Time to Help Albert!

Some thirty six years ago I recall wandering into the television room at Glencorse Barracks in August 1979. The usual banter and joshing was absent. NCO's just stared at the television in silence, not believing what they were hearing. Mountbatten was dead. He was murdered with others in the atrocity at Mullaghmore. A serious incident involving the Parachute Regiment had also occured at Warrenpoint resulting in many casualties. Just how many quickly became clear. 

Lt Col David Blair, QO Hldrs

Soon after, Queens Own Highlanders of all ranks at the Depot were called to the cinema. We were told that the Commanding Officer of the 1st Battalion, Lt Col David Blair and his signaler, L/Cpl MacLeod, had also been killed in the secondary explosion at Warrenpoint which detonated as the Colonels helicopter was landing. The shock was palpable. Even though I was far away from South Armagh, the shock that pulsed through the Regimental family was very personal. It was my first experience of death in service.  It wasn't to be the last but thankfully I was spared the heavy casualty counts that some have witnessed. I've never forgotten that day, or the others.

RHF Veterans visit the Memorial Garden to remember members of the 1st Bn killed in NI

The memory of the 692 British soldiers killed in Northern Ireland as a result of paramilitary action, and the 6,116 wounded, is of course kept very much alive by their family and friends, their former comrades and their regiments and corps. Unfortunately, as I've written in the past, the sacrifice of a generation of soldiers who served in Northern Ireland has mostly been airbrushed from the contemporary collective memory. That process was started by Tony Blair and successive politicians have done little to make amends. It's just easier to let it be it seems. 

That is, unless you happen to be a gentleman called Albert Owens. Albert isn't a man given to doing things by halves. Nor does he take the idea of letting the names of the 692 dead, and  those from other conflicts, be lost in the fog of history. Albert and his fellow volunteers have created a haven of peace and pilgrimage in the Palace Barracks Memorial Garden in Northern Ireland. The one and a half acre site commemorates those killed in Northern Ireland and other conflicts over the past 50 years. 

Albert Owens MBE; Memorial Custodian

'To see my dream and designs come true has become  a very special place not only for me but for all the families, friends and comrades of the soldiers who are remembered here, in the Palace Barracks Memorial Garden. In addition to maintaining the garden itself , I also keep in regular touch with  the families and friends of those  Men and Women of our Armed Forces  who are remembered here and arrange visits for them to the Garden  should they so wish.'

On the Memorial Garden website you will find list of those killed in action. Please take a moment to dip in and have a look. If you can, pick a name, any name from any regiment and quietly remember it, now, on November 11th and beyond. 

We should all remember, and mostly the country does with dignity on Armistice Day every year. Do though spare a thought for those killed in the conflicts beyond those which catch the media's attention. My own thanks to Albert for his efforts which are loyal to the memory. Please do visit the site or the Facebook page. His enthusiasm and commitment deserve  acknowledgement.

“As long as mist hangs o’er the mountains And water runs in the glens The Deeds of the Brave will be remembered” Caber Feidh gu Brath

Petersfield in 'Environmental Incident' Lockdown

Bet she doesn't get pinged by East Hampshire Councils finest...

Smoking isn't getting any cheaper. In fact, its ruinously expensive but apart from the luxury of duty free cigarettes when I was stationed in Germany, I can't really remember a time when it wasn't. One newsflash for the citizens of East Hampshire and West Sussex is that it's got a whole hell of a lot more expensive in the market town of Petersfield. 

The other day I committed the heinous crime in broad daylight of dropping a cigarette end in the gutter in Petersfield High Street before walking into a restaurant. The ‘Law Enforcement Officer' for East Hampshire District Council,’ then followed me into the restaurant and asked me to step outside which I did. ‘East Hampshire Council have a zero tolerance for litter and I am issuing you with a fixed penalty of seventy five pounds.’ I accepted the notice and have no argument that I did indeed, drop a cigarette end in the gutter. Moreover, I wholly accept and support an anti-litter campaign which is to the benefit of all residents and citizens of East Hampshire.


Where East Hampshire and I depart in 'we're all in this together' community spirit is in the size of the fine. Seventy five pounds... seriously? It is a wholly disproportionate number for what they quite seriously refer to as a crime. Hilariously, if I brought one of my dogs into town and it fouled the street the fine would be less. Indeed, the number is higher than any parking offence listed on the councils website which include abuse of residents, disabled and commercial parking, parking in bus stops, taxi ranks, pedestrian crossings, cycle lanes and schools and indeed, parking in a car park without a ticket. All of these come with substantially lower tariffs. That some of these offences infer parking likely to elevate risk to children and pedestrians makes the penalty extreme for dropping a cigarette end in the gutter all the more puzzling. Sorry I forgot. It's not 'dropping a cigarette,' it's now an "environmental incident.' As you'll discover if you take the trouble to wade through the councils web site and the job advertisements for Kingdom Security, there is a common theme of the use of increasingly militaristic language and tone for the most mundane and ordinary things. Time to start watching the watchers.

No, it's not a New York suburb, it's Petersfield in East Hampshire.

The use of the  ‘Law Enforcement Officer,’ description is interesting. He is not. He / they are traffic wardens employed by a private security company, Kingdom Security, who work on behalf of East Hampshire Council. That they dress in a black paramilitary rig with stab vests in Petersfield High Street is patently absurd. I did three tours in Northern Ireland and carried less paraphernalia on patrol than do these characters. My sense of persecution wasn’t helped when I was later in receipt of a parking fine on reaching my car ten minutes later than expected, having been delayed in my High Street office. That fine will be paid but the zealous approach from these individuals, while increasing revenue, does not encourage a broader sense of belonging and community amongst citizens. Indeed, it is more likely to feed resentment and irritation which is not a good outcome for anyone. How much better to say, ‘if you don’t pick that cigarette up sir I am going to have to issue a penalty notice,’ as most policeman would do and indeed, are trained so to do to encourage good public relations.

Enquiries to the responsible person at East Hampshire Council solicited the not unexpected reply that informed me, 'Whilst I appreciate that you feel the £75.00 to be an unfair sum to pay, due to it being a criminal offence, the amount set by central government is a fine of no more than £80.00. We feel that the amount we charge is proportionate to the cost of cleaning the district.' These people are detached, delusional and focused on revenue raising, little else. 

Now many people will say, 'disgusting habit, serves you right you filthy dirty individual,' and I genuinely wouldn't stop to argue. There is a problem here for all citizens however and its coming to visit you, wherever you may live as pensioners Peter Marsh, 69, and his wife Gillian Green, 65 recently discovered.

Last week the Telegraph reported that they unwittingly broke the law in Canterbury when they sat on a bench and ate some cherries. Pushing the envelope of the law, they stood up leaving the stones beneath a tree and toddled off. Bingo! Two enforcement officers issued them each an £80 on-the-spot fine for littering.

The couple said the men behaved “more like nightclub bouncers” and they were “terrified”.

“We were sitting under the tree with the circular bench after buying cherries from a market stall. We ate no more than 15 between us and put the stones at the base of the tree.

“When we left to continue shopping, we were approached by two men who were quite intimidating. We thought they were policemen. They did say they were enforcement officers but didn’t explain clearly what was happening.

“It was terrifying. They separated us and were far too heavy-handed. We are law-abiding people.”

He had been in Canterbury for a hospital appointment and said that he was left “shaking” after being approached.

He added: “I believe we were deliberately targeted as an older couple who wouldn’t make a fuss. Surely a verbal warning would have been more appropriate.”

A council spokesman said that there had been a bin within a “reasonable” distance of the couple which they should have used.

He said: “We seek to enforce fairly no matter the age or gender of the person who commits an offence.” The value of one fine had been refunded as a goodwill gesture, he added.

Oh and guess which company Canterbury employs for 'Environmental Protection?' Yes, its the same Kingdom Security we have in Petersfield. 

So what? Well, the takeaway is quite simple. Local and central government alike need money and rather than cutting their own costs will pursue you the individual by every means available to them in more and more creative ways. Moreover, the security companies they employ will be unyielding in their zealotry because they need the next contract. The individuals on the street, the so called self described 'Law Enforcement Officers,' will continue to enjoy their moments of power and swaggering self importance no doubt hoping that a pensioner somewhere will have a go at their stab vests with a rolled up copy of the Daily Mail while clinging to their Zimmer frame.

Those cigarettes, they really are killers.

Left Behind

If sometimes you feel that life has moved on and left you somewhere behind on the hard shoulder , low on fuel with an engine that is showing signs of wear and tear then believe me, you're not alone. Now I don't know much about baseball. Nor do these girls.  I empathise with the commentators; they get it. (h/t Tim Knight).


Bugger. Bang goes the knighthood then. It was grim, just grim. We all knew that getting through the group would be challenging. The manner of England's exit though has left us numb. Outplayed in every single facet of the game against Australia there is no mitigation, no redemption, no 'close fought battle but the best team won on the day,' piece of wreckage to cling to. They didn't even listen to Crumble's advice from March.

I’m reminded of that great quote from JPR Williams after Wales were thumped by the Aussies in 1984, “No leadership, no ideas. Not even enough imagination to thump someone in the line-up when the ref wasn’t looking.” (which is exactly what I posted on our exit from the last World Cup).

Rugby fans are a realistic, knowledgeable, philosophical and fair minded bunch. The bottom line though is that England supporters deserved so much more. From the young lads who play in the driving rain and sleet throughout the winter at clubs and schools, their coaches, the  Mum's who make the bacon butties in the clubhouses to the Twickenham faithful who have been paying through the nose to watch little collective improvement over twelve years, they have all been badly let down by a team that choked on the day when it mattered most. This is the generation of players who should have been inspired by the schoolboy heroes in 2003 they grew up watching to emulate them. The boost that English rugby received after that win was formidable. Such was the surge in enthusiasm for the game, individual age groups at clubs had north of 50 players per age group turning out on Sunday mornings. Something has gone very badly wrong if we can't cobble together a team that can give Australia a decent match with those kind of resources.

Australia looked a complete team of old with none of their perceived weaknesses evident, especially up front. When everyone is thinking the same though, nobody is thinking. Except Michael Cheika. He has done an outstanding job in just twelve months in reenergising and inspiring Australian rugby which wasn't in great shape prior to his appointment. Its easy to forget the limited pool of player resource available to the Wallabies given union isn't played in much more than 12 schools and the allure of other sports increases every year. Despite that, the sight of the England pack being shunted around the park was embarrassing and left the rugby die-hards I was with subdued  into silence.

Mike Teague; Anglo Saxon Menace

The 'thanks for coming,' epitaph and being reduced to being the caterers, waiters and barmen for the rest of the competition is pretty upsetting and while we'll enjoy the games the spirit will be sagging. There are unanswered questions, about selection especially. The Ford, Burgess, Armitage, Burrell, Hartley debates will continue for quite a while but if I was to highlight one thing which has troubled me about the team it would be the lack of street smart menace. Great English teams have always had a few edgy players. Apart from Brown its not clear who else exudes the kind of match cunning, fighting spirit and threatening behaviour that dominates and intimidates other teams physically and psychologically. Instead we have two muppets in Farrell and Burgess with simultaneous dangerous infractions in front of the referee in the last quarter of a losing game. Farrell was binned, Burgess should have been red carded but escaped. That isn't the kind of match cunning to which I allude. In short, the Lancaster regime is too nice, too decent and too naive. They've managed to make the shambolic 'Mike Tindall's stag weekend,' squad we sent to the last World Cup look pretty competent. We're putting boys out against men, soldiers against warriors, individuals against teams. 

I'm not sure where that leaves the coaching team and if they should be tinned or not. Perhaps it just a fact of life that everyone is promoted to their own level of incompetence. Instinctively it feels like they should go, so complete has been the failure to do, well anything to an acceptable standard. Australia's second try was a simple demonstration of how we are being out thought before the team ever steps onto the pitch. We're not good enough for this competition and frankly, there are some second tier teams out there who could rattle England's cage on their day.  It seems obvious that we need some Southern Hemisphere input into the set up at some level. One thing is for sure, inaction is not acceptable. England are going backwards but the worry is we seem to have more gears in reverse than we do forward.

So, what is the Crumble view? I've had quite enough of contrition and humility which has been too fashionable under this regime. We are a great rugby nation but one which has lost its winning GPS, (actually, it was trashed in Cardiff in 2013 and we've never really recovered).  To be good at something, you need a touch of arrogance and that comes with self belief. Compare the wild eyed look in the Scots in their recent matches with what you saw in our players eyes in the first five minutes last night. 

A good start, would be to exert pressure from supporters, players, (amateur and professional from schoolboys up), and their coaches on Sir Clive Woodward and the RFU to stop acting like spoilt children, to sit down and figure out how they can work together for the benefit of English rugby. If Lancaster is to stay then most of us would agree he needs a mentor to assist with a hand on the tiller here and there. If he is to be replaced then Woodward should be involved at some level; it's simply barking that he's not. And Wilko? Seems pretty obvious doesn't it? We missed the opportunity to lift Sir Ian McGeechan five years ago; lets not muck it up again. 


Wilko; I'm Full Of Confidence!

One of the disappointments of the World Cup to date has been the generally weak and insipid match commentary. The studio analysis meanwhile has pretty much nailed it although it seems too abbreviated because of excessive advertising. One of the highlights though, has been Wilko's articulate and measured view of the games. I think we just found the Richie Benaud of rugby.

Anyway, here is the man exuding quiet confidence in an understated English kind of way. 

3 Men In A Jeep

I mentioned in an earlier post that one of the Crumble Kids had disappeared for his summer holiday with a bag full of ice axes, crampons and ice screws and how 'that won't give his mother anything to worry about then.' It didn't; he has a long history of doing odd things. If the clip above made by his chum is much to go by it all looks a bit pedestrian; I think they were playing being Top Gear presenters. Iceland though, looks classic. Must do that trip sometime.

A Thundering Good Read

Like half of the rest of the English speaking world, I am currently racing though the latest Jack Reacher novel, 'Make Me; an easy going three day popcorn read and we love Lee Child for it. (Why did they miscast Tom Cruise in the movie btw? Surely they need to find a gritty Lee Marvin type or was it because TC personally bought the rights?). Anyway, I offer this literary post not in praise of Big Jack but of another book I've recently finished, a thundering good read called 'War Beneath The Sea,' by Naval historian Peter Padfield.

In the book, Padfield walks the reader through submarine warfare in the Second World War from start to finish from both an Allied and the Axis powers, including Japan, perspective. His skill is in articulating the war from both a strategic and tactical view, giving us a window on the geopolitical challenges faced by different Navies, the design, build, supply, training and different fighting doctrine used by the Royal Navy, the Americans, Germans Italians and Japanese. 

The crew gathered around the gun platform of HMS Unruffled while in Valetta Harbour, Malta. Extreme right is Lt J S Stevens DSO, DSC (Commanding Officer), behind him is Lt O Lascelles MBE, DSO

Thankfully, none of the enemy got it quite right, nor did we. Many of the glaring deficiencies of the Allied effort that have their roots in hubris and dogma at the highest levels of Allied command have been glossed over with the passing of years but Padfield lays them out in brutal and honest fashion. Had we in Britain for example, not allowed Harris to be so dogmatic in his pursuit of area bombing in Germany and released more aircraft to cover the Atlantic then hard won lessons in the Great War might have been put to more timely use and many lives in the convoys would have been saved. .

Similarly, the British hating American Admiral King could have considerably shortened the Pacific war had he targeted Japanese supply convoys transiting through Asian waters to Japan in the manner employed by the German wolf packs. Given Japan has no natural resources to speak of, how obvious was that?  King wasn't a very imaginative individual. Releasing even small amounts of Liberator aircraft to cover the ' Atlantic Gap,' would have had the same positive impact on the war in Europe. No one country emerges with a faultless reputation . We made plenty of errors ourselves. We all know for example of the stunning effect intelligence derived from Enigma and Bletchley Park had on the war effort but did we know that German Naval intelligence had also cracked our codes? I didn't. It seems odd that we deployed so much effort into cracking their codes but didn't think they might be doing the same to us.

Wanklyn (left) with his First Lieutenant and senior engineer J. R. D Drummond (right), 13 January 1942

Where the book finds common ground in all the different Navies is in the descriptions of the privations, tenacity and courage of the submariners themselves. It was a filthy job. The Germans for example had a worse life expectancy than did our boys in Bomber Command. Submariners generally are a close knit and secretive group of men. Any sort of publicity has been deeply frowned upon throughout the post war years, given the nature of their roles in the Cold War. Driving nuclear subs around the Soviet coast was never something they wanted on the front pages. That is quite understandable and one wonders if the Cold War submarine story will ever be told in the same way that Special Forces deeds have become fairly accessible reading. With that closed group mentality though there is a cost and part of the cost is that the bravery of their forebears has become lost in the national collective memory. That is a shame because names like Lieutenant Commander Malcolm Wanklyn VC DSO and Two Bars ought to be known by every schoolboy in this country. There are many others. Read Padfield's book and you'll discover them.

I can't recommend this book enough. It ought to be mandatory reading for officers of all services, politicians and multi national business leaders. It lays out is clinical fashion, the high cost of arrogant and inflexible thinking and of uncoordinated planning at the highest levels evident in all the combatant nations. Criminal really. 

'... the only thing that ever really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril'. Churchill

It's Not The Despair....................

Three days after The Match and I've just about recovered from the hangover resulting from the long match inquest I went through with an old chum while enjoying a rib of beef at a long lunch on Sunday. 

I had thought that leaving it for a few days might give some comments a perspective they would otherwise have missed but I don't think that's going to happen. It was a devastating loss which has probably left the players as bewildered as it did the crowd and the millions at home who spent the last ten minutes choking on their beer, shouting at the television and reaching for their old boots willing to pop down to Twickenham to give the lads a hand. 

I'm one of the few who thought the call to go for a line out rather than a penalty was ballsy but justified. Why, having stepped up and made that call they then failed to have the courage of their convictions and then threw a short line out ball is however, mystifying. If you are taking the fight to the opposition you have to follow it through with single minded determination and aggression. If it had worked, of course the team would be feted as heroes. It didn't and their judgement is in question. We had though, lost the game well before then during a quite incredible Welsh second half fight back. Having suffered multiple casualties, (I think that Polish cryotherapy nonsense has made their bodies brittle),  they threw away the spreadsheets and playbooks and played the kind of rugby that is hard coded in their DNA. It was a wonder to behold for anyone except the  English fans left open mouthed with incredulity. 

England were shocking in the second half. I've often thought that Stuart Lancaster should be nailed to his seat at half time and not allowed anywhere near the team dressing room. This is far from the first time that England have trotted out looking shapeless and unfocused compared to their first half performance. The World Cup was always going to be a mountain to climb for England given team selection has never really settled in a way that previously successful teams have enjoyed. Playing Burgess, who up until Saturday had played less than 120 minutes of Test rugby, and never looks quite comfortable, is questionable but I guess its a gamble that had England won would have been fully justified with fans up and down the country saying,'I always knew the lad would come good.' I hope he still will. England can of course still progress and all is very far from lost. As an Aussie friend said to me afterward, 'the thing about England is one win and you're on the march but one loss and the worlds coming to an end.' 

It's only a game love..................

For the Welsh, it was an epic win and one that we'll reminded of for the rest of our lives. That is an uncomfortable prospect but  only the most small minded would deny them their moment of joy; they earned it.

Saturday has become the sort of day that World Cups are all about. We'll be expecting to dominate with pragmatic forward play and the Aussies will chuck the ball around with all the abandon usually seen at a prep school sevens tournament. Or will they? It's a mouthwatering prospect and I absolutely can not wait.

As for Stuart Lancaster, if I were him I'd forget about all the Agincourt / St George stuff and start my pre-match talk with, 'right lads, we've got them right where we want them...............'

(Thanks Tim)

Glencore; Meltdown or Death Spiral?

While the UK markets attention has been dominated by the Rate Debate and Volkswagen, we have a rather serious problem brewing on our own doorstep. Glencore is in meltdown and with its 5 year CDS trading on Friday either side of 600bps it is a wisp away from a death spiral. That’s the point when, ‘get me out I’m not having this in my portfolio when it goes down,’ PM’s jump ship and their numbers outweigh the bargain hunters. Investors who subscribed to the recent rights issue, and wouldn’t I love to see the crib sheet and FAQ sheet written for the salesmen by corporate finance for that one, will be feeling that maybe ‘cheap,’ wasn’t quite the right word to be banded around at 125p.

Whatever valuations analysts put on Glencore, equity investors may be about to be reminded that equity is at the bottom of the capital structure. Following the announcement earlier this month of the company’s $10bn recapitalisation plan through a rights issue, dividend suspension, asset sales, capex cut and production cut; Moody’s put the company on negative watch on its Baa2 rating, (just above junk). The market is beginning to question if the $10bn recap is sufficient to guarantee the survivability of the company and the whole asset structure is consequently having convulsions.

The problem becomes acute if Glencore is downgraded to junk. At that point we have a potential Lehman / AIG scenario in the commodity space. While Glencore is the biggest listed leveraged bet on the price of copper and the Chinese economy through its mining operations, it is also one of the world’s biggest commodity trading firms. A downgrade to junk could trigger forced selling from PM’s not able to hold junk paper, collateral liquidations and market counter parties slamming the doors shut. The complex daisy chain of OTC derivative contracts have an unquantifiable market risk. At the minimum, fear of a bad thing happening is enough in this fragile environment to unsettle the broader market. Risk managers and regulators must surely have Glencore front and centre on their radar this weekend.

Goldman have suggested in a recent note that it would take only a further 5% drop in commodity prices to tip Glencore over the edge. Bernstein meanwhile apparently think it is cheap.  Sure, the company will announce asset sales, like its agri business, and the shares may enjoy big % temporary spikes. My view however, is investors have no business touching this stock unless they have a near term blue sky view for copper and Chinese growth to which it has a high sensitivity. As neither are likely to be forthcoming investors should take a wide berth. Better to catch the turn in the commodity cycle when it comes with companies who are ahead of the game rather than behind it and examine Glencore only when it recovers its rating and financial health. Better to pay more for something with longevity than to bet at the roulette table in a casino on fire, which is exactly what an investment in the company is now.

Resting Heart Rate Lower

A couple of days for reflection then and a chance to get the resting heart rate back down after the weekends World Cup action. Liz Hurley bouncing onto the stage in that award ceremony didn't do to me what the Japan match did. 

I also watched the Eagles play Samoa yesterday and although beaten, I share a fatalism that others feel that one day, an American billionaire will trip along and say in Trumpesque tones, 'I've had it with our boys being beaten. Whadda I have to buy to make it happen?' Rugby has of course been played in the States for just as long as its been played here; it just never caught the public imagination in the same way and actually, lets not pretend that its everyone's cup of tea over here either. One day though, they'll get some of those huge defensive Linebacker fellows, or whatever they call them and then look out. It'll be Jono on steroids. 

Carlin Isles; don't think he's in the US squad but he's only been playing for 3 years.

We've already seen a window on their enormous pool of sporting talent with recruit from track & field Carlin Isles, a 10:13 100m sprinter who goes like greased weasel shit. If they get some more blokes with his speed but with a rugby brain then we'll see something new.

 I can think of more than one team who would welcome his skills as hooker; just remarkable

Obviously, were the Septics to get enthused about the game on a broader basis it would be electrifying for the games future. Mr Isles though, will be the very least of our worries. Let me introduce you to Master Titus Ashby. If you've stood on the touchline of any sport and had one of those proud father moments and wistfully thought, 'my boy / girl could actually make it!' then watch and weep.