Sunday, November 30, 2008


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.
I just spotted the following on
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.

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.
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.

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.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

A beautiful day

Back in Romania and ready for anything despite not getting much sleep on the train last night. For some reason I couldn't turn the lights off in my compartment. That and the ticket inspector chasing miscreants up and down the corridor.
Anyway, I arrived in Sighisoara about 9:30 in that gorgeous glow of autumn when the mist envelops and caresses the scenery whilst the sun turns everything to gold. It was the most wonderful morning, rudely shattered when Alin said I only had 10 minutes to shave and wash and get down to meet the accountant, then to get to Alma Vii and then to get to a LAG meeting.
We somehow made it, as the sun melted the mist and the countryside displayed it's full autumnal magnificence.
We finally gifted what remained in the house at Alma Vii to the old folk's home. It largely consisted of clothes which were warmly received. The wrecking crew had already been at work for 2 days removing all the old bits of concrete, wood and general detruitus from around the house, and the decision was taken to remove most of the vine which was so enormous it blocked the view. Most of the wood was being taken by one of the workers to make arks for his pigs. He and his younger brother had been in Spain working for the last 7 years but had been forced home by the economy there. Fortunately their eldest brother was a local councillor and had been able to get them jobs...
The LAG meeting mostly consisted of a diatribe against the government which STILL hasn't put in place the requirements and funding for LAGs, but we soldier on.
Much of the evening was - as ever- taken up with lunch. The Unglerus in Biertan serves the best cabbage salad and beetroot salad with horseraddish. All the men eat the horseraddish because they believe it is good for their - ehem - manhood. Mind you, there is lots of stuff they eat for the same reason but personally I have seen no evidence that any of it works. Being a macho society however, has it's required rituals.
The Mayor is much vexed by the world economic crisis. Not, as you might expect, because it is having an impact on him. Rather he is wondering how best to profit from it. Romanian banks don't really have the problems others do. Getting a loan is more difficult than a camel passing through the eye of a needle. But the Romanians keep much of their money literally under the bed ( encased in some yellow powder that stops the mice eating it) so there is in general a shortage of credit. The Mayor's latest idea is that he should go to London with the Council's cash and offer it to the highest bidder. He had heard of fabulous wealth being offered for overnight money and felt it would do his health good to spend a few weeks in London getting several thousand percent overnight for his elector's cash. I pointed out that the reason some banks were prepared to pay so much was that they might go bust, in which case he would lose the lot. He decided it would be better to leave the money under his bed until he needed to spend it.
He decided some of it needed spending this evening on a rather splendid local wine which would put most French cru classes to shame.
It was the equivalent of GBP3 .50 in the restaurant.
I helped him drink it - purely as fact finding of course.

Monday, November 03, 2008


For a very good reason ie someone is going >I hope > to buy me a slap up meal I am going over my Somme books and maps for a trip next May.
This year being the 90th anniversary of the armistice, there have been innumerable programmes not least the excellent 1914/1918 on BBC4.
Fast forward to last Friday night when Major Paul Pitchfork MC of the Royal Gurkha Rifles gave a talk to various people in Glasgow, which included descriptions of how they went about their business, how they lived and how the situation can be sorted.
I was struck not only by the differences, but by the similarities.
Our wars are fought by our youngsters, largely in appalling conditions, with terrifying judgements needing to be made daily and for little or no thanks from what I believe is largely an ungrateful nation.
There are those who say we should not fight overseas at all, that we should have no armed forces.
My reply to them is that this government, even as it pretends to be giving new landrovers ! it was already in last years budget and got put off until they have been shamed into giving them ! is quietly increasing recruitment, not least in Nepal where a doubling of Gurkhas is being promulgated over the next 5 years.
I hope to God they get not only the recognition they deserve but the proper equipment to do the job properly as well.

NOT quite the right name....

Landing in Budapest some hours late today, we taxied past a somewhat decrepit aircraft emblazoned with KRASAIR.
You might not be too botherered by this until you find out that S in Hungarian, Romanian etc etc is a "sh" sound.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

What a complete Brownie.

No, I'm not referring to Andrew Marr's interview with Brown on AM which was - as ever - utterly psychophantic.

I'm referring to the non-questioning or contradicting of Brown's statement that " The oil price has come down more than 50% over the last few weeks and I'm asking the oil compnaies to respond in kind and reduce petrol prices."
What a despicable misleader of the people who elected him. The petrol price is almost entirely governed by the various taxes which make up some 70 odd % of the price of a litre at any time - with a higher percentage as the price rises. In fact, the oil price itself probably only made up about 25% of the price you pay at its highest. That has now fallen back to the more traditional 15%.
So stop trying to claim credit for what economics has made happen.
And stop trying to pretend that you can spend your way out of a recession.
You can only SAVE your way out of one.