Sunday, December 30, 2007

Listening...

I was remined the other day of one of the great "turn-ons" that people regularly cite. Having someone listen to you properly is a wonderful experience, and something most people never learn.
From my own experience, Mrs. Lear maintains I pay no attention to what people are saying, being too eager to jump in with my own ( usually incorrect) opinions. The most interesting thing to happen to me in 2007 has been the requirement to listen properly in Romania - I have to listen to it in Romanian, then English, and then vice-versa for the reply.
What this "splitting" does is mean I have time to observe people properly as they speak, without having to concentrate on what I am saying - the most interesting nuances get picked up this way.
In complaints, it's usually the aggrieved party wanting their point of view listened to and accepted that makes it go away - or at least cheaper to settle.The real problems occur when the other side won't listen at all - the most dangerous people are those who have closed minds.
So my New Year's resolution will be to listen more. Apparently it gives one an aura of wisdom, what with the nodding sagely and gravely as each point is made.
The only problem is Nature abhors a vacuum, and silences extend.
ps. A friend says I should mention what I am listening to whilst writing. As I tend to listen to one cd for months at a time, this would probably be very boring, but this morning ( and for the last week or two) I have been listening to Kathryn Tickell's Air Dancing. Lovely.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Crotch your speed

This is a message displayed as graffiti near Glasgow Harbour.
I'm probably too old to understand what it means, but it certainly sounds painful.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Posts

I'm being told they are too long.
This is a short one.

How to make a fortune...

1) Buy a piece of derelict land for very little.
2) Hold it for a few years.
3) Apply for a multi-use development.
4) Argue the case to designate the area as in need of special status ( or give someone a handkerchief**)
5) Get it cited as an area for urban renewal.
6) Put in an application for a HUGE development worth millions.
7) Find the area has been designated as the centre of the area for 2014 commonwealth games.
8) Hold onto it, claiming you are being done out of " millions" by the Council offering you several million for it.
9) Er, eventually, graciously, sell it for a profit of ooh, anything you like really.
** " Give someone a handkerchief" - Glasgow vernacular for stuffing a silk handkerchief in someone's top pocket with money folded inside it.

Monday, December 24, 2007

A bitter-sweet tale of the future.

There was once a Lady who fought her way up the ladder in her village. She made money, she married well, had children, and continued to grow in respect and wealth. She owned the bakery, the dairy, one of the shops, land and much more.
Her children grew up. The daughter married well and moved overseas.
The son was a clever boy who worked hard.
Then one day disaster struck.
His car was smashed into by a lorry on his way to the town. It was touch and go, but he survived, just.
He was irreprably damaged, with the mental age of 12. His body healed after a fashion, but not his mind. The doctors said he would probably only live another 5 years or so.His mother was heartbroken, but could do nothing.
After a year, she noticed that he spent more and more time in the local town. She made enquiries and discovered he was doing his best to be in the company of an attractive and lively girl.
So the Lady made a point of visiting her and made her a proposition.
" Marry my son. He will only live a short time. But if you have children I will leave everything to them. You will receive a pension for life."
The Girl was somewhat taken aback by such a blunt proposal, but she knew the Lady was very rich, and that she would be able to lead a life of her own within a few years.
So the deal was struck - no lawyers, just mutual trust.
The Son was amazed when the Girl agreed to go out with him - and even more amazed when she proposed to him quite soon thereafter.
It was a quiet wedding - the Lady was criticised for it being so small, but the Son was very excited. The Girl's family were reserved about the whole thing, but, as she was an only daughter, she had never been refused anything.
In due course two children were born - but the Son declined, and was dead not very long thereafter.
The Lady stuck to her bargain. But the Girl refused to take anything more from her.
" But why?" asked the Lady." We had a deal"
" I know. But I wanted to prove to you that money cannot buy everything. I loved your Son and always will."

What would it be like to be married for 50 years?

You might think that I already know the answer as Mr and Mrs Lear have made it past 34 years, so at a guess the next 16 or so won't be all that different to the last few.
But whilst I was in Romania, one of their local traditions made me think a bit about it.
All couples that have been married for 50 years get given about £20 at Christmas time. This year, there were 22 couples in Mosna who were due to get this. The envelopes are handed out at the Old Folks Lunch. The problem is, what's the definition of " married for 50 years".
I've related before the story of The Last Communist who has certainly been with her " man" for more than 50 years, but they didn't marry so that they would not get one of their apartments taken from them. The Mayor has decided it HAS to be proper marriage as we would understand it. Unfortunately, there are lots of people who disagree with this purist attitude, and when the golden wedding-ites came up, there were over 50 looking for the handout.
So he made the following announcement. " Would all couples who cannot produce a marriage certificate please go back to their seats." Certain amount of muttering, but there were still about 40 couples.
" OK," he said," Would anyone who is not on this list I am going to read out please sit down." This left 22 couples - and one old woman.
" Was you name on the list?" he asked.
" No, but I have been married for 50 years and I have the certificate with me." The Mayor took the paper proferred and conferred with other Town Councillors.
" Madame, it would appear you are correct. I must apologise. Where is your husband?"
" Oh well he died twenty years ago, but it certainly felt like 50 years with the old bastard"
Whereupon the whole place erupted in hysterical, thigh slapping, cackling laughter.
The OAP's had set it up as a joke.

Friday, December 21, 2007

It is mandatory to sing...

I'm back in Romania for a couple of days for the Old Folks Christmas Dinner. I'll come back to that shortly.
I came in through Budapest, having sworn I wouldn't do the train trip again. As it was the only way I could get back to to the UK before Christmas, I did it with a certain amount of ill-grace.
This time, the train left in day light so I had nearly six hours of travelling through a Dr. Zhivago-like land with brilliant sun, dashing horse-drawn sleighs , curling smoke and sparkling rivers. It was a delight and a pleasure.
I had to change in a place called Teius in Romania, which is literally in the middle of nowhere. It was about 9pm their time. The first thing I went in search of was a loo. For 20p I went to the station "superloo". On my way in I was solemnly handed two pieces of loopaper. This seems like a good idea to me - no longer reams of paper strewn all over the place and clogging up loos and urinals. And the loo was utterly spotless.
So I returned to the main part of the station - again a scene like the platform in Zhivago with people sleeping everywhere, huddled against the cold. In the waiting room, which was heated by the most enormous wood-burning fire I have ever seen, there was hardly an inch of space - to lie down, never mind sit. As I stood at the door, wondering what to do, three policemen pushed past me and started shouting and pushing their way towards a small row of seats. After a moment or two, a fourth policeman - with lots of gold braid - came up behind me, and started gesturing after his men. Gingerly, I began walking towards the seats. My suitcase was taken by the Chief of Police, and I was politely pushed into the first seat. The people who had been removed, huddled out of harms way without a murmur, and the policemen stood around.
"Multumesc" I said ( Thank you). The policeman made a simple gesture.
"Is nothing. You are genuine traveller - I can see from case"
We began to talk and it emerged that he allowed the local down and outs to sleep in the train station in the winter ( but not in the summer) - except he insisted that if a genuine traveller wanted a seat they had to shift.
After about twenty minutes it was time to catch my train so I thanked him again. The people were perfectly happy. I noticed one boot near the door. As I passed it, the Chief said to me " We have many cripples. I am helping where I can"
As ever, my time here is taken up with checking that the land we are buying is actually owned by the person trying to sell it, that he doesn't owe any taxes on it, that it is capable of registration and so on. But I came across a new one this time. A piece of land that finished one part of a jigsaw we agreed to buy for about GBP140, did not have any taxes due on it. As we were leaving the tax office, the lady in charge said, " Of course, he owes for the sheep"
Apparently, a farmer pays a small amount of tax on the land, but also a per head tax on his livestock. Normally, they pay the tax on the animals ( they, after all, are easy to seize) but not on the land - it's too much like hard work for the authorities to enforce payment. So we agreed to pay the tax and deduct from the purchase price.
But what of the title above? Well, every ( that's every as in every single one) teacher in Romania has to be able to sing and lead his/her class in Carols and the National Anthem. We were treated to what I would describe as proper Christmas Nativity plays, Carols, and traditional dancing - not PC perhaps, but most enjoyable. The children were full of enthusiasm, did it all with enormous good grace and happy smiley faces.
And what of the Old Folk's Christmas Lunch? Mrs. Lear was not pleased that I should be disappearing just before Christmas, but I explained it was political.
The Old Folks Associations comprise the largest number of voters in the villages. As a result, if you want to be elected, you need to be on their good side. And, because they are older, they own most of the land. So if you want the Town Council ( who owe their jobs to them) to support what you are doing, and you want them to sell you some land, you better be nice to the Old Folks Association.
One final observation.
When I logged into the Internet my first night here, the address bar had not been cleared from the day before.
There, in all it's glory, was the web-site for Coventry City FC.
So in Romania, Coventry has at least one fan.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The politics of Germany

A friend has just shown me from his Mary Poppins like box a pamphlet of the FDP - a political party - in South West Germany.
Now, what are their " strap-lines?"
The first is:
"How you organise your future, that's your responsibility.
That you have the freedom to do so, is ours."
And as far as work goes, they want to reform taxes,workers' rights and social security.They also want to create more jobs by shrinking the state.
Gosh I wish DC said this LOUD and CLEAR.

The character and manners of a lovely woman...

... are the same everywhere, whether beside Broadway, the Thames, the Seine or the Danube.
I cannot ( being old and senile) remember who said this, but I think what he meant was that lovely women all have certain expectation in life - no matter the humbleness of their origins.
It is surely a sexist remark, but I also think it understates the cleverness of women. The most beautiful woman in the world will eventually become old and wrinkled, and then what? Perhaps all women everywhere should take heart from Pamela Churchill/Harriman etc, who, although time took it's toll, became, if anything, more important and beloved as she became older. A lesson for all of today's beauties to cultivate enduring success and fortune, not the one night shag of a foo'baller.
I was reminded of women's cleverness the other day - and also of another side.
Quite a senior manager in one of Scotland's erstwhile independent grocery chains, met, fell in love with, and married one of the check-out girls.
Nothing too extraordinary in that you might think, but he was quite senior when this happened, and had been earmarked for exalted positions.
Now quite a lot of women of such a lesser position, education and wealth in such a situation would have gone about upgrading their cars, their clothes their jewelery, their houses - and done nothing about themselves, with the result that at some point the manager would likely have been embarrassed by his wife's lack of something. If it continued, she could have ended up on the scrapheap, as so many women do. It does seem to me that men come out of these things better than women in many ways, especially where HE is still moving up.
So with great foresight, she set about improving herself. Elocution. Deportment.Clothes-sense. Cooking ( she had never done it before). Entertaining. And reading - books, newspapers, magazines.
Her husband at the start kept telling her not to be so silly - he would always love her ( she was very beautiful) - but after two years, he was promoted again, and offered a fantastic job down south. The only thing was, he was expected to host a dinner for about 50 business colleagues & their wives before leaving - something he would be very much into in his new position ( after a certain point in business, it's the entertaining that counts).
The day dawned with the husband virtually a nervous wreck.
His wife, although suffering somewhat from butterflies, had readied everything at the venue - menus, flowers, drinks - and had bought herself an extremely chic outfit, which would not be too much for the most senior wives, but would clearly place a stamp of taste on herself.
Noone at the do had met her before, and were astonished at her coolness and grace as they came in. Twice she whispered in her husband's ear as he was about to commit a faux-pas, smiled at everyone, made conversation at all levels, and bid everyone good night with a smile that made them feel that they had been not only welcome but had made a contribution as well.
The Directors noticed it, as did their wives.
The couple duly travelled south, and within six months the husband was placed immediately below the board, and when one of that august body retired, he was immediately co-opted.
Now the moral of this story is not that what she did was remarkable, although it definitely helped her husband. It's what happened when he died shortly after becoming a Director.
She was naturally heartbroken. Her grief was assuaged, however, when the Chairman approached her and asked her to take over her husband's position on the Board, with special responsibility for corporate events and entertaining, a post she held for many years.
But she never forgot where she came from and continued to spend time in the Glasgow area she grew up in. You may ask why?
Because her parents refused to be moved out.
And that was because, although they adored and approved of what she had done, they were determined she would remember her roots.She was able to show these to her children and subsequently grandchildren, who, as a result, had a seriousness and grounding that too many lack nowadays.
RIP.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Collecting in Dalkeith

I popped over to Edinburgh to help collect for the Gurkha Welfare Trust outside Tesco in Dalkeith.
I was a little early so I nipped across to Portobello Cemetery where Old King and Mrs. Lear are buried, as well as numerous of Old Mrs. Lear's forebears. It's a lovely spot, looking out over the hills and fields of East Lothian, and certainly the kind of place where I would be happy to spend eternity.
Then to Tesco.
As ever, lots of tales of people liking and respecting the best friends the UK has ever had. The finale today was a very elderly lady being guided around the store by her 20-something granddaughter.
She stood in front of me and emptied the entire contents of her purse - including notes - into my tin.
" Ah," she sighed, stuffing cash into the little slots," I was in love with a Gurkha Officer for over 30 years."
" I never knew Grandad was in the Gurkhas, Granny".
The elderly lady looked at me, smiling and twinkling.
" Quite right dear. He never was, " and went on her way, chuckling to herself.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

P-P-P-Penguins

There are lots of pretty pictures of various different species of penguins, both in the papers and on the TV today.
Apparently, their lives are being threatened by a) melting ice and hence b) fewer krill for them to eat.
I have to say I have always believed that the Earth sorted out these problems ( Less food = fewer predators, so more food next season = more predators) but I suppose I must doff my cap to those who say we have global warming.That said, I've been told it's all bolloks - see here.
Anyway, I have always been very fond of penguins, ever since as a little boy my granny used to take me to Edinburgh Zoo, famous for its penguins and also on the TV today.
I'm also reasonably keen on the chocolate bar, hence the title of this post ( " Pick up a P-P-P-Penguin")
But my undying adoration of them was forged one winter whilst skiing in Switzerland. As I was forced to play games rather than getting bluttered ( ladies present), I opted for Trivial Pursuit.
Now I've never been that keen on the actual game - too fiddly - but I quite enjoy just answering the questions.
One of the questions that night was : " How often do penguins have sex in a year?"
The questionmaster followed this up with "And it's as often as Kinglear"
This meant I instantly knew the answer.
" Ah, that'll be just the once then," which naturally caused insane laughter all round, and much amusement on the slopes for the rest of the holiday as people immitated penguins when in my vicinity.
But you know what? I bet they really REALLY enjoy it.

2014 Commonwealth Games - again

I am much taken with an article in the Herald this morning which mentioned the new underground line expected to service the area where the 2014 Commonwealth Games will be held.
In truth the cost of the line will not be that great - there are apparently lots of tunnels under Glasgow which can be used with a bit of TLC.
I rather like the idea that our forebears had the whole infrastucture in place several generations ago, and we - profligate lot - stopped using them and have only now realised the truism that infrastucture is growth and progress. The Victorians knew this instinctively. Quite apart from their genius at engineering, they had a belief in progress and education.
We have largely lost that. We are beset by doubts about what we are doing and even as to whether progress per se is good at all. We have grand projects which will have no legacy ( if you believe this government about the Olympic Games you are seriously intellectually challenged) as opposed to projects which benefit people.
The new railway line will help the whole East End of Glasgow to revive.
Forget the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Look what Ryanair has done for eg Charleroi, perhaps the most depressed area of Northern Europe.
It's only a train without railway lines, delivering people to an area.
And it has done more for the area than 40 years of Belgian Government interference.
If you can say " Belgian " and " Government" in the same sentence

Monday, December 10, 2007

Romance

I don't know if you have been following Cranford, but if not, let me just tell you the production, acting and basic story far outstrips anything else on television at the moment.
I won't bore you with lots of detail, but there is a point I want to make about how we used to live.
Miss Matty had an affection for a young man, who was considered unsuitable by her family. He reappeared 30 years later and they had a very proper and shortlived romance, culminating in him getting pneumonia and dying.
But what was so delightful was when Miss Matty was ordering a new bonnet. She asked for it to be made in two parts.
Now Miss Matty was unmarried and of a certain age.
" But," said the milliner, " that would be a widows cap!"
" Yes" said Miss Matty.
Nowadays, of course, romance would appear to depend on the setting, on extravagant gestures and on a quick shag afterwards. I was reminded recently of the old joke about the girl who couldn't get her tights off in time, and therefore found her toes curling.
I would much prefer politeness and civility and romantic notions.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Even more dead brilliant!

If you'd asked me at lunchtime how the day was going I would have said dull. Five hours later I would have been doing an impression of Tom Cruise on Letterman ( I think) when asked what he felt about Katie Holmes.
The day started with the usual housekeeping - bank,lawyer, petrol station - and proceeded to the big meeting I am actually here for. I am a vice president of the association that is trying to get money from the EU for various local projects, like proper sewerage, and other civic improvements. Not enough people turned up to start with, so, Madame Elena was deputed to vote for herself and the Gypsy community. Lucian the Animator was deputed to vote for 2 other mayors who phoned in to say they would support whatever I suggested. That still meant we needed one more person ( this at a meeting where nearlty 50 people were present but only 14 had a vote ( actually only 12) and we needed one more. It was decided I should vote twice - once as myself, once as the representative of my company and oh yes, that'll be 4 votes you have with the two mayors. They then wanted me to be voted the Chancellor of the group. I refused. They voted me in anyway, with me voting 4 against. I declined and proposed another member. Immediately all the votes were cast in her favour.
That settled, we got down to the serious business. Which went on forever, as these things do, punctuated with votes about various matters. Afterwards, The Old Folks Association tapped me for a donation of Ron 100 ( about GBP20) followed by the Children's Association, The Mothers Association, the Historical Association and the Association for the Advancement of Cultural Heritage. As far as I know all of them are largely devoted to getting together and having a bloody good knees-up, but then, as someone said to me, " What you want? They are normal peoples"
When I finally got out of the hall, the local Mayor grabbed me " I have surprise!"
The principal teacher, the local police chief, the under mayor, the chief engineer, the treasurer and the man from Bucharest who is supposed to make sure the Government funds are properly spent, got into several cars and raced ( because the Mayor only has one speed) into the gathering gloom.
Into a field.
Up the hill, wheels spinning, hoots of laughter, slipping and sliding until we got to the top. We crested the ridge - and slid to a halt.
There, under the trees, was the most enormous bonfire.
Shouts, laughter, bonhommie - and they all looked at me.
Now I actually still had no idea what was going on. For all I knew I was about to become Edward Woodward in the Whicker Man ( the good one that is).
Fortunately, I spotted someone near the fire with what looked like potatoes being put into a pot.
" Fantasic - perfect! "I said. This was clearly the right thing as gales of cheers and back slapping ensued.
What was being prepared was the most delicious lamb stew I have ever tasted. It was accompanied by potatoes deep fried over the fire and polenta. It all had the most amazing smokey taste ( as you would expect) but was of such a flavour that I have never before tasted anything like it.
Chunks of bacon fat were sweated and toast was dripped onto as a starter. It may sound disgusting but the crispiness of the fat was such that it tasted more like nectar of the gods. Local wine was drunk. The fire sparked and spat. Shoulders were hugged and truths spoken. Foresters came out of the woods to join us, with their dogs, all of whom were fed too.
The chief of police was especially interesting. He gave a speech in praise of the Mayor, but suggested a new pair of boots should be paid for.
The chief engineer gave a speech where he said he wanted a new road roller. The Mayor opined the boots were OK, but the roller would have to wait a while.
As we ate, the stars came out, and the fire added to the sparkle of the night.
More wine was drunk. The food was finished, so the singing began - Christmas Carols we would have called them, but with a sweetness and pathos that our endlessly repeated songs cannot match.
I regret I had to leave - I had another meeting at 9pm 40 kms away - but not before a hug and a kiss on both cheeks from all present, gladly given back.
I said to Alin as we left " That was too good for words"
" You see, Mr. King, they are knowing how to make their lives colourfuls."
Absolutely.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Pure Dead Brilliant!

I'm back in Romania, and the snow has arrived. In truth it arrived a while ago, and then went, but has now come back.
So I arrived ready for cold and misery, as reported by Alin my faithful driver.
Naturally, the minute I stepped onto the tarmac in Transylvania, the sun broke through, and has been shining to such an extent that I am now sporting a very healthy sun-tan.
And the hills! EVERYTHING is covered in the most magical pure white carpet. Not the grubby stuff we see in the UK. This is fluffy, virgin powder, full of sparkling lights and rainbows, and, when it hits your face from a branch springing back, is like a hydrating balm for tired, taut skin.
I've spent two days walking the hills with maps and sticks to be pushed it for reference points, with locals giving us names and delineating areas to buy. Yesterday I landed at 10:45, and was walking by noon. We eventually trudged back into Nemsa after the lights came on, but needed no torch to light our way. Deer, foxes, game birds, field mice, birds of prey, rabbits, hares,magpies - all whirled around us, deer coming within 20 or 30 feet, unafraid of our alien bulk. It was an utterly magical day, enlivened by fantastic vistas and and the sharpest air I've breathed for months.
As a result, lunch was about 6pm, and punctuated by a stream of the vendors haggling about areas and prices - this one complaining that they have had a health problem for 30 years so we should pay them more, that one that the geometrical surveyors had done them out of areas, so we should pay them more, or even just we should pay them more. But Alin is very good and ignores all pleas - we agree a price before and that's it. Sometimes he argues with the people and says to them to go away - if they want to come back, that's all right, but we might reduce the price ( we don't, but they don't know that).
So the day ended about midnight with some progress, and it all started again at 9am today. The fields were if anything even more magical, but the haggling afterwards never really changes.
We managed to finish relatively early, so made our way back to Sighisoara for lunch, which was an amazingly early 4:45 pm.
We went to the restaurant famous for its sarmale ( stuffed cabbage leaves) and found it locked.
In the garden area at the side there was clearly a party going on, so we peeked over the fence to see all the staff having a barbecue. Someone spotted Alin, and the cry went up " Alin's here! Alin's here" ( in Romanian of course) and nothing would do but we should join their feast. This is the season that the pigs are killed, and the sausages and other delicacies are made, and a barbeque is put on for the helpers.
The fresh killed pork, roasted on proper charcoal in the open air, was simply mouth-watering. The skin had crisped to perfection, and the baked potatoes, cabbage salads and tomatoes were of a quality and taste that puts every UK supermarket to shame. The home made wine flowed, and the chatter pierced the night as time went on.
Business was forgotten - except the owner of the restaurant told me he was getting rid of the tables and chairs and replacing them shortly.
" What are you going to do with the old ones?"
" Ow, I shall just throw them on the rubbish dump"
" In that case I'll take them ". Alin looked at me with horror.
" Mr. King , what you goin to do wid dem?"
" I don't know."
" Really? You are sure?"
" Sure."
" You are not having too much wine and schnapps?"
"No - I'm fine. It's fine"
" You are sure? " said the owner.
" Absolutely. And I will bring you a bottle of whisky from Scotland when I come back." At which point he spat on his palm, as I did, and the resounding smack sealed the deal.
And the stars sparkled in the black sky, and made it perfect.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Naval manoeuvres

I was out for dinner last night locally, where a certain famous Island Scot was regalling us with tales of yesteryear.
Whilst in the Navy in the 50s for his National Service, he had served on a ship as an officer which was stationed in Malta. With leave owing he decided to take a trip to Rome, and was making plans when the ship's Catholic priest stopped him and asked if he would make up the numbers for a visit to the Pope ( then Pius XII). Apparently this particular priest had a slot booked every year but needed to produce a certain number to maintain it, and he was short a few bodies that particular year.
Despite being firmly Calvinist, the Islander agreed, as it would mean a free trip and visit to St. Peter's.
He duly attended, kissed the ring and received a medallion, which he has used ever after to gain advantage when the chance arose. He mentioned particularly the Maltese jollyboat sailors, who would wait for him ignoring Admirals and the like.
However, when he got back to his ship, he was promptly arrested and hauled before a Board of Enquiry full of gentlemen sporting acres of scrambled egg.
An officious little tit ( the Islander's words) had reported him for meeting a Head of State in incorrect dress. At the time ( and to this day for all I know) Naval Officers, when meeting Heads of State MUST wear their full dress uniforms. The Islander, of course, was wearing his kilt, as you do. It's truly amazing the offers you get and the general bonhommie this engenders - you only need to ask the Tartan Army.
The Admiral in charge asked the Islander how he wanted to plead. " Guilty with extentuating circumstances". The Admiral eyed him speculatively. " I don't know that I want to hear this... but (sigh) I suppose I must."
"Well, Sir, as I am not a Catholic I decided the Pope would look more favourably on me in a kilt. And, Sir, it was a very hot day, so I wanted to let my tadger..." " ENOUGH," said the Admiral." Case dismissed"
One of his shipmates was a mere AB, but from a very very grand Scottish family. The AB was offered a commission, but much preferred to have no responsibility. Unfortunately, his father died during this posting, and the AB was obliged to make arrangements to return his father's Order of the Thistle to the Queen.
He made an appointment with the Captain.
" Yes AB, what do you want"
" Please Sir, permission to visit the Queen." The Captain opined he had thirty seconds to explain himself and it better be good.
The AB explained as rapidly as possible.
" Hm" said the Captain." So what do I have to call you now?"
" Your Grace, Sir"

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Credit crunch and tax receipts

The one thing noone has so far mentioned is the lack of tax that every bank and financial institution will be paying over the next 12 months.
Collectively, the Banks in the UK pay about 25% of all company taxes. On present form, much of this will be wiped out by the CDOs, SIVs and God knows what else that has been bundled out of sight. This has to happen every now and again so the banks can have massive rights issues ( question: if they are doing well, what do they need more money for?) and so that they can then report growing profits for several years until the next disaster they think of. Even the bonuses that drive quite significant parts of the UK economy will be short this year - less tax again and less free cash spilling about.
If - as is reported today - RBS really does write off £12BILLION, Mr. Darling ( or whoever it is next year) might even have to pay them money back.
And where would the shortfall come from?
I don't really need to answer that, do I?

2014 Commonwealth Games

Mr.Jock has a nice joke about the games.
"As you all know, Glasgow was chosen, ooh, ages ago, to hold the 2014 Commonwealth Games, but it’s taken today until I received the first e-mail about it:
“In a competition between a major cosmopolitan city and a dangerous slum in a third world country, how much did the Glaswegians have to bribe the officials to stop the major cosmpolitan city getting it?”
OOOh, catty.

You're happier once you get past your 41st Birthday

S & M has a very nice piece today about how men are apparently happier after turning 41. Noone is totally sure why this should be, but perhaps it's to do with men maturing later than ladies. They remain little boys until they become 40 odd, then grow up and accept life rather than being petulant about it.
Cavalier King Charles's for example don't have any brain cells until they are more than 5 years old - roughly equivalent to 40 in human terms. Maybe men are the same.
Whilst I was reading the post I was reminded of a tale on one of the talking book tapes that were endlessly listened to in the car on long journeys when the Ms. Lears were small.
It concerned Neville Toogood. He was so good he started to grow wings and a halo, and to turn into a little angel. Unsurprisingly, he didn't fancy that so started to behave very badly until they wore off - and then discovered he really really enjoyed being naughty, so continued to put frogs in beds and call his teacher a " silly old boot".
Well, Neville woke up one morning to find two little humps starting on his forehead, and the beginnings of a little tail. Oh no! Neville was turning into a little devil!
So he apologised to his teacher, removed the frogs and the lumps went away. And he remained good. Except, to be on the safe side, he sometimes brushed his teeth the wrong way.
I'm a bit like that with alcohol. I don't drink in this country.
But to be on the safe side, and avoid a halo, I drink when I'm abroad.

From Money Week

"Prize for funniest letter of the week has to go to Meg Hillier MP, who writes indignantly in this morning's FT, responding to an editorial on ID cards: Sir, I was bemused by your call for the National Identity Scheme to be abandoned. Among other things, her letter notes that "the rising threat of identity fraud cannot go unchallenged."
Has she been asleep for the past week? Or perhaps on a jaunt to the Antarctic? Because of course, anyone who was actually aware of the fact that the government has just lost half the population's intimate financial details, could never have the audacity or the arrogance to complain about press scepticism over ID cards. "
Oh dear me, no.

From Money Week - delayed

"Prize for funniest letter of the week has to go to Meg Hillier MP, who writes indignantly in this morning's FT, responding to an editorial on ID cards: Sir, I was bemused by your call for the National Identity Scheme to be abandoned. Among other things, her letter notes that "the rising threat of identity fraud cannot go unchallenged."
Has she been asleep for the past week? Or perhaps on a jaunt to the Antarctic? Because of course, anyone who was actually aware of the fact that the government has just lost half the population's intimate financial details, could never have the audacity or the arrogance to complain about press scepticism over ID cards. "

Oh dear me, no.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Usefulness

We spend much of our lives trying to be useful - at least I do. I have no illusions about how useLESS I am at eg DIY. I'm not a bad cook, though, and, although not useful about the house ( called out the washine machine engineer once - he fixed it by turning on the electricity) I like to feel useful. I'm not bad at turning off lights. I'm quite good at recycling. I offer to nip down the road to get whatever is missing from the recipe - and I'm sure there are many other things, of greater or lesser moment, for which I am useful.
One likes to think that others regard one as " useful" - as in, " He's a useful chap to know". I daresay David Abrahams/Martin thought of himself similarly.
But I have few illusions about myself, and so it was with some trepidation that I set out to list my usefulness to Mrs. Lear.
Was it the cooking that came top of the list? No.
Or taking the dog for a walk at the weekends? No.
Perhaps being affable to people that I dislike? Unfortunately, not one of my attributes.
My final conclusion was that my greatest usefulness was related to my Virgoan obsessive nature.
Mrs. Lear is not very good with toothpaste. She leaves the top off ( grounds for divorce in some households) and bits hanging out the end. And lumps in the sink. And a squidgy tube, squeezed with no regard to order, so that the paste is usually at the wrong end as it has all been taken from the top.
So every morning I carefully clean up the top of the tube, put the top back on, squeeze the paste to the top, then perfectly fold over the end to produce a perfectly filled, but somewhat shorter, toothpaste tube. As with all usefulness, this is not done for praise or plaudit, merely for the satisfaction of being useful. I retire from the bathroom unobtrusively, a faint smile of satisfaction playing around my mouth.
Or perhaps I am just an obsessive, pernickity freak.
Bit like Gordon Brown, Really.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Cranford

I love Cranford. It has many delightful moments, but none more so than the cow that need to be clothed. Her owner bought yards of grey flannel - and made her the most enormous part of pyjamas - with outsize buttons. Wonderful.

A miracle...

Something quite extraordinary happened the other day. I would go so far as to say it was a miracle. Not a major one, just a small one - perhaps performed by one of the smaller gods of Discworld.
Actually, perhaps miracles are just chance as defined by chaos theory - remember the monkeys typing Shakespeare? Well, why shouldn't a miracle just be all the things that need to happen falling into line in the right order. That's probably how we got here in the first place - pure chance.
The one thing I DO know about miracles. The moment you start analysing them, they are no longer miracles. If you ask why or how or what, the miracle is gone.
So if something happens, accept it.
You never know, it might be a miracle.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Sunday..

.. was rather a pleasant day. We set off early to go to Lower Largo in Fife, to visit some friends who were holidaying there. We had a walk along the beach and then repaired to a restaurant at St.Monans that wins rosettes every year and has come 6th in the UK for fish restaurants.
I was a touch disappointed I have to say, but had the price been about half, I probably would not have been.
Lower Largo is the village where Alexander Selkitk, the model for Robinson Crusoe, was born, and there is a suitably Victorian statue of him in the main street. The local Minister, in full black regalia, walked towards us as we made for home, mocking our non-attendance at the Kirk.
Before going to the restaurant, I used our friend's loo, and was interested in the positioning of the loopaper.
You, dear reader, will remember the Little Endians and the Big Endians of Gulliver's Travels. They were the two political parties in that land. In many ways, that would seem to me to be an adequate differentiation, but loopaper is even more contentious. Do you mount the loopaper with the unrolling towards the wall, so you have to scramble at the wall and jerk it with potentially disatrous consequences, or over the front of the roll - when an easy pull and a gentle tear works wonders? You might gather I am in the latter Political party.
Anyway, after lunch, we hot-footed it towards Edinburgh, where there was a viewing of pictures to be sold there on Wednesday.
I am particularly fond of a dead Scottish artist called Donald Bain. He painted with J D Ferguson, one of the acknowledged masters of Scottish painting, and spent much time in France. Unfortunately, as with so many Scots of talent, the drink got him, and he died at a young age over 20 years ago. His best paintings and drawings are wonderful explosions of colour and joie de vivre.
There are three for sale in this particular auction. One is rather traditional, but has lots of problems with cracking paint. One is quite nice - saying which instantly condemns it.
The third is a fantastic painting of Montmartre in Paris, which from a distance is utterly compelling. Closer to, it lacks a bit of precision and form.
As a result, I am in two minds about bidding for it.
If it does well, my existing paintings are worth more. If it doesn't I should buy it.
BUT - and here's the but - that is not the right way to buy a painting. You should buy it with a piece of yourself, with love. You should have to go without to reinforce that passion, whether it be money or the regard of others. Our lives have become incredibly bland and risk-averted by the ubiquitous ElfnSafety. Passion and commitment have lip-service paid to them, but in reality, you are regarded as a bit of a loose cannon if you display either.
I'll get back to you on that.
PS Today's anagram - DEBIT CARD = BAD CREDIT

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The saddest names...

For my sins, I part-own a domain names business.I don't usually look at the names we are buying in any great detail, but for a variety of reasons I have been doing this for the last few days.
Amongst all the " dropping" names (XX0ia.com, 35158.com and the likes of freeshemalepics.com) are quite a large number of names that have a poignancy and a sadness to them.
Why, for example, have the couple Jeffnellie not renewed the domain of their wedding pictures? Have they split up?
MarkandJohn's website has dropped. The assumption would have to be they are no longer living together. What rows and bitterness accompanied this finality of the domain dropping?
Or what about Troop96? I assume it is a Boy Scout troop ( or Girl Guide - no sex discrimantion here) that has disbanded. Why? Did the Moms not have time anymore? Or did they in turn get divorced and move away?
Some of the saddest ones are bloggers. Friend777 must have died. There are increasingly frantic discussions on various other blogs trying to contact him. Dilziba was a little girl. The early pictures of her as a baby show a chubby happy little girl, and then increasing thin and wan pictures - the final entry - just the dates 2002-2004 - say it all.
Nothing dies on the net. It's there forever. Even when the domain names expire and new owners change their focus, the previous posts are still there, a bit like a ghost at a dinner table.
With over 40,000 names dropping ever day, despite all the arguable benefits the Interwebthingy has brought, there are inumerable tales of drukenness and cruelty, of death and destruction, of sadness and bitterness to be found.
May the devils be exorcised with the dropping of the domains. R.I.P.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Climate change? Pip has it sorted....

... in the Archers. Now that Pip has taken up the cudgels, swathes of middle England will start putting in low-energy light bulbs, recycling their waste and stop flying to....well I was going to say Benidorm, but I don't think middle England goes there anymore.
But seriously, this programme sets the agenda for life in the UK now. Not the Government - the Archers.
Why do I say that?
Because David Archer promoted killing badgers because of TB long before it was fashionable - maybe he made it fashionable.
Because... oh there's too much to mention.
But now, Pip is seriously worried and good old David has given farmers the lead they need
" We have fields down to clover, which reduces the fertilisers we need to import and put down ( Tick) We keep the cattle out on the fields longer so that's less manufactured feed ( Tick)... " Anyway, farmers all over the country will be rushing off to plant hedgerows and clover and goodness knows all what, because ITS THE RIGHT THING TO DO - David Archer says so.
And it'll please Pip.

Today's anagram

I always like an apposite anagram - it somehow shows that there IS order in the world rather than the chaos that appears to be engulfing everything.
So just so you know, the anagram of ANXIETY is ANY EXIT.
Makes you think, doen't it?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Online security

Mrs. Lear is somewhat exercised about the new security procedures she has to go through for her online banking.
Quite apart from mother's maiden name, post code and other stuff like that, there are now subjective questions.
The one most vexing her is " What is your favourite colour?"
Now this will show you Mrs. Lear's excellence. A bloke ( ok me) would say " Blue"
" But" said Mrs.Lear to me last night " how do you know it will still be blue in two or three months time?"
Now I had never thought about this. My favourite colour is blue. It always has been. I'm a boy - it's blue. It always will be.
But Mrs. Lear makes the valid point that if a woman's favourite colour never changed, there would be no fashion industry, and we would never have had the endless avocado bathroom suites all those years ago.
There would be no autumn colours for ladies to adopt, or spring, or summer.
So I suggested that she could put in whatever the present colour was and thereafter change it when the mood took her.
Except there wasn't a way of doing that on the form. You could change addresses, phone numbers and all sorts of stuff - but not your favourite colour.
" So how am I supposed to remember my favourite colour?" I suggested she put it in her mobile phone under Coulour ( last name) Other Colour ( first name) and then a fictitious number.
"I'll just write it down" Which she did.
Unfortunately, the next question was " Favourite book". Sigh.
It's going to take a very long time to fill in this form I can see.

What do you remember about being in Love?

Perhaps this heading is misleading - I really mean Being in love for the first time.
I only ask because a colleague asked me the other day if I could remember that time ( Cheek)
Anyway, as all the rage is memes, here are 5 things I remember about being in love for the first time.
1) It was almost impossible to hang up the phone. " You hang up first" " No you" " Goodnight darling" " Goodnight darling - you hang up" " No you hang up first."
2) You walk around with a dull ache in the pit of your stomache all day, and when you finally meet up with your beloved, the ache does a somersault and kicks you hard.
3) You suddenly smile for no apparent reason.
4) You no longer go out with the boys, and even go out in COUPLES - or just the two of you.
5) You suddenly feel life has a point and a purpose.
I don't know if anyone else has similar memories. Mine are of course from very long ago, and young people may have completely different views.
What I do think is nice is that - apart from hanging up the phone without a problem - being in love would seem to me to still consist of at least numbers 3,4 & 5 throughout life.
But at my age, number 2 is usually something you ate.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

ID cards a must

Oh really? And will the security be as good as the 15 million records that have disappeared - and noone knows where they are? Oh, and the other 30 odd thousand that were lost in transit last week.
And as it's been known about for more than two weeks, it wouldn't be being mentioned now to divert attention from Northern Rock, would it?
How I despise this government.

Sickening

I was in the Glasgow Royal College of Surgeons last night for a talk given by Doug Scott, the climber, who was certainly the 50th person to climb Eversest and possibly the first Englishman. The first Scotsman was definitely Dougal Haston, who was with him and was the 51st up there.
The talk was about a subsequent trip to climb the Ogre, and all the problems they encountered. Basically, as they came down, one had two broken legs and the other no ribcage left. Oh, and no food either.
Quite apart from the interest and the amazing pictures, Doug now does his lectures for his charity which is trying to help with education and doctoring in Nepal, and the proceeds of the talk were being split between his charity and Surgery in Nepal ( another charity).
Now you can argue that one shouldn't leave money lying about anywhere. But in the RCS, with security doors and a doorman, it should be reasonably safe. Especially hidden.
It wasn't.
All the money paid by those who paid at the door was stolen during the talk. Fortunately, it was probably only £100 or so but the fact remains it was lifted.
Sickening.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Lunnun Tahn

I'm always astonished at the Big Smoke. There are always things going on or complete seizure, and I love the contra indications all over the place. Like the beggar sleeping in the arcade at the Ritz. Did he tell his mates he slept at the Ritz?
Then there's the tin of beans being confiscated at Luton. Why? Clearly a bomb.
Serious teas in serious hotels are a joy - most places you have to reserve nowadays. In the past, THE place was the Basil - best value meal in town, and in such an eccentric surrounding. Sadly no longer with us.
But the greatest joy was our somewhat recherche hotel-type establishment - now entirely run by delightful Polish girls - and one young man who could be anything except British. He's probably Polish.
Anyway,having stayed there a time or two we are reasonably well known. Unfortunately, as I am a clumsy old git, I managed to knock the ceramic pot off the shelf in the bathroom onto the top of the cistern, and broke the corner off it. That's the corner of the cistern. And a big crack across the rest of it.
Sighing to myself, I made my way to reception and opened with: "I have a sin to confess". Miss Poland's cheery grin disappeared and her brow's knitted. I explained what had happened. Her face cleared, and the smile came back." Is that all? I was thinking you didn't love us any more. As long as you love us then everything is OK."
And the breakage wasn't even on the bill.

Friday, November 16, 2007

50p.

Today marks a remarkable milestone.
Over the last month or two, for reasons beyond my understanding, I have been coming across coins on escalators and travelators.
You probably know if you drop a coin on these things they get carried to the end, and the forks there pick them up, just onto the fixed bit.
The trick is to kick them forward - not always easy - but having done so it is then not a problem to pick them up.
So over the last few months, up to today, I had collected 48p. Mostly 1ps and 2ps but the odd 5p, and once, even a 10p. The saddest thing of all, of course, is that I have been adding them up.
So imagine my joy today when, as I came up the Euston escalator, I spied a 2p. nestling on the forks. A swift kick, stoop, and it was mine. 50p.!
The problem with all milestones is there is always another one.
But that's seriously SERIOUSLY too sad.

Or Anywhere.

Whilst on the Piccadilly line today, the train stopped for a long period. Finally a voice crackled.
" Problem at Holborn - will keep you advised". About ten minutes later:
" Ladees end Gennelmen - Oim delighted to siy the problem has been sawted. This train will shortly depart. " Pause." It will shortly depart for all stations all the way ." Pause" All the way to er, wherever"
And I thought the tubes only went along one line.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Twinkly Little Stars

As I was making my way around London town this morning, I was able to see the top of the London Eye.
I couldn't actually see the wheel, but I could see the sun glinting diamond-white on it's pods. It was truly magical and lifted my spirits.
As I was getting off the tube, there was a double crocodile of small children and their minders waiting to get on. Their grins and suppressed ( barely) excitement was infectious. I turned to watch them getting on the tube. They whooped with glee as they jumped across the gap, all holding best friends hands, huddled together in the centre of the carriage and looked upwards at their minders as instructions were given. It was clearly a big adventure.
I wish we grumpy oldies still had that excitement.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Making money

I'm reading Terry Pratchett's latest called " Making money". I know it's not as high-brow as what you, dear reader, scan on a daily basis, but every now and again he has an insight that makes me laugh out-loud - much to the annoyance of Mrs. Lear.
Anyway, the premise of this particular book is that a conman controls a bank on Ankh-Morpork and how he turns it into an engine for growth in the community.
My point today is that Banking - ALL Banking - is founded only on trust. When it goes, no bank is safe. You only need to think of Northern Rock, and more recently the problems RBS and Barclays are having.
In the book, the conman tries to get traders to accept his new paper money. He doesn't have a problem with this. The difficulty he has is persuading them that the gold ( known as specie) and coins are no longer needed. The following exchange takes place:
" But you don't need the gold as long as you all accept the paper!"
" Absolutely, sir. Just so long as the gold is somewhere"
There lies the rub. As long as people know and believe the gold is there, there's no problem. As soon as they think it's gone, they panic.
All banks started out issuing their own bits of paper. In Scotland, the RBS, in ancient times, used to take in lots of notes of the Bank of Scotland, then demand specie for them. Of course, BOS did the same thing to RBS, and eventually they reached an understanding. Of course, it's more profitable to fleece the customers than to do each other down. Never let it be said that Bankers are not greedy.
Anyway, the trust is still there. At the moment. Battered. Shaken. Having lots of meetings and soothing words.
But if there's another lurch, head for the hills.
Because the Trust will be gone.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Credit Crunch

In case you haven't noticed, the credit crunch that was supposed to be not a problem, is rapidly turning into a problem that just might not get solved.
The difficulty is no-one has the first clue as to a) how much is involved b) who is actually holding the toxic waste and c) er, should we write it down 25% or 55% or er.....
I'm also pretty certain that those who are holding it don't even know how much of a problem they have got. My bet is that over the next few years we will see a leaching-out of the odd billion here, the odd billion there, just as we did with the sovereign debt crisis, the secondary banking crisis, the LTCM crisis, etc etc. Banks always get it wrong. That's what they are there for. And the central banks will keep their eyes averted until it starts to pick up again.
There's one little titbit of information that might interest you.
Ordinary businesses that either make or do things can't afford beautiful new " statement" offices and buildings. Only Banks, Insurance Companies and food retailers can.
It's how they waste money whilst they are getting up a head of steam to blow another $100 billion or so.
To be fair, the food retailers are rather better at not blowing it.
Mervyn may be holding out and so may the ECB - but you can bet, given the excuse, the Fed is delighted.
Remember the twin deficits of the US current account and the Federal Budget? Well, in case you haven't noticed, the first is down 20% this year already. America is effectively exporting it's problems to the rest of us - and forget about China taking up the slack. The key to American wealth is it's flexibility and the love affair that the world has with being in America. China within the next 20 years will stop growing. And who wants to migrate there?
So the printing presses aren't stopping just yet.
Just remember, the danger to your lifestyle is not being poor.
It's not being able to borrow.

Rumi

I was introduced recently to Rumi, born in 1207 in Afghanistan, by a friend of mine who, having done an Open University course in English some years ago, likes to find "new" books to test me.
Rumi's life was most interesting, but the most important thing about him was his " poetry".
Mostly, it's not poetry, strictly speaking, in the way we think of it, but it has a poetic quality and insight into life which is far beyond what one would expect of a mystic living 800 years ago.
The thing that struck me was that despite all our advances, the human spirit and condition has not changed that much. We are still beset by love and anguish. We need to be loved and to love, and if we are not, we are massively diminished.
I was talking to someone a while ago who told me he had " fallen out of love" about 10 years ago, and had lived with, as he put it, a lump of ice in his heart until recently. Outwardly, I could see no difference in him, but he assured me that inside he was a completely different person - generally more emollient and better able to cope with modern life.
As Rumi had it:
"When you see the lovers
don't pass them by,
sit with them.
The fire of Love warms the world,
but even fire dies
in the company of ashes."
Remember that next time you want to make a harsh retort to your lover.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Raising money for a good cause.

By chance I have had an eighteen hour stint of raising money for the Gurkha Welfare Trust.
I had to step in at a late stage for a speech at a fundraiser in Cupar, about 2hrs drive from Glasgow last night.
My speech was somewhat overshadowed by all the people coming in who clearly thought it started at 8pm as oppose to the 7:45 advertised, but in general it went down quite well.
Then we had two hours of the Woodlands Dance Orchestra, which was completely fantastic. They played tunes and sang songs from the 40s and 50s, which, towards the end of the evening, had even the OAPs present literally dancing in the aisles.
Their charge for 18 musicians plus a sound roadie was miniscule - I'm not sure if it was just because it was a charity do, but at that price I would have them at my house most weeks for an evening's entertainment. Tea or coffee and chockie bickies was 50p. and the seats were £6 - and they raised a huge sum. It was a thoroughly good evening.
Drove home to Glasgow and found the whole house fast asleep about 12:45am, and was up again at 7 to drive to Edinburgh for a 9am start at Sainsbury at Cameron Toll, shaking cans.
On these occassions, the nicest thing is the tales people tell you as they shove money at you.
One lady had nursed Gurkhas in India during the war. Another's uncle had served with Alan Bates ( the Actor) in the 9th Rifles. One said he always supported the Gurkhas because he had met two during the last war who had rescued him from getting a battering - and they were immaculately dressed even although not on parade.
But the nicest tale was from an elderly man who said his fondest memory was serving with Gurkhas in Korea. The whole unit was under heavy pressure, and the radio message to retreat had been crackly.Listening to the order, the senior Gurkha NCO kicked the radio, which finally killed it, and said," Radio not working. We attack!"
Which they did.
The Gurkha motto is " Better to die than live a coward".
They're not too good at defence, I suppose, but by God, I wouldn't want to be on the receiving end of a charge.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Sigh

I regret to say I am back in Glasgow, even although the weather is quite pleasant today. I flew back into Luton on an inaugural flight from Tirgu Mores ( pronounced Toga Moresh) and then a super fast transfer to Milton Keynes and train to Glasgow. If it worked like this every time I would save about 4 hrs each way.
The first problem is that, although it was an inaugural flight, they are shifting it next week to fly into Cluj, which is an hour and 15 minutes further from Sighisoara. Down to approx. 2 hrs 45 mins saved.
Secondly, I caught the bus to MK from Luton Airport the moment I walked towards it. Probably on average another half hour lost.
Thirdly, I bought my ticket at MK and instantly got on the train ( probably 45mins to an hour) - so we're down to 1hr and 20 minutes saved. And the trains were the Pendolinos, which do the trip just under an hour quicker than the Voyagers. Down to 35 minutes
Finally,the train was 20 minutes early.
So with a bit of luck I will be able to do it 15 minutes quicker!
Sigh.

Monday, November 05, 2007

A compliment

Just because I am here and go to all sorts of functions, I am continually being paid compliments,along the lines of `` It is an honour for us to have you here``. I invariably reply it is an honour to be here, but sometimes more is needed. Then I roll out the phrase `` we are all people here together in friendship and amity``, the emphasis being on the fact that we are all just people, whether a minister or teacher or mayor or president..
At the wedding, as I was being introduced to various people, the stock phrases were being trotted out, and I was finally introduced to a middle aged man with a wonderful mustache and dark yet piercing eyes. He was the local King of the Gypsys, whose word in his own community was law.
Now gypsys in Romania are very much second class citizens, although they generally work very hard and have an intelligence and guile beyond many of the Romanian locals. His compliment was slightly different.
`` it is an honour to have one of elevated rank amongst we poor people``
I was somewhat taken aback but replied `` We are all just people``
He look astonished then smiled.
`` We will be friends. Too few realise the truth of your words``

Sunday, November 04, 2007

On Budapest and the fate of the Euro

Coming to Romania this time I took the oportunity of a cheapo flight from Prestwick to Budapest, with the rest of the journey being a near-10 hour train ride.
It was a beautiful day and I quickly made my way to the Keleti station. Hungary is clearly some way ahead of Romania, but the people did not seem to me to be either as happy or welcoming.
I had some time to wait in the queue for international tickets, largely because there was an earnest young American trying to sort out what seemed to be a round the world train ticket starting from somewhere else. He was travelling with what I assume was his girl-friend, but if so, they were the most serious lovers I have ever come across.
I finally got to buy my ticket. A single and a return were the same price - about GBP 40.
I had time to kill and was delighted to see a row of chess sets with people playing for money.
I used to be quite good. The games could be for any amount, but Eur 1 was a standard bet. After I won two games the person I was playing ( who clearly felt hard done by) refused to play any more. So I gave him his Eur 2 back and added two more. With a big grin he indicated I should play another player. This other was clearly a much better chessplayer, but I managed to win one and draw one before losing one. But they were really good games and all the other boards stopped and watched, and broke into applause at the draw - even if I hate to say so, it was quite an interesting stratagem that my opponent pulled.
There was much back slapping and hand-shakes and I indicated I needed to catch my train.
The trip was fine, but I doubt I will bother to go this way again. It is a long way and not very interesting. Watching the sun go down over the Hungarian plain was fine, as was the moonlight glinting on the Danube later on, and the meal was excellent, but oh dear, it was a long trip.
The most exciting part was when we stopped for the border crossing. Seats were removed in my compartment and lights shone through heating ducts, and I saw odd people being taken off in handcuffs, and barking police dogs take down an escapee. All great fun as long as you were not on the receiving end.
I finally got to Sighisoara about 4am, and my excellent Alin, despite being told not to, was there to pick me up and take me to the flat. By the time I got to sleep it was time to get up and set off for the usual round of meetings.
But the most interesting thing of all was the need to change money into Forints. I was instantly reminded of the old days when travelling through France to Switzerland entailed endless changing of money and the final insult was always the shrapnel of various currencies one had left.
All that has changed with the Euro across most of Europe. We have been very lucky not to be in it, but for the ordinary traveller it has been a boon.
Where things have been different, and why the Euro block is suffering stresses and strains is because of the difference in attitude of the participants.
The Germans were always going to react with discipline and correctness, and stick to the rules they had insisted on as the price for giving up the D-mark. The French, however, regard it with a disdain bred of their belief in their own total superiority. The Italians, of course, paid absolutely no attention to anything and completely ignored what they were supposed to do. The Irish did what they do at every opportunity - opened an Irish Pub everywhere and had a massive party. The Spanish used the cheap money they had never had before to build build build, having no understanding of what this meant.
As a result, I would not be surprised if some or most of the existing participants drop out - politically it will be impossible for the Italians and Irish to impose restraint, which in both cases would lead to a huge downturn.
I would be sad to see a return to the old ways of carrying various currencies as one traipsed around Europe.
Perhaps the Romanian system is best. Everything is quoted in Euros, and if necessary paid for in Euros, but then gets settled in Lei at the prevailing rate of exchange.
Definitely the best of both worlds.

The wedding

I had a wonderful day yesterday. The daylight hours were spent walking the hills and valleys around Nemsa ( that's Romania if you have not been paying attention). It was cold but the sun shone and there were still some flowers and butterflies around, so it was a wonderfully uplifting experience.
But oh dear. During the course of the afternoon one of the locals came galloping up ( literally) to our little group . The Mayor's best friend's daughter was getting married that evening and Alin and I were invited. I carefully explained I had nothing to wear that was suitable, but nothing would do but we were to be there for 6pm.
True to form we were about an hour and a half late. But then so was everyone else. About 200 of us sat down to an excellent meal and the serious drinking started.
About 10pm - I suppose as an effort on these occassions to bring a semblance of order and sobriety - we were served soup - think chicken noodle soup.
I'm told that Romanian weddings can go on all night and most of the next day. On last night's evidence I can well believe it. At one point the bride is kidnapped and she has to be ransomed. They have a very good system here which is that although the initial costs are borne by the parents of bride AND groom, everyone gives an envelope during the course of the evening. Each couple ( ordinary guests) gives about GBP60. The best man about GBP 100. The net result is that there is usually a reasonable amount left over for the happy couple.
The whole atmosphere was crackling with testosterone on the part of the young men there. Clearly Romania works on the Italian principle that the men stick together and get drunk and the women stick together and dance. Very occasionally, one of the sharply dressed young men would formally ask the girl if his choice to dance with him as opposed to her friends. This led to much nudging and pointing and nodding of older heads - the poor couple were clearly already married, having children and in their dotage before a few minutes conversation were up. Their parentage and lineage was discussed. Where they a suitable match? Would the children be well behaved?
On that point, there were large numbers of younger children there, all behaving impeccably. They operated on the same principle as their elders - the boys talked to each other and the girls discussed the boys.
And overall, the noise of the disco was so high that when we finally left around 1am neither Alin nor I could do anything other than croak.
Some time ago I had given one of my copper bracelets ( for rheumatism) to Madame Elena, who runs the local pensione. It had clearly worked for her and she had extolled it's virtue to her friend the Mayor's wife. Sigh. So naturally nothing would do but that SHE would have one as well, so as of now I am minus two bracelets. In future I shall bring a supply with me.
I finally got to bed about 2:30 having drunk copious quantities of water.
But my abiding memory was of a very old lady with a wonderful wrinkled face and careworn hands. She sat at the end of our table. During the course of the evening, people were coming up to her at regular intervals. Finally the bride and groom came to her. They both kissed her on each cheek, and then she placed her hands on their heads and blessed them.
It transpired she was the oldest female person present. By tradition she blesses the union, and gives the happy couple a little homily. The respect shown to her was marvellous to see.
We could learn about that in our own society.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Big incentives lead to poor performance

The Yerkes-Dobson effect, according to Stumbling and Mumbling, takes the position that big incentives lead to poor performance.
Clearly Stan O'Neal at Merrill's has suffered from this - give someone a $160m pay-off. He only managed to lose $8billion, but the incentives at Northern Rock clearly led to it's demise demise. £30 odd billion and counting.
But probably the most notable area of the truism is on the football field.
Some years ago, Glasgow Rangers had a star-studded team of international players, all on huge bonuses to win. Celtic had a team of young hopefuls who had been brought up in their own programme. Who won? Celtic.
Now arguably the manager has a great deal to do with this - why are Man U perennially successful and why is Martin O'Neill destined to lead them to even greater heights after Fergie goes? That said, the Celtic side of 1988 ( it's 100th year) under a manager of no great ability ( Billy O'Neill) won everything. Why?
O'Neill was only there the one year. But he had been a great Celtic player, one of the Lisbon Lions. What he instilled into the players was the guts and determination to play " for the jersey". No other manager could have done that in quite the same way. Time and again during the season it looked as if they couldn't make it. Time and again, they upped their performance to make it happen.
Why is Stephen Gerrard such an inspiration? He IS Liverpool. He plays " for the jersey"
So the next time you are thinking about " incentivising" your crew, think about getting them to play " for the jersey" and for the love of it.
They'll do much better than their highly paid opponents.
Then take them out for a Chinese meal afterwards as a reward.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Age...

...wrinkles the body. I don't think anyone could argue the opposite. Of course, plastic surgery now can do away with quite a lot, but I have to say that, personally, I find natural more attractive than false.
But why, you may ask, has age reared it's head today? Am I feeling achey and painy? Am I more forgetful than usual?
No.
Quite the opposite. I have always been what one might define as " feisty, " and quite " light blue touch paper and stand back." Recently, though, I have found myself being more emollient and, perhaps, less driven and more kindly, and more accommodating.
But all that changed today when the Architect asked us to take down a partition because he wanted the door moved to the other side.
Jimmy the Joiner went balistic. The Electrician went balistic. The Plasterer went balistic. The Painter went balistic.
I went super-balistic.
I don't think the Architect will ever ask us to do anything ever again.
As General Douglas MacArthur had it: "Age wrinkles the body, but quitting wrinkles the soul."
I'm bloody certain that ain't happening to me - ever.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A new .. er.. appendage

A man suffers an industrial accident, which removes his, er, penis.
Once out of danger, he is visited by a doctor and a lawyer.
The doctor tells him the bad news is they can't use his old penis - it is too far gone to be of any use.
But the lawyer tells him that, as it was an industrial accident, the first part of the good news is that he can get £9,000 compensation.
And the doctor then tells him the second part of the good news is, he can rebuild a brand new penis for him at £1000 per inch - so 6 inches = £6,000, 9 inches = £9,000 and so on.
The victim says he will have to speak to his wife, and would they come back the next day to discuss matters.
So next day, the doctor and lawyer reappear.
" Well," says the doctor," Now you've talked it over with your wife, what have you decided?"
" We're going to get a new kitchen."
Quite right too.

Drink

I am TT in this country. Most people who know me are very good about it and very few of them even ask me to break that taboo. There's the odd occasion with new people when there has to be some explanation, but in general it's OK.
So the other day we were at a friend's house, and I was offered a soft drink as usual.
One of the other guests siddled up to me ( someone I don't know) and said
" Ah, doctor's orders eh?"
" No" I explained, " I just don't drink in this country."
" Seriously?"
" Yes, seriously". He appeared somewhat shocked, and continued to drink 2 to 1 for everybody else.
After a while, he started picking up a bottle and walking round, topping up other guests - and himself. He was clearly enjoying himself.
He got to me.
" You'll have a wee glass of wine, surely."
" No thank you," I said somewhat coldly, " I told you - I don't drink in this country."
" Oh go on - be a man!"
Now I really really hate that. As I have yet to have the operation, I can assure you that I remain, as we speak, of the male persuasion.
Fortunately the host was hovering, because he knows I can get very abusive and rude to drunk fools who annoy me ( actually, to anyone who annoys me, but that's the grumpy old man syndrome) and grabbed the bottle and pulled the moron away.
Well, fair enough. It didn't spoil my evening - I wasn't enjoying it much anyway, I'm not good at talking drivel with a room full of dead people - but it did make me think about alcohol once more.
It is a very dangerous thing. It clearly has a large proportion of the youth of this country in its grip, not to mention many others. The problem is it has become relatively so cheap. When I was at University, I could stretch to the odd pint of beer or lager, or even a bottle or two of plonk, but shorts and bottles of spirits were quite definitely out of my reach. My nephew, now 15, regularly goes to parties where his peers have bought bottles of vodka. At that age, apart from the fact I wasn't especially bothered with alcohol, I had better things to spend my money on.
My father had a rule. From when I was 16, any of my friends who came to the house could have a glass of wine or a beer - one or the other, and only one. Under 21 that was the rule. Anyone, even a 20 year old, asking for a gin and tonic or a whisky was firmly told no. Over 21, not a problem. But it was in the open. Noone had to hide it and, interestingly, my friend's parents round about adopted the same rule to a greater or lesser extent. Of course, in those days, parents actually took responsibility for their children in a way that is largely non-existent now.
In my own case, I have never had to make the point. Although the youngest Ms. Lear does like a drink, it doesn't appear to be a big problem - the other two hardly bother.
Anyone who comes to the house can have whatever they want and as much as they want.
But if at some point they refuse a top up, they do NOT get offered any more.People may have good intentions, but the road to Hell is paved with them.
Better leading not into temptation.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Anger and Annoyance

Is it the time of year or is it old age?
I can't help but feel annoyance in particular is an old age thing. Grumpy old men and women abound - it's easy to see why people go off each other when you see the looks and remarks adressed to one another in the street or shops.
I'm sure a lot of it has to do with things that now irritate, which twenty or thirty ( or forty!) years ago didn't bother you in the least. It didn't bother me that there was little of interest on the television. There is now so little worth watching ( HIGNFY, The Sopranos and the recent programme about India spring to mind) that I now get positively vicious if something is suggested that might interfere.
Tomorrow night is a case in point. It's the last episode EVER of the Sopranos. I am seriously worried about Tony. I have long felt that AJ ( his son) is eventually going to either kill his dad or become the next Godfather.
There was a suggestion that someone would need collecting from the station at 11pm tomorrow night. I responded so ungraciously that I doubt they will bother to come.
And don't tell me I could record it. That pisses me off even more.

Friday, October 26, 2007

A New Toilet experience...

After my somewhat truncated loo the other day, I have been looking out for loos of various sorts - strange but true.
I was in Wigan again ( thankfully I avoided the establishment previously entered) and on the way back I decided to visit the loo at the station. Although I was somewhat in trepidation, I decided it would be better than the loos on the Virgin train, which have the most sickly smell. I will only raise the loo seat with several layers of tissuepaper in my hands.
Anyway, I made my way through the old-style door into a beautifully kitted out gents.
As I made ready at the bowl, my glance fell on a notice at eye level.
" Bloe- A new Toilet experience.
*Energy Saving
*water reducing
*natural perfuming
*environmentally beneficial cleaning."
And it really was extremely clean and tidy and worked properly.
The only draw-back was the blue light. I could hardly see a thing.
I am reliably informed that this is to stop junkies shooting up.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Chums.

I had an excellent lunch of lamb stew today in one of my favourite lunchtime haunts, accompanied by the Director. He is a man in his 70s, of upstanding and somewhat old-fashioned bent, who nevertheless has a twinkle in his eye.
After an absence of some 25 years, he and his wife have taken up tennis again, in order to "get-in" with the social set in Ayrshire. All the players are somewhat elderly. The matches are keenly fought, if played at a slower pace than say Wimbledon. The group moves round a variety of homes in Ayrshire, all of which have tennis courts.
The other week, at one such venue, one of the Older Members enquired, in general terms, whether the Director would be available the following week.
" Steady on," said the Hostess, " The Director is only a reserve.He's not a chum!"
My friend was somewhat dis-chuffed at this, but waited for the phone call, each week for the following three weeks, which duly came.
After the three weeks were up, the Older member took him aside.
" I think" he said "you can now consider yourself a chum. Don't forget to turn up next week."
And he didn't.

The Third Godfather

Whilst writing the previous blog mentioning my Godfathers, I was reminded of another story which involved two of them.
GF3 was an American who had had a very smart American car ( beautiful maroon colour) shipped over to the UK. However, he was then sent off to India, and the car was left in my father's care.
Now GF1, he of the eventual British Leyland persuasion, longed to get his hands on this car to take it apart and make it divulge all the secrets of American manufacturers.
The car was parked at the works of OKL's screw manufacturers. One day, two men turned up in suits and bowler hats, as one did at the time, with several bits of official looking paper, demanded the keys and said they were impounding the car as the correct import duty had not been paid. Somewhat bemused by this, and as there was no email, fax, or even meaningful telephone service to India at the time, my father handed it over, getting a proper receipt. He immediately sent off telegrams and all sorts to get an answer from GF3.
As you can imagine, it took more than a week for a definitive answer to come back - no duty was payable according to the American Embassy, as the car was going to be re-exported.
How to get the car back? Phoned the number on the forms - zilch.
Just as OKL was beginning to panic, the car reappeared in the yard, with the same two men, who handed it back and said it had all been a terrible mistake, so sorry, blah, blah ,blah, and off they toddled.
The car was taken out every couple of weeks and carefully driven around. It was lovingly cared for and washed and polished by the mechanic.
Until one day, whilst polishing, a bit of the paint came off. Great perturbation. It was decided to leave it and report to GF3. GF3 expressed astonishment.
The next time the car was washed, a lot more paint fell off.
I won't bore you with the rest of the details, but OKL decided the best thing to do was call in GF1 and try to get it resprayed before GF3 came back.
GF1 looked a bit sheepish.
" Er, we did that already"
Then of course it all came out. He had had the car high-jacked, taken to pieces and put back together, and they were driving it along the measured mile near the Blue Boar garage when it crashed.
And they fixed it, and resprayed it.
Except the American standards at the time were superior to those of the UK, and the paint didn't take properly.
So GF1 and OKL got it resprayed again and left it severely alone until GF3 collected it.
Some months later he called to say the paint was peeling off.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Political skullduggery

Guido has a very good thing about the Yates enquiry which starts this afternoon - if various things happen, the Chairman has been nobbled.
The record of this Government is such that I simply don't believe there wasn't SOME funny business, but I read an interesting thing the other day:
"The people can be lied to, but they cannot be fooled"
Flash should have thought of that before he flew off to Basra.

Toooo kind

A friend has no internetwebthingy ability. This extends to his emails being opened and printed out by his secretary and the replies dictated to her, and then typed by her.
As a result I print out the blog every now and again and send him a copy.
I used to write to him direct, but as most of what I want to say is on the blog, it's much simpler just to print it out.
He is always very kind about what I write.
The only problem is that he tends to misunderstand some of my points. So, for example, he thinks Romania is utterly corrupt, that it is totally impossible to do business there, and clearly bad for my health ( I think he means the drink). He did say, how do you manage to get anything done?
I started to explain to him, but a thought struck me and I told him to read it on the blog next time round.
Many years ago, Old King Lear was having dinner with two of my Godfathers. Now you may wonder why I had two Godfathers - actually I had three. It was a business thing. One was the boss of what became British Leyland and the other was the boss of the company OKL worked for. OKL was what used to be called the Sales Director - I've no idea if such a position even exists any more. It probably has " interface" and " solutions" in it somewhere.
Anyway, the company OKL worked for made screws - fasteners for metal. The reason for the dinner was to sign the deal for umpteen million of the little blighters to be put into invarious British cars.
Now GF1 was quite a bon viveur. He had laid on what one could only describe as a viciously enormous dinner, accompanied by gigantic amounts of alcohol, and all three had stuffed themselves, and drunk well but perhaps not wisely. By the end of the meal, all three were virtually immobilised.
Just at that point, the person serving the meal brought a plate of exceptional cheeses. All three shook their heads.
GF1 raised himself a little ; " But I had it brought over specially from France! You must eat it!"
At which point, GF2 leant over to my father and hissed in his ear: " Eat the bloody cheese and get the order!"
And that's how I do business in Romania.

Monday, October 22, 2007

It's a Miracle!

We had some friends in for a drink on Saturday night.
One of them opted for a glass of white wine.
I opened the fridge and extracted a bottle of Fairtrade Pinot Grigio from Argentina, courtesy of M&S. It's a screw top. I cracked the seal.
We have several more bottles of it.
I poured a generous glass ( never let it be said we Scots are not generous - apart from the Aberdonians and the people formerly known as "living" in Edinburgh)
My friend looked at the glass.
" That's not Pinot Grigio."
I looked at the bottle.
" Yes it is. It's from Argentina."
He took a sip. And spat it out in the sink.
" It's water. And old water at that."
I swigged the bottle. And spat it out.
" It's water!"
So was the next bottle.
At that point we gave up and he had a beer instead.
Move on 48 hrs.
I had got a bottle of Irish water from M&S in Euston the other day. I opened it today, and took a swig. And spat it out. It was very old and dusty. I remarked on this.
" Ah, " my friend said. " It's clearly Pinot Grigio."

EU Treaty/Constitution

So Flash is going to have a line by line discussion in the HoC on the " new" Treaty. This is going to destroy his Government utterly, as Maastricht did John Major's. I'm delighted he knows nothing and has learned nothing and that he will soon be consigned to the dustbin where he belongs.

Roundup.

The Gurka's motto is " Better to die than live a coward". Can't help but think Flash doesn't live by that one.
" The true wealth of Britain is the British Character." Sadly, I fear it is now lacking. And every other form of wealth is being pulled into the NuLabour maul.
Mark Mardell has an excellent piece on the Finns, and their continuing outperformance in many walks of life and sport. Strangely, the Finns put it down to their education system, which basically does not allow you to progress upwards until you have achieved satisfactory results in ALL subjects, and in their belief in strong family ties ( mind you, if you speak Finnish there aren't that many others who you CAN communicate with). Can't see Flash countenacing anything so outrageous as something like that.

Poirot's eggs

I had forgotten this but saw the Poirot episode again at the weekend in which it occurred.
Poirot, Hastings and Miss Lemon are taking breakfast somewhere on the south coast. Two boiled eggs are placed in front of Hercule.
He carefully tucks his napkin into the space between his shirt and his throat, puts on his pince-nez, and surveys the eggs.
" I cannot eat these eggs. They are of a completely different size."
Excellent attention to detail.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Mudlark

This is the title of an old film, which, amongst others, starred Alec Guinness as Disraeli.
It is the story of an orphan boy who finds a cameo in the mud of the Thames mud of Queen Victoria, and he decides to see her, give his respects and try to get her to come out of mourning and show herself to her subjects again.
He has various adventures and eventually meets the Queen, and she emerges into the adulation of her later years.
But there are three wonderful parts of this story.
The first is Disraeli in the House of Commons, lambasting the august members for failing the child. Our own present leaders could quite properly be so castigated.
The second is spoken by a minor character. When discussing a course of action, the character says " He is an old and wily politician - he knows nothing can be gained with a minuet." Too true. If only the present crop would be committed and say so.
Finally, the John Brown character, played by a famous Scots actor whose name escapes me but has Finlay in it, quotes the second Book of Kings. " Is it well with the Child?"
The whole thrust of the arguement was that we need to take care of our children. We need to stop child killing child. We need to make sure they are in a stable home environment. We need to give them parameters beyond which we do NOT allow them to go. There was an excellent piece on Radio 4 about young offenders being subjected to a proper programme of discipline ( not full of catchy phrases) and relying on - as the programme director described it - large men with testicular authority.
Above all, for God's sake, let's stop the nonsense that means that 50% - I'll repeat that - 50% cannot pass GCSEs in Reading Writing and Arithmetic. I don't care which party does it. I don't care HOW they do it.
But by God I want them to do it.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The crutch in the park

Now those of you who follow this blog will know that Saturday and Sunday mornings are my time for taking the Dog for it's morning walk in the park. I was particularly early this morning as I had to let some steel erectors into a building we are doing up at 07:30 am, and took the Dog with me. Needless to say the steel didn't fit, and when I went back, it was only because I can read drawings that they managed to understand which way round it went. Did help a bit.
Anyway, the Dog and I set off round the park this morning, and the first thing I see beside the swing park is a crutch. Just one, full size crutch, lying abandoned in the grass.
Being of an eccentric bent, I imagined all sorts of scenarios, from miraculous cure to theft and abandonment, but I was definitely not prepared for the next thing that happened.
Round the corner came a lady leading a rather elderly Golden Retriever. The Dog clearly didn't know them, so they only got the " 'Morning" grade III greeting.
But I did notice as they passed that the retriever had one of it's paws in a sort of split and black plastic shoe - very natty - and that it favoured this paw.
I was most taken with the shoe, and turned to watch them walk away.
As they passed the crutch, the dog bent down and picked it up in it's mouth, and carried on, limping.
So now you know. Vets are not only sorting out animals, they are increasing their mobility.
With crutches.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The smallest room in the house

I'm in London for the ( half) day and stayed last night in the cheapest hotel in central London. I've stayed there before - when I'm on my own the lower the cost the more I like it. Rather like the old days when one spent hours wandering around French towns finding the cheapest plonk - I think the besy we ever did was about 20p per litre. The sensible thing to do would have been to spend the same on a bottle there as we did at home, and we would have had some fantastic wines, but, of course, as you know, wisdom comes with age.
Anyway, there I am in my room last night ( double bed, can just about walk round it sideways) and I decided to go to the loo. There was a door in the wall. I opened it.
Immediately in front of me was a washhandbasin, about 6inches by 4. On the left, with 2 inches between the wall and the loo-seat, was the loo. To the right was the shower.
Now I immediately worked out I would have to sit sideways on the loo. I need hardly mention the various difficulties this resulted in.
What I didn't appreciate then was that the size of the shower was commensurate with the WHB. When I got into it this morning, every time I moved I changed the setting on the taps. There was just enough room for my feet in the tray, and the curtain billowed out over the floor, although it was extra long so the bottom was still in the tray and catching the water.
I did a rough measure.
52 inches by 32.
No wonder it's the cheapest in Lo0ndon.
But I tell you what, I slept really well.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The way we are

Now here's a thing. Would you bother to steal £22 worth of wood?
Clearly someone has.
To start at the beginning, I went to the depot of a national timber merchant, and bought 2 planks of wood, each 4.7m long. That's about15 plus feet long. Total cost £22. I was told to go round the back and collect them. I drove round, but then common sense prevailed when I noticed that about 10 feet would be hanging out the back of the car.
So I drove back to the job, gave the line to the joiner, and told him to take a saw with him when he went to collect.
This morning, the joiner phones me.
" Somebody collected they planks yesterday"
To cut a long story short, the warehouseman and the security guard both swore blind I had collected the wood, and they even had a car registration to prove it. And a time ; ten past four.
Needless to say it wasn't my car registration.
To cut a long story short, after threatening legal action, the papers and their head-office, grudgingly we were delivered the wood as a " goodwill" gesture - but on a separate line, with the original being retained for " investigation".
Now whatever way you look at this, someone at some point has blagged these two pieces of wood. Maybe it was a stock shortage they were trying to cover. Maybe the whole workforce have a consortium that disappears stuff that's not collected by 4:10 pm. The manager kept saying to me " But noone would steal two pieces of wood" in a sort of " You are clearly an idiot" voice.
But someone somewhere has that wood, and at least two people in the depot are in on it.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

So what IS happiness?

I was recommended a book by the Last Unreconstructed Communist.
It is called " Hector's voyage or the search for happiness." by a chap called Francois Lelord. Although that's it's English title, I could only get a copy in French.
It is a delightful tale, all about Hector the psychiatrist, who is sad because he can't bring happiness to his clients. So he sets off around the world, has various adventures, and writes what he learns about happiness in his little notebook, specially bought for purpose.
There are 24 " lessons" in total. But Hector rubbed out number 18, as he didn't want the girl he loved to see it ( it was " Happiness is being able to love several women at once" - Lelord is French after all)
If anyone is interested I will happily send all of them, but the synthesis is, I think, enough.
Lesson 21: Happiness is a way of looking at things.
Lesson 13: Happiness is to feel useful to others.
Lesson 10: Happiness is to have an occupation that you enjoy.
As Hector says to himself, these are good lessons. And enough for him.
And me.

Back from Romania

Got back in last night to the usual guddle. Everyone seems to have thoroughly enjoyed the week and some new potential crossover contacts were made. Most of us remained reasonably sober.
There were some wonderful stories going the rounds. One was from a highly successful lothario, who said that the trick was not to spoil a woman. All you had to do was make her comfortable in your presence. I never found out if he meant in bed or just when together. Another was about British Army manouevres in Germany. Until recently, the way it worked was that every autumn, the tanks rolled - mostly across farmer's fields, through chicken huts, pulverising walls and creating new duck ponds where none had been before. The German farmers, of course, loved it. If they had a wobbly bridge, they would point a tank over it, the bridge would collapse, and the farmer submitted a bill. Apparently, there was a corporal in the pay section who was detailed to collate the bills every day as they came in. Every year, when they got to £20 million,the excercise was officially ended.
But what of the progress out there? Tourism and the ethos of tourism is beginning to take hold. Service is becoming something to be expected in the hotels and guesthouses. Younger people are remaining in situ as they can see that things are improving. Most importantly, the consolidation of the smaller landholdings is continuing and will benefit the communities where it happens.
We are working on a new valley. Once we have consolidated the 64 individual owners, we will be able to form a lake and create a fishery, as well as leisure facilities for tourism. On the adjacent sloping ground, orchards and a forest will grow. There might even be a guesthouse. All in all it should give ongoing work for about 10 or 12 people , with more required at certain times of the year. In a village of roughly 250 souls, that represents a huge benefit.
The Mayor of Mosna - recently voted the best in the whole region - gave an official reception for us, and presented us with Romanian flags. One of the really weird things is that the patron saint of the area is St. Andrew - complete with Scottish blue and white flag , so we all felt as if we had wandered into downtown Murrayfield. The flags were in abundance when we arrived.
Everything in Romania is late. There is always so much discussion about everything. At one point, in a room with lawyers, notary publics, owners and a couple of mayors plus staff, I called a halt to having the translations given to me. The debate was eventually concluded, and I had the conclusion translated - much easier.
They had just had the Cabbage Festival - by all accounts a great success, but it seemed to me that quite a few of the locals were suffering the after effects. The cabbage salad remains one of my favourite dishes, and we ate quite the most delicious tomatoes I have ever tasted sitting in the sun beneath the walls of Biertan citadel.
Capitalism has still to get a grip. Everything still requires dozens of stamps and signatures, but the system is robust and appears to mean that there are few mistakes. One of the pieces of land we wanted to buy had an incorrect name on the title ( you have to produce your identity card every time you do anything and the cross check revealed the discrepancy).
There are two ways to sort this. One is to apply to the land registry to have the title changed to the correct name. This can take up to three years.
The alternative is to get the local mayor to sign an affidavit that the man whose name appears on the title and the man on the ID card are one and the same.
Takes about three minutes.