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.