Thursday, July 30, 2009
It started in Cluj airport where I was wearing my Clujana yellow shoes, which you may recall from some time ago. As I joined the queue to check in, a policeman beckoned me over, and took me to the front of the line. He then had me checked in and waved me through security.
The point about the yellow shoes is that they used only to be worn by high-ups in the Government, and there are only two possible explanations for the policeman's behaviour.
Either he thought I was a VIP...
Or more likely the Mayor had told him to look out for me.
Quite a lot of time in Italy was spent having a beer and watching the world go by, mostly consisting in the early evening of groups of girls and boys ( and more elderly ones too).
Quite a few of the younger thinner ones were eating huge slices of pizza, which will ensure they take on a more rounded figure - that's the kindest way I can put it.
What interested me though was an older woman, perhaps early 50s, who had clearly had a life.
She was neither particularly good looking, nor particularly well dressed, and she had varicose veins in her legs. But the way she walked reminded me of the "Dove" advertisements for old is beautiful. She walked with enormous pride in herself, perhaps for what she had been.
The older men's eyes followed her rather than the Twiglets.
Monday, July 20, 2009
I have two friends coming here tomorrow, and Mosna is in turmoil for their arrival. Children are being schooled, the band is being tuned up, the barbecue area is being specially cleared ( with signs saying no one is allowed there tomorrow) and Erne has come back from his holiday at the Black Sea to make sure we are all undisturbed.
The Mayor, for his part, is in charge of the alcohol, and when we arrived to clear some papers this afternoon he had an array of bottles ready for approval.
The other night he had wanted to open his champagne just for me ( we had had a few by then) and with great difficulty I had wrestled the bottle from his grasp ( not to drink but to stop it being opened).
Today, there was no champagne visible. I asked if we were going to have any. He did the strange screwed-up-face-head-waggle that means he isn't sure.
"Er well, Mr King, you see I KNOW I like to drink with you, but I don't know I am wanting to drink seriously with your friends."
Actually, that makes perfect sense to me and I told him so. He was mightily relieved, but I am prepared to bet when it comes to it the champagne corks will pop.
We had to be back in Sighisoara by 6pm to meet our accountant, who has done such a wonderful job that we actually made a profit in the last six months to the end of June. I explained to her this was completely unacceptable, and she explained to me that this was only telling me the real position - of course for the authorities there would be a loss.
Whilst we were talking, I could hear some lovely violin music in the back ground, and I asked if the radio was on somewhere.
Not at all she said, it was her son Alex who would be going to the Cluj Music Academy ( the premier one of Romania) next autumn.
I walked through to where he was playing and asked him to play some other tunes. He was excellent, and definitely soothed the savage beast as the philosopher has it. Accountants do that to me.
Alin and I then went to diner, which was actually lunch at about 8pm.
We ate in the Rustic which I've mentioned before, and Alin sprinkled his food liberally with salt. I told him I was off it.
" Well Mr. King, there was being a very famous other king in Romania, many years ago, and he was having three daughters"
Ah yes, I said, King Lear. Shakespeare.
"No no no!. He was asking the eldest one how much she loved him ( King Lear, I said again.)Mr. King! Pay attentions!.
Anyway she was saying her love was sweet like honey. And the second one, he was asking the same question and she was saying her love was so sweet like sugar."
By this time I was ready for Cordelia to say her love was only as it should be, but I was in for a surprise.
" Anyway, when he was asking the third one, she did say her love was like salt. And the King, he was angry, and said she was not any more his daughter, and she should be working in the kitchen.
Now Mr. King, you know what she did? Well, I am telling you. The next day they were preparing the food and the thirds daughter, she put honey and sugar and all sweet things in the meat and vegetables, and she took it to the king and he say YUCK! That is disgusting, and she say here eating this, which of course was food that was properly cook-ed with salt. And the king, he say, ah, that is good, and the daughter she say, you see? That is how I am loving you."
I'm not quite sure of the moral of the story.....
I say potential because Beauty is, of course, in the eye of the beholder, but I have it on good authority that our two legal advisers, as opposed to Notaries Public, are attractive enough to turn the head of a saint.
This has an unexpected plus - or maybe a minus.
Despite being a macho society, the female form and its allure is a subject of enormous interest. I often think that Feminism has killed both courtesy to women and a proper appreciation of them - which, despite what we are told, they might like to hear.
In any event the two Avocats are much appreciated by all and sundry, one being blond the other a brunette. Of course, they are well aware of the effect they have on we poor men.
Their speciality is land law, so we have quite a few meetings with them. Since the word of their beauty got around, we find that any male sellers are very keen to discuss their "problems" before committing to a sale. Naturally, these are almost non-existent, but the sellers go off with a happy smile and we get the land. I'm quite sure that a few bits have fallen to us because of them, even although one or two of the sellers abuse the system and try for a second and even a third meeting. In general though their expertise has been outweighed by their allure, and it seems to work in our favour.
The other thing that is definitely working for us at the moment is the fact that we have quite a lot of land, and it means we can offer not just money, but a swop or part exchange. We have also been able to tie up a deal to rent some land ( 3 Ha) to a farmer in exchange for giving us another piece - particularly cost-effective.Finally, through our connection with the Topograph, who does all our business and is the head of the University Topograph School, we have a cost advantage over anyone else. Recently, we were able to get a seller's house area surveyed ( he was wanting to sell it to someone, not us) and in exchange we got some land. His cost would have been about Eur 700, ours was only about Eur 150, so we effectively got .77 of a hectare for about one third of what it would have cost us normally.
As you know I am now officially a walker, and because it has been so hot here, I have done less than I should have done. So yesterday being cooler and with the odd cloud, I told Alin I would walk back from Alma Vii to Mosna - about 10 kms.
He was horrified.
"Mr. King! What happen if you get attacked? The Mayor he will not forgive me!"
I explained I walked all over Glasgow without any problems and felt sure a country road would prove no problem.
"No no! I will not allow it!" Ok, I said, drive along in front of me.
"OK! But you just jumping into the car if you see someone." Apart from the fact I have never seen any violence in Romania, my feeling that this was over the top was mitigated by the thought that I was his meal ticket.
So off I set with Alin driving along on front. After a short while I pulled up beside him and told him to go ahead a bit as the fumes were annoying me. Very reluctantly he complied.
A few minutes later, another car passed.
Now I suppose I am quite well known in the area, and the minute the driver saw my face he screeched to a halt and offered me a lift. Alin had spotted this in his rear-view mirror and had come racing back.
Explanations and hand shakes all round and best wishes and off I set again - to be stopped after another kilometer or so by a man driving in the wrong direction who offered to take me wherever I wanted.
This happened every time a car passed, so that instead of taking just over an hour nearly 95 minutes had gone by as Mosna came into view - when another car pulled up. By this time Alin and I were both fed up, and I accepted a lift for the last few hundred meters - which horrified Alin, who drove within 5 feet of the car all the way into town.
But I was just feeling naughty.
" Mr. King, I am not allowing you to do this again! You are giving me hearts attacks! If you are wanting to walk, I will get Gellu to come with you" ( Gellu is the number 2 policeman)
It's rather nice to feel quite so secure.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Everyone starts work here at 7 or 7:30, so I do too. Whereas they tend to finish about 5, Alin and I keep going and make use of the light to check out the land.
It's roasting here - as high as 37C yesterday - but the crops are all growing like mad and the prices appear to be holding up. Sweet corn, which was planted on the basis that we would get RON 0.50 per ear, is selling in the markets for RON1.40, and even the under size and misshapes are making more than we expected. We might actually break even this year, which is a year earlier than we expected, especially if the goats do their stuff. In that context, we have enough so that it doesn't matter whether they produce billies or nannies - we would simply keep the nannies if they produce less than 50% females, and make more money from the sale of billies. If, on the other hand, more females are produced, we will sell some of them, which will mean that the amount we collect is down somewhat ( boys are worth more than girls - no comment).
A lot of the time has been spent with lawyers sorting out problems that have cropped up when the topographer has done his job. Over the years dividing lines between owners have become "smudged" and from our point of view we need then to be exact. In some instances we find we have more land on the ground than we have technically bought, or less. As none of the land has been registered, we are bearing the costs of doing so, but also having to make sure it is exact.Resolving the problems takes time, but ultimately helps not only us but the local people. This is because if for example one side of their land has been exactly registered, the eventual cost to them of registering drops by 50%. Admittedly it helps us too if we buy from our neighbours.
The Mayor was delighted to see me. Since my last visit he hasn't had a drink. It's not doctor's orders ( though it should be) just every now and again he stops. The people in City Hall don't like it as he makes them all stop too. Overall, though, the level of health of his people is bettered.
So it was with a whoop of glee that he drew off some of his excellent pink wine that I particularly enjoy. All his tuica and wine is in the cellar that every good Transylvanian has under his house - keeping cool and at a steady temperature. It might come as no surprise to you to learn that his cellar was originally the pub for the village...
We sat in the shade of his fruit trees, smelling the new mown hay, and listening to the odd plum drop off a tree. These are gathered up and turned into this year's tuica. A few glasses in and the front gate banged. It was the bread delivery - made three times a week for the whole village. The smell and feel of the newly baked bread is more intoxicating than the wine. When eaten with tomatoes, onions, gherkins and a paste that is a bit like salsa, it's very much a meal fit for a King ( no pun intended).
The day before had been Tina, the Mayor's wife's, birthday. Tina is the lady who is keeping BAT's in business. I've no idea how many cigarettes she smokes a day, but I have never seen her without a cigarette in her hand. This includes meal times, and her cooking is enhanced by all the ash that goes into it.
I congratulated her.
"Well,"she said,"As it was not a special birthday, Eugen only gave me a small present. We were shopping a few days ago, and I had left my purse behind. I borrowed RON200 off him ( about GBP42)"
"Ah yes," said the Mayor."Not such a small gift."
"Yeah right,"said Tina. "When we were in bed last night I asked you what you had got me for a present."
"Indeed " said the Mayor ," And I told you you didn't need to pay me back...."
Thursday, July 16, 2009
A while ago, he had supplied some to a windfarm that was being built in the middle of nowhere.
Now apparently, in order to get the grants, they have to say at the beginning when they will start putting power into the grid. And if they miss that date, they don't get the grant.
Anyway,the project was running late ( anyone who has ever watched Kevin McLoud ( what kind of name is that?) or Sarah Beeny could have told them that it would).
So one day the gene hire company got a call to supply an extra 7 units, which pleased them no end.
They had them on hire for 11 months.
And all that time they were pumping power into the grid to "prove" that they had met their completion date.....
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
According to the Doc, who claims to be the same age as me, everyone should walk 10,000 paces a day. At a rough calculation this is just under 5 miles a day.To and from the office is about 60% of this, so a couple of excursions daily are required to make up the balance. To and from the Bank just about does it. I don't need to go to the Bank every day, but hey, they are always very nice, so I may just drop in for a chat.
Today as I was waiting for something, a somewhat scruffy lady came in and approached a teller.
" Ahve got a charge on my credit card of twelve quid - wit's it fur?"
Turned out to be an over limit charge.
" But why? Ahve no' bin goin' mental nor nothing."
Yes but it's over the limit.
" Whit d'ye mean? Whit limit?"
The limit on your credit card.
" Naw naw, I alus piy the right amount ivry month"
To cut a long story short, she had been looking at the card statement, which shows the minimum payment requirement each month and paying that. Eventually, of course, she had run out of road, and was incensed by it.
And now she owed some £2500. Which drove her into a frenzy of self-justification that she had been paying what was asked every month, and how come she owed all this.
Eventually, the local manager took her into a meeting room and went through her account with her. I don't know what the eventual outcome was as I got what I wanted and left, but it did occur to me that if the banks and credit card companies are giving people credit limits of thousands of pounds who have no actual idea of what they are doing, then hell mend 'em.
In the old days, people didn't get credit, and in general didn't get into financial bother. I remember my mother buying a Hoover on the never-never in the late '50s and my father being enraged. People were taught debt was bad and ate into your soul - but none of that applies any more. They want it, and they want it now.
And the banks have obliged - up to the point where they themselves are over indebted and then we all have to pay - and suffer.
Friday, July 10, 2009
In essence, Labour Unions have insisted on minimum wages, which effectively price people out of the first rung of the employment ladder, which means they a) never have the discipline of work b) never learn some skills and c) have no incentive to get off the State handouts. Why would you?
The point he makes, of course, is that the bottom rung of the ladder isn't intended to support a family. Its a first job that young people get - like, as he says, pumping gas or serving table. The gas pumpers are long gone, but the serving table still exists, though here in the UK its usually Poles or Romanians who are doing it. Once you have earned something ( including perhaps self respect) you get a better paid job and then start thinking about supporting that family.
Fraser Nelson has a good post today about how Labour has completely reversed its raison d'etre, creating more inequality, poverty and joblessness, which reinforces Schiff's points.
As Schiff says at the end of his article:
"Since our leaders cannot even grasp this simple economic concept, how can we expect them to deal with the more complicated problems that currently confront us?"
I am appalled. This man is a servant of the Crown and a minister in our Government, yet believes that any freedoms we have are at the whim of the party in power ( and particularly the Labour Party).
It's a theme I have visited before but we should all remember that Freedom consists in Service.
So Shakespeare proposed in the Tempest, perhaps his greatest play. I know the headmaster will disagree, but hey... he's only an English Professor.
* Quote from Mel Gibson in Braveheart which finishes "... but they will never take our Freedom!!!"
Thursday, July 09, 2009
Actually, thinking about it, although I am walking to and from work, I also spend time just hanging about waiting for buses - for perhaps just " my new lifestyle".
I am, however, beginning to get the hang of it. Some operators have an electronic reader that says if my pass is valid, others have a driver who doesn't even bother to look at it.
In the last two days I have been as far as Mauchline in Ayrshire ( bus immediately outside my office, change in Kilmarnock, total time 45 minutes as opposed to 35 by car) and into town ( identical to car time)
It's the people on the buses that I adore. I don't know if it's only in Glasgow, but everyone says thank you to the driver as they get off. Even the neds. I'm reminded of my since deceased Aunt who always insisted on thanking railway engine drivers.
Elderly people are helped by the younger, and if you have a lot of bags or luggage, you are liable to find someone helping you with them to your door. Mind you, I don't think any of the people I've travelled with have much else to do. I don't travel at rush hour, so I doubt that I have travelled with anyone who has actually paid for their ticket.
On one bus today, a pretty ropey looking bloke was sitting behind an elderly lady, and was fiddling with his mobile. He eventually extended his arm forward, urging the lady to look at his screen, as he leered over her shoulder.
" Aye very good" she said, pushing his hand away. Shortly thereafter she made her way to the front and spoke to the driver. She resumed her seat. The man repeated his showing of the mobile, and the lady nodded. The bus continued. After a few more stops, I noticed a couple of policeman standing at a corner. The bus stopped and the police got on - and promptly arrested the man and his mobile. The lady got off as well, but not before announcing to the bus:
" That's pure dead filth on tha' mobi".
My assumption is he was showing her pictures of him exposing himself on his phone.
At least it's warmer than opening your raincoat on a windy day....
Tuesday, July 07, 2009
One of our tenants who banks with RBS, who is permanently at the top of his overdraft of £20,000 and really needs some leeway, got a call from his (lady) bank manager, to say can you come in and discuss your account.
In my day, that spelled doom.
Not a bit of it.
She played around with the computer for a bit and said that's fine have another £10,000.
Bear in mind he hadn't actually asked for it, and, despite desperately needing it, he felt he could squeeze through.
Bear in mind too that RBS is government owned and has been told to lend money to small businesses. OK he had to pay an ( enhanced) fee and about 5% over base, but that's nothing when your profit margins are IRO 80%. He can now afford to take on the £40,000 of work that he has been asked to do.
So perhaps - just perhaps - the banks are loosening up a tiny bit.
Monday, July 06, 2009
The news that a friend has had a "shock" as we Scots say with BP ( admittedly) higher than mine has led me to re-assess my 60 year old body.
I have always taken it for granted that I was pretty healthy. I don't smoke, don't drink that much ( and only overseas) and my weight is the same now as when I was 19. I am not vain, so the greying of my hair and the gradual diminishing of it does not require me to run shrieking to a shrink. I eat pretty much the Mediterranean diet. 5 a day is not a problem for me.
So I am somewhat aggrieved to be told I need to lose about 10 kgs and take more exercise. The latter, I will allow, does leave a bit to be desired in my case.
So, in keeping with the present economic downturn, and as my car has come to the end of its lease, it is going back tomorrow. I shall in future be walking to work and taking the bus around town. For free.
Even when it's raining.
Having mentioned to Mrs. Lear this morning that my briefcase was quitely dying ( I've seen off about 8 in my lifetime), it died in the post office this morning with the catches literally falling off.So I now have a bag I acquired over a year ago for another purpose stuffed with about half what used to be in the briefcase.
That's because I've thrown out the rest as no longer relevant.
2 out of 3 Ms. Lears have said I will last less than a week - as does Mrs. Lear.
We shall see.
* Bill Shankly to Emlyn Hughes some years ago.
Sunday, July 05, 2009
In essence, she rightly says that Obama is largely ignorant that Israel existed with a Jewish population long before there were Arabs in the way we understand them, and his "policy" in the middle east is to live with a nuclear Iran and let Israel go hang.
Make no mistake: Obama is using Israel for Iran in the same way that Czechoslovakia was used for Hitler. As I have said elsewhere:
"Obama may be sweeping up the image of America, but he may also be laying the foundations for its future disaster. The ” Talk softly and carry a big stick” works extremely well - provided you are willing to use the stick, and Obama shows no sign of being able to do so."
And don't forget - as most people do - that Israel is only some 290 miles long and 85 miles wide at its widest. Aggressors hardly need missiles. They can simply shell the country.
Which is why Israel will never give up the Golan Heights.
More importantly it has 9 babies. This is very clever of it as it only arrived a week or so ago on its own with no drake ( which look a bit like Magpie but with a tuft on a duck's head.)
Sadly, I can't find any photos of ducklings, but they are rather like little round black balls that spend all their time popping underwater and then reappearing elsewhere.Mrs. Lear tried to film them on her phonw - which mostly consisted of her telling them what to do ( " Stay still.. Come here!")
Which had no effect as they joyously dived and popped up again.
Saturday, July 04, 2009
A male Chinese opera singer callled Shi Pei Pu ( prounced " Shuh") persuades a French diplomat called Bernard Bouriscot that he was a woman, and they have an affair. Shi also persuades him he is the father of their child.
The details of spying and so on are rather risible, but none more so than the thought that a man - a Frenchman at that - wouldn't notice the similarities between he and his lover.
I'm reminded of the story ( I can't remember who by or its name) in which a woman is persuaded to capture - shall we say - the essence of great men to inseminate ladies who have a passion for them. So, for example, George Bernard Shaw had a great following, as did Proust.
Now there is a difference between these two. GBS was noted for liking ladies, and Proust was quite the opposite. So how did the lady in the story manage it?
Well, she had available a sort of Viagra which made men mad with lust, and then only had to slip a condom onto them. When finished, she simply took it away with her.
With Proust, she made herself look like a boy, fed him the pill, and as he was about to descend on her ( from the rear) persuaded him to put on the condom. He was of course non-plussed, but she persuaded him that it was better with than without.
She subsequently ran away with all the other samples apart from Proust's , which she left with the man who had dreamt up the whole scam.
Who was able to make a very decent living out of it.
Thursday, July 02, 2009
My old English teacher ( Motto: Individually you may be quite charming but en masse you are appalling) used to say that the words themselves meant nothing - it was the alliteration that made the whole thing work.
" In fact", he would drawl," It might just as well be " My love is like a red red rope.""
Now I come to think of it, his wife definitely fell into the appalling category rather than the charming one, so maybe he was planning on doing away with her.
I do actually know of a house mistress and her husband who " it is alleged" did away with the woman's mother - chopped her up like Lizzie Borden used to do. Although acquited, the police never looked for anyone else.
Mind you, I can't say I blame her really.
As I typed in the labels, it struck me how much of human life is expressed in those three words...
He went to Glyndebourne for the first time the other day and had his mind completely blown by the excellence of the entire event.
I have been relatively dismissive of Scottish Opera, and he had the grace to tell me that he could now see why.
When I was at school in Switzerland in 1960 and 1961, we were living between Koblenz and Dusseldorf in Germany, Paris, France, and Vevey on the Lake of Geneva. Accordingly, we were perfectly placed to "do" Europe culturally. I've never been 100% sure, butI have a feeling that the location of where we lived was a cunning plan by my mother to educate me.
So she took me to every art gallery, museum, opera house and theatre right across Europe for 2 years - from Madrid to Vienna, from Stockholm to Milan and points south - and threw in cathedrals, castles and cities for good measure. Just as well it was at that time - she had given in and got me the glasses that teachers had said I needed - so I could actually see what I was looking at.
You may think for a small boy it would be ghastly, but in fact it was interesting, if not exactly amusing. My mother was very wise - we didn't spend hours look at a picture, it was rather like Mary Poppins - spit spot and no dawdling now. It meant I was left with wonderful impressions without being bored.
It was at this time that I saw some of the great opera stars, including Tito Gobi and Maria Callas, both of whom were past their best but still managed to bring La Scala to its feet for wave after wave of adulation. So Scottish Opera and its somewhat staid audiences rather leave me cold.
If you were to ask me my outstanding memory of that time, it would have to be a non-cultural event - it depends a bit how you define it, and it comes in two parts.
We were on our way to Vienna ( for the Opera, natch) on a train from Switzerland. It was overnight ( quite how I'm not sure as it's not that far).
In the morning my mother and I made our way to the restaurant car for breakfast, and were told we would have to wait. It was not clear why -the car was empty and the head waiter was a round mustachioed man, blocking the way. So we waited, and a few minutes later he let us in. We ordered bacon and eggs, which came in a pan together - bacon underneath and the fried eggs cooked on top so they were fused together. I had never seen this before, and my mother opined it was clearly a European's idea of Bacon and Egg. That was the first time, I think, that I realised there was a difference between we Brits and those who lived on what was then called "the Continent" ( or the continong as wags liked to say).
We duly saw the opera - I can't now remember what it was - and the following day my mother said she had heard of a very good film and we were to go to it. In those days, American films weren't dubbed - mostly they weren't even sub-titled -and the film was " Some like it Hot".
I hadn't seen what one would describe as an adult film before ( Bambi made me cry), and I was completely bowled over by the whole experience.
Needless to say my outstanding memory is of falling in love with Marilyn Monroe.
Wednesday, July 01, 2009
We are presently on the plateau between the two "L"s, which is why people are talking about stability and the like, and it's true, things have levelled off.
But I fear the next step will be heading down again. This is pretty much what happened in the US, and they are about a year ahead of us. There, they are now talking of a real plateau from which economic activity can grow. Their economy, of course, is infinitely more flexible than ours, which is why I am not holding my breath for things to get better. The real bank squeeze is just beginning, and it is a certainty that interest rates will have to start climbing soon - long before any real upturn takes place.
I remain convinced things will fall further until at least the spring of next year before we encounter the real plateau.