Sunday, September 30, 2007


I always seem to learn or hear a few things that ought to be shared, but don't actually fit anywhere.
So I will try to do a roundup of odds and ends every now and then.
1) Incognito is an anagram of cognition
2) " All created things must pass - so strive on" - Buddha
3) In the City there are now many more regulations, but much less understanding and oversight. The lawyers have had and continue to have a field day running rings round regulators.
4) Ladies in the early days of trains were advised to hold pins between their lips to prevent gentlemen kissing them in tunnels.
5) Politeness engenders trust and vice-versa.
6) British Ambassador in Burma - " It's regarded as extremely bad form to shoot people here."
I'll bet.

Who would you prefer?

I was with a somewhat larger than life character for much of Friday ( and most of the early hours of Saturday morning).
For reasons completely beyond me ( except I think he was trying to get the news) he switched on his TV in the middle of somewhat roundabout negotiations.
East Enders and Pat Butcher appeared.
He clicked - Alan Titchmarsh appeared.
Without a pause ,as he continued clicking,he turned to me and said "I think I would rather shag Alan Titchmarsh than Pat Butcher."
I didn't like to tell him she wasn't real....

The price of Coffee - you heard it here first

In Luton Airport last night I bought a latte from Pret a Manger ( well- known McDonald's owned business). The board clearly said it was £1.85. I tendered £2 and received 0.25p change.
Now I don't know about you but if this happens to me I always tell the person serving me they have made a mistake.
" Nah" she said. " That's the price from Monday, but there won't be anyone here to change it then."
So there will be hoards of people checking their change today and thinking they have got one over on Pret/McDonald's

Thursday, September 27, 2007


Whilst I was out and about today, I dropped into the little shop that sells Filofax refills.
I know these are incredibly old hat, but it's amazing how useful they are when the systems are down.
Anyway, a family tradtion is that I give Mrs. Lear her new diary every year at Christmas. My mother used to do it. I will admit that whereas there used to be 2 pages per week, its now down to one page per week - no appointments for the Ms. Lears for the last quite-a-few years makes the difference.
The lady in the shop was most helpful, insisting that I should look at the cards ( it is a card shop after all).
Quite apart from the ever-increasing risquee-ness, I am astonished at the ever increasing range. Not just get well, new job, sorry, cards for every conceivable birthday, wedding anniversary, anniversary,moving house and on and on ad nauseum, but even " Congratulations on your first day at school."
Ah, me, how life has degraded.
People in my day ( I'm just saying that so you know how old I am) didn't have any of that kind of nonsense.
To give you an example, a friend of mine, now into what I think should be called the end of the beginning of his life, was despatched from the North of Scotland for his first day at his Boarding School.
His mother, a kindly and generous soul, gave him ten shillings ( that's 50p) to get a taxi to take him from the station in the midlands to his " House". The kindliness and generosity was because otherwise he would have had to drag his trunk and tuck box a couple of miles, which at 13 and a half would be quite a job." And don't you stand any nonsense , " she told him "just tell the driver to take you directly there."
And with that she gave him a manly grasp round the shoulders and marched off to catch up with the guests who had left earlier for the grouse moor.
Young Beanpole ( he was then, he is now somewhat more than merely rotund) duly settled down to read the Hotspur, and arrived at his destination, some 9 or 10 hours later.
Feeling very grown up, he organised his trunk into a taxi, settled himself into the back seat and gave the driver the address of his House.
" Can't do that" said the driver.
Now YB was made of pretty stern stuff, and with his mother's words ringing in his ears, he leant forward and said " Now see here, I don't want any nonsense, I just want you to take me directly there."
Nowadays of course this would almost certainly end up with social-workers being called and ASBOs handed out.
But the Taxi driver was of the old school, who tended to do as he was told, and promptly drove to the address. On arrival, he jumped out of the car, dumped the trunk, took the ten bob from YB, and drove off.
YB looked about him.
There was nothing there.
On looking more closely, he discerned a few smoking embers on the other side of the wall that ran along the pavement.
At that point, he opened his tuck box, took out the ginger pop and ginger bread, sat on the box and started to guzzle. The shades of night started to gather around him.
What had happened was that the House had burned down during the night.
Of course, no-one had thought for one instant to tell the parents. After all, schools and teachers actually were properly in loco parentis. YB was eventually found, still sitting there, about an hour later.
I'm not sure YB even told his mother - she would probably have given him a clip round the ear for making up stories.

There's an old Romanian saying....

... which I suppose is directly related to the Communist years when loo paper was in short supply. I still see tourists, in particular American backpackers, clutching vast quantities of supersoft as they struggle out of Bucharest Airport - which appears to have two names -Henri Coanda and Otopeni.
Anyway, the saying is: " Always keep a lot of toilet paper as you never know when you might be in the shit".
I was reminded of it this morning when I read about Northern Rock and its requirement for £13 odd BILLION over the next 4 months.
That's on top of the £3billion already drawn from Merve the Swerve.
And did you notice that noone drew any of the £10billion Merve had made available? Hardly surprising as it was pitched above the prevailing rate. Banks may need and want the money, but taking it at the rate offered would have started another panic at the tills of whoever took it. Cash-strapped they may be, stupid they are not.
So, for those of you who have been following all this, the sticking-plaster may be in place, but I would keep the loopaper handy.
As an aside, there is a class of yacht on the Clyde called a Piper.
When looking for a name for one some years ago, and in keeping with Scottish tradition, the official, approved and registered name was never mentioned ( cf The Clyde Arc Bridge, unkown except as The Squinty Bridge).
She was always Loo-piper.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


I was greatly taken by a programme the other night about shop-lifting.
Well actually, I wasn't, but I was taken by one attempt it made to show how much was stolen.
Apparently, the number 8 most shop-lifted things in the UK are men's shirts. As the voice-over said " Enough men's skirts are stolen every year to clothe a city the size of Glasgow"
I can't help but feel I would have been happier if they had said Liverpool or Swindon, or anywhere.


I'm sure some of you will remember Polyanna with Hayley Mills and the marvellous portrayal by Karl Malden of the ( initially) straight-laced minister, who, like everyone else in the town, is turned to sweetness and light by little orphan Poly.
The introduction to the minister is the opening of his sermon which starts, in a loud and aggressive voice, " DEATH comes UNEXPECTEDLY!"
Ever since, whenever the word appears, the whole family chants the refrain.
It's a word that appears all over the place. On property notice boards, unexpectedly back on the market. In newspaper headlines, river floods unexpectedly.
But I was unexpectedly taken aback the other day, when an air stewardess announced that one of the luggage bins above my seat had unexpectedly been commandeered, and I had to remove my briefcase.
A man appeared with quite a large bag and placed it in the locker above my head, as I clutched my briefcase - and was then not unexepectedly told to put it on the floor under the seat in front of me.
Quite unexpectedly, half-way through the flight, the stewardess took the bag out, unzipped it, and started to hand round chocolate bars.
I asked her why it had had to be put above me.
She explained that there was no room for it in the galley, and they needed the volume to handle the bars for the flight back too.
And then, unexpectedly, she handed me two more bars - for my trouble.
But I digress.
The conversion of the minister is lovely, but even more so is the finale of it in the church. His sermon finishes with " So let's all just go outside and enjoy this wonderful day of sunshine - and while we're doing it, let's just give a little thought to who's sending it down."
THAT came very unexpectedly to the congregation.

Wigan versus Liverpool

A dear friend has suggested I should try Liverpool - makes Wigan look like Shangri-La

Goodbye in the Park

For extra-ordinary reasons, I was walking the Dog early today in the Park.
Now I have to say I am not a shrinking violet. The Ms. Lears still deride the time when a TV advert asked for the best looking person you know and I replied it was me.
I may be getting older - the silver in the hair is nothing if not attractive - and, OK, I know that when they were making the statues of Buddha they used me as a model ( as in a very expensive small round tummy). As you will have read, The Sailor opined I still had power snoozes, rather than old git's ones.
So imagine my surprise and shock/horror this morning to be approached by a doddery old man with an equally doddery dog, and greeted with, " Ah, you and me -we old folks feel the cold this time of year in our bones."
Well, I don't.
He's definitely off my Christmas card list.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Disappearing education

I know Bliar famously suggested that his priorities were 3 x education, and now Flash has largely said the same thing.
I don't for one moment suggest they are cynically exploiting people's most ardent hopes for their children.
I do have to say, though, that there appears to be a real difference between the aspiration and the delivery. Diktat and dogma never got anyone anywhere, and what is needed is a streaming within each school and level of ability. Whether we get it or not probably depends on whether the Tories win the next election.
When I was last in Romania, I was talking with the Last Unreconstructed Communist. She would probably suggest she was actually a socialist, and intended only good things for pupils. The point she made was that if the teachers are not forthcoming, then education itself will slowly decline. We are already seeing this where some subjects are being dropped by universities for lack of interest, which is having a knock on effect at the lower levels as the teachers are no longer there to teach. Never mind the Polish plumbers, it'll be the Polish Maths teachers pretty soon.
This country has always been bad at denigrating those who are educated, or special or making an upward path. We always denigrate ourselves if we know something. The diffidence with which University professors profess to know nothing about their subjects is wondrous to behold. We are more interested in glorifying the banal and promoting the commonplace types, with whom the majority can identify.
Whatever you may think of America, at least they attempt to be upwardly mobile. That's the American Dream.
What's the UK equivalent?

Monday, September 24, 2007

An Uncle Lear Snooze....

We were at my brother-in-law's, The Submariner, for dinner last night.
The discussion turned ( as it is bound to in a house with a 15 ( The Sailor) and a 10 year old ( The Supermodel)) about how ancient I am.
Apparently, the father of one of the Sailor's school friends arrives to collect him every day at about 2:45 and then snoozes until collection almost an hour later. I opined that I would happily do this any time, as I only need to stop working and narcolepsy sets in.
" Ah, yes, " said the Sailor, " But an Uncle Lear's snooze is a power snooze - not an old git's dribbly snorts."
I didn't have the heart to disabuse him.

Got to go now...

... said a friend in a slurry voice the other evening as I spoke to him on his mobile.
" I've a very difficult bit of walking to do."

One big field

On the train the other day I heard two elderly ladies discussing the view as it staggered past the window.
Somewhat wistfully, the first said, " Ah, I remember doing this trip during the war, and the whole of England was just like one big field, with wonderful hedgerows. One hardly saw a soul, just cows and sheep."
" Oh, yes", said the other. " And there was no chance of being spotted " at it" in a hedgerow."
Whereupon they both burst into hysterical laughter.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Iain Martin in the Sunday Telegraph...

... has a very good article on the Cameroons and their need to think positive. As I've said before, united we stand, divided we fall. I have to say that the present Tory party rather reminds me of a maiden aunt who jumps every time the door bell rings.

Humiliation and Brown's Big Lie.

If you were watching Andrew Marr this morning, you would twice have heard Flash refer to the humiliation of being forced out of the ERM, and David Cameron's part in it. Even Marr, a noted leftie, couldn't help but say, " Yes you've said that already " when it came round the second time.
But was it? Arguably, the idea that it was humiliation was a media fabrication, and, certainly in economic terms, it has been anything but.
The idea that DC had any effect on the thoughts and decision making at the time is ludicrous.He was a very junior player - hardly more than the tea-maker.
But Brown and his minions trot it out, so much so that last week the BBC showed Cameron behind Lamont on the " fateful" day in connection with the Northern Wreck situation. Why? There is absolutely no connection, apart from trying to make political mischief.
Marr, of course, is not an Economist - he is a journalist and a political one at that.
An Economist would have stopped Brown in his tracks. It was political & economic stupidity to go into the ERM at the rate they did. Arguably, that was Mrs. Thatcher's fault, corelating a high exchange rate as a macho stance and a strong Britain. In fact, of course, only very powerful countries with a high degree of discipline can afford high exchange rates. What happens is that your exports are less competitive. However, if you can stand the pain, hold down wages, increase efficiency and so on, within a year or two you are booming along again. This is because, in relative terms, your exports become cheaper as the other countries buying from you lose competitiveness.
This is exactly what happened in Germany throughout the 60s , 70s, 80s and 90s. If you speak to German businessmen, they will tell you that things are permanently dreadful, but they still export more in monetary terms than any other nation on earth ( think about it - how many plastic ducks make up a Mercedes?) and enjoy an exceptional standard of living. But it relies on the self-discipline and self-denial of the nation.
So Kohl, reuniting Germany, screwed them with the Ostmark rate ( "Chancellor, no lower than 3 Ostmark to 1 Deutschmark" " Certainly, Herr Bundesbank" - 5 minutes later anouncing the rate " Our nation will forever remain together as one, at a rate of 1 to 1"), and then Schroder screwed them with the Euro, just when they had clawed their way back.
Now, they've done it again and clawed back their preeminent competitive position. No Germans are asking for a policy that will lower the Euro. But the French, Spanish, Italians,Irish and Belgians are.
So let's look again at what happened after Britain left the ERM. That's when Brown's "unbroken quarter on quarter expansion of the economy" started, and his claiming credit for it is complete nonsense, not only in economic terms, but in factual terms as well. So, far from being a humiliation, it was a masterstroke.
Brown, unfortunately, has been the beneficiary, rather than the Tories.
In Economics, the greatest truth is that promulgated by Keynes.
When accused of arguing the contrary on a position he had previously held, he replied " Why not? What do you do when you're wrong? I change my mind"

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Charles and Camilla Generation

If you've been keeping up, you will know I was at a wedding last weekend in the Cotswolds. It was between a 61 year old man and a 57 year old woman, who have been in love off and on for the best part of 50 years.
Now I hear that this is becoming quite the thing.
A young lady told me that her Grandfather, a scion of a rich family in Scotland, never married until the girl he loved was widowed when she was 65. He promptly married her and left his money to her children when he eventually died, never having had any of his own.
Two of our male friends have recently "got together with" ladies of similar age, in both cases extremely well dressed and on their own for decades.
It raises an interesting point. In the old days, widows tended to remain widows - the men had all died out - but now that seems to be happening less. It's clearly a function of our lasting longer.
It's rather a nice thought. The picture of Charles and Camilla on their trip to the Middle East, walking hand in hand up a slope touched me. They're clearly just a couple of comfy buddies - somewhat pampered, but then some of us are.
Just a sidelight on Camilla. Our daily insists that her name is " Camelia" Oh well, each to their own.
The finest example of a C & M moment was a very old friend of one of my long deceased batty aunts. She owned a major tourist attraction which she had inherited from her husband, whom she had married after he proposed for the 25th time, once every year for 25 years. She, too, was somewhat batty, but had a wicked sense of humour, and particularly liked to tease my aunt who, although great fun, was frequently the butt of family japes.
To cut a long story short, our large and disparate family were holidaying abroad. There were always so many of us that we always had about 4 or 5 cars on any trip for dinner, and on the way back, I, as a small boy, was with my aunt's friend ( Mrs. Tourist Attraction) and another. We were leading the pack home by quite a margin. There had been talk of Mrs. TA's daughter arriving sometime - an oboeist in an orchestra in Roma ( Don't ask).
No sooner did we get back to the villa than Mrs. TA disappeared at a clip. A few moments later, her head popped round the corner of a door and said "When the others get back, tell them my daughter has arrived."
Within 5 or 10 minutes the rest were back, and I duly piped up that Mrs TA's daughter had arrived.
To be fair, everyone had had what used to be called a skinful - no breathalysers in those days, and, in any case, being in France noone paid any attention anyway. Drinks were poured, and my mother tried to persuade me to go to bed, but I was determined to meet Miss Oboeist.
With a crash, the door to where we were all sitting was flung open and an extremely unlikely figure shouted " HERLER".
She was dressed in a kaftan with a large fur hat and a scarf. " I'm Miss Oboeist" and with a manly stride and a firm grip she shook hands with all the people present, who were dumbstruck in the extreme.
" Can't stay, " she shouted, " Got to get to Monaco!" and she disappeared through the front door.
About 10 seconds later, Mrs. TA appeared from the back of the house,saying, " Oh, has she gone? "
In case you haven't guessed, it was Mrs. TA in disguise ( bloody clever too), but the drink, the dim lights and the general astonishment meant that to the day she died my aunt was convinced she had met her friend's daughter.
The only unbeliever was my aunt's husband, a large genial American, who sidled up to me and said " Whatever you do, don't tell your aunt the truth. "
He claimed that he had glimpsed Miss Oboeist's ankle as she rushed out the door, ".. and that, my boy, was no 20 year old's ankle."

Hello in the Park (3)

Being Saturday, it's me and the dog around the park.
All the usual suspects were there ( at least the dog knows who they are).
There is a dilemma, though. The joggers and serious walkers have to be passed several times in the course of the wander along whilst the dog checks the news at every bush and clump.
First time is no problem - the appropriate "Hello" " Good Morning," etc is fine - second time round perhaps " Hi" ( or silence? I never know) Third time is distinctly a grey area. Walk past with eyes down or averted? Surely they don't become invisible just because you have seen them three times?
There's a chap who exercises a whippet by riding his bicycle along the paths at great speed. He can go past 5 or 6 times in the space of one tour by my dog. He is meticulous in stopping to bag and bin, which is really excellent. In fact, most people in the park are pretty good at this.
I came across the foul-mouthed lady again this morning. Her mobile was still clamped to her ear, but she was - how shall I put it? - purring into it rather than shouting. And had a very smiley face.
I can only assume someone other than her husband/partner/significant other was talking to her, as not only did she not reply to my greeting, she ignored me completely.
Still, I expect her other half will be doing the same with Ms. A.N.Other by now anyway.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Go to Wigan - Go Upmarket!

A friend emailed me today to tell me that Wigan was where people from Stoke 0n Trent went when they want to splash out in an upmarket location.
The only thing I know about Stoke on Trent is that last Easter we were in the middle of nowhere in the highlands, when a hotel appeared. Outside it were some pretty flashy cars, beside which were parked small, wife-like/secretary-like runabaouts.
" Hm" mused the Headmaster's Wife. " It would be very easy for anyone to spot these people and know what they were up to" ( taking tea obviously -ed)
Anyway, a general discussion then ensued as to where one would go to be unfaithful. London was suggested ( big place, easy to hide) but rejected as so many people moved throught it all the time that one knew.
Latvia ( soo in, therefore out).
Cardiff ( give us a break).
No, there was only one place in the whole of the UK that could be guaranteed not to attract anyone.
Stoke on Trent. Safe as houses.

Pay it forward

This is the title of a film about a boy who tries to do good things for people and asks them to "pay it forward"
We all say from time to time " How can I ever repay you?". Well, the boy's answer was " Do something good for somebody else".
Needless to say, this being a tearjerker, the boy ends up dead.
But I was reminded of it this morning about the tale of young boy in Greenock, just down the road from Glasgow, who had been murdered - presumably by his contemporaries. By all accounts, he was a " pay it forward" sort of person. This is how far hatred of ourselves and jealousy of one another has taken us.
I don't know that in times past we were necessarily more charitable or helpful, but I'm absolutely sure that as we get older we need to take stock and give back some of what we have had.
I don't just mean money. If everything could be solved with $s or £s, all our problems would long ago have been banished. The inumerable volunteers who keep our charities going give the lie to this.
I am fast approaching the " sans teeth" stage of life and I do my best to be helpful and caring.
So let's all try to make the world a better place.
Phone someone you've been meaning to.
Make a lunch date with someone you really ought to.
Give some of your precious time to a worthwhile cause.
Care for someone.
But above all, whatever it is, do it today.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

I had lunch today..

.. in an establishment that I had no idea still existed.
I was in Wigan ( where?) for reasons which are far too boring to even consider, but was taken to lunch at what I can only describe as a Lancastrian roadhouse eatery.
I could describe it in less flattering terms, but this is a family blog.
Starters were orange or apple juice , or, to be fair, soup, but I wouldn't trust it.
On arriving at the carvery ( under the hot lights you know, and all dried out - in fact the cabbage had frizzled) I decided the least awful looking thing was a piece of pork - didn't appear to have a lot of crackling on it, but still. And at the other end of the array of garbage was some cranberry sauce. Strange I thought.
Anyway, the person supposed to carve was not available - so the receptionist said he would.
"I'll have the pork please."
" Don't 'ave no pork - it's lamb, fish or turkey."
Ah, that would explain the cranberry sauce.
Carve is to use too polite a term for what he then did .He hacked it, as it was so dry.
I can't describe how bad it was.
I was ashamed to find that such places could still exist in the UK.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Mrs.Lear the Vigilante

You probably know I have always been enormously proud of Mrs. Lear, ever since our first date when she ate her way through the menu without batting an eyelid.
But today, I think I never felt prouder.
Whilst waiting outside some of our flats for the gas man ( yes, they still don't turn up, and instead of one lot you now have three to deal with), a bottle landed on top of her car.
By chance she happened to be looking in the rearview mirror and saw five boys, aged 10 or 11, sauntering away.
She leapt out the car and shouted at them, whereupon one shot off like a scalded cat, the the other 4 turned to face her.
Now Mrs. Lear is a formidable presence. She isn't that large, or tall, or muscley, but, as Wellington might have said, by God she frightens me.
So four eleven year olds were very soon standing in a line with their backs to the wall.
I won't go into all the details, but she first got them to phone their pal who had shot off ( " Didny ken his mobi nummer" " Either you phone him now or we'll all march to your school round the corner" " How do youse know whit skool werr a'?" " Because you're wearing one of it's sport shirts" ).
Clearly the urgency in his pal's voice persuaded said absconder to return, sheepishly.
" Now, " said Mrs. Lear, " I want an apology from you."
Dragging feet, downcast eyes.
" Come on, I'm going to keep you here until you're late for school, then march you to the headmaster." Ignoring the politically incorrect is one of Mrs. L's most endearing characteristics.
" mumble mumble"
" SPEAK UP BOY!" They had clearly never been spoken to by anyone in such a manner. They all jumped back two feet ( except the wall was behind them, which clearly they had forgotten).
" Sorry missus."
"RIGHT! And don't let me catch you throwing things around again. Cut along now, and don't be late for school."
If only we all had the courage to do it, there wouldn't be a problem anywhere on our streets.

The B of E no longer independant

I won't bore you with this - I'm sure you've all realised what a sea-change has happened in the last couple of weeks. And don't forget, the B of E will now take up to £10billion of " mortgage backed securities" for 3 months from next week from anyone who cares to lob them along Threadneedle Street. That won't be mortgages with less than 25% outstanding being paid by 55 year olds who have been in the same job for 40 years. It will be the 100-110% ones to the likes of Sid Vicious which are already in arrears, and which - ultimately, because of Flash and Darling Darling's utter ignorance and lack of understanding of Economics - will eventually fall on the taxpayers in the UK.
No, what I want to share with you is something that has been niggling in the back of my mind for a week or two, and which suddenly burst forth in full flower as I wrote a cheque this morning . ( Those that know me well will realise this is not something I do either willingly or often). I was, at the same time, looking at a calendar, and noted a date - 18th October.
I have a godson whose birthday this is, and whose father is an IT whizz. He spends his whole time working for banks, being paid the most unbelievable sums of money, because he makes sure the systems ( all a bit creaky now) keep running - and he makes sure the back-up works too.
Anyway, about this time last year, Mr. Itwhizz, his wife and two children were visting us, and we were chatting about what he was up to at that time.
" Ah well, " he said, " I am doing systems for the banks to manage their mortgages in big chunks"
We had a discussion about it, and I eventually asked why the banks were doing this.
" It's because they will all run out of money next year, about August"
I had forgotten this conversation until I saw the October birthdate on my calendar this morning.
In essence, all the banks do mortgages, but actually lending the money, as opposed to taking the fees for arranging them, is not very profitable. In case you don't know, the banks profits come from fees - not actually lending money.
So last year, Mr.Itwhizz was being told by the banks that they would run out of money this year, and therefore needed to offload their mortgages, and needed systems to cope with this.
Makes you think doesn't it?
Robert Peston, on the BBC website, has a good description of the mayhem at the heart of the BofE, the FSA and the government. One can't help but feel it would never have happened under Steady Eddie

S & M

For those of a sexually curious nature, please don't get excited about the S&M in the blogroll.
This is shorthand for stumblingandmumbling, which is Chris Dillow's excellent, mainly economic musings.
Today, he has an excellent article describing how Main Street USA has actually been cutting back for some months, in anticipation of harder times to come, and what effects this will have longer term. He poses the question, is Main Street a better forecaster than Wall Street?
As we all know, a trend is a trend until it reverses, which the credit markets well and truly have.
But the main point is that in fact the herd is almost always wrong. A self-reinforcing truth is not necessarily true.
Adam Smith ( he of non-Scottish ilk) in his Paper Money book, talked about the fund managers that followed, not the herd, but the opposite - perhaps the runt.
Whenever they got a bit twitchy about the market, they would go to one of the big retail brokerages ( probably Merril) and watch the orders coming in from all over the country from Mr. and Mrs. America.
As long as the preponderance were sell orders, they knew they were right to be buyers.
The point, of course, is that, on average, everything is average. It's a bit like a sailing race when, if everyone goes one way, the line up at the start will almost certainly be the same at the finish. If, on the other hand, Mr. Cleverclogs veers away from the fleet and does his own thing, there is every possibility that he will end up the winner.
Or last.

Toothless in Glasgow

I broke a tooth the other day whilst eating cabbage. That will tell you how rotten the tooth was to start with.
Mrs. Lear informed me I would have to wait three months for an appointment with our unctious dentist, but undeterred I phoned and was slotted in this morning.
Why do dentists insist on talking to you when you can't reply? It would be good to be able to say even just " Shut up", when your mouth is full of cotton wool, local anaesthetic and sucking machines, but it's a touch incomprehensible - a bit like the extremely annoying Virgin ad with the talking dog on Classic FM at the moment.
Anyway, after much description of what he was going to do, he removed the stump and packed the resulting hole with gauze.
Total time: 17 minutes
Time talking: 16minutes and 25 seconds
Time for extraction: 7 seconds
Time for looking at extracted stump:12 seconds
Time for putting extracted tooth on sidetable:16 seconds
Time for raising chair to vertical again ( in silence): 10 seconds.
Total cost ( when the bill comes in) £147.50. What the 50p is for I have no idea.
Once hustled out the door onto the front steps, unable to speak, the next patient was already in the surgery, and another was ascending the steps towards me.
He took one look at my puffed-up cheek and twisted mouth, hesitated, blanched, turned round, and walked away.
At least I've done some good today.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

What's being done about something

Well, that headline isn't strictly true. Not very much IS being done, but I suppose something is better than nothing.
Please, before you read the rest of this post, note what I have to say is not racist, merely factual.
Last night, about 350 people in my extremely leafy part of Glasgow turned up to complain to our local Councillor, David Meikle, Nicola Sturgeon, our MSP, and various other political worthies.
Thier complaints were twofold. The first was to do with high powered cars racing around our streets at double, treble, whatever, the speed limit. The second was to do with the general security of people walking in the area.
To take the second concern first. This is to do with 10 and 11 year old white children walking home from school being attacked by several Asian teenagers. This is a daily problem at the moment. When reported, the police in the area have been doing nothing. If these Asians were caught by some bigger white children there would be bloodshed.
The racing cars are entirely driven by young Asian men. Again, despite inumerable reports, the police have done dothing.
The problem is that the minute a policeman asks an Asian a question, he is immediately accused of being racist. Since the stop and search " sus" laws were changed, there has effectively been no control on Asian and black youths' street behaviour. Just remember that almost all muggings and street crimes are carried out by black or Asian youths. That's not racist, it's a fact.
You may have picked up that PC David Copperfield aka Coppers Blog is going to Canada. Why? because he is fed up with spending 80% of his time on risk assessment and form filling. And even when he actually gets to walk a beat and deal with something, the last thing he wants to do is stop and ask any questions, as he then has to fill out a questionnaire with 40 questions.
The basic problem is that the pact between the Police and parents and adults has broken down. Parents are no longer in control of their children and the Police - despite reams of extra laws - actually have no power to deal with them.
The one good thing that came out of last night was a young Asian girl who stood up and said outright that the problems were caused by Asians. Noone else, of course, dared such a statement.
She also made the point that it was up to the politicians to speak to the leaders in the Asian communities to get them to take control of the situation. I personally think that's entirley worthy, but completely wrong. Our laws are enforced ( ha!) by our Police. If another authority is being deferred to, then heaven help us.
Because if the Police don't get a grip, there will be those in the white community who will take the law into their own hands.

Monday, September 17, 2007

A billion, etc etc Part 448

Well by now you may have heard that Alistair Darling AKA Broon's sock puppet has effectively nationalised Northern Rock - and by inference every other bank in the UK.
He has guaranteed NR's deposits - something that completely gives the lie ( as I suggested earlier) to the statement that the BofE and the Government would not bail out imprudent lenders. But if he's done it once, there's no chance if another one ( probably Alliance and Leicester) suffers a run he won't do the same thing.
He has to. Under no circumstance, politically, can Labour be seen to stand by whilst a Bank goes bust.
But the most intriguing thing is, ok,NR had £24 billion of deposits, but it had lent about £100 billion, and has therefore been borrowing about £80billion daily to cover the difference.
So not only will Darling Darling have to payout the £24billion of customers deposits, he will also have to fund the £100 billion of loans.
That'll make the PSBR look a bit iffy.
Watch as interest rates plummet to get everyone out of the quagmire!
See banks forclose on customers!
Notice how lending dries up!
See tax rates soar!
Oh, and forget your credit card.
They're already cutting limits the minute you pay any money onto them.
Blair's Legacy? Brown's Demise.

Thierry Cabanne

A name from my misspent youth in London as a student emerged today.
Thierry Cabanne was the owner of one of the largest brokerage and importers of French Wines. He died yesterday, aged 62.
I knew Thierry 40 years ago. Then he ran a restaurant called The Gasworks.
It sat beside what is now Chelsea Harbour, but then was a gasworks.
By day it was an amazing antiques shop. By night, Thierry and his partner transformed it into a super restaurant. I think the average bill was about £2 per head including wine. I had some amazingly wonderful evenings there, usually staying on to help clear up and cadge a last glass before Thierry closed up.
My fondest memory was of one night when - for reasons I can no longer remember - I had invited Ed " Stewpot" Stewart, the DJ, for dinner, along with his staggeringly beautiful girlfriend.
Ed was telling a story and shook his head to emphasis a point. We all fell about laughing at what we thought was the punchline ..." I've lost my contact lens!"
In fact, Ed had shaken it out into his girlfriend's cleavage. Naturally, we all offered to retrieve it.
But Thierry stepped up. " Non non. Zis is a problem for tact, diplomacy and warm 'ands ...." and promptly dropped an ice cube into the gap.

Hello in the Park ( part 2)

I promised I would return to this subject.
What astonished me about the lady in the park was her cheeriness to me once she had slagged off her husband/ partner ( don't you hate that word? makes it sound like a business deal - but then again, maybe it is).
I have been reading a book by a chap called Gerd Giggerenzer, who is head of the Max Planck Institute in Berlin. The book is about going with your gut feeling, rather than the Benjamin Franklin advice to draw up a balance sheet and see which option is better. Apparently, our instincts produce better results, and by a long way.
However, part of his thesis revolves around why some couples live long and happy lives, being nice to each other, whilst others have flaming rows every few minutes. The lady in the park had no reason to be nasty to me, and therefore was perfectly nice. I was clearly being deferential and "nice" as well.
It all depends what happens the first time someone says a cross word.
At the risk of appearing sexist, let us suppose the man, on returning home after working hard, doesn't find his dinner on the table.
Does he a) yell at his wife to get a move on b) sit down with a drink whilst she makes it c) says " Let me give you a hand"
Now on the face of it, option b) looks pretty good, but this can lead to resentment. a) instantly leads to a yelling match, which leads to resentment on both sides. c) on the other hand, leads to the wife feeling guilty she hasn't got the dinner ready, so she is especially nice to him.
In other words, if someone is nasty to you, by being nice back, you make them feel guilty, and they are then nice to you. Far be it from me to draw parallels, but somebody once said something about turning the other cheek.
So the lady in the park was getting her own back on the man for not being nice to her. He, in turn, would almost certainly " pay her back" at the first opportunity, and the vicious circle would lead eventually to divorce etc etc etc.
If on the other hand, she had said, " No worries, darling, just you go and enjoy yourself - I'll sort out ( whatever)" he would feel guilty and would almost certainly do what she wanted next time. Result? Happiness all round.
So the next time a retort leaps to your lips, count to 10 and say nothing.
Or better still, " Sorry."
From 1 Corinthians 13:
"Love is patient; love is kind;love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;it does not rejoice in wrongdoing,but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things,believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."

Bank of England messes up

Well, I'm back from Romania, having attended a wonderful wedding in a place called Sudcombe in the Cotswolds on Saturday. Even if I say so myself I looked exceptionally attractive in my new floral waistcoat. The nibbles were excellent, and it was a bun and run type, where everyone was able to move about amongst their friends. The only drawback is the people drinking around me when I am on the wagon - which I permanently am in the UK. The wedding had a touch of Charles and Camilla- the groom was 61, married before, divorced, the bride a stripling of 57, never married, who has been in love with the groom since she was a little girl. Ah, young love. Or in this case, somewhat geriatric. When the vicar asked then to kneel, they both required helping hands both on the way down and the way up. I'm being a touch catty I suppose.
But I digress.
I don't care how much spin Alistair Darling and Merve the swerve put out - they have completely screwed up.Remeber Merve's " Well noone's asked us for extra liquidity so we haven't provided any." Somewhat economical with the truth there - it emerges representatives from the major high street banks ALL asked for it and were told they would have to make do. See how the BofE secrecy rules help them? The other banks could hardly say the Governor was lying, could they?
From Mervyn's " We won't bail out imprudent lenders," and 24 hours later, " er yes well, criteria justified blah blah." It is entirely clear the bailoutof Northern Rock is a political expedient - not least because Brown's favourite banker ( Wanless) sits on Northern Rocks board and credit committee.
Even worse, it has emerged that Lloyds TSB said they would take them over, provided the BofE gave them the same deal as they were giving Northern Rock, only to be told no no. Except that, er well, er, PLEASE take us over shouts the Chairman, and er, oh, yes, BofE says of course we'll keep the loan in place, justified, criteria, strict guidelines bollocks. And Darling blethers about Cameron and the ERM debacle ( Why? It is completely unconnected and irrelevant). And, of course, Brown has disappeared again - bit dodgy out there at the moment. Such a coward that man. Prime Minister and Leader? More like Walker in Dad's Army.
So this just might be the point where Blair's Legacy has come home to roost.
In the States, Bernanke, despite his seemingly impeccable credentials for just such a moment, dare not keep the Fed rate at it's present level.
Greenspan's gibbering over the last few days has shown just what a rubbish economist and understander of the markets he is. When he was originally being confirmed by the Senate as Chairman of the Fed, one of the Senators brought up his record to date - which included being wrong on every single decision he had ever made in his business life. The Senator sighed " I guess it must be about time for you to get one right."
Unfortunately, he didn't.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Buying a car in Romania

Today I spent practically every waking moment buying a car.
It started at 8am at the dealers, with various experts assuring me the car was suitable. This cost the equivalent of Eur 10 split between various bodies. This is how it works here - a few Lei as the currency here is called works wonders.
Anyway, by 9 oclock when the bank opened we were rolling. The salesman came with me to the bank. The lovely Alexandrinska shoved half a dozen bits of paper in front of my nose, all of which required my signature twice and stamped twice as well. The money was then in escrow.
Next stop was a notary public. We all trooped into his office , various sums changed hands and we were asked to return in an hour. The salesman's job was now finished, until such time as we would hand him the bank receipt for the money transferring, so we took him back to the garage.
Just time for a quick coffee then back to the notary.
There were a total of 22 stamps and signatures.
Next was the bank again, who required to take copies of the copies - only another two stamps and signatures. The money was then transferred and the bank gave us two receipts, with their stamps and signatures.
At this point, we became the legal owners of the vehicle.
For reasons of sheer boredom, I won't go on with the visits to the town hall ( where we found the garage owed the town about Eur 20, and we could not have the relevant paper until this was paid - we paid it), the licence office, the car plates office, the insurance office, the carplates office again and then the garage to collect the car.
Now you might think that the car at this point was taxed, plated and ready to roll. Not a bit of it. The piece de resistance is that the local police have to inspect the car, the papers and as far as I could tell the stamp itself.
There are two ways of doing this.
One is to drive the car on trade plates about 50km to the police station in the regional capital, sit in a queue for a day or two, and finally have a policeman look at the car through a window, stamp the papers and off you go.
The other way is to have a connection. Everything in Romania comes down to a connection.
So a friend of Alin's who has a friend who works in the police station in Targu Mores made a phone call, and, as if by magic, two policemen appeared at the garage, shook everyone by the hand, stamped a paper or two, shook hands again, and drove off.
NOW we can take the car. It's 5pm. Noone has had anything to eat. An arrangement had been made. We triumphantly drove the car to a local restaurant.
There, waiting for us, was every one of the people we had been dealing with all day, including the man from the police station in Targu Mores and the two policemen.
I am assured that otherwise it would take three weeks to buy a car.
It was well worth it.
UPDATE 1: You might think this is all a bit of a joke, but take note: nobody has no car insurance in Romania, nobody has a car which is unsafe on the roads, nobody has not paid their road tax and nobody drives without a driving licence. The checks help with this, but the real stick is every single one of the above offences carries three years inside. So that could be 12 years just for what in UK would probably be a fine of a few hundred pounds.
Oh, and speeding fines and points are on the spot. If you don't have the cash, expect to spend at least a couple of days inside. And don't for one second think you can get away with saying you left either your wallet, driving licence, insurance or granny at home.
Seems to work a treat.
UPDATE 2: A policeman I met at the weekend, when I spoke to him about this, told me that in the UK we would need to build an entire penal colony on the Isle of Wight to lock up all the offenders.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

My beautiful new yellow shoes

Well, I have my new shoes.
Now, I know people buy shoes every day, but these are specially special. The only shoes I have bought in the last 5 years are Timberlands. I am a very conservative in my regal clothes. Whatever I wear, I wear my Timberlands. Unless it's a wedding or funeral.
So, when my shoes fell apart - as it happens they were a pair of another brand I had been persuaded to buy, much against my better judgement - I took a strategic decision that for my mountain goat style surveying I would buy a pair of walking boots. Or shoes.
So I kitted myself up with the equivalent of a couple of hundred quid and wandered off to the shoe shop.
Now I have no real idea of how people behave in shoe shops - actually, I think most men have no idea of shopping at all - but I have to say I was somewhat unsure of how to behave. The young lady behind the counter clearly had no real interest in selling me anything, as the shop was heaving with folk. I spotted a pair of boot-like shoes with big sole - they were bright yellow.
To cut a long story short, I decided they were for me. I asked how much they were.
It turned out they were twenty pounds.
That $40 or Eur 30.
Leather uppers, solid composite soles. Sewn in uppers. Fantastic.
So I put my derelict ex-shoes into a bag and walked off to find my driver.
I was clearly visible from 100 yards away with my yellow shoes.
" Mr. King - what you buy?" I should explain that the Romanians do the names the wrong way round, so Alin thinks my name is Lear King.
" OOh, those are Cluzana.VEEERY important shoose"
It turns out that in Ceaucescu's time, these particular shoe/boots were only allowed to the ruling classes, ie his pals. They were simply unavailable in Romania. If you saw a person walking towards you with yellow shoes, you got out of his way. And it was always "his".
So there I was with my beautiful new yellow shoes.
The lady in the Bank said " Bootiful new shoose! Cluzana! I wish for my boyfrien'!"
The first mayor we met today said ( in Romanian) " Cluzana! VEEERRRY important!"
The school director, to whom I was taking books said " Oh my God, Cluzana! Where did you get them!"
And the lady cooking lunch - and, as it eventually turned out, dinner said " Alin. Where you get heem Cluzana?"
So I'm seriously proud of my shoes. I have spent time, money and effort to make these people like and help me.
And all it took was a pair of shoes that cost the equivalent of a couple of pizzas.
The rest of the day passed in a complete haze. We had a very serious meeting with mayors, consultants, secretaries taking notes, builders and translators. Every one of them asked me about my shoes. Everyone of them insisted on having a drink with me " to yore new shoose."
I have no idea what I agreed to, but my driver and translator assured me, " Mr. King, you do verrry good business today.But Mr. King, why you invite all these people for dinner at Christmas?"

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

What's the Romanian for Oh, shit.

I apologise for the somewhat Imtrying to createanimpression heading.
I have, however, had a distinctly painful experience.
I am now in the little flat in Sighisoara which overlooks the town square. The heating works, I have a bed, a blanket ( sheets and pillow too), 5 chairs, 4 mugs, some soap, a coffee pot and a teaspoon. In fact all that one requires to exist happily in a stripped-down lifestyle. I accept I've slightly overdone the chairs but they came as a job lot for Eur 20, so I didn't think I could really say I only needed one. This was all carted into the flat by a taxi-driver - try that in Knightsbridge .They have taxis here which are like pick-up trucks, and people use them all the time to shift stuff about.
The rest will have to await Mrs. Lear's arrival next month. I haven't been married all these years without knowing my limitations.
Anyway, back to the problem. If you've been paying attention, you will know that a lot of my time here is spent wandering about the hills and fields, usually taking in some seriously rocky paths, and gazing contentedly about as the sun glints off trees, streams, sheeps ( as everyone calls them here) and listening to two Romanians planning where to put a tree.
Yesterday, we were somewhere about "The Faraway Tree", probably the best part of 20 minutes walk from the road. The temperature has dropped, as one would expect at 12-15oo ft up, but the sun is still shining merrily.
I tripped.
I got up, dusted myself off, took another step and tripped again.
Now normally, I can stay on my feet pretty well - and no I hadn't been drinking. The first beer yesterday was after 5pm.
I did notice, though, that there appeared to be a sort of dirty banana attached to the bottom of my left shoe. It turned out to be the sole, which had removed itself from the upper.
The only thing to do was rip the remains off - I could hardly trip every other step on the way back.
A little bit of history is required here. When I was 14, I broke my left leg badly,and, despite lots of excellent doctoring, it is marginally shorter than the right. So with the sole off, I was doing a good impression of Long John Silver pretty quickly - and yes I know he only had ONE leg, but he hirpled along, which was what I was doing.
So after walking for oh, 100 yards, my back was killing me. The sole of my left foot was starting to get seriously sore on the stones, and generally I was not in a happy frame of mind.
What to do?
I decided the back was worse than the foot, so I ripped the sole off the RIGHT shoe, which meant I was at least balanced, and made it back to the car on the inners of my shoes. Believe me when I say I don't wish to do this again.
So now you see the reason for the headline.
Strangely, something similar happened once before. My skiboots disintegrated as I walked up some steps, and I spent the rest of the day getting back to the hotel on the inners.
Anyway, we all made it back and some excellent Sarmalya ( cabbage leaves stuffed with meat) and a beer set all to rights.
Now I just have to break in a new pair of Romanian shoes.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Hello in the park

What do you do if you are walking around the park with your Dog? I always say " 'Morning" in a clear, straight-out kind of way to everyone I walk past.
As I have now been doing this for some time - and as the Dog is known to lots of people from his walks with Mrs. Lear during the week - I am invariably greeted more effusively than my somewhat flat delivery would warrant.
The problem is, I have no idea who these people are. I recognise some of the dogs ( that's not quite right, the Dog knows the dogs) but, as far as I know, I have little in common with the owners.
So, as a sort of sop, I have instituted a gradation of " Hellos"
People without dogs get the usual " 'Morning."
Those with dogs, who the Dog ignores, but who I have seen before get the full, (stressed first word) "Good Morning."
Those with dogs that the Dog knows, and I recognise, get " Hi there!"
I feel I am doing my bit for good neighbourliness.
I was, however, somewhat taken aback this morning, when, after the "Good Morning" greeting, I quite distinctly heard the lady to whom it was addressed shout " Shut UP!"
On further investigation I noticed she had a mobile clamped to her ear, invisible under the hair and on the other side from where I was walking. I had involuntarily stopped in surprise.
" Shut UP! SHUT UP!" she shrieked. I thought it best to continue walking.
Except, the Dog had decided this was a good spot to stop and sniff, to get the news of the day.
So I stood there somewhat awkwardly as this outwardly respectable lady swore and cursed whoever was at the other end of the call - words a lady should never use I'm sure, but probably frequently does.
She made no attempt to move away, or lower her voice , or moderate her language whilst she berated the poor unfortunate - whose, crime, it would appear, was that HE ( of course) had gone off to do something , when she really really wanted to do something else NOW!
To cut a long story short, the conversation ceased abruptly. At which point the Dog started to move again, and I made to follow him.
" Lovely day!" said the lady waving gaily and walking off.
She had clearly got it all off her chest, and was now quite content, having made his day miserable.
More anon.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Sex and the Economy

I'm going to get into terrible trouble from all sorts of people for this post, but I feel I should share it with you.
The other evening, we had some friends in who were talking about a friend of theirs ( Mr.X) who had dumped his wife in exchange for a much younger, but Korean version. When they had been introduced, the wife of our guests says, this Miss Korea 2005 had sat looking immaculate, answering her husband's every whim. Now our friend's wife said that the feeling had been that Miss Korea 2005 was being exploted by the husband, but further investigation showed this might not be the case. In fact, she travelled around in business class, she had a nanny to look after the children, she had money to buy what she wanted, and all she had to do was , er, service her husband. A form of prostitution? Well, yes, but what about the wife of the person she was visiting? She worked, bought the food, cooked it, looked largely like a worn out old sweater, had to drive the children all over the place - anyway you get the picture. Who is doing the most exploitation? The husband of the Scottish girl or the Korean?
Anyway, this set my economist instincts twitching. Mrs. Lear, when a student in Florence, had a friend who was male who used to ask the local prostitutes what they charged, and wrote the answers in a little book. I'm not sure quite why he was doing this, unless he was trying to get a freebie.
So lets start with a basic premise - suppose it costs £100 for a man to have sex. Now I know it can be much less or much more, but bear with me.
According to research, it's not the French or the Italians who have the most sex, but an average European 25-45 year old male has sex three times a week. Forget older and younger for the moment. So that would cost him £300 per week with a prostitute or say £15,000 a year.
If, on the other hand, he marries, the sex is free. Actually, in economic terms, it is not.
What is the cost of the house, the children etc etc - even if the wife works, the man has a cost which probably isn't a million miles away from the £15,000 postulated above.
Where his sex becomes really expensive, is if he gets a divorce, and has to hand over half his assets - driving up the economic cost per session enormously. A 45 year old divorcing and handing over eg £250,000 increases his costs to about £200 a time.
So my thoughts on the young man in Florence are that he had already glimpsed a potential Nobel Economics Prize-winning postulation - that it is cheaper to have sex than get a divorce.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

A billion here , a billion there....

Well, another $57 billion actually. The ECB lobbed it into the pot today, just to be sure. I make it about $400billion in total they've rammed down the collective throats of the markets.
Not that the good old BoE has done anything.
The other really interesting thing is from Wall Streets current gyrations is that someone, somewhere has clearly been tipped the wink of a cut in the Fed rate - or a massive bailout.

UPDATE: Er, another $30 odd billion between ECB and the Fed today.


Someone has taught me how to do pictures here, so I thought you might like a look at Transylvania.
The picture above is of a typical Saxon town, called Cloasterf. The Church/Citadel is the defining part of these villages, all of which are between 5 and 8 km apart. Their primary use was defensive against invading Turks and Ottomans.
This is is a typical area - note the farm track and hay ricks. Also the lack of trees.

Warheads for sale

Hm.Google does throw up some strange stuff . I was looking for hair products.

Engineers & Scientists do NOT have all the answers

Lovely story in the Telegraph today.
Apparently, Nepalese Airlines ( they of the Gurkha persuasion) were having some problems with one of their Boeing 757s. The mechanics fixed it, the engineers checked it out, and still it wouldn't work.
So they called in a Shaman. Now, this is not, to be fair, usual Boeing procedure, but in this case the man on the ground decided this was the right course of action.
Having checked out the problem, the Shaman said " Go and get two goats".
He then proceeded to slaughter them in the 'plane ( presumably using his kukri).
I can imagine the Boeing's man's thoughts - and his face.
Wiping his kukri on his coat, the Shaman opined all would now be well. Picking up the goats ( after all, waste not, want not) off he toddled, leaving a rather thunderstruck group on the 'plane.
Once they recovered themselves - and cleaned up the mess - the chief engineer said they had better see if something else was wrong, but first, try it again.
All went absolutely perfectly. They checked and checked - nothing had apparently changed, but now it worked.
So the next time the clotheswasher won't work, slaughter a goat inside it. One should do the trick if you only need two for a 757.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Baumol's disease

Chris Dillow (, who I am getting to like more and more, has an excellent piece on school productivity, which, if you have read Graeme Archer on Platform10 about schooling today, should give everyone involved in education and paying for it pause for thought.
In essence, Baumol's Disease says that, because you continue to increase salaries and the cost of inputs (=buildings) by definition the productivity of school teachers falls ( see article below*).
Now anyone in business knows this. Paying someone £50,000 to do a non-producing job ( that's a paper-shuffler to you and me) instead of the £45,000 you gave them last year is supposed to increase their "productivity" As far as I am concerned, you can only send so many emails, type so many letters and have so many meetings in a year. If, on the other hand, you give someone £50,000 a year for producing not 45,000 widgets (when they were on £45,000), but 55,000, their productivity has increased.
So, to get back to education, what do we want out of it? The answer is we want a workforce that can read, write, do arithmetic , and a certain number of doctors ,dentists,chemists, phycisits etc etc.
So let's stop pretending noone can fail. When I did my A levels, the pass mark was adjusted up or down so that 30% ALWAYS failed. This meant you could fail even if you got eg 60%, if 70% of the candidates did better than you. This helped the Universities to have classes that were actually ready for tertiary education ( unlike the present system where universities are having to hold summer classes to prepare students. They even need to be taught how to write an essay, for God's sake.)
Draw a line. Stop debasing exams and inflating expectations. Make sure that pupils do NOT leave primary without basic skills.
And we might just have a workforce that can take on the Indians and Chinese in a few years time. Just think - how many British school children speak Chinese? How many are learning it? It doesn't matter, because 100% of Chinese children are learning English. Yeah, right.

Baumol's cost disease (also known as the Baumol Effect) is a phenomenon described by William J. Baumol and William G. Bowen in the 1960s. The original study was conducted for the performing arts sector. Baumol and Bowen pointed out that the same number of musicians are needed to play a Beethoven string quartet today as were needed in the 1800s; that is, the productivity of Classical music performance has not increased.
In a range of businesses, such as the car manufacturing sector and the retail sector, workers are continually getting more productive due to technological innovations to their tools and equipment. In contrast, in some labor-intensive sectors that rely heavily on human interaction or activities, such as nursing, education, or the performing arts there is little or no growth in productivity over time. As with the string quartet example, it takes nurses the same amount of time to change a bandage, or college professors the same amount of time to mark an essay, in 2006 as it did in 1966.
Baumol's cost disease is often used to describe the lack of growth in productivity in public services such as public hospitals and state colleges. Since many public administration activities are heavily labor-intensive and have a limited desirable provider-customer ratio, there is little growth in productivity over time. As a result, the costs of the bureaucracy will inflate quicker than the growth in the GDP.( courtesy of Wikipedia)
Chris Dillow's conclusion is you need to cut functions - as in get rid of the bureaucrats.

True story

Accroding to The Herald's Diary,at the Celtic European game the other night, the game went to extra time and penalties.
As time went on, a voice was heard from the back of the stand " For F***s sake, get a move on. The wean's got school the morn."
The translation is " Please hurry up, my son has to go to school in the morning."

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

An extra bad hair day

I got this today by email. It's from a lady in her late forties.
" An old friend of mine married (2nd time round - not that its relevant) a rather wealthy air freight company owner a few years ago .They had a son - she was desperate for children (hence ditching first husband) & all seemed well - large fancy house, no longer worked, own BMW (tacky I know but it was a la mode in those days) . She came home from shopping one day & found him dead - died intestate - mega problems- especially as his "ex" wife turned up with 2 sons - chatted to my friend B. & it transpired they had never divorced. She then said to B. what provision had been made for her ?(nothing naturally) .Next his mistress contacted her - the rent had not been paid on her flat or on her hairdressing salon. Then the Inland Revenue turned up - unpaid inc tax for employees - then the boss of the company turned up re fiddling of VAT - so on & so on. The crowning glory came with another mistress from Isle of Man turning up at the funeral - she thought he was on business trip opening another office in North east hence he'd not be in touch for a week or so. B. had a breakdown !!!! Now she is living with chap No.3- who seems a bit flaky - some folks never learn - he is much younger than her (ie 22years) - there is a certain time of life when (no matter how much nipping & tucking a woman has) the flesh gets weak & sags & is not pretty to look at with or without the light. But she seems to enjoy herself - her son now lives in US & is not impressed I gather !! But the legit wife naturally had all the problems of the financial side to bear but everyone lost their houses & business !!!"
So the next time someone says they're having a bad hair day, think on.


As part of my BAFTA duties, we went to see Atonement tonight.
It's OK. It's nowhere as good as the critics are saying, but then, they've had nothing to actually " criticise" for some time. The summer's blockbusters don't require their efforts - even if they panned them to a man or woman they would still have the dosh rolling in.
This actually gives them something to get their teeth into - a BOOK for God's sake. As the BAFTA Director said this evening " See? Write a book and get lots of people to come to see the film."
It's a tad slow in pace, and, as with most films nowadays, 15 minutes cut out of it wouldn't make much difference, and would sharpen the tension.
The best acting was the young girl playing Briony Tallis. The divine Keira was fine, except I do wish she would eat a few more potatoes and a hunk or two of bread. It might help her dress to have some shape. But an Oscar? Not unless they give them just for looking lovely.
Which is always possible.

Monday, September 03, 2007

The five people who most influenced my life

Secrets and Subterfuge, better known as 007.5 , has a piece about a book she is reading.
In it, the hero ( for all sorts of reasons) after his death meets the five people who have influenced him most.
Now, you could be influenced by obscure people who you can't remember I suppose, but I have a very clear idea of those who have influenced me.
The first would be my old maths teacher, who is still alive. In truth, he wasn't that much older than me when he was teaching me, but he always had a gravitas and knowledge which has ever surpassed my own. One of the things he instilled in me was a love of the theatre, which you might think strange from a maths teacher. But that is the sort of person he remains.
The second was the headmaster at the same time. For a variety of reasons, I had to sit next to him, his wife, or a visiting dignitary at lunch every day for over a year. I'm never too sure whether it made a man of me or scarred me for life.
Third would be my mother.
Fourth would be my first girlfriend. After we went our separate ways, I contracted mumps and my landlady threw me out on the street at 1am - in pajamas and a rug. Now young men must not move when they have mumps, for fear of ruining their matrimonial prospects.The only person I could phone was the Miss Ex Girlfriend ( they were Miss in those days, and described as girlfriends) who took me in and looked after me for over three weeks. I'm convinced, had it not been for her, I would never have had children.
Finally, it would have to be the banker who first lent me money. I don't mean £50, I mean for a deal - for a business deal. In those days, the manager of the branch took 95% of all lending decisions, based on their experience and knowledge of the customer. Only when it got to be a big sum did it go up the line.Now you can't even get to talk to anyone unless you already owe them £250,000 - and you want to borrow another similar amount. But then, the middle-aged man, approaching retirement ( and yes, it was always a man) would discuss your requirements, make suggestions, and probably put you in touch with some of his other customers who might be useful.
Anyway, this man, when I asked for an appointment, immediately ushered me into his office, and offered me a seat. I think I was 19 at the time, and he treated me both with respect and as an adult. This was all the more extraordinary, as, then, you could not be held responsible for debts incurred before the age of 21 - or vote for that matter.
But he listened gravely, asked a couple of questions, and agreed that he would lend me the money.
And then he said: " Just remember, it's not your money, or my money, or even the Bank's money. It belongs to all the people who entrust their lifesavings to us. So look after it."
If only people had the same view today.

The Death of Theatre

Jim White has an exceptionally good piece in the Telegraph today about the death of West End Theatre, killed off by The Musical.
I wrote about this some time ago. He argues that Sir Peter Halls exceptional Pygmalion is not transferring. It has played to full audiences of a somewhat more discerning character than the usual mixture of tourists and bus coach tours that make up a West End audience nowadays. White says that the audiences that were going to Pygmalion were precisely those which used to sustain Theatre as a whole in the UK, and are, in his words, discerning, thoughtful and grown-up.
This is just one more of the things that is being lost in our country. Quite a number of the audiences I would think have actually read the play - and probably a few more by Shaw as well. But as he is no longer taught, as English becomes beyond the grasp of our dumbed-down school children, as actors turn more and more to America, film and TV to make their money, we will lose something that can never be replaced, and something that set the UK apart from pretty much every other country in the world.
The final insult is that the theatre which might have been going to take Pygmalion is getting a musical - Bad Girls: The Musical! ( don't forget the exclamation mark), based on the gut-wrenchingly awful ITV Drama - and before you say you liked it, I can only tell you most of the population didn't.
Call me a snob and elitist if you will, but man never made any progress by lowering expectations. In fact, his finest hours have been when ( as that great song from Man of La Mancha had it, he dreamt " the impossible dream, to strive when all hope is gone, to reach the untouchable star".
And yes, I have read the original.

A Good Day

I had an exceptionally good day yesterday. It was the West of Scotland Gurkha Curry Lunch, which is always good fun, as I am the organiser, and I get lots of my pals to cough up for tickets. Anyway, we raised about the same amount as last year, which I was quite pleased about. Raising money has never been harder.
The best thing, though , is the excellent grub. We get a Gurkha Chef to come up from the south ( together with a piper) and he produces such delicious food that everyone has second helpings. Pud is always a bit school daysy - yesterday it was fruit salad and three flavours of ice cream, which, because of the general age of the participants, went down a storm.Normally quite sedate dowagers waxed lyrical about Buffy in the Fourth when she had FIVE helpings of Frog Spawn with tinned peaches. And Miss Speckles had had an absolute fit!!
Some of those attending came back for tea, so by the time it was all squared away, it was late-on, and I didn't have long to wait for the Sopranos.
I don't know if you follow this programme, but the premise is that the Don, Tony Soprano, is getting help from a psychiatrist, and daren't tell anyone.
But the really nice thing is he is a normal family man, subject to all the insecurities and pressures that men approaching middle age feel. He had his 47th birthday,
last night, and his ( extremely obese) brother in law managed to lay him out.He opined that his wife would no longer love him as he was descending into decrepitude. Needless to say, as all little boys do, he got his own back.
It does raise a point, though. The assembled Ms.Lear's are of the opinion that I am 12, when in reality, today is a birthday which, I suppose, either puts me into old age, or certainly finished off my middle age. I have never felt anything other than about 20. It's only the whitening hair and increasingly frequent Senior Moments that tell a different story.
I'm sure these feelings of being less physically strong have much to do with men and their Middle Life Crises. I can't say I had one, or feel as if I'm liable to have one, but then, I've always kept my brain active and been up for new experiences. If you want to do something, do it. If you want to buy something, buy it. If you don't you'll always regret it.
And you may have noticed on my profile that doing as little as possible is one of my objects in life.
I think I can fairly say I've managed that so far.

Sunday, September 02, 2007


Well, we were not quite right, the Biogeneticist and me, but we were right enough to be quite pleased.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Profit! Drink! Dancing girls!.. Or not...

Myself and the Biogeneticist are sitting on tenterhooks this afternoon.
We have been trying out a few things with the multi-billion dollar ( read 50p) business we have. If we're right ( ok,ok, if he's right) this could be not only profitable, but interesting, amusing and engaging.
If he's wrong ( ok, ok, if I'm wrong) it will still be interesting, amusing and engaging.
And the latter is probably better for my soul.

Too true

“You need only do three things in this country to avoid poverty; finish High School, marry before having a child, and marry after the age of 20. Only 8 per cent of families who do this are poor; 79 per cent of those who fail are poor.” By William Galston in the Indie, curtesy of Pickled Politics.(
That's why encouragement of the family is a good thing in and of itself.

The Great Scottish incarceration

Tomorrow, where I live will be surrounded by police, crash-barriers, cones and police tape.
I will be unable to move more than a short distance from my house, and every time I do I will be shouted at to get out of the way.
Just because where I live is quite attractive, the Stalinists who rule Glasgow City Council like to get it on the TV as often as possible. Please note that the people in my area probably supply something like 25% of the total tax take for the city in one way or another ( not me you understand). So the Council really enjoys making our lives difficult.
So tomorrow, apart from being ghettoised, I will have to wait for:
1) the removal of the tons of litter left by thousands of sweaty smelly runners as they throw away drink cups, bottles, clothing etc. And the spectators leave even more rubbish.
2) rain to wash away the pee smell which will be everywhere.
3) Council workers on triple pay to remove the barriers which will allow me to move around again.
Now don't get me wrong. I am perfectly happy for people to run around and raise money for charity. I would just prefer if they did it somewhere that didn't interfere both with my movements and the movements of anyone trying to get around Glasgow tomorrow morning.
And I would really appreciate if they wouldn't pee in my street in their hundreds.
And especially not in my garden.