I went to my first session with a physiotherapist today. There may not be a second. Not unlike many hospital visits, I left in worse shape than when I walked in, unaided.

My physio seemed sweet, engaging and interested when I first arrived. Disregard that nonsense about 'first impressions,' She lulled me into a safe place then toyed with me.

'Lift your leg up; and out to the side. Good Mr Crumble, but we don't have too much lateral movement in the hip do we.'

'Well no, that's why I'm here.'

'Does it hurt when we extend?"

"Yes, it does."

Nadia - We have different design specs

Nadia - We have different design specs

That was like a secret signal. She set about me like a psycho toddler going postal with a rubber bendy toy. I tried to muffle my whimpering. That spurred her on. I watched my legs flash before me in a blur as she worked her way through Volumes 1-4 of the Nadia Comăneci workbook on things you shouldn't be able to do with your lower limbs. She stopped as abrubtly as she started.

"I think I need to refer you to one of our specialist physio's." 

I shivered; she smiled.

At that point I more or less resigned myself to a wheelchair and bib for life on a fluids-only diet. If a referral to someone who specialises in involuntary contortion is my next treatment plan a wheelchair sounds like a positive alternative. None of us like to be drama queens and while it is only a dodgy hip, I wish we could just get to the hip resurfacing chat without all this preliminary box ticking of, "if it hurts, refer."

I'll book an appointment with the Ninja Physio then and try and be brave. I just can't wait.

The Only Sane One Left

Mad as a box of frogs

Mad as a box of frogs

Being a parent has been one long slog of worry punctuated by occasional moments of joy and inspiration. They say as a parent you are only as happy as your unhappiest child. While that is certainly true I find myself only truly relaxed when all the planes are back on the mother ship and in the hanger. The way it tends to work though, one rolls in for a fleeting visit and another rolls out on a new crackpot scheme. In the odd idle moment of reflection I sometimes think I am the only sane one in the asylum. 

This time, it is Georgina, who is to have a crack at a 53 mile ultra marathon, The Race To The King from Arundel to Winchester, on June 23rd.

Very cool graphics of the route.

"On the 23rd June I will be attempting to run The Race to the King, a 53 mile ultra marathon along the South Downs Way.

After realising I would never run a fast 5K it seemed like a good idea to focus on a challenge where having a slow pace is an advantage. This weekend I completed my first 30 mile training run with over 1,100m of total elevation (more than Snowdon!).

A large part of my motivation for completing is the ultra marathon is the two charities I will be running for. The first is MIND, the mental health charity, which provides advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. The second is the Get Exploring Trust, which aims to inspire and support 13-25 year olds from disadvantaged backgrounds to get into the outdoors.

I understand that you receive emails like this all the time but I really appreciate the support. Here is the link to my fundraising page, any donations will help motivate me on the day!"


MIND is a fantastic charity but we are thrilled that she is also running for the 'House,' charity, the Get Exploring Trust. GET is still a young and small charity. We have though made grants this Spring to a range of groups and individuals for the 2018 expedition season. These include a 22 strong team of cadets from East London heading to Namibia, other individuals joining British Exploring expeditions to Iceland and Peru and some self organised expeditions such as one with two young men cycling from China to Paris. 

So the game old Support Team will be dusting itself down for another outing. Do come and join me along the route. There are after all, some very fine pubs between Arundel and Winchester.


How difficult can it be?

How difficult can it be?

A common refrain heard from friends, garage mechanics and even AA Patrolmen is, "Cars these days are so complicated, so electronic; they aren't designed for the ordinary man to do maintenance." So they are. And I am not one of the few who would dabble under the bonnet 'these days.' The problem is, I am not so great at old-fashioned, simple mechanical engines either. Never have been. After my Royal Artillery Young Officers Course at Larkhill they sent us to the Cavalry headquarters at Bovington in Dorset to do a Driving and Maintenance Course. In theory, if we didn't know how vehicles should be maintained, how could we inspect them in our regiments and keep required standards? The first lesson on the course was about nuts and bolts. Our instructor lost me at, 'Mornin' Gents.' I should have paid attention. I didn't. Big mistake. Had I applied myself then I might not have spent the whole afternoon today trying to figure out why my 2 stroke petrol engine strimmer would not start.

The only success of the afternoon was cleaning a rusty bolt with WD 40. 

The only success of the afternoon was cleaning a rusty bolt with WD 40. 

Oh, and I tried. How I tried. I drained the fuel, drained the fuel pipes, cleaned the spark plug, cleaned the carburettor, cleaned the air filter, cleaned the fuel filter; all to no avail. I know friends who strip down entire engines and rebuild them. I know one fellow who rebuilds classic cars and even another who went racing around Monza this weekend. Yet I can't get a bloody garden strimmer to spark into life. The casual reader would be mistaken in believing I am overcome with deep feelings of inadequacy. I am not. For I see a challenge before me. Next weekend I will strip that wretched thing back to the bare metal and rebuild it from scratch. The easy way out in our disposable society would be to bin it and buy another. We don't do easy here and I may have an edge.... I didn't test the electrical circuit today. There is always one more thing to try...... before I call that guy who rebuilds E-Types.   


Staring defeat in the face I retired to the kitchen in search of a sundowner pick-me-up. Morale plummeted when, after a frantic search, I concluded that we were out of gin. 'I know,' I thought, 'lets have a cocktail; I'll make a margarita.' Good plan except the lonely lime left standing would not cover it. I'm a resourceful cove though and am happy to share my new discovery; the Lemon & Basil Margarita. I prefer it with crushed ice but feel free to experiment. It has brought rather an uplift to an otherwise dispiriting afternoon. It remains to be seen if the garden strimmer or the margarita will prove to be my nemesis.

Plea from Pia


A plea from my lovely friend Pia...... she has a point,

Do you remember when we used to say in this country about toasters and washing machines ‘why don’t they sell them with the bloody plug on?’ And now they do, right?

So can anyone tell me why Apple doesn’t sell their phones with the bloody screen protector? So that cack handed people like me don’t have to wait a few days and then stick on a smeary, bubble infested and wonky bit of clear stuff? For crying out loud, the amount they charge, you’d think they would bung on the things that we all buy for a couple of quid and do a better job of it. 
(Feeling frustrated because my computer is not working - got it in for apple and google this evening.)

shhhhhh.... let's not tell her they will apply the screen protectors for free with their special gadgets in Apple stores!


Weekend Gremlins

‘Floor of Doom’


Dedicated reelers have been spinning themselves and their partners with joyful abandon at the Royal Caledonian Ball since 1848. The Royal Cal is the first of the big reeling balls and the most prominent. It has been cancelled in the past only because of war, (Boer War and the World Wars) and after the death of King Edward VII. With over 700 guests it is an immense party with tiara's and sashes 'encouraged.' Children may observe the set reels from the balcony with their nannies, 'in uniform.' Tickets are consistently in high demand and are priced at a premium to benefit a range of charities which the ball has supported since its inception. 

With a sense of bewildered astonishment the gathered guests at this years ball on Friday witnessed large cracks emerging in the vast dance floor after merely two dances. Who know's? Perhaps the reeling community is tainted with the Obesity Crisis. Perhaps it was a floor designed for floppy disco dancing rather than 700 reelers galloping round the room like the Scots Greys charging the French guns at Waterloo. The cause was irrelevant to those present as dancing was suspended and despite the best attempts of those present will not happen again in the Grosvenor Ballroom until next years ball.  

The committee have announced they will give refunds. Refunds are unlikely to be taken up by most given the altruistic nature of the event. Physiotherapists across the land are facing the unavoidable reduction in post-event injuries and physical complaints with fair-minded stoicism. 



The next day over 82,000 serving and retired soldiers and sailors gathered with family members amongst them at Twickenham for the annual Army v Navy rugby match. It is the largest amateur rugby game in the world and the one which records the biggest beer consumption in the Twickenham area of any event. Few of the attendees at the previous night's ball would have been at both events. The game was going swimmingly until at 15 minutes, a sailor got himself sent off. This undermined the Navy's hope's of winning. Despite this, they played well with 14 men. How much closer might the 22-14 score have been had they been at full strength? 

The crowd enjoyed the game and the day out in the sunshine right until the 60 minute mark when a power problem caused the scoreboard and big screens to go blank. So did the tills in the bars. When the tills stopped working so did the beer pumps. Having the beer stop flowing with 82,000 thirsty serving and retired servicemen could be described as sub-optimal. Others might say calamitous. A body of opinion exists which advocates that the rugby only serves to impede a good days drinking with old mates. For this cadre, the beer tap debacle brought their fun to a shuddering halt. For the majority though, it was a blip in a good day out and saved many a few bob given most servicemen have an aversion to paying £5.50 for a pint at Twickenham and do so only reluctantly.

Two sets of gremlins over the weekend then at two very differnet events. Could be an interesting summer.

High Bar


I was grateful to be invited to a 60th birthday party last evening. It was a first for me and I have decided I rather like them. The birthday girl had invited an eclectic collection of guests who touched every part of her life from school days onward. She had a good line in her short and emotional speech, 'I didn't bring my phone because if anything happens anyone I care about in the world is here.' 

head for heights

head for heights

The venue was spectacular. I didn't realise you could throw a party on Tower Bridge. It is probably the best venue I have experienced. The choice of Tower Bridge had a lingering emotional trigger. Sue regularly walked across the bridge with her father when young and they used to say to each other, 'one day we'll have a party there.' Her old Dad is no longer around. I'm sure though he would have been proud as punch of his girl. 




Memorable party but she has set the bar rather high. I'm not sure how one follows that. 

A Young Man's Game

A young man's game

A young man's game


I note from the Armed Forces bi-annual Diversity Report that as of the 1st October 2017, 23.6% of the UK Regular Forces and 13.9% of the Future Reserves 2020 are under 25 years old. In the last year, this has decreased by 1% in the UK Regulars and 0.9% in the Future Reserves 2020. Of the Officers, 7% of the UK Regular Forces and 5.3% of the Future Reserves 2020 are under 25 years old. At 1 April 2017 48% of UK Regular Forces personnel were under the age of 30. The overall average age was 31. The Army had the lowest average age (30), and the RAF the highest average age (33).

Age of Officers in the UK Regular Forces and the Future Reserves 2020, as at 1 October 2017

Age of Officers in the UK Regular Forces and the Future Reserves 2020, as at 1 October 2017

Both Officers and Other Ranks in the Regular Forces are younger on average than is the case in the Reserves. The average age of Regular officers is 37 years old compared to 43 years old in the Reserves while Other Ranks in the Regular Forces have an average age of 30 years old compared to 35 years old in the Reserves.

Age of Other Ranks in the UK Regular Forces and the Future Reserves 2020, as at 1 October 2017

Age of Other Ranks in the UK Regular Forces and the Future Reserves 2020, as at 1 October 2017

These average ages appear high. Average ages in the Royal Navy and the RAF are higher than the Army. We would expect that  given the need for more technically qualified servicemen given the nature of their weapons platforms. There is also a minimum requirement, however much the Services have been cut, for command, control, support and logistics which would increase the average age.

Average age of Infantry recruits from 2001-2012. The leap in average age may be a result of more accessible higher education and benign economic conditions during that period.

Average age of Infantry recruits from 2001-2012. The leap in average age may be a result of more accessible higher education and benign economic conditions during that period.

Notwithstanding that the proportion of servicemen aged between 18-24 has declined in recent years.  In 2000 this age bracket accounted for 31% of all personnel, in 2017 this had been reduced to 24% of personnel.

More soldiers are aged over 35 than are under 24 years old.

More soldiers are aged over 35 than are under 24 years old.

The ugly fact though, is that war fighting is a young man’s game. I have written before about how small the Infantry portion of the Armed Forces is. The same is true of the other combat arms, Artillery and Armour, but with at a best guess, less than 12,000 fighting infantry soldiers fit to fight, the government of the day has limited optionality in committing itself to any kind of armed response. Worse, if those available forces were to be committed they would again be at elevated risk because there are no great numbers in reserve behind them. In a worst case extreme scenario we could lose the fighting strength of the British Army in a matter of days bringing unthinkable last ditch options in play. In pursuit of short term gain UK governments have therefore lowered the nuclear threshold.


I would find reassurance in lower average ages across the board but what do I know? I’m just an old guy armed with a mouse and a keyboard.

Strength of the full-time trained and untrained UK Regular Forces since 1980.

Strength of the full-time trained and untrained UK Regular Forces since 1980.

Size matters. UK Regular Forces are 50% smaller than in 1980. The total strength of the full-time UK Regular Forces (trained and untrained) at 1 January 2018 was 147,033. Between 1990 and 1995 the strength of the UK Regular Forces reduced by around 72,500 personnel (a drop of 24%). The reduction in strength was a result of the MOD’s Options for change strategic defence review announced in July 1990. The review was intended as a response to the changing strategic environment in the post-Cold War era, establishing a smaller better equipped forces and making defence policy focused more on capabilities rather than threats. 


Since 2000 the total strength of the UK Regular Forces has generally declined year on year (except for four years of slight growth in 2003, 2004, 2009 and 2010). The Regular Army has fallen in size in the last 12 months by 2.3% with rises in numbers of Gurkha's and Reserves off-setting some of the decrease. Overall, the Army has a 6.3% shortfall in manning from it's Trade Trained liability against 3.7% for the RN and 5.9% for the RAF. 

trend in the total trained strength against the requirement for the UK Armed Forces.

trend in the total trained strength against the requirement for the UK Armed Forces.

The manning shortfall across the Services is not historically unusual. It has more impact now however because the overall size of the Armed Forces is dramatically smaller than was the case even since 2000. The 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review has indicated that the requirement for the UK Armed Forces would be 144,200 personnel by 2020. The 2020 target is 53,960 (27%) personnel fewer than needed at 1 April 2000.


Is the world 27% safer today than in 2000? With our Armed Forces at their smallest since the Napoleonic Wars we would wish that to be the case. Back on Planet Reality we know that is not so. In December the House of Commons Library carried out an analysis that looked at the real-terms (ie inflation-adjusted) changes to defence spending. It found that between 2010 and 2015 the Ministry of Defence's (MoD) budget had fallen by £8bn in real terms. That's a cut of 18% compared with the 2009-10 budget.

In January, the Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Nick Carter said in a speech to the Royal United Services Institute that Britain "must take notice of what is going on around us" or that the ability by the UK to take action will be "massively constrained." For the CGS to speak out in public and in plain terms was unusual. In previous times his stark warning would have sparked a national debate about Defence. Not so now. The truth is few people care and why should they when dealing with their own busy lives? Nor do most politicians. The consequences of under resourced defence will be felt hardest by those serving if they are called to action. The repercussions though, will be felt by us all.

Eat Bloody Mackerel!

What's happening?

What's happening?

The principle characteristic of salmon fishermen is one of optimism supported by patience and sanguine humour. Those qualities though are under duress after the worst start to the fishing season on many rivers in the UK since..... well forever, (although it must be mentioned that many more fishing days than average have been lost to bad weather conditions this year so far). The years preceding 2013 were bountiful but the salmon catch since has collapsed and salmon beats are now recording their worst five year averages since records began. Most of us have clung to the belief that the downtrend is cyclical in nature and will pick up again, as it did after very poor years in 1904 and 1915 for example.

The precipitous and accelerating catch decline though is now causing deep anxiety rather than a concerned raise of the eyebrows. On most rivers, fisheries management is first class and despite grumpy complaints from fishermen about predatory birds such as cormorants and goosanders they alone cannot justify the decline in returning salmon. Nor can coastal and estuary netting, poaching or obstructions in the rivers, almost all of which have been eliminated. Seals remain a problem, having doubled in numbers around our coastline since 2000 but even they are not sufficient to explain what has happened.

Mackerel spawning areas (purple shading) along the European shelf and the post-spawning and summer feeding migrations (purple arrows). The pre-2006 mackerel summer feeding areas are shown as dark green with the post-2006 expansion in light green - right where our young salmon head.

Mackerel spawning areas (purple shading) along the European shelf and the post-spawning and summer feeding migrations (purple arrows). The pre-2006 mackerel summer feeding areas are shown as dark green with the post-2006 expansion in light green - right where our young salmon head.

The problem lies out at sea and debate rages whenever salmon fisherman get together about what the problem or problems could be. The answer is unlikely to be a simple one. More likely  newly commissioned research will conclude that poor salmon survival rates at sea are the result of many complex and contributory factors. One scientist believes he has identified one factor and it is a whopper. Professor Jens Christian Holst suggests that the massive growth of the mackerel population, (and herring and blue whiting), in the North Atlantic, between the Faroes, Iceland and Norway has created unequal competition for food with young salmon losing out to vast millions of mackerel. The mackerel in turn have been pushed into these areas by an absence of plankton further south.

There is some robust research available on the poleward migration of mackerel stock, most of it rather too academic for this post but if you wish to learn more it may be read here, here and here . A very good talk given by Professor Holst last year may be found here.

So, with salmon fisherman in a melancholic if not glum mood what is to be done? Contrarians of course will look to purchase fishing at depressed prices waiting for them to rally but who know's when that might be. One thing is certain, the way to deplete mackerel stocks is to eat them so please, eat some bloody mackerel!

Recent research has shown that almost all fish will survive if they are treated properly, according to a simple set of rules. Useful video should you be lucky enough to catch one, (and here’s another from Canada).

wanna no do that?

wanna no do that?

Salmon fishermen are doing their bit within the limits of what is under their control. Virtually no fish are killed on the bank these days and in a complete reversal of historical habits well over 90% are returned and virtually 100% of the spring stock is returned on most if not all UK rivers. Catch and release is treated with near reverend religious devotion these days rather than as a 'good habit.' Many though incorrectly take the fish out of the water for a quick photograph before releasing. It is understandable that folk want a picture given catching the things is both an expensive and rare event but more and more people are frowning on it and many ghillies are encouraging catch and release from the net only without lifting the fish. 


Two Sides of The Coin

"98% of people don't understand this" Matthew McConaughey's Motivational Speech.

I am not usually one for motivational videos. Most are promulgated by ego driven self promoters who make motivational videos because they have failed at everything else. At best, they give us some strands of optimism to cling to or reassurance that we are doing some of the right things, whatever they are. At worst, they are deeply condescending and irritating. Occasionally, there are some points that give us pause for reflection which is never a bad thing.

Here then are two, both very different. One from Matthew McConaughey which is typically American in being serious and sincere; the other from Australian Tim Minchin which is witty and irreverent. Reflect at your leisure.

Spatula Challenge 2

Epic bike ride, nine years ago now.

Epic bike ride, nine years ago now.


Incredibly, it is nine years since the kids had a bash at, and completed, the 3 Peaks Challenge. That would have been interesting enough but of course they decided to cycle in between the three hills rather than drive which normal people do. It is rather a long way from Ben Nevis to Snowdon, especially when following bicycles in a support vehicle. Still, they cracked it and raised a healthy sum for charity along the way. They called it the Spatula Challenge, (from the movie Run Fat Boy Run), but the one who came up with the name, (the youngest), had to join me in the support vehicle for the duration. Oh what fun we had, setting up camp, striking camp, leap-frogging ahead of them every eight miles, waiting at the bottom of the hills in the rain with hot brews and doing running repairs to the bicycles. Worse than not knowing what I was doing, I thought I knew what I was doing so repair stops tended to linger somewhat. Funny how even with bikes you reassemble them and always have one mystery part left over. 

Anyway, the youngest has grown and does his own thing now and well done to him for cracking the London Marathon in his own Spatula Challenge. Some might suggest that running the marathon in a creditable four hours with minimal training in £26 training shoes from Sports Direct bordered on silliness but he gets a tick in my box for it. He did rather suffer somewhat the next day but hey, it's all for charity!