Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Pork for January

Listening to: Atmosphere (Joy Division)
Watching: Bewilderness (Bill Bailey)
Waiting for: my numbers to come up

Now this is what I call progress. Today I signed us up for the first four members of what, in my head, will be the Stoneyhall herd of pigs.

A breeder of Saddlebacks was considerate enough to live only a quarter of a mile from the Orkney ferry near Thurso and a litter is due any time now.

That means they will be weaned mid-August and at our place on Westray around August 20. Yes, boys and girls, the chubby former regional newspaper sports hack is going to be a pig farmer.

Just how good a pig farmer remains to be seen. The first task, of course, is to get pigs, farm and "farmer" all in the same place at the same time - time to get packing.

It does, of course, bring into sharp focus the factthat I have no real idea what I am doing. Not sure what the pig-farming equivalent of 'winging it', but it's what I'm doing.

Monday, 25 June 2007

Wolves 5 (Dougan 3, Richards 2) Man City 1 (Marsh)

Listening to: Rain hammering against the window
Drinking: PG Tips
Paying for: staying up late to watch Glastonbury for three nights running

A huge section of my childhood fell in at 4.39 yesterday afternoon when my friend Reg sent me a text which read: "Doog has snuffed it."

Derek Dougan, one-time Wolverhampton Wanderers and Northern Ireland centre forward and star of my bedroom wall for many years, died suddenly at the age of 69.

I'm sensible enough not to have a crisis when one of my heroes turns up his/her toes (John Peel was the only one who actually made the bottom lip wobble) and I'm old enough to have got used to it, but The Doog's passing stopped me in my tracks for a split-second.

Dougan loomed large in my life as a young boy, stuck in the footballing wilderness of the East Anglian Fens. My contact with the professional game (the nearest League club being Peterborough United, a 30-mile, one-hour trip to watch a team that wasn't Posh at all) was limited to occasionally being allowed to stay up for Match of the Day or gulping my Sunday lunch down so I could watch ITV's offering.

Anglia TV's Match of the Week alternated between Norwich and Ipswich, but in the late 60s we somehow were tuned in to the Midlands-based ATV as well. This opened up a whole new, glamourous world for me - Birmingham City, Derby County, West Bromwich Albion and Aston Villa all became regular visitors to our home. (Your average seven-year-old in the Fens is easily impressed, believe me).

I hadn't really pinned my colours to any team at this stage, apart from cheering dutifully for Southern League Cambridge City on the odd occasion my dad took me along to Milton Road.

My dad coming from Northern Ireland, I had already been alerted to George Best's genius, but that hadn't been enough to attract me to Manchester United - too many kids in the school playground were United fans and I always liked to be different.

Then along came a lanky, crop-haired guy with a bolshie attitude, playing for a team with a ludicrously long name, who wore different colours to anyone else and who were known as The Wolves - what young boy could resist? Don't answer that. What was more. . . Doog was one of us, an Irish Protestant.

"Yer man Dougan? He's a fair player," said my dad. High praise indeed.

So I became a Wolves fan (having first looked up Wolverhampton on a map) and condemned myself to the best part of 40 years of disappointment - character-building, I think it's called.

While George Best was all Carnaby Street and sports cars, Doog represented more what Britain really was like in the 60s (I firmly believe all that swinging stuff happened to six DJs, five pop bands, one conceptual artist and a Jack Russell terrier called Arthur, while everyone else was busy scratching a living, watching Coronation Street 'enjoying' summer holidays in Great Yarmouth and waiting for prawn cocktail crisps to be invented).

Most of my friends were into Tottenham or Arsenal, so I was a curiosity/figure of fun/freak at school, but I stuck with it, Doog giving Wolves just the tiniest bit of credibility.

With my dad being a school rugby coach, trips to games were impossible, but when I finally made it to Molineux on March 3 1973 - it was worth the wait. Manchester City were swept aside 5-1 with John Richards scoring twice and Doog a hat-trick.

A year later Wolves beat City again, this time at Wembley to win the League Cup, and another year on, Doog retired.

As I grew up, I stuck with Wolves, and when I started a career in newspapers, it was perhaps inevitable I should be drawn to Wolverhampton - well, I'd just bought a season ticket.

By the time I stumbled into sports writing, Dougan had become a reviled character in much of the town, thanks to his part in the takeover of the club by the mysterious Bhatti Brothers, Manchester-based property developers whose sole interest - it quickly became apparent - was in the land value of Molineux. I ioccanterviewed Dougan some years later and he promised to 'tell you about that one day'!

His antics and his drinking gave him a reputation as something of a bar-room bore in later life and his dabbling in the political world (first as a kind of unity candidate in Belfast, then more recently as a backer for the nutters from UKIP) were ill-thought-out and half-hearted. Thick footballers are not the only ones who struggle to find a role in life once their career is over.

Doog was effectively written out of Wolves history for many years. He was omitted from a selection of 12 all-time Molineux greats in a book written by my then colleague David Instone - produced with the club's backing - and a (rather tacky) limited edition print of a host of former Wolves players included Dave Woodfield and Mike Bailey, but not Doog. Petty stuff that shames the club's tradition.

Yet for much of the late 60s and early 70s, Wolves would have faded from view had it not been for Dougans talents as a footballer and a showman. Sure, the Bhatti takeover was a disaster, but were there any other serious offers on the table? No.

Dougan was not the nicest, nor the most honest of men - who knows what he did for a living in recent years? - but for 90 minutes in March 1973, three goals and the way it made an 11-year-old lad feel on his first visit to Molineux, I thank him from the bottom of my heart.

God bless you Derek, rest in peace.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Progress. . . at last

Listening to: While My Guitar Gently Weeps (The Beatles)
Eating: Cheshire cheese and fruit cake.
Worrying: about everything.

Finally. . . It looks like we're on the way. Next month we're off to Westray come hell or (thanks to global warming) high water.

After such a long time hanging around waiting for something to happen, we seem to have movement at last. A very nice young couple have put in a reasonable offer for the house and seem keen to get things moving swiftly, while my wife Sal has put in her notice at work and finishes on July 13. So we've got to go really, or face living in a tent on Meole Brace roundabout, although that's very handy for Sainsburys.

I have to admit some major reservations about leaving and the bottom lip quivers a little when I think of two or three people I will miss terribly, but it's time to put on a happy face, whistle nonchalantly and get on with it.

After several weeks of relative inactivity and, let's be honest, boredom, I'm excited about clearing the five-year-old chicken muck out of the animal shed, cutting down eight-years-plus undergrowth in the veg garden and dividing the top field up into paddocks for the pigs.

Speaking of which, I hope to have the first inmates installed before the autumn, thanks to a breeder of British Saddlebacks based near Thurso, only a quarter of a mile from the Orkney ferry.

Of course, there's the small matter of the house to consider. The roof doesn't let in the rain, but it's made of corrugated asbestos and there's woodworm in the joists. The floors are basically flagstones laid on beaten earth - nothing so luxurious as damp-proofing - while the windows are rotten and the front door. . . less said the better.

The bathroom works all right, with the ancient Aga heating enough water pumped up from the well to fill the massive bath.

We've got a thousand and one plans for the place, some of which actually may come into being, but I strongly suspect the first task will be to stop treating it like a holiday and actually get down to some hard work.

We're under no illusions. . . this is going to be tough and we had a reminder recently when a friend sent pictures of his house in Pierowall (Westray's village) during the storms in early March. Apparently at the height, winds a couple of miles offshore reached tornado-speed and waves were breaking over the house - a fine test of the nice new windows Eric installed last summer.