28 February 2011

Stretching it

Who's a millionaire? Can this be true? The Guardian reports:
The BT engineer on £60,000, the marketing manager on £80,000 and the teacher on £35,000 will all be in the millionaire bracket when they retire after paying only a fraction of the cost.
A teacher on £35,000 will qualify for a £17,000 a year pension with top-ups that can add another £3,000-£4,000 a year. A £20,000-a-year final salary pension with all the bells and whistles would cost between £700,000 and £800,000 to provide. Add a £300,000 house and bingo, you have a millionaire. The BT engineer and marketing manager will easily fit the millionaire bracket and, like the teacher, will have paid a fraction of the cost of purchasing these bountiful assets.

Don't be silly. Qualification for a pension does not convey spending ability equivalent to the size of the investment needed to generate that pension. Nice thought, though ...

24 February 2011

Our man in wherever writes

As an official for the British consular service in one of the more populous parts of the Middle East. I thought that it might be helpful to acquaint you with some of the perils of consular life.

My main task is to liaise with the officials of other consular services, preferably the Americans, but also with those of our EU (ha ha) partners. This involves attendance at numerous diplomatic receptions and I can assure you that they can at times be really boring. Still, as long as the alcohol keeps flowing, I don't mind celebrating whoever's national day.

Otherwise I have to spend vast amounts of time and effort ensuring that the FCO keeps up to date with my foreign service allowance and that the fees for that expensive private school for our kids back in Blighty are paid on time. Recently the word down from on high that our first priority was to be trade - how demeaning! Thankfully, the current stooshie will knock that one on the head.

But just occasionally there is a serious crisis and we need to organise the despatch of British tourists back to the homeland. This is bad news for us in that we have to deal not only with those vulgar tourists, with their stream of complaints and their ill-fitting clothes, but also with the local foreigners. You have no idea how stressful such situations can be for us, especially when the newspapers in the UK start moaning about how slow we are to get organised. What do they expect? I didn't join the Foreign Office to act as nursemaid to a bunch of ill-bred sunseekers.

Happily, such situations seldom last too long and then we can go back to our round of diplomatic parties.

Excrement hits the fan

Source: BBC website

I see that the price of Brent crude now exceeds $116 per barrel. I surmise that this means we're in trouble. The price of petrol will reach horrifying heights, inflation will zoom on upwards, the Bank of England will increase interest rates and the long awaited economic recovery will vanish like snow off a dyke.

Never mind. If you're an RBS banker, you can look forward to a handsome bonus, despite the bank's continuing losses. Otherwise we're all in this together.

23 February 2011

The things they do for oil

Viva Espana

I know, I know. But I can't not go. I desperately need the vitamin D; and, anyway, I'm running out of cheap cigarettes.

So tomorrow it's off to my quaint little fishing village (pictured above). Only a week this time, but enough to soak up some sun and imbibe a little of the Mahou.

It's a hard life ...

22 February 2011


Nice idea but note the last paragraph of this extract from The Scotsman:
THOUSANDS of Scottish homes will be heated by renewable energy if Labour wins power in May's Holyrood election, the party has promised.
Under the plans Labour says are worth about £70 million over the next four years, 10,000 homes would produce their own, renewable energy.
Labour said it would fund the policy with income generated through the UK government's feed-in tariffs scheme, under which households that generate their own electricity from renewable energy receive payments from energy suppliers.
Mr Gray pledged the scheme would be started within 100 days of a Labour administration being elected, with an agency called Energy Scotland launched to take forward the plan.
Within 100 days? The first ten days of a new administration would be taken up by coalition negotiations and cabinet appointments. They would then need to seek advice from the civil service on the proposed scheme (say another ten days). They would need to advertise the posts in the new Energy Scotland and recruit officials for it (say 45 days at minimum). That leaves 35 days to consult local authorities and to prepare detailed guidance on how the scheme would operate.

Do-able? Gerraway ...

Leonard Cohen is a grandad - maybe

It is not easy to follow all the ins and outs but, yes, our Len's daughter has apparently done the business. It's complicated but Mr Cohen wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

So tea and oranges, man, and congratulations.

21 February 2011

Music of the week

"Everything passes, everything changes
Just do what you think you should do"

The mask slips

Privatisation is back! The Tories reveal their plans for enriching their chums and stuffing the rest of us. The Telegraph reports:

Mr Cameron says the era of “old-fashioned, top-down, take-what-you’re-given” public services will be ended.

Downing Street believes the plans represent the biggest shake-up in public service provision for 50 years.

A White Paper, due to be published in the next fortnight, will set out an automatic right for private sector bodies to bid for public work.

Have there ever been any successful privatisations? The rail network (bad example). The gas and electricity industries (good for the owners; not so good for the poor bloody consumers). Facilities management at PFI hospitals (as long as you don't need to park your car).

"Top-down, take-what-you're-given" services to end? Don't make me laugh ...

18 February 2011

Honest, the dog ate my homework

If you believe this story, you'll believe anything:
Ms Hoppen's claims [of phone hacking by The News of the World] are strongly denied by Mr Evans and the NOTW, who say the journalist had no reason to telephone the designer and that the calls may have been the result of "pocket dialling" – meaning that her number could have been called accidentally while being carried in a bag or clothing. The newspaper has countered claims that Mr Evans – suspended since last April – entered a PIN code for Ms Hoppen's voicemail by saying it might have been the result of the "sticky keys" on his handset.
"Sticky keys" indeed ...

An ethical foreign policy?

Why does our government encourage the sale of arms to repressive Arab regimes? The Independent reports:

Since it came into office the Government has granted permission for weapons sales to countries across the Middle East and North Africa, including a licence for weapon-makers to sell tear gas to the Bahrain administration. The Government also sanctioned sales of crowd control ammunition to Libya, combat helicopters to Algeria and armoured personnel carriers to Saudi Arabia.

A Department for Business report on weapons exports, published in the third quarter of last year, gave the green light to British arms manufacturers to sell a number of crowd control products to the Bahrain government, including "CS hand grenades, demolition charges, smoke canisters and thunderflashes".

If you asked the people of the UK, I doubt if they would approve. So why does our government continue? Apart from filthy lucre of course.

It would be nice to be on the side of the goodies, even if only occasionally ...

17 February 2011

So it goes

So farewell Wendy. You were not to the taste of every politician, nor indeed to every civil servant. You were sometimes rash, as per the "bring it on" episode. You may have been careless, eg with regard to political donors. And, since Gray became leader, you have loyally kept your head down, although you must have burned to stick a bomb or two up his backside.

Over the years, you have been abused, by the media, by your fellow politicians including (and perhaps especially by) those in your own party. and - yes - by people like me. While you have watched the time-servers and the mediocre climb to positions they did not and do not deserve. And I can understand the attractions of family life.

But you were one of the very few politicians with the ability, the brains and the energy to restore Labour to its rightful place in Scottish political life. For that reason, I hope that it's not adieu but au revoir.

Veggie trauma?

Oh dear, oh dear. The Telegraph reports:

It is a middle-class nightmare as traumatic as when there was a fettuccine famine at Waitrose. Farmers have warned that there is a severe shortage of purple-sprouting broccoli, after the bitterly cold winter.

Back to the processed peas, I fear. I suppose I'll survive somehow.

PS Sorry for the block caps - can't seem to shift them.

16 February 2011

Larry looks on the bright side

The Telegraph reports the thoughts of Larry, the No 10 ratter:
.. it's not all bad. Dave and Sam and the kids seem nice enough. I'm certainly trying to get on her good side. My handler whispered to me that Cherie was rumoured to have done for Humphrey, and I saw what he was saying: test my claws on anything with a Smythson logo, and it'd be the wheelie bin for me.
His real problem is how to tell the animal rats from the other sort. Nice to see he has an aversion to ITV.

15 February 2011

Music of the week

Something classical, for a change:


I see that there is still a chance of saving the Odeon cinema. The Scotsman reports:
NINE politicians have signed up to support the campaign to save the former Odeon cinema.
The MSPs and MPs joined forces by putting their name to an open letter sent to the city council by Southside Community Council, which is fighting for the historic B-listed building to be restored and reopened as a cinema and arts venue.
Well done to those politicians. I remember the Odeon as the New Vic, an establishment I used to patronise in the 1950s on a Saturday morning to watch such deathless movies as starred Hopalong Cassidy and Roy Rodgers, and of course the incomparable Flash Gordon. Those were the days!

No, I don't go to the flicks these days - much easier to watch a DVD.

Treating voters as idiots

It's obvious, isn't it? If Colin Firth, fresh from his success at the BAFTAs, says that the Alternative Vote is the way to go, then I'm bound to follow suit. I mean, he knows all about politics and psephology. (Admittedly, he once favoured Nick Clegg; but I'm sure that was just an unfortunate blip.)

And now he has been joined by his co-star, Helena Bonham Carter. If AV is good enough for a double-barrelled luvvie, it must be good enough for simple old me.

Ever upwards and onwards

Do you believe in the government's inflation figures? Well you can if you like. But some don't. The Guardian reports:

    The official inflation figures due out today are misleading the public, according to international experts who say the data released every month in the UK understates the true increase in the cost of living.

    Although the government's preferred measure of inflation is expected to show an increase on December's 3.7% to 4%, an article in the respected journal of the International Association for Official Statistics says there is a risk of a loss of public faith in the official data.

I checked my old receipts and can point out that since June 2010 Lurpak butter has increased from £1.38 to £1.50 (an increase of 8.7%), a sixpack of salad tomatoes has increased from £0.88 to £0.95 (+ 8.0%), a sixpack of Tesco value eggs from £0.91 to £0.98 (+ 7.7%) and a Warburtons medium 400g sliced loaf from £0.63 to £0.70 (+ 11.1%). These are Tesco prices but I have no reason to suppose that other supermarkets are significantly different.

Still believe the government's figures?

14 February 2011

A game only the family can play

For someone who - allegedly - disapproves of royalty, Rupert Murdoch seems thoroughly thirled to the hereditary principle. The Independent reports:

Rupert Murdoch's NewsCorp is on the verge of buying Shine Productions, a company set up by his daughter Elisabeth, in a deal said to be worth up to £400m. If this figure is correct, it is enormously generous, since Shine made a profit of only £5.5m on a turnover of £257m in 2009.

Should the deal go through, Elisabeth Murdoch would probably sit on the board of NewsCorp. There is also speculation that she may be being lined up by her father to take over from her brother James, chairman and chief executive of News Corp (Europe and Asia) which includes the British newspapers.
A bit tough on aspiring NewsCorp executives like Rebekah Brooks and Les Hinton, the Dirty Digger's non-related apparatchiks. But they are no doubt well-remunerated and will no doubt be well-recompensed when asked to take the fall (as they most certainly will). Besides, by all accounts, they are not very nice people ...

12 February 2011

Lawrence Dallaglio writes:

"Look, er, y'know, just cos I never mentioned any Italian players, y'know, doesn't mean I'm biased or anything; it's just that, like, I don't know their names. And, OK, er, I never really understood the laws, y'know, which makes it difficult to say why, er, a penalty has been awarded.

But look, er, the BBC didn't hire me as a summariser cos of my, er, understanding of rugby tactics or my, er, understanding of the laws. And I admit, y'know, that I'm not very good with, er, words n'that.

No, it is enough, y'know, that I'm a former England captain. What other, er, qualifications do you need?"

Incisive analysis?

Sarah Palin on Egypt (here):
"And nobody yet has, no body yet has explained to the American public what they know, and surely they know more than the rest of us know who it is who will be taking the place of Mubarak, and I'm not real enthused about what it is that that's being done on a national level and from D.C. in regards to understanding all the situation there in Egypt."
Confused? You soon will be ...

11 February 2011

Quote of the day

From The Guardian letters column (here), on behalf of fatcats everywhere:
"I am writing on behalf of my cat Bertie, who wants to complain about Steve Bell's persistent cattism (Cartoons, 9 and 10 February). Bertie, although moderately stout, would like to make it clear that he has never had anything to do with bankers. He deplores the fact that they accepted a massive bailout from the last government, and are now using this to increase their own blubber."

The wrong end of the telescope

All this fuss about prisoners being allowed to vote. Would it really be the end of the world?

In any case, the debate is framed as giving prisoners the right to vote (or restoring a long lost human right, if you prefer). For me, it is a question of whether imprisonment should carry with it the deprivation of the right to vote. Just because a prisoner is deprived of certain abilities, notably in terms of physical seclusion from society, it does not usually mean the loss of all human rights. Thus most authorities accept that prisoners should be clothed, fed and watered, that they should have some opportunity for physical exercise and that they should not be tortured or subjected to excessively degrading behaviour. I fail to see any obvious reason why they should not retain the right to vote.

If that means that I am of a wishy-washy pinko bleeding-heart liberal disposition, then so be it.

09 February 2011

Watch this space

I know that it's three days old but my spies tell me that controversy continues to rage within the ivory towers of St Andrew's House and Victoria Quay over this story in The Sunday Mail:
SNP ministers were raging yesterday over Wikileaks revelations that a top civil servant told US officials that Scots were "dubious" about independence.

The whistle - blowing website obtained information given to US diplomats by David Middleton, the former director of the Scotland Office, who said plans for an independence refserendum [sic] were dead in the water.

A diplomatic cable, dated December 17 2008 revealed: "Because of the economic crisis, Middleton said most people in Scotland now find the notion of independence 'dubious' and Prime Minister Brown has gained 'solid support' for his handling of economic issues."

Middleton also predicted "little appetite in a financially uncertain Scottish public" for a 2010 referendum on Scottish independence.

The cable added: "Middleton said many Scots are 'embarrassed' over the struggle of banks with a 'Scottish identity'. The 'thinking classes' are depressed about the banks' slump and that is likely going to put a damper on nationalism. 'Independence,' he said, 'is less alive than a year ago.'"

Middleton, 54, became Scotland Office director in 2006 on a reputed salary of around £100,000. He is now boss of Transport Scotland.

Alas poor Middleton, I knew him well; he was my boss at least once in my career. And for the life of me, I cannot see that he has committed a grievous sin. I doubt if his political chief at the time (a Labour S of S for Scotland) would have objected to the sharing of his (somewhat prosaic and unsurprising) thoughts with US diplomats, no doubt over a cheeseburger and a glass of Bud. But that will not prevent his exile to the Siberia of the Crofters Commission, if SNP Ministers have their evil way.

Incidentally, it is mildly interesting that neither the BBC nor the other Scottish newspapers have pursued the story ...

08 February 2011

The velvet fist in the velvet glove

So Slasher Osborne is about to put the bite on the fatcat banks, by increasing the bank levy. You might think that this dastardly deed would be reflected in the share prices of the banks. Not a bit of it. Since the opening at 8 am this morning up to midday, here is how their shares have been affected:
Barclays -0.22%
HSBC +0.06%
Lloyds +0.23%
RBS -0.32%
Source: here

Well what did you expect? Slasher has only increased the levy by £800 million. The banking plutocrats won't even notice the loss against their profits of £ billions.

Btw, the public sector deficit is about £150 billion.

03 February 2011

Wishful thinking

A Mr Braddock, director-general of UKTram (here):
There is absolutely no doubt that, once construction is complete and the trams start running, the citizens of Edinburgh will flock to their new means of transport and all the current problems will be quickly forgotten, but there is clearly a lot of hard work to be done before that happy position can be reached.
Dream on, pal ...

02 February 2011

Quote of the day

With apologies to those of my readers on the distaff side, I rather enjoyed this comment in The Guardian anent all that money being paid out for footballers:
... the fact remains that in total four foreign-owned clubs spent 80% of the January transfer total, with £120m of that passing between domestic clubs. All of which is excellent news for the luxury car, mock-Tudor mansion and high-end city centre discotheque industries. John Maynard Keynes once, rather provocatively, advocated digging holes and filling them up again as a form of fiscal stimulus. To some, football might seem an equally futile activity. But it is at least still frantically digging.
Unfortunately, the quantum of transfer fees is unlikely to have a significant overall effect on the economy. But hey, beggars can't be choosers.

01 February 2011

Money, money, money

The Independent reports that Mr Torres will be on a salary of £175,000 per week. Imagine that; I fear I cannot. But it amounts to over £9 million annually. No doubt he will have to pay lots of income tax (although I understand that special arrangements can be made with the aid of a good accountant) but even so. Thus the muddied oafs elevate themselves to the status of bankers.

It makes Mr Carroll's new salary of a mere £70,000 per week look relatively modest.