31 December 2012

Music for Hogmanay

And a good new year to all

A pneumatic bird-brain?

Michael Buerk thinks so ...

Will they? Won't they?

I suppose that many of them are about my age.  When we were kids, we watched flicks like Flash Gordon where, at the end of each episode, the hero would find himself in an impossibly dangerous situation (sometimes literally hanging from a cliff), only to retrieve his position at the start of the next episode.  But I can't see that happening with these guys:
US Congressional leaders have one more day to stop the threat of steep tax rises and spending cuts, known as the "fiscal cliff", after talks ended with no deal.
Senators will continue to seek a compromise deal on Monday to send to the House of Representatives.
Failure to reach agreement by 1 January could push the US back into recession.
Hey and not only the US.  I am tempted to wonder how Congress gets itself into these situations.  But that way lies madness ...

26 December 2012

Best Christmas tv

It has to be the fabulous Lady and The Tramp on Christmas Eve.  Still available on the I-Player, if you missed it.  Just to remind you:

22 December 2012

The British spirit

No, the world didn't come to an end.  The Guardian reports from Bugarach where aliens were expected to save the favoured few:
Ian Napp, a British former chef, had been photographed with an inflatable dingy in a field "just in case" there was a tsunami. Then he had gone home to get some clean underpants for the end of the world, but never made it back.
Obviously a man with the right priorities.


21 December 2012

Woof, woof, George

So the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards is taking a tough line on ringfencing domestic banking from its casino equivalent.  This leaves Slasher George with a wee problem:

Mr Osborne stocked the commission with people like Lord Lawson, the former chancellor, Lord Turnbull, the former cabinet secretary, and Justin Welby, a former oil executive before rejecting mammon in favour of a career in the church that has led to him becoming Archbishop of Canterbury. And he put Andrew Tyrie, the chairman of the Treasury Select Committee, in charge. If he's surprised that this lot has gone off and done something he didn't expect he's really rather naive.
The proposals are actually sensible, and likely to be supported by people such as Sir Mervyn King, the governor of the Bank of England. But the real problem for Mr Osborne is that the people who have made them have a great deal of credibility.
If he ignores their recommendations, or tries to "game" them himself by watering them down, he runs the risk of being seen as the bankers' poodle. That's not a happy place to be.

Couldn't happen to a nicer fellow ...


20 December 2012

We're all in this together?

You would not want him to stay in a hovel, would you?

Fresh details of the lucrative financial package required to lure the Bank of England’s first foreign Governor across the Atlantic show that Mark Carney, a Canadian, has landed a housing allowance worth £1.25m over his five-year term.
The £250,000-a-year agreement – signed off by the Bank of England’s non-executive directors – underlined the desperation of Chancellor George Osborne to get his man, leaving the Bank of Canada Governor with a total package worth £874,000 a year.

I suppose that we need to provide him with a sufficient housing allowance to enable him to become accustomed to living in a style that the rest of us can only dream of.  At least, I assume that's the rationale ...

Paddling in dangerous waters?

Plebgate rumbles on.  Rather surprised to see the Prime Minister come out so forcefully here:
Cameron said: "A police officer posing as a member of the public and sending an email potentially to blacken the name of a cabinet minister is a very serious issue. It does need to be seriously investigated."
Given that the officer concerned has been arrested, it seems to me that the PM is treading dangerously close to contempt of court.  Bearing in mind Cameron's expostulations, how can the officer be given a fair trial?


18 December 2012

Chrissie prezzie

"Ooh!  How exciting!  60 placemats ...  Just what one's always wanted.  How imaginative!"

(Thoughts:  do these clowns not realise that Buck House is absolutely stowed out with placemats?  And of rather better quality than these offerings.  You just can't rely on the Tories these days.  Whatever happened to that nice Mr Douglas-Home?)

Daft as a brush

When I read the first sentence of this report, I thought that the proposed fine was somewhat excessive:
Manchester City are taking a substantial risk by going outside of disciplinary guidelines to fine Mario Balotelli £340,000, resulting in a legal case which could drag on into next year. 
Then, when I read the second sentence, I realised that it was just the crazy finances of football:
The Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) is surprised that City have charged the Italian with misconduct and fined him two weeks' wages, because guidelines they have put in place with all clubs and the Premier League do not entitle sides to fine players for a general accumulation of yellow and red cards – as the Premier League champions are doing in Balotelli's case.
So Balotelli is getting £170,000 per week.  For that kind of money, he should do precisely whatever the club tells him to do, even if it involves him standing on his head and singing "Just One Cornetto".

Bagehot re-visited

No, I don't like it.  Our ancestors spent centuries seeking to divorce the monarch from political influence and only partially succeeding.  Then this cabinet, with absolutely no sense of political history, think that it's a good idea to invite the Queen to attend cabinet as an observer.  Her Maj has an undeniable role in government, from opening parliament to signing off legislation.  But, for my lifetime at least, that role has been ostensibly decorative rather than practical.  By inviting her to attend cabinet, Cameron and co are messing up fine distinctions and long traditions.

Furthermore, it creates an unwelcome precedent.  As far as we know, the present queen has been admirably punctilious in observing the constitutional proprieties (at least until now).  But what of her successor?  Could we trust him to keep his mouth shut during a cabinet discussion?  Could he be relied upon to keep his distance from political decisions?

15 December 2012


Reacher is 6 ft 5ins and weighs 16 stone.  How can he be played by someone of diminished stature, especially when that someone's acting ability is limited to three facial expressions?

Utterly disgraceful.  Russell Crowe would have been a much better choice.


13 December 2012

Paying for Mummy and Daddy

Once upon a time, Tory MPs only became involved in sex scandals; financial misdemeanors were left to the Labour Party.  Alas, no longer - even Tory cabinet ministers appear unable to keep their accounts on the straight and narrow:

John Lyons, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, launched an inquiry after The Telegraph published details about the Mrs Miller's expenses this week.
Between 2005 and 2009, the Culture Secretary claimed the cost of the mortgage and other expenses associated with a South London property, which has been her parents’ home for “nearly two decades”.
Mrs Miller insists her expenses are "absolutely in order" but the watchdog has decided to look at whether there is a case to answer.
Mrs Miller today hit back at her critics in an interview with The Evening Standard, saying her expenses have been "audited twice independently" in a review of MPs by Sir Thomas Legg and another by the Conservative Party.
However, when asked whether those auditors knew that her parents lived in the property, she did not give a clear answer.
“I obviously spoke to the Fees Office about my claims and they were happy that everything was in order,” she said.
She also struggled to explain why she abruptly stopped claiming expenses for the second home in 2009, shortly before The Daily Telegraph broke the MPs’ expenses scandal.
“Because I think there was a lot of concern about the rules and, a lot of concern about, you know, the whole issue, and it’s something I felt that I didn’t want to be, sort of, mixed up in, the fact that I," she said, before adding: “I just made that decision.”

It's a bit weak, to say the least   Would it be unfair to describe the lady as a scrounger on the public purse?


12 December 2012

Going against the flow

I can't help feeling that, regardless of the merits of their case, those politicians opposed to same sex marriage are finding themselves on the wrong side of history.

I know opinion polls are not everything but these seem comclusive:
A new Ipsos-MORI poll for Freedom to Marry has found that three-quarters of voters support same-sex marriage. The most popular choice – 45% – was that gay people should be allowed to get married to each other but religious organisations should not be required to provide wedding ceremonies to gay people.
But a further 28% of voters thought that gay people should be allowed to get married to each other and religious organisations should be required to provide wedding ceremonies to gay people.
This means nearly three quarters of voters – 73% – want to allow gay marriage while less than a quarter – 24% – do not. Only one in six voters – 17% - thought that gay people should not be allowed to get married but should be allowed to form a civil partnership.
And I was intrigued to see that, in England at least, those of us who are not married now constitute a majority of households.  But if those who are gay seek to join the diminishing tribe of married couples, why put barriers in their way?  I'm one of the growing minority, however, who are godless heathens, so I cannot be expected to understand.


Mounting up

June 2012 -  Barclays fined £290 million for Libor manipulation

Dec 2012 -  Standard Chartered fined £415 million for breaching Iran sanctions

Dec 2012 -  HSBC fined £1.2 billion for laundering Mexican drug money among other transgressions

And there's more on the way ...

11 December 2012

The life of a jetsetter

It's not all foie gras canapes and campari cocktails on the terrace, you know.

In preparation for my return to sunny Spain this afternoon, I've had to submit electricity and gas meter readings, empty the fridge of perishables, sort out the money for the stair cleaners, post my Christmas cards and, essentially, ensure that the kindle is fully charged.  The call-up for jury service remains a bit of a problem, but we'll have to wait and see ...

I see the temperature in Spain is 16 degrees (C), so a slight uplift from here.  Now if only Ryanair can transport me without too much hassle, life will be back to normal.


Leggings for men

Don't know what all the fuss is about.  In my day, we knew them as long johns.  Very convenient they were when Jack Frost came to call.


09 December 2012

How to win friends and influence people

Probably not a good idea to throw out insults:

Celebrity gardener Alan Titchmarsh was yesterday branded "a complete muppet" by a Cabinet minister, for criticising the Government's policies on the countryside.
Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary, issued the colourful rebuke after the television presenter and author questioned the response to ash dieback disease and warned that the Conservative Party had lost its roots in rural areas.

By all means, argue your corner with facts and policies (if there are such), but calling people names is just childish.


Straws, camels and all that

I think that I am beginning to understand how Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs is failing to catch the tax dodgers.  The Independent explains:

More than half a million families will be made to prove to tax inspectors how much they are spending on childcare or whether their children are in full-time education under new rules buried in the small print of George Osborne's Autumn Statement.
Some 80,000 households which claim child tax credits for pre-school children will have to send evidence to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) of the amount they are paying a nursery, child-minder or nanny over a 10-week period. A further 500,000 families with youngsters aged between 16 and 19 who are in full-time education and are therefore eligible for child tax credits will have to send proof, in the form of letters from schools or colleges, to HMRC, rather than "self-certify" as they do now.
The Chancellor estimates the new rules will recoup £315m in overpayments in tax credits in the year 2014-15, a further £185m in 2015-16 and £85m the following year. Fraud and error in the tax credits system last year cost the Treasury more than £2.2bn, and Treasury sources said there needed to be tougher measures to claw back taxpayers' money.
Yet there were warnings last night that the new rules would deter some parents – who are at the lower end of the income scale – from claiming tax credits because of the onerous and complex paperwork.
The new rules follow measures imposed on higher earners to provide paperwork to tax inspectors on child benefit. From next month, parents who earn more than £50,000 will lose most of their child benefit and must send payslips or bank statements to HMRC in order to claim back some of the money. Child benefit is being axed altogether from households where one earner is on a salary of more than £60,000.

And all this at a time when Slasher Osborne is hacking away at staff numbers in HMRC.  Little wonder that the department is dysfunctional, with more and more tasks loaded on the backs of fewer and fewer staff.

07 December 2012


Is this what education has come to?  The Independent reports:

The Education Secretary Michael Gove today announced plans to send former soldiers into classrooms to pass on the “military ethos” to troubled children.
The £1.9 million initiative is aimed at children who have been excluded from schools. Ex-servicemen will visit schools to help instil teamwork, discipline and leadership skills through tailor-made exercises.
Mr Gove said: “Every child can benefit from the values of a military ethos.” He added: “Exclusion from school should never mean exclusion from education.”

And what will soldiers teach the little brats?  How to march in a straight line?  How to obey orders, however stupid?  How to submerge identity in a uniform?  How to wear a chestful of medals?  How to shoot weapons?  How to kill?

06 December 2012

Conversation of the week


Osborne: Er … You remember when I said that I had a cunning plan to reduce the deficit and increase growth?
 Cameron: Y-e-e-e-s?
Osborne: Well, it turns out I got my sums a wee bit wrong and the economy is actually going to carry on tanking until 2018 and we're borrowing a lot more than I imagined.
Cameron: And what does this mean in practice, Ozzy?
Osborne: To put it bluntly, Cams, we're up shit creek without a paddle.
Cameron: But we must do something.
Duncan Smith: How about we make more welfare cuts for the poor and the old? That way they will start to die of malnutrition and other poverty-related conditions. We could call it a cull.
Osborne: I so like the sound of that.
Heremy Junt: Just so long as we're seen to be putting more money into the NHS.
Institute of Fiscal Studies: But you're not.
Junt: Yes we are. Look at the graph.
IFS: Um, you're holding it the wrong way up.


05 December 2012

Running uphill

Sometimes, it's just no fun to be Chancellor.  There you are, in charge of the signal box, glorying in your determination to direct the economy towards a brighter future.  You pull the levers but nothing seems to work.  The Guardian reports:

Only a fraction of the billions of pounds of new capital spending that George Osborne announced in last year's autumn statement has been spent so far, research by the Guardian has established.
Less than half of the public investment trumpeted by the chancellor last November has been paid out, and none of the £21bn in private investment promised has yet been spent.
Of the key public investment schemes announced last autumn, work has not yet begun on a single one of the half dozen major road schemes published by George Osborne, and £1bn of regional growth fund money has been "allocated" but is now being studied by lawyers before it is actually handed out to help businesses in more deprived areas.
Up to £21bn of new private sector investment was announced, but there is no word on £1bn earmarked for the regulated industries and of £20bn that had been expected to be raised or leveraged by pension funds, just £700m has been committed and not a penny has yet been spent.

Expect more fruitless lever-pulling in today's Autumn Statement.


Even The Guardian gets caught up in the speculation:
Whether the royal couple will have the freedom to wheel a pram down Kensington High Street remains to be seen.
Even an old misanthrope like I am knows that prams are something of a rarity these days. Young parents appear to prefer enormous baby buggies so that they can block supermarket aisles and force reluctant pavement pedestrians into the gutter.

02 December 2012

Brrrr! Home

I thought Andalucia was on the chilly side, but ...

Flew to Edinburgh last night.  Plane diverted to Gatwick due to ill passenger.   At Gatwick, aircraft wings iced up and pilot couldn't find credit card for extra fuel.  Three hour flight turned into six hours.  Ryanair offered us a glass of water in recompense.  (Yes. really.)  Six hours without a cigarette ...

Arrived home to a cold, cold flat at 2.30 am.  Even now, I'm blogging with a scarf and bunnet.  Just as well  I'm returning to the delights of Southern Spain next week.