'bleeding heart' non-meat-eating liberal lefty, an image I'm happy to play up to, albeit often with tongue in cheek. I did vote Lib Dem last time, although I should point out that that was partly due to a lack of a Green Party candidate in my constituency of Wells. Don't tell Mrs Momus but I'm hoping that by the next election, my constituency will be the Lib Dem stronghold of Bath!

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Winter Olympics in Turin are set to end this evening and two weeks of sporting endeavour is at an end.

I think these have been an excellent Games that have provided great entertainment for viewers, even if Shelley Rudman proved to be Britain's only medal. The top three highlights for me.......Antoine Deneriaz's gold medal run in the men's downhill two weeks ago, the only man who could deny long-time leader Michael Waldhofer..... Giorgio di Centa tonight - the last gold medal of the Games presented to an Italian at the closing ceremony - and even better, presented to him by his sister, also a gold medallist. And finally, the appearance of Katarina Witt as a pundit on the women's figure skating. A dazzling champion with golds from Sarajevo and Calgary, she still looks absolutely stunning at the age of 40, over 20 years after she featured in this particular teenager's dreams. And she can still dance - much to Robin Cousins' amusement. Or was that bemusement.....

There have been those who have questioned the quality, and even the point, of the Winter Olympics. But sport, in all its guises, is such a wonderful manifestation of the human spirit. How many medallists have said in their interviews that this is what they have dreamed of since they were a child and first saw a sporting event, in whichever discipline? How many other fields of endeavour, worthy though they are, can encapsulate the fulfilment of those dreams, often in such a dramatic way? What else can bring such pleasure to those playing and watching, regardless of whether it be Olympic level or a Sunday league? From all those hours of lung-bursting, sinew-straining preparation to the final dash for the line, nothing else quite has the camaraderie and spirit of sport.

I love it and will continue to do so until the day I shuffle off this mortal coil, having bowled my last ball, hammered my last boundary and scored my last goal. It's a poor cliche and it's not fair to others but....I never trust anyone who doesn't like sport!

Saturday, February 25, 2006

A rally in Belgrade today in support of General Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb military commander. Rumours have been flying around for days that he's on the verge of either being captured or giving himself up. Until his name is cleared in an international court of law, it will always be inextricably linked with one of the worst peacetime atrocities of the last century to have taken place on our continent.

I don't pretend to be an authority on the Balkan conflict of the mid-90s. Neither do I know whether the blood of over 7000 men and boys from the town of Srebrenica lies on Ratko Mladic's hands.

But innocent or guilty, he must be able to provide some answers - and that, surely, is the very least that the victims and bereaved of Srebrenica deserve.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Continuing my reviewing of the debut novel of my good friend, the wonderfully-named S.P. Faulconbridge. Up to chapter 25 now, and it has grown on me, I was undoubtedly critical about the feel of the first few chapters but I've definitely been drawn in now.

S.P. seems grateful that I haven't been too sycophantic and that I've tried to question where I genuinely haven't understood what he's getting at. The one thing that it has brought home to me is that writing a novel is by no means an easy task. He's been writing since September and hasn't been hindered by work commitments during that time and is still a long long way from the completion of a full first draft. I'm going to have create mine while working full-time and having a number of other interests and responsibilities away from the office.

Not deterred though and I know that I'll always feel slightly unfulfilled if I don't do it. Threats and bullying from Calliope tend to have an effect as well!

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

First day of the new blog. A chance to put down all my thoughts, hopes and dreams.

More, much more to come.