Friday, 28 May 2010

44 years of hurt....

According to a report from a law firm which is no doubt getting ready to cash in on the fall-out, the divorce rate looks set to rocket over the next six weeks as the predominantly male members of the species prepare to chain themselves to a plasma screen near you for the full-on quadrennial orgy of international football.

This is an occasion which suddenly strikes at the heart of our national patriotism as every corner of the kingdom from Carlisle and Berwick to Penzance and Dover becomes bedecked with St George’s flags. And every other car heading down the M4 has those ubiquitous flags fluttering away at the rate of a humming bird’s wing-beat.

And again every newspaper headline will include either in full or in part that well-known call to arms from a certain hero of mine, “England expects that every man will do his duty.”

So, how about it, O Ye Chosen 23? (Why 23?) That includes every man from the mature male model with a penchant for pink sweaters in goal to the Shrek impersonator up front! Can they really end 44 years of hurt?

Well, the way I see it is simply que sera sera. We whip ourselves up into an unsustainable frenzy every time we get a whiff of the golden ice-cream cone and then have to take a week off work to get over the disappointment of being also-rans for yet another four years.

I will not be paying too much attention, hate to say. I was married to a sports journalist for ten years so witnessed more than my fair share of the beautiful game in that time, both televised and live. One of the highlights was seeing Bournemouth losing to Grimsby in the Auto Windscreens Shield final at the old Wembley!

And as my ex is a fanatical Pompey fan while I was once a Southampton season-ticket holder - our wedding cake was covered in green icing with goalposts, Subbuteo players and the legend "Match of the Day" iced on it - it was all going to end in hurt.

Anyway, back to the plot. What are the chances without the odd dodgy metatarsal getting in the way? Well on paper, there is no reason why Ingerland 2010 should not make some significant headway in RSA. We keep being told what world-class players we have and on paper, it all looks pretty damn fine with that heady mixture of maturity and yoof.

And with Goldenballs there to inspire them from the touchline, what could possibly go wrong? Then the image of the petulant Blessed Tattooed One throwing his toys out of the cot against Argentina in France circa 1998 comes to mind.........

The biggest fear is that we could end up this tournament with a hat-trick of chokers which will vilify the fall guy on a much larger scale than either Chris Waddle or Stuart Pearce could muster. So if included in the final squad, Ledley King, Glen Johnson and James Milner need to start practising their pens as they are in my top three of those who could possibly chuck the championship for us.

So forgive me if I do not whip myself up into a frenzy over this one. I have the fortune of remembering the World Cup Final at Wembley in 1966 but I hope that everyone born in the interregnum will have the pleasure of seeing the boys finally doing it. There is nothing to stop them going all the way.

England expects......

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Tripping the light Transatlantic

Last Friday night turned into the most wonderful self-fulfilling prophecy. This started about 18 months ago when a former work colleague and fellow prog rock aficionado was gently chiding me about the albums to which I was then listening, the latest of which probably came out in about 1980.

Haven't you heard any of the new prog rock bands, he asked, trotting out names like Dream Theater, The Flower Kings, Spock’s Beard - Marillion perhaps?

Erm, actually no - apart from a smattering of Marillion - because I have been more than happy living in the past courtesy of Yes, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Saga and Rush. They have been my prog comfort blanket and I was quite prepared to continue covering myself in their respective back catalogues rather than moving on – progressing if you like - musically.

Fast forward to last August…..and this will no doubt be covered in a separate blog…if we are going to talk about whether love is sweeter the third time around - the answer to which is a resounding yes.

That was when Martin first made contact through Facebook when he asked to become a friend because of our mutual love of prog rock. Fair enoughski! So friends we became and to our amazement this has moved on swiftly to us being a full-blown item, significant others, other halves, partners. But it was not his bank balance or flashy car to which I was first attracted: it was his CD collection. Bet you have never heard that reason before!

His vast library of CDs is a who's who of music with about 70 per cent prog rock, much of it comprised the newer bands to whom I was advised to listen 18 months ago.

Earlier this year, Martin mentioned that Transatlantic was appearing in London and that we absolutely had to go because it was one of his favourite bands. Fine by me, thought I not really appreciating the pukka pedigree of this otherwise unknown band.

When their latest album The Whirlwind came out a few months ago, he played it to me and hey, these guys were good. I then got acquainted with their previous collection A Bridge Across Forever – extraordinary stuff with not one song coming in at under 14 minutes. My kind of band!

So last Friday finally arrived and there we were outside the Shepherd’s Bush Empire with the rest of the predominantly male Transatlantic coterie. Seriously, there must have been no more than about 100 women in a 2,000 strong audience. So you know what that meant? No queues for the ladies' loos!

Well, to cut a long story short (unlike the length of their masterpieces), it was an evening of musical greatness. The opening number was The Whirlwind played in its 77 minute entirety and had the audience totally pinned to its seats (well, at least upstairs in the balcony as it was all standing down below).

And without going into to much detail, let’s just make the following observations. Mike Portnoy, about whom I had heard so much, is a force of nature or at least some friendly demonic power as I have never seen a drummer possessed with so much passion who can play with such precision while at the same time conducting both band and audience.

Neal Morse is a prog rock legend, blessed the kind of sensitivity, power and artistry which can transform and shape any sound. Guitarist Roine Stolte is another towering presence with the divine gift of coaxing from his guitar some beautiful fluid licks and passages while Peter Trewavas is a pivotal player in the Transatlantic axis as part of the rhythm engine-room and also as singer/composer.

With Daniel Gildenlow also on stage adding texture, depth and muscle to the overall sound and dynamics, well, it made for nearly three hours of prog perfection.

The best feature of all though is the way they interact and play off of each other. They were having fun out there and that makes all the difference because while they were, we could too.

And I did not mention that Portnoy decided to launch himself into the mosh pit during the second half, literally got carried aloft and was then safely returned to the stage afterwards.

We lost count of the standing ovations they received in part two for the rest of the set which included most of the Bridge Across Forever collection. No surprises then that the final curtain call lasted nearly five minutes.

It was breathtaking and brilliant; and I forgot to add, my former work colleague was also there. I caught up with him afterwards and had to laugh. Because remember what he has said to me 18 months previously? It just so happens the day jobs of the four members of Transatlantic are with Dream Theater, The Flower Kings, Spock’s Beard and yes, you’ve guessed it – Marillion!

Sunday, 16 May 2010


This instalment is about inspiration and who you view as your guiding light. This is the person who uplifts you at the very mention of his or her name and who you may admire for a variety of reasons; or if you know this person, want to go that extra mile because you want to do your very best simply because they are who they are.

Well, I am going to have to park Jon Anderson for now and come back to him at a later time as he of course, is a major inspiration. (Never thought I would see myself writing that -about parking JA!)

After a brilliant 1805 Club AGM and Members' Forum yesterday, let me tell you about someone who sadly is no longer with us, but whose spirit was so strongly felt yesterday because we were holding the meeting on his "home turf".

Dr Colin White was Nelson's representative on earth -his own words, eloquently chosen as always. He was an academic, scholar, author, lecturer, teacher, museum director, thespian, performer, broadcaster, bon viveur - and so much more. Perhaps the nearest character to him would be Gareth in "Four Weddings and A Funeral" - they certainly had a similar taste in waistcoats!

Colin was Deputy Director at the Royal Naval Museum when I was Public Relations Officer at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard and was the one person who completely conveyed the essence of Nelson in such a way that anyone who ever heard him talk about favourite subject, either formally or informally, was completely and totally hooked.

But his qualities went beyond his role as Nelson's emissary. He was generous to a fault, kind-hearted, larger than life, a great conversationalist and a man of devout Christian faith who also had a devilish sense of humour. During a very successful re-enactment of the Battle of Trafalgar at the dockyard, he said he would volunteer for the role of Nelson if the actor playing Capt Hardy was good-looking enough to kiss him!

The most poignant memory of all was at the end of the last-ever reception held on board HMY "Britannia" before she was decommissioned which was in aid of the Museum. Three of us hung on until the very end- Colin, yours truly and Peter Warwick, the 1805 Club's Chairman. We stood silently on an upper deck, staring out across Portsmouth Naval Base in the mists of the night. It was one of those defining moments in life.

Colin was also the kind of person who made your job easy. The media loved him and most of his interviews were done in "one take". And when a PR stunt to project an image of Nelson on Portsdown Hill outside Portsmouth involving a live television broadcast went horribly wrong, it was Colin who kept the show going by engaging the bewildered journalist in continuous discussion, while the disaster-in-the-making was being fixed.

As its former chairman and a Vice-President, he was also always the star at any 1805 Club event as everyone wanted to be close to Colin.

So when he was diagnosed with cancer in the summer of 2008, he stoically underwent a potentially life saving operation and carried on business as usual back at the Museum where he was now Director. But within four months, it was discovered the cancer had spread. Very poignantly, he died on Christmas Day at the tragically young age of 57.

However, in his own inimitable way, he astounded us all yet again literally from "beyond the grave". For the museum forwarded to all his closest friends, a letter he had written only a couple of days before his death, thanking us all for all our thoughts and prayers.

Well, I think you can fathom the magnitude of this wonderful, totally irreplaceable, unforgettable and ultimately very humble man. Not surprisingly, Portsmouth Cathedral was full for his memorial service and at the Museum reception afterwards, you almost felt he would burst through the door at any time and revel at seeing so many familiar faces gathering there in his honour.

He is still so desperately missed and he always joked he would be "the fly on the wall" at any meetings he could not attend. He was definitely there yesterday - and he would have been loving every moment of it........

Friday, 14 May 2010

Holding out for a hero

Tomorrow is the annual meeting of The 1805 Club, the only organisation which conserves monuments and memorials to Georgian naval heroes, including Nelson, on whose Council I proudly serve as Honorary Press and Media Officer.

This has occasionally resulted in my being seen lurking around graveyards armed with a camera and a tape measure- and probably looking a bit self-conscious/shifty. This is simply so the Club can identify those tombs of fallen seafarers which need a bit of tlc. And well, a girl has got to have a hobby!

It all started when for seven glorious years, I had the privilege of being public relations officer at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, the best job ever, and while there, and countless press trips around HMS Victory, I heard his story so many times and well, the little chap really had something going on there.

The one thing which really inspired me was the fact he came from the wilds of Norfolk, which even now is a four and a half hour drive from Winchester. So it was not just a case of strapping the Ford Focus to his derriere and hotfooting it down to the Admiralty every time a call came through to do something spectacular in the Med. There are no motorways in Norfolk even now but then... well, 18 hour amble in a horse and carriage down to the metropolis was as good as it was going to get.

That's something of the background, but the man himself. Simply a mass of seething contradictions, which makes him incredibly human and there's the initial appeal. Brought up as a parson's son, he had a premonition early on that he was destined for great things and gave a polar bear a run for its money when he was 13.

Vertically and later optically challenged - and a bit of a weed, he never had to refer to "Leadership for Dummies": he just had that gift. And as for his love life. He would have knocked Katie Price off the front page of the Sun on a regular basis and no mistake. Got caught up with the femme fatale of the age, put her in the family way and ended up living in a menage a trois with her and her ageing husband in the affluent surroundings of Merton, south London. It has all the hallmarks of one of the great tabloid stories. And there was much lampooning of his circumstances notably by the caricaturist James Gilray... especially when he started believing in his own publicity after he kicked the French into touch at the Nile.

Anyway, I digress. Well, he certainly went out in a blaze of glory, bless him, and the theory still persists that poncing around on the poop deck in your full admiral's uniform in full view of some Froggy sharpshooter is not a good career move - as it proved on this occasion. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Well, I was looking at the man high on his perch in Trafalgar Square last night (having seen a mocked up pic of him hours before sporting a scarf which said "Back the bid"). And on that theme, imagine all the headlines about to be written for the World Cup. I think you will find every other one will be along the lines of "England expects"! So he provides us with the national strapline if nothing else!

And that isn't the half of it....

To be continued...

The first of many......

Welcome to the first of many postings which are just random observations, ideas, thoughts and anything else which floats by in life which might warrant a quick chuckle.