31 May 2012

Music of the week

Leonard tries his hand at 12 bar blues.  Not sure if it is successful.  But, as ever, it is interesting.

The economics of the madhouse

Not really sustainable, is it?  The Economist blog points the way to penury for those who try to keep up.


Dead man walking

He's not the brightest star in the heavens.  I might even suggest that he's a bit dim:

Crisis? What crisis?

I know, I know, it's been going on for years.  But maybe, just maybe, we are reaching a tipping point.  City AM reports:
Greece is already starting to be frozen out of markets, with two of the world’s biggest trade insurers, Euler Hermes and Coface, saying yesterday that they will no longer offer protection to companies making new exports to the country, although they will honour existing contracts.
The increased uncertainty pushed Spain’s 10-year borrowing costs up 21 basis points (bp) to 6.656 per cent – perilously close to the seven per cent “danger zone” beyond which Ireland, Greece and Portugal needed bailouts.
Italy’s 10-year yields jumped 16.8bp to 5.934 per cent while Greece’s shot up another 64.5bp to 30.127 per cent.Stocks plunged as investors cleared out of all risky assets, driving the FTSE 100 down 1.74 per cent, the French CAC down 2.24 per cent, Italy’s FTSE MIB down 1.79 per cent and Spain’s IBEX 2.58 per cent.
Many investors moved into safe haven government bonds – Germany’s 10-year borrowing costs slid nine basis points to 1.27 per cent, the UK’s fell 13.1bp to 1.65 per cent and the US’ dropped 11.8bp to 1.63 per cent.
To quote Elvis, "we can't go on together, with suspicious minds".  Something's gonna happen - soon ...

30 May 2012

Told you so

Following my post the other day (not that I am implying a causal connection), The Guardian reports:
A controversial plan to trap buzzards and destroy their nests to protect pheasant shoots has been abandoned by the government, the latest in a series of U-turns.
"In the light of the public concerns expressed in recent days, I have decided to look at developing new research proposals on buzzards," said Richard Benyon, the wildlife minister. The department for the environment (Defra) had planned to spend £375,000 of public money on testing control measures in the bird of prey, a protected species.
But the proposal caused uproar among conservationists, who pointed out that the government's own documents acknowledge that the number of pheasant chicks taken by buzzards is unknown, with only anecdotal evidence available.

29 May 2012

Confused? You will be ...

The Spectator blog clarifies the position (or maybe not):
After today’s VAT changes:
a) If you walked into a pasty shop and bought a pasty that has been kept hot in a cabinet (or in foil, or on a hot plate, or whatever), then you WOULD pay VAT.
b) If instead that pasty had come straight out of the oven, then you WOULD NOT pay VAT.
c) If the pasty was cold, or had been left to cool, you WOULD NOT pay VAT.
d) If the pasty was cold, and then reheated in an oven or microwave before being handed over, then you WOULD pay VAT.
e) If the pasty was being kept hot in a cabinet when you ordered it, and then it was taken out to cool before being handed to you, would you pay VAT or not? It wouldn't have cooled naturally from exiting the oven, as the government seems to specify — but it has been left to cool, after all.
f) If you bought chips from the pasty shop, then you WOULD pay VAT regardless — so long as they’re hot. If they’re cold, then you WOULD NOT pay VAT.
You might wish to stick to a plain and simple sandwich ...


Encouraged by this preview, I sat down last night to watch Revenge, the new serial on E4:

Yet if Revenge were nothing more than a sudsy guilty pleasure it probably wouldn't have become the success that it has. In the US it regularly pulled over eight million viewers and ABC recently rewarded it with the plum Sunday night slot recently vacated by Desperate Housewives.
So why did it work? In part, it's because under the sudsy trappings beats an altogether blacker heart. Revenge might be based on The Count of Monte Cristo but it nods to everything Patricia Highsmith's Ripley novels to Alfred Hitchcock movies. Yes, it indulges in melodramatic moustache twirling but it does so with a knowing wink ensuring the rise and (potential) fall of the house of Grayson is both gloriously over-the-top and darkly compelling.

Well, it wasn't as good as all that and certainly not in the class of Dallas or Dynasty.

But what really irritated me was that the first ad-break came eight minutes in and lasted more than three minutes.  The second ad-break occurred at twenty past and again lasted more than three minutes.  I calculate that, between nine and ten, there was at most 40 minutes of programming.

So no, I won't be watching it again ...

The Tory with a death wish

As I said before, I am but a simple soul.  But this is asking for trouble:
From the end of this week, Britain's minister for wildlife is sending men to destroy the nests of wild buzzards by blasting them with shotguns. Believe it or not, from Friday, a project will begin to destroy buzzard nests in the interest of protecting pheasant shooting estates, which has been personally sanctioned by Richard Benyon ..., the minister responsible for wildlife protection at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
Do the Tories not know that the RSPB is the most powerful and influential political lobby in the land?

Rules are rules

I am a simple soul.  For me, it's straightforward; either you abide by the rules or you don't.  But this lady seems confused:

Lady Warsi attempted to take the heat out of the controversy by asking Paul Kernaghan, the Lords Commissioner for Standards, to scrutinise her case. Speaking during a visit to Malaysia, she said: "I take these allegations very seriously – it is why I said right at the outset that I would fully co-operate with any investigation."I believe being a member of the House of Lords is a privilege. I take that privilege seriously. It's why I have always ensured my conduct, including in relation to expenses and allowances, is both in accordance with the law and the spirit of the rules."

But oh dear, then we see this:
In a further embarrassment to Lady Warsi, she was forced to admit failing to declare rental income from a London flat in the Lords register of interests.She said the omission was due to "an oversight" ...
So, in this instance at least, she has obviously not ensured her conduct was in accordance with law and the spirit of the rules.

27 May 2012

Why I love my kindle

The Observer notes that e-book readers appeal to the older generation.  Too right!
According to market researcher Bowker, while younger people's ebook consumption is plateauing, in older age groups it continues to grow: more than a quarter of 45- to 55-year-olds and a fifth of over-55s bought an ebook in the six months to March 2012, up from 17% and 15% last November. A OnePoll survey last year found the over-55s were more likely to own an e-reader than 18- to 24-year-olds.
We shouldn't be too surprised: older people tend to be heavier book-buyers and baby-boomers keen technophiles. But e-readers have qualities that could make them indispensable to an ageing population.An obvious plus is the option to adjust text size and contrast. Until recently, people with dodgy eyesight had to make do with large-print books, which are hard to get hold of, have a woeful range of titles and – worst of all – don't do much for one's street cred. Now, not only can you read filthy books without anyone noticing, you can read filthy books in an 18-point font.
For the elderly, e-readers have even greater potential. They are light, which is handy for arthritis sufferers, especially those with poor vision (large-print hardbacks weigh a ton). Devices with 3G are perfect for people who find it hard to get about, letting you download new books – and thousands of free classics – from the comfort of your armchair.
And there is an obvious attraction to a peripatetic bibliophile like me:  no need to cart a suitcase full of paperbacks around with me.

26 May 2012

The muttering idiot

Another good week for Balls.  The Guardian gilds the lily:

Why does Balls, described less than two months ago by the PM as the "most annoying person in modern politics", so wind up Cameron? It's worth paying attention to the nature of the shadow chancellor's serial provocations, for Balls is a master sledger, a match for Australia's cricketers in their heyday. He has studied the acoustics of prime minister's questions, realising that there is a moment, just as a roar or cheer subsides, when, if he speaks directly to Cameron at normal, conversational volume, the PM will hear him even if the microphones do not. His taunts follow a consistent theme: that Cameron is not up to the job. "You're supposed to be the prime minister," Balls will say – or, with equal, quiet menace, "You don't know the detail, do you?"
The former Aussie captain Steve Waugh described the sledger's aim as the "mental disintegration" of his opponent. Cameron's puce-faced outburst will encourage Balls in the belief that he is making steady progress towards that goal. Privately, the shadow chancellor wonders if he has struck a nerve, whether, for all Cameron's Bullingdon bluster and Etonian confidence, the PM harbours doubts about whether he has sufficient intellectual heft for his post – in which case, Balls has found him out.

Perceptive stuff.

24 May 2012

Poem of the week

For those of you mystified by Ms Hayworth's references to Dan McGrew and the lady known as Lou (see previous post), here is the source:
The Shooting of Dan McGrew (by Robert Service)

A bunch of the boys were whooping it up in the Malamute saloon;
The kid that handles the music-box was hitting a rag-time tune;
Back of the bar, in a solo game, sat Dangerous Dan McGrew,
And watching his luck was his light-o'-love, the lady that’s known as Lou.

When out of the night, which was fifty below, and into the din and glare,
There stumbled a miner fresh from the creeks, dog-dirty, and loaded for bear.
He looked like a man with a foot in the grave and scarcely the strength of a louse,
Yet he tilted a poke of dust on the bar, and he called for drinks for the house.
There was none could place the stranger’s face, though we searched ourselves for a clue;
But we drank his health, and the last to drink was Dangerous Dan McGrew.
There’s men that somehow just grip your eyes, and hold them hard like a spell;
And such was he, and he looked to me like a man who had lived in hell;
With a face most hair, and the dreary stare of a dog whose day is done,
As he watered the green stuff in his glass, and the drops fell one by one.
Then I got to figgering who he was, and wondering what he'd do,
And I turned my head — and there watching him was the lady that’s known as Lou.
His eyes went rubbering round the room, and he seemed in a kind of daze,
Till at last that old piano fell in the way of his wandering gaze.
The rag-time kid was having a drink; there was no one else on the stool,
So the stranger stumbles across the room, and flops down there like a fool.
In a buckskin shirt that was glazed with dirt he sat, and I saw him sway,
Then he clutched the keys with his talon hands — my God! but that man could play.
Were you ever out in the Great Alone, when the moon was awful clear,
And the icy mountains hemmed you in with a silence you most could hear;
With only the howl of a timber wolf, and you camped there in the cold,
A helf-dead thing in a stark, dead world, clean mad for the muck called gold;
While high overhead, green, yellow, and red, the North Lights swept in bars? —
Then you've a hunch what the music meant . . . hunger and might and the stars.
And hunger not of the belly kind, that’s banished with bacon and beans,
But the gnawing hunger of lonely men for a home and all that it means;
For a fireside far from the cares that are, four walls and a roof above;
But oh! so cramful of cosy joy, and crowded with a woman’s love —
A woman dearer than all the world, and true as Heaven is true —
(God! how ghastly she looks through her rouge, — the lady that’s known as Lou.)
Then on a sudden the music changed, so soft that you scarce could hear;
But you felt that your life had been looted clean of all that it once held dear;
That someone had stolen the woman you loved; that her love was a devil’s lie;
That your guts were gone, and the best for you was to crawl away and die.
'Twas the crowning cry of a heart’s despair, and it thrilled you through and through —
"I guess I'll make it a spread misere," said Dangerous Dan McGrew.
The music almost dies away . . . then it burst like a pent-up flood;
And it seemed to say, "Repay, repay," and my eyes were blind with blood.
The thought came back of an ancient wrong, and it stung like a frozen lash,
And the lust awoke to kill, to kill . . . then the music stopped with a crash,
And the stranger turned, and his eyes they burned in a most peculiar way;
In a buckskin shirt that was glazed with dirt he sat, and I saw him sway;
Then his lips went in in a kind of grin, and he spoke, and his voice was calm,
And "Boys," says he, "you don't know me, and none of you care a damn;
But I want to state, and my words are straight, and I'll bet my poke they're true,
That one of you is a hound of hell . . . and that one is Dan McGrew."
Then I ducked my head and the lights went out, and two guns blazed in the dark;
And a woman screamed, and the lights went up, and two men lay stiff and stark.
Pitched on his head, and pumped full of lead, was Dangerous Dan McGrew,
While the man from the creeks lay clutched to the breast of the lady that’s known as Lou.
These are the simple facts of the case, and I guess I ought to know.
They say that the stranger was crazed with "hooch," and I'm not denying it’s so.
I'm not so wise as the lawyer guys, but strictly between us two —
The woman that kissed him — and pinched his poke — was the lady known as Lou.

In praise of old movies

Last night I watched (for the umpteenth time) the DVD of Manon des Sources, which with its predecessor Jean de Florette must be a favoured candidate for one of the best films ever.  Superb acting, superb script, heartbreaking denouement and above all the incomparable flavour of la France profonde.

I know that some prefer to see their films on the big screen but, for me, that experience has been soured by the lingering smell of popcorn and the smoking ban.  Besides, it has become awfully expensive.  Far better to settle back into the sofa with a glass of dry white and get the DVD player up and running.

It is for that reason I brought some DVDs over to Spain with me, including Casablanca and Gilda.  Man, they made some cracking films in those days.  Each repeat viewing brings new rewards.  And you can get them from Amazon for less than a fiver.

Nor am I averse to DVDs of more recent vintage.  One of my pleasures during this trip has been the first series of Game of Thrones.  Not exactly sophisticated watching but painting in bold, perhaps even lurid, colours has its own charms.

Anyway, here is a special treat: the wonderful Rita Hayworth in Gilda.  (Some of you may remember that she was the subject of one of the first posters in Shawshank Redemption behind which the hero burrowed his way out.)

Conversation of the week

Osborne asks Cameron about the G8 summit, as reported in The Guardian:
Osborne: What did you discuss?
Cameron: Haven't a clue! It was so dull I sneaked off downtown to catch a film – American Pie: Reunion. I can thoroughly recommend it, though it's quite complicated in places.
Osborne: I don't suppose you managed to patch things up with the new Frog president, did you?
Cameron: Bien sur! I went straight up to him and said: "Sorry pour giving vous the epaule froide dans vos elections, mais pas dur feelings, Francis vieux garçon. Let's havez our photo taken togezzer."
Osborne: You're a legend! And I hope you larged it up over sour-faced Merko when The Drog scored the winner against the Krauts on Saturday.
Cameron: Too right, mate. There she was, looking smug, and I couldn't resist yelling: "For you, Merko, ze war is ohfer."
Osborne: How did she react to that?
Cameron: Can't remember. Something lame like, "For you, Posh Boy, ze economy is ohfer."


Let that be a lesson

Oh dear.  The Guardian  reports:
After months of hype about the float of the social networking site, which has nearly a billion users across the globe, the appetite for its shares has collapsed since its launch at $38 per share on Friday. The shares are now trading at $31.78, leaving the company that boasts a user base including half the American population is worth £4bn less than it was six days ago, and earning it a new moniker: Fadebook.
I confess that I have never quite seen the point of Facebook (although one of my more techno-savvy nephews explained that it was a kind of dating service for teenagers and students).  As the young ones say nowadays, whatever.

Incidentally, I think that The Guardian has got its figures wrong; if the company was originally valued at over $100 billion, then losing more than a sixth of its value amounts to rather more than $4 billion.

22 May 2012

They're a bunch of skivers

The evidence is mounting.

First it was this:
If "chillaxing" was an Olympic sport then David Cameron, would win a gold medal, according to a new biography of the prime minister.
His ability to separate his private life from his professional life is seen as an asset by some friends, and by others as a sign of complacency in the midst of a double dip recession.
The book, Cameron: Practically a Conservative, describes how on a weekend Cameron may practice his game with a tennis machine he calls "the Clegger", after the deputy prime minister. Later on, he would cook dinner, have a few glasses of wine and sing My Way on his personal karaoke machine.
And then this:
The US president said that the Prime Minister was "sneaking off to do a little sightseeing before he heads home".
Aides said Mr Cameron left the summit when it ended and had around two hours before his commercial flight back to London.
He spent some of the time walking around central Chicago before visiting the British consulate in the city, Mr Obama's home town.
And now this (of our less than esteemed Chancellor and at public expense):
The MP for Tatton, who says he is "proud to be a true blue", was photographed enjoying the match in Germany, cheering his team on as they clinched victory over Bayern Munich.
He has now described the “unforgettable night”, as “Chelsea did what every Englishman of my generation thought was impossible”: “beat the Germans on penalties – in Germany.
The Chancellor disclosed he had attended the match courtesy of German finance minister Wolfgang Schauble, after the pair struck a deal at a meeting earlier this month.



According to The Telegraph (here), it seems to be time to gang up on the Germans:
The coalition building against German Chancellor Angela Merkel is speckled. The British, Italians, and Poles are wary of relaxing fiscal austerity. They want the ECB to print money and take all risk of sovereign default off the table with unlimited bond purchases. The French want Keynesian spending. The Spanish want ECB action and a slower fiscal squeeze.
Between them they make up five of the EU's 'Big Six'. Their shared goal is to end the contractionary policy mix that has aborted Europe's recovery and tipped the South into 1930s debt-deflation. Mrs Merkel is "extremely isolated", said Greece's radical Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras.
Giles Merritt, head of the Brussels think-tank Friends of Europe, said the mood is ugly in the corridors of EU power. "The sheer anger directed against Angela Merkel is starting to shake the Germans for the first time. They are beginning to understand how deeply unpopular they have become, and how little time they have to act. The pressure from Beijing and Washington is mounting," he said.
The anti-austerity faction should be careful what they wish for.  It is not outwith the bounds of possibility that Frau Merkel would decide that the game's a bogey and take away her ball.  Few Germans would be uncomfortable if she decided to revert to the Deutschmark.  They might not sell as many BMWs to southern Europe, as their exports would become more expensive.  But, even faced with bank losses caused by their lendings to Greece, Spain and Italy, the Germans would survive and thrive.

Night fever

From The Guardian Diary (here):
Was it really appropriate that every radio station responded to the death of Robin Gibb by playing Stayin' Alive? Some decorum, please.

21 May 2012

Photo of the day

Fresh from making $20bn in US flotation, Facebook founder marries his long-term girlfriend:

I wonder what she sees in him?


Cameron's pontification about the Greek election is somewhat less than tactful:
"We are coming to a decision point where Greece is going to vote. It has to be absolutely clear there is a choice: they can vote to stay in the eurozone and meet their commitments, or they can vote to give up on their commitments and effectively give up on the eurozone," Mr Cameron said. 
If I were a Greek, I might be slightly miffed.  After all, it's not as if Cameron has offered anything constructive during the crisis.  Least of all, is he prepared to put his hand in his pocket and contribute some money, whether via the IMF or any other route.  And his non-veto of the fiscal pact before Christmas represented a reluctance to move off the sidelines end engage with those seeking resolution.

Yet now suddenly he is coming out with ultimata for the Greek voters ...

18 May 2012


Ugly word, ugly meaning.  (Not that "gremain" is any more attractive, at least from the point of view of the Greeks.)  Then there is Spain (which seems remarkably calm in my little village), the next domino to fall.  And Italy and Portugal.

What should I do?  Not a lot, I think.  Run down the balance in my Spanish bank account (even though it was not one of those downgraded yesterday) and keep plenty of cash (euros or pounds) under the bed.  Otherwise, just relax and let it happen.

If you're thinking about a mediterranean holiday, there is some useful advice here.


Things you learn in a crisis

Amazing.  Mr Cameron thinks we all have to pull together:
The Prime Minister delivered his gloomiest warning yet of the dangers of the Greek debt crisis yesterday, making clear he felt hopes of rescuing the eurozone lie with Germany, whose economy is still growing strongly.
Warning the single currency was at a "crossroads," he said monetary union meant that successful economies must be prepared to do more to shore up weaker states on the periphery.
"We need to be clear about the long-term consequences of any single currency," he told business leaders in Manchester. "In Britain we have had one for centuries. When one part of the country struggles, other parts step forward to help. There is a remorseless logic to it."
Yeah, yeah.  That must be the remorseless logic that led to the abolition of the regional development agencies and to the suggestion of regional pay rates for the public sector

The things that go on ...

...in the upper reaches of government!  The Independent reports:
Sir Bob [Kerslake, Head of the Civil Service] blames Mr Hilton [Cameron's Head of Strategy] for leaking details of a private meeting they held to discuss plans for Civil Service reform – due to be announced this summer.
Mr Hilton is said to have walked out of the meeting after seeing Sir Bob's proposals, which were described as "the kind of thing you would expect from a second-rate human resources department".
Mr Hilton is also believed to have referred to Sir Bob as "Bungalow Bob" and suggested he was trying to protect under performing civil servants from reform. Sir Bob is said by his supporters to have described Mr Hilton's suggestion of cutting the central Civil Service by 90 per cent and outsourcing most of its policy work to think tanks and the private sector as "nonsense".
Mr Hilton was also accused of being unprofessional: turning up at the meeting in shorts and a T-shirt, clutching a plastic bag full of oranges. As the meeting went on, Mr Hilton is said to have started "inexpertly" peeling an orange, getting juice all over the "crotch of his brushed cotton shorts".
All a bit childish, don't you think?

16 May 2012


I see that Mr Tom Harris MP, an ex-blogger of some renown, has been forgiven for blotting his copybook earlier this year.  (See here.)

He has been appointed as a shadow environment minister.  Good for him!



Yes I know the Games are important.  And a few of the events will be worth watching.  But, as usual, the BBC is going completely over the top.  The Independent reports:
... the BBC promises "unrivalled" Olympic coverage. In all there will be 2,500 hours of coverage spanning 25 channels showing every second of Olympic action. BBC 1 will show nothing but Olympics from 6am until 1am, with the occasional break for news. Those looking for their regular installment of EastEnders, Panorama, and Songs of Praise during this period will have to turn to BBC2. Some of the BBC's less popular shows will be "rested".

Perhaps the quiet man should pipe down

This government is making a habit of walking up dead-end roads.  (I was going to say blind alleys, but that would be a metaphor too far.)  Here is the latest:

Government plans which could reduce state benefits paid to thousands of blind people have sparked a revolt by Liberal Democrat MPs in the latest sign of tension inside the Coalition over cuts.
The Liberal Democrat rebels are demanding a U-turn after it emerged that many blind or partially-sighted people who currently receive disability living allowance (DLA) of up to £120 a week could lose out when it is replaced by a new personal independence payment (PIP) from next April.

Iain Duncan Smith?  Not half as clever as he thinks he is.  Yet another u-turn approaches.  And after that, there will be more bleeding stumps.

15 May 2012

Walking back to happiness

Bizarre.  How to make yourself look a complete idiot:

Quote of the day

From Charlie Brooks, husband of Rebekah (here):
I feel today is an attempt to use me and others as scapegoats, the effect of which is to ratchet up the pressure on my wife, who I believe is the subject of a witch hunt.
There are 172 police officers, about the equivalent of eight murder squads, working on this; so it doesn't surprise me that the pressure is on to prosecute, no matter how weak the cases will be.
I am confident that the lack of evidence against me will be borne out in court, but I have grave doubts that my wife will ever get a fair trial, given the volume of biased commentary which she has been subject to.
Irony piled upon irony: that the former editor of The Sun should be the subject of a witch hunt and that she may not get a fair trial.  Thus is the biter bit.

Divine intervention

God takes a hand (here):

A remarkable newsflash on Reuters -- François Hollande's plane has apparently been hit by lightning on route to Berlin to meet with Angela Merkel, and is returning to Paris (attributed to a presidential source).
Or maybe not:
Update: The new president of France has been swapped onto a second plane, and is even now winging his way to meet Angela Merkel. Our Paris correspondent, Angelique Chrisafis, reports that he now won't arrive until 8.30pm local time.


Your travel correspondent writes

You might want to think about a Mediterranean holiday this year, now that the euro has hit 1.255 to the pound.

And it's becoming rather hot ...

Music of the week

This week, a touch of allegory.  Here is popular music's answer to Romeo and Juliet.  And yeah, if you empathise with the fate of the ill-fated young lovers, it's ok to shed a tear or two.

Little by little

Rather than producing a single devastating revelation which would deliver “a smoking gun”, the Leveson inquiry is turning out a series of pinpricks, none of which may be individually fatal but which cumulatively are doing serious damage to the government’s reputation.

Here are just a few of those pricks (in no particular order):

  • the failure to carry out developed vetting of Andy Coulson
  • the Chancellor’s Dorneywood sleepover with Rebekah Brooks, her husband and Andy Coulson
  • the Prime Minister’s failure to ask Coulson about phone-hacking
  • Coulson’s successful objection to being asked to sign a confidentiality statement as part of his terms of appointment
  • the Prime Minister’s LOL texting
  • the Christmas discussions about the BSkyB bid between the Prime Minister and Rebekah Brooks/James Murdoch
  • the communications between Jeremy Hunt’s special adviser and NewsCorp officials

It seems certain that the process will continue, when Cameron, Hunt et al are called to give evidence.  Is it venality or incompetence?  It doesn’t really matter;  the Tory toffs are slowly being buried in the brown stuff.

14 May 2012

Out of the frying pan ...

I confess that I do not understand this kind of guy:
Sir John [Elvidge], the former permanent secretary in the Scottish Government, who attracted controversy a few years ago for his comments about the need for a fully devolved Scottish civil service, has been appointed chairman of Edinburgh Airport by Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP).
He has a very nice pension (which must be well over £50k pa).  Why not relax?  Play golf, travel the world, write your memoirs.  Instead, he wants the hassle of running an airport ...

Quote of the day

Iain Duncan Smith in The Telegraph (here):
“It’s like incapacity benefit, we’ve got to be careful because these are vulnerable people. There has been a lot of nonsense talked about it in the last few months, lots of letters asking about it. It’s now just beginning to seep in what we are doing. There are all sorts of scaremongering going on about how we are getting rid of it, slashing it, cutting it. The reality is that for the most part that’s not true.”
But the newspaper also suggests that that the 2 million benefit recipients are justified in their concerns:
An official impact assessment of the plans, released this month, reveals the scheme will cut benefit payments by £2.24 billion annually – and lead to about 500,000 fewer claimants.
That meets my definition of slashing it.


13 May 2012

Thinking the hitherto unthinkable

The Independent spells out how Greece might revert to the drachma:
A country could leave the eurozone over a weekend, converting all bank balances into, let's say, "new euros". All contracts written under national law would be converted. So people would still be paid in these euros, prices in the shops would remain the same, property deals would go ahead in the new currency. Some imports and exports would be under local law and others under international law and so there would be a scramble to sort those out.It would be messy, but no more messy than it was in Ireland in 1979. People in Britain (including the many Irish ones) who held assets in Irish pounds and suddenly saw them devalued in sterling terms were pretty aggrieved, but there was nothing they could do about that. By contrast Irish people who had British bank accounts had a windfall gain, at least until sterling fell back again, as it duly did.
There would however be one practical difficulty that did not apply then. Ireland already had its own notes and coins and British ones were quickly withdrawn from circulation. Since there are no "new euros" and since "real euros" would be hoarded, any country leaving the eurozone would have to move fast to get new currency into people's hands. The time-honoured method is to overprint existing notes stating these notes were new ones. I suppose that might happen. In practice it might be easier to wait for new currency to be printed. Memo to travellers to southern Europe this summer: take plenty of spare cash, including pounds and dollars, just in case...
There would inevitably be a devaluation of the new currency vis-à-vis the old, for the whole economic purpose is to enable the country leaving the eurozone to become more competitive.
Not sure it would be quite so easy.  For example, there remains the question of all that borrowing from the rest of Europe by the Greek government and the Greek banks.  Repayment in drachma would amount to default and enormous losses for the European institutions and banks;  but a requirement for repayment in euro terms takes us back to square one.  Then there would be the need to introduce capital controls, preventing the Greeks from sending the euros under their beds to safer destinations in Switzerland, Germany and even the UK.

12 May 2012

Remembering Uncle Mac*

Yeah, yeah, I know that it is being prostituted as a car advert, but you might like to hear the real thing:

*A Saturday morning radio show of the 1950s; essential listening for the under12s.

Rip-off Britain

Two examples from The Guardian:

Holidaymakers travelling to Europe this summer on budget airlines face soaring fees for taking just a single bag on the plane – and staggering costs if they have to make any changes to their tickets or discover at the airport that their bag weighs too much.
Ryanair's new "high season" rate of £70 return for a 20kg bag to go into the hold comes into force in June and lasts to October, with an £80 charge if you're heading to the Canaries, Greece or Cyprus.
For the record, the return cost of checking in a bag on my current trip amounted to £35.  So a 100% increase.

And here:
It was bad luck for the Olympics organisers that their test events last weekend were held on one of the dreariest, greyest, coldest May days most of us can remember. It was even worse luck if you hadn't eaten before you arrived.
The security staff at the gates, who, it has to be said, were fast and thorough, rooted out all those evil plastic bottles containing fluid. So in the hot and sultry days of July and August (we can but hope) it will be £1.60 for a bottle of water once you're on the other side.The food and beverage "offering" must have been devised by the same people who dreamed up the pricing policy at Disneyland or Alton Towers, but with bells on. Get people through the doors, then extract as much cash as possible, safe in the knowledge it's miles back to the entrance and you probably won't be let back in anyway. A hot dog? £5.90. Two bags of crisps? £3. A muffin and a cookie? £5.
Take a couple of kids with you and it will cost a fortune.  And don't forget:
The security guards are under orders to confiscate any food deemed to be "excessive".
I think that we will all know what that means ...


10 May 2012


Two stories from The Independent today.


Hidden in a cluttered courtyard behind an off-licence in Forest Gate, east London, is a narrow brick building no bigger than a shed that a family of four calls home.
Asah (not her real name), her husband and two young daughters all share this ramshackle structure, built illegally by its owner to make money from desperate tenants such as her. Thousands of similar buildings exist across the country – many occupied by immigrants with little choice but to live in these dangerous and cramped conditions – and more are built every day.  
They are described by housing campaigners as Britain’s “modern-day slums” or, more euphemistically, “sheds with beds”. 
And here:
A vast £50m penthouse as large a seven-bedroom house has been planned for the top of the Shard, Europe's tallest skyscraper, it has been reported.
The centre-piece of the opulent two-level residence in London – which will take up the entirety of floors 64 and 65 and be the highest home in Europe – will be the dining hall. There, the host will have access to food from the kitchens of the Shangri La hotel below, as well as its swimming pool on the 52nd floor.
Never mind: remember that we're all in this together.

09 May 2012

Quote of the day

From The Telegraph (here):

Two years on, how is marriage treating the happy couple? Regrettably, all is not well. The romance, friends are whispering, has fizzled out.
Look at poor Nick Clegg. When the Coalition partners pledged their troth, on that glorious May afternoon in the rose garden at No10, he looked like the happiest bride in the world. Yet now he seems worn, tired, frustrated. In his eyes there glimmers an ever-present sadness, suggestive of too many lonely, Valium-softened afternoons at home, nothing better to do than iron his husband’s shirts and write speeches about “green growth”. Friends say he misses having his own career.
Then look at David Cameron. A proud, old-fashioned man, reluctant to open up and discuss his real feelings, he puts a brave face on the state of the marriage. But his irritation is plain for all to see. He feels hen-pecked. His partner is always nagging him, about everything from the shelves that need putting up in the spare room to the importance of Lords reform. Mr Cameron's friends grumble. They say Mr Clegg walks all over him, and stops him doing anything fun.

I blame the in-laws ...

06 May 2012

A woman scorned

Perhaps the Prime Minister now regrets that he insulted Mad Nad:

Perhaps (like so many times before) he didn't think it through.  Or maybe he thought a cheap shot would earn him a laugh or two.

Doesn't look so clever now, though.  The Guardian website reports:

The Conservative MP Nadine Dorries has warned the party's leader, David Cameron, that he will be kicked out of office by his own backbenchers within the next year unless he "dramatically" changes the party's policies.
Dorries described the prime minister and his chancellor, George Osborne, as "dangerous", saying they were leading the Conservatives "towards defeat" at the next general election.The MP for mid-Bedfordshire hit out at Cameron's "sneering" attitude and claimed backbench discussions about introducing a motion of no-confidence against the leader were already taking place following a dismal display at Thursday's local elections.


05 May 2012

Posh boys and their toys

The Independent reports:

The Royal Navy's largest ship made its way up the River Thames today as part of a security exercise ahead of the Olympics in London.
The amphibious assault ship, HMS Ocean, will be docked at Greenwich as a precaution against any potential terrorist attacks during the games....The Minstry of Defence said today that four Royal Navy and four army Lynx helicopters will operate from the 21,500-tonne ship.The ship is fitted with torpedoes, guns and radar and can house 1,100 people.
All very well, but it's not going to be much help in the face of a suicide bomber.


04 May 2012

Bye bye weetabix

Now that it is owned by the Chinese, will it still taste the same?  The Guardian is only interested in the financial details:

It's just like the old days. Private equity firm buys ancient family-controlled company with reliable but slowly-growing earnings, injects massive financial leverage, collects a few dividends via further refinancings and then sells out several years later at a spectacular profit.
This is indeed the story of Weetabix since Sir Richard George's family sold the 80-year-old firm to Lion Capital's predecessor, Hicks Muse, in 2004. The price paid then was £642m but Thursday's sale, in which Chinese state-owned firm Bright Food is buying a 60% stake, values the cereal maker at £1.2bn.

I used to like weetabix.  Not as much as frosties, but still.

03 May 2012

Playing away from home?

Intriguing detail in an Oborne article in The Telegraph:
A fresh embarrassment concerns Rebekah Brooks, who providentially retained the text messages she received from the Prime Minister, which I’m told could exceed a dozen a day. These may now be published, a horrible thought. 
Now, as my regular readers will be aware, I don't do texting (as I do not possess a mobile phone).  But if I did do texting, it is inconceivable that I would send up to twelve texts a day to anyone, least of all a lady who was not my wife.  It would have needed to be a grand passion indeed for me to devote such time and effort to whatever my objective was in such circumstances.

And what of SamCam?  Well, there's the question, isn't it?

He's a plonker

Let's face it - he hasn't a scooby doo.  The Guardian reports:

Sir Mervyn King, the governor of the Bank of England, has backed the government's public spending cuts as a "balanced" austerity budget that was only knocked off course by higher than expected inflation.Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme after giving the show's annual lecture on Wednesday night, said George Osborne had struck the right balance between spending and cuts. Without a spike in food and oil prices over the last couple of years the UK was on course to achieve steady, slow growth in 2012, despite falling into recession in the last quarter, he said.

Oh sure.  Just like he told us that inflation would be down to 2% by the end of last year.  How can you trust someone called Mervyn?


01 May 2012

Missing the point

The Independent reports:

Malcolm Tucker might call it an "omni-*******-shambles". Viewers watching The Thick Of It in the US were instead presented with a 30 minute Morse Code bulletin after the BBC “beeped” out the political satire’s notorious swearing.
...A BBC America spokesman confirmed: “BBC America abides by basic cable television common practice in the US in using bleeps to cover profanity in its programmes. Bleeps were used during The Thick of It season three premiere on Saturday at 12am.” 
Incidentally, I do wish that this business of describing the time at noon or midnight as 12 am (or pm) could be abolished.  It is most confusing.  "am" stands for ante meridiem which, as any Latin scholar will know, means before noon.  It is therefore utterly nonsensical to describe noon as "12 am", and I wish the BBC (and others) would stop it.