Friday, March 30, 2007

Marry in haste...

The Quivering Ferret invited me for lunch. We were remembering the second wedding of our old colleague, The Quarter Pounder, which was a black tie evening affair in the Plaza Hotel, New York. A group of us had flown over from London and sat at the back. The Quarter Pounder, was standing at the front, gaunt and pale. It was only nine months after his divorce and his flight to the USA so we hadn’t seen him for some time. The bride entered in a full meringue dress, followed by the page and bridesmaid, her children from her first marriage. Somebody muttered that she was rather a large lady and another whispered that she was six months pregnant. The minister recited some Indian poetry before going on to the vows. “Do you, Anna, take this man to be your lawful wedded husband?” The bride burst out laughing and said, “I’m sorry, could you repeat the question?” They were divorced a year later.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Victory for the Lords

Bravo for the Lords for defeating the casino bill! Sir Richard Leese, the Labour leader of Manchester City Council said, “There was a wish from the elected house…to get on with delivering casinos. I am very confident that when the secretary of state has reflected, she will come to the conclusion that the elected chamber ought to hold sway…” Typical! Had an elected House of Lords vetoed it, there would have been an impasse if you go by Sir Richard’s argument. That’s why there’s no point in having an elected Lords. One might just as well have a single chamber as have two elected ones.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


The estimated cost of hosting the Olympics is rising at a rate which would be envied by sprinters. Little thought went into the original budget forecast as everybody thought the games would go to Paris. The initial estimate of the construction of the site has risen from £2.3bn to £3.3bn. This includes VAT which seems daft. The regeneration cost is £1.04bn though it's arguable whether the whole of this amount should be counted as part of the budget. Security is very hard to estimate as the site has to be protected in the run-up to as well as during the games. The initial proposal of £200m has now risen to £1bn. All these costs will be funded by the National Lottery, London council tax and taxpayers in general. Operations will cost £2bn, but these will be met by the International Olympic Committee, sponsorship and ticket sales.
There is still discussion about hosting events outside the main compound. Sailing will be in Weymouth. They're deciding where to host the equestrian events and are proposing Greenwich rather than Windsor (presumably because of its proximity to the main event), however, the £15-20m spent on facilities in Greenwich would be gratuitous as they'd be demolished at the end of it.
The Olympic tradition is that the host country pays half the costs of the closing ceremony at the previous games so there's a worry about exactly how many fireworks Beijing's going to set off in 2008. Our closing ceremony, on the other hand, should be pretty cheap: with the army cuts there won't be that many participants in the Changing of the Guard.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Even money

Hugo Swire says Tessa Jowell's casino bill may be defeated tomorrow. Her Casino Advisory Panel had recommended establishing one regional casino (over 5000 sq m), 8 large casinos (1500-5000 sq m) and 8 small ones. There was consternation when Manchester, the 16-1 favourite, rather than Blackpool won the regional contract as Blackpool is in greater need of regeneration and the Panel's decision was criticised by the pre-legislative scrutiny committee and the Lords. The scrutiny committee complained that many of its recommendations had been ignored and raised serious issues about whether the Panel has fulfilled the criteria under which it operates. The Conservatives said they would support the 8 large and 8 small casinos but said that the regional casino decision should be delayed for 3-4 weeks to check the due diligence process. Tessa Jowell refused and said it's all or nothing. The bill will be debated at 3.30pm tomorrow in the Lords and at 4.30pm in the Commons and is dead if either House votes against it. 83 Labour MPs are anti-Manchester and want a delay, meanwhile, this afternoon Tessa's trying her best to sweeten it for the Lords.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Men in sheep's clothing

Scientists in Nevada are cutting foetuses out of sheep, injecting human stem cells into the peritaneum and replacing them in the sheep. The lambs subsequently born have about 15% of human cells which tend to form clusters in the animal, 40% gathering in the liver. They hope to be able to use these livers successfully for transplant operations because the presence of human cells should mean that the organs won't be rejected by a human body unlike previous experiments with pigs' liver transplants which worked for only a few days as there was no similarity of DNA. It is rather a grim thought to think of flocks of designer sheep being bred with human livers. Perhaps they'll advance to human brains at some point. What concerns me is if any of the meat were sold on to unwitting consumers.

Friday, March 23, 2007


Zimbabwe and Angola have signed a security co-operation agreement whereby Angola can supply paramilitary forces to Zimbabwe. The rumour is that 2500 troops are arriving, 1000 at the beginning of April, although Angola is trying to diffuse the tension by insisting they're coming on a training exchange programme. Angola is no fan of the West. Its Interior Minister said last week, "Angola will do everything in its power to help the Zimbabwe police force and will not allow western imperialism to take over Zimbabwe." It's unclear why Mugabe needs more troops unless his army is tiring of the continual decline in the country's fortunes.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Whither the House of Lords?

There has been much press about the reform of the House of Lords and where the supreme law of our land lies now that Blair has disempowered the Lord Chancellor but not yet established a Supreme Court. The general consensus is that our law has already been made subservient to the European court of Justice and that any ruling passed here could be over-ruled by random individuals in Brussels. If that is so, what is the point in establishing a Supreme Court here? Or is the answer in its name: it will be unassailable by Europe?
I confess to being a traditionalist and would prefer to have an appointed rather than an elected Lords. I suppose there will always be allegations of corruption in the case of an appointed House and the present Government and the police have dramatically muddied the waters with this very long drawn out cash for honours scandal. The fact that the Lords which is supposed to keep the Commons in check, is being tainted and forced to fall on its sword by the actions of the Commons seems to me to be unconstitutional but ironically there's no obvious court for it to appeal to except the European court. I am no expert in law, let alone ecclesiastical law, but it strikes me that one solution could be to appeal to the Court of Arches, the ecclesiastical court in St. Mary-le-Bow church. Could anybody enlighten me as to whether that would be feasible or make any difference at all?


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

March hares

Back to the joy of work! There's nothing like a day shooting clays in horizontal sleet and hail to make one appreciate the merits of a cosy office life. It was Mrs Moneypenny's (of the FT Saturday magazine) annual ladies' clay shooting day and this year 70 of her closest friends were up at the crack of dawn to meet her for bacon sandwiches at Braintree Shooting School after she'd arrived at Stansted from New York. We were using 28, 20 and 12 bore guns in our efforts to fell high clays dashing away from us, low ones coming at us, impossible ones darting over the horizon, caught up in the gale force winds and ones bounding along the ground like hares. A hip flask is a must for next year. A sunny day and a fibreglass gun would have made a difference. We had fun nevertheless and raised some money for Sarah Brown's charity, PiggyBankKids and I met some interesting people including Laura Godsal who set up, an essential website for busy women and Chantal Coady founder of Rococo Chocolates who kindly donated bars of milk chocolate flavoured with sea salt (surprisingly delicious) and dark chocolate with geranium to our going home bags. I won a John Chapman bag in the raffle and was allowed to choose one of six on a table. The one I chose was rather heavy and when I looked inside I saw it contained a pair of walking boots. I thought that these were a bonus prize until I was informed that in fact this particular bag already belonged to one of the guests. Oh dear! I took a lime green one with a pink lining instead which I thought could double up as a useful handbag on a summer flight as well as a beach bag.

Monday, March 19, 2007


The wine merchant, John Armit, was staying at the chateau of a French friend and was invited to do a blind tasting of one of his host's favourite wines. After the usual swirling, sniffing and spitting, John's conclusion was that it was definitely a Lafite but he was uncertain about the year. He hazarded a guess at 1929. "You're 50 years out," his host replied. John was amazed: he'd tasted the 1979 vintage before and it bore little resemblance to the wine in his glass. "No, not 1979, 1879!" his host grinned. (No blog tomorrow, as I'm off clay pigeon shooting)

Friday, March 16, 2007

The Emperor and the revolutionary

I arrived at 5.15pm at the Citizens and Kings exhibition at the Royal Academy and it shuts at 6pm so they were hurrying me through the rooms which rather dampened my enthusiasm although I saw a few gems. The two portraits of Napoleon, one by Ingres and the other by David, made me think how amazing it was that having got rid of the monarchy in the Revolution, France then reverted to an absolute ruler, an Emperor no less. My favourite painting there, David's Death of Marat, is on the exhibition posters:
Poor old Marat suffered from eczema or some such thing and used to pour vinegar frequently over his scalp to relieve the irritation. The most convenient place, therefore, to conduct his paperwork in his later life was in the bath from where he plotted revolutionary action and held meetings. Charlotte Corday sent him a note requesting a meeting in his bathroom and when she arrived, she stabbed him to death. She was sent to the guillotine a few days later.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

175 years

I attended a dinner to celebrate the 175th anniversary of the founding of the Carlton Club last night. Baroness Thatcher, or the Bronze Lady as she is now called, was there as were Bob Geldof and his father. Bob Geldof senior had been a chef at the Carlton in 1935! The guest speaker was the Marquess of Salisbury whose ancestor, the Second Marquess had founded the Club with some friends in the Thatched House tavern on 10 March 1832. He said he'd been looking through the archives at Hatfield House for some reference to it but the only document he could find was a note from the Duke of Wellington apologising that he was going to be late for one of the meetings.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

What's in a name?

One of my dear readers alerted me to an article about Alfred the Great and Ragnar Hairybreeks which made me think how colourful those old characters are in our minds, largely because of their titles. Ivar the Boneless, Ethelred the Unready and Edward the Confessor all paint a picture, although not necessarily an accurate picture. Ivar was said to be Boneless not because of impotence but because he had a cartilage problem and had to be carried everywhere. Ethelred was unprepared for the Vikings but "Unready" meant that he lacked advisers and Edward didn't confess to anything specific, he was simply devout. Now that the Commons wants to restructure the Lords, it should bring back titles like these: much more fun!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Deutschland, Deutschland uber alles

I went to a talk by the German Ambassador, Wolfgang Ischinger, last night. He was posted to London last year, having been ambassador in the USA from 2001-6. He had been told by his predecessor that he would have to deal with a press which was continually negative about Germany because of the Second World War and that he would find it difficult to establish good relations with the British. He has not found this to be the case so far which he attributes to the following reasons: the better recent economic performance of Germany, the election of Angela Merkel and the success of their hosting of the World Cup. He explained that the reason that Germany is so keen on the idea of a strong, united Europe is that it has 9 neighbours and a history of warfare on its fronts. Germany now has a population of 82m and its foreign policy challenge is how to make its smaller neighbours feel comfortable with it. This is why they think that it is very important for Denmark and Luxembourg to have their say in spite of their small size.
He thinks Merkel won't revive the European constitution on 25 March but that she will suggest changes in the structure of the EU. He reiterated the point that with 27 countries each taking the Presidency for 6 months, Germany won't be President again until 2020 by which time all the diplomats dealing with it today will be retired or dead. We wait to see what sort of structure will be put forward but hope that they'll adopt David Cameron's suggestion that member states should be able to reclaim powers from the centre.
Lord Howell was also there and said that the idea of a European superstate was outdated. He thinks power has shifted with the microchip so that knowledge and technology has moved away from the monopoly of governments into the control of small groups of people who do not necessarily have allegiance to one particular country. This is particularly worrying in regard to terrorism and the fact that deadly weapons are smaller and more easily portable. He agreed that the structure of the EU needs to be re-examined and thinks that in this day and age there should be more remote ie video conference call meetings rather than running all the expense of gathering delegates together for summits. It should be far more flexible and unravel many of its centralised powers.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Dreams of the dead

I stayed at my father's house last night and dreamed that I could hear him talking to my mother. I got up (in my dream) and walked into the bathroom where I had an awful shock: my mother's body was in the bath. I was thinking that my father had brought her dead body back to the house for some reason when all of a sudden she sat up, smiling. "Mummy, you're back!" I cried. "I didn't mean to frighten you," she replied, "You've no idea how much security I had to go through to get back here!" Frustratingly, we couldn't continue the conversation as I woke up in a panic.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Weddings and funerals

It was all go last night. I bumped into the father of one of my friends on Piccadilly and we went to the Carlton Club for a glass of champagne. He was saying that he's going to quite a few funerals at the moment and hoped that I'd go to his. "Only if you come to mine!" I quipped.
On to dinner at Home House with my San Franciscan friend whose English boyfriend proposed to her on the Golden Gate Bridge at New Year. The wedding will be in Oxford in August and they're in the middle of organising a three day event for the American contingent. "It's going to be a non-kiddy wedding," she announced. "We've invited 240 people and adding up the numbers, if they all brought their children there would be 112 of them there!"

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Vive la difference!

Michel Pebereau, chairman of BNP Paribas, is going to represent the French government on the board of EADS. One of his colleagues describes him in today's FT as being the "best of the French elite." He is certainly aware of elitism. I was working at Paribas when it merged with BNP and M.Pebereau came over from Paris to soothe our nerves about the impending merger. He made the following remark, "Many people at BNP regard the people at Paribas as being a load of intellectual snobs, while many at Paribas regard people at BNP as a bunch of baguette-wielding peasants, nevertheless, this merger is going to be a tremendous success!" In fact, he was right. Within 3 months the majority of the Paribas employees had resigned but today BNP Paribas is France's most profitable bank.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

A la mode

After the success of the Zooop Coqueline Courreges is now designing a hydrogen car. She is the most amazing woman. She must be about 70 now but is full of energy and a true creative spirit. I have visited her offices above her shop in Paris. The boardroom is floored with bright white tiles. The walls are also dazzling white, one which a splash of brilliant green over it, the other with a splash of dashing pink, the ceiling is mirrored and the boardroom table and chairs are made of transparent plastic.
At one time she was considering floating her fashion house. Goldman Sachs came over to discuss it and they gave her their considered value of the company. She said, “Please give me a few minutes to think about it” and she got on her silver kick scooter and did a few laps around the table where they were sitting. Eventually she sat down again and proclaimed, “I am looking at all of you in your Hermes ties and Armani suits and I have come to the conclusion that you know nothing about fashion!”

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Limehouse lynchers

My friend's colleague was cycling back from Canary Wharf to Waterloo yesterday, along the Thames cycle path and when he reached Limehouse at around 7pm he was set upon by three men in balaclavas who stole his bike and wallet and threatened to beat him up. This man is 6 foot 4 and very fit so he legged it successfully, nevertheless, one would not have thought that a cycling path could be so perilous.
A man once tried to slip my handbag off my shoulder when I was coming up the steps out of Victoria tube station in the rush hour. He was behind me so I turned round to face him, seized his collar and shouted, “Drop it!” which he did. It’s easier to be brave in a crowd.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Spring cleaning

Enough was enough. From our office window Knightsbridge appeared to be shrouded in a permanent veil of smog. A helpful handyman called in and now it’s so bright that I can hardly see the screens in the glare, which is no bad thing in these precarious markets.
My boss came over from Italy and exclaimed, “See how beautiful London is! What blue skies. You can’t see blue in Milan: there’s always a grey or white cloud overhead.” I resisted the temptation of suggesting the services of a window cleaner.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Dreaming spires

I went to a talk last night by Christopher Lewis, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford about cathedrals. Christ Church is unique in being both a cathedral and a college chapel and the Dean has edited a book called "Flagships of the Spirit: Cathedrals in Society" and he was speaking about how cathedrals are viewed by people and what their role should be in society. He began by listing the negative views, which began early, for example, St. Bernard in the twelfth century who described them as "foolish extravagances". Nowadays many people view them with suspicion as they often seem self-justifying by virtue of their size and wealth and can be remote and frightening. From a theological viewpoint there seems little reason to have them as the New Testament refers to the destruction of the temple and has 96 references to the idea of the church ranging from a field to a vine and the bride of Christ. Cathedrals are symbols of power of a bygone age, a sentiment which would have been appreciated by the Saxons of Winchester who moved their minster outside the city walls when William the Conqueror started on the cathedral. He went on to cite the good points: their accessibility, their role in a diocese, the regularity of the services, the high quality of the music, the architecture and art whose beauty and space can convey a sense of the divine. He believes that there are 3 questions which a cathedral needs to be able to answer to see whether it is fulfilling its role in modern society: how easy is it for somebody in real distress to get help, how wide are its boundaries and how would it cope with a demonstration?
I smiled when I heard the last question, remembering a service I attended a few years ago in the cathedral in Washington DC. The congregation had been infiltrated with anti-Iraq war demonstrators who kept shouting out "Stop the war!" in the middle of the lessons and prayers, in spite of the clergy saying that the service was not an appropriate forum to demonstrate in and that the church's views could be read on its website. In the end, black policeman picked off the demonstrators one by one, handcuffed them and dragged them out during the sermon amidst cries of "I shall not be evicted from God's house during the homily!" It was the most dramatic service I have ever attended.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Eighteenth century newsflow

I'm continuing with Scott and have started Waverley which is about the '45 Rebellion. He has this description of how the news arrives at Waverley-Honour which is the home of the hero's uncle Sir Everard Waverley: "For it may be observed in passing that instead of those mail-coaches, by means of which every mechanic at his sixpenny club may nightly learn from twenty contradictory channels the yesterday's news of the capital, a weekly post brought, in those days, to Waverley-Honour, a Weekly Intelligencer, which after it had gratified Sir Everard's curiosity, his sister's, and that of his aged butler, was regularly transferred from the Hall to the Rectory, from the Rectory to Squire Stubbs' at the Grange, from the Squire to the Baronet's steward at his neat white house on the heath, from the steward to the bailiff, and from him through a huge circle of honest dames and gaffers, by whose hard and horny hands it was generally worn to pieces in about a month after its arrival."