Monday, March 31, 2008


One year and 9 days ago I wrote a piece on a Cookery Book, of all things. Written by the snappily named William Menzies Weekes Fowler (or Willie to his friends), and called “Countryman's Cooking”, it is an absolute humdinger of a book.


Published in 1965, it immediately bombed, but was re-discovered by one David Burnett, a “one-man band” publisher from Ludlow, who re-published it in 2007. It is gloriously un-politically correct, hugely self opinionated, brilliantly sexist, hilarious, and also an extremely good cook book.


My Brother in Law, who, in Golfing terms, plays off about Scratch for his Cooking Handicap, has cooked me a couple of his recipes, and they are terrific – try his Beef Olives, and throw Delia to the dogs.

If you can find your way back to 22 March 2007 in this blog, you can read what I said then. The reason for bringing it back to centre stage today is that the BBC, bless them, have recorded edited excerpts from the book, and are broadcasting them at 3.30pm each afternoon (Monday-Friday) this week on Radio 4.

I don’t know who selected the reader, but if they’d sat for 100 years trying to improve on their choice, they’d have failed.

Leslie Philips, louche, debonair, caddish, need I say more, works his way through Fowler’s witty tome – spot on. A few minutes of pure joy each afternoon. If you can’t get to a Wireless Set, then chase it down on the “Listen Again” feature on the BBC Radio 4 Website.

You will not be disappointed.


Saturday, March 29, 2008


What could be nicer than a gentle, lazy Easter spent on the coast in Norfolk. Ice cream on the harbour-side in Blakeney, a stroll along a deserted beach in the spring sunshine, and generally noodling around doing not a lot.

Yes well, best laid plans of mice ….. and all that.

Freezing temperatures, ferocious winds, halestorms, blizzards and white-outs were the order of the day. Whoever dreamed up the idea of Global Warming should have been with us on Easter Sunday and Monday.

Anyway, being English, the walk on the beach went ahead, leaning at about 45 degrees into a raging snowstorm and the next day, following 6-7 inches of snow at Felbrigg, we took the dogs to play, and had a very Christmassy Easter snowball fight in the bright sunshine.



Felbrigg is a lovely National Trust owned house and park, with a large forest, all totalling around 1,700 acres.

With a very impressive Jacobean fronted house, it has had quite a turbulent history, finally ending up in the hands of a gentleman named Robert Ketton-Cremer. The original heir, Robert Ketton-Cremer's brother Richard, was killed in action in the Second World War, and a memorial to him was constructed in the woods behind the house by Robert. The house was passed onto the National Trust just after the end of the war.

A large Victory V has been created in the forest area by removing two vast swathes of trees, forming a lovely shaded walk. A solitary bench located at the apex of the V rather poignantly commemorates the loss of his brother, as well as celebrating the Victory in 1945.



We have seen the place in many varied conditions. Blazing summer sunshine, glorious Autumnal colours, pouring rain and now glistening snow.




Good old Mother Nature.





Regular readers of this tiny corner of the Internet will by now, have picked up on my love of cricket. Having just watched England, over the last few weeks, dutifully beating a depleted New Zealand team, the interest has now switched to a “Top of the Table” Test Series in India, where the home side takes on South Africa.

If you assume that Australia are still the best side in the world (and I’m actually not quite sure about that), then you’d probably say that this series is between the second and third best sides in the World at present, playing to become heir apparent. So there’s a lot to play for.

Day Three of the First Test has just finished, and I’ve just watched the most blistering innings I can ever recall. Over the first two days, South Africa fought their way rather effectively to a tremendous score of 540. Alright, it was on a batting paradise of a wicket, but it still left India a massive psychological task to knuckle down and match such a huge score. If it had been England under the cosh, you would have worried every ball about a batting collapse, to be followed, as night follows day, by a humiliating Follow On.

Not India - they’ve just finished the day at 468 for 1 wicket, with Virender Sehwag unbeaten on 309. Triple centuries are very rare beasts, and on a day when temperatures were stratospheric and the humidity was a bit like a sauna, Sehwag blasted his way to his 300 score in 278 balls. This is the fewest ever in Test cricket, beating Wally Hammond’s record which has stood for 75 years by an unbelievable 77 balls. If you don't accept Hammond's record, where the number of balls was estimated, then the next best is Matthew Hayden, at 360 balls. Just do the maths, and marvel!


To my simple mind, when this guy is “on song”, he is the most exciting batsman on Earth, only Sri Lanka’s Sangakkara being remotely comparable. He hits the ball all over the ground with an arrogant ferocity which must put the fear of God into any opposition captain. You could see the despair in the bowlers – there was nowhere on the pitch they could bowl that was safe from him. So far in this innings, he's hit 41 Fours and 5 Sixes. As a comparison Alistair Cook, England's opener, hit his first Test Cricket Six ever (out of nearly 3000 runs) in New Zealand the other day - and that hit was a fluke top edge over the Wicket keeper!

And this all came from a man who is not sure of his place in the team! A very revealing comment from him after the day’s play shows just how much difference there is in the mindsets of Sehwag and several of the current England batsmen. When asked how he managed to concentrate (he was batting all day and some of yesterday, with almost no errors made) – “It hurt when I was not in the team so I had to prove myself and I want to get back my seat so that's why I can concentrate and it's good for me and I think I'll continue in the next two Tests." I bet that makes South Africa really happy.

Goodness knows what awaits us tomorrow, as India need to carry on, still trailing by 72 runs. If things go well for them, you could easily see them carrying on for most of another day, with the mouth-watering thought of Sehwag playing the highest Test scoring innings ever. He only needs to score another 92 runs – about 10 overs at the rate he can score, if he gets going! And if you want to look at another record, India were the team on the end of a farcical score of 952 for 6 (it’s the 6 wickets that that makes the knife really twist), made by Sri Lanka 11 years ago, so they might even think of getting that record erased if they think a draw is likely!

From South Africa’s viewpoint, you could feel their demoralisation when they saw what they thought was their dominating total of 540 being taken brutally apart by some of the most inspired, and inspiring hitting you will ever see.

It was an absolute joy to watch. Thank goodness for my Sky+ box. It’s just gone Midnight, and I’m going to sit through it again.

We need to get the England team to watch it all. Actually perhaps not. This would blow their confidence wide apart, and with India visiting these shores in a couple of months for a Test Series against Mr Vaughan and his Merry Men, I think we’re going to need all the help we can get.


Wednesday, March 26, 2008


The film 2001: A Space Oddysey has been in my personal Top Three Films of all time for 40 years, and I guess it will probably stay there now for ever. Sometimes, I think it's the greatest film I've ever seen, sometimes a couple of others poke their noses ahead of it, but it sits there as a film that's probably affected me more in total since it was released in 1968, than any other. It was triggered off by Arthur C Clarke, who died a couple of days ago.

Here was a man whose mind was uniquely suited to the description "far-sighted". He had a remarkable ability to predict the way of technological things to come, and reading his prolific output, you are continually surprised at how often he got it right. It was the ways of science, and often its relationship with God that kept him enthralled, and productive, for all his life. No-one would accuse him of having an overemotional writing style, and indeed, the dedication to his book "Report on Planet Three" alludes to this. His own view of his place in science writing vs. science fiction writing is addressed here – "In accordance with the terms of the Clarke-Asimov treaty, the second-best science writer dedicates this book to the second-best science-fiction writer." I think he got it the wrong way round, but there you go.

His now classic 1945 article for Wireless World predicated the possibility of geosynchronous orbiting satellites, and set going the reality of the way global communications work today. He apparently received the princely sum of £15 for this bit of writing, and I only hope that, somewhere along the way, Rupert Murdoch remembered to give him a free Sky subscription and dish, as a bit of a thank you.

2001 started out as a rather innocuous 12 page story, first published in 1951, called "The Sentinel". It was entered in a BBC competition in 1948, and failed to win. This short tale however changed his, and in the event, many other people's lives. It was read by Stanley Kubrick, who sought him out, wanting to create a science fiction film. Kubrick dragged Clarke into telling him everything he knew on the Science Fiction side of things, and the slow, rather painful gestation of the film got underway.

The nub of the story is Clarke's supposition that an alien intelligence, far more advanced than ours, might have left a series of inter-galactic "alarm clocks" throughout the universe. These were triggered to go off if the nascent form of intelligence the aliens came across on their travels developed to such an extent that they set the "alarm clock" off. In Clarke's story, the machine was placed on the Moon's, defining clearly the achievement needed if the early form of life on Earth was to pass its test.

Clarke and Kubrick developed the story enormously, extending it as the longest prequel in History, to some three million years before the monolith was found, and also tracking the subsequent actions taken to follow up the monolith's discovery.

When the film was released, which was only a year before Man actually set foot on the Moon, it became a cult focus very quickly. Nothing at all had been seen like it before. I recall seeing it, at a large 1,500 seater cinema in Bedford, in 70mm film, with the screen totally filling my field of vision – a bit like an Imax today. In 1968, it was truly awesome. From the opening sequence of the blazing sounds of Strauss's Zarathustra theme playing out over the almost religious conjunction of the planetary sun-rise, you knew immediately you were in for something unique. It was a cinematographic tour-de-force, which culminated in an abstract, thundering rush down into a technicolour "Star-Gate", which got all the pot smoking contingent in the late 60s really worked up.

To this day, I don't think Clarke actually knew how to end it, and that is one of the reasons why it sticks in your mind. There are many possibilities about the "meaning" of the film. Clarke described it as a "Religious Myth", and clearly the possibility that the aliens were actually God, remains a strong contender, although in the original short story, Clarke surmises that the aliens may well not be particularly nice to know. There is something about a real thread of ambiguity in a film which keeps it at the top of my personal list. "Lawrence of Arabia" is another film capable of various interpretations, and that is also ensconsed in my Top 3.

It's not an easy film, and Kubrick's langurous, measured and idiosyncratic style left some people bored. Any film where both the first and the last 20 minutes have no dialogue whatsoever, can very easily polarise critic's views. And what dialogue does occur is, I suspect very intentionally on Kubrick's part, drab, boring and banal.

However the combination of an utterly fundamental storyline, some fantastic visual imagery and a very "left-field" classical music score – who ever would marry a Space Station slowly rotating through deep space to the sounds of the Blue Danube? – works to the point of perfection. The first time you see it, it makes you gasp.

In some ways, it's not a people film. Apart from Keir Dullea, and "Rigsby", who showed the dangers of type-casting only too well to those in the UK who watched "Rising Damp", can anyone name any other actors in the film?


In some ways, the main "actor" in the film is HAL, the ship's computer, whose soft, gentle voice (actually Douglas Rains) makes you feel almost sorry for it, as it logically and rather mercilessly, sends one of the crew to his death, and then regresses to some form of childhood as Dullea emasculates its memory.

But the film is not about people, it's about ideas, and the deliberate lack of emotional content brings those ideas and thoughts fully to the forefront. Like the other great "epics", it doesn't show at all well on a small screen. Each time I've seen it, has been on a huge Cinema screen, and the impact of size is fundamental to the way the film comes across. You need to be overwhelmed by it.

As Clarke said, the original story was "an acorn", and the final film was an "oak tree". If it ever comes to a "cinema near you", go and see it – it's magnificent.



Friday, March 21, 2008


The ASBO scheme (Anti Social Behaviour Order) has been a jewel in the armoury of our present Government’s approach to controlling the less seemly side of this country’s inhabitants since the scheme’s introduction in 1999.

Most of the nearly 10,000 ASBO’s issued to date seem to have been given to individuals in the large urban conurbations, but they now seem to be spreading – see the picture below which was taken in central Shrewsbury a couple of days ago in a Town Centre shop window.

Perhaps not quite what the Government had in mind.

Also, along similar lines, I came across this extract from the “Bucks Herald” a couple of days ago -

A PENSIONER from Aylesbury has pleaded not guilty to two counts of breaking an anti-social behaviour order which prohibits him from interfering with cyclists in the Vale.

A*** P*****, 74, of Eleanor Gardens, Aylesbury, appeared before Aylesbury Magistrates Court this morning (Thursday March 13). It is alleged that on February 10 he caused a cyclist to stop on a footpath by moving into his way and raising his hands, and that on February 29 he stood in the path of a female cyclist causing her to swerve and that he waved his arms.

He had been prohibited from stopping, by verbal abuse or physical actions, any cyclist on any public footpath or in any public place within the jurisdiction of Aylesbury Vale District Council until December 3 2009.

P******, who has refused to be legally represented, will be tried on June 6 at Aylesbury Magistrates' Court.

A pre-trial review will be held on May 12. He was granted unconditional bail.

His ASBO remains in place.



Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Having spent the last 5 days incarcerated at home, feeling “One Degree Under”, or more accurately Four Degrees Over, I have spent more time than usual in front of a TV screen – not all of which has been good for one’s health.

Having watched the English Rugby Team zealously extend their run of staggering incompetence, the next day I turned to Michael Vaughan and his colleagues in New Zealand to restore my flagging belief in English sporting prowess. While the Rugby team were doing their thing, the England Cricket team had been on a high, ripping through the New Zealand team in a way we haven’t seen for quite a while, leaving it all to play for on the last day – at last, proper Test Match Cricket.

I ended up watching most of the last day’s play from behind the sofa. It is really despairing when, one player excepted (Ian Bell), the whole of the team managed to put on such a display of concerted ineptitude, that you wonder what is really at the bottom of such a performance. There’s not a world-class player in the team (Yes, I know Pietersen was playing), but they can all hit the ball, and score runs. They were “only” playing New Zealand for goodness sake. The reason behind their abject display had to be something different. You could understand it if they’d gone down fighting, but it was a performance of resigned gutlessness, the like of which I haven’t seen for a long time.

Because the match ended so early on TV, there was a good deal of time to fill so Sky, in a move of exquisite cruelness, played a match by match recording of England winning the Ashes in 2005. Here we had many of the same people, Vaughan, Strauss, Harmison, Hoggard, Bell, Pietersen, playing cricket as if they believed themselves to be individually and corporately the best in the world, and completing (albeit just!) one of the most joyous sporting triumphs ever.

Yes, names like Trescothick, Flintoff, Giles, Simon Jones are not there anymore, but the chasm between the attitude in 2005, and the display in Hamilton on Sunday was enormous. On Sunday, even someone normally as positive as Pietersen seemed resigned to failure, offering all the reasons under the sun why the pitch, the opposition, the weather, anything he could think of actually, were all a bit too much to make a win at all possible. Perhaps the coach should stop all the techno-babble which pervades England’s game today, and sit them all down and force them to watch that Ashes film, and simply say – “That’s how you do it.”

As a complete contrast, look at how India, in a fascinating and compulsive series of Tests and One-Dayers in Australia along with Sri Lanka have grasped that particular nettle. They’ve had the bold foresight to pick a new captain in Dhoni, who has insisted on new blood in the team, binning several of the old-timers – but not you will note Tendulkar. He’s got the new boys picked, and has not hidden them away, but thrown them the ball and the bat, and said “Go on then- prove yourself”. And they have. The injection of youth has meant their fielding has improved enormously, and their batting has worked better than any of the opposition – the top 3 run scorers in the competition were all Indian, and in the bowlers they have found some great new stars.

The most exciting cricket of the summer occurred after watching Ponting, one of the World’s very best batsmen, losing out time and time again to Harbhajan, the Indian spinner. After a very acrimonious Test in Perth, either by fair means or foul Harbhajan was excluded from the next game. You could almost hear a palpable sigh of relief, the next time Ponting walked to the middle, knowing he couldn’t be dismissed by his bete-noir, only to face a new, raw, untested 19 year old fast bowler, Ishant Sharma. Sharma bowled 9 overs at him and, in the best spell of intelligent, aggressive fast bowling I have seen for ages, made Ponting look totally inadequate and decidedly second rate (which he isn’t), until falling victim to him. It was utterly compulsive viewing, and a real gem of a sporting moment.

As a contrast, we get two England senior fast bowlers, Hoggard and Harmision, who both start a Test Series woefully underprepared, and who both spectacularly fail to deliver. Quite what Ryan Sidebottom, who grabbed 10 wickets in the match thought about it must have thought about it is not known, but you could probably make a shrewd guess. All we heard in response from Harmison was he had stayed in England to be present for the birth of his fourth child – and the cricket came second.

Well fine.

These guys are on fancy contracts, which, if you believe the newspapers, means they are being paid £300-400k per year, before bonuses and sponsorship. I have no problem with sportsmen earning big bucks, but the deal is simple. You get the money, we get 100% of you, body and soul. If Harmison, who has already backed out of One Day cricket for England, wants to spend more time with his family, than he can go back to the county ranks and do precisely that. This is a man who, in the 2005 Ashes series reached No.1 in the world. Here he looked more like someone wanting to discuss his offspring's Knitting patterns, rather than someone looking to put the fear of God into Daniel Vettori’s men. Fast bowling is about attitude – look at the West Indians in their heyday, look at Lillie and Thompson, Trueman even – men who frightened you before you even got on the field.

Harmison’s time has gone. We need to take a leaf out of the Indian’s book, and at least put people in the side who want to give their all to play for the country. The next Ashes series is coming at us more quickly than you think, and we need a team with belief in themselves. You might get another Sidebottom – heaven knows we need one.

And I haven’t even got onto Kevin Pietersen yet!