Thursday, 28 June 2012

Bank Holiday

I think one’s overdue, don’t you?  But this time let’s big it up a bit. 

I don’t mean the sort of bank that looks after my money for me, pays my bills when I tell it to, keeps my diamonds in a safe, and charges me a reasonable, profitable fee for doing all that  (although there’s an unfilled niche market for one or two of those, it seems).  You know what kind of bank I mean.

On the news this evening, there was the entirely non-ironic juxtaposition, within minutes of each other, of the news of Barclays’(and, obviously, many others’) bent touts, under orders from their untaxed moral-free puppet-masters, having rigged fundamental market prices, over years – not just a rogue operative acting alone, even they recognise that one doesn’t wash any more – to their own benefit (and to the cost of the rest of the planet); and the fear that the forthcoming failure of the EU politicians, for the twentieth time (that’s not an exaggeration!), to sort out the so-called Euro crisis will (I quote) ‘panic the markets into hitherto uncharted territory’.

WHAT??  How much more of this sort of diarrhoea do they (I mean the Merkels, Osbournes and Diamonds) expect us to put up with? 

I have a modest proposal.  Shut down the capital markets, all of them, for say a fortnight.  Completely.  Worldwide.  Put all the touts on gardening leave.  And let’s see what difference it makes in the real world.  It’s not as drastic as it sounds – it seems to work on Sundays.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Maybe I'm a Rich Man?*

“Go on, you can afford it.  You’re a rich man.”

That was the second part of Rachel’s answer to my question, the first part being “Four cases of champagne.” 

She’s right, of course, I can afford it.  After all, it’s not that often you clock up a decade, is it?  And there was that unexpected tax rebate last year, when a party seemed to be the consensus.  But rich man?  Am I?  I’ve never really thought about it.

Okay, I own this house.  But I can’t spend that.  I have a few shares of various sorts; again, hardly worth cashing in for maybe 80% of what I paid for them.  And there’s some money in the bank (I think – you can’t be sure these days, can you, especially when it’s that particular bank.)   I couldn’t go down the shops and buy an executive jet or a small island (though those are going quite cheap at the moment I’m told) or a flat in the Shard.  To be truly rich, you need to be able to buy an Aston Martin, without thinking too hard about it; and then another one; and, crucially, still have more money afterwards than you had before.  If I tried a fraction of any of those things I’d be instantly poor.

I’m going off the idea anyway.  To be properly rich, you have to feel rich, look rich, behave rich.  And there’s the defences, the staff, the advisors …  It all sounds like a lot of effort.

But I can definitely run to a few bottles of fizz.  So don’t panic, I’ll get the bubbly, Rach.  And a new pair of shoes.  And maybe some diamonds to stick on the soles, just for the hell of it.

*Of course, as soon as I'd posted this I thought of a much better title, so I've changed it.  God knows what confusion this will cause. 

Friday, 22 June 2012

Hard Times

The scene: in a cobwebby ill-lit counting house in an unidentified island somewhere off the shores of Switzerland, Moody is huddled over his abacus and post-it stickers.

Moody (tallying on his fingers): RBS, Barclays, HBOS … Lloyds … er –

Enter Poor.  Moody does not look up.

Poor: I suppose you’ve already thought of Bank of America, Citi, BNP?

Moody: Do you take me for an idiot?

Poor: Of course.  I mean, of course not.

Enter Fitch, a weedy stripling.  Moody and Poor smirk condescendingly.

Fitch: Good news, sires.

Moody: Well, spit it out, boy.

Fitch: I have downgraded the Bank of England, the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank.  (They stare enquiringly at him.)  Oh, and the IMF.

Poor (shakes his head): It’s not enough.  Have we run out of countries?

Moody: Let’s put it this way.  In order to downgrade any more countries, we will first have to upgrade them.  And that would never do.  Why, we’d lose all our credibility!


Fitch: Um – may I make a suggestion? 

Moody: Yes?

Fitch: Well, if we’ve run out of banks and countries to downgrade –

Poor: Yes?

Fitch: Why don’t we just downgrade each other?


Moody and Poor (to each other): Out of the mouths of …

Fitch (excited): Bags I first!

The lights go out.  Voices over:

The Markets: It’s all gone very quiet all of a sudden.  Oh dear, what do we do now? 

The Politicians: It’s all gone very quiet all of a sudden.  Oh dear, does that mean we have to do something?

Exeunt all, pursued by a dead bull and a dead bear.

The Human Race: Toodle pip.  Can we get on with it now please?

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Bins Revisited

I blogged about bins last year (click the label) and there was a lively comment debate, in particular concerning regional variations in colour coding.  I felt at the time that there was more to it, and now I know I was right.

Visiting my relatives in the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead on Monday, I volunteered after dinner to take a bag of rubbish out.  I knew the colours – this was landfill hence black – and there was enough twilight left to tell the three bins apart, and indeed to see the detail of them.  For some reason, possibly to do with Rioja, I lingered and looked more closely.  They were all structurally similar, as wheelie bins tend to be, but there were subtle differences.  Looking even more closely, I realised that, according to the embossed information on the lids, they had been made by three different manufacturers.  And even more intriguing (are you gripped yet?), I didn’t recognise any of the names.

When I got home on Tuesday I checked my three bins, and I was right: they were from yet another three sources.  That makes six.  Now, I’m not going to go into the economics or logistics of this, but it does strike me as curious.  If two nearly-adjoining local authorities can between them come up with six separate wheelie bin suppliers, how will this look when spread out across the whole country?   I felt momentarily queasy, as if I was scratching the surface of what might prove to be some kind of unguessed alternative reality, in which wheelie bins were secretly replicating, disguising themselves in their pursuit of world domination.   But that’s not all.

My niece from Jersey, who was over here showing off my brand new great-nephew, had recently moved house and so needed a new bin.  (In the Socialist Republic, sorry, States of Jersey they generously charge you £40 for one, by the way.)  She duly applied, and was told that there was a six week waiting list.  In Jersey.  Wondering why, she was informed: “They get stolen.”

What’s going on?

Sunday, 17 June 2012

So, what exactly is a “blog”?

I was asked by a resolute technophobe.  Well, I said, it’s just a kind of diary really…

Last evening for supper to Lord P, I myself being conveyed thence in my Lord’s sumptuous barouche Mercedes, a rare honour I thought.  His Lordship however explaining that it was born of a need for the horses to be given exercise.

Many pints of fine effervescent wines from France and the Colonies being provided and quaffed, and ales of London, the discourse did become lively, dwelling on the various Tales of Brave Ulysses, this the 16th being his Saint’s Day, and the merits of the bard Homer against the dirty knave Joyce; the debate being well balanced by virtue of none present having read either.  Though I deemed it prudent not to confess to having read the rogue Joyce’s scurrilous text two times.

To supper, where my Lady C hath caused divers CURRIES to be served with tasty Chutnies and other sweetmeats and wines of Burgundy and I know not where else, the eating of which extended to many hours.  Afterwards my Lord and some Squires withdrew to the recreation chamber, there to watch sporting antic from Eastern lands; I though unwilling to partake, being beguiled by Mistress R who did entice me into prancing a lively galliard until my legs did ache wholesomely.

By the midnight, Several Ladies having engaged in converse of a somewhat fierce domestic character, and matters Politick loudly arising amongst the menfolk, I deemed it time to withdraw, so made my thanks and excuses and was carried home by a hired hackney.

And so to bed.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Anonymous spam

Liz raised this today, and I've noticed a few others of my blogbuddies being invaded by anonymous spammer comments recently.  There are some dolts out there who think this is a good way to promote themselves or their products.

I can't really see why Blogger allows anonymous comments at all, and have asked them:

ALL the (thankfully few) anonymous comments I get are spam of one sort or the other.  I really can't see any justification at all for anonymity.  They don't allow it on G+.  Just banning it wholesale would eliminate most if not all comment spam, and harm nobody.  What do you think? 

Tuesday, 12 June 2012


A woesome attempt to get myself up the Google hit parade, obviously; but actually more a philological enquiry into this rather peculiar letter, prompted by a somewhat tired quote from Martin Amis about www being the only abbreviation that’s three times as long as its full length statement.  Everyone knew that.   

The Chambers definition of ‘W’ (as a letter – it has many intriguing roles as an abbreviation) is an evening’s read in its own right, from which I will quote just once: “The unvoiced form is written wh as in what, but most English people substitute the voiced sound in pronouncing words spelt wh, and Scottish speakers insist upon sounding hw.”  (My mother insisted upon that too, and she certainly was in no way Scottish.)

It’s a native letter in very few (thirteen, according to doubleyouikipedia) Latin languages.  Its name varies, but is pretty well always a translation of ‘double-you’.   Except when it isn’t - the ‘you’ component shifts between u and v – hence the Italian doppio-vu and French double vĂ©, which we would translate back as ‘double-vee’, which it clearly isn’t.  (And German uses it as if it were single  ‘V’ – can’t they get anything right?)  So we, the English, seem to have invented this most useful of letters – think of a baby’s first utterance, a child’s first question, a hooligan’s howl of frustration – and yet haven’t found a proper name for it.  One is quite freely available, you know: the old English wyn,  for which I can’t find the symbol, but which is, coincidentally, derived from the OE word for ‘joy’.  God save the Kween.

Well, that’s why we are the way we are.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

God Save Our Gracious Leader

 So now that the Union Jacks have been furled (or at least spray-painted to turn them into George Crosses), is it an appropriate time for the big question?   Probably not.  But then it never is: which makes me suspect that it’s not really that big after all.  So instead let’s have a bit of fun with it.

To kick off, do we need a Head of State at all?  I’m talking constitution rather than society here.  All the Queen does, in our system, is rubber-stamp legislation which we, through Parliament, have already enacted.  (As an aside, just to stir up the stew, do Acts passed by the Scottish Parliament get the Royal Assent?  I don’t know.)  So that’s not much of a role.  She could say ‘No’, but I doubt she will.  So in theory we could just eliminate that whole top tier.  But we’re not that radical, so let’s assume the answer is ‘Yes’.

Which of course raises the more important question: what’s a Head of State’s job?  There are two models here, which I can conveniently characterise as the British and the French.  Other examples of the British model are Ireland, Sweden and Spain.  Of the French one, Germany, USA and Russia.  In the first, it’s constitutionally and politically formal and neutral; in the second, it’s politically (and often even constitutionally – think of Italy) active and partisan.
I don’t think the British would want a political President.  If I’m right, and we were to go for abolishing the Monarchy, we would be choosing a constitution in which a powerless hereditary individual was replaced by a powerless elected one.  Big deal?  But then there’s the social aspect.

That’s what really matters.  Given our history, I think we’re looking at a massive culture shock.  Some will say that that’s exactly what’s needed, a good shake-up – I agree , but if we have to shake anything, let’s start with the newly sprouted leylandii and the knotweeds rather than the mature oaks.  Whatever you may feel about injustice on the broader field, carping about irreversible historic wealth and privilege is a stupid place to start.  Get over the distractions – last weekend proves that we’re more than capable of enjoying distractions - and get focussed on the real stuff.

Monday, 4 June 2012

I watched it!

I did!  Almost all of it!  Somebody had to.
What a bummer, I have to say.  At a stroke, Gary Barlow and the rest of them managed to dissipate 75% of the goodwill that yesterday's great populist pageant had engendered.  What an appallingly awful set of performances.  Not to mention That Song, so counterproductively called 'Sing' - I'd need a lot of money to be persuaded to compose anything worse.
So, just a few lowlights (and two high ones):
A kind of inverse highlight: I was terrified that Elton was going to conclude with 'Candle in the Wind'.  I really was.  Amazingly, he summoned up better taste.  That doesn't happen often.
Rolf was valiantly struggling to fill in with Maggie's favourite song, uncued and unaccompanied, and just getting the crowd going when Stevie Wonder's road crew finally managed to get set up and have the poor man hauled off mid-impro.  I imagine Stevie going "get him off NOW or I'm on my plane." 
He should have been.  He was dreadful.  He seemed to think it was her birthday, and his incomprehensible henchman addressed her as 'Your Highness'.  I mean, really.  And WTF was he doing there anyway?  Representing the Colonies or something?
Highspot #1: Madness on the roof, with some great projections onto Buck house (which the Beeb, with their customary ineptitude, managed to miss most of.)  'It Must Be Love' momentarily made me want to be there.
Macca sounded and looked over the hill.  I'd really hoped he'd end with the final track from Abbey Road, but instead he inexplicably chose to croak through 'Live and Let Die' - eh? - which contains the worst lyric even he has been able to come up with - "the changing world in which we live in".
Highspot #2: Charlie!  Didn't he do well?  For a moron who long will hopefully not reign over us.
Still, at least the beacon got lit.  They'll need it to reignite the Olympic torch.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Weekend in the Country …

… seems to be the in thing.  The country in question being Wales, in my case.

I have to say, nothing of the remotest interest happened, it rarely does, but that’s never previously stopped me telling you about it anyway.  I cut the grass on Saturday.  Well, I strimmed it first, as parts of it were knee high.  I always feel a tad guilty about disturbing the peace in this way, essential though it is; but when I stop my strimmer and hear the whine of at least four others from around the site, I’m less bothered.  My caravan neighbours down the field were obviously keen for me to stop, waving, beckoning and holding up glasses of wine in an almost-unsuccessful attempt to deter me.

Not many Union Flags in evidence, and the flotilla consisted, as I predicted, of two masochistic kayakers, a fisherman, and an intrepid water-skier in the distance off Monkstone Point.  The three extended families who rule this site, though, are having one of their barbeques tomorrow.  Any excuse – these are people who voted Plaid Cymru to a soul in 2010.  I was invited, of course, but when I woke up this morning and saw the windswept drizzle, I decided to pack up and cut for home.  I’m still partied to satiety from last week anyway.

The journey home was notable in two ways, both about rain.  It stopped raining, fully, exactly once – at Port Talbot!  This never ever happens.  Something to do with the geography means that you can be travelling along the M4 out of, and into, the driest drought in history; you reach Port Talbot, it’ll rain.  Has to be why all those famous people like Sir Anthony Hopkins got out of the place.  Not today though. 

The second thing was the cloudburst between Newbury and Reading.  It’s a stretch of that motorway surface that was designed to cope with the drainage question by causing as much water as possible to be sprayed, by each vehicle, straight up into the windscreen of the following one.  It was like driving through the outskirts of Niagara.  I turned on every light I had, tucked into lane one and slowed to thirty-five.  Unlit white vans hurtled past at eighty, their drivers doubtless swearing at the f***ing weather that was stopping them doing ninety.

Oh by the way, for any republican curmudgeons, I learn from the Guardian that the net annual cost of the monarchy to the taxpayer is £32m.  That’s fifty pee each.