Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Formula 1 Motor racing has not been a real sport for a long time, it is Big Business.

We’ve seen this in spades over the last couple of days with the spying altercation between Ferrari and Mercedes. Ferrari, the most successful Formula 1 manufacturer over the last few years, apparently discovered that one of their staff had passed detailed information about their 2007 car, together with their operating strategies and plans, to the Chief Designer of another major team, McLaren Mercedes. The decision of the World Motor Sport Council, (the sports’s Governing body) to “impose no penalty” on McLaren Mercedes, in spite of the fact that they found them “in breach of Article 151c of the International Sporting Code” has put the cat well and truly among the pigeons. This Article covers the area of "Any fraudulent conduct or any act prejudicial to the interests of any competition or to the interests of motor sport generally."

This story became public in late June, but there seems some doubt as to when it all started. It could well have been as early as March this year that secret Ferrari documents had been passed to McLaren’s chief Designer. It apparently only came to light when someone in a Photocopying shop became suspicious when a customer came in to copy some 780 pages of documents with Ferrari’s logos on it, and presumably “Secret” or Highly Confidential” blazened all over the documents.

The photocopying shop contacted Ferrari, and the rest is typical Formula 1 viperish history. Ferrari subsequently sacked Nigel Stepney, one of their engineers and took him to court, and McLaren Mercedes suspended their Chief Designer Mike Coughlan.

You can't help feeing that this is pretty important stuff. Bond style espionage (actually Bond would not have gone to a Woking Photocopier shop to get the papers copied!), mixed up with the two teams at the top of this year's World Championship. A Ruling Body that wants this year's tight challenge to continue down to the wire, and needs a legal battle to drown it all out about as much as it needs a hole in the head, and you have the stuff to write a decent thriller.

The sport’s governing body met on Thursday to consider the issue and made an interesting, and I think very sensible decision. It does however, leave several areas where you sit scratching your head, and asking all sorts of questions.

1 – What happened during the 9+ weeks (and Ferrari say it’s a lot more than 9+) that the 780 pages of information were in the possession of McLaren’s Chief Designer. Did he, clandestinely or otherwise, use the knowledge in the documents to further the cause of McLaren’s racing programme? And anyway, once you know something, how can you ever unlearn that knowledge in the future? Some argue this view is like saying It's alright to come into possession of some else's jewelery, as long as you don't wear it.

Some say there were others in McLaren who, at least, were aware that he was in possession of the documents, although they were not made privy to the contents. Others again say not.

2 – How did Ron Dennis, McLaren’s boss, on the day after he learnt of the issue, become totally convinced in such a short space of time, that none of the 750 or so McLaren employees had been exposed to the actual documents or the knowledge contained within them? Even accepting the speed that Motor racing moves as a business, that’s moving very, very quickly indeed. It does make you wonder just how comprehensive a review anyone could have carried out in that space of time.

3 – Honda’s Chief Executive, Nick Fry, reports immediately after (interestingly, not before) the disclosure of the document transfer that McLaren’s Chief Designer and Ferrari’s Nigel Stepney (the man charged by Ferrari with having passed the documents onto people outside the company) had met him in June to discuss the possibility of “investigating job opportunities within the Honda Racing F1 Team.” Honda’s statement records that Nick Fry informed Ferrari of this meeting but, interestingly again, does not specify when they advised them.

It is only circumstantial, but Honda’s performance this year in Formula 1 (and last year's if you look) can only be described as dire, and to date this year they have shown no signs of making any real improvement using the current design team. So, it would be understandable, some people are arguing, if those in charge were looking for some sweeping changes in the future. Rumours abound that the real purpose of the document transfer, could have been in this sort of direction, rather than McLaren. Will we ever know?

4 – The WMSC is, after all, the body tasked to look after the affairs of World Motor Sport, and is not an “independent” legal body like the House of Lords. Ferrari were not allowed to take any major part in the WMSC proceedings, although McLaren were given centre stage there. The decision to find McLaren guilty of breaking the all-important Rule 151c, but to avoid an immediate penalty, is not therefore particularly surprising. Apparently, with Ferrari not having a vote, the decision was unanimous. But don't forget, they are not a Court of Law - it seems to be more like "Physician, Heal Thyself."

5 - Perhaps this explains why Ferrari are conducting a parallel claim through the (possibly) more independent Italian Courts to prosecute Nigel Stepney, their ex-Chief Mechanic. They already have experience here, where a discovery in 2003 that that year’s Toyota Formula 1 Car bore a remarkable similarity to the previous year’s Ferrari, led to two of Ferrari’s employees being found guilty, in April this year, by the Italian courts (four years later, you will note), of industrial espionage. They were each sentenced to 16 and 9 months in prison.

6 - Toyota, like Honda, has invested hundreds of millions of pounds in Formula 1, and is a company with very high expectations of success. These hopes have, to date, have almost totally failed. Several other Toyota employees are still waiting to see if the German authorities, who were apparently awaiting the results of the Italian Court cases before proceeding, press further charges against them. Watch this space.

7 - Although Ferrari are “big boys” here, one can understand their position, feeling that it seems always to be them who are the victim. I suppose, if you build the best car, and have the best team organisation, which is the undoubted situation over the last 10 years or so, then it’s not surprising that you are the team which always seems to be on the receiving end. You just have to ask yourself if someone touting similar information on the Spyker team to Ferrari would draw much interest.

8 - But then, if you go back 10 years, when Ferrari were a bit of a joke in the F1 game, and look what happened, you see how they brought in people like Ross Brawn (from Benetton), Michael Schumacher (from Benetton), Jean Todt (from Peugeot), Rory Byrne (Benetton Chief designer), and over a 4 year period turned the Italian company into the supreme winning machine it has become since 2000. There is an argument here, not for overt (or covert) industrial espionage, but recognising that in terms of transfer of information and knowledge, “What goes around, comes around”. This whole business seems to be all about where you draw the line.

The neat sting in the tail of the WMSC decision, is the sentence in the decision - “But if it is found in the future that the Ferrari information has been used to the detriment of the championship, we reserve the right to invite (what a nice word!) Vodafone McLaren Mercedes back in front of the WMSC where it will face the possibility of exclusion from not only the 2007 championship but also the 2008 championship.”

I have simply no idea how you police that, but it will give quite a few lawyers a means to keep a lot of bread on their table at home, over the next few months. Let’s hope that the championship is decided on the racetrack, rather than relying on the courts trying to decide the legalities of all the new developments on the McLaren Mercedes after the last race of the season, and even into next year.

Anyway, at least this spat is a good deal more interesting than many of the races we’ve seen this year. Be thankful for small mercies.



Monday, July 30, 2007


Now I’m not saying it’s an addiction, or anything remotely like that, but I do like a decent cup of coffee. Several times a day. Every day.

A while back, I bought one of those Nespresso machines, which uses a little capsule containing just the right amount of coffee, so you can come down in the morning, fumble it into the machine and get a good cup of coffee, without things happening - like leaving the top off the grinder when you whizz the beans around. Yes, I have done that and yes, it even finds its way into a hermetically closed oven on the other side of the kitchen.

The whole coffee capsule thing strikes me as one of the greatest money making schemes a commercial company has ever come up with. You first find something the whole world likes, something which is legal, something that is totally addictive (not in my case, I hasten to add), works well, and is cheap to produce.

You then sell someone a machine to unlock its powers at a very low price, include a few starter capsules to hook the purchaser completely, and let the money roll in. There is nothing on God's Earth that will stop the money jumping into your Bank Account. Each capsule costs 23p, and if there’s anyone in this country who only gets through just one in a day, I’d love to meet him.

The really insidious commercial bit is that the company that makes them, Nestle, is the ONLY source of the wretched capsules. These little Apollo 11 look alike aluminium caffeine bombs are hoarded as the sole preserve of this vast Multi National. And don’t they know it.

They market it as something akin to a Bugatti car or a Girard-Perregaux watch, but there the similarity ends. Every time you get close to running out, you need to ring their telephone hot-line to re-order (I call them The Pushers) and hope that you have remembered to call them in time for the delivery to arrive before you run out.

Al this works tolerably well most of the time – we both know our place in the system, although an uncomfortable thought flashes through my mind of drug-dealers and users whenever I ring them up.

All of which ceases when you call them at the weekend to be informed most politely by a young French girl, with an alarmingly attractive voice, that “ze computer ne marche pas, and I will have to take your details down by hand”. Well, you follow her instructions and requests absolutely to the letter, and you are far too easily comforted by her at the end of the conversation that your order is unbelievably important to her, and she will “insert it into the computer” first thing tomorrow morning.

And then, of course, the days pass and nothing happens. You watch your stock of capsules dwindle, you borrow some from your son-in-law, you use them and you start to look out of the window almost hallucinating about a delivery van coming up the drive. Which of course, it doesn’t.

Then you start to plan at what precise time of each day, you will drink the remaining few fixes, mentally placing them on a timed and dated checkerboard. You do actually start to look at the watch and thoughts of “Only another hour” flit across your mind.

And then the day arrives, when you are down to the last two capsules. The first one, obviously, has to be breakfast, otherwise the day simply wouldn’t work, and the only issue to decide then, is “When do I drink the last one?”

The 2 day delivery date passed 5 days ago, and, although it’s only mind over matter, going out to buy some “Instant” starts to loom as a ghastly possibility.

I know, I’ll ring them up, and hopefully Nicole will answer the call, remember me immediately, apologise profusely, and fly them over to me in person (and Sod the Carbon Footprint!).

Jacques answered. Yes, we have your order of a couple of days ago. We had a reasonably calm discussion about how 7 days is not “a couple”, and he went quiet, before asking if he could ring me back. “Oh, Yes”. I thought. Here we go, delaying tactics. 5 minutes later, he rang back, and advised me most persuasively that the delivery would be with me today.

Grasping at this lifeline, I decided that the only thing to do was to break out the last capsule, take a chance and let the rest of life take its course. I even took a photograph of the bloody thing before feeding it into the machine.


Literally, just as I picked the steaming coffee cup from the machine, a yellow DHL van drew up outside the house. The guy who got out must have wondered from the ensuing jibbered conversation whether it was quite safe for him to deliver his parcel without back-up. I’m sure there will now be a note on my file in Head Office about the “Idiot at the Lodge”.


Anyway, sanity has returned, the coffee is delivered, and sweetness and light are all around.

And as I calmly drink my second Espresso in as many minutes, I really don’t know what the fuss was all about.



Sunday, July 29, 2007


We’ve just spent a very pleasant couple of days in Norfolk, with lunch today (Sunday) in The White Horse in Blakeney. For the gastro-pornographers among you, it was rare Roast Beef, crisp Yorkshire puds, Lemon and Rosemary Roast pototoes, Cauliflower Cheese and mixed vegetables including local Samphire– it was all very, very good.

Excuse me while I wipe up the drool on the keyboard.

We finished off by wandering down to the quayside, where we completed the meal with an Ice Cream Cornet. The picture below shows Dearly Beloved holding said ice creams. For the detail fanatics, mine is Exhibit B on the right, the large, dripping, double cone of Zero calorie, Ultra low Cholesterol, Rum and Raisin.

Apart from my wife and the Ice Creams, the really interesting bit in the picture is above her head. These two plaques show the heights reached by the flood waters in 1978 (lower plaque) and 1953 – the upper one. I have scaled it to be just over 8 feet.

Here the power of www-land comes into play. Just type in “Blakeney 1953” and you jump from an idyllic seaside afternoon, where today’s Test Score was a complete unknown and the ice cream is just what you wanted, to the stuff of Terror stories and images straight off “The Perfect Storm”.

On the night of 31 January 1953, an appalling set of weather conditions came together off Scotland’s North Coast, which led to winds of Hurricane Force blasting a huge wall of water down England’s eastern Coast, causing unparalled destruction in its wake. The brunt of the storm hit Lincolnshire and Norfolk’s North Coast full on, although the whole of that coast round to Canvey Island was devastated.

Whole villages virtually disappeared, houses were uprooted and thrown over flood defences, waves of up to 80ft high were reported, 40,000 animals were drowned as the waters flooded vast tracts of inland farms, and a total of 307 people perished around the coast. It was the worst storm the country had suffered in over 250 years.

The terrifying pictures below are from EDP archives.



Today, it all seemed so different. The children catching crabs off the quayside, the sails on the horizon glistening brightly, the long, beautiful beaches of Sea Palling, West Runton, Wells, Holkham and Brancaster basking in the sun and looking just like the archetypal English holiday scene.

But just looking at those two innocuous little plaques in Blakeney make you realise just how much power and destruction is locked up and hiding in the sea and sky around us.

Very sobering.



Seen in a car in deepest Norfolk.

Actually, the vehicle owner is a Vet, but it’s nice to see the potential Victim taking a constructive approach to the problems of Road Rage. The only problem is that the Type Face is so small, you would need to be in contact with the car’s rear bumper in order to read it.

But at least it’s different and nothing like as vomit inducing as the ghastly “Princess on Board”.



Thursday, July 26, 2007


Well, it’s dried out, and with a little trepidation, I put it back in the camera, and – IT WORKED.


I’d have lost my money if I’d followed my instincts and put a bet on it, but I’d much rather have my pictures.

And they weren’t Sepia coloured!


This Flooding is a really big issue, and not just in Shropshire, where the River Severn already causes problems at least on an annual basis. Solving the issue, at least to start with, does not seem to be a priority to our leaders in Westminster, presumably because they can’t hear the wails and complaints from 130 miles away. But this time, it seems to have become a much wider spread and more serious issue throughout the country.

For ages now, we have had what seems like a farcical situation in Shrewsbury, where the Severn passes through in a large Ox Bow like sweep, dominating the town. When the river level rises dramatically, which it does with horrible consistency, many streets and buildings flood, and parts of the town look like a downmarket version of Venice for a week or so.

Our local council, in its infinite wisdom, decided that the offices they previously occupied had become unworkable, and that a new palatial edifice was needed to accommodate them in the manner to which they would like to become accustomed. They sited it right next to the River in the centre of the town, at a level which guaranteed that all too often, the height of the river water matched the tops of the ground floor desks in the new building. So they built a flood defence system around it, a bit like the bunding system on a domestic oil tank. The only problem this seems to cause is that while, up till now, the protection system for the new building has worked, no-one seems to have given the same amount of thought to the car parks created for the Civil Servants who work there.

So, come the deluge, as it did last week, guess what happens. The car parks sit under feet of water, no-one can park there, and hundreds of employees have to park in the centre of town, wiping out a good percentage of the available parking places used by us mere mortals.

This rather zany Planning logic is all very well, but we now seem to have a major cost stretching out into the infinite future, for something which doesn’t seem to work, and which also causes an ineradicable and inexorable increase in our Council Tax.

Don’t you just love them.

Anyway, on a more pleasant thread, I was out this morning during what a friend refers to as “Burglars Hours”, ie before 6am, taking pictures of the River Severn, which has burst its banks in a most spectacular way. The river is normally about 50 yards wide, but today is was more like half a mile. These images were taken in a local village, where the Wrekin (1300 feet high) sits quite beautifully as a backdrop. For once, the sun was out and the quality of light was gorgeous.

There's something slightly discordant about pictures which contrast an attractive pictorial view with a subject which is causing people pain, but that's what we have here.

There has to be some compensation for the misery that the water has caused so far.










Inadvertently last night, I set in motion a piece of Engineering Testing of significant practical importance, namely the resistance of Digital Camera Memory Cards to a hostile environment way beyond the tolerances stated on their Specification Sheets.

Doodling away in my Studio, I made a large Espresso and settled down to do some work. I was organising my camera for the following day, and changed the Memory card for one which had a lot of spare capacity on it. A few minutes later, I went to put the old Memory Card away in one of those dinky little cases they come in, and it was nowhere to be found.

I hunted high and low for a few minutes, and simply couldn't find it. Since I hadn't moved from the seat in front of the computer, I failed to understand how I couldn't lay my hand on it, so, losing reason and logic, concluded that the outer limits of the Bermuda Triangle must now have reached Western Shropshire, and gave up.

As I drained the cup of coffee, you probably don’t need to be that clever to realise what was lying in the bottom of the cup.

As the most fundamental law of the Universe would have it, I was just about to transfer a few images I had taken that day onto the computer, so the card was the only place in the entire known universe where these pictures existed.

It had been there in 80-90 degrees for about 10 minutes, and looked very much the worse for wear. So, we’re now trying an experiment. It’s drying out, and tonight we’ll see, using a sample batch size of one, if these things have any degree of thermal resilience in them.

If you want a bet, a “No images on this Card” response is 10 to 1 On at the moment.

I will report back.



Monday, July 23, 2007


What a good Test match it’s been. And how heartening to see a relatively new set of England bowlers coming together in such a great way. Sidebottom, Tremlett, Anderson and Panesar is not a list you’d expect to see playing a top class line up like India, and it’s only like that because of major bowling injuries for Harmison, Hoggart and Flintoff.


But, to a man, they all played terrific cricket, were not fazed by it all, and did a first class job all round. It will make the “first pick” bowlers sleep a little uneasily to watch, particularly if they can repeat the performance in the second Test which starts on Friday with an unchanged side.

England so nearly made it, but it’s worth some statistician poring over England’s over rate today. I got the distinct feeling all during the day that, with a little more captainly foresight, knowing the Weather forecast as he would have done, that they could have bowled a few more overs than they did. And who knows what that might have resulted in.

It’s easy to be critical, sitting watching a TV set, but the low over rate of modern test Cricket is one thing that does continually niggle. Usually, it ends up not mattering much, but today, I was left with a real feeling that the result of the match could have been decisively affected by this one issue.

Apart from that, from England’s point of view, it was a pretty good game, especially by their bowlers. Off now to Trent Bridge.



Sunday, July 22, 2007


The theme again is Water.

Today’s “Times” had this lovely picture on the Front page today, and doesn’t it capture to perfection the simple essence of torrential rain on the city streets.

Taken in Westminster yesterday by Jack Hill, it is one of those all too few images which tells the whole story in one simple, uncomplicated view. We have a street, a woman with an umbrella, and more rain than you can throw a stick at. And that’s it.

There’s no detail in the picture – it’s almost an impressionist study. And it’s the fact that there is no detail which makes the picture work. I doubt if even the individual in the image would recognise themselves. As well as no detail, there’s almost no colour, with shades of grey turning it into almost into a monochrome study.

Except, of course, the little smudge of red in the background. And it’s this that makes the picture come alive.

The composition is excellent – the woman is walking at the edge of the buildings, to get away from the rain, and here she is positioned in the picture space right at one side to emphasise her position and give the feeling of keeping under the roofs if she can. The perspective leading your eye along the street is very strong.

It’s good that there’s only her in the picture, paring down the picture content, so you’re left in no doubt what the picture is about.The bottom part of the image is just tons of rain bouncing off the road, and this puts the whole thing into context. Almost half the picture is "out of focus" rain. Gene Kelly is NOT going to spring out of the shadows here and start singing. The mood is damp and the person wants to get home.

Great atmosphere and great picture.



Saturday, July 21, 2007


Today’s theme, rather unsurprisingly, and rather more depressingly, is Water.

Watching the Open Golf Championship at Carnoustie in North East Scotland and the Test Cricket at Lords, I was seduced by the TV images of people not carrying umbrellas, and not wearing waterproofs, sitting in shirtsleeves, drinking a glass of lager and enjoying the sport.

Here in Shropshire, I am seriously wondering what we’ve done to deserve this weather. I have this worrying thought that it’s actually our family’s fault. We bought a new Gazebo a few weeks ago, and ever since its erection, the rain has not stopped. I am seriously thinking of taking it down to see if it is the cause of the problems.

Yesterday, the heavens opened again and stayed open all day. It didn’t just rain, it poured. Our garden was awash and this morning we awoke to find there was no way out of our village. All the roads were closed, and the local brook had changed from a gentle stream into a seriously raging torrent. People whose gardens previously led beautifully and elegantly down to a babbling brook, found their houses and gardens under a couple of feet of dank, muddy water.


Without seeing it in person, you don’t realise the damage that such an event can have. The water is relentless – it pushes walls over, knocks down fences, turns greenhouses and sheds over, and makes a ghastly mess of what has taken people years to build up.

Very, very sad.

I managed to find a way through the water into Shrewsbury this afternoon, and the river was pushing against the flood defence walls, with the riverside walks being more suited to ducks than humans. I took a few pictures of the mess, and here they are.











Tuesday, July 17, 2007



Severiano Ballesteros, thankfully from my viewpoint, announced his retirement from competitive Golf today, 30 years after he exploded onto the scene. Having watched most of the Greats from around 1960 onwards, there is no doubt in my mind he is the most exciting player I have ever seen. It has been a thread of real sorrow to watch him struggling and slipping down the rankings over the last ten years from the stratospheric heights he reached in the 80s.

A hugely emotional man, he wore his heart firmly on his sleeve which endeared him to so many fans, but no doubt on occasions may well have cost him tournaments, even Majors. But that mercurial nature, and brilliant smile were things that made you look out especially for him.

He was not a huge man, and therefore had to put his whole being into his wood and long iron shots, which he did with utter abandon and fearlessness. This often got him into untold trouble, and sometimes left him in parts of the golf course no-one could recall being visited before – car parks and the like.

But he had a miraculous short game – Gary Player, writing in today’s Telegraph says “… nobody was ever better than Seve when it came to the short game”. His feel for this crucial part of the game often verged on magical, and it often left his opponents fatally crestfallen when he recovered and beat them from a position where they thought he was “dead”.

My own recollection of him was watching, from a very honoured position at Royal Lytham in 1988, when he put together a remarkable last round of 65 to beat Nick Price. A colleague of mine had got hold of a Pass into the Clubhouse, and to be within feet of the great man, at a time when he was making sporting history, was an immense privilege. I have to admit I didn’t dare say a word to him at the time, fearing that breaking his concentration might lead to a short iron winging its way in my direction across the locker room to make his point. So, I just did a sort of intelligent Gorp at him, but even so, I’ll remember it for a long time. Heros, in the flesh, at 5 paces don’t happen too often.

He ran into back problems, and other issues, and really lost his game in the mid 90s, but only after winning 5 Majors, and over 60 European and US Tour Victories. In some ways however, astounding as these figures are, it was the way he did it all that made him stand out. Just read the praise from his fellow professionals. These guys are not much given to praising their peers, it’s not good for their egos, but, to a man, they all think he was at the very top of the tree.

His swashbuckling style, his blinding skills, his push into America, his startling form in the Ryder Cup – 20 points out of 37 matches – showing just how formidable an opponent he was head to head (he also won the World Match Play Championship 5 times), his fanatical desire to host the Ryder Cup in Spain, which he did, captaining and leading the team to a very emotional victory at Valderrama in 1997, all combine to make him utterly charismatic on the Golf course, and the sort of golfer many of today’s stars took as their role models.

All of which makes his gradual decline so sad to watch. I am sure I’m not alone in wishing he’d given up a while back. But, there you go.

If you never saw him in full flow in the 80s, you’ve missed something unique and thrilling. The glorious picture at the top, taken by David Cannon, says it all.




Sunday, July 15, 2007


Reading about the lives of other people is a passion of mine. This can take several forms - the Biography, where someone takes an outside view of a person’s life, ranging from a congenial to a nasty viewpoint, or the Autobiography where the individual writes (or is accorded the title of having written) his or her own life story.

Both of these have their plusses and minuses. The autobiography will contain information and opinion known only to the author. The potential price to be paid is objectivity. It takes a particular type of individual to avoid leaving out, or at least colouring in his/her favour, any event which does not do them justice, or about which they are not totally proud. The Autobiography is also usually written long after the event, often towards the end of the person’s life, and thus the power and possible distortion of hindsight can often loom large (knowingly or unknowingly) in the author’s mind, and hence on the page.

We all use “post event rationalisation” to so much of our lives that often the context and meaning of a particular event ends up completely different years and even decades later. We also view the myriad people with whom we come into contact in a general, summary form at the end, rather than the reality where there are times when we love them, and other times when we may feel very differently about them. The Autobiography usually smoothes these ups and downs out, and loses these important and often interesting fluctuations in the final text.

The Biography however, can include these issues with impunity, but only if they are known by the writer. Timing of these books is key – write them too early, and the stories are not finished, and write them too late, and all the people needed to corroborate and act as a “check and balance” in the search for truth or at least balance, are dead.

It is so difficult with both forms of writing to get the colour, the immediacy, the feeling “on the day” about the subject’s real thoughts and motives, attitudes and intentions. However, for the people whose lives are worthy of such treatment (and there aren’t that many), the medium where this can all become so much clearer is The Diary.

As a written form, The Diary is the most exciting, immediate and informative way of living someone else’s life. It takes a very special individual to keep up the task of Diary keeping, particularly when events playing around them are testing them mentally and physically to their limits. So we end up with all too few examples where interesting people create such a fascinating view of what’s going on. We must be grateful therefore to the few who do manage it.

I have read most of the “Premier Division” diaries, particularly the political ones of the last Century, and they have probably give me more combined pleasure that any other form of book. In the field of politics, the Diaries of Harold Nicholson, “Chips” Channon, Duff Cooper, Harold Macmillan, Richard Crossman, Tony Benn, Edwina Currie, Gyles Brandreth, Woodrow Wyatt, Paddy Ashdown, Piers Morgan (believe it or not, Yes!) have all given me great pleasure, but my personal favourite, winning “easily”, to take up a racing metaphor, out of all of these “contestants” is the late, lamented Alan Clark MP.

Three volumes of his diaries have been published, covering the period from his beginning in politics in 1972, up to his too, too early death in 1999. They are a truly amazing read. They exude the “stuff” of politics, day by day showing the twists and turns of an ambitious, clever, exciting man who wanted power, and achieved partial success, but was left frustratingly unsatisfied at the end. A man whose views and attitudes on life were not to everyone’s taste – his declared penchant for Naziism and his often declared adoration of Hitler, galloping snobbery, a hugely low boredom threshold and tolerance of what he saw as mediocrity, his ever present eye for the ladies which must have driven his wife to reach for the meat cleaver on many occasions, and so on.


But, and it’s a bloody big But, you cannot fail to wish you’d met him and been part of his entourage, or a friend. He was a hugely exciting and interesting man. He wrote with great skill, being a considerable Military Historian. He knew an awful lot – his father was Kenneth Clark, the Art Historian, and creator of “Civilisation”. He lived in a fantastic Norman castle in Kent which looked just as you’d imagine Ernst Blofeld’s English hideaway would be.

He was searingly, cringingly honest, even when being so left him at the mercy of the reader’s views. He conducted, in full view of the reader (and presumably, his wife!), a long affair with the wife, and two daughters, of a judge, and this thread runs unsuppressed in the book through the 14 years of its tangled life. You read about his lifelong passion for old, very high quality Motor cars, his addiction to Backgammon, his unnervingly kinky feelings for Margaret Thatcher, his hatred of the Plymouth Constituency for which he was MP, his huge love of his children, his frequent vertiginous financial state, his often all-consuming hypochondria, and his complex and totally individual views on most things in life (almost National Front Right Wing politics vs vegetarian, Animal Welfare Vigilante).

His use of language and the structure of his writing is excellent, often leaving you with an incredulous last word or sentence which you would reread and savour again and again.

As an example, talking after the Falklands war, when his own Nationalist views came out with all guns blazing, he got into discussion with some of the Political Wets, about making sure the Argentine Prisoners were properly fed on the recaptured islands – his parting shot diarising the discussion was “There was some long and disparate conversation about what the Argentine prisoners were going to eat. I suggested that they should eat each other.”

His view on Sir Robert Armstrong, then Secretary to the Cabinet, and probably the most important Civil Service Job in the Country, when the subject came up in an MP group discussion – “….Carol Mather chimed in with support, and said he too thought Armstrong was ‘creepy’.

‘It is my personal belief,’ I said, ‘that he is a full Colonel in the KGB.’

Nobody demurred.”

If I was to choose Half a dozen people from History to populate an imaginary eclectic Dinner Party Table, he would be among the very first ones, if not the first, I would choose.

His Military books, which include a terrific denunciation of the Army Generals’ (mis-) management of the First World War (later turned into the hit musical “Oh, What a lovely War”), a comprehensive history of the Tory party, and an excellent book called 'Barbarossa' about the disastrous German attack on Russia in the Second World War, are something to be proud of. But he will live for a long time off the back of the Diaries – they are something apart, and should be greatly cherished.

Coincidentally, I started to reread them a week or so ago, just when Alistair Campbell’s Diaries were released. So, immediately the possibility of comparisons came to mind. Now I think Campbell is one of the most extraordinary men of the last political decade, and am sometimes inclined to share Rory Bremner’s view that for much of the time Campbell was the man running the country. So one can’t help look forward with huge anticipation to the idea of such a man keeping a detailed diary of the times, and publishing it.

But (another bloody big But), one’s eagerness is clouded by the thought that Campbell has had the final say on what is included, with a declared intent to avoid rocking Tony Blair’s boat. Diaries don’t work like this – they need to be ruthless, honest and extremely "unselective" on the part of the writer. The reason we want to read them is to find out exactly what he thought of Blair, not to have this skirted over. If he's not brave enough to allow this to happen, he should wait before publishing them.


Usually, a forthright, independent editor is a must – one who can stand up to the writer and say “Bollocks, I think that bit should be in, and I’m sorry if it embarrasses you, but my Word goes here.” The depressing thought here is that they have been published way too soon, and too much excising of the bits that make most diaries actually worth reading will have taken place. We shall see.

I will refrain absolutely, at the moment, from commenting further on this because, as I write, I haven’t yet read them – I’ve read a few reviews, and the forecast from these isn’t good. But the only way to reach a conclusion is very simple – read the Book.

So, today’s trip to Waterstones saw me returning with The Tome, secured at the rather odd discount of £5.01 (Don’t ask, the girl on the till didn’t understand either), and I’ve got my literary cossie on and am just about to dive into the 757 page long pool.

I may be some time.



Wednesday, July 11, 2007


Taking Sports Photographs is very deceptive. Like watching someone skilled plastering a wall, a master makes it look absurdly simple, until you try it, and then you find that you make a complete fool of yourself. I have a raft of books of Sports pictures at home, covering many different activities, and, having personally dabbled almost completely without success in it, I can only admire the skills, determination and doggedness of those who excel at it.

Look at the pictures from agencies like Allsport, now Getty Images, and the power of their best images jumps off the page, and the emotions, which are what sport is all about, leap out with them. Most of these images were taken after 1970, when camera and film technology progressed by leaps and bounds with the introduction of Autofocus and Motordrives on cameras, long lenses, fast films and the like all giving a huge helping hand to the snapper. Today, the digital revolution has engulfed all sports photographers, making the task easier than ever, or more accurately a little less hard.

But go back in time to the 1930s, 40s and 50s, where none of this technology existed, and the intrepid cameraman lived solely on his own skills with a very primitive piece of equipment to get his shot. Some of the most evocative sports pictures from that era were of Motor Racing, and you don’t go far in talking about that time without the name of Louis Klemantaski appearing. He was the doyen of motor racing photographers, and a look at some of his images tells you why in an instant.

In the same way that Robert Capa, the great War Photographer, said “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough”, Klemantaski followed the same dictum. He stood in what can only be described as suicidal positions, inches from the cars, with no protection whatsoever, and guess what, his pictures are exciting, powerful and technically brilliant.

Klemantaski was born in Manchuria, but educated in England. He got infected with the Motor Racing bug at Brooklands, and ran the Junior Racing Drivers Club there. A short step later and he became a professional photographer, and went to as many meetings as money allowed, including trips to Italy for the Mille Miglia, where he got a lift round the course with several of the drivers.

His pictures combine technical excellence with a large dose of pictorialism. His lighting is quite often dramatic, with many pictures taken in the early morning, when practice often took place. His sense of movement, personality and speed are exceptional, and the power and drama of the sport (and it was a sport then) are key characteristics of his pictures.

The copyright of all these brilliant pictures is now vested in The Klemantaski Collection and if you want to see more or buy any of his images, click on





I think this is a fabulous image - Light, composition, power, speed and perfect timing. I am looking at a signed original of this on my wall as I write this piece


FANGIO IN A W196 MERCEDES AT REIMS IN 1954 - Try a risk assessment on that one!




Tuesday, July 10, 2007


A lovely snippet in the Telegraph today, where Alistair Campbell’s diaries get a mixed reception.

Campbell says that while Mr Blair was discreet about his meetings with the royals, his wife was less so.

He recalls that Mrs Blair “had asked the Princess Royal to call her Cherie when the Princess had addressed her as Mrs Blair. “I’d rather not, Mrs Blair”, said Anne”, Campbell wrote.

Now, that’s what diaries are there for. Excellent.




Colin Montgomerie, apart from being one of the greatest golfers in the world over the last 15 years or so, is also one of the most “human” sportsmen you will come across. You will never need the word “taciturn” when you talk about him, he is either “sweetness and light” or he looks, in someone else’s delightful phrase, as if he has just swallowed a Bumble Bee – a man who wears his heart very much on his sleeve. You live his round, good or bad, with him.

Everything you read about him has to make the obligatory point that he is the Best Golfer in the World Never to have won one of the four Major Tournaments. But, in spite of that millstone, he is simply one of the most formidable players you’ll ever see. His Ryder Cup record is absolutely outstanding. But the Major Win must drive him mad - you really feel for the man when you watch his error right at the end of the 2006 US Open, when he had the Tournament in his grasp, and threw it away at the last hole. This must almost have started to convince even him that, at 44, it’s never going to happen.

But, playing last weekend, at the K Club in Ireland, scene of last Year’s triumphant Ryder Cup, he beat a good class field to win the European Open, so here we go again. Although it had some luck in it at the end, a last round 65 is a last round 65, and when that score wins a Tournament by one stroke, it means that an awful lot of guts and character strengthening has gone into the day to achieve it.

Like Ballesteros and John Daly, Montgomerie, whether in light or dark mood, is one of the very few golfers you seek out to watch in any tournament. The bland, corporate safeness of so many of the current players is not for him, and I have always found him an exceptional, magnetic player to watch, whether he is thrilling you or frustrating you.

To win any major sporting event at the age of 44 is a pretty impressive achievement, and it gave me an utter twang of personal pleasure to see it happen last week-end.

This year's Open, at Carnoustie, is only a couple of weeks away, and we can only hope. He could end up in his career like Stirling Moss, who never won the World Championship, but is still thought of as a better driver than most of the World Champions who followed him.

It would certainly mean that few people would choose him as The Best Golfer in the World Ever, but, after the dust settled in years to come, he would find himself ahead of most of the players who had in their time lifted one of the Major Tournament Cups exultantly aloft on a Sunday afternoon. He has won 40 Tournaments in his time, and been second in Five Majors. You run out of fingers very quickly when you try to list those players who’ve bettered that record.

So let’s forget about Lewis Hamilton for a couple of weeks, and get rooting for Colin. If Golf in this country has a National Treasure, it’s Monty.


Sunday, July 08, 2007


There are three Rock bands in the World I would pay any money to see, and one of them, Genesis, did the honours in Manchester last night. Along with around 70,000 other fans, the pre-1996 version of the Band - Phil Collins, Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford, with Daryl Stuermer and Chester Thompson in support, kept us all enthralled for an uninterrupted 2½ hours on a lovely rainless night at Old Trafford.

40 years on from their founding, they have a tremendous following among the oldies whose Early Onset Alzheimer’s has not yet clouded their memory of what Progressive rock was about. They have always been in the absolute forefront in putting on a unique stageshow, and last night’s set was no exception. Incorporating 9 million LCD lights (no, I didn’t count them) it looked like a huge 20 metre high seashell where videos, cartoons, live audience pictures and anything else the set designer wanted was projected, as well as fireworks at the end.
The band, since Peter Gabriel's departure, can not be accused of pushing themselves forward sartorially, and last night, they were strangely underlit, as well as wearing sombre, dark clothing. Phil Collins seemed to have been taken over by the Ron Dennis meets BladeRunner meets Wacky trainee Funeral Director look in his choice of a short close fitting Black Designer Bin Liner jacket. Anyway, it all made you concentrate on the set, which was modern, different, and dazzlingly effective.

Until they started playing. And this is something they do in a stadium setting supremely well. Having not released any real new material since We Can’t Dance in 1991, the whole set was well suited to the Old Groaners who made up the audience. Phil Collins’s introduction set the tone – “Any Old People out there, besides Us?”.

Off they went with excerpts ranging from the early Seventies, through the Eighties, and a couple of short songs off their last Album. Hardly anything was announced – you were supposed to know what they were. And the number of people in the adoring audience who were word perfect through all the songs showed that they were right.

This author’s favourite piece of theirs “In the Cage”, a 10 minute long epic with a typical raft of key changes, tempo moves, time signatures, and emotional ups and downs was played to perfection. I challenge anyone not to resist a long “Wow” as Collins completes the plaintive and moving “Afterglow” ending. Sheer Magic, and, outside the family and friends, the best 10 minutes of my 2007 to date.

As an already confirmed believer, there was never going to be any real contest in my mind about the music. I saw them on their two most recent tours firstly in 1988, standing on Wembley’s hallowed turf, and then sitting on a grassy knoll (no gun) in Roundhay Park in Leeds in 1993, and each time, they put on a totally memorable show. The only slight thought before last night was whether 14 years on, and several personnel changes, they could still get it together with the original (well, 1975 anyway) members . They were clearly older, with Mike Rutherfood looking quite gaunt and strangely reticent, and Tony Banks, usually sitting at his keyboards totally oblivious to the audience, actually seen to sing along with some of the songs.

But Phil Collins led them all in putting on a bravura performance. Quite why critics look down rather disparagingly on his career is a bit of a mystery to me. It takes something very special to hold an audience of 70,000 people in his hand, and that’s what he did last night.

Their songs are quirky, ranging from Audience Participation meets SATS Year 9 Testing in a song about the “Domino Principle”, to a creepy crawly fantasy about the other things that live in your house besides People. But that’s what makes them different. Only they could produce lyrics like they do. They are accused of being pretentious, but for a group that sold out 150,000 tickets for their two UK shows in less than 90 minutes, that’s an awful lot of people who do not agree. Anyway, what do the critics know?
So, a great, great night.

Roll on 2021 for Genesis – The Zimmer Frame Tour.

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