The Wintersmith takes grip in the Shire
December 20, 2010

The Wintersmith has well and truly taken a grip in the Shire, with an overnight temperature of minus 19˚C recorded in Pershore during the weekend.

Yesterday, as I trudged across the blanketed  fields down by the river, I half expected to catch sight of the Nac Mac Feegles,  with their  angry blue faces emerging from beneath the big snow, grumbling “Ach crivens!” and  “Oh waily, waily, waily!” .

All of which will mean absolutely nothing to you unless you are au fait with the wonderful Wee Free Men from Terry Pratchett’s stories of Discworld!

As I made my way via the footbridge over the frozen marina and eventually skated along the treacherous footpaths of Upton to pick up a few essential supplies from So Near so Spar, I couldn’t help wondering what my African friends would have made of it all.

I also admit to feeling just a little envious of my VSO Rwanda colleagues, who anytime soon will be setting off for their Christmas break on the spice island of Zanzibar. Even their 36 hour coach journey from Kigali to Dar es Salaam suddenly seems quite appealing!  

Early on Saturday morning I had risen early and watched as England’s bid to wrap up the Ashes, as an early Christmas present for a nation embarking on a winter of discontent, had been derailed down in Perth. It was bizarre watching the players toiling in temperatures of around 30˚C while snow flakes tumbled down outside the window.

It was never likely to happen for England at Perth, given England’s poor track at the WACA, and once a paper like the Guardian (who should have known better) began to indulge in premature gloating, having variously described the leading Aussie fast bowler as shocking, awful, mediocre and a malfunctioning liability, then he was virtually guaranteed to come back with a vengeance!

Mitchell Johnson, in that kind of form, and particularly on that wicket, is capable of dismantling any team in the world. His match winning performance has certainly lifted the Aussies and revitalised the series.

Although there is less between the teams than appeared to be the case in the first two Tests I’m still confident England can do enough at Melbourne and Sydney to retain the urn and I look forward to spending the early hours of Boxing Day morning watching, wrapped up in my dressing gown with a hot water bottle, watching the opening throws of the next instalment.   

On Saturday afternoon I had intended to make my first visit to the City Ground since the end of August but cried off due to the icy road conditions and forecasts of further snow.

The match survived the freezing conditions and Forest, playing their first game in three weeks, secured a comfortable 3-0 win over Crystal Palace, with new signing Marcus Tudgay scoring a brilliant debut goal, lobbing the keeper from 30 yards out. Let’s hope there will be more to come and, weather permitting, that the Tricky Trees can get their promotion push back on track over the Christmas and New Year period.

I did manage to catch the Cherry & Whites on Sky TV last night. Despite sub-zero temperatures at Kingsholm the  Amlin Cup game against La Rochelle went ahead, but Gloucester will wish it hadn’t. I’m still not quite sure how they contrived to lose a game (18-24) where they enjoyed 75% possession and territory.

Unfortunately their lack of precision at key moments lost them the game and  puts paid to any hopes of European success this season. 

It was also a game the players were desperate to win as a tribute to club owner and motor sports legend, Tom Walkinshaw, who sadly lost his battle with cancer last week.

All eyes will now be turning towards the eagerly awaited Boxing Day Aviva League clash with high-flying Northampton Saints. An ideal opportunity to bounce back in front of a sell-out crowd.   

Saturday was also Chris’s birthday. Like me she has reached that stage where she is less than enthusiastic about celebrating the annual reminder that she isn’t getting any younger.

 But she was somewhat cheered to find that she has the same birthday as Brad Pitt. I was more impressed that she shares the date with Christina Aguilera!

The 18th December also marked the 67th birthday of Rolling Stone, Keith Richard. Unfortunately time has not been too kind to the oldest rocker in town, who looks about 87, but then again he’s packed a bit in.

It was also a year to the day of two famous retirements; Sir Terry Wogan’s and mine, both of us having spent a lifetime in the entertainment business!   

The last year has absolutely flown by, particularly with spending five months in Africa, and that old cliché of the newly retired, “I don’t know how I found time to go to work,”  has certainly been true in my case.

Last of the Summer Wine!
September 4, 2010

It has been a last of the summer wine type of week all round. Glowing late summer days have been followed by chilly autumnal evenings and the nights are certainly drawing in. This year I will miss  ‘autumn days when the grass is jewelled…….’  in more ways than one!

This is the week that was:

The BBC series Last of the Summer Wine took its final bow  after an incredible run of 37 years and 31 series. To be honest, despite its endearing gentle northern humour and quirky characters, I felt its sell by date had passed some time ago but I do look back with some fondness on the early series with Foggy, Compo, Clegg and dear old Nora Batty.

Tony Blair was conveniently away on a journey to the States when his book of the same name became the fastest selling autobiography of all time. Mind you most outlets had it on sale at half price from the outset. Could that be because the proceeds are going to the British Legion not lining the pockets of the author?

I haven’t bought the book but having seen the newspaper coverage and listened to Mr Blair on a number of pre-recorded programmes I feel like I’ve read it!

In a nutshell, the reviews have concentrated on Blair’s difficult relationship with Gordon Brown , who he describes as ‘brilliant’  but lacking ‘emotional intelligence,’ and the  not unsurprising lack of an apology over the invasion of Iraq, despite his ‘anguish’ over the UK deaths in the war.

There has also been reference to Tony’s revelations that he turned to drink whilst in office and his apparent obsession with proving he is a red-blooded alpha male – too much information!      

With the return of the political hacks from their summer hols, Blair was quickly followed on to the front pages by Foreign Secretary William Hague, sporting a tight-fitting, long sleeved white T-shirt and baseball cap. This not a good look when your sexuality is being called into question!

Mr Hague has vigorously denied rumoured accusations, started by Guido Fawkes in his political blog, and claims he has never had a gay relationship. He then rather misguidedly, in my opinion, attempted to back up his defence with reference to several recent miscarriages by his wife Ffion.

I’m not sure what that has to do with anything! He might have done better to have kept his head down (and lost the baseball cap!)   

The tabloids have also been to work on Fabio Capello following his complaint that they had turned him from a god to a monster.

Big mistake Fabio, huge! He was immediately portrayed on several back pages as Frankenstein’s monster, an image (reminiscent of Turnip Taylor) that I’m afraid he will have to learn to live with!  

Never the less Fabio’s new look England team answered his and their critics, in the best possible way, with a 4–0 win over Bulgaria in last night’s Euro 2012 qualifying game.

Jermaine Defoe helped himself to a fine hat trick, Rooney began to find his feet again, Walcott injected the turn of speed that was missing in South Africa, Milner was at his industrious best and in Joe Hart we look to have found a secure keeper at long last.

The only disappointment was seeing Forest old boy Michael Dawson’s full international debut ending on a stretcher.     

The Premiership Rugby  season kicks off today. Gloucester have had a good pre-season beating two strong Welsh sides, the Scarlets and Ospreys, and narrowly losing at Munster.

World Cup winning England centre, Mike Tindall, has been named as captain and if he stays fit will have a big part to play in Gloucester’s continuing development. I’m quite optimistic about their chances of a top four place this season and hopefully they will get off to a flyer this afternoon, away at premiership newcomers Exeter.

Whilst the Pakistan spot fixing saga rumbled on Kevin Peterson, having been rested  from England’s forthcoming one day matches, had to make a public apology for venting his disappointment by tweeting an expletive!  

Meanwhile the Notts cricketers seem to be stumbling their way to the finishing line, having lost fairly emphatically to Durham yesterday. However they are still 22 points clear at the top of the County Championship with just two games to play. Hopefully, this will be their year and they can make the step up from being seemingly perpetual runners-up.

So, that was the week that was! My last in the UK for a while.

Last night there was an enjoyable  last supper, and last glass, at The Railway in the nearby village of Ripple. They do the best home-made fish and chips in the area!   

Thanks to all those who have sent cards, emailed, and called this week with best wishes. Next time you hear from me, internet permitting, will be from Rwanda.

I fly out  from Heathrow at 21.00 and hopefully should be met by a VSO representative in Kigali at mid-day tomorrow.  

It’s time to check my bags, take my malaria tablet, and enjoy a final piece of toast and Marmite before the great adventure begins. Murabeho!