Friday, August 31, 2007

My new bank account

Have you tried to open bank account recently? Or even change one? Forget about how easy they say it is, it's almost impossible.
I've banked with my present bank for more than 20 years.They both hold my money and lend me money, have a significant amount of my savings within one of their subsidiaries, and I have not one but TWO dedicated advisors. Within the last year I filled in a form for their anti-moneylaundering requirements.
So when I phoned up and said I wanted another account for a small business venture ( no overdraft required) , I sort of thought it would just be an " account opening form" with a "signature example" requirement.
Not a bit of it.
A seriously hefty A4 envelope landed on my desk this morning. It contained a total of 7 different forms, together with a requirement to list all my personal assets and liabilities; in additon, they required originals of my driver's licence, passport, electricity ( or, to be fair, gas) bills , all to be taken to a branch, photocopied, signed and dated by me and the person who checked them.
Oh, and they would check the electoral register to make sure I wasn't lying about where I lived.
My natural reaction in these circumstances is usually to throw everything in the bin and go somewhere else, but I thought I would just check with one or other of my dedicated advisors.
He was very quiet on the 'phone when I asked him if I really had to fill all this out.
" Er, well, yes and no" he said. " If you can just sign your name I'll fill the rest in for you."
When I asked about the passport etc etc, I could hear his embarrassment down the line.
" Er well, you see, we have never actually checked that you are who you say you are. If you could possibly just take your passport into a branch that would be really helpful."
I sighed and suggested that surely the electoral register would do since I had lived for 14 years in the same house.
" Er, yes, well, the problem is you might actually be registered under a different name, whereas your passport will have a picture of you."
I gave in at that point. If these people were prepared to have me as a client for all these years without having a clue who I am, then I really ought to stick with them.
If this is what I have to do with people who have known me for nearly half my life, I hate to think what's required with a stranger. I suspect if I was an asylum seeker with no passport I could get an account just by putting a cross on a blank bit of paper.
Oh and by the way - I wouldn't bank with Barclays for now.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Interview

Everyone is talking about DC's interview last night. Was it good? Was it a lurch to the right? What would Paxo have done to him? Why doesn't Flash allow himself to be interviewed by Paxo? And so on.
I don't know about you, but I find it rather interesting that there is quite so much debate about it. For one thing, it must show that people actually take DC seriously, or they wouldn't bother. Dizzy has an excellent piece,which shows just how Cameron has scooped the ground out from under Flash's feet on immigration. DC's line is that uncontrolled immigration is affecting our treasured services. Labour can hardly complain that that is racist, and even Flash acknowledges that the immigration we have had over the last few years has had a detrimental effect on services.
I think what it does show is that, despite the BBC's best efforts, Cameron has a strength of character. He is engaging. He is polite and respectful ( Halelujah!). And - as far as I can see - he really does care about what's happening in the UK. Too often in the recent past politicians of all hues have mouthed platitudes without a genuine belief in anything but their own promotion.
DC doesn't seem to fit into that mould, which is why NuLabour are having such difficulty dealing with him at the moment. If you believe, its' really difficult to attack it.
I am presently reading a book about Abraham Lincoln and the three men he faced at the 1860 Republican Presidential Convention - Seward, Chase and Bates. He subsequently brought them all into his war cabinet. The most interesting thing is that debate was long and precisely argued. There were no soundbites. Positions were taken because of argument and agreement, but once a principle was set, there was no turning back despite the vicissitudes of events, political expediency or doubts.
Perhaps Mrs. Thatcher's greatest moment was her " The lady's not for turning". Principle maintained. That's what real leadership is about. Not abrogating responsibility and trimming when it suits.
So, Mr.Cameron, stick with it. You aren't in the least like Tony Bliar.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

There's a tide in the affairs of men....

I had a lovely couple of days in London. A half price lobster dinner early on Sunday evening was followed by my being in bed by 9pm - which of course meant I slept until about 3 am and was wide awake the rest of the night. Monday started well with a productive meeting, a most pleasant lunch, then a visit to a cousin in hospital who had broken her hip. The day was rounded off by my giving the Eldest Ms. Lear her birthday present ( which I may say she opened a month early) and a meeting which then lasted until the early hours of Tuesday morning, but which, hopefully, will lay the foundations for good things in the future.
Prelunch on Tuesday I had a drink with someone I have long wanted to meet, who proved, if anything, more interesting in person than my imagined persona.
So all in all an excellent time. I enjoyed taking the train - somehow more relaxing than the flights ( get on getoff, security, hang about etc etc.) and pretty much the same cost overall.
I also managed to read a couple of books, neither of which, in themselves was staggeringly interesting. But from one there were a couple of insights which I found interesting, and which then threw up an extreme counterpoint.
The first was that Rome fell when the it's army was no longer regarded as a good thing in itself. We have an exact parallel at the moment - less money spent on the forces, a fall in recruitment, more being asked of serving personel, and finally Rome's army broke - long before the vandals sacked Rome. Our own forces are in desperate straights, but Flash appears to be as unconcerned as Des Browne, who has to be the worst government minister there has ever been. In the past, the ministers in charge of the armed forces actually tried to get more money, men and equipment. Browne appears to try for none of these things. Parsimony rules.
The second was the counterpoint to this.
An attractive young girl, her mother and ( I assume) father or at least step-father were arranging a party in the bar of a hotel where I was having a drink. I suspect it was either an engagement party or a wedding. In any event, the girl seemed quite laid back, but the mother was determined to have the lot - and as each item was costed and multiplied by the number of guests, I could see the poor man who was going to have to pay for it all flinching and shrinking. I felt seriously sorry for him. No expense was to be spared.
So the next time you are thinking about an expensive party, think about this - the best things in life may not be free, but they certainly don't need to be the most expensive. Tesco's £7.99 French Champagne will get everyone just as drunk as vintage Krug at £69 a bottle.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Strangers on a train...

I travelled to London today by train which was perfectly pleasant - and on time.
When we got to Carlisle, the train " manager" announced that we would have a ten minute stop, and if you wanted a cigarette you would have to go outside the station as Carlisle was non-smoking. From my carriage, about 15 people sprinted for the exits. But the funniest thing was seeing them sprinting back. The cigarettes had clearly taken their toll.
On another point, I bought a cup of coffee.
When I said I didn't need the natty little bag with handles I was told:
" Sorry sir, you have to have it - elf n safety"
So they're not trying to save the planet then.

Saturday, August 25, 2007


I don't for ONE MINUTE believe in Horoscopes. I do think that star signs, on average, describe people fairly well.
So I was quite interested to read mine in the Telegraph magazine today. It postulates a change in my life.
And the funny thing is I am thinking about just that.....

Friday, August 24, 2007

Radioactive pee

I'm sure lots of people know about this, but I only learned about it today, and on reflection it makes sense.
Apparently, there is some kind of medical scan which entails having some kind of radio-isotype ingested into your body. The pictures/scans are then taken and you go to sit in a waiting room.
Now, presumably for elf 'n safety reasons, you can't leave until you have passed this radioactivity out of your body. Fortunately, it comes out in pee.
BUT it does mean sitting around for a bit, feeling groggy, and peeing in a particular loo which is regularly checked to see how radioactive it is.
Now ladies, of course, generally sit down to pee, so they tend to get it into the bowl.
Men, on the other hand, seem to have an overwhelming urge to spray all over the place, even when aiming straight into the bowl.
So on the days when that loo is in use for its de-radioactivity duties, it is geiger-counted, swabbed out, and the remains put into a special safe.
Now I'm not sure what exactly happens to the safe, but I assume it is taken away and dealt with and a new one put in it's place.
All I can say is I don't want to be the one to open it.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Someone got it right

A chap called Chris Dillow, of whom I had never heard, wrote a very interesting article on the Times Online about the one thing you must never ask an economist - which is anything about economics and wealth creation.They know lots about why people do things ( and some really bizarre things too - read Steve Levitt's Freakonomics) but have no idea what that knowledge translates to in the economy.
I have always maintained that everything links back to economics in some way, and, indeed, any problem I have pondered within the last quite a number of years has been solved by applying economic principles ( basically you catch more flies with sugar than with vinegar - shocking discovery isn't it).
Anyway, Mr.Dillow wrote the following - the bold words are stressed by me.
"Rationality is ambiguous. It would have been reasonable for the market to react with optimism to the ECB’s cash injection last week – “there’s more money around”. If so, it would have been an example of what the American philosopher Robert Nozick called – apologies for the jargon – causal expected utility. The pessimistic reaction – “things must be bad” – is what he called evidential expected utility. Both principles, he explained, are rational. Both are also contradictory and it is utterly arbitrary which way the market will jump. The idea that the rational response leads to a clear course of action is wrong."
So there you have it. This is actually the entire reason the stock market moves. Some people think buy and others think sell, and for exactly the same reason.
Although he didn't say it, there was another lovely insight. Women gravitate to men with money. Men gravitate towards good looking women. Of course, there are exceptions that prove the rule....


Various people have been having a go at me.
They know perfectly well I read Guido, Dizzy, and Iain every day, and yet they are not on the links from here.
I'll do my best to add them.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Time off work for Men when their children are born

Over on Mr. Fact there is a story about Ze Tcherman's mocking our present touchy-feeling government and it's rules about taking time off for babies being born.
Two stories:
A friend of mine's father turned up after the birth of his son about 30 odd years ago. Fathers were very definitely NOT present at births at the time ( Matron would never have stood for it) so tended to repair to the pub with an old and dear friend. Needless to say, the net result was two somewhat inebriated people in the hospital once the baby had been delivered, cleaned up, etc etc.
Unfortunately, my friend had had a forceps delivery, and as a result his head was - shall we say - somewhat out of kilter.
" What's wrong with him?" said the less than proud father." His head's all twisted"
Whereupon the midwife knocked him out cold.
The second story concerns my own first born, some 30 odd years ago as well.
Mrs. Lear went into labour about 4am, and I drove her into the hospital. It took quite some time for things to come to fruition, but round about lunchtime they did. I saw the baby, saw Mrs. Lear, then toddled into my office.
I was greeted by the head salesman.
" What do ye mean taking time off for a bairn? I never had one minute off when mine were born."
So there.

A seriously good time - now back to a serious time

I've had a brilliant time in Italy with friends over the last few days - weather not too hot, food exceptional, wine even better and the opera - well, need I say more?
But it's all over now and it's back to work, with, as ever, outstanding things to be sorted, and delays in every direction.
A couple of things caught my eye in the past week.
One was a story in the Telegraph about Cosimo Mele, and Italian politician with a pregant wife and three children, who was caught in bed with not one but TWO prostitutes, cocaine, etc etc.
When questioned as to whether he believed in Christian values, his response was " Of course I identify with Christian values! But what has that to do with going to bed with a prostituite?" Hm.
The next was a website which referred to " The Alzheimer's Long Island Swim - now only a distant memory.." And before you complain, Old Kinglear( my father) died of Alzheimer's, so I know it can only be coped with if you have a sense of humour.
Then there was a character in a book saying " Bribery is simply the free market simplifying the decision making process". I rather liked that - getting a table in a crowded restaurant is the perfect example.
A quadruplet from Wobegon Boy by Garrison Keillor:
" In figuring out name order, it is common to put the duller one first"
"March and April were created by God to show non-drinkers what a hangover was like"
" People prefer comfort to aesthetics - this is a terrible truth about Americans" - and probably most people.
" Let him who is without oxen cast the first stone"
And finally, I learned about Stendahl's Syndrome. A very serious condition, it afflicts most people who visit Florence - it is a person becoming overwhelmed by it's beauty.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

World Markets in turmoil.. More follows....

Yes they really are.They're crashing all over the place.
Fortuantely I'm in Florence and going to the opera at Torre del Lago over the next few nights, so I don't really care. I don't anyway as we got out of most things a few weeks ago.
However, I was fascinated by the scrolling news on both CNN and the NASDAQ site
" Uk's Footsie falls 4%"
"Dow plunges over 300"
" Countrywide Financial going bust"
" Nigeria bans all foreign made toothpaste"
Eh? Come again?
I reread it.
I can only think toothpaste is an important medium of exchange in Nigeria, and they are tightening their credit.
Clearly a trading opportunity.
Nigerians are clearly going bananas without their Crest. I intend to buy up world supplies and smuggle them in, making a killing in toothpast futures.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A perfect 1

There's a thing in the papers today about waist size (A) relative to hip size (B). Apparently if you divide A by B, and the answer is more than 1 you are heading for a heart attack.I was reading the papers this morning and suddenly found myself surounded by a metal tape measure.Much to Mrs. Lear's disgust, I am a perfect 1.
I have no idea how this could happen.I have spent years and a fortune on keeping a good Buddha-like tummy, only to discover it is relatively allowed.
I am terribly disappointed.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Westminster watches out

Well actually it's not, BrownLabour are living up to their name in the colour of their trousers.
In case you missed it, the SNP now have a 48% to 23% lead in the polls in Scotland.
That's actually enough to lose Labour it's overall majority on it's own.
It would appear that lots of people close to Flash are under extreme pressure to DO something.
Flash won't of course. He has absented himself from Scotland ( it's Macavity again) just when they actually need him.
A Labour Scottish Councillor told me that all their future proposals had been kicked into touch by their own people down south, and the message was to do everything they could to blacken the name of the SNP - scaremongering, spinning, sniping, you name it.
Of course, the real problem is that that is exactly what the electorate is telling us they don't want to hear.
DC's line of talking common sense and supporting measures that actually have a point goes down well ( despite the dino's inability to understand life has moved on).
If we actually want younger people to engage in political life, Westminster will have to learn that negative campaigning is no longer any use.
Amongst all it's other plus points, the internet would appear to be educating a whole new strata of society in political dialogue - however hesitantly and however slowly. I'm willing to bet that the next general election will see an increase in the percentage of voters going to the polls, and a general lowering in the age of those voting.
And have a look at the people who vote in elections in other countries like Iraq, who put the 39% of us who don't vote to shame.

A dogs life

"Our hosts were both highly solicitous of our well-being and very hands-off and "amuse yourselves". We were well fed and taken on long walks: it was a bit like being an extra pair of dogs really. "


Quants are Quantitative Strategy Funds.
"The trouble for quantitative funds started Aug. 3, when stocks started moving not only in ways that commonly used models didn't predict, but in precisely the opposite direction from what was expected. Equally troubling, the moves were far more volatile than models based on decades of testing assumed were likely. Those relatively minor anomalies escalated quickly this week, exploding into a global rout for quantitative funds by Wednesday."
Don't you just love that? " Decades of testing" and " assumed..likely" are two of the most destructive phrases in the English language.
It's precisely because, as Donald Rumsfeld would have it, " We don't know the unknown unknowns" that not everybody is stinking rich. And even those that are are feeling seriously less well off this week than even two weeks ago.
So what happens now? Well, the BofE hasn't so far lobbed any dosh at the problem. It's not a problem about to disappear, and it is certainly geometrically bigger in the US than anywhere else.
I predict a week or so of soothing words and calming markets, all of which will be blown apart again by something else coming out of the woodwork.
If not into speculative mode, I don't think it will matter too much. But if you need the money, get out now.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

John Redwood on Sunday AM

Seriuosly good interview this morning. He looked much more capable and relaxed than he used to, and answered all the nasty questions reasonably and logically. If what is being touted as he and George Osborne's policy review does what it says on the tin, Flash will find it seriously diffult to refute.
Oh, and by the way, has anyone seen Alistair Darling recently? I know it's holiday time, but Flash had made all the economic announcements and Darling has only had one public engagement since he became Chancellor ( poodle). Osborne, rightly, is keeping his mouth shut until Darling says something.
Whatever it is, you can bet Flash will have written it.

All or Nothing

I just watched this Mike Leigh film again.
I can hardly believe it's 5 years since it came out. It has the excellent Timothy Spall in the lead, with Lesley Manville and a young James Corden, before "The History Boys".
I had forgotten just how good it was.
Spall's world weary depiction is perfection, livened by his declaration for his need for love at the end.
My heart bled for the daughter, who looked to be heading for nothing, whilst Corden as the son, was heading for redemption.
If Leigh tells us anything in his films,it's that, whatever happens, life goes on. It's what we make it, but without love - and hope - it's worthless.
So listen to the ending of Holst's Jupiter, and you will know that love exists, that you can win through and that you can make a difference.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Strange juxtapositions

I have long held that where two objects appear together in the wrong context, there is something interesting going on.
For example, a golf ball found on a golf course, or even on a lawn, would hardly excite comment, but the same golf ball landing on your plate as you were served pasta could potentially have an interesting story behind it.
I am absolutely sure that inquisitiveness keeps us alive and mentally active, and both interested and interesting.
So imagine my quickened interest whilst walking the dog in the rain this morning to discover a very fine green marble egg on the grass verge.
Where did it come from? I naturally purloined it ( I have a collection of odd bits of washers, nuts, rings etc that I have picked up over the years and threaded through a wire coat hangar. I'm convinced it's the winner of the next Turner prize) and looked about for any potential droppers.
There being none, I can only assume it was dropped there by a bird. I was told many years ago, by an old Italian, that he had had a bowl of such eggs They were in all different colours, but the green ones kept disappearing.
He finally lay in wait to see how they were being stolen - to discover a large magpie flying in through the open window and removing said green egg from it's neighbours. He was so astonished that he did nothing, and thereafter, if he wanted to show off, he would hide with a friend after putting out a green egg. Sure enough, after about ten minutes, the magpie would appear.
Why the green egg? I always thought they liked sparkly things, but green?
So my guess is that over the last few days, which have been warmer up here, somebody had their window open and a magpie stole the egg, then dropped it when it found that it was of the non-edible variety.
Or somebody was having a fight and thew it at their partner with such force it landed on the grass in the park.
Either way, it's more interesting than a golf ball on a golf course.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Financial update

Just in case you don't think any of this affects you or is serious, the ECB lobbed ANOTHER 60 odd billion Euros into the market today. The people who are losing money are the ones who are looking after your pension - they've stuffed wads of cash into hedge-funds and higher-rate instruments.
I find it all rather fun - a bit like 1992 when the £ left the ERM. Everyone knew it was an absolute certainty - it was a one way bet. Today, if you don't think the Fed and the Central Banks are about to ease enormously ( they've been tightening for months) you shouldn't be out there. Even though the Fed lobbed in $24billion yesterday, BofE, Canada, Japan, you name it, a few billion here, a few billion there, the Banks ain't going to hand it out to the guys who really really need it. They're going down. Or being taken over by others who each Central Bank will support to the death. Remember the BofE Lifeboat 1975? No, of course not. Most of the people running the money today were all in nappies.
The Banks are even nervous of lending to each other, even overnight. I'll just bet Mervyn and Bernanke and the rest are all calling the heads of every Bank they can think of and telling them GIVE OUT THE MONEY!
BUT, if one biggish bank or institution folds a la LTCM, the markets will disappear down a plug-hole so fast you won't be able to say gurgle.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

So what do we stand for?

Platform 10 ( and Iain Dale) have a link to a long article by Peter Luff, the Tory Mid-Worcs MP. It's a long article on the present political position in the UK, and the Tory's position within it.
It's final section reads as follows:
A further criticism that has been levelled in recent weeks is that it is not clear what David (Cameron) or the Conservative Party stands for. Well, I am absolutely clear, and if people aren’t then it is a case of them not listening, or us not successfully getting the message across. Either way, I agree it is something we urgently need to readdress.David, like all Conservatives and the vast majority of the British people, shares a belief in four crucial values.
First he believes in the virtue of people taking control of their lives, in families, in communities and in voluntary organisations. Unlike Gordon Brown, he does not believe the state knows best. This means, for example, that taxes will be lower, power exercised more locally and marriage properly protected only under a Conservative government.
Second, he believes in the old words that we should be in Europe but not run by Europe. He is holding the government to its promise of a referendum on the new European treaty – or constitution to give it its more accurate name. Gordon Brown is seeking to sell Britain down the river and break his manifesto promise.
Third, he believes in protecting the liberties of the British people, so brutally trampled under foot by this government. On a range of issues, from giving parliament an opportunity to repeal the hunting ban to opposition to identity cards, he has demonstrated his opposition to Labour’s authoritarian state.
Fourth, he respects the institutions s of this nation. His instinct is to stand up for the organisations and structures that have served us well, and not, like Gordon Brown, to cast them heedlessly to one side. We will protect parliament, the legal system and all those other manifestations of our liberties and traditions that support and nurture the country of which we are so proud, but which Labour does not begin to understand.These are the reasons why my support for David Cameron is total and unqualified. Put simply, he is leading the kind of Conservative party that is in tune with the hopes and aspirations of the British people. That’s the only way we will win. More importantly, it’s the kind of government this country wants and needs.
Phew! I don't know about you, but that gives me a little frisson and tingle down my spine.

Interest rates , Mervyn and Bernanke

Well, now we know. Interest rates are on hold both sides of the pond, but in both cases, the word is that they are expected to rise. This is talking up the possibility to fool the markets into thinking they are not going to get a reduction.
America has a gigantic ( almost insuperable) funding problem for it's twin deficits, and will shortly have to shift the bias to lower rates, in order to encourage people to buy their debt. This is exacerbated by the present turmoil. Notice how they keep saying it's no problem, storm in a teacup, not spilling over, not damaging - except companies and individuals keep running out of money and going bust. Bernanke will not want to drop rates, he doesn't want to continue the Greenspan Put, but he will have no option but to increase liquidity. Adam Smith ( not the Scot) in his book " Paper Money" told the tale of a day in the '60s or '70s " when America ran out of money". It wasn't quite true of course, but a confluence of events meant that all the liquidity got drained out of the system. For a couple of hours, there was effective paralysis,noone realy knew what might happen. Then the Fed phoned round and told all the banks " If anyone - ANYONE - comes in asking for money give it to them".They lent billions to all the banks themselves, at miniscule rates, effectively printing gigantic sums of money. That was kind of the start of the sub-prime problem.
And by the way, if you package up a load of shit in a beautifully wrapped parcel, it's still shit inside. That's what the banks have been doing with the sub-prime mortgages - AAA rated because there's a spread? Don't make me laugh.
Look to the start of the dotcom crash. What actually caused it? Why, the Fed started draining liquidity. And then it took three years to get enough back in to create the next boom.
And over here? Mervyn has virtually promised higher rates. But the turmoil in the markets has virtually done his work for him. Inflation isn't about to rise.
But, boy, it sure suits him to say it is.

UPDATE 1: In case you missed it, one of France's largest banks has suspended three of its funds " due to complete evaporation of liquidity". So to help out, the European Central Bank has added Eur 100 billion to today's liquidity. That's Eur 100 billion to help out TODAY only. Think about it.
How much is Eur 100 billion? Well, if each Euro was 1 second, 1million would be about 11.5 days.
1 billion is about 31.7 YEARS. So 100 billion is 3,170.9 YEARS. So you would need to start counting, at 1 per second, in 1164 BC to have done it by today.
Think about it some more.

UPDATE2: Another day another - what - $3 trillion dollars evaporated? To use the analogy above, that represents 9,537 years.
Oh and its's all down again today, 10/8/07

Maybe Mr.Jock has a point......

Being a good Scot I have been following Mr. Jock on
He refers to where I live as " England's northenmost county".
We Scots are nothing if not proud of being Scottish.
So it was with some sadness that I read the following in the Diarysection of The Herald, Glasgow's very own newspaper that used to be the Glasgow Herald.
It took the form of a picture of some cheese, which, when read, said the following:
"ISLE OF MULL CHEDDAR . From England. Neal's Yard"
However, there are now so many Engies living up here, and especially on the Islands and in the Highlands, that we are rather like an occupied country.
Alex Salmond is doing his best to disabuse Westminster of that thought. His latest attack is on the BBC and ITV, who only fund and make in Scotland 3% of programmes aired nationally. On a population basis, is should be somewhere around 10%, and within Scotland itself, why shouldn't it be over 50%? The BBC in particular, of course, is completely biased in its views.
McConnell got his marching orders because he ran Scotland as if all we were was an English county. Salmond is running it as if it were our own.
Westminster better watch out.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Where are we now?

The blogosphere is talking more and more about empty buy-to-let flats and strains on housing.
I keep telling people I've been through four property booms and busts. This last boom is the longest and strongest - 1995 to date and 300% appreciation nominally. Mind you, taking inflation into account its only about 260%. From 1969 to 1995, taking inflation into account, there was effectively no increase. What it did mean was that the value of the loans against the properties faded away.
At the moment, effectively the opposite is happening. Because inflation is relatively low, the cost of the loans and interest is increasing. The properties are no longer outgrowing inflation ( ok you can argue odd percentage points, but in essence the point is valid). Buy to letters are subsidising the value of their properties, and don't seem to realise that this actually adds to their in-costs.An Australian asked me recently what the golden rule of property investment was. To paraphrase Warren Buffett : The first rule of property investment is to make sure the rental covers the interest costs. And rule two? Remember rule one.
So where are we now?
I don't think we are on the edge of a cliff. That said, credit markets have effectively dried up. Some $400 billion of deals are on hold or indefinitely postponed. The Fed's statements yesterday didn't give any cheer, but that might well be a smokescreen. They have long wanted people to assess risk properly and stop the merry-go-round of the greater fool at higher prices syndrome. If there's a serious bankruptcy, all bets are off.
My view is that activity in UK housing will now start to drop. This always pressages falling prices. After all, if you want to move you have to sell.
So if you want £500,000 for your house and someone offers you £475,000, don't walk away.
That 5% drop might look a bargain in a few months time.
Oh, and if you are cash rich, drive a really, really hard bargain.
Or bet on interest rates having to fall soon in the States.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Pakistan & Jason Bourne

I watched a lovely programme this evening on BBC2, about Saira Khan in Pakistan. I thought originally she might be related to Imran Khan, but it turned out she wasn't. At least, she didn't call him "Dad".
There was a wonderful bit when two clearly gay Pakistani dress designers produced their latest fashions - totally western and showing flesh.
When questioned about this, the two "Gays" ( I always think they should be called " sads") stressed they were not just designing for Pakistan, but for the world.
" But surely," said Saira, " These clothes would never be worn in Pakistan?"
" Ooh, yes - especially at a ball - for St. Valentines Day, say."
St. Valentines Day? In Pakistan? I think Musharraf should be told.
On a lighter note, go and see The Bourne Ultimatum. Intellectual it is not, the story can be encapsulated in a sentence, but for sheer crash bang wallop fun it would be hard to beat.
He'd soon sort out the Taliban.

Labour said the plans were "uncosted" and could lead to more privatization.

I can't help but think this actually sums up the difference between our two major parties. Whether or not the Tory plans for Social Enterprise Zones are costed or not, at least they are trying a "carrot" approach, rather than a stick. Labour has spent more than ten years saying "no" and " don't do that" with little or no effect. That is, of course, in terms of things improving in deprived areas. They have had an effect - but negative.
I read today that 40% of primary school leavers are unable to read or write, never mind add and subtract. What happened to " Education, education,education?" Amazingly wonderful sound bite, excellent policy, complete non-performance - in fact I also read today that GCSE's are effectively two grades down from 10 years ago. This doesn't help anyone - not universities ( ours are slipping down world league tables because of the imposition of useless students and the snaffling of many of our best by America on Scholarships) - not employers, who have to retrain staff in order to get any worthwhile work out of them - and, most importantly, not the students themselves, who are being condemned to a life of flipping burgers.
Our forebears were religious in their insistence on children learning, understanding and knowing. Now they know nothing, beyond who the latest non-celebrity is shagging.
So lets allow local people, local organisations and local areas decide their own fates. Take schools away from local authorities and give them their own budgets. It worked magnificently for doctors surgeries until NuLabour came along and messed it all up.
Even Janet Daley has decided that local is good.
And if it means private capital making it work, then I'm all for it.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Gurkha Welfare Trust and Claymore '07

Saturday was spent raising money for the Gurkhas at Claymore '07. We did the same last year ( unsurprisingly Claymore '06). This is a wargames convention held in Edinburgh.
It's actually great fun - the people are usually quite large, but unfailingly cheerful and generous.The GWT gets a share of the entrance money and we raise more by selling stuff and collecting cash from the exhibitors and public.
Two things came across really really strongly.
Firstly, most of the men had purses in which they kept their change. Perhaps it's only me that finds this somewhat obsessive as I keep mine in my pocket.
The second was the utter disgust expressed in varying degrees of vehemence about this government's treatment of the Armed Forces and the Gurkhas in particular. Amongst this coterie, Flash and his minions would have been lynched had they shown their faces.
Granted most wargamers are probably ex-forces themselves, but even so, even those who had wandered in from simple curiosity were utterly vituperative about the most recent case of the VC who wanted to come to the UK, and was initially refused because he "didn't have sufficient ties to the UK". It's OK to die for us but not to live here.
I'm reading a book called "Tulipmania" by Anne Goldgar. As the title suggests, it's about Holland in the 17th Century. But the truth of what we think we know about Tulipmania ( country ruined, economy taking years to recover) is not accurate, and the whole thrust of her arguement is to do with government responsibility.
As she says " One of the functions of those in authority is to help to create or enforce a system of values. Communities find themselves at a loss when values are thrown in doubt"
I can't help but feel this is where we are in the UK now. Does anyone really know what the values Flash and his lot espouse? I've no idea, and I don't suppose anyone else does. This very lack of principle is what is undermining what remains of our society.
I have always said we children of the '60s have ruined it for everyone else.We took on authority and respect, and largely overcame it.
What has now happened is that NuLabour ( or Brown Labour as it was referred to in one of the papers today - surely a case for the Race Relations Board) has no repect for the country, its people,institutions or professions. This can only result in decline and degeneration.
Whatever else you may think of the Conservatives, at least they have respect for institutions.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Ali Miraj and Guido

I see Guido had a long talk with Mr. Miraj. In it, Miraj refused to discuss matters during his private conversation, but only when the peerage question came up.Everything else was well larded.
As Guido says, Miraj's pathetic petulance couldn't possibly be a certain male chauvinistic piggery and jealousy, often associated with some Asian gentlemen ref: a certain Pritti Patel?? No no, of course not.