The Diary

27 September 2008: Vale Of Joy, Riverside Of Sorrows?

Greetings, once more, at the end of what has been an absolutely delightful autumn day in these here parts; so delightful, in fact, I even shifted my carcass in the direction of Merry Hill, in search of suitably diverting books to read. Having purchased three in total ? my reward for having worked so hard on my OU stuff recently: that?s my excuse, and I?m sticking to it ? it was back to our place with my ill-gotten gains by lunchtime. Trouble was ? yep, you?ve guessed it ? I simply couldn?t put one of ?em down, so it?s now a case of finishing the sod before other, more mundane, daily activities, start to impinge upon my peace of mind once more.

On the domestic front, we?re now, at long last, starting to reap the rewards of the great burst of horticultural activity indulged in by my other half earlier in the year. Our tomatoes are finally turning the correct colour, we?ve already had the benefit of one truly monster cucumber grown in our conservatory, and there?s now the promise of a red pepper harvest we never thought we?d have, due to the rotten summer weather putting the brakes upon proper development and subsequent fruit ripening.

Our comparatively late start has brought about yet another quite unexpected micro-agricultural development, mind: the cucumber plant that suddenly decided it needed what the Nazis would have called, in a much darker age, ?Leibensraum?. At the time of writing, those twisty tendrils, having reached the conservatory roof weeks ago, then taking off in the direction of our outer wall, then began a sinuous, probing descent to ground level. Had His Nibs not applied the string with some alacrity, but a few short days ago, said stems would probably now be dangling in somewhat menacing fashion around the region of my neck; anyone who?s ever read ?Day Of The Triffids? will understand my nervousness completely!

And, talking about ?trailing things?, isn?t it amazing how just a few short sentences can set in motion a train of thought all of their very own? By that, I mean the conversation His Nibs and this column had en-route to my stepmother?s place earlier this evening. It all arose because of a Sunday Times football supplement article I?d kept for ?Im Indoors, duly digested but a couple of days earlier. It?s subject? A certain Peter Swan, late of Port Vale FC, featured in the ST?s ?Where Are They Now?? feature (it runs on their inside back page, in case you?ve never seen it before), the reason for shoving it under my beloved?s nose in the first place being the sheer numbers of ex-Albion people featuring, either on the pitch, or on the periphery at that time.

Surprisingly enough, the Murdoch-owned organ?s in-depth look at the Vale side of 1993 didn?t concern the day they battled with us for the Play Off Trophy (and our subsequent promotion); it was more about their Wembley appearance the week previous to that, when they played Stockport in the Mickey Mouse Cup Final. Even more interesting was Swan?s revelation that thanks to escape-and-evasion tactics that would have done a Royal Marine Commando proud, he and a few other like-minded individuals managed to slink through a John Rudge-orchestrated curfew-cum-barricade on their hotel, then proceeded to get ? erm ? ?rather merry? elsewhere. Or, rather, he did: the others, somewhat more sensible than he, took their leave much earlier.

Anyway, the upshot was that when he took to the pitch the next day (he?d only returned to the Vale hotel just in time to see the sun poke over the London rooftops) he was in what the medical textbooks would call an ?acute state of intoxication? ? and it showed. As did the enormous hangover once the alcohol finally burned off. The strange thing was, though, very aware his gaffer would do his crust knowing he?d played in that state, he hid it so well, he ended up with the Man Of The Match award!

The following week, when they played us, his behaviour was exemplary, arriving at Wembley the following day perfectly sober. A shame about what happened next, then, wasn?t it? Sent off for launching SuperBob into orbit just as our man was about to pull the trigger, and with the score still 0-0, his somewhat premature departure left them one hand short of the full complement. Result? As veteran Baggies will know, but Junior Baggies may not, the final score read: Albion 3, Port Vale 0. But Swan did have one last dig; on the way back along the M1, he reckoned our lot looked so miserable, it seemed as though they, and not we, were the true victors. Thinking back to that day, it was probably brought on as a result of sheer nervous exhaustion!

But thoughts of that game also brought with it equally-pleasant memories of our then-gaffer Ossie Ardiles (well, I DID say my train of thought was a convoluted one?..), and how Supes had told us how incomprehensible they?d all found Ossie?s dressing-room pre-match team talks. I kid you not, for all our finest knew about it, the great man might as well have spoken Swahili. In the end, all those baffled looks on the massed faces of his troops must have finally registered, because his parting remarks then became something on the lines of, ?Enjoy the game?.?

And that?s what set my own personal train of thought into breakneck speed, peeps: had Ossie not taken his thirty pieces of silver and departed for White Hart Lane, how different might our fortunes have been in the seasons that followed? As I?m fond of telling my fellow Baggie-people, history is full of examples innumerable of one specific act of commission or omission having an enormous knock-on effect in the years that followed ? on the grand scale, that 1940 ousting of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in favour of Winston Churchill will serve as one very good example of the species ? and given Ossie?s emphasis upon the attacking game at the expense of (arguably) more prudent tactics, it does make you wonder, doesn?t it?

With the Argentine gentleman still at the helm in the higher sphere, would we have then gone on to take that division by storm as well? Certainly, there was plenty of life left in Supes, still: Andy Hunt, being only a youngster back then, had years of goalscoring left in him, too, as demonstrated when he moved to Charlton, some years later. Our defence? A bit na?ve, but as Ossie?s basic philosophy revolved around the precept ?as long as we score more than we concede, everything?s OK?, we?d have probably winged it ? just about.

As the Premier League had only come into existence the season before, unfair disparity of wealth had yet to display the toxicity it does now, and with transfer dealings, hypertrophied wage demands, and the malignant manipulations of agents upon them barely registering upon the game?s Richter Scale equivalent; all that, and the influence of foreign players on the domestic game still minimal - who knows?

When you get a quiet moment, have a think about it yourselves ? had things gone slightly differently, had Ossie stayed, we might have ended up occupying the very same slot Villa do now, and as stinking rich as them too. With an American owner, as well? But we?ll never really know, will we? Just like we?ll never know what would have happened had Chamberlain not lost that vote of no confidence in his running of the war, when Hitler invaded Norway and The Low Countries: perhaps it?s better NOT to know, sometimes.

A few days ago ? well, last Tuesday, to be exact ? saw the scheduled visit of a tree surgeon (plus a brace of VERY Black Country assistants, all smoking like chimneys on fire, and muttering incomprehensibly, even to born-and-bred me) to our humble abode. Their mission, should they decide to accept it? Giving the leylandi at the rear of our garden the old ?short, back and sides? treatment (well, the people in the property behind the aforementioned trees had been making pointed hints as long as three months ago, so Something Had To Be Done), affording our garden with lots more light than previously enjoyed once finished, also silencing said critics of our somewhat laid-back policy regarding the rapid growth of plants and trees.

Although I do suspect my sister had a similar effect upon their protestations the day they (most unwisely, thinking she, and not we, were the new housholders) ventilated their grievances in her presence, the day she visited our place, not long after we?d moved in. My sister has a way with words, most of ?em obscene: once heard, never forgotten.

Anyway, they?d been working on said trees for a couple of hours, when one of their number, the main man, I think, came a-knocking at our door in search of fluid replacement therapy, in the form of tea and coffee. ?Fair do?s,? I thought (the work was noisy and very, very dusty) so, having taken their ?order? I then retreated into our kitchen to rustle up the goods. Just one teensy snag, though ? because of the way hubby had arranged our mugs atop the kitchen cupboards when we first moved in, the only ones within reach were those bearing the Albion logo, so without giving the matter a further thought, that?s what received said tea and coffee, once the kettle had spouted forth with James Watt?s Big Idea.

All the necessary being done and dusted, I then distributed the goods ? and wondered why I was getting funny looks from two of their number, but thought nothing of it until the job was done, and Mister Boss-Man came to grab his well-earned loot. It was while I was handing him his remuneration that I remembered those blasted hot drinks once more ? and that?s when I discovered the reason for those funny looks. Well, come on - how the hell was I to know two of them were out-and-out Dingles?

That very same evening, we sat down to watch the Swansea v Cardiff League Cup round 3 clash ? the latter word being not so much metaphorical, as literal, both on the pitch and off it. A fact which the police were all-too well aware of, going by the treble line of coppers they had surrounding visiting supporters at Swansea?s place. Believing that saturation policing creates far more problems than it solves, I?m not normally in favour of such a confrontational approach, but with this one, I?m quite prepared to make an exception.

After spending a fair number of years locking up a procession of violent malefactors hailing from both cities, I consider myself all-too-well qualified to know the precise inclinations of both factions to sudden outbreaks of unrequited violence. And when we switched on, it didn?t surprise me one jot to see the referee, Alan Wiley, needing to be at his talented best to contain an encounter as fraught with potential boomerang-fodder as this one.

?Tis true he had to send Cardiff?s Stephen McPhail for an early bath for the latest in a series of X-rated tackles on opposition players, with about 15 to go to the end, and book loads more for getting a tad too enthusiastic about the performance of their defensive duties, but Wiley really did go out of his way to be patient, making due allowance for the type of game it was ? nuclear warfare masquerading as football, quite frankly - so it served McPhail doubly right that he was too thick by far to read the way the wind was blowing, didn?t it?

Even so, had I been Wiley, I?d have insisted beforehand that I be provided with: a) A bullet-proof vest, combined with SAS-level personal security both before and after the game, and: b) Post-match hotel accommodation not only well away from both cities, but very, VERY well protected too!

But back to the present. Tomorrow, we take on Middlesbrough, at their place, the not-so-sunny Riverside Stadium. They stand 12th in the current table, we?re in the pits of the Prem, though not so badly as Spurs and Newcastle, the former having a very bad time of it, currently bottom of the heap, and the Toon in a state very much like meltdown: when you have to fall back upon an old codger like Joe Kinnear to steer the ship, you KNOW you?ve got problems.

Trouble is, after the Keegan affair, nobody with any sort of managerial reputation ? not even that incorrigible mercenary of all mercenaries, Terry Venables - wants to set foot near the place. Forget Boro: when it comes to ?toxic environments?, Newcastle has The Riverside licked! (And I?m still trying to adjust to the sight of Hull standing SEVENTH in the Prem table, for Heaven?s sake! Can?t last, surely ? er, can it?)

As The Fart constantly reminds me, it?s been absolute yonks since we last registered a win in Smog Monster Territory (at the time in question, our Baggie chum was away fighting in Afghanistan ? the FIRST Afghanistan War, one of three or so such military jollies conducted in the name of Queen Vic. God, it was hell in those hills, as the bullets rained down from above upon those stalwart men in red coats, The Fart included!) Anyway, it?s high time we remedied matters ? but the pragmatist within, a complete spoilsport, even at the best of times, constantly murmurs sweet nothings in my ear, to the effect that tomorrow ain?t gonna be the time we do it.

Of one thing I do know, mind ? although it?s been quite some time since he last put on a Boro shirt, their followers still hold Mogga in a similar kind of reverent regard to the one we now have for Supes, say. It?s because of Mogga that their fanzine, ?Fly Me To The Moon?, got its somewhat bizarre title, the phrase stemming from someone?s worshipful declaration ? one of their former managers, I believe ? that if he had to embark upon a lunar mission, suddenly, the one person he?d want in the capsule with him would be our current leader. Expect a huge welcome for him from the locals, tomorrow afternoon, then.

And THAT will probably be the final act of generosity from them for the next 90 minutes or so. The word on the web is that they?ve just undergone a truly awful spell away from home, so a win at their place, with us acting the ?patsy?, would be just peachy. Trouble is, they?ll probably see their wish granted, and with compound interest, too. Their lad Mido is now back from injury, so he?ll be in contention; whether he?s fit to last a whole game is anyone?s guess.

The rest of the chemically-contaminated cast-list? Cert to be out is Suncay Tunil, his knee injury unsportingly-acquired while on international duty. And while we dwell upon ?matters unsporting?, let us not forget the terminally stupid Emanuel Pogatetz, who tried to perform a mid-calf amputation upon one of Man United?s finest last weekend, and ended up with an early bath for his pains. Nice to see our relative by marriage, a certain Mister Riggott, taking centre-stage also. Er ? any chance of making at least SOME distant members of your family very happy, Chris?

Mind you, while we?re discussing disciplinary matters, the choice of ref for this one might prove interesting. Remember Stuart Attwell, the ref who awarded Watford ?the goal that never was? the other weekend? Boro don?t like him either, and for completely different reasons: when officiating at their recent away fixture at Fratton Park, which Boro lost 2-1, he didn?t exactly cover himself in glory. Well, not according to their supporters, anyway. The best bit? Believe it or not, he?s listed as whistler-in-chief for our fixture ? unless they?ve changed it again: after all, his ghastly mistake didn?t exactly constitute a green light for rapid career progression, did it?

As for our line-up, the Express and Dingle opine that we?re sticking with 4-5-1 (not that many options otherwise, really), as will Boro. Probably ? nothing?s cast in stone, so the E and S imply, with that very same label attached to their team news. Our line up ? again, that word ?probable? still holds ? may also include ex-Smog Monsters in their ranks. Jonathan Greening?s one, and James Morrison another.

Brunty, the other Riverside ?migr?? He?ll be out after last Sunday?s hamstrung ?close encounter of the Villa kind?, as will Meite, but Mogga has hinted he might give the unfortunately-named Donk a start for this one. Incidentally, I was sorry to hear that Clem?s knee injury was playing him up again; according to the club?s website, he broke down after resuming light training recently, so it?s not looking too good for the poor sod right now. Better news of Tex, though: he might well figure in a reserves game next week. Come back soon, Tex, we?ve missed you.

Incidentally, I normally avoid anything that emanates from the Daily Mail like I do deadly rat poison, but even I had to take a closer look at Mogga?s emotive account in their web pages of how he came to be a Boro player, all those years ago, and his feelings the time when the Ayresome Park mob (as they were then) sailed far too close to complete closure for comfort, even reaching the ultimate nadir of seeing the gates padlocked by the administrators before they eventually bottomed out of it. Well worth reading, even if I did have to overcome the sudden overwhelming urge to vomit green bile while saying it!

The bad news? We won?t be there. A chance to see a very old chum of ours - that means YOU, John Peckham, one of the better type of Leeds supporter, mainly because he reads this blog - cropped up, so we?ll be heading for Elland Road tomorrow, for their bash versus Hereford; right after the final whistle, we?re off for a dining date in the city centre with our chum in tow, so ?twill be very late indeed ere we arrive back in the Black Country, once more. Expect to see my usual missive a day later than normal, then, around Sunday afternoon, all being well.

SOME LATE NEWS?.. Scuttlebutt tells me that Palace have just signed Craig Beattie on a month?s loan. Apparently, The Eagles have three strikers out through injury, so the lad will be most certainly in the side for their away TV encounter with Ipswich, come tomorrow evening. Well, if Warnock can?t get him firing on all four goal-scoring cylinders, who in tarnation can?

GLYNIS?S ?NATURE NOTES? CORNER?.. Spotted during the Swansea-Cardiff game I mentioned above, the Greater-Spotted Welsh Lardarse aka John Hartson, one-time player of this parish, and regular patron of sundry watering-holes therein, not to mention a few well-known fast-food joints as well. And plonked right among the crowd, too, which I found quite surprising. Blimey, I wonder how much it cost Swansea to have the stand in question specially reinforced so as to cope with abnormally heavy loads?

MY ?CARBON FOOTPRINT REDUCTION GESTURE OF THE WEEK? PRIZE simply has to go to City Hospital, Birmingham, for sending me no less than three separate letters that all arrived within the space of three days, all dated the SAME day (the 16th of September), mind, and between them, informing me of no less than THREE different changes to the previous appointment time and date, from December this year, put back to two dates in succession next February, then back still further to March 2009. Amazing what can happen in the space of but a few hours, isn?t it. Confused? You can say that again ? so I rang ?em early Tuesday morning, if only to properly ascertain just what the hell it was they were playing at.

When I made the call and finally got through, it turned out that the March appointment, their very last billet-doux to La Maison De Wright (one of two that came the very same day, in the very same delivery!), was the correct one after all. When I expressed complete and utter disbelief regarding their crazy (not to mention breathtakingly wasteful) appointment system, the answer was: ?It?s got nothing to do with us ? that?s the way the appointments office works?! The best bit? My somewhat flippant comment on hearing that remark, which ran something like ?Oh, dear, that?s ANOTHER rain-forest gone, then?.? completely crashed and burned at this anonymous lady?s feet.

So the next time you hear of yet more pernicious deforestation policies inflicted upon the indigenous inhabitants of some underdeveloped country or other, all in the name of meeting vastly increased demands for paper from the developed world, don?t get mad. Just blame the NHS and their implausibly profligate methods of rescheduling previously-booked appointments!

MORE ECOLOGICALLY-INCLINED NEWS?? After much research and a couple of false starts, it is now my profound pleasure and privilege to announce that Norm, partner of His Nibs?s mum, former soldier, Army Cadet Instructor, plumber, gas-fitter, carpenter, market-trader and (sometimes) chef de cuisine, has finally cracked the noble art of manufacturing biodiesel. Having first secured a decent supply of ? erm ? ?raw materials? via some local chippies only too glad to find someone willing to take the stinking stuff off their hands, The Chip Oil Special has finally taken to the roads!

I?m impressed, I really am. To churn out the stuff in that quantity does involve some knowledge of chemistry, which ain?t the sort of thing you pick up working on a market stall, or gas fitting, for that matter. And, with the lad making the stuff at a cost of around 25p per litre, it?s a saving not to be sniffed at ? in more senses of the word than one. Having smelt the ghastly yet characteristic ?chippy pong? from waste exhaust gases emitted by others ?in the know? on various other (well-nauseous) occasions, it?s OK by me ? as long as I don?t have to stand downwind of it! OK?

 - Glynis Wright

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