29 September 2011

A sensualist writes ...

I was sitting on the terrace of my favourite bar about lunchtime. Under the umbrella of course, for the hot sun was beating down. The bar-girl had just brought me my second beer. I watched as the condensation formed on the glass.

I lifted it, the glass pleasantly cold in my hand, and took in a mouthful. There is nothing to compare with a cold beer on a warm day. The way it slips effortlessly down your throat; the satisfactory weight sitting in your belly; the way the condensation drips on to the beer mat.

I was reminded of that old movie with John Mills and Sylvia Sims, although they gulped down the beer far too quickly. You've got to savour it. The exigencies of movie making, I suppose. And , hey, they captured the moment:

28 September 2011

It's a fracking shame

Now look, don't tell the SNP. If Scotland had an energy resource to replace North Sea oil, we might just be looking at a game-changer. According to The Independent, our Polish friends may be leading the way:
In Poland, however, the exploitation of shale gas is well on the way to becoming something of a national mission. Poland's Prime Minister, Donald Tusk (below), has described shale gas as his country's "great chance" to turn Poland from an energy importer to a major exporter within a generation. And the subtext for Warsaw is that shale gas could not only make Poland into an exporter, but also end its age-old energy dependence on Russia.
Aye, well, shale gas. There's a wee problem. In order to get it out of the ground, you have to be somewhat brutal. Contamination of water supplies, there's the rub. But there are - maybe - solutions. Anyway, is there gas under the Scottish landscape? Again, maybe. This report suggests we may be on a winner, at least if I interpret it correctly.

Let's not jump to conclusions, but the politicians may do so ...

The queen ain't no bitch

Yo. I'm re-treading The Wire. Even better on second sight. A masterpiece:

The nerd, the ice-pixie and the bully

The speech Ed never made. From The Independent (here):
"I'm shackled to a shadow Chancellor who patronises me while overtly seeking my job either for himself or his ice-pixie missus, and the only saving grace about Ed Balls is that the punters really hate him where they are merely indifferent to me. The rest of my front bench, as Lord Prescott has graciously pointed out, is a bone-idle shadow government of none of the talents.

"Expediency forces me to pick a fight with the union leaders who put me here, the bastards, and God help me if the public sector strikes go ahead. Even as things stand, I no longer have even an obviously soft poll lead over the Tories. And to inherit this radioactive pile of pus, I broke my poor old mum's heart.

"Anyway, conference, here's the deal. I'm not quitting when no one, least of all that crybaby David, could do this frankly impossible job any better. But I stay with this understanding: unless the financial crisis becomes an apocalypse necessitating a government of national unity, my purpose remains the same as William Hague's after he inherited a loathed and discredited party in 1997.

"I am here to prevent a civil war, and ensure that Labour survives for the next leader, or two, or even three, to take us back to power a decade or more from today. Thank you for listening, and please don't embarrass me or yourselves by getting up."

Rather better than the one he did make. But he's his own man, whatever that means ...

Twisting the night away

The Independent thinks that the eurozone's travails are nearly over:
... we are now approaching the endgame. Officials have not sought to knock down the idea that the Greek default will involve a 50 per cent haircut. We will get a deal on bank recapitalisation. And the EFSF will grow. None of these things will happen because the stock market demands them or even because Germany has shifted policy. It is simply the realisation that they are the only options left.
If only it were that simple. It may (probably) be the case that we will get from here to there, but certainly not without a lot of feet-stamping and tears, especially when the poor bloody French and German taxpayers have to recapitalise those banks which have lent billions to the Greeks.

But it does nothing to correct the imbalances in the eurozone where the German economy grows ever stronger and the Mediterranean club becomes less and less competitive.

27 September 2011

Music of the week

This is Mickey and Sylvia from 1957. The video is a little later.

Will the markets never learn?

So there you go. The Footsie is up by more than 100 points, on the strength of the latest, perhaps mythical, plan to save the euro.

Have they not learned from experience that EU financial plans dribble into the dust? It is inevitable that the EU's new clothes will become invisible on closer inspection. At which point the markets will resume their downward trajectory, amid much wailing and gnashing of teeth, not to mention the rending of invisible garments.

Is they is or is they isn't?

The new plan to save the euro? The Guardian says they isn't:
There isn't one. This is a wish list dreamt up by Tim Geithner, US Treasury secretary, along with possibly the UK and more than likely some emerging nations. In Brussels they say it's "wildly premature" to talk of a multitrillion-euro bailout fund and an "orderly" halving of Greece's €315bn debt within the six-week deadline set by Geithner and George Osborne.
On the other hand The Independent says they is:

Under pressure from the US and the rest of the international community, eurozone officials are considering a "big bang" plan to dramatically increase the size of the European bailout fund to tame financial markets and bring the sovereign debt crisis under control.

A European Central Bank (ECB) board member threw his weight behind a plan, first mooted by the US Treasury, to increase the size of the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) by allowing it to borrow additional funds from the ECB.

The comments, by Lorenzo Bini Smaghi at a conference on the sidelines of the International Monetary Fund, were the first hints that a plan to leverage up the EFSF is being considered by the ECB and the eurozone governments which are contributors to the fund.

You pays your money (or not) and you takes your choice (or not). But Angie Merkel will decide ...

23 September 2011

The vicious circle

Greece is going bust. It needs help from the EU and the IMF to meet its debts. The help is provided subject to Greece adopting a programme of austerity. This causes the Greek economy to contract, so that it is less able to meet its debts. It needs more help from the EU and IMF which in turn demand greater austerity, with the result that its economy contracts further. Meaning, yes, more help is needed and greater austerity is imposed.

And so on and on. Is there a way out of this vicious circle? If so, it seems to have escaped the authorities ...

Quote of the day

From The Guardian (here) on those neutrinos which moved faster than light:

Subir Sarkar, head of particle theory at Oxford University, said: "If this is proved to be true it would be a massive, massive event. It is something nobody was expecting.

"The constancy of the speed of light essentially underpins our understanding of space and time and causality, which is the fact that cause comes before effect.

"Cause cannot come after effect and that is absolutely fundamental to our construction of the physical universe. If we do not have causality, we are buggered."

Note that scientific technical term. And don't ask me to explain.

22 September 2011

Retire to a cave?

Don't know about you but this seems a bit iffy. The Guardian reports:

Much of Nasa's nearly six-tonne Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) will disintegrate as it hurtles through the atmosphere, but the space agency anticipates that 26 potentially hazardous parts, weighing a total of 532kg, could remain intact and impact on the surface. The debris will spread over an estimated 500 miles.

Among the parts expected to survive the fiery re-entry are four titanium fuel tanks, four steel flywheel rims and an aluminium structure that alone weighs 158kg. Depending on their size and shape, the components will strike at speeds of between 55mph (90kph) and 240mph (385kph).


Noting that safety was its top priority, Nasa declared the odds of someone being struck by a falling part of the spacecraft at one in 3,200.

Odds of one in 3200 seem a bit on the short side for comfort. Admittedly the chances of any particular individual being dumped on are verging on the infinitesimal but nobody is ruling out the possibility. An uncomfortable thought ...


More on the matter (here):

Oh my God! What if one lands on me? The odds are approximately 1 in 3,200, according to Nasa.

Remind me again, for comparison purposes, what my odds are of winning the lottery. For all six numbers, one in 13,983,816.

Hmmm. That's sobering for a couple of reasons. What about being eaten by a shark? One in 11 million.

So I should be 3,400 times more afraid of this satellite than I was after I saw Jaws. I'm struggling to see how you worked that out.

21 September 2011

Music of the week

Well OK, if you insist. Enjoy ...

Dope fiend

I suppose it means something when a Dimbleby seeks to enhance his street cred by admitting to having taken cannabis and cocaine, though I can't say it is clear to me.

As ever, I'll stick to my drugs of choice, alcohol and nicotine. Anyway, I've never learned how to make a spliff.

Foreign money worries

Hooray! Somebody has noticed. The Independent website reports:

A consumer watchdog today issued a super-complaint to fair trade officers about the amount holidaymakers are paying for their foreign currency.

Consumer Focus wants the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) to investigate what it believes is complex charging and poor information for travellers spending money abroad.

Consumer Focus said charges for using debit or credit cards overseas were unnecessarily complex and confusing.

It added that marketing phrases such as "0% commision" and "competitive exchange rates" were misleading.

It reckons that charges to customers for exchanging money are around £1 billion per year.

As a result of hard experience, for my day to day monetary purposes, I tend to bring out sterling (preferably in English notes) and change it at a local bucket shop cambio. They charge no commission but tend to knock between 2% and 3% off the central sterling-euro rate. For longer term needs, I use an on-line exchange agency (HiFx) to send euros to my Spanish account; the rate of exchange is not great, but it's a lot better than getting my bank to do it (£18 per transfer). At all costs, avoid changing money at the airport where you'll pay up to 7% or more off the central rate.

17 September 2011

It's just gas

I think Mr Hassan is seeking to be helpful (or maybe not). Anyway, The Scotsman relays his prescription:

Scottish Labour has to create a culture which is comfortable with exceptional people emerging, leading, taking risks and making decisions. And then beginning to flesh out a vision and bigger picture.

Much more than Labour's internal review on structures and what the leader is called or not called, the party needs to become comfortable with the sort of leadership which is appropriate for the modern age. One which is positive, not negative, delegating, not controlling, focused around an individual, but who is part of a team, and who has a generous, ecumenical account of what Scotland is and what it can become.
Aye well, easy to say. But how do we get to there from here? And, if you don't tell us, are you just floating balloons in the air? (I could have put it less politely, but I have the sensibility of my readers to consider.

14 September 2011

Der Vogel strauss*

Now it's getting serious. The Independent reports:

Loose talk costs lives. Broadly, that is how one would sum up the contents of the interview which was given by Angela Merkel to German radio yesterday. Unfortunately, denial remains the most appropriate word for the Chancellor's ongoing approach to the eurozone crisis. The capital markets now put the chances of a Greek sovereign debt default at 98 per cent, yet Ms Merkel yesterday chose not to address that fear.

Instead she rebuked those members of her own government who have had the nerve to talk openly about how to handle a Greek default in recent days. If no one talks about it, she seems to think, it will not happen.

And that was before we learned of the downgraded credit ratings of two French banks. It increasingly looks likely to end in tears.

* = ostrich

12 September 2011

Not pitching the woo

Foe those of you expecting a learned exegesis of the banking proposals (not that this blog does learned exegeses), or an assessment of the diplomatic implications of Cameron's playing footsie with Putin, or even further dire prognostications on the future of the euro, forget it. In the immortal words of Ella, it's too darn hot. According to the BBC website, the Malaga temperature at 8 o'clock last night was 95 degrees. I'm just melting away ...

And the rugby has disrupted my routine. There's something not right about watching an international match at 3 in the morning, beer in hand. Not helped by the over-excitable Scott Hastings, only marginally better than mogadon man, Vickery. And that commentator on the French match who, having made an attempt at both the English and French pronunciations of Vincent Clerc, settled for a mish-mash of the two (albeit failing to decide whether to pronounce the final consonant in the man's surname). Do these guys not do any homework?

And despite Scotland's less than sparkling performance (and none of the other favourites did particularly well), hope springs eternal for the match against the Georgians ...

08 September 2011

Aphrodite in a denim mini-skirt

Hey, it was not a hassle-free morning. It was hot. The supermercado was busy and carting a six-pack of beer was paining my shoulder. And my ankles were more than a bit iffy. I’d changed some money (always better to do it in a local exchange rather than a bank). So I was hot and sweaty by the time I made it to my favoured pub in the village.

But I’d barely unloaded my rucksack and sat down under the umbrella, when without any prompting a vision of loveliness appeared with a pint of the foaming liquid. It cost me 2 euros, but it was the best 2 euros I spent that day. I don’t even know the maiden’s name, but she made an old man quite happy.

They seem fine to me

Oh, these MPs; they are naughty sometimes. The Telegraph reports:

Mr Amess told the Commons: "I don't know whether we have brilliant presenters.

"I would just say that it annoys me when one or two female presenters, I don't know whether they've had too much botox or something, when they are presenting the news and it's a very serious subject, they are smiling, which I find slightly annoying."

He did not say which newsreaders he had in mind.

To whom could he possibly be referring?

07 September 2011


Not sure I would allow him to accompany me to the pub. If he's not prepared to finance a cat. then he can't be trusted to buy his round. The Guardian reports:

A special quiz night is reportedly being held in Downing Street, to provide for a furry neet, conspicuously not in education, employment or training, since he can usually be seen asleep on or under a chair at No 10.

A No 10 spokesman said cautiously: "I'm afraid we cannot confirm staff events," but the quiz for Downing Street staff is said to be happening in the state rooms, to raise funds for rations for Larry the cat.

When Larry, a rescue cat from Battersea dogs and cats home, moved in last spring, No 10 promised that he would be a community cat, not a drain on the public purse.

So Cameron expects his staff to pay for the damn cat - poor show.

A capitalist writes ...

Aye, well. If you wanted in, you've missed the boat. The Telegraph reports:

National Savings & Investment has pulled its hugely popular inflation-linked savings certificates.

The announcement is the latest blow to savers who have seen their income plummet at a time when most savings accounts fail to offer any real rate of return once inflation and tax are taken into account.

NS&I’s website and call centres stopped taking new sales of Savings Certificates yesterday. Postal applications received today (7 September 2011) will be honoured, but all postal applications received after midnight tonight will be returned to the customer.

But I'm all right, Jack. I'll get my inflation plus for the next five years. To them that hath shall be given, and all that.

05 September 2011

Take a chance?

It probably doesn't matter. Neither the Scottish Tories nor a successor with a new name is likely to succeed. But at least Murdo is putting in an effort, unlike this deadbeat trio in The Telegraph:
Prime Minister David Cameron, while not wishing to get involved in a public slanging match during the Scottish party’s leadership contest, believes that the abolition plan is a “distraction” from the main fight of countering First Minister Alex Salmond’s plans for a referendum on independence and the breaking up of Britain. David Mundell, the minister of state at the Scotland Office and the only Tory MP north of the border, has also set his face firmly against the move as has the man still idolised by a large section what’s left of Scottish Tory support, Lord (Michael) Forsyth of Drumlean.
If Cameron, Mundell and Forsyth are agin, then the bold Murdo must be doing something right. Besides, what have the Scottish Tories got to lose?

04 September 2011

Music of the week


I see that Scotland's first match in the World Cup will be against Rumania at 2 am on Saturday morning. The good news (I think) is that it will be broadcast live by STV.

More convenient (if not necessarily more watchable) will be the match between Scotland's group competitors, England and Argentina, at 9.30 on Saturday morning, also on STV.

I suppose the timing puts paid to watching it in the pub.

Anyway, I'll be in my Spanish hideaway, soaking up the rays and re-acquiring a taste for Mahou. But my spirit will be in the land of the long white cloud.

Quote of the day

From The Telegraph (here):

No name for the new party has been decided, but when he formally launches his leadership campaign in Edinburgh on Monday, Mr Fraser will unveil the slogan: “A new party for a new Scotland.” He said: “If I am elected as leader of the party, I will turn it into a new and stronger party for Scotland.

“A new party. A winning party with new supporters from all walks of life.

“A new belief in devolution. A new approach to policy-making. A new name.

“But, most importantly, a new positive message about the benefits of staying in and strengthening our United Kingdom. A new party. A new unionism. A new dawn.”
Let's hear it for the no-finite-verbs party. They should have stuck with Bella ...

02 September 2011


According to The Telegraph (here), one in 25 business leaders may be a psychopath. Only one in 25? So how come so many of my ex-bosses fitted the description?