The Diary

13 September 2008: Il pleut encore - MERDE!

Wet enough for you, yet? Let me put it this way: since I last put fingers to keyboard, enough rain has fallen upon these blessed isles to make the average person stand outside, and eagerly await the arrival of a funny old bloke with a beard at the helm of an enormous boat packed to the gunnels with animals of just about every species this side of the Equator.

Ah ? but now I?ve got it! Come last Wednesday?s start for the Large Hadron Collider, the ?atomic racetrack? thingy in Switzerland, we didn?t all disappear down an errant black hole, as predicted by doomsayers galore before the event. They got it dead wrong, mainly because the REAL doomsday scenario?s a lot more subtle than that. Instead of dissipating across the Universe in a massive puff of smoke, we?ll simply get DISSOLVED by the sheer amount of water that?s fallen from this country?s leaden skies over the past week or two!

And that, dear readers, is when the penny finally dropped as to why certain parts of Australia haven?t seen a blasted drop for five years, and more: it?s all sodding well coming over here instead, that?s why, cobbers! And the sooner all that soggy stuff goes back to where it?s most wanted, the better, as far as we?re concerned. Let?s face it, it?s not all that often you get to see an entire motorway completely awash in water, is it? Well, that?s what we both witnessed late last Friday night, on our way back from my niece?s wedding. Bloody car went all over the place as we hit it; just as well there wasn?t much in the way of traffic about at the time, really As for the happy couple, they?re both turning an agreeable shade of brown somewhere in the Maldives, right now ? well, when they?re not indulging in the old bedroom gymnastics, that is.

The very next day, we were off to Cardiff. No, not for the football ? although, had we wished to avail ourselves of that facility, we could have quite easily chucked our pennies in the direction of the Millennium Stadium ? but to take advantage of one of those cheapo deals hotel chains run from time to time. Most of you lot wouldn?t regard Cardiff Services to be the most salubrious of locations, it has to be said, but as it was half-price for two nights there, what the hell!

Sadly, we kicked off a bit miserably, and nothing to do with the (gloriously sunny - typical Welsh, bloody-minded contrariness, as ever!) weather, either ? ?Im Indoors had an absolute sod of a virus causing havoc in and around his nasal tract ? high temperature, sniffles, shivering, the works - so, in the best traditions of Eric Clapton, ?he fought the cold, and the cold won?. Right in the middle of the Welsh National Museum, in fact. Oh dear.

Still, come the evening, my poor little soldier did rally sufficiently to make the short drive from our M4 services abode, to Barry Island, about 12 miles distant. Why? Like Everest: ?because it?s there?! The last time I?d walked those mean streets was about 25 years ago, on a Magistrates court drop in the town, and ?Im Indoors an Ice Age or three before that, so we were both possessed with a modicum of curiosity to see what the ravages of time had wrought upon the place. You?ve probably guessed what I?m going to say already, so I won?t keep you in suspenders: seedy and run down it most certainly was, back in 1983. And now? Er, no easy way to say this, really?. Let me put it this way: were someone to drop a one megaton hydrogen bomb on the place tomorrow, it would probably count as ?urban regeneration?. ?Nuff said?

As for the remainder of the week, that went pretty spiffingly. Come Monday, we shifted operations to Herefordshire, and our bijou residence there. Amazingly enough, despite it absolutely bucketing down in just about every other region of the British Isles, good old Zoider Country was, by contrast, an absolute Nirvana of early autumnal sunshine and warmth. Our only bad day was last Tuesday, when it did bucket down in heaps, but come the evening, that funny yellow thing in the sky came to pay yet another visit ? and finished up staying the remainder of the week.

The day following the deluge, we moseyed on out to a place quite near the Elan Valley Reservoir (where Brum gets its water from, in case you didn?t know), a sanctuary for the red kite. These magnificent birds of prey, treated as vermin by farmers and gamekeepers alike, and hunted almost to extinction just before the war, were pulled back from the brink in part by the (now sadly deceased) owner of the land we visited: where once only a few breeding pairs existed, there is now a colony numbering in the hundreds. And when in flight, they are truly majestic, unforgettable, riding the thermals far better than any human glider pilot could ever manage. And with an imperious contempt for we lesser mortals that?s palpable, almost, too.

My first ever red kite sighting was on the main drag to Aberystwyth, just a few years back. Although possessing a very limited knowledge of birds at that time, even a certifiable eejit like me could see these beautiful birds of prey were special. So taken was I with their soaring and swooping antics, when I found out about the Elan Valley conservation project, we simply had to take a look ? not to mention loads of photographs.

To help them build up sufficient energy reserves to breed, then raise the offspring until adulthood, the owners of the property leave meat out for them on a daily basis, at a certain time of day. And you can forget the term ?bird-brained?: these creatures have their ?dining routine? completely and utterly down to a tee. The local rooks and crows come to grab a piece of the action first of all, only to get ?mugged? by the red kites as they take their ill-gotten gains away with them ? or try to! Truly wonderful to watch, and once we?ve managed to get our heads around transferring the images from camera to PC, we?ll end up with a few pretty workmanlike images to frame and hang around the walls of our new place.

Thursday evening saw us at the theatre, and one right opposite a League One football ground, no less! Yep ? Hereford United happen to be blessed with this particular facility in close proximity to their place, and, for the life of me, I can?t think of another football ground that has similar within kicking-distance. Unless you lot know better, of course.

The production we saw last Thursday night? ?Oh What A Lovely War!?. This savage piece of musical satire, largely comprising songs actually sung by those serving in the trenches at the time, first hit the West End stage back in the early sixties, then was turned into a very successful film by (I think) Richard Attenborough, around 1968. Ish. The difference between both originals and the Hereford version was largely one of scale; although both stage and film productions had used large casts, this version functioned courtesy just five actors to perform the whole shebang. Amazingly, this bit of theatrical downsizing worked, and very well too, might I say, even though all five cast members had to run around like lunatics to keep up with the necessary scene and costume changes. Sometimes DURING scenes, too?. Had I been one of them, I reckon I?d have needed a bloody good lie down in a darkened room, afterwards. Or a hefty puff of something strong and illegal.

I don?t rightly know if this was just a ?one off?, or part of a wider tour: if it?s the latter, and this performance happens to hit your particular bit of town later this autumn, you could do far worse than collectively drag your carcass along to watch it. A couple of caveats, though: they did take some liberties with the casualty figures depicted courtesy an ongoing slide-show during the performance. Using total casualty figures, but without differentiating the numbers killed, wounded, captured et. al, is misleading, and downright naughty.

Most theatregoers, for the most part ignorant of the day-to-day grind of trench warfare, would have departed harbouring the strong impression that the numbers of British killed were in the same ghastly league as the casualty figures you?d expect to see in the wake of a savage nuclear war. And the writer?s portrayal of Field Marshal Haig as ?Butcher Haig? seemed somewhat simplistic and one-sided too, in retrospect. But that doesn?t materially detract from a compelling performance courtesy all concerned.

Today? To the Ludlow Food Festival we toddled, picking up more than our rightful share of calorie-laden treats while we were there. ?Im Indoors hasn?t half developed a strong yen for Italian wine; we did try to track down a stall flogging the stuff he enjoyed so much last year, but, sad to say, they didn?t have that particular example of the species on sale today.

But there was ample consolation for our failure to properly cement Anglo-Italian alcohol-fuelled relations, when we happened to bump into a member of the Baggie fraternity, and a former Grorty Dick reader, too, no less! Blimey, it?s not all that often you sit in a huge marquee, minding your own business, all agog watching one of those celebrity chefs Doing Unspeakable Things To Bread Dough, only to end up getting the old ?PSSSSTTT! Don?t we know you two?? routine from the couple immediately behind us!

After that little interlude, accompanied by a much-needed return to sanity, it?s now time to return to the sundry stresses and strains of life at the wrong end of the Premiership table. Mercifully well away from the doings of our favourite football club for the past seven or so days, we were at first quite startled to read our edition of the Mirror, and a piece alleging, in so many words, that Mogga was doing his level best to avoid our chairman when at our training ground (both of them have offices there) ? then sanity prevailed. Had to be taken out of context ? doesn?t EVERYBODY try to keep out of the gaffer?s way when at work? When I was last in gainful employment, some years ago, the very last thing I needed was for some managerial busybody with vulpine eyes burning a ruddy great hole in my back every half hour or so. Being human, and despite his legendary tolerance of boardroom quirks and foibles, no doubt Mogga feels exactly the same way. According to Chris Lepowski in the Mail, Mogga and Peace both enjoy the most cordial of relations with each other. Knowing what I do about our leader?s demeanour, I wouldn?t have expected things to be any other way.

And what of tomorrow?s bunfight? Well, I had genuinely hoped that West Ham would be managerless, still, come five to three (ooh, aren?t I rotten, eh?) but now they?ve appointed The Chosen One to replace Curbs, I can only surmise that all their players will be practically busting a gut in order to give their new gaffer ? a certain Mister Zola, of whom Clem, a former Stamford Bridge incumbent, has some previous experience - a particularly favourable impression of the moneybags club and its equally-opulent players.

Not to mention current first team coach Peter Grant, who spent several seasons at Upton Park as assistant to Alan Pardew. Fruitful ones, too: not only did The Hammers get back into the Prem a couple of seasons after being relegated, they also managed to reach the 2006 Cup Final. Interesting, by the way, to read, in The Times Online, about Mogga sounding off about the special dispensation given Zola by the Prem regarding his non-acquisition of coaching qualifications, now mandatory for most managerial aspirants worthy of the name. Zola has a ?B? licence, but no ?A? or professional licences: the Prem have now said he?s got until June 2010 to get everything sorted properly.

Mind you, he?ll be in good company: according to our leader, Glenn Roeder, Gareth Southgate and Paul Ince have also received similarly favourable treatment from the Prem in the past. And the new source of Mogga?s current angst? The growing paucity of genuine home-grown gaffers ? he?s one of only eight managerial Brits currently in the top flight, as per his more recent press conference ? which is why the issue is clearly of great concern for our leader, who is already in possession of football?s equivalent of The Holy Grail, the precious bit of paper The Blessed Zola still lacks.

But I really don?t know why he bothers banging on about it: the Prem?s becoming more and more of an artificial construct with every single season that passes. With a constant succession of scandal-ridden events and headlines more worthy of a Jerry Falwell programme than serious coverage ? the megalomaniac nonsense surrounding Kevin Keegan?s recent exit from Newcastle will do for starters - it?s all descending into farce at a rate of knots. Somewhere amongst all the naked avarice, dross and sensationalism is a game of football trying to get out.

The only variable that still remains to be inserted into tomorrow?s equation is one that encompasses what tactics we?ll be using to try and grab those precious three points, an objective made even more desirable by our abject failure to do better than a measly point when all three looked a realistic proposition.

But even the ever-optimistic Grant reaches the nub of our problem, albeit inadvertently. Our very own personal Nemesis is our continual inability to hit the back of the bloody net. Cure that, and we?ll at least have a fighting chance of staying up this time round. Our non-acquisition of new striking blood during the recent transfer window certainly set the alarm bells ringing in West Bromwich. Well, that, plus the other small matter concerning the sale of a certain Albion striker to a football club with its HQ not a million miles away from Small Heath, of course. Plus the Zoltan Gera thing. No wonder that all I hear pouring from the beery throats of our supporters these days are lamentations aplenty concerning the very same issue.

Should The Hammers come wanting to play football, as threatened, we might stand a chance. Or will they simply revert to what most of the other sides in that League do: i.e. play just one up front, weather the attacking storm, then bide their time for the opportune moment to go tearing off up the pitch with a posse of inattentive Baggies defenders in hot pursuit. Result? One chance, one goal, and dead against the run of play, more like than not. Unfair? Probably. Just about par for the course in that league, these days, and yet we STILL get sucker-punched by it. I guess some Premiership clubs have considerably more to learn than others.

Regarding personnel matters, Looney has a hamstring problem, a legacy of his appearance for Holland?s Under 21 playing their Swiss equivalents, so he may be out for this one. Scuttlebutt is for Hoefkens to replace him. Second on the ?little wounded soldier? list is Meite (the only player I know whose name sounds like a particularly exotic, not to mention potent, cocktail!) He ended up with a calf strain after the Bolton game, but the news is somewhat better in his case; it?s considered very likely he will take to the field of play. Also off the sick-list is James Morrison; his gammy knee is now, officially, UN-gammy!

The Hammers? They?ve got three new signings to incorporate into their squad, one way or another. Walter Lopez, David De Michele, and Herita Ilunga will probably show for the visitors at some stage or other in tomorrow?s game. Mathew Etherington, a midfielder, has just shaken off the effects of an unspecified illness, so will also be in contention, as will defender James Tomkins, who did have a leg injury, but doesn?t any more, apparently.

Result? Well, it would be awfully nice, chaps, if you could buck up a bit, and excavate a few more precious points for us. If the visitors do come at us like a demented steam train, let?s hope they don?t bother guarding their back too closely: given that they?ve already managed to amass nine points already this season, (yet STILL sacked their manager!) that?s got to be straw-clutching at its most blatant, hasn?t it?


In this instance, an advert in one of their more recent issues concerning lucrative spin-off book-publishing activities. I hadn?t realised before, but being the fine organ it is, The Bugle also have a shop situated in Cradley Heath High Street, which was where the advert I mentioned came in. ?WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS IN PICTURES? was the caption immediately below one book in particular. Well, it would HAVE to be in pictures, wouldn?t it?

 - Glynis Wright

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