Marathon Mania

 Mike demonstrates an early passion for distance running. Aptitude will hopefully show itself before the Marathon start line.

Mike demonstrates an early passion for distance running. Aptitude will hopefully show itself before the Marathon start line.

The in-box at this time of year always seems to have a drip, drip of sponsorship seeking emails which is a wonderful thing both for the participants and of course for the charities. It does mean though, that there are great demands on the very kind donation giving recipients of the requests. 

With that very much in mind, and having done the humility thing, here's another shout. The youngest Crumble kid is following the crowd and as a result of an ill considered wager has signed up for the London marathon. I though can now look forward to darting around London with a few bags of jelly babies trying to intercept him en route for a quick morale boosting hello and photo opp, (the morale boosting hello will of course be for his mother's sake not his). Mike is running for the Norwood charity which helps and assists children and adults with disabilities both on a residential and non residential basis. 

If you know Mike and might care to put a wee something in the pot you may find a link to the relevant giving page here. Do look out for him on the box on the day, he'll be the blond fellow attempting to beat his sisters time of a few years ago. She though, ran it the day after her 21st which shows a bit of form. For my part, I have always regarded voluntarily running the marathon to be an absurd pastime for deranged and unbalanced fanatics.

 The Officers Mess at Mansergh Barracks in Gutersloh; a rather nice place to live.

The Officers Mess at Mansergh Barracks in Gutersloh; a rather nice place to live.

This is not incidentally, the first marathon I have witnessed being run as a result of an ill considered wager. I recall an occasion when two officers concluded a heated discussion at tea in the Mess in 47 Regiment RA in Gutersloh with a bet to race one another over a marathon with a case of champagne as the stake. Despite all the bluster and noise nothing came of it until a few weeks later, and quite late into the evening over port at a particularly good Dinner Night, the Colonel suggested they should run the next morning. That rather put the dampeners on their fun. They set off the next morning, accompanied with the music of Chariots of Fire that some wag had set up, over a hastily arranged local route which would have been accurate to oh, I'm not sure, a few miles at least. Some considerable time later they made it back to be greeted by all the thirsty Mess members eagerly eyeing the case of champagne which was sitting on the steps of the Mess. It didn't last long but lasted rather longer than the two protagonists who retired for a well deserved hot bath.

Good luck son!

 Are you in front or behind son?

Are you in front or behind son?

The Refined Response To Thuggery


With everything else we have to worry about we now have the thorny problem of looking out for Russian agents, or third party agents of Russia, wandering around our market towns prodding passers-by with nerve agents. The furore following the Salisbury incident which so far has resulted in Mrs May looking Prime Ministerial for really the first time while Jeremy Corbyn has reverted to type, has seen a bunch of so called diplomats booking one way tickets and an otherwise pretty measured governmental response. Meanwhile the clarion calls from the back benches, commentators in the press and the usual cabal of 'experts,' have pretty much called for the same thing, 'hit them in the pocket....... hit Putin's Oligarch friends.' 


Unfortunately, any show of resolve from these shores was somewhat undermined on Friday when 50% of the demand for a new $4bn Russian bond issues came from the UK. Total demand was around $7.5bn with UK investors dominating the $2.5bn tap of existing 2047 bonds and buyers from the US soaked up a 20% share of the notes. US investors also bought 34% of the $1.5bn of new 11 year bonds with Russians taking 35% of the issue. The deal was well engineered and offered at terms designed to mitigate failure in front of the weekend's election.


The absence of pushback from international investors, particularly in the UK and the US, is hardly laudable. The sound of the door to capital markets closing would have more resonance in Moscow than will welcoming back a few expelled spies. All that was required would have been a few discreet telephone calls, word that demand was weak would have rattled around markets and the issue would have flopped. Cue embarrassment in Moscow and perhaps a recalibration of their 'not us Guv,' responses to date. One wonders though, if anyone actually considered it as an option. Perhaps not then....


It was a curiously melancholic week leaving much to reflect on. The passing of Professor Stephen Hawking attracted the kind of attention that such a full life deserved but one which will only be seen in it’s true perspective with the passage of time, and how appropriate is that. When I heard the news I resolved to write a blog post about him which would have been wholly inappropriate coming from someone who barely scraped a ‘C’ pass in physics O-Level and who hardly understood anything in A Brief History of Time except the punctuation. I was anyway only going to highlight three points. That Professor Hawking proved to us all that even the most catastrophic physical disability need be no reason to  dim the lights on the human spirit and soul, that he opened the door to science for many, many school students across the world bringing vision and excitement to the most complex of theories and of course, that it is rare for any generation to live with one of the ‘Greats,’ among us. Fortunately for my readers, my friend Ilyas Khan, who is chairman of the Stephen Hawking Foundation, gave an appropriately eloquent and loving tribute to the man in a BBC television interview. It is well worth watching.

 Ronnie 'Annie' Oakley on the left; NI

Ronnie 'Annie' Oakley on the left; NI

On Thursday I learned that a very old friend and mentor from my days as a young soldier and junior NCO in the RHF was moving from hospital to a hospice. We haven’t seen each other for half a lifetime but an exchange of texts, (he was unable to talk), brought many happy memories back. Happy, incidentally, is a relative term. In this case we’re talking about a shared brew in a downpour, which only served to wash away some of the week long oil and mud encrusted grime on the North German plain, a quick joke at the gates before a patrol in Armagh or our epic double act at the Battalion Christmas Concert in Hemer in 1979. It should have won a BAFTA but the judges didn’t much get round the lively regimental cabaret scene that was BAOR.

 Andrew White

Andrew White

Friday and a drive down to Cirencester to attend a memorial service for another Army chum who sadly died last month after fighting a bastard brain tumour over the past two years. He saw it off for much longer than was expected but that rather summed up his go-forward never-look-back approach to life. Tenacious, bordering on obstinate, he was never going to detune his approach to the world because of some irritable health issue. The memorial service was genuinely thoughtful and therefore memorable. There were a few tears, many more light hearted moments with some moments of quiet reflection on the passing of a strong personality. His three children spoke wonderfully well. They were warm, engaging and witty. As I listened I thought, ‘Andrew, that’s your legacy right there.’ Afterward, as we chatted over drinks, I heard voices and saw faces together I haven’t seen for 20 or 30 years. At one point I closed my eyes and thought, ‘this could so easily be then not now.’ Overall, I think I rather prefer memorial services to funerals when the grief is simply too raw to engage with the family on any level. I would prefer of course, not to go to any, as would we all. I have already lost more of my Army contemporaries than is fair or reasonable. 


Saturday saw a really rather chilly and wintry trip to Twickenham, the best part of which was the apres’ in the car park before the match. A memorial service for English rugby might be an appropriate next step but as a friend said, ‘it’s a good thing it’s only a game.’ Having deluded ourselves over the past twelve months that the dark days of 2015 were far behind us this Six Nations has been an absolute shocker. While the rest have swiftly caught up with England our team have gone into reverse. Whatever the coaches and players say our boys simply looked knackered. They lacked a yard of pace, any fizz or imagination. It is an uncomfortable truth for the RFU that in pursuit of greater revenue they, and Premiership rugby, are driving English players into the ground. Players need some down-time. What made the game more unpalatable was the £130 that my ticket cost. Thats £1.62 per minute of play and on the basis of what I watched on Saturday has no justification. Obviously, I got to sit just a few seats away from the noisiest and most animated Irishman in the ground but I can live with that. They earned their moment. I was left pondering on the way home though the wisdom of taking Mrs Flashbang to Twickenham in the snow for a birthday treat. For the same money we could have enjoyed the 8 course tasting menu with wine at our local Michelin starred restaurant. Life is all about choices.

The Statue Defence

When caught red-handed, wrongfully accused or when the innocent husband just finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, many adopt the passive 'Statue Defence,' gambit. Most men learn this at a very early age and to be fair, almost all do indeed gain traction with its deployment. Overuse though quickly dilutes it's effectiveness. Used sparingly however, it can maintain it's efficacy right into middle-age. The young student of Lifemanship in the clip above is executing the Statue Defence with devastating consequences for his mother's cross face. Well done young fellow!

I'll Give That A Miss Thank You

White Van.jpg

The kids occasionally do unusual things. Sometimes, I feel envious although I am often left with a sense of ominous foreboding, and file their intentions under ‘I’ll give that a miss thank you.’ Two such events happened this weekend.

My daughter underwent that rite of passage for all London dwellers, ‘the moving flats at the weekend sketch.’ No one would envy her that but we have all done it at some time in the past and a bloody nightmare it is too. She though, gripped the problem and made it a nightmare for everyone else. She hired a transit van and drove it herself. Perhaps I am being unkind. Perhaps she was the first White Van Driver to hurtle down the streets under the speed limits and obeying the Highway Code. That would be a first for White Vans and entirely in keeping with her approach to motoring. I take my hat off to her though, I am not sure how my parallel parking in the side streets of Clapham would bear up to inspection. 

The second event was the youngest in the family proving he isn’t the little guy anymore in doing three rounds in the ring at his university boxing club’s charity night. Your correspondent has in fact been in a boxing ring in the misty days of yore but the animal from the east side of Glasgow who some comedian paired me off with made sure that the scorers didn’t have time to sharpen their pencils before I was carted off to the medical centre. A clip of two rounds of this weekends bout for fight fans out there is below. It was a hard fought match; it is never easy against a southpaw. As I say, I will neither be driving a white van nor stepping into a ring anytime soon. Nor will I be running a marathon which they have both signed up for this year. While it seems all the rage, as my surgeon said, ‘Crumble, your marathon days are over.’ ‘They never really started Doc but thanks all the same for the reassuring update.’ 

White & Windy


It is white and windy out there tonight, much like all the television and newspaper reporters who insist on reporting on arctic armageddon at every turn, mostly when there are kids in the background of shot, laughing and having fun while the reporters drone on about the end of civilisation as we know it. They need to get out more. 

While cold conditions present an obvious threat to the old or infirm most of the old have been around long enough to laugh 'a bit of weather,' off and to treat the squealing dramatists with sneering contempt. They deserve it. 


My mother for one thinks people have gone soft. She would know. She's the one who turfed my sister and I out, once we got the big door open, and into a wall of snowdrift and said 'right, hurry up, you'll be late for school.' It was the morning of the 11th February 1969. Sorry, it was a bloody cold morning of the 11th February 1969. We didn't so much walk as tunnel our way to the lane and then down the long hill to the village primary school a mile away. Now Mrs Ross at Culrain Village Primary School was a kindly lady and as much as she cared for her charges in the one classroom in the school there was a limit to how long she was prepared to let me hug the radiator at the end of the school day. Reluctantly, we began the long trek home. The snow though had not eased any and we quickly became disorientated. Some might say lost. Not surprising really given the drifts were taller than we were and the landscape was just a white blur. 

Help came with the arrival of a snow-plough which was unusual in our remote corner of Easter Ross. More unusual was the fact that it was heading straight up the hill to home. That made for an easier return journey. It was a day of unusual events in my young life. The plough was clearing the way for a mid-wife to tend to my mother who much to my surprise I subsequently discovered was 9 months pregnant. By the time I spilled through the front door my youngest brother had arrived. Wasn't expecting that. 'But what's for tea Mum?'

As a postscript to this, many years later I presented myself to the Regular Commissions Board at Westbury for officer selection. On the last day of four I was called forward for a President's interview. We knew that typically, a Presidents interview meant you were a 50/50 candidate so seeing the President of the Board was not a welcome call. I strode in, firm handshake and sat down. 'Now Crumble,' he said, 'I see you went to Culrain Primary school. I sent my boy there.' That knocked me sideways. Who would have expected that? So I chatted about Culrain with the General for 10 minutes and off I went. Two days later the little brown envelope arrived. I was in. Perhaps I won them over with my erudite involvement in the discussion groups, my Olympian performance on the individual assault course or even perhaps my Churchillian grasp of world affairs. Perhaps though, it was the Old School Tie from Culrain Primary School. Who knew that was a thing?

The Collapse Of Self Control & An Eighth Birthday


That is February out of the way then with the diet box ticked again with about 12lbs off the back of the truck and one month to go. March 1st is kind of like cresting the summit with 30 days downhill to go, straight into the Easter weekend. It has been a pretty straight forward affair so far with very few moments of weakening resolve. In fact, I've broken just the once. The cause of my downfall was a visiting toddler called Simon. As we were playing on the floor with his Brio Thomas trains, (getting the names right is a very important component of this game), I obviously passed some kind of 'for an adult he's okay,' test for the wee fellow offered me a Hula Hoop. Now we all know how jealously guarded are a toddlers little bowl of Hula Hoops, or a grown-ups for that matter. I was very touched by his gesture. So I ate it. And another..... I couldn't very well stop and try and explain that I wasn't allowed them because I was on a diet. So we did the bonding thing and had some more. Trains and Hula Hoops, it's a grand life.

While doing this period of noble abstinence I have been genuinely surprised by friends who on the one hand kindly say, 'you look better for it,' and then say, 'I could do a month but not any longer; I don't have your self-control.' The reason it is surprising is that most of the friends have in the past done similar, and for longer periods, either as soldiers or as sportsmen. The thing is, and we're all becoming increasingly aware as we get older, that if we don't impose a pause on our own indulgence the doctors will when the body starts screaming 'enough!' 

content provided by NHS Choices

To make it easier, I give myself short term targets. After all, with one day of fasting and eradicating all the rubbish most men could lose 5 or 6lbs in a week. That done, they reckon you need to lose around 19lbs for friends to notice a real difference. With one hard core starting week you are already a third of the way there. A stone is roughly equivalent to an inch off the waist, and a collar size, so there's an intermediate target right there, (for women they say 10lbs is roughly a dress size). Day by day and the weeks quickly turn into months. Moreover, the honest truth is if I can do it, anyone can for there aren't many bad things that I don't enjoy. Kettle crisps, give me one I'll scoff the packet. Those disgusting horrible hot-dogs tubby people buy at the cinema? I love 'em. I'll eat them there, from a stand on Fifth & Madison, at the rugby or at a Beerfest. Cornish pasty's, burgers, anything between two slices of bread, hot buttered toast just keep it all coming. Except between January & April. Genuinely, if I can find redemption for a few months anyone can. 


While we are on the subject of February I am reminded that this year marks eight years of this modest record of my dark descent into middle age. When I started the blog I didn't think for a moment that, with some fits and starts, it would enjoy such longevity, especially as so many blogs have fallen by the wayside to be replaced by 140, recently upgraded to 280, characters or witty one liners on the Facebook which in turn, have become old hat for many, especially the young, who have moved on to one picture and if you are lucky a few words on Instagram. It is especially satisfying that reader numbers have remained more or less constant throughout. Thanks Mum.

A glance at the blog analytics tells us that for another year, the most popular post has inexplicably been Come On Down Anne Lundon from 2014, which looked at the decline of regional accents and dialects although A Bad Day at The Office from 2015 which described the sinking of HMS Sheffield during the Falklands war was a close runner up. To celebrate regional accents being kept alive lets enjoy listening to citizens from some parts of the United States, such as North Carolina, who still after hundreds of years have hung on to their forbears regional accents from notably the West Country and East Anglia.

A Prial of Bloody Good Reads


While these three of my latest reads may not be of everyone's interest they were to mine and very good they are too. 

Unwinnable by Theo Farrell presents an excellent and diligent critique of the campaign in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2014. It is not a happy read. It was clear to many during the conflict that if the government of the day could not clearly articulate why we where there then the outcome at the sharp and pointy end was likely to be negatively correlated. So it proved to be. Grievous losses by military and civilians alike and to no particularly positive outcome. Very few people emerge from Farrell's research with any great credit, except perhaps the men on the ground sent to fight albeit with muddled and inconsistent direction over the course of the 13 years covered by the book. It is though, a book which should be mandatory reading for any Army officer and by those who send them on operations. 

The Field Marshal's Revenge by Charles Whiting, which incidentally is currently free to download on Amazon Prime reading, is an examination of an increasingly strained relationship between two of the leading generals of the Second World War, Montgomery and Eisenhower, which in itself reflected a seed change in the so called 'special relationship,' between Great Britain and the United States. In short, Monty was a far better and much more experienced field commander and leader than was Ike but was a difficult and arrogant individual for even the most forgiving of allies to rub along with. Ike meanwhile was surrounded by many American generals who were contemptuous of Monty and indeed the British Army. Their brazen confidence, which was founded with the knowledge that their huge resources of men and supplies gave them increasing political and military advantage in all matters, led to a grave underestimate of their enemy's ability to fight back in the winter of 1944. That mistake was to have woeful consequences for tens of thousands of GI's in the battle of the Ardenne. When the Germans launched their surprise attack, such was the confusion and parlous state of American command and control that Monty temporarily took command of two American armies in the north and swept down to defend the River Meuse. Monty undoubtedly helped save the day, not least by quickly instilling control and fighting spirit in the American troops but his success has largely been forgotten. It wasn't all about George Patton. Hollywood played it's part in rewriting history but Monty in the period afterward did himself no favours in openly stating his case for the pre eminent thrust into Germany to be in the north on a narrow front and under his command rather than on a broad front as Ike desired. Monty was brilliant but would today be described as 'difficult to work with.'  A good read then but one again is left with the overreaching impression of just how poor some Allied generalship was at times, how political many appointments were and who, in the end, suffered most because of it.

Royal Betrayal, The Great Baccarat Scandal of 1890 by former Scots Guards officer Michael Scott, (and also currently free to download), retells the colourful tale of one of the great scandals of Victorian times. I found this a ripping read. The incident which provoked the scandal took place in a Yorkshire house called Tranby Croft. The then Prince of Wales was a house guest and after dinner instigated a game of cards after which Lt Col Sir Gordon-Cumming Bt was accused of cheating. Gordon-Cumming eventually resorts to the courts to clear his name. With the Prince of Wales being cross examined the case grips the nations attention through newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic. The case though is far from straight forward. When Gordon-Cumming was confronted after the game he subsequently signed, as directed by the Prince, a piece of paper promising never to play cards again. Perhaps an admission of guilt or simply doing his sovereign to be's bidding? Gordon-Cumming incidentally was not an especially likeable individual. He was a bit of a rogue in fact but nonetheless was a man of means, reputation and a very able soldier. Honour though mattered. The author makes good use of archive material which he has dug out from the Scots Guards and the tale trots along at a fair pace. It is in fact worth reading just to read Gordon-Cummings barristers speech. Sir Edward Clarke in his memoirs described it as the best he made in his career. I haven't heard many but it impressed me. As a passing footnote, a barrister friend of mine wears the wig and robes of the judge in the case, the former Lord Chief Justice Lord Coleridge. Small fact I learned while watching the rugby together on Saturday. The past is never far away.

Echoes of '68

Yes She Can - Student Delancy Tarr is the voice of enlightenment.

In 1968 roughly 30% of American forces in Vietnam in combat roles were conscripts. As that year went on, and college deferments became tougher, more conscripts appeared in the war zone and significantly for the first time, an increasing number, although far from a majority, were from the middle class. So were the dead heading home in the other direction. That proved a pivot point for protests back in the US. 

Perhaps, just perhaps, after the latest school shootings in Florida, the middle class are again finding their voice. One can only hope so, for the sake of all their countrymen.

Calcutta Kibosh


I remarked to a friend the other week that I didn’t think the Six Nations was any more exciting, or the day out at Twickenham any more enjoyable, than was the case twenty-five or thirty years ago in it’s previous guise of the Five Nations. We were all reminded of those days on Saturday when England turned out at Murrayfield for an old fashioned leathering the likes of which we had naively thought had been consigned to the past. In future years they won’t remember the shoeing that Scotland took at Twickenham last year. Saturday’s match though will be talked about in fifty years time as possibly one of the best, if not the best, Scottish performance ever on a rugby field.

The mantra I have always inculcated in the kids is that when a bad thing happens, it isn’t the bad thing that defines you; it is the way you react to it. So we shall see with England. In time we may see Saturday’s comprehensive defeat as the best possible thing to happen to this English team on the World Cup journey. For Scotland, who have always been hostage to high national expectation, the best outcome of these championships would be to see more youngsters flooding into their local clubs and increased sponsorship coming into the game there. The game in Scotland has been in the shadows for far too long and it is good for rugby that they are once again ascendant under Townsend's leadership.