Friday, June 27, 2008

I'm Cheap

People who know me will be aware how magnificently generous I am - except to myself.
Further to my night time journeys for peanuts, I have managed to figure out some extraordinary cheap train fares about the place - not necessarily convenient, but cheap. Glasgow to London via Edinburgh for £15.70 and return via a wait in Warrington for a mere £12.70 - both booked the day before travel. Even inconvenient flights were into the £200 bracket.
And overnight? A B&B in Barnes ( I was admittedly meeting someone just nearby early the next day) which, had there been two of us,would have been a total of £38.50.
Unfortunately , as there was only me, it was still £38.50.
The total for a day and a half in London and overnight was thus £66.90 which is actually less than it costs me to stay at home per day.
Mind you Mrs. Lear has opined that she is very happy for me to travel any way I like - just as long as I don't take her with me. Or if I do the same thing has the decimal point moved to the right.
PS Teleograph has its social stereotype today as the cheap traveller. I don't recongise myself at all...

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

My Winter Fuel Allowance

As I become 60 on Sptember 3rd, I have been sent a form to fill in to collect £125 or £250 depending on my circumstances.
Now a few things come to mind as I check this form.
Nowhere does it say what the circumstances have to be to get one or the other sum of money.
It clearly has my birth-date, my NI number ( I always think of it as National HEALTH Insurance - but then I'm old) my address and my full name on the form. The accompanying leaflet tells me a) my Date of Birth is unchecked and b) my NI number is unverified as well.
Now if that's the case, how could they send me the form in the first place?
I have to send them my ORIGINAL birth certificate. This ignores the fact that all this information is actually stored by the Government both in the NI computers and the Registrar of Births Deaths and Marriages computers and ledgers.
So instead of a couple of clicks on a computer, a complete industry/department has been set up to receive bits of paper, look at them, put some ticks on another bit of paper, initial it, and then post the original bits of paper back to me.
I mean, really.
PS I was collecting a cheque last night for the Gurkha Welfare Trust from a Rotary Club in Renfrew. I know these people are not left-leaners in any way, but I was staggered at the vitriol and hate that emerged about Labour, Gordon Brown and the Government in Westminster in general.
These are the people who should want to keep the Union, and who probably voted for Tony Blair.
They no longer want the Union nor anything to do with Labour.
Just shows how good a leader Brown has been.
I think "has been" is the appropriate expression.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

More on the Real Economy

Some little ******* stuck a nail in one of my tyres this morning, so off to get it fixed.
I was the only person in what is normally a very busy tyre place. The boss-man told me that it's been the same since about the end of January. People are using their cars less and driving slower, hence not needing so many tyres. He bought a new car in January when it cost him £58 to fill up. Now it costs £74. His mate owns a petrol station and he's down about 20% from last year in throughput, although his cashflow is well up.
The most interesting bit was the cost of filling his petrol tank. That is clearly a statistic that people latch on to ( viz. the publican in Cheshire recently) and certainly I've noticed the same thing.
We're heading for a serious downturn.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Death comes unexpectedly

I've always liked that quote from Karl Malden in Polyanna. It seems to me to encapsulate the human condition. Doctors have told me that dead people frequently have a surprised look on their faces, even if they have been ill for some time.
Except that people seem to be aware when it is near for them.
The other day a friend was telling me about his mother, who, well in her 90s, still spent a lot of time checking her bank balances, even though she could hardly move. She hated being deaf and less than able. Conversation became difficult.
And yet she clung on.
My friend was slightly surprised when she was finally taken to hospital and diagnosed with a blood clot. She died quite quickly thereafter.
My friend had been in a very difficult situation for many years, but finally, recently, the position had resolved itself, both in his own mind and in fact.
I would maintain that the old lady kept going until she knew my friend was settled and that everything would be all right. Although he had never spoken to her about it, I would suggest his demeanour told her everything she needed to know.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

I have been doing some work on domain names today.
One of the domains we own is For a variety of reasons I have been changing some of the servers over, from one monetizer to another. When you add a domain, a suggested category comes up.
When I typed in, the suggested category was " Diseases"
I'd never really thought of it like that.
The really great thing about it is it isn't catching.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Night Rider

For a variety of reasons ( mainly available dates and my perennial meanness) I have spent most of a couple of nights in airports and train stations over the last ten days or so.
I'm actually thinking of writing a book about it - I found it fascinating.
The first one was in Stansted, when a late flight from Prestwick gave me a three hour wait for check in to open to Pisa. You might ask why Pisa as I've been in Romania. Suffice it to say there is a direct flight from Bergamo ( 4 hours away) direct to Cluj in Transylvania. Yes, quite.
Anyway, there I was having a cup of coffee at 1am, doing my emails, and all around me were literally hundreds of other people doing exactly the same thing. I know Stansted is a busy airport, but it appears that it is almost impossible to get there for check-in for their 05:30 and 06:00 departures. So lots of people, reliant on public transport, take the last train out and then just sit there.
There is the endless whine of the floor cleaning machine, expertly zig-zagged through recumbent figures. All the cleaners seemed to be speaking Romanian or Polish. There was one Brit in overall charge, who could only speak to the two groups via the self-appointed leader of each nationality. And they all spent most of the time on their mobile phones. Whether any actual instructions were delivered or received is, I would suggest, entirely open to debate.
Coming back, I ended up in Liverpool airport until about 2am, where I was accosted for money every few minutes. But I did meet an extremely helpful Arriva Bus man, who told me where to go to get some sleep and even where to get the bus to take me near to Lime Street Station.
Only it didn't go near the station. The driver took me TO the station. It was like having a rather large private taxi, and half way there the driver stopped to pick up his mate who was going somewhere else.
Once at the station, it emerged it didn't open for another half hour, but the head cleaner ( no Poles here, only Scousers - presumably they worked for even less than the Poles) took me across the road to a 24 hour cafe for taxi drivers. We spent the half hour eating the most delicious bacon and tomato sandwiches and drinking freshly brewed Cona coffee, and chatting of this and that. There was a riotous card school in one corner, and memorabilia of both Everton and Liverpool on the walls. We sauntered back to the station, where he let me in ten minutes early, let me into the loo for free, and made sure I got on the right train.
Which went to Manchester, where I had to change to get the train to Glasgow.
Now Manchester Piccadilly was seriously jolly. It was literally crammed with young people all in party gear waiting for the first trains to take them home to bed. They rode up and down the escalators whilst the staff looked on benevolently, until one young man fell over trying to run up a down escalator.
" Now now," said the watcher," You'll hurt yourself doing that". Which indeed he had as he was out cold - not from concussion but from alcohol.
" We just put them in the waiting room to sober up, " the watcher confided, as he and his mate dragged the now-snoring young man along. They opened the door to the waiting room, and dragged him into the middle of the floor where there were about another 30 assorted snoring males and females.
" Do you ever get any trouble? " I asked.
" Nah, " said his mate. " They're well beyond causing any problems by the time they get here. We sometimes have to throw water on them to wake them up before 6 as that's when the coppers come on duty, but other than that, not much to bother about."
I finally got onto the Glasgow train just after 4 and was able to sleep most of the way north - except when the " Train Manager" changed at Carlisle and woke everyone up, telling us so.
I rather liked the Virgin description of Glasgow as a place to visit.
"Follow the banks of the river as it winds through the city, and take a summer walk to Ibrox."
Ibrox is where Rangers play.
They are known as the Huns.
And behave rather like them during WWII.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Flower Ladies of Sighisoara

Now here's a nice little story.
Over the last few months I have noticed an increase in little old ladies selling a few bunches of flowers around town. You may recall the basket of violets I bought some months ago and handed round to various people.
Anyway, whilst waiting for Alin today sitting in the medieval square, one little old lady was doing her trade. I hadn't watched any of them before.
People were coming up to her and taking pictures. She put on the sweetest, slightly sad smile, proferring a bunch of mixed wild flowers. Everyone refused them ( of course, they are tourists, what are they going to do with them?) but handed her a small note or a few coins.
Now you may recall that the basket of flowers I bought cost about GBP1. Well, within about 10 minutes, this lady today had been given about GBP6.
Not long afterwards, another little old lady came along and took about half the money away.
I was fascinated, and when Alin arrived, we went over to the flower lady and asked her about her trade.
Naturally cagey ( we could have been tax inspectors I suppose) she admitted that all the ladies were employed by one old lady who effectively controlled the pitches. Half of everything they earned went to this higher up lady, who provided them all with the few flowers they had.
It then dawned on me that of course their business was not selling flowers - it was having their pictures taken. When I put this to her, the lady admitted that on a good day she could earn in total about GBP50 - ie GBP25 to herself. This is the equivalent a week's wages. She also told me the boss lady had started about 4 years ago just herself, and had now built up her business to control 30 little old flower ladies. She had to pay for their licences and pitches to the City Hall, but, naturally, noone else would be allowed a look in as she made healthy contributions to the Mayor's reelection fund.
The nicest part about it was that aspiring employees had to pass a smile test - if it wasn't sweet enough, or sad enough, they didn't get taken on.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Hard work

It's been hard work today getting anyone to talk of anything other than the crucial Romania -Holland match tonight, along-side the equally critical Italy-France.
Romanians, perhaps for the first time ever, are united in their support for something.
They are not confident, but they are determined they will all be watching and shrieking at the top of their voices. There are lots of different parties on the go, and I've been invited to the one at the "Rustic" ( pronounced "roostick") in Sighisoara. It's where I eat the schnitzel & farmer's potatotes, absolutely delicious.
This being Romania, you can't get into any of these parties unless you have a connection. Mine is with the owner of the main hotel here who stood for Mayor of Sighisoara recently, and came last. You might think that isn't too impressive, until you know that this is very much a "pay your dues" society. There were six candidates. The incumbent mayor won in the second round for his second term. Next time, he will have to stand down to let the runner-up this time win. So in 8 years time, my friend will be the runner up and 4 years after that he will get to be mayor and recoup all the money it will have cost him. You might wonder about the arithmetic of this, but believe me, this is what is going to happen. Anyway Adi also owns the Rustic, and has closed it for his friends tonight.
Why am I not with the Mayor of Mosna, I hear you ask.
Yesterday was the LAG meeting, followed by the official Mayoral inauguration dinner.
I think the best thing is to pull a veil over it. The City Hall this morning was shut, and, although I saw the Mayor, he assured me he had eaten a bad sarmale and was going home.
What of the potential results tonight?
The lady who sells me the morning Fornetti ( sort of mini sausage-rolls, but with cheese in them) has had hundreds of people telling her the results. So she has taken the average.
Holand 3 Romania 1. Italy 2 France 1.
You heard it here first.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Mayor's Barbeque

I can't remember if I mentioned that there have been elections in Romania for all local & regional council posts and councils.
The Mayor of Mosna was returned with95% of the votes cast.
He held a barbeque to celebrate and invited many friends and supporters, which, I'm delighted to say, included me.There was of course lots of delicious food ( a whole pig, a whole sheep, a whole cow for starters) as well as the usual cabbage salad, tomatoes and chips, fried in olive oil over a huge fire-pit.
The drink was wine, tuika ( a sort of lethal Romanian whisky - it never gets aged more than about 3 weeks) champagne ( a gift from the mayor of the twin town in Germany) and liqura di padura, a sort of fruit liquor which everyone says is very non-alcoholic, until you find out the basic recipe is to start with 50 litres of neat alcohol....
Anyway, as you can imagine it was all great fun, and anyone is invited - his opponents as well.
The Mayor gave me some of his election literature, which showed him and his slogan " Man of deeds not words" and on the back seven concrete policies ( not aspirations or waffle)
Afterwards I was invited back to his house for a coffee, and I was saying that I was impressed with his policies.
His wife disappeared for a moment and came back with two other flyers.
The first was from 8 years ago when he first stood for mayor. The flyer showed a younger mayor, but the same slogan. On the back were seven concrete policies ( things like central heating for the school, not targets which can be manipulated)
The second was from four years ago. Same thing, but on the back were 7 new policies, and the list of the previous 7. Beside each was one word. "Delivered".
I asked him why he didn't have the delivered message on this year's flyer.
" Obvious" he said." Everyone knows now what I say I do. I don't need to make the point any more. So the people know they will get the new sewage system I have been working on for 5 years within the next 4."
God I wish we could have politicians like that.

42 revisited

I'm in Romania and have been exceptionally busy the last few days, so have had little or no time to keep up with the news. After all, its wind-down time in the UK, summers here...
And then David Davis blows everything out of the water.
In a way, my previous post referred to the mood of the country being anti-spin and anti-waffle. We want detail, we want clarity and we want principle.
DD couldn't have qualified any better if he had tried. It's an extraordinary act, one which, should DC stumble, will win him the leadership. I cannot see the campaign being anything other than a huge success, but then, you never know.
What it really has done has made the pundits in the papers look stupid - already.
DD was doing something insane, the Tories were going to be ripped apart etc etc - except " the People" don't seem to see it like that.
They appear to be saying - it's time we had principle again. And if this is what we can expect from the Tories then we will be with them.
After the wonderful Irish "No" vote, Gordon Brown's refusal of a referendum is not only visible for what it is ( he knows it would be lost) but also as yet another mendacious political trick, one which will rebound on Labour when it next issues a manifesto.
DD is asking for no more than GBP100 per person to donate on line. I personally will be donating. I hope everyone who would like to see the end of spin and believes in principle will do the same.

Sunday, June 08, 2008


In case you missed it, Andrew Marr this morning asked Jacqui Smith ( she of the Home Secretarial persuasion) " How did you fix on 42 days?"
She waffled on for a bit, but entirely missed the point. As readers of HitchHiker's Guide to the Galaxy will know, 42 is the answer to everything. You just have to figure out what the question is.
But the interesting thing was the the Government spin machine had it that " Jacqui" ( who spells like that?) had done a wonderful job of bringing the Labour rebels to heel.
Only it now appears this isn't true.
Mrs. Thatcher was at her son's party the other evening and was talking about the present mood in the country.
" Oh, yes. I sense the people no longer want spin. Politicians are going to have to get into extreme detail to carry people with them on matters."
She has more understanding even now of " the people" that Gordon Brown has of his chewed finger nails.

Friday night

Mrs. Lear and I together with two friends went to the new " happening"/ " show" at SWG3 which was fine if a little strange. I fully accept I am the wrong age.
Whilst wandering about and looking at a number of different things, I chanced across some photographs which had been taken inside Glasgow City Chambers. The building itself is magnificent inside, especially the entrance hall and staircase, which had been used as the backdrop for the photos. There were various outlandish females draped around the place , but I was studying the background and the excellent photographic work that had gone into the photographs themselves.
" Ah" said a chap who sidled up to me " Admiring the divine ChengWa I see."
" No, actually I'm admiring the City Halls."
" Ah. You are clearly elegantly aged."
The emphasis was on the "ag-ed"

Thursday, June 05, 2008

The REAL economy

Just back from Birmingham, where all the hotels are full of people on life awareness courses. Sigh. That's going to keep the Chinese and the Indians at bay.
Anyway, on my way back up, I stopped off at a pub in Cheshire somewhere. More a gastropub with a restaurant, and I was there at about 1:30. I was the only person there.
When I asked the barman why it was so quiet ( I had seen several others shuts round about) he said it had been like this since just after New Year. They were all right as they had quite a good trade at the weekends, but 7 or 8 other pubs in the area had closed. They used to have a weekly lunchtime trade ( not great but enough to pay for itself and contribute a bit towards the bottom line) but that was all gone.
" There's no money around, of course. It used to cost me £70 to fill up my car last November. It's now £92."
There you have it.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Narrowboat Gypsy

Came across this little beauty of a blog and thought I would share it with you.


I was talking to a private banking team today.
The senior man said " I'm sorry can I pass you on to my number 2 - I've got lots of my accounts overdrawn today and I need to start phoning round."
Just bear in mind to get this private banker you have to be earning at least £100,000 pa or have assets ( not including your house) well in excess of £500,000. So lots of " rich" people are already in trouble on the third day of the month.
The number two - who sounded very cheerful - seemed to be speaking with exclamation marks at the end of each sentence " Hello! How nice to speak to you!...YES! I'll do that right away!!" I remarked that she seemed very cheerful, she laughed." Ha ha! It's more like hysteria!"
So you have been warned.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Leadership & Gordon Brown

Todays report that GB will NOT be facing his critics regarding the 42 day detention debacle only underlines his lack of leadership ( and, coincidentally, anything smacking of courage)
I was reading an article in The Marketer about leadership.
Be approachable. Be seen as part of a team.
Allow for autonomy. Set objectives, let your people get on with achieving them.
Constantly develop yourself, and make sure you are responsible for developing other leaders.
Use coaching so people take responsibility for their own problems, freeing your time to lead.
Set the tone. Attitudes are infectious.
Stimulate debate and new ideas.
I think we can all agree he fails miserably on every one of these points. I particularly agree with "Set the tone". Brown's is uniformly grim.
Don't dither. The best leaders are decisive.
Don't forget to be adaptable. New challenges may mean different thinking.
Don't forget you can delegate responsibility, but not overall accountability.
Don't be afraid to admit you don't like leading.Promoting bad leaders can be disastrous for business.

And for political parties too.