Monday, December 29, 2008

Sterling Schmerling

You could say the markets are adjusting to the certainty of another drop in UK interest rates - but I wouldn't. The smart money can see how completely this government has destroyed our economy.
Many years ago I read an excellent book that made the case for making things - its the only real way to add value. Selling hairdressing, financial services etc etc is all very well, but it won't pay the bills in this environment.
I had lunch today with a well respected financial figure in Scotland who told me of visiting NOMADS in London recently. The four most senior people in the firm met him to do a £2million transaction. Why? Because they had nothing else to do.The last deal they worked on was in June.
Until the feel good ( or at least the feel better) factor comes back you can forget pay increases, or even being sure of your job. Another 600,000 out of a job? That's about half what it will be when the high street really crumbles in the next month or two.
And that's why Sterling is tanking.
And why credit default swaps on it are triple those on Germany and double those of France.
PS
The news about USC, Tom Hunter's retail business, being in and out of administration, only serves to reinforce the point.
"Scotland's richest man" was forced to sell his stake in Dobbies at a loss when his bankers ( HBOS by the way) said they wanted the cash back. My guess is that anything he owns is currently on the block, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if he ends up ( along with many other HBOS customers) NOT owning very much.

Serves them right

Dizzy has a direct quote from the Egyptian Foreign Minister, which broadly says serves you right.
The difficulty in Gaza, and with the Palestinians generally, is that no-one can enforce any kind of law or cohesion. The Israelis spend half their time talking to one set of people only to discover that anything agreed is immediately negated by another set.
This is particularly galling for Jews. Despite a name for being " sharp" in business, once a deal is done, it's done. So to have dozens of different factions all disagreeing with each other makes it impossible to get anything agreed and then enforced.
There's a wonderful episode of the West Wing when Bartlett commits 20,000 US troops pretty much to stand between the Israeli Army and the Palestinians - which goes on forever as no-one can find who to do the next stage of the deal with.
It just might come to that if people are really serious about peace in the area.
PS
Gaza is the UN's longest running humanitarian mission and dwarfs all others put together. It's been running since 1947....

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Picking up Rubbish

Remember when Maggie T got Richard Branson to head up an anti-rubbish campaign? From memory it wasn't that successful.
The old Eastern Block countries simply have incredible numbers of street sweepers, as its a very cost effective way of using the available workforce and get money to them.
It's the same reason as the cotton industry in India will never become modern and mechanised.
What would be very successful would be if you could persuaded everyone in the country to pick up just one piece of rubbish a day. I do my best and tend to pick up even more if there is a rubbish bin in the vicinity.
Today on a very bright frosty morning I picked up 4 pieces, which were an Irn Bru can, a plastic bag, another Irn Bru can and another plastic bag.
My only complaint is that there is no recycling bins anywhere nearby for the cans.
It makes me feel highly virtuous, and at the same time it appears to be having an effect. People have seen me doing it, and some of them have followed suit. As a result the park is tidier and the streets leading to it are as well.
So come on everyone, pick up just one piece a day for a better world.
I promise you'll feel good.
PS
Irn Bru is made in Scotland from girders.....

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Sales and The Box

What are we actually witnessing here? In Manchester, London and elsewhere, the BBC brought us reports on how much more was being spent this year than last in the sales, and there were the usual stories of people having queued all night to get the article of their dreams.
Is this biassed BBC parroting Liebore's theme that things are sort-of-not-too-bad? Or is it the last Huzzah! before the deluge?
Two interesting snippets that have wafted over the ether. A "young" 60 year old staying with her daughter and son-in-law is complaining bitterly about the heating not being on during the day - nor a fire. Both workers are very well paid, although they spend a lot. Feeling the pinch rather too much?
The second was on the BBC report from Manchester. The store manager was waxing lyrical about Prada bags with 70% off at £200 and Armani suits at £300 for 50% off.
But the lady who had been the first through the doors had bought a dress reduced from £45 to £22.50, a bag down from £60 to £19 and t-shirts for ther boyfriend reduced from £36 just £24.
Clearly the cheaper end of the market will get the sales.
Who, on the other hand, would ever pay £24 for a t-shirt, never mind £36?
The other thing that caught my eye this morning was the BBC project " The Box".
This follows a container around the world for a year whilst it does its job. It's already taken whisky from Scotland to Shanghai, and tape-measures from Shanghai to New Jersey.
In the meantime, since it set off about 3 months ago, freight rates are down 50%, the Chinese factories are laying off 30% of their workers, as well as cutting their wages by up to 40% and the retailers are busy telling their suppliers either you give us a backdated discount or we'll find someone else.
The most interesting part of this is that effectively the headline 70% off retail prices sounds great - but the new sales prices going forward will probably settle at about 50% off what they were with all parties still making ( some) profit. Hence the fears about deflation - why buy today when it'll be cheaper tomorrow? It happened in Japan for 15 years. Maybe that's why the sales have got off to a good start - people waited for the cheaper prices.
Tough it will be - but good for everyone longterm.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Odd Christmas numbers

Today being Christmas we were visiting various relatives for lunch.
The conversation was hardly intellectual but there was a passage when discussion turned to the recent School Dance, how many had been there and what the cost had been.
Naturally it also revolved around how much all the 16 year olds had managed to secrete in the way of alcohol going in, and then consume.
"There were 130 there and it cost £18 each"
"Ah," said the Sailor's mother " I can't work that out. It's odd numbers."
There was a silence.
" Er, but both numbers are divisible by 2."
"Ah, no, there's a 1 and a 3 and the zero, and then a 1."
" What about the 8?"
" It's under 10"
There was another silence. Then everyone started discussing other things.
Youngest Ms. Lear texted the Geneticist. " We cud have used u 2day @ lunch 2 help with some big multiplication."
Shortly thereafter the ping of the reply was heard.
" We scientists call it long multiplication. But I think u deserve E for effort."

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

That 2.5% cut

People who say the VAT cut is a waste of time are clearly not retailers, or resellers of services.
Yes, if you are a supplier showing the VAT on an invoice, I doubt it is doing you any good.
However, if you do NOT show VAT, you have been handed an extra 2.5% profit margin. As someone explained to me " It's all about being able to keep people in work."
Selling eg a ticket for a show at £65 is fine, reducing it to £63.61 will have no appreciable effect.
But if instead you stick to the £65 and keep the extra £1.39 and multiply that across a few thousand tickets, you are starting to make wages.
Which just might be the difference between survival and bankruptcy.

Monday, December 22, 2008

UK News on Romanian Radio

Here in Romania, you would be surprised what makes it onto the news. This revelation about Jacqui Smith and here husband was featured on the local radio news - and presumably across the country. I don't think they put UK news on just because I am here.
What's even more interesting is the reaction of a people who are universally branded as corrupt and crooked.
They are astonished, firstly that she can employ her husband for GBP 40,000 a year ( enough to employ about 100 people here for a month) but secondly that the newspaper didn't know who he was. Or maybe they did and chose to run it anyway.Here everyone knows what your connections are - connection is everything.
When I pointed out that maybee it was a clever ploy by the newspaper to discredit a bad minister, everyone was instantly impressed with my Machiavellian nature.
The other thing that seems to have got this far is the MET anti-terror cop whose wife is running a car hire company from their home. Unbelievable.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

...and a Marriage

The church in Nemsa had been damaged by a storm that had left most of the roof in a field some way away.
This is the Romanian Orthodox Church as opposed to the Lutheran Church that the Saxons used to use and now completely unused, or the Catholic Church - similarly unused.
Today was the re-dedication and naming of the Church, and the marriage referred to is that between a priest and his church.
We were bidden for 8am, only to be told that it would be 9am - or later. I should know by now never to turn up on time as whatever it is is always late.
Anyway, sharp at sometime after 9 two horses cantered up the road, one with a Romanian flag and one with the diocesan flag of Sibiu. This was followed by a string of black Mercedes and Audis, the Mayor's battered Daewoo and Erne bringing up the rear in the police car on which only the blue light flashes.
I had not realised quite how big a deal today was. The Church itself only holds about 50 people, and, rightly, the Bishop of Sibiu decreed that locals were to be allowed in and others were to remain outside. In the event some people had come from 4 or 5 hours away, and stood outside in the lightly falling snow - even Bucharest bigwigs.
I counted as a local, so the Mayor, the School Principal, Alin and I got to stand immediately in front of the screen that separates the altar from the congregation. The reason for all the smart cars was because there were no fewer than 12 priests present, including the number 2 in the Romanian Orthodox Church, sent by the Patriarch as his personal representative. We started by all walking around the Church and having it renamed St. Nicholas's
The service was beautiful, including much incense, bowing,crossing, prayers and singing all the time. The village priest, more than somewhat overawed by his superiors turning out in such big numbers, prostrated himself three times, then received his badge of office - a newly made crucifix.
As at all weddings there were tears - in this case the local priest overcome with emotion, and the Archbishop of Sibiu & Transylvania with fellow-feeling, remembering when he had received his crucifix. Then came the sermons, which, although I could understand little, and Alin could not translate because of the hush, had a marvellous cadence and power. I understand a little now, and one of the sentences was that "This Church is one of the Pearls in the crown that is the Romanian Church - as you can see by looking around. Christ will always be waiting for you here."God's power clearly shone from the Archbishop's face as he blessed us all.
The service lasted a little under three hours in total, but didn't seem so long. The newly roofed Church was beautiful with its bright blue and gold-starred ceiling, paintings and frescoes of the nativity, of Christ's crucifixion and rising again from the dead. After it was over, all the priests greeted us individually and wished us a happy Christmas.
Naturally there was a meal, carols and some speeches, but the presence of so much religion didn't seem to bother the locals, who behaved as they always do when food and drink is laid on.
During the lunch ( quite early, only about 2:30) many people came to speak to the Mayor and also to me. In that immediate area, we are now the largest individual landowner after the City Hall, and with next year's agrarian cycle beginning to be thought about, there is much to be decided.
The people speaking to the Mayor were mostly from Bucharest and Brasov asking for favours. This was the reason they had come today to this ceremony, because it was open to all, unlike the local events. The priests of course also had requests - that was why there were so many and of such power in the Church hierarchy.
The Mayor's most recent particular power is because the next Minister of Labour got there because of his endorsement. They have been friends for more than twenty years, but the Mayor is very happy in his village and has no wish to live in Bucharest. His protege wanted the bright lights and the Mayor made sure he got them. Think of the occasion as a cross between Mayor Daley of Chicago and Marlon Brando in "The Godfather" on his daughter's wedding day. Being Romania, it works both ways - there is a quid for every quo.
Soon enough it was time for the priests to leave. They disappeared into the falling snow, leaving a new Church, a newly elevated priest, and a new hope.
Behind them, too, were the sounds of Christmas merrymaking in the village.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

...Death...

Today the pig that has been growing all year was killed.
175kgs. was his weight. Despite the fact it is against the rules, noone in Romania when killing their pig does it any other way than with a knife through the heart.
Humane killers may be how its supposed to be done, but the creatures are still alive for a short spell.
Nelu, whose day job is paying out the money from Mosna City Hall, is the doyen of butchers. He has a touch that quietens the animal, and a long thin knife that in one jab kills the beast stone dead.
The whole pig is then boiled in a huge vat for about 20 minutes, then set on its back on a grid, and all the bristles burned off. Once it has been thoroughly scraped and washed, the butchery can begin.
First to be removed are the four trotters.This is so that turning the animal is easier, and it can sit steady on its remaining stumps. The back is cut all the way along, and the fat exposed. There is no blood - that has already drained away when it died.
No bit of ther pig is left unused. All the insides are made into a sort of pate. The fat and skin goes to bacon. All the odd bits are turned into sausages - made with the cleaned out gut. The bones are chopped into suitable sizes for stock.
The liver is fried and handed round to the workers. Mulled wine and tuica fortifies them. Some specific small pieces of meat are handed to Naia, who is the vet. He makes slides for inspection through his microscope. He pronounces the meat good.
Six hours after the work starts, it's time for lunch. Polenta and pickles and the freshest parts that have been cooked in their own fat are served. Butchering is hard work and the team all eat heartily.
There are other people present. The forester who looked after the pig until it was ready. His boss, who allowed it to wander through the woods.
But no women eat with the men. They are preparing the sausage meat and the pate.
By 5pm all is finished. The bits to be smoked are hanging with a fire under them. Those for salting are sitting in brine. Those for drying are hanging in drafts of air.
The yard is hosed down for the last time, the knives resharpened and put away.
An extraordinary event - yet commonplace.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Chicken's Foot Soup.

Well it all passed off very well. After doing some business in Sighisoara this morning we arrived, as bidden, sharp in Mosna for 11:15, to find noone around and nothing happening.No food had appeared, no wine, no nothing.
As the kick-off was supposed to be in Alma Vii at 11:30, we wondered if we should have gone there first, but just then we spotted one of the City Hall people walking towards the Village Hall. Everything had been put back ( could have guessed that) and the Mayor would be with us in 15 minutes.
Half an hour later a pick-up truck roared into view, its lights flashing.It screeched to a halt beside us, and several worthies leapt out - I say leapt out, more like ambled. Ten seconds later the Mayor's car arrived and disgorged a few more folk, including the lead singer and cultural director of Mosna.
Now you might think that things would have started to move forward. In a sense they did, but only in so far as the first bottles of wine were taken inside and immediately opened. Cakes were passed round, some bread eaten, one of the policemen reported to the Mayor that Erne was just coming with the ham bones, huge pots were filled with water and set to boil.
Another glass was drunk whilst the food and drink started to pile up.
"Eh Bine ( roughly OK)," said the Mayor about 1pm. " Now we will go to Alma Vii."
The truck still had bags for the children with soft drinks and chocolates piled in it, as well as huge mounds of sausages, bread and bananas,as well as the obligatory wine.
At Alma the kindergarten and Class 1 were waiting for us, and sang songs and danced to great acclaim, and then the sausages etc were handed out to all the old folk, who were much more interested in the wine.
The caravansarai loaded up again and we went to Nemsa, where the singers gave a rousing rendition of several Romanian Carols, and the old folk got stuck into the wine again.
By now it was 3pm.We made our way to the main event, which was Mosna.
It was like a soft spring day with no clouds. Rather than crowd inside to start with, the wine was passed round outside whilst we were regaled with more songs. It was lovely when people we had met through the year came up and wished us a happy Christmas and a good New Year.
Then inside and before the old folk could get stuck into the food, there were the speeches. First the Mayor, then the School Principal - then me.
Alin had been coaching me and it was quite short - but it wasn't off the cuff and I stuck rigidly to what was written on the paper. It seemed to go down well - but that might just have been because they were having hysterics at my accent.
" You did good Mr. King" " Really?" " Well, I can say, if I am not wrong" Hmm - could mean anything.
Time for food - lunchtime just after 4pm, which is quite early for Romania.
First we had soup with herbs, parsnips, ham, eggs broken into it - and chicken. Somehow they wangled it so I got the chicken's foot, which is supposed to bring luck.
Then delicious fried white fish, followed by pork steaks and Mosna potatoes -which make all others taste flat.
The singing went on, the wine flowed - and ran out.
In many places this might be a problem, but not here. Every house makes its own wine so there is always plenty to hand. Nelu is the main producer, and he was sent to get more from his house - two doors up.
By now the 400-odd oldies were getting quite rowdy and having great fun, but it was time for the vote of thanks. With great difficulty, the head of the Old Folk's Association quelled the riot, filled two glasses, and made his way solemnly ( if somewhat unsteadily) to where the Mayor and I were sitting. He launched into an impassioned speech, mentioning all the progress that the town had made during the year, and thanked the Mayor for the lunch. The Mayor stood and accepted one of the glasses. The two men raised their glasses to each other and solemnly drained them. A roar of approval went up - and the head of the Association made to turn away. Unfortunately, he had clearly had more than he needed - but Cornel ( who laughably thinks he is the Mayor's bodyguard) and Marius ( the Vice Mayor) just happened to be beside him, grabbed his arms and helped him out with no dignity lost.
"Sigh" said the Mayor" I have to do that for him every year."
PS
There are parking restrictions all over Sighisoara and you have to find a parking attendant, and pay for a chit when you park - especially up in the Citadel. I had noticed that recently Alin had been ignoring any need to do this. I asked him why he was no longer paying for the parking.
"Oh, Mr.K, I forget to tell you. The Mayor of Sighisoara is being friends with the Mayor of Mosna. So they do some monkey business, and you gonna get free parking from now on in Sighisoara. But not me - only when I am driving you."
That'll be another Christmas gift then.

Births....

Today is the old folks Christmas lunch. There will be about 400 of them, and I am an honorary member of their association. I have to make a short speech in Romanian, which I have had Alin translate and I have then phoneticised ( if you get my drift.) I will only be saying enjoy the food and drink, keep warm, have a happy Christmas ( phonetically Cratchiune ferrychit) and New Year.
Buying land continues to throw up mistakes made nearly 20 years ago when it was returned from the State to the original owners. A transaction ended in the bin yesterday because the same piece of land in theory belonged to two different people - though everyone knows it belongs to Mrs A. The land court in Sibiu is one of the busiest in Romania, mostly rubber stamping decisions taken at city hall level by the Mayors and endorsed by them.
Yesterday's transaction had an unexpected bonus. The lady in question had not allowed anyone to see the land certificates before getting to the Notary's office - the lovely Ioanna ( Joanna) is now pregnant - so we had no idea there was a problem until the title was checked against the cadastral plan.
On the other hand, she also owned two adjoining pieces of land that bracketed the bit she had agreed to sell to us, but had never mentioned. Would she in the meantime sell these to us whilst the other piece was sorted out?
"Oh I didn't know they would be of interest to you. How much?"
So despite the fact that we are known to be buying all the land in this area, it never occured to her that these two strategic pieces would be of interest. Sigh.
Anyway the deed was done, and Alin and I made our way to the house of another lady who has been very helpful in identifying land for sale and its owners.
No sooner were we inside than the door was flung open and another elderly lady envelopped me in her ample bosom.
This lady was living with a man ( not married) and so had no standing in terms of dealing with his property. Last summer she had negotiated the sale of some land to us, only for it to fall apart when it was discovered that their daughter, living and working in Spain, had put an inhibition on the sale of land without her permission. This isn't as devious as it sounds - it's partly a tax avoidance measure.
Now the daughter was home for Christmas and the sale was on again - but it had to be done NOW as they were all going to visit family in Bucharest TONIGHT! So we all trooped back to Ioanna and did what was required and the money changed hands in time for Christmas.
Alin got the confirmation today that he and Andrea his wife are going to have a baby. I know I'm a dinosaur, but he seems far too young to be a father at 33.
I was 28 and a man of gavitas and demeanour when the first Miss Lear graced us with her presence.
But that's different of course.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

ZIRP

The fragrant Winchester Whisperer's prediction of zero interest rates has come true. Not only was the US Treasury able to borrow USD32 billion for free, it was able to get a similar amount being paid a miniscule account to hold it. And the Fed promptly dropped its Fed Funds rate to zero as well.
So we are only waiting for the same in UK.
And then all will be well.
Or not.

Christmas is coming

Today was spent sorting various administrative problems that are endemic in Romania. They always entail lots of bits of paper with lots of stamps and signatures on them and result in not having to do it again for another year. It's a bit like a perpetual motion machine. It doesn't actually do anything, just keeps going.
The Mayor was insistent that we should be at his house sharp at 5 pm for lunch. Both Alin and I were delighted at the prospect, as Tina his wife is an excellent maker of ciorba, which is Romanian soup. It usually has a few dods of cigarette ash in it as well, which definitely adds to the flavour.
So we were sitting quietly slurping our ciorba when there was a shout from the yard, and the Mayor rushed out.
I can't remember if I told you but his house is right next door to Erne the policeman's.
After a few minutes the Mayor called us out into the yard.
There, in all their glory, were two superb turkeys. A somewhat shifty individual was there as well.
Now I assumed the turkeys had been ordered for Christmas.
Not a bit of it. They were technically a thank you for some service rendered.
The Mayor thanked the man, who then said " Are you sure it's OK having them so close to the policeman's house?"
"Of course,"said the Mayor. " You didn't steal them did you?"
" Er well, no, not as such. I found them walking along the road." The Mayor raised his voice.
"ERNE!" The man nearly fainted and started trembling.
"Yes boss."
" This honest citizen has brought these two turkeys who had escaped to me for safe keeping. I want you to take them into custody and if noone claims them by Saturday morning I want them served up for the Old Folk's lunch."( Erne is a fantastic cook)
"No problem boss"
Now I suspect the turkeys were always intended for the lunch, which was fine, except we now had to get the turkeys from the Mayor's yard into Erne's. Erne, because of his superior police training, disappeared for a few minutes and reappeared with a net. Within moments the turkeys were captured and removed to protective custody.
Until Saturday, when police protection will be withdrawn.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Overnight....

I got to Budapest as organised for about 19:30 their time, only to be told the trains were all off as a strict had been called at 3pm that day.
Small problem - how was I supposed to get 600 odd kilometers down to Sighisoara?
Fortunately I had spotted a Romanian tour company and asked if they had a spare seat. Not one. The guide did point out several other coach operators who were hanging about so I started going round them. I finally found one going to Satu Mare which is just inside the Romanian Border and would take me there for Eur 25. I texted Alin to tell him and said I would catch a train in the morning from Satu Mare, and immediately got a call.
" No Sir Mr. King, I am coming right now to pick you up!
"But Alin, its a six hour drive.!
"No no, those Hungarians Bandits they will attack you."
"Actually its a Romanian minibus"
" You see?"
I wasn't quite sure what this meant but assured him I would meet him at the Railway station.
The bus was full, so the driver was making a good profit on the night. The roads to the border are almost entirely motorway - all that money the Hungarians borrowed has been spent on infrastructure - and we were within 50 kms of the border within 3 hours. We stopped at a service station and grabbed some food, then we were off, whisked through in moments instead of the hour or so the train border police take, and by 2am Romanian time I was texting Alin to say I was in the waiting room at Satu Mare.
It held the usual bunch of overnight people, but after half an hour or so a new group came in of elderly men, clutching what was clearly violin cases.
I've told you before how fascinated I am with the overnight travels that people undertake, and so I went up and asked them where they were going.
They were Hungarian and had been to the wedding of a Hungarian couple at Targu Mures. Now they were trying to get home and there were no trains.
" Play something for me and I will arrange to get you home."
They looked at me in astonishment. After a bit of chat between themselves ( which I guess amounted to "What's to lose?" they took out their instruments and began to play.
The music was the saccharine Tzigane music we associate with Hungary, flashing mustaches and swarthy Gypsies. With a few minutes all the taxi drivers from outside had come in to listen, as well as everyone else hanging about in the vicinity.
I took a hat and gathered some money for them.
They finished and there was a huge round of applause, and much bowing and twirling of hands.
"So how will you get us home?"
I had kept the card from the minibus, and phoned him. I told the driver there were 8 people wanting to get home to Hungary and within ten minutes he was back, collected them and took the money that had been gathered.
Alin turned up a bit later and we got to Sighisoara at the time the train would have got us there - even if both of us were somewhat more tired than usual.
But I at least was uplifted by the music.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Treasury Notes...

.. have all but disappeared in Glasgow.
I went to the bank today to get some English notes for Mrs. Lear as she is heading for Morocco, and I always like her to have some English cash. Not liking cards myself, cash is cash and you can always get what you want.
However, it took me six banks to get any.In the Bank of Scotland ( HBOS) the girl behind the counter told me people had been refusing BOS notes and asking for English. Clydesdale were OK, and they would take Royal Bank at a pinch. Rather like the Tchermans refusing to take southern Europe Euro notes, although that one leaves me confused and puzzled.
I've never been that keen on cards. I've watched too many films where the hero ( or villian) gets tracked down by using his card. Or having it stopped and having to walk the rest of the way.
The grand finale was quite a few years ago when we had friends staying with us in a villa in France. Although they contributed to the daily grub, they offered to take us out for a meal. Another friend, also staying, on hearing that he wasn't about to have to cough up for his share, promptly ordered lobster and a gin and tonic.
At the end of the meal my friend called for the bill and nonchalantly handed Madame his Visa card.
She didn't even touch it.
"Non"
Needless to say, he had no other method of paying. Mrs Lear came to the rescue with her Eurocheques, which were a wonderful thing, but, I suspect, rather too easy to defraud people with, and costly to encash.
So ever since I've always carried enough cash with me to do whatever I want.
Which generally means that I end up having to pay for everything and getting a load of cheques from odd people when I get home.
Sigh.

Monday, December 08, 2008

The way things were

I was hearing that Mr.Fact had assisted an epileptic on the Eurostar the other week, and had been given a free 1st Class return ticket.
The conductor was mostly concerned to know if they would have to stop the train to offload the poor chap. In the event, he simply went to sleep for the rest of the journey and wondered why people were so solicitous of him when he eventually awoke at St.Pancras.
Mrs. Lear was party to the conversation.
"Ha! That's nothing. When I was at school we had a girl who was epileptic."
Now Mrs. Lear was at a small perfectly formed school outside Edinburgh which only catered for young ladies of exceptional quality - at least when they were on their best behaviour and were not beating up all and sundry on the lacrosse field.
"So how did you deal with it?"
" Well we locked her and Wee Jeanie in the library"
Now Wee Jeanie to this day weighs about 120 kgs and she didn't weigh much less when she was 16.
"Why did you do that?"
" Well she used to make a lot of noise and then fall asleep."
"So what was Jeanie for?"
" She used to sit on Epi until she stopped shrieking and fell asleep. And we made Jeanie stay with her until she woke up."
In sure elfnsafety & all sorts of child protection services should be told.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Jade!

Today is Mrs. Lear and my 35 wedding anniversary. It is a Jade anniversary.
Being a lateral thinker, when I was informed of this this morning, my mind immediately said " A Jade and a Harlot!" which seemed to me to be a quote from something.I suppose it's got some connection with Jade Goody, who thankfully appears to have disappeared from the news.
Nothing would do but that I would check the dictionary, which says that a jade is a horse broken down from overwork - hence applied to a woman who is a harlot...
It also means a difficult horse, and hence a scolding woman, so, all round, it's not too complimentary to the ladies.
The slightly worrying thing is that now we are all living longer, 35 years is probably only half of the sentence. After all, if I made it to 70 years married, I'd only be 95, and, as I continually tell my children to annoy them, I plan to live to be 102. Whether Mrs. Lear makes it that far is another matter, but I suppose the smoking is cancelled out by the red wine, so she might.
I was hearing the other day about a couple that made it to 25 years, whereupon the husband debunked. The children where through university, both had good jobs ( for what that's worth nowadays) and the husband just decided he'd had enough of the wife. I think lots of people do that - they stay together in misery for the sake of the children, and then go their separate ways, frequently without improving the situation. In this case I'd have debunked before the wedding.
But I did get rather a nice card. A picture of an eager man in bed ( in his jim-jams) and his wife displaying just one of her breasts.
She is saying " No you can't see both. It's our anniversary, not Christmas"
Happy Christmas.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Just so you know how good Brown is..

http://www.citywire.co.uk/personal/-/news/money-property-and-tax/content.aspx?ID=323082&re=4316&ea=55722
Notice anything? The banks had no idea of the proposal - and anyway they haven't signed up to anything - just prepared to " work with" the government.
Looks rather as if he had a headline-catching soundbite pop into his head.
This is exactly what is NOT needed. Despite all the spin and rhetoric about difficult decisions for the long-term good of the country, these economic morons are rushing about throwing out more and more ideas, some actually self-contradictory.
We need a period of NO new initiatives NO new legislation and a CUT in quite a lot of the existing un-enforceable laws we already have which no-one understands properly.

Even cash is not much use...

The way the present interest rates are going, I'm sure the fragrant Winchester Whisperer is correct when she says we are heading into ZIRP territory ( that's Zero Interest Rate something or other)
I had quipped I was after TWERP ( Take WhatEver Rate Possible) because actually getting the loan is going to be harder than arguing about a percentage point here or there.
Andreas Whittam Smith is not a journalist I like. Rather like Richard Ingrams, he strikes me as rather too prurient and ascetic to appeal to my somewhat less strict tastes.
He does, however, have a very good article in the Independent which, I think, sums up the position well.
A friend of mine was moaning the other day that a year ago he had done everything right - paid off debt, got rid of whatever he could, gone into cash and put it on deposit. Now, he says, because of the way interest rates are going, he doesn't have enough income to live on. The only way for him to earn is to take risks and that's quite scary in this market. OK he can live for several years without worrying too much - but by then his firepower will be eroded.
Other anecdotal evidence is worth mentioning. In the bank branch I frequent one of the tellers told me that especially cafes and small shops had reduced dramatically their pay ins - some cafes in particular had stopped paying in at all.
And being December, surely all the restaurants are full of Christmas Lunch diners? Not a bit of it. A friend and I were in one of the more popular places in central Glasgow yesterday for lunch - along with just 4 other people.
Nobodies getting rich on that.

English...

English -UK
English -Other Areas
English -UK
These are the choices for language I was offered on a site today.
I'd love to know what English the other areas speak. Could it be broad Glaswegian, or Geordie? Or Scouse? Or Australian?
Who knows?

Appeasement

Jeff Randall has a good article in the Telegraph today.
As a nation, we are no longer telling the truth - and if we do we are excoriated for "talking" down whatever it is we tell the truth about.
Do you honestly believe that saying, for example, that the nurses you met in hospital were dirty,promiscuous etc etc should be hidden if it's true? The dirty part here is the most important - no wonder Cdiff and MRSA are rampant ( and never mind that most people don't wash their hands enough).
Those MPs of all parties who speak their minds ( and they tend to be on the Left) are those we have most respect for. In the late 40s and early 50s, a Minister could have a film made of him telling us that, no you can't have this that and th other, the pound is fragile, we have to work hard to get out of this mess.
If someone did it today, they would have to resign. Well actually they wouldn't because "no -one can fail - and certainly Labour Minsiters only go when the PM tells them.
In my view, appeasement never works. Whether its the bully at school, Hitler , someone at work or a neighbour from hell, only by confronting them will the problem be solved. Of course, I'm a Dinosaur - but we might rule the earth again.
Arguably,things are better in Ireland because of Tony Blair's appeasment. Most dispassionate observers would say that the IRA had effectively been beaten and only came to negotiate when they knew they were not going to get anything by force.
So come on everyone, Tell the truth and shame the Devil. It just might get us out of this mess we're in.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Ignorant non-mathematicians.

It's really too depressing - the papers are shouting that Brown is the saviour of the middle classes.
From what I gather, only about 9000 people might benefit ( ref Bossy Beckett).
The banks haven't agreed fully as yet.
They don't control 70-90% of the market ( ALL banks have about 52%) as "misspoken" by Brown in the Commons.
And its hardly saving people if once again the total amount of their debt is rising.
Sigh.
We really are headed to Hell in a handcart.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Darling's numbers -Part Deux

Well, much to my regret Brian Boru has made the correct calculation in the comments to part one - and I have elaborated in the comments.
My point was that the commentators were not comparing like with like. It's a bit like people's preferences, where it seems that empirically people tend to choose the worst option because they don't understand the maths.
But hey, that's life.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Darling's numbers - part 1.

No these are not like Fibonacci although the fib bit might be appropriate.
In essence, Darling's claim is that UK GDP will rise 1% this year.
Several commentators ( inumerate all) have said " Hey, if you add the .3% in Quarter 1, 0% in Q2, and -.5% in Q3 that means to get 1% for the year, UK Plc has to grow 1.2% in Q4 to catch up.
As Chris Dillow has elegantly described, this is rubbish. In fact, if you add the totals for each of the quarters last year together, and those for this year plus Q4 showing an expected -.7% you will get a figuire for 2008 that is about 1% higher than that for 2007.
This mathematical misunderstanding reminded me of the old school boy conundrum.
Three men eat in a restaurant. They get a bill for £30, and split it - £10 each.
The waiter checks the bill and finds it should only be £25. So being a venal sort of chap, he gives them each £1 back, and pockets the remaining £2.
But here's the rub.
3 x£9 ( £10 -£1 repaid) = £27 plus the £2 pocketed by our waiter friend only adds to £29 - so where's the other £1?
You can think about it for a day or two.
PS
Eldest Ms Lear sent me this crossword clue: "Carve diamond into shape for next Prime Minister" (5, 7)
Anyone who doesn't get it is a LibDem.

Going cheap..

Mandy: Unauthorised Biography of Peter Mandelson (Hardcover) by Paul Routledge (Author)
Amazon have 32 new and used from 1p

I love this image...

Peer Steinbr├╝ck, Germany's finance minister, in an interview with Der Spiegel, echoes Angela Merkel's scepticism of Brown-style, debt-funded fiscal stimuli.
"Just because all the lemmings have chosen the same path, it doesn't automatically make that path the right one."
Too true

Monday, December 01, 2008

Ponziani, Law and the South Sea Bubble

Just been watching " The ascent of money". I was reminded of Ponziani, that wonderful Italian Chess player. You may think I should think of Ponzi, the wonderful American conman.
Ponzi schemes rely on more money coming in from outside to pay off earlier investors. MORE AND MORE MONEY is needed as more people are sucked in.
Notice anything? Sound a bit like what
Brown and Darling are doing at the moment?
John Law ( a Scots ne'er do well) initiated the Mississippi scheme in France, and bankrupted France for 50 years.
The South Sea Bubble did the same to the UK. Ponzi was on a much smaller scale, not national in extent.
But our own two Scots ne'er do wells are intending a Ponzi scheme on such a massive scale that if implemented as presently envisaged, UK plc may never recover.
Terrifying.
But why Ponziani?
Well the opening he advocated was one of the oldest, and held sway for pretty much 100 years, until developing theory found better moves.
Brown and Darling are like that - out of date. Rather like the generals of WWI, who fought the previous wars until something better was found, our present leaders are dealing with a new problem with an old solution.
Unfortunately for all of us, the result will be rather like that war to end all wars.
Disastrous.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Neuburger

In all the excitement about Greengate, I forgot to tell you about Neuburger.
This is a variety of grape I had never heard of until recently in Romania. There doesn't appear to be much grown, but, according to the Mayor, who asks for it at every potential restaurant or hotel, it is the best wine produced in Romania. And it comes from Tirnave which is in our area.
I suppose Eugen must have asked for it at least a couple of dozen times in the last six months.
Alin and I set ourselves the task of finding some, after the digital topography man ( Paculia) said it was unobtainable, but, boy, what he wouldn't give for a bottle or two.
I've told you before that connection is all in Romania, and the Mayor's are better than most.
But mine and Alin's extend particularly in the catering and hospitality business, as that is what he did before working for me. We made a few phone calls and tracked down the grand total of 18 bottles that could actually be bought.
One of the peculiarities of Neuburger is that for such a rare and special wine the issue is not price. I had thought that I would have to pay perhaps £20 per bottle - after all, even quite standard French wines fall into this category.
Not a bit of it. If you can actually get your hands on a bottle, it retails for RON 15 - about £3.50.
So we got our 18 bottles together and carefully read the label - yes it was from Tirnave, yes it was demi-sec, yes it was from the right winery - but still we weren't too sure if it really, really, really was the right thing.
We went to the Mayor's office with one bottle. Eugen's eyes lit up.
Instead of the usual tumblers we drink out of, three fine wine glasses were produced. He might be on his detox but he wasn't going to miss this.
We sipped appreciatively.
Delicious. Slightly sparkling, petillant rather than actual sparkling,clean and soft and a distinctly great drinking wine.
Eugen reached for one of his phones.
" Vasily! Bring Nelu and Diac!"
Three more glasses were produced, half filled and the bottle hidden.
Vasily drank first. "I've no idea but it's very expensive"
Diac next -" Very very good. Could be Neuburger"
" Neuburger!" shouted Vasily and Nelu together. " Can it be?" It was a moment rather like my yellow shoes, the Clujana.
So then in silence we finished the bottle,and all shook hands. The three filed out.
" How wonderful you found a bottle!"
" I've got 6 more for you." Eugen sank into his chair.
" Now that's what I call a connection", he said.

PSD + PC Triumphant!

I just got an excited call from Alin - The Mayor's party has emerged triumphant from today's general election. Not unexpected, but still good news.

Andrew Marr and Jackboots

I watched the AM interview with the person who is supposed to be the British Home Secretary.
I simply do not believe what she said, and I suspect a good many others won't either.
Never mind that Marr the lickspittle talked over Carole Vorderman when she was talking about Greengate.
Nevermind that he let Smith repeat blatant lies.
What got me more than anything was what I can only describe as her utter incompetence.
Do you honestly believe that she has NOT been trying to get to the bottom of what is going on with Greengate? If not, why not?She actually said she couldn't comment on it as it was an operational Police matter. She hadn't had a briefing - but then showed the lie by saying there would be other matters to come out. Whether that itself is true or not is open to debate - it's a typical Liebore water-muddying excercise.
This person is supposed to be in charge of the Police, the Prison Service, the Security Services, Immigration and many more matters directly linked to our everyday lives.
If ever anything or anyone was unfit for purpose, it is she.
Fraser Nelson in todays NOW has a powerful piece, part of which is in Coffee House
Nelson says "In my News of the World column today, I say the Green arrest is an allegory for what has happened to Britain. It’s not just the police, but the local authorities which use anti-terror power to spy on the people they’re supposed to serve – always seeking ways to justify their salary and staff levels. "
The one plus to all this is that maybe - just maybe - this may be the match that lights the fuse for an early election.
Even ZanuLiebore Parliamentarian time-servers might hesitate before voting down a no confidence motion if it was about Greengate and Parliamentary Democracy.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Cassius writes..and so does Matthew Parris

Cassius Writes has this piece.
Matthew Parris writes this.
What they say is absolutely correct. All those of us who have moaned intermittently about the freedoms we have lost have been sleepwalking to a totalitarian state.
When I started this blog I indicated that many of the things that Blair and Brown were then doing mirrored rather too closely for comfort those acts which defined Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler. These included suborning the legislature, the police, the legal profession and many other seemingly unconnected areas of our lives.
The effect was two fold. Firstly, more and more power became dependant on the office of Prime Minister and Chancellor - though now Brown is PM, I suspect the latter is being downgraded again.
Secondly, the ability and will of people to resist has been sapped and debased, as NuLabour has created literally hundreds of new offences for which you can be arrested and detained. David Davis gave us all a wake up call when he resigned, but, until now, we have all rather shrugged this off as a stunt. We forget that orders in council ( ie made and enforced by Prime Ministerial fiat) outnumber laws made in Parliament by more than 100 to 1.
It's not a stunt any more. It's deadly serious. Brown and Government members have NOT sought to uphold Parliamentary supremacy, something they are bound to do as sitting MPs.
If there is not an immediate and full enquiry, AND the perpetrators of Green's arrest made to apologise to Parliament, then I'm afraid we can kiss goodbye to British Democracy forever.
Brown is cynically waiting to see how much he can get away with.
I mentioned that just before I left Romania a Professor of History was saying Cromwell was one of our greatest Britons.
I had not intended to repeat other things he mentioned, but I think they have become rather too relevant for comfort.
During Ceausescu's time, any dissent was immediately suppressed. After he was removed, in the forests in the North, dozens of mass graves were found. It's estimated that more than 10,000 political opponents disappeared - it always happens when power devolves to one man, and there are no effective checks and balances.
In 1985 the Professor's brother, by no means an active opponent of the regime, was listening to a radio broadcast and took exception to what was being said.
So he went out into the street and started shouting about it. No one looked out when within a couple of minutes a car drew up and he was bundled into it.
He was never seen again.
In 1995, his widow and the Professor tried to find out what had happened. They were told no records of such things had ever been kept. A squad was sent to deal with it.
And, chillingly, they did.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Damien Green

I'm in Budapest Airport, so I'm not sure if I've got all the information that's relevant about Green's arrest.
What I do know is that I spent some of yesterday afternoon debating with a professor of history at Cluj University ( like Oxford/Cambridge in Romania) about how wonderful British history was.
He specifically singled out Oliver Cromwell as potentially a close second to Winston Churchill as the greatest Briton ever to have lived.
I can only say if he had been alive today, we would have the second civil war on our hands.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Brown's Porridge

I just came across this quote.
Tony Blair was like champagne and caviar; Brown is more like porridge,” Meghnad Desai, a prominent Labour member of the House of Lords and emeritus professor at the London School of Economics, told the BBC in April
Brown is more like cold porridge - and he wants to force it on to all of us.
I can't remember where it came from but there was an old miser in real life who never ate anything but cold porridge, and kept it in his desk drawer.
The idea was that if anyone came into the room he could slam the drawer shut and not have to offer to share it.

Loans loans loans

As I'm in Romania I am somewhat insulated from the hurly burly of the present political debate about borrowing all that money ( I ask you, who on earth is going to borrow a falling pound?).
The one thing that did filter through, because it was on Romanian TV news, was that Woolworths had gone bust. That was always going to happen once the original GBP1 takeover failed to work. The Romanians are fascinated by the goings on in UK and US - they find all the esoteric instruments completely incomprehesible. A loan is your brother giving you RON 1000, and getting it back sometime later - with or without interest.
The banks clearly think they can do better than what was on offer. Personally, knowing what administrators and lawyers charge, I would think they will end up worse off, but it may also be a wake up call for other struggling companies - sort yourselves out or you are toast.
That chap Corbett who destroyed Network Rail or whatever it was called was in charge of Woolies for a few years, and appears to have done exactly the same thing ( albeit he left a year or so ago.)
And no, he was nothing to do with Sootie and Sweep.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Winter wonderland

I left Sigishoara not long after 6am today as we were going to meet some people at Poiana Brasov.
It was snowing quite hard as we left and was still coming down by the time we got to the Heritage Club where we were to meet what I call the B team, as one comes from Bucharest and the other from Brasov. I count Alin and myself as the A team...
We left them about noon and headed back towards Mosna.
You may remember that the policeman, Erne ( Ernie), had promised to make his special mij. Actually its spelled mice but pronounced meetch.
Of course, we didn't get there until after 3 pm but as the food hadn't even begun to be cooked it didn't matter. The Mayor ( detoxing until Christmas) led me into his cellar to choose the wine and tuica. He had this years, last years, from Mosna, from Nemsa and various red, white, all in barrels ranged along the side of the vault. Nothing would do but I should try them all before choosing one to take, which was duly decanted into a couple of plastic schweppes bottles.
The idea had been to have a barbecue out in the fields but the weather wasn't up to it, so it was decided the cooking would be done in the Police Station yard and the eating done in Erne's house beside it.
All the people from the Political night's dinner were there. I mentioned before Erne's cooking is to die for and today proved no exception.
The starter was chicken wings. That doesn't sound exciting but they are prepared by pulling off the skin and bringing all the flesh to the "elbow"end, then dipped in egg and breadcrumbs and deep fried. Delicious.
The second course was barbecued fish served in a light soup - full of wonderful herbs, garlic, different greens and made from proper chicken stock.
The piece de resistance was the mij. People literally sighed as they ate them - served on their own with some mustard, they were so light and scrumptious that a huge bowl disappeared in minutes.
Conversation had been light and completely dried up as the mij were eaten.
There was the sound of smacking lips, sighs and finally the Mayor said "Forte buna" - really good.
And so they were.

A trillion here, a trillion there....

.. and pretty soon you're talking real money.
I've mentioned before that even a billion is hard to grasp in terms of how big a number it is, and a few thoughts came to me.( Note: I originally mistyped Number as "Bummer". Freudian slip - but unfortunately too true)
If every GBP was 1 second of time, then 1 billion would be 31 years or so.So 1 trillion would be represented by more than 31,000 years
There are about 31,500,000 seconds in a year. So for every second in the next 365 days, this government will be borrowing an extra GBP3809. Every man woman and child in the country will have GBP 2000 borrowed for them by the government.
Just in the next year.
The thought does spring to mind - what are they doing with all this cash? I know we have the budget figures to tell us, but I can guarantee you that my family at least is not having GBP10,000 spent on it, nor anyone else I know. We're definitely not getting it in our hands.
I've been castigated before for saying the answer is saving not borrowing and spending. I'm more sure than ever that this is right.
I believe the UK is staring into the abyss, quite literally, if it pursues these policies, and will take years and years to recover - if it ever does.
At least I have a goat or two and some sheep.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A celebration and an enormous honour.

Alin and I spent most of today traipsing back and forth between various notaries and official offices getting papers attested, stamped, lodged and filed. The weather has turned dull, so it was no fun even in between the offices.
The people we were due to meet at 2pm never appeared ( no hardship as we simply kept popping back to the Rustic to see if they had arrived whilst we went on with our work).
We got a phone call from the Mayor at about 3pm, saying to meet him at the BinderBubi in Medias at 5pm.
There had been no previous arrangement for us to meet him today, so we were slightly unsure what was going on.
When we got there, his son, also Alin, was looking a bit sheepish, and his long term girlfriend, Irene, was radiant - and sporting rather a nice ring. Ireme's parents were also there, and within a nano-second I had twigged that Alin 2 had done the decent thing.
Of course there was a bit of hilarity when I enquired if Irene was looking so happy because I THOUGHT I knew the reason. She couldn't control herself any longer and burst out with the news that she and Alin 2 were engaged. There were great hugs and kisses all round. Tina, the Mayor's wife, was shaking like a leaf. Alin 2 is their only child and she longs for grandchildren only having had one herself.She whispered to me that she was almost overcome with happiness. The Mayor, even though on his annual detox, was in spendid form, and Irene's parents ( who I had not met before) were somewhat overawed by the way the staff in the hotel deferred to the Mayor at every turn. Alin 2 continued to look sheepish and when I said I was very happy for him he said he had been afraid Irene might turn him down. One look at Irene could tell anyone that she loved and adored him - except of course the potential groom.
We all sat down to dinner. I did slightly wonder why I had been invited to such a private family occasion, but within a few minutes I found out.
" Meester King," said the Mayor," I want you to be my Alin's Godfather."
Now a Godfather in Romania has similar functions to that in the UK, but it is specifically for the young couple that the Godfather acts in Romania. As I'm sure you have gathered, everything in Romania works via connection, and for reasons slightly beyond me the Mayor of Mosna thinks I'm a good egg and a good connection.
I was taken aback and suggested that, despite being deeply honoured, perhaps someone closer to the couple would be appropriate.
At that point the bride's father chimed in that although we had never met, my work in and around Mosna had been heard of even where they lived, and he would also be honoured and proud for me to be the Godfather. I wasn't too sure where they lived and made a joke along the lines of " well if you live nearby I suppose you might hear something" - to be told they lived more than 20 miles away.
Still in shock, it was Tina who came to my rescue.
" Meester K, he is my only son, and you also are an only child. You love our country, you love us, we want to make you part of our family."
What could I say?
The wedding is on February 4th.

La La Land

I've now managed to read up about Alistair Darling's PBR of yesterday, and I can only say I'm staggered.
Not only is he actually taking more tax back than he is giving away, he has blatantly gone back to the old Labour orthodoxy of taxing the rich. It didn't work then and it won't work now.
I would expect droves of wealth creators in the UK to leave. I really do. I can't imagine why anyone would want to come to the UK to set up a business. Our inward investment will dry up and with it the value of the pound.
And the recession more than half way through? Don't make me laugh.
PS
I just spotted the following on FT.com:
The bond markets will ultimately decide whether these new rules are credible or whether sterling will come under fresh pressure. There were some initial signs of concern in bond markets and it is now cheaper to insure Unilever’s debt against default than the UK government.
Did you understand that? Unilever is more credit worthy than the British Government.
God help us all.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Anything that makes life worth living is going up!

I may have got this wrong, but according to some very rough calculations I made from a text I got, the headlines in the papers should be:
Your pint up 25p.
Bottle of wine up 16p.
Fags up 8p.
I doubt it'll happen. The narrative the media are intent on runs completely counter to these facts.
I assume condoms will be cheaper as he hasn't announced a tax on them and presumably the VAT will come off.
Willing to bet none of the shops changes any prices down.
I may have misunderstood though....

English English.

What is the difference between English (UK) - and English - English?
These are the options Google offers me in Romania ( and in the UK too for all I know.
But I would like to know.
I can understand that English ( USA/American) might have some spellings I couldn't understand, but English (UK) and English - English have be flummoxed.

Getting ahead.

Things here are distinctly different from the UK. Whereas, for example, Hungary has embraced capitalism to such an extent that they are so bust they had to get USD 10 billion from the IMF, Romania is still a very agrarian economy. The banks mostly exist to perform currency transactions for all those sending back money from overseas. To tell you how unsophisticated they are, the last time I was here I enquired whether - with cash on deposit - we could borrow short term against it.
Absolutely - just transfer the money from deposit into your current account.
No that's not what I meant. Leave the money in the deposit, take a small amount out of the current account.
Definitely not.
I was reminded of the Railway Children. There is a scene when the son is stealing coal from the station pile. He eventually puts it back, but the point is there is a white line painted round it to tell whether any has been stolen. Of course, it doesn't actually stop you stealing it, it just tells the authorities it has been stolen. Similarly, I was most amused to see piles of concrete railway sleepers with white lines carefully painted on them - and a big gap in the middle where some had been stolen. As there is a railway heritage project nearby I can almost guarantee where they have gone - and so can everyone else. When the local policeman arrived at the project, he was met with a huge pile of railway sleepers - but all with carefully painted black lines. Honour was satisfied by a smaller pile of sleepers with white lines - which the manager of the project said he had found dumped nearby, and had every intention of returning to the railway managers.
Although English is spoken by many people, what one might call the agrarian population doesn't - but clearly have aspirations. Every T-shirt has an English slogan, and bomber jackets are universally emblazoned with English across the back.
I spotted one which was " Make your own destiny" on the back of what looked like a tramp - but then, when you work in the fields rather than sitting in a tractor you do get messy.
Through Alin, I asked if the wearer knew what it meant.
Definitely - he had chosen it because he liked the shape of the saying, but a friend had translated it for him. Now he was trying to live his life in such a way as to make it come true.
And was it working? I asked.
Definitely - he had already got a job rather than living off handouts and stealing.
If only everyone in certain parts of the UK would make the same committment, things might be rather better.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Price of Politics

You will probably have gathered I am back in Romania. Quite a lot of things are happening and some things are moving very fast. This always happens: you think things will be quiet for a bit and then three busses come along at the same time.
Today being Sunday, Romania is in full political mode. Next Sunday is the election date when a new government will almost certainly be elected. The present Liberal alliance has only been in power for 4 years but has been particularly greedy for its own supporters - Mayors with projects for their villages have found that if they are not of the present ruling party nothing gets done. One might cynically say that's what happens everywhere, but for the Romanians this is a new departure. Previously, projects got funded pretty even-handedly.
The weather is fantastic. A light sprinkling of snow, brilliant blue skies and sun making the air taste of champagne - one wants to be in the hills , and we were by 7:30 this morning, despite only getting here at 2am today. Looking over the fields towards the church fortress of Alma Vii made me want to stay there all day, but I had been bidden by the Mayor to attend his political rallies for the Social Democrat and Conservative party senator and deputy.
The names are slightly misleading. Social Democratic, yes OK, Conservatives , mmm, not as we understand it. Together these will form the largest block in the new Parliamnet and Senate for the next 4 years.
And what is their platform? It would sound very familiar to us. New Schools, better healthcare, higher pensions and more money for teachers, policemen, nurses and so on. I should mention that a senior teacher's take-home pay is presently about GBP150 per month, and has been frozen since 2003. So even allowing for inflation they should be on about GBP180 per month.
But there are differences. Religion in the shape of the Romanian Orthodox Church is a huge supporter of the Mayor's party, actually called the PSD, and spoke at all three rallies today in support of the candidates. Functionaries ( civil servants in local government to us) also spoke, telling everyone how badly they were being treated by the party in power (" Yes I'm the man that hands out the money but when the Government sees its for a PSD Mayor, it's cut").
Most importantly, virtually everyone, including the children, turned out in the three villages that were politicked today. And they all sat through the speeches silently, and with rapt attention.
Alin only had to translate the first time, as the words were almost identical each time.
The most telling exchange was a girl of about 10 whose father was talking to his friend.
" Papa "she hissed " No talking! Listen! And you better vote for them next Sunday!"
Once the speeches were over, there were Romanian songs, cake, wine and tuica, but only a little.
A couple of the ideas were good. If you are a pensioner and your partner dies, you will in future be paid a 25% increase in the present single person's pension. If you are a young person under 26, you will qualify to get 25% off any house you choose. The state will pay for the rest and remains a 25% owner until you sell, at which point, win or lose, it gets its money back. Rather a better idea than ploughing dead cash into Northern Rock.
After it was all over, the politicos and Alin and I ended up at Elena's in Nemsa for dinner. It was a light meal, as befitted a serious day's work - sausages, cheese, ham, pate, bread. Yes there was tuica and wine, but very little was drunk.
Actually, I was quite surprised by this, until I discovered the Mayor had started his annual detox on 15th November - no alcohol and no meat until 24th. December.
Half way through the evening two out of the three local policemen turned up.
I've mentioned it before, but in Romania, having a connection is everything. So these two officers were there so that everyone in the district would know they could walk in to the Senator's private function.
The senior man was there on a completely different mission.
"Mr. King, you never had my mij".
Now mij are a sort of oven-baked sausage, made from pork.
This policeman, however, is the acknowledged number one chef in the whole region. His goat stew is something that people are prepared to travel from Bucharest for when he is catering a function. You may ask why is he cooking when he is a policeman, and the answer is he loves it.
His mij are known to be the best in Romania. His secret is that he uses venison mixed with pork - and this is the season for killing the pigs and shooting the deer.
" I will make for you on Thursday lunchtime, before you catch the train to leave" ( as you should know by now, lunchtime here is anything from 5pm onwards - my train is 11:30 pm)
There was a collective sigh around the table. Everyone looked at me.
" I would be delighted. May I bring some friends?"
" Da da ( yes yes) how many you want bring?" I did a quick tally round the table.
" Say 12 including myself?"
" Segur!" ( Sure) A delighted sigh went up.
I have a feeling that next time I need a political favour there won't be any problems.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Night Work

For those of you who are afficionados of Irwin Shaw, you will know that this was one of his earlier works - and rather better than most of his more recent offerings.
I was reminded of it as I made my way through the night to Luton Airport - where my family insist I have my second family who live somewhere between checkin and the departure lounge.
For reasons too dull to recount, I ended up in Luton bus station at midnight - with an hour to wait for the bus to take me to the airport.
Of course, there was nothing open, apart from a shop that sold chocolate and hired taxis, and the chap behind the counter reminded me of the hero of " Night Work" - only there for the money and the off-chance.
As I've remarked before, the creatures that inhabit the overnight travel world are an exotic bunch. Waiting for a bus to Edinburgh were a group of 2 girls and 3 boys from America who were going to Edinburgh. They were clearly doing the Europe on USD5 a day thing, and were delightedly telling each other what an adventure they were having. They took pictures of each other huddled together against the cold, and one of them got out his sleeping bag and got into it.
Another fellow traveller was on his way to Berwick - having done his boss out of a train ticket cost and was taking the bus to save money.
But back to the vendor of chocolate. He also sold hot drinks and Pot Noodles.
None of the things in the shop actually had a price, apart from the coffee which was GBP1.49.
I've no idea what the price of Pot Noodle is, although I have eaten it in the past. The shopkeeper managed to sell three to the American boys for GBP12, which I'm sure is OTT.
Of course, he did supply them with hot water ( and a plastic fork), explaining all the time that Pot Noodle was a kind of health food that people in the UK used to enhance their well-being.
Now I suppose I could have told them what rubbish this was, and that Pot Noodle was almost a cliched joke in the UK, but I was interested to get their reaction to it.
They duly followed the instructions and stirred for the required time.
They tentatively tried it. Their faces gave nothing away.
One of the boys offered a girl a taste. She took a tiny nibble.
The boys started eating more confidently.
The girl who had tried it went and bought herself one.
Still nothing was said.
They finished the pots and threw them in the bin.
" Well," said a boy" I guess that's what they call an acquired taste. But I can feel it doing me good. Maybe we should take some home."

John for Prime Minister!

What a player! John Sergeant has done the absolutely correct thing - get out whilst you are ahead.I particularly like the idea that his news conference drew more journalists and camera crews ( including Jeremy Paxman) than any government minister in the recent past.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

All substance, no style.

I had a delightful lunch with the youngest Ms.Lear today.I hadn't seen her since the auspicious birthday, and we spent a very pleasant hour in the cafe at the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. It was a bit strange eating a Caesar's salad out of a cardboard box, but I suppose I need to move with the times.
We were looking at some photos which included a relative who had reached the magical age of 65, when the State starts paying him, rather than the other way around.
I mentioned this, and Ms. Lear opined that she thought a person actually had to have done some work in order to qualify for a pension. Catty.
Surveying my sartorial resplendence, she also opined, with a sigh, that I was clearly someone of enormous substance,but absolutely no style.
Not too sure if I'll be buying her lunch again.....

Monday, November 17, 2008

Reg Varney - RIP

On the Buses used to be required watching. As Chris Dillow argues, perhaps it lead to people voting Tory to alleviate the worst of Union excesses before Mrs.T.
The most interesting thing about it was Olive, Reg's sister in the series, Anna Karen, who, despite looking like the back end of a bus, was actually a stripper in her younger days - and pretty succesful too, by all accounts.
Anna still pops up in Eastenders as Barbara Windsor's sister. She has appeared with her in other productions, including Carry On films and various pantomimes.
But for sure she will be remembered for her catch phrase - " Oh Arfur."
But Reg ( Arfur) was great, in a British, amateurish way.
RIP.

John Sergeant - National Treasure.

Don't you just love it? Can't dance a step, true dancers hate him, but the GBP ( Great British Public) just adore him.
Cheri Lunghi, quite possibly the best dancer on Strictly, gets thrown out despite being clearly the judges favourite overall. For the GBP she clearly showed too much ambition and expertise, and a thirst for success. Not Brit at all.
John, on the other hand, is deprecating, beautifully gentle, clearly in it for a laugh and we adore him.
So tush! to afficionados of dance. This is not dancing, this is every woman's desire to be romanced beautifully, gently and with love.
So come on guys, get with it!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The most famous of those 364 economists.

Today's Peter Oborne article shows exactly why I said in an earlier post that the answer to our present financial problems was saving not spending. It's what Mrs.T and Lawson did in 1981. We were pretty much in the same position then as we are now - although now may be worse. Brian Boru took me to task and said that saving would drive us into a slump.
I didn't know this, but one of the 364 economists who signed the famously wrong letter was Mervyn King. Terrifying - but it explains why he is so far behind the curve all the time.
Saving will not drive us into a slump - it's a rising savings ratio that creates the conditions for expansion and posperity. Remember Germany, Japan, China, India and so on. Remember too that they all make things.
In the same way that the beginning of the bank's problems getting better will be when they finally reveal the true extent of their losses, so the pain a sharp contraction will inflict will be the lancing of the boil. It hurts, it hurts like hell - but it's the only way to get better.

The greatest Superhero of them all

Last night we had my godson visiting. Peter is just under 8, so we all went to Slava's Snow Show. For those of you who don't know this is a fantastic mime and clown happening which quite literally includes a blizzard in the theatre - done with paper rather than snow.
I haven't had such a young person staying in the house for many years, so I was interested to find out how things had changed.
For a start, the computer was an essential tool. Email to Mum and Dad to tell them he was fine and enjoying himself. Of course, he had brought some books to read, but it was me who read them to him as he snuggled into his covers.
In the morning he appeared at the door: " Uncle TumTum it's 6:47". In case you wonder who that is, it's me. Quite properly as a regal person, I do have an imposing figure - some detractors have suggested losing a few stone would help, but they have no appreciation of how much my corporation has cost in food and drink over the years.
What got me though was the precision.
Anyway we walked the dog, then bathed him as he was a bit muddy.
We played some chess and Foosball, and then his Dad and younger brother came for lunch.
Now you may think this is all a bit dull, and in a sense the normality of it is.
What made me sit up and pay attention was when we started talking about Superheroes.
He quite liked Batman. Did he like the Riddler? What about Spiderman?
He opined he would like to be a Superhero.
Which one I asked.
" Cats in underpants-man"
No, I've no idea either.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Brown and Educashun

Following on from my previous post about Brown's aspirations for the excellence of British Education, here is Jeff Randall today:
One area of egregious mismanagement has been education. Under Mr Brown, the budget for schools, colleges and universities has more than doubled to £77 billion (twice as much as defence). And what do we have to show for it? A debased system, where nobody can fail but excellence is under attack. A generation of pupils has been sacrificed on the altar of misguided ideology.
Stuffed with resources, comprehensives are not closing the gap on grammars and public schools. Frustrated by the resistance of our best universities to social engineering, the Government is bullying the top 20 Russell Group institutions to lower the bar in order to accommodate state-school pupils with sub-standard grades. Typical of Labour: rather than address the problem, it prefers to fix the figures and create a false impression of success.
Isn't that just appalling? Don't fix it, fiddle it.
See Jeff's whole article in the Telegraph here.
But then, they never had a belief, nor a desire beyond power.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Robinson must go.

If ever there was a case for getting rid of a particular reporter, this is it. Robinson was sooo far out on this that surely he should be replaced. Even Andrew Marr when doing Robinson's job was actually quite even-handed -not that he is anymore. Of course, that's the reason Brown will speak to him.
Just to backtrack a bit, this is from an interview Marr did with Brown in 2007:
"GORDON BROWN: Well every parent that I talk to wants more opportunities, more chances for their children, than they had before, than they had themselves. And I think what we've got to do is see education as the priority, what's going to make our economy successful? Education.
What's going to make Britain great in the modern world? Education. What's going to give people higher standards of living is going to be education. So education will be the priority, it will have pride of place, and indeed it's my passion.
I believe that we can move Britain to a world-class education system over the next few years. We've started, we've got much to do, and to do that I think we've got to concentrate on how we can get individual tuition so that we bring out the best in every pupil. "
Shame he didn't stick to trying to make it happen. Instead we have an entire generation basically unable to read, understand the words they are reading,write, spell or count.
They can, however, text.
Such an achievement.

I just love people who believe their own PR..

.. and the Russians really really fell for it. Strongest reserves? They'll be gone in another 6 months.....

Depression? Have another glass...

I was in Manchester for the day yesterday, where quite definitely the extra glass of your favourite poison was the answer to our present woes.
I am deeply depressed by the present position. It's always darkest before dawn, but so far there doesn't appear to be any consensus amongst the banks about what would be good for them and for their customers - and by proxy the economy.
So far, they just want more and more of our money ( and make no mistake, it IS our money from both sides, higher charges and taxpayer funds) and are still pretending things are under control. Things are patently NOT under control - not least as it still appears the banks have no idea what their actual liabilities are.
Gavyn Davies is suggesting printing more money - as if it hadn't already happened - but all this will do is destroy our currency - as if it wasn't happening already.
On the other hand, the taxi I took to the station yesterday had no change and actually said " Nae worries pal, I'll get it again". I had proferred £10.
So I said I would give him the £10, and asked him to give me his number so I could ask for him again.
" Nah " he said " You keep the tenner here's my number." And he refused point blank to take the cash.
Several of our tenants are feeling the pinch, though most of them have taken avoiding action. One of the IT people has had two clients go bust on him ( property related so no surprise there) whilst anyone connected with cars is having a very tough time.Even the children's party/petting zoo man is struggling.
Two however are bucking the trend. One is a T-shirt printer ( they do bags and all sorts but call themselves such). People move downmarket in a recession.
The other is a purveyor of exotic substances.
Now that is not his business description on his lease and I am 100% sure there are none about his person or in our premises. He describes himself as an Import/Export agency and runs an immaculate office with an attractive receptionist and two other staff.Bills of lading are visible on desks. But deal in exotic substances he does.
Personally,I disapprove, but in a way its just another glass or another cigarette to help people get through.
He reports his business is up 30% since July.
PS
My friend the Burns Afficionado tells me that he has a limit as to what he will pay for wine. In Spain, he refused to take his own bottles to be filled for 20p per litre as the wine is disgusting. But the supermarket stuff at just under Eur 1 is perfectly acceptable. He prefers another bottle to a mere glass....

Which is worse?

Quite apart from Brown's unbeliievable performance at PMQs yesterday - and Balls' attempts to pull the chestnuts out the fire with the inquiry and his performance on Breakfast TV this morning ( "Why did Mr. Brown say it was a party political matter when it clearly was not?" " No no he didn't. (???) The Labour party will take the responsible attitude and has called for a cross-party inquiry..." Yeah right)-there are two most interesting bits of information that have emerged today. The first is John Major's piece in Times online which rightly shows just how bad Brown is.
Secondly, Guido has a piece about how bad Brown has been for pension funds, investment etc etc - and that's before factoring in the pension grab which must now be approaching the same amount of money as is being thrown at all and sundry to try to save the Labour Party from total disintegration.
So the first question is, who was a worse PM, Major or Brown?
More interestingly, which would you prefer over the next few years on a loan? 3% over base rate or 2% over LIBOR? Answers please.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Wifely duties.

Today, being a long day at Uni for Mrs. Lear,she is first in the bath.
I then took a shower.
Normally, it would be the other way around.
So imagine my surprise when greeted whilst she was doing her teeth by a sharp remark that I had not cleaned the glass divider of the shower.
The problem, you see, is that as she is normally the second into the bathroom, she cleans it all off, hangs up the shower mat, bath mat, repositions the loofah and so on.
I had never noticed.
So she informed me that this was just one wifely duty, and one that I had neither paid attention to nor appreciated ( only one of many I am sure).
So, as they say in the Girls Mags, chaps, be sure to notice the little things.
Because if you don't, your wife/girlfriend/mistress/partner/A.N.Other will definitely make sure you do.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Brown's Economic competence? I don't think so.

I came across this from " Burning our money"
From day one of NuLabour being in charge I have argued that they had no beliefs other than power and retaining it; that they have no understanding of economics,of how markets operate, of how trade operates; no ( see Ed Balls latest what a bloody cheek) desire to raise people up; and nothing for anyone except themselves.
How depressing that we have had a complete waste of 11 years. And probably at least another 4 or 5 to stabilise the complete and utter shambles that will be their legacy.
But then, it was ever thus. A period of Labour power, spending, taxing and ruining society, followed by a period of Conservative power sorting out the mess. And just when it's all right again, people want a change and allow Labour to bugger it all up again.
Sigh.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The Great Day

There we were all lined up in our Sunday Best - the Mayor with his sash of office and even unbroken new spectacles. It was a beautiful day, with the temperature in the low 20 Cs
It was the 10th Anniversary of the visit of Prince Charles to Mosna, and it would be marked by the dedication of a plaque.
The party the night before had primed us all nicely, and one or two had started the celebrations first thing in the morning,so there were a couple of people who where swaying slightly. Fortunately, we got through the whole thing without mishap, and then made our way to the City Hall ( for thus the Village Hall is designated) for a three course lunch - quite early too it was only about 4pm.
I say three course lunch. This is not entirely correct. We started with meat-ball and tarragon soup, followed ( naturally) by Mosna cabbage salad. This is the time of year it is best -still greenish and sweet, rather than white and more bitter as the winter rolls on. There was of course tuica, beer, cherry liqueur, wine and a sour cherry concoction that literally stripped the inside of your mouth. As it was a special occasion, Ballantines whisky was also available to those and such as those. This seems to be the preferred whisky, I think because Queen Victoria used to drink it, a lady held in great esteem in Romania.
The next course was a kind of fried white fish, which I was assured was a dog-fish, but I'm not convinced. It was quite sweet and most tasty, especially with the sauce - tomato and garlic - and some boiled potatoes.
Next up was the piece de resistance.
Ham and turkey jelly.
Now there are many people who will go " Yuck!" at such a prospect, but I am particularly fond of chicken jelly - something Mrs. Lear abhors, so I never get it. Needless to say I tucked in with a will. I'm quite sure one of the reasons everyone is so friendly towards me is I eat everything put in front of me and do my best with the various drinks.
Long before we got to this stage, the Director of the Old Folks Association, who was one of those who had partaken early, had quietly slid beneath the table with a beatific smile on his face. He would just be left there until he woke up and made his way home. I am a member of this association, honorary until I turned 60 but now a fully fledged member. We gifted them the grapes from one of our properties and they keep giving me bottles of home made wine.
Finally the special local cheese was consumed and the serious business of toasting each other could get underway.
Alin, myself and the Mayor had to slip away early as we needed to sort out some property titles.
I was asked the other day how corrupt Romania was.
I think the answer is;what is corrupt? Taking half an aid contract to your back pocket definitely is, but suppose someone has a problem ( something wrong with a property title) and bureaucracy being what it is in Romania, only a powerful friend can sort it. Is it wrong to take a payment for sorting such a thing? Lawyers do it every day....
Anyway, a visit was made to the lady in question. She and her husband had jointly owned a property and when he died she inherited his half. In Romania this is shown as her owning half the property from the date of purchase and owning the other half from the date of the grant of the equivalent of probate.
Except the state official who had given her the new certificate had messed it up saying she owned half and the other half was owned by her husband - at a date after his death. You may say how had noone noticed before now. The answer is why would anyone read it? At the time she would have had no intention of selling. Such a mistake is seriously expensive and difficult to sort out in Romania.
The only one who could help her was the Mayor, who could give a certificate in respect of the death of her husband ( such things are locally held) stamped by the Mayor's office, the regional capital's office and the land registry. And if you don't know the actual person who will be wielding the stamp you can forget it.
Quite properly, he outlined the problem, told her what the various costs would be. She, knowing what was expected, thanked him profusely and offered a percentage of what she was selling the land for for his time. Quite properly, he declined, saying it was his duty as Mayor to help his constituents. Quite properly, she then said she would make a donation to his reelection fund.
Honour being satisfied on all sides, we departed with the various papers. By the time I'm next in Mosna, I'm sure all will have been corrected.
Oh, and just in case you are wondering, the re-election fund is the Mayor's private property.
If he retires, it goes with him....

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

I Just spotted this...

...and I've come to the conclusion I have a warped sense of humour

Another simply beautiful day

As ever, things start very early here and go on until everyone literally HAS to go to bed.
This morning was no exception. Alin arrived at ten past seven yelling that we were late and roared me off all of a couple of hundred yards to the Rustic - I've mentioned it before - where we conduct our lower level discussions in Sighisoara. I've always wanted my own table in a restaurant like the Mafia bosses have, and I have now achieved this in various restaurants in the area. The fact that they are always the one table encased in glass and labelled "non-smoking" is not necessarily to detract from my conceit.
This morning the first meeting was with the accountant who was desperate for us to borrow a whole lot of money from a particular bank. One of the nice things in Romania is that you can keep all your cash in one bank and borrow whatever you want from another - except its almost impossible to borrow anything in Romania. But Carmen the accountant had clearly been bribed by this particular bank to get our business - you don't do anything here unless you are bribed or there is a connection.
To keep her happy I named a figure - it was a figure appoximately 5 times our gross assets here and clearly would never be accepted by any sane bank.
The next meeting was fascinating. The last time I was here I was approached by two people, one from Bucharest and one from Brasov, on a conning mission for some of our land. Not being a complete idiot, we turned them down - but luckily they could not proceed without us.
Suffice to say I spent three hours with them today and was impressed by what they had actually produced. We left saying we would do certain things and they were to do certain other things.
We spent the rest of the day in Nemsa buying land and discussing a couple of projects - I don't think either of them will come to fruition.
So at lunch time ( 6pm) we were in the restaurant behind the petrol station in Medias when the Romanian contact phone rang. This is the one of four that Alin always carries.Interesting statistic - there are 24.5 million Romanians and there are 92million mobile phones registered in the country. In Sighisoara there are 15 banks and 24 mobile phone shops....
It was the B ( Bucharest and Brasov) team - were we free for dinner?
Now in fact we were not. We had told the Mayor we had important information for him - and he didn't want to meet them. So we had a slight keystone cops scenario as we excused ourselves from their company and made our way to the BinderBubi in Medias.
We had an excellent meal with some truly outstanding local wine. For those of a culinary interest the ciorba ( soup) was tarragon and pork,and then steak with pepper sauce. The more important element was the tuica, which neither the Mayor nor I rated very highly, Cuic beer and a bottle of excellent local white wine. The Mayor insisted we would have his own tuica ( complete with bubbles which defines excellence in this deadly stuff - today's had none) tomorrow night after certain formalities are completed. What worries me is how large a bottle he is going to open - they have been working for weeks for this particular event and nothing will do but a serious blow out after it.
The Mayor's wife has a fluey cold and has been in bed for the last few days - but nothing, she insists, is going to prevent her attendance at the ceremony tomorrow - not even death. Unfortunately, she is the one supposed to produce the food for the select post-event party, and in her present state I expect little or no food, but rather more than is strictly neccessary in the drinks department.
As we made our way back to Sighisoara in time for the Steau match, the contact phone rang.
The bank had agreed to our request for the money.
Now the only thing I have to work out is how to refuse it without offending anyone.