Sunday, May 31, 2009


The cygnets have hatched! Can't tell how many yet, possibly 4.
Might only be 3.

Really helping the Gurkhas

I've been invited to address the Royal British Legion ( Scotland) Women's section later next month.

It's quite a big affair, I believe with something like 2000 attendees and held after a parade and wreath laying in George Square. Its from 09:30 on the morning of 20th June, and I'm the first speaker. I have a feeling I am the warm up act...

The reason I am first on is the requirement for me to change into my glad-rags and attend a wedding in Ayrshire in the afternoon. The mother of the bride ( who originally assured me it would be a small affair), now tells me the costs are approaching £70,000, and I'm willing to bet they will go higher. German Dave, who is the groom, definitely has his eye on the main chance...

Anyway, back to the RBL(S)WS.

I have a variety of talks of varying length which I trot out for various occassions, but I felt this time I would redo the longest one which is about 20 minutes, the length of time I have been allocated.

My understanding is that the ladies want to hear about what the Gurkha Welfare Trust does, but you can't talk about it without talking about Nepal and it's poverty, it's beauty and it's magnificent people.

So I have been revisiting themes and facts, information and key features, and in the process have rediscovered all my enthusiasm for these best friends of ours. Of course, I have to talk about our latest National Treasure, Joanna Lumley. I caution the ladies about being too sure it will all come out all right - the MOD is not known for giving in.

I'm also allowed to make a plea for funds, which is in part why I'm doing it. We've just launched this year's Gurkha Highlander so the heart rending letters with their donations are already starting to come in. If I could collect £1 for every person who holds the Gurkhas dear in some shape or form, the GWT's job would be done.

Gurkha Highlander
We are seven serving Gurkhas who will walk the Gurkha
Highlander route again this year, 10th to 18th.August, in support of
the Gurkha Welfare Trust. The Trust cares for 10,000 old soldiers
and widows who did not serve long enough to earn an Army
pension. Now old and frail they rely on a monthly welfare pension
of £20 from the Trust for survival.
Help us to repay a debt of honour that is nearly 200 years old. Please support Gurkha
Highlander and make a donation of £20.
“Bravest of the brave, most generous of the generous, never had country more faithful
friends than you.”
Donations welcome at The Gurkha Welfare Trust Scottish Branch,
Gurkha Highlander Headquarters, c/o The Hexagon Building,
674 Pollokshaws Road, Glasgow G41 2QE or

Gurkha Welfare Trust Registered Charity 1103669

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Vote at least

I've just taken this test on the EU. Very worryingly, UKIP appears to be my closest match. Even more worryingly, this other test seems to suggest that I am closest allied to UKIP immediately followed by the BNP.
I was talking to Mr.Fact the other evening, and he described how the BNP is campaigning/working in his home area of Stoke.
Very little is said about policy. It's all " Here, let me help you carry that." " Let me help you up the stairs". " How are you today?". If the Tories used to be the Nasty Party, the BNP is going out of it's way to be the Nice Party.
And of course it works. When the bag has been carried and the little old lady says thank you, the response is " No problem missus. We look after our own." Perhaps the most worrying thing of all is that this is precisely how Hitler rose to power, by playing on people's fears about non-Germans, Communists and Jews taking jobs and Lebensraum from good German Volk.
Despite all the hype, I doubt the BNP will get more than 5 or 6% of the EU vote in the UK, but UKIP looks to be a serious problem both for Labour ( who they will push into third place) and the Tories, whose natural conservatism with a small "c" encompasses keeping Johnny Foreigner in his place.
Here in Scotland there will be massive support for the SNP - Salmond's careful playing of the fish will continue. His political wiles will only be kept in their place by what I hope will be the Scot's natural antipathy to change - and their acknowledgment that, at the moemnt, it suits them to be in the UK. If the Barnett Formula is changed, however, I would say all bets are off.
I'm away on June 4th, so I have given a proxy vote to Mrs. Lear.
I have no idea how she will vote, or how she will vote for me.
But she has a record of always voting for the party that gets into power....

Friday, May 29, 2009

How to steal a few Billion

I had coffee today with my friend from Hungary who says things there are not good. The problem revolves around how banks have drawn people into their debt net.
He likens it to drug dealers. Give them something cheap, just a taster, then when they are hooked, up the ante, charge them more, move them from hash to cocaine, then up the stakes again to crack or heroin.
This is basically what the banks have done to their clients.
When you first get a loan, its not usually very big, its easy repayments, because you haven't got any debt it's cheap and so you think hey, I'd really like that new whatever, and away you go. Various Ms.Lears assure me their friends all live from one credit card statement to the next with absolutely nothing to show for it.
And do you suppose all this is all in Florints in Hungary? Not a bit of it. It's in Euros and Swiss Francs, because that's how the banks can make extra money ( on the exchange rate) and in fact it would appear for the past few years they haven't even offered car loans in anything else. Can I have a Florint loan please? - no,non,nada, nul points.
The other thing he says ( quite rightly) is that nothing is going to change. Because the Banks have been bailed out ( and you can forget any pathetic strings attached) in another year or so things will be just as bad if not worse.
Compare this which what happened in the East in 1998. Korea, for example, let every dodgy bank go bust. Yes it was painful, but new banks appeared as if by magic overnight, and now Korean banks are amongst the soundest in the world. The economy picked up rapidly too. Contrast that with Japan which, 15 years on from its own bust, is still struggling with limping banks, and no improvement really in their economy over all that time.
The other thing that's scarey in the West is the propensity of banks to start pulling the plug just when things start to get better. The reasoning is they will be better able to get their money back. The reason the American banks are now talking tough ( we are gonna pay the TARP back) is so they can foreclose on some assets that they now see as being cheap, and allow their newly created distressed asset funds pick them up for a song. It's already happening in real estate - some commercial properties are being sold in the Sattes for 40cts on the $ on the cost to build them.
I did hear one quite nice thing. If you are a private client of UBS, they are offering you loans to 90% of value at 1.5% over Euro LIBOR. This means about 3.5%.
And the security?
So they will take your money and give you 90% of it back - and charge you 3.5% pa.
Nice work if you can get it.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Free Bus

Today was the day I finally tried out my OAP bus pass.
As it happens I wanted to go into Central Station to buy a rail ticket with my OAP railcard, and there is a bus right outside my office that goes straight to the station and then back again.
So a very green effort, and a very cost effective one too.
The only slight problem was I had the Dog with me today, and, as usual, I had no lead with me.
Not a problem.
The office string would do the trick.
So the Dog and I set off into town, and I flashed my card.
Kerching! Out comes a ticket saying something about OAPs and with £0.00p as the cost.
So far so good.
Except everybody who got on the bus asked about the Dog, who is admittedly most endearing, with a pretty wimpish look on his face.
The rail ticket having been secured ( London return via Edinburgh for a mere £42 - great value),
I made my way to the bus stop for the bus going in the opposite direction.
As I was standing on the corner, Dog on string, and looking pretty vacant, as I was unsure where the bus stop was, a man in a suit passed and pressed 20p. into my hand.
" No no," I said," I'm not in need," and offered him his money back.
He looked at me as if I had two heads. I've noticed people doing this more and more, and my conclusion is it's an age thing.
" Give it to the Dog then," he said as he marched away.
I don't think 20p. would be much use to him, so I pocketed the money and looked for a beggar to give it to.
They are like Policeman and Taxis - never one when you want one.
Anyway, I get back on the bus, and Kerching! again.
I was followed on by two more OAPs and an unemployed youth, who also got a free ride.
As I made my way to a seat, I overheard the bus driver muttering " Is no **** ever going to pay for using this bus?"
He has a point...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Loony Laws

Curtesy of Smooth Radio, you might think that lawmakers and or Parliamentarians ( who are not necessarily one and the same) after debate and serious consideration, only made sensible laws.
However, the following are not spoofs:
* In Switzerland, it is illegal to spend a penny standing up after 10pm.
* In London, a pregnant woman can ask a policeman to give her his helmet to pee into.
* It is illegal to die in the House of Commons. One wonders what the sanction might be.
* Oliver Cromwell banned Christmas mince pies as frivolous and too happy by half for a serious Church festival like Christmas. This law has never actually been repealed. So next time you eat a mince pie, it is entirely possible you will be arrested, flogged, and put in the stocks.
* And finally, it is illegal in Scotland to be in charge of a cow when drunk. It is not entirely clear whether the illegal bit is if the cow is drunk....

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Still waiting...

Waiting for Godot has a line: Pozzo's 'Dance first, think later; that's the natural order of things.'
We are all now indeed "Waiting for Godot".
In this case, Godot is the end of Labour and Brown.
But we still have to wait as they dance on our lives....

Whisky Galore

I meant to write this some time ago, and the Scottish Gigolo jogged my memory.
In that marvellous film, there is a publican, who spills the beans to the authorities about where the whisky is hidden.
When asked why, he replies that there was no benefit to his business from the hidden whisky and therefore he could see no reason to NOT tell the authorities.
It struck me this is a very Scottish attitude, although it may be prevalent elsewhere too.
Why should I help you if you are not helping me?
Not very helpful to charities, I would say.

On the train from Reims to Beauvais

The last part of my journey was to get home. The rest of the party shot off up the motorway to catch the Eurotunnel train, and I settled down to a leisurely lunch a la Restaurant de la Gare, which was excellent.
Promptly at 3pm the train arrived, and equally promptly left at it's appointed hour of 3:09.
Before that I had wandered into the station kiosk. I'm absolutely certain no railway kiosk in the UK ( or anywhere else for that matter) has books for sale by Zola, Flaubert, Proust and Prosper Merrimee. I find it oddly cheering that France sticks to its intellectual superiority.
Then I sat down in the train. On the other side of the aisle was a young man with two young ladies, probably all in their mid twenties. I could see under the table as I was sitting slightly below them.
One of the young ladies took the boy's hand surreptitiously as they all chatted animatedly.
Then the other young lady started caressing his thigh on the other side. He did look slightly surprised, but quickly assumed a beatific smile.
Especially when the first young lady dropped his hand and went for the thigh on her side of the carriage...
It was probably just as well that they got off at the next stop. But I was very much reminded of the bit in The Kinsey Report when the old professor is asked to name his most sexually stimulating day dream, and he describes a similar scenario.
Only to shatter the interviewer by saying he misunderstood her question - it wasn't a day dream, it had actually happened to him.
From memory the interviewer tore up the papers after the old boy had left, on the basis it was impossible.....

Sextent & a romantic tool...

I regret to tell you this is not an exciting place.
Nor is it something you can buy and erect in your garden.
It may conjure up lots of interesting images, but it is merely a mis-spelling.
Of "Sextant." So nul points for that Scrabble player...
What I did see in the Veuve Cliquot cellars was a description of a sort of bag for champagne, which was described as " The ideal tool to share a romantic experience... anywhere."
I had thought that might have been a dildo, but there you go.
Incidentally, whilst we were in the Newfoundland Memorial Park ( which I think is,in many ways, the most moving of all the memorials on the Somme), I came across a list of over 800 towns in Newfoundland which had sent troops and which had lost many of them.
There really is a Dildo in Newfoundland

Scottish Gigolo

What next? Well, the fragrant WW took us all for an excellent lunch to a Relais & Chateau establishment. I hope our amusing company repaid for her generosity - it was a truly memorable experience.
As we were leaving, a somewhat-past-middle-aged lady with not very well dyed hair, but very expensive clothes came into the reception area. Following her with the bage was a man at least 20 years her junior. He was what I would describe as sleekly attentive, in the way that only someone effectively being paid would be. Think of the Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone. I can assure you the lady was not in the same category as Vivien Leigh, although the man following could have been a Warren Beatty.
And then he spoke. And by George he was Scottish!
I don't think I've ever been as surprised by anything.
Maybe it's true that we Scots are the most romantic people on earth....

Credit Agricole.

Well, BB has prompted me to put the Credit Agricole story first.
If you follow the charming and second best card player Winchester Whisperer, you will have spotted we were in Albert over the last few days.
I had stayed there before in the Hotel de la Basilique, where Didier and Sandrine looked after us excellently again.
As you do, I got chatting with Didier, telling him how nicely I thought they had done up the hotel since last we were there. Whereupon he told me his story.
The Credit Agricole, with which his family have banked for more than 100 years, lent him about Eur 20,000 to do up the hotel last year. Admittedly they took no security, but the hotel and its business must be worth , ooh, say about Eur 400,000
Things were quiet running up to Christmas, but no payments were missed, but money was tight.
Before the January payment, due 24th of the month, and in fact on 10th January, his bank manger walked into the hotel and without any discussion said two things.
1) We will not honour any of your cheques which are presented as from today.
2) We want our remaining loan ( about Eur 16,000) repaid immediately.
Taken aback, Didier asked why.
" Because you have only paid Eur 500 into the account in the last 10 days"
" So what? " said Didier. " I have 14 more days to make the payment, and if necessary I can borrow money from my father"
" Nevertheless, as from now your account is effectively closed. And we have taken your credit balance into the loan account."
Bouncing a cheque in France is a criminal offence.
Absolutely shattered, Didier spoke to his father who wrote a cheque on the spot for Eur 20,000, but on his way to pay it in, he passed another bank, CIC.
He walked in and asked to see the manager, who he knew ( Albert is a small town), and told him the story.
The manager smiled.
" Well, I think I know why. Here are account opening forms so that you can at least trade. We will honour your cheques meantime. Once we have this open we will see about the rest. They have to give you 6 weeks notice to repay anyway."
Still shattered, but mightily relieved, Didier filled in the forms, then paid the Eur 20,000 from his father into the account, and proceeded to contact his suppliers to sort out the mess of CA's making.
A few days later, Didier spotted in the paper that CA had made a loss of Eur 5 BILLION. He went along to see his new, friendly bank manager.
" Ah yes," he said ," This is the reason, as I thought."
As Didier said, " It's not me nor people like me who have lost CA Eur 5Billion. In fact they have made it from us. It is they themselves who have gambled and lost, something we would be punished for. But, of course, not them."
As a postscript, the CA manager was furious with Didier's father for giving him money - it was a CA cheque and was Eur 20,000 less that they had to weather their own storm.

Sorry for the delay..

.. in posting but I have been travelling almost non-stop for a week.
But here is a taster:
* Credit Agricole closing small French businesses to pay for their losses.
* A Scottish Gigolo
* Sextent
* Sharing a romantic experience.
Hm, that should pull in the readers....

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Tales of Derring Do.

Two tales from the high powered lunch today.
The first was from a very senior ex-army man who had been given a lance corporal's stripe in the School Cadet Force, as he was destined to go into the Army.
Being a lance corp meant he was put in charge of the Bren gun. Just the one. So he had the gun, two clips, two helpers, and the job of firing off the two clips on Field Day at his school.
Cometh the hour, cometh the inspecting General, and with much hoo-ha, the lance corp and his team are called before the entire school, parents, governors and the rest.
Perfectly turned out and with commendable expertise, he flung himself down in the approved firing position. His oppo to the right slams in the first clip, shouts whatever it is that is required to let the lance corp know he can fire, and the clip is emptied in perfect bursts of 5. Opp to the left whips out the first clip, slams in the second, another perfect set of bursts.
Only... as the echoes of fire die down, the barrel on the Bren drops off. It would probably have been all right, except the lance corp, thinking to hide the problem, picks up the barrel, which of course is red hot from the firing, leaps to his feet and yells " OOh ya B*****D!".
There was a deadly hush and he was subsequently put back to Private. It didn't seem to do his future career much harm. As you know, one of the requirements of "getting on" is getting noticed. The entire British Army knew what had happened, and every time he was posted anywhere, the first thing the CO asked was " Aren't you the chap..?"
The second story was told me by the lady to my left. Quite apart from the fact that she had been engaged 4 times ( she married the fourth fiance), her mother had been a bit of a player as well.
When recently engaged to a dull solicitor from Birmingham ( are there any other kind?), she was sitting minding her own business just before the war broke out, when the fiance and his friend ( the latter in his newly joined-up uniform) came towards her. Without a blink she moved her right hand and covered the shiny new engagement ring, and managed to remove it without anyone noticing. She knew he was The One.They married nine days later, and off to war he went, and nine months later a lovely boy was born.
After the war, which the husband mostly spent in a POW camp,they tried for another child and were having great fun trying, .. only nothing much was happening.
They went to Ireland for a short holiday, and visited a shrine where the folklore had it that if you threw thruppence into the well, you would have a baby. Her father, not having thruppence, had tossed in a sixpence.
And she's a twin.
Just like that.

Coming to a constituency near you....

I don't know about you but I am bored with the DT revelations on MPs Troughery. We all knew it happened, we knew some abused it, and for journalists to preach about it is a bit rich - although I daresay things are better now than they used to be.
What I think is interesting is,for the first time in a long time, the country as a whole ( all classes, regions,religions) is united on a subject. Not one person ( apart, of course, from MPs themselves and Speaker Martin in particular) thinks what's being revealed is all right. Everyone condemns it.
That, surely, is a good thing.
Britain, when united, is unbeatable. Perhaps the expenses scandal is what we need to get us through the recession. We all need someone to hate, and at the moment MPs are it.
I'm absolutely certain we shall see changes, and if I was a betting man, I'd say there may well have to be an election this side of Christmas.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


Taxi drivers always have an opinion, and one of our neigbours is no exception.
I was just returning from walking the dog when he hailed me and asked what I thought of the "bloody carry-on" over expenses.
I remarked that most of it was down to pure stupidity in the Commons expense office. After all, if they don't need to produce a receipt, how would they know the mortgage was paid off?
His take on it was illuminating.
Most of us regard all politicians as greedy conniving b******s, he said, but what this lot have done is piss on their constituents.
I don't mind so much them getting plasma TVs and the like, but I really object to the mortgage payments -tax free - for nothing.
If they want my respect back they will have to earn it. Get an accounting firm to audit every receipt. Bar any claim from the past or future without one. Lock up anyone who has committed fraud or stolen. Make them all seek reselection.
And call a general election.
I couldn't agree more. The only real problem - and it's a really real problem - is that in a court of law they will only need to say the money I took was approved by the body in charge. If it's approved it's automatically neither fraud nor theft.
So let's hope Harman's "Court of Public Opinion" does the needful.
He finished with a fine Glasgow expression.
" Aye, they need the Polis tae gie them aw' a sare kiss"*
Translation: they need a doing in Police custody.

New life

Well the Park has its first ducklings. Very sweet they are too, sticking like glue to their mum,cheeping away and little balls of fluff. There are a couple of baby coots and a moorhen or two, but no cygnets yet.

There was nothing yesterday morning, so I think they must all have been born overnight.

Friday, May 15, 2009


Our new electrician has finished the new lights in the kitchen and stairs.

There are people in Britain starving....

When I was little, my old Nanny used to make me eat my plate clean with the words :
" Eat up your highness, people in Europe are starving."
As this was post war, I'm pretty sure the Brits were doing much worse than the French and Italians, and even the Germans were starting to get there. British Nannies, especially of that era, were quite sure that Europe was never as acceptable as Britain.
I spent part of the morning with an old and dear friend of mine who has retired from the property game.
He still gets stuff offered to him, so it was not a huge surprise when he told me he had bought a "wee shop in Edinburgh" let as a sandwich bar.
Being the cagey Scot he is, he didn't give me much more information - except to say that he had lopped 35% off the asking price and it had immediately been accepted.
There can only be one reason for this - whoever the vendor is, his Bank have told him to get some cash in - any cash at any price. I'd be almost willing to bet it's HBOS. The yield on the deal is more than 10% and makes no sense as even in these times the vendor won't be paying more than 4% maximum.
The word in the market is that there is a gigantic overhang of property on HBOS' books - perhaps as much as £20 billion still, but they can't actively sell it. It would completely destroy the market. They don't want to pay liquidators when they can effectively get it done for free by the existing management.
So for a start all the busted flushes out there are being left to get on with it, but all cash coming in goes straight into the hole, with nothing coming back out. I know at least 3 people who are personally at their wit's end as they have had nothing - nada - into their own hands since October last year. Another friend of mine is busily paying his daughter's children's school fees, and the weekly shopping. God knows what the mortgage company, the car leasing company, the council tax people etc etc are doing for cash from she and her husband - whistling I suspect.
Secondly, through third parties, emails and letters are being sent to potential buyers, so it doesn't look as if it's coming from the Banks. I'm getting on average 20/30 per day. Not particularly attractive, but then I would only need one....
So vent your anger on MPs by all means ( it's all Brown's fault after all), but spare a thought for those ex-property magnates. Even the biggest companies are dying - SEGRO ( ex-Slough Estates) is down from over £6 to below 10p. ie a drop of some 99%.
That's what leverage does to you.
Eat up, for people in Britain are starving....

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Didn't notice the extra cash, guv.....

I simply cannot believe what the Labour MP says who continued to claim for his mortage after it had been paid off.
I very clearly remember my own parents having a party when they paid off their mortgage in the late 50s, and more recently, I know two other people who celebrated privately with an exceptional bottle of wine or two.
From my own point of view, assets,money, savings and loans are simply numbers, but Mrs. Lear was truly pleased when our own mortgage was paid off.
I simply cannot believe he didn't notice the DD not going out any more.
Mind you, our neighbour told me he never looked at his bank statements, he left all that sort of thing to his ex-wife.
I suspect she took him entirely to the cleaners and simply allows him pocket money.....

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Iain Dale has the following:
How To Resign...
Iain Dale 9:55 AM
From the Australian News Service...
"A JAPANESE junior minister has resigned after a magazine reported that he had used a free train pass issued to lawmakers for a trip to meet his mistress, the government's top spokesman said. "
I hope she was worth it.

Not actually improving...

two stories from yesterday's train trip to-and-from London.
On the way down, some poor old chap tried to make of with my briefcase. I naturally prevented him, but it was immediately obvious something was wrong. Fortunately, the guard was just nearby and he took care of the old dear. I later saw paramedics at the next station removing him, so I suspect he had had a stroke or something - he was certainly seriously confused.
On the way back, I was opposite a chap who asked where I was going. I replied Glasgow and it transpired he was going to Penrith.
I've long wondered what on earth people do in Penrith - after all Carlisle is very close by.
It transpires he is a plumber, or more accurately a pipework and heating engineer.
His business is 8 years old and doing extremely well, thank you, with no lack of orders or enquiries - if anything he is up a bit on last year.
He works all over the country, his biggest single contract at the moment being a complete re-working of a jewellers in Bond Street - he didn't say but it could only be Asprey's I suppose. He doesn't do contract work for developers in eg the residential area, so has been saved any losses there.
So that's good news then...not quite, unfortunately.
His problem is quite simply an inability to get people to pay.
They want to pay him ( it's staged payments) but he has now instituted a "no pay no next stage" regime. His receivables are more than double what they were last year.
As he said if he could get the cash in he would be a rich man, but in the meantime his Bank have given him not one penny extra of credit. He's had to finance the debtor increase entirely out of his own resources, which includes taking no salary since January, no Easter holiday, no planned Summer holiday, and only travelling when absolutely critical. His other Directors have done roughly the same.
So that's how Brown's help for companies none.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Once upon a time in the West End...

One of the blogs I follow ( secrets and subterfuge) is talking about the Serpentine Swimming Club.
My increasingly fallible memory was jogged, and I checked with one of the other participants, and quite definitely I have swum in the Serpentine circa 1969.
From what we have been able to piece together, it was about 3am of a summer's morning, and the general idea was, I think, to get the girls to take their clothes off.
From memory, we managed this, but only at the expense of our own clothes.
Neither the Earl nor myself can, for the life of us, remember what the grand finale was - or even who else was there - but I do know that I found myself on a train to Fishguard in half of my dinner jacket very early in the morning.
You may ask why this would be.
Well, the Earl was/is Irish, and needed to get someone out of the way by sending them back to Ireland. I think the prequel to the swimming was the farewell party. I suspect we had been in Old Covent Garden Market to get red roses for the ladies - always used to work ...
Anyway, the gentleman being escorted out of the country turned up thirty odd years later to visit the Earl in Kilkenny.
The Earl, a gentleman to the tips of his fingers, invited the apparition into his house for tea, then drinks, and finally dinner.
Asked if he would like to stay the night, the intruder remarked " B****r. I knew I'd forgotten something"
And indeed he had. His wife was still sitting in the pub where he had left her....

Celebrity Park watch No.2

Simon Cowell! ( he's in Glasgow filming at the moment.....)

Celebrity Park watch No.1

Carol Smillie.

Forever Home Counties...

I think the mass of detail on the MPs expenses row is reaching the boredom threshold, but one of the Ms. Lears had a very apt text:
"I find the comparison of dodgy expenses most amusing. Labour: TVs and porn. Tories: dog food, clearing the wisteria and repairing the tennis court."
Glad to see the eternal divide is not being blurred.
Apart from David Blunkett, how many Labour MPs have dogs versus cats? Ditto Tories? Could be very revealing.

Sunday, May 10, 2009


I think the cygnets must have been born in the park. The cob is doing his impression of Schwarzenegger in the Terminator, chasing anything and everything that moves within 50 yards of the serenely indifferent pen on her nest. His wings are puffed up, he chases ducks half flying and landing on them if they so much as look at him.
Today is also the day of the Women's 10K race in Glasgow, and every year, twice a year, we are completely cut off from the outside world. Today, in order to walk the dog, I had to run through the runners.
A marshall shouted at me that I was interfering with the runners. I shouted back that would he prefer I drove through them as I couldn't get out of my house.
I'll probably be arrested.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Dirty Tricks

Now I have no idea if the Tories have been misusing the Commons system as much as it would appear Labour have been.
What I would say is, from my memory of the last year of John Major's Government, the "Tory Sleaze" was largely external, i.e. it was people bribing ( too strong a word surely, lets say paying as a gift) certain MPs to do certain things. OK that's kind of corruption in my book.
But it's not fraud, and it's not ripping off the tax payer.
It does seem to me that Labour have brought that to a refined art....
And as for suggesting that the revelations are a Dirty Tory Trick.. I think John Redwood nails that beautifully.

NOT getting into MENSA

I have nothing against the Welsh, but it seems to me they have taken over from the Irish as the thickos of anecdotal stories and jokes. If anything, the Irish jokes now seem to indicate a cunning and trading mentality that, of course, they always had. I think particularly of Flurry Knox from the Irish RM
I heard on the radio today this clip of a Welshman who had ordered a delivery pizza.
" Hello, I want to complain about my pizza."
" Why is that sir?"
" I've just opened it and there's no topping on it. How am I supposed to eat that for my dinner?"
" I'm very sorry sir, but I don't understand how that can have happened."
" It's disgusting, I want another one delivered right away and I... oh, sorry, I've opened the box upside down...."

Friday, May 08, 2009

Holding steady?

Interesting chat with the lady teller in the bank yesterday. I asked how things were going and she said she thought people were feeling they could cope.
The thinking was that if it didn't get any worse, then they had got through several months without the sky falling in, and so might get through with little or no further damage.
She said there was " cautious optimism" that things would "hold".
I'm not so sure. Is this the eye of the storm? The second half will hit later in the year, do you think?
The Mayor says things are going really well.
But then, they couldn't have been much worse there.....

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Love in the time of a Football Match

Tuesday was the day the Government Accountants returned, and Elena was in seventh Heaven because her Male Russian Doll had come back.
It was also the day Dynamo were playing with the object of finally clinching the Romanian Premier League.
This latter is of course serious business - much more so than checking boring accounts or even having a girl friend. Alin doesn't think so - but then he supports Steau, who are sixth at the moment. It's a bit like Rangers/Celtic;Man U and Man City; or Liverpool/Everton, and defines where you are in the pecking order.
So whilst Alin and I went about our business, people all over our area were busily preparing food, drawing wine from barrels and generally getting ready to support their team.
Which meant that we were summoned to Elena's for lunch at about the time of kick-off at 5pm with not one account checked or one kiss exchanged, which mightily annoyed the lady of the house.
The whole city council were there - because Elena has all the channels, and we sat outside whilst the huge plasma TV was brought out and set to work.
The Chief accountant eventually realised that there was a frost in the air, even through the several glasses he had drunk, and waddled off to the kitchen to make amends. It may have been the complete lack of any food arriving that did it. Mind you, Dynamo were 1-0 up so things were going well, and he could take a break.
Some time later, with Dynamo now 2-0 up, we were all wondering what had happened to the food.
At the final whistle Dynamo were 3-0 winners.
The City Council, which toasted every goal mightily, and without food, were extremely merry.
Elena and her friend started to bring the food out which enabled most of us to sober up. It consisted ( of course) of the Suppe with bread in it as opposed to noodles, even better for mopping up alcohol.
The main course was chicken lasagna, a pork schnitzel with mushroom rice, tomato,cucumber and cabbage salad.
All delicious.
I'm sure the carousing went on long into the night, but by that time Elena had disappeared, and so, sadly had I, as I needed to catch the 9:45 train to Budapest and thence to Prestwick's wind,rain and cold.


Monday dawned another beautiful day with, in theory, time for a rest. Of course, it didn't turn out like that, as no sooner had we settled on going to look over some other land than Alin's phone was ringing with requirements for our presence.
The most intriguing was from Toader.
Toader's mother owns a piece of land right in the middle of parcels we already own. Unfortunately she has been taken ill, and Toader now has a power of attorney.
So far so good.
Also unfortunately, Toader's son is a bit of a tearaway. He got riotously drunk about a month ago and went into the woods to cut firewood. Technically this is illegal, but, of course, it is where everybody's firewood comes from.
Even more unfortunately, Toader's son saw a rather good looking tree that didn't have any branches on it and chopped it down.
Only it was carrying the main electricity cable between Mosna and Nemsa, and Nemsa was without power for 24 hours.
Even worse, the son had tried to chop away all the pesky wires attached to the felled tree which resulted in him blowing up the chain saw and knocking himself out to such an extent that when Erne the policeman arrived Toader's son was still groggy.
In theory there is bail in Romania, but it's not for the likes of young tearaways, so the son has been in Medias jail since then.
Now there are a whole range of crimes with which he could be charged, but in view of the fact everyone regarded the whole episode as really funny ( so drunk he didn't know it wasn't a tree!) the charge brought was damage to Electricity Company property - which is civil rather than criminal.
Except it costs money to pay the fine/reimburse the Company.
So Toader wanted money to help with this.
We were very loathe to help, because, even though we wanted the land, we felt the mother should at least be consulted. Toader was going to take her money for his own use rather than hers.
We told him so.
Which is when he put an intriguing proposition to us.
If we would buy the land, he would do all our ploughing ( or plugging as Alin refers to it) and planting for the same money as his mother was due from the land, and we could pay it direct to her - or at least to the chemist shop supplying her drugs..
Which seemed fair enough.
So Toader's son got out of jail ( his father promptly got him to start plugging)
Toader's mother got a complete supply of the drugs she needed.
And we got a parcel of land we wanted.
Even the Mayor of Clochemerle would have been pleased.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

A day of rest...

Sunday was a slow start, but by 9:30 (!) we had breakfasted and were heading for the first meeting of the day.
I wanted the Ex-banker to see a negotiation and understand how the land registration system worked. He was taken aback by the welcome we received in the little house, which included juice and cakes.
" These people can hardly afford to do this" he whispered.
" Yes but they have their pride and to refuse would give offence."
The second house was even poorer but by around noon we had managed to sort out the problems, the actual areas and the prices to be paid.
As regards the areas of land, every single time we talk about buying some land, we are assured, categorically, that the .50 hectares that the titles say is theirs is actually, e.g. 1.4 hectares and it was only the corrupt lying officials who put the sizes down lower because they were a poor family.
So far, the only mistakes we have found have been made by lawyers....
We popped into Elena's, and promptly had plates of cabbage pie put in from of us.
This sounds revolting but like the cabbage salad, is delicious. It's also the local equivalent of Barr's Irn Bru, that well known Scottish hangover cure. The Ex-b had been saying he didn't suppose it was avalaible in Romania, but in view of the amount of alcohol drunk here he would speak to Robin Barr about it.
I wanted the Ex-b to see Richis and Biertan, and to meet my friend the painter, Ion Constantinescu of Biertan. The idea was to meet the Mayor for lunch at the Unglerus in Biertan about 6pm.
Ion had guests when we arrived, but would hear nothing but that we should come in and have a glass or two. He showed me his newest works, which I'm glad to say were wood carving prints, and which were using more than one colour. They were excellent, and he had already sold some to Italy, as well as having them accepted for the all Romania travelling exhibition, the equivalent of being an RA, but rather better, as there were a maximum of 25 pictures taken round the country. Some years there were less.
Lunch passed off well, and then we made our way back to Sighisoara to put the Ex-b on the train back to Budapest.
" Well, Mr.King," said Alin," I think we show your friend how we are doing good here in Transylvania."
" Indeed. And if he can just remember even some of it, then we will have had a successful time."

Monday, May 04, 2009

Up yer kilt

You will have gathered that Saturday night was quite raucous, and of course with 2 Scots in the immediate vicinity the question of what is worn (or not) under the kilt quickly came up. People talk of questions or problems that are Elephants in the room, and this particular question is endlessly fascinating to other nationalities.
The Ex-banker, a true Scot to the core, told a rather nice story.
At what one could only describe as a society wedding, the extremely grand lady photographer left one of her cameras on a table for a few minutes.
Quick as a flash, one of the young blades present stuffed it under his kilt and pressed the button. What he didn't know was it was on "continue taking snapshots until you press the button again."
So I suppose by the time his hilarity had subsided and he had put it back on the table it had taken a hundred or so below-the-belt pictures.
All would have been well, but unfortunately the lady photographer had set up an electronic pinboard to upload pictures of the wedding so everyone could enjoy them almost instantly.
It must have taken all of 10 seconds for people to twig what had happened and there was a concerted rush by some to stand in front of the offending images, whilst others were doing their best to push them out of the way.
Eventually, someone had the sense to pull the plug out, and there was a collective sigh, of relief on one hand and sadness on the other.
The party continued thereafter, but one of the bridesmaids was heard to remark that she intended to goose all the young men present until she found the one with the matching member......

How to stop worrying about the economic crisis and learn to enjoy life.

The weekend passed off peacefully enough. My friend from Hungary, the Ex-banker, arrived off the overnight train on Saturday morning.
He was immediately met with how things work here - and how economics is taking over from dogma.
I had booked him into a hotel and paid for the room a couple of days previously. The hotel had no other guests showing.
We went to check him in to be told that we would have to wait - go and have breakfast. We did, and returned to the desk.
With great regret the clerk told us the hotel was full, that the reservation wasn't in the system, and I could have my money back.He did opine that a room might become available later, but in the meantime he would book my friend into another hotel.
Somewhat miffed, I had little option but to agree, and took the Ex-b up to the office/flat for a shave and teeth clean. I set Alin on the detective trail.
He reported back that the hotel had received a request on Friday for 24 rooms ( that's what it has, one of the biggest in Sighisoara) and we weren't the only people who had been shifted - two other couples had been told they had to leave on the Saturday morning despite being there on Friday night.
Faced with having a full hotel from a continuing potential partner or a few odd residents, the hotel took the correct economic decision. It does show how Economics is, in general, not a moral science...
The Ex-b was here to look over land I had lined up as suitable for a fund he was promoting called (surprisingly) Romanian Land Company, rather along the lines of Black Earth Farming but on a very much smaller scale. He had visited the area before as a tourist but was now looking at it with the cold eye of a banker.
Fortunately, the sparkling weather had held and we were able to see rolling fields in blazing sunshine under a fantastic blue sky. Even he was moved by the baby storks demanding to be fed.
The Mayor had insisted we visit him in his office ( he likes to welcome people there surrounded by his Mayoral accoutrements - and every conceivable type of alcohol). Of course he had a purpose - there was a farm for sale and he wanted to show it to us. Naturally, we took the time to see what could only be described as a wreck. It had been a collective cattle farm, now reduced to some dilapidated buildings and 5 hectares.The asking price of Eur 200,000 dropped to 50,000 when we expressed incredulity ( No no, I get mixed up with the old money) to the owner. Iwould guess there is at least another zero to come off.
But we had done what was required, and repaired to the Mayor's house where the Government accountants were expected for a meal before starting work the next day.
You may recall Elena was looking particularly Russian doll-like, and Alin had said I would understand the attraction when I met the accountant.
He was another overstuffed Russian doll, but male. The two of them together would perfectly match. I of course got the giggles and had to hide in the loo until they wore off.
We had an excellent meal ( the chicken noodle soup was of the very highest order) with many toasts and expressions of undying friendship, even from the accountants.
The Ex-b, who I had warned to drink slowly and with lots of water, hadn't entirely believed me, but I could see his eyes glazing over as more and more food appeared with more and various different bottles of wine, tuica, liqura de padura and so on, and it became obvious we would need to get him home.
I whispered to Alin to say he had had a call from Andrea ( who is pregant) and that we would, sadly, have to leave. Alin played his part perfectly - the only slight difficulty was getting the Ex-b to his feet, but soon enough we were heading home with Ex-b happily babbling away.
I couldn't say I was that much better, but at least I was able to get into bed myself.
And we never did pay for the two breakfasts.......

Friday, May 01, 2009

Goats with attitude

I've just noticed that there is a TV programme called The Mentalist. I wonder if this is about Guido's favourite, the Prime Mentalist?
But I digress.
Today was all about my goats.
You may recall that I had thought the flock was not growing as it should, and in fact last year our six nannies produced 6 billys, with the result that we just had to sell the billys.
What I hadn't really appreciated was that the goat man, Dani, had then used the cash to buy 8 nannies = 14 Kinglear goats.
What I also hadn't appreciated was that the rent for land we let out was due on 1st May. For some reason I thought it was paid at the end of October.
Anyway, we got another 27 goats and 17 sheep. I've given up trying to keep track of the sheep because the teethy wolves need feeding and the City Hall does as well...
You may think this means I have 41 goats.
And you would be completely wrong because the original 14 have all had nannies this time, so the flock is now 56 strong.
You will have noticed this is wrong somewhere by 1. No, I don't understand it either..
The problem is that this winter we will have to provide food for this flock ( for about 5 months in total) and we have let all the land we own. You will rapidly realise I know nothing about farming, but it appears that noone around Mosna does either.There is, of course, also the EU subvention payments but that is a horse of a different colour as they say in the Wizard of Oz.
So roughly speaking we need 20 hectares more of land which will have to have the grass cut and stockpiled.
Elena, the lady who owns the pension in Nemsa said we were not to worry about this, as it would be easy to obtain pasture land - much cheaper than agricultural land - and truth to tell we picked up about 2.5 has. today for the equivalent of GBP 150 per acre. She immediately put the word out, and confidently expected that by tomorrow evening we would be roughly covered. Certainly one very drunk Nemsa resident offered us a tenth of an acre for two bottles of beer, but we declined and told him to see us tomorrow. Who knows? He might sell for only one bottle tomorrow...
We checked the areas we had been offered on foot, and concluded the deals.
In Ceaucesu's time May 1st was Labour Day and an official holiday. It is no longer one, but everyone takes it anyway, so everything is shut. Unofficially, it is the start of the barbeque season and curls of smoke are dotted all over the landscape.
The Mayor has put the visiting Government Accountants to stay in Elena's pension. Elena is quite pleased with this as the main accountant and she had hit it off famously when last they had been here, and she appeared today hair done, new clothes and looking rather like an oversize Russian doll. I asked Alin how on earth the accountant could possibly fancy her and he confided in me that when I saw the accountant I would understand the mutual attraction.
The day ended with another lady coming to sell her land ( about 1.5 acres) as she needed the money to square her old age pension. I simply don't understand how this works, but I suspect she had one final payment to make before she was 60 on Thursday next week.
We offered her the going rate ( in this case about Eur 225) - and were told she needed Eur 400.
Impasse! We can't pay more because then everyone will want more - and those that have already sold will want more too. Unfair on us I know, but pretty much what the banks are doing to their customers at the moment ( You have an agreement at 1.5% over base? We need more,you will have to pay 3% over base. Why? Because if you don't we will pull the loan...)
Elena came up with the solution.
"Well, " she said," We need to get the grass cut on the new lands. If you agree to do this one time, Mr. King will give you the extra money."
This may sound a bit unkind to a 60 year old, but in fact hay cutting is RON60 per ha. i.e. about Eur 15 , and she has two sons with wives, two daughters with husbands, and two tractors between them.
Quick as a flash, the lady asked if she could have the contract for subsequent cuts.
So now my 58 goats will have food this winter.
And no, I still don't know how there's one more either.
Er, actually two....