Friday, November 30, 2007

Naval manoeuvres

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

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Credit crunch and tax receipts

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

2014 Commonwealth Games

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

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

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

From Money Week

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

From Money Week - delayed

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

Oh dear me, no.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


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

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


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

A miracle...

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

Monday, November 26, 2007


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

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The saddest names...

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

Friday, November 23, 2007

Climate change? Pip has it sorted....

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

Today's anagram

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

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Online security

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

What do you remember about being in Love?

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

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

ID cards a must

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


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

Monday, November 19, 2007

Lunnun Tahn

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

Friday, November 16, 2007


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

Or Anywhere.

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

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Twinkly Little Stars

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

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Making money

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

Monday, November 12, 2007

Credit Crunch

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


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

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Raising money for a good cause.

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

Friday, November 09, 2007


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

Monday, November 05, 2007

A compliment

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

Sunday, November 04, 2007

On Budapest and the fate of the Euro

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

The wedding

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