Recalling a rugby hero

Martin Johnson on the day he met young rugby enthusiasts at a Wiltshire school more than ten years ago. The Happy Moonraker understands that he broke no chairs during his visit.

Martin Johnson on the day he met young rugby enthusiasts at a Wiltshire school more than ten years ago. The Happy Moonraker understands that he broke no chairs during his visit.

NO-ONE wants to be guilty of breaking an antique chair but that is apparently what happened the other day to Martin Johnson, former Leicester Tiger, England and British Lions rugby captain.

He is a big guy. 6ft 7ins tall and weighing upwards of 20 stone these days, or so The Happy Moonraker is led to believe. In his playing prime he weighed in at a mere 18st 9lb.

When he was invited to 10 Downing Street, the Prime Minister invited him to sit down and the 200-year-old chair gave way under the strain. How desperately embarrassing for one of England’s 2003 World Cup-winning heroes.

He is a really nice fellow and The Happy Moonraker still feels greatly honoured to have met him and to have survived shaking hands with him. He got on well with the youngsters he coached on a visit to a South Wiltshire school back in 2004. The visit took place because the parent of two pupils at the school bid successfully at a charity auction for a day with Martin Johnson and his old team mate Austin Healey.

 

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Journey’s end

A sorry end to a journey, and all because the driver obeyed the satnav instead of taking heed of the official signs

A sorry end to a journey, and all because the driver obeyed the satnav instead of taking heed of the official signs

THE Happy Moonraker has lost count of the times a vehicle has found itself stuck in Tanner’s Lane ford, a few miles north of Salisbury.

Council signs clearly say at each side: “Danger Unstable River Bed”, so, short of placing someone there with a warning flag and a big stick for 24-hours a day, what more can be done to stop people being stupid?

Even Tilly the terrier’s friend Budleigh (see photo) is surprised that drivers still ignore the warning. A satnav voice can certainly sound convincing, if not compelling, but surely common sense ought to come into it somewhere.

The heavily pregnant driver of this car had driven about 30 miles from Dorset with three passengers. They all had a soggy end to their trip, together with a lot of expense, once they’d contacted someone with a tractor to tow them out (£50 cash, no questions) and then paid for repairs.

It is not just car drivers. Tilly and I have seen vans and lorries stuck there. On one occasion a van full of washing machines had to be completely unloaded before it could be towed out.

There is a lesson to be learned here.

Spiders are such unwelcome visitors

First trap your large eight-legged invader before releasing it outside

First trap your large eight-legged invader before releasing it outside

THERE is some comfort in knowing that The Happy Moonraker is not the only one whose space has been invaded by the odd house spider. They are so huge, so alien, so un-likeable that it even pains me to write about them. I’ve found myself having to deal with three in as many weeks.

However much I can’t bear them, I could never kill one, whatever its size. I have been brainwashed into believing that they are useful creatures but my only wish is that they would get on and be useful away from me. Having shared space with huntsman spiders, funnel webs and red backs in other parts of the world, I still don’t like them and wish they would all leave me alone.

I can never forgive a huntsman spider, which is really big and hairy, for its habit of hiding behind car sun visors and then landing on the driver’s lap when the sun visor is moved. Sneaky or what?

The best way to deal with the big ones is to trap them in a spider box which has a long handle. This has a sliding base which you open before placing the box over the offender. Then you gently kick the lid closed before carefully carrying it outside. Job done. After a few minutes your heart rate returns to normal, and you stop shaking – until the next one appears.

Whatever happened to our summer?

WHERE did August go? Where did the summer go? I came across a lovely quote the other day which went like this: “I just love the English summer. It is my favourite day of the year.” The Happy Moonraker feels seriously short-changed. No need for shorts, T-shirts, sunhats, or any of the other kit that goes with summer. There was one really good week, at the beginning of July, and that was about it. Summer gone.

Robins are starting to make their autumn sounds and I’ve seen swallows and martins looking ominously as though they are about to start lining up on the phone wires before long. You certainly can’t blame them for wanting to get away to somewhere warm and dry.

Tilly the terrier and I are jogging along muddy paths these days. Usually at this time of year our regular paths are dry and dusty and full of butterflies. It just happens that I invested in a new mac and sou’wester a couple of weeks ago and I have used them more often than I care to admit.

Today we visited 20 of the 25 life-sized models of medieval barons, each one decorated by a different artist. Clad in my new mac, sou’wester, and mittens to keep my hands warm, and clutching a trail map that gradually disintegrated in the rain, I enjoyed seeing the skill of each artist. Tilly wasn’t too bothered, it must be admitted, until we reached Bourne Hill Gardens where she did some serious squirreling.

If you want to see the barons before they go, you have only a few days left. Pick up a trail map at the Information Centre before they leave their individual sites at the end of 6th September. After that, they will be on display together in the Cathedral for a week from 24th September before being auctioned off in aid of the Trussell Trust on 1st October.

1.David Graham decorated Baron no 3 and called it Quintessentially English. Soggy visitors and their umbrellas add the final touch.

David Graham decorated Baron no 3 and called it Quintessentially English. Soggy visitors and their umbrellas add the final touch.

2.Baron no 16, decorated by Salisbury artist Louise Luton, is called The Stained Glass Flower Baron.

Baron no 16, decorated by Salisbury artist Louise Luton, is called The Stained Glass Flower Baron.

3.Oh Deer! Is the title of Annaliese Stoney’s Baron no 17.Oh Deer! Is the title of Annaliese Stoney’s Baron no 17.

I saw that Paul Kidby, who lives not far away, had decorated the Discworld Knight (No 5) on Choristers’ Green in the Cathedral Close. I photographed him when he was taking part in Salisbury Art Trail a few years ago. He has illustrated many of the late Terry Pratchett’s books, including the final one, published last week, called The Shepherd’s Crown. This photo shows him signing book marks.

Discworld artist Paul Kidby signs a bookmark for Sabina Grey.

Discworld artist Paul Kidby signs a bookmark for Sabina Grey.