Monday, 26 July 2010
Off the table, time and again, Higgins behaved terribly badly. The day after his second World Championship win in 1982 he appeared before the sport's governing body, which fined him a thousand pounds for misdemeanours including urinating in a flowerpot at the Crucible. He was also given to threats and assaults involving match officials and other players.
But the Hurricane made the game what it is today. Fans of the sport embraced him as their 'people's champion'; he transformed snooker's popularity. Erratic and jumpy around the table, a virtuoso long-potter, Alex wore his heart on his sleeve and the public loved him for it. Like George Best, a contemporary Belfast wild boy, Higgins may never have understood how he achieved his brilliance, but his presence at the table was often nothing short of mesmerising. Millions of television viewers will long remember his reaction after he sealed his second World Championship victory, when he cried out for his baby daughter Lauren. It remains one of the sport's most emotional and enduring images.
Saturday, 24 July 2010
This weekend the museum held its annual War Machines gathering, and the Military Vehicle Trust turned up in support. Among the favourites for me were the beautifully turned-out Dodge WC51 truck which I later had a ride in, the Russian GAZ jeep, and the wartime Harley WLA motorcycle ridden by a very efficient MP. These vehicles are living pieces of history, maintained by enthusiasts to exceptional standards.
Also on offer was a tour of the airfield's wartime archeology, made in Marlene, a tiny electric bus. Volunteer Rod Knight gave a lively commentary, and brought the old ruins to life. Back at the museum, on display was its most recent acquisition, a Vampire jet trainer cockpit section.
But the day's highlight was the military vehicle run, as the exhibits took to the local roads for a blast from the past. Thanks to the kindness of museum proprietor Steve Perry, I was given a seat in the leading vehicle. We ran down to a local workshop where telly star James May and his team of schoolchildren had built a mock-up 'Airfix' Spitfire. We found it under refurbishment, prior to a final resting place with the RAF Museum. After that it was off to a nearby wartime emergency landing-ground, now private property, to look around the remains there.
Try as I might, I've never imagined myself racing through the streets of Delabole perched up in the commander's position of a Ferret armoured car.
Monday, 19 July 2010
As part of this initiative, local government is under the microscope. Often out-of-step with the communities it serves, tardy and wasteful, the public sector is about to take a well-deserved shoeing. But this need not lead to further service cuts. Before we get started on big salaries and payoffs, here are some examples of the sort of local government profligacy you'd think might be reined in.
£5 million a year - spent by several councils on permanent staff and offices in Brussels, to liaise with MEPs.
£1.65 million - the total cost to several councils for 'topple-testing', to ensure gravestones are safe.
£1.4 million - spent on 'morale-boosting' trips. Staff from Lewisham stayed in a spa hotel in Kent which cost £10,635. Richmond spent £85,980 on thirteen staff away days. Mansfield Council found £17,066 to send staff to a ‘senior management team workshop’. Forest Heath Council in Suffolk likes to ‘integrate' new staff at Center Parcs, while Windsor Council preferred a £2,100 ‘team-building’ trip to Legoland. Gedling Council in Nottingham paid £1,000 for go-karting, archery lessons, and Laser Quest.
£750,000 - blown by Cambridgeshire Council on additional staff, leaflets, a hotline, promotional DVDs and coffee mornings, to find out whether residents wanted to switch control of their properties to a housing association. Just 269 people replied, which makes the cost of each response £2,788.
£501,000 - the bill for emergency IT work and lost revenue, after a member of staff at Ealing Council accidentally plugged an infected memory stick into the work computer.
£500,000 - the total amount spent by several councils hiring 'celebrities' to make appearances and give awards to staff. Chef James Martin received £15,000 from Tewkesbury Council in Gloucestershire to appear at a food festival. Two X-Factor rejects, Diana Vickers and Ruth Lorenzo shared £11,000 from North Devon Council to appear at a sports event. Barbara Windsor was paid £6,000 to hand out awards to employees at East London's Newham Council.
£160,000 - spent by one parish councillor in Somerset in pursuance of 177 complaints against colleagues over eighteen months.
£150,000 - spent by Bournemouth Council on an employee earning £50,000, to fly him to and from work because he lives in Scotland and they couldn't find anyone nearer.
£124,000 - the total annual pay and bonus of an electrician working for Birmingham City Council, including more than £90,000 in overtime.
£36,000 - cost of Wirral Council's scheme teaching the public how to catch a bus. This is an annual scheme.
£15,000 - spent on a wind turbine that didn't work, after Ipswich Borough Council placed it in a valley surrounded by trees.
£5,000 - wasted by Kirklees Council taking a teenager to court over a dropped sweet wrapper.
£3,000 - the bill for putting members of Oldham Council up in a luxury hotel so they could discuss budget cuts.
Not included in the above is the sum Portsmouth City Council spent producing a taxi-driver licence application form in Braille. Unsurprisingly perhaps, they weren't keen to disclose the amount.
Wednesday, 14 July 2010
Paul became a pop culture sensation by correctly predicting the outcome of as many World Cup matches as he has legs - all seven of Germany's games, and the Spain-Netherlands final. His crazy second-sight antics were some of the genuine high-spots of the tournament. But now, he's putting his feet up.
Though Paul was born in Weymouth, Engerland, he currently lives in Germany at the The Sea Life Oberhausen aquarium. A spokesperson said the intuitive invertebrate will "go into retirement and do what he likes to do best: play with his handlers and delight children who come to visit him".
But rumours persist that actually, Paul is busy writing his autobiography. He's also said to be in talks with a record company over the release of a year-end seasonal hit titled 'The Eight Days of Christmas'. It's been reported too that Paul has refused jobs as a UK economist, and as a consultant to Fabio Capello.
Perhaps he'll come out of retirement for the 2012 European Championship, another football competition. In the meantime Paul, ride the wave of celebrity, exploit every sucker you can.
Thursday, 8 July 2010
In the House of Commons, Black Country Labour MP Tom 'Fatty' Watson, whose constituency contains several schools affected, called Gove "a miserable pipsqueak of a man". Bullseye. Subsequently, Fatty appeared on Andrew Neil's Daily Politics tomfoolery show, where he revealed his wife has ticked him off for his comment. Not sufficiently abusive, perhaps.
Michael Gove is forty-two, and a virgin.
Webb made his World Cup finals debut in Spain's shock 1-0 defeat by Switzerland. He also took charge for Slovakia's 3-2 victory against Italy - which saw the defending champions knocked out - and was praised for his handling of the match's dramatic finale. In the last-sixteen stage Webb refereed Brazil's 3-0 win over Chile, but he missed out on the quarter-finals and semi-finals.
For Webb to be chosen to officiate the biggest game in football in his first World Cup finals is a great achievement. His performances have boosted English officials' standing around the world after the debacle at the 2006 World Cup, when idiot referee Graham Poll handed out three yellow cards to one player during the match between Australia and Croatia.
Howard Webb has been a Premier League referee since 2003 and took charge of the 2007 Carling Cup final between Chelsea and Arsenal - won by Chelsea 2-1 - and the 2009 FA Cup final, also won by the Blues, that time against Everton. In his spare time Webb enjoys sailing his luxury yacht, and is a keen supporter of Chelsea.
Friday, 2 July 2010
If he'd beaten Nadal, in the final he'd have faced Tomas Berdych. The huge Czech came through in four sets against Roger Federer. Berdych, who earlier this year defeated Murray in three sets at the French Open, said it was the ‘toughest game’ of his career.
But whereas Murray is po-faced, always on the verge of irritation, Berdych seems sunny, cheerful, off-court a gentle giant. Even if Murray had reached the final I'd have been behind Berdych, because he's pleasant. I'm experiencing similar feelings watching the World Cup matches. Take the ANZ representation. New Zealand were gutsy, have-a-go heroes you could support, whereas Australia? Loud, complaining, boorish and doubtless sponsored by the worst alcoholic drink in the world.