Friday, September 28, 2007

Innocence of youth

My nephew has just started reading History at Manchester University. He called me yesterday saying, "I've had a disaster. Please call me back immediately!" It transpired that on his way back from his lectures yesterday, he was approached by some men who had a van load of speakers. My nephew's really into music so his attention was caught. They spun him a tale which boiled down to this business deal: if he bought one of their speakers for £350, he would be able to sell it on e-Bay for $3000. Robert says he asked them loads of questions and was convinced that they were genuine. (Then, why weren't they simply doing this deal themselves?) Anyway, he gave them £350, took the speaker back to his Hall of Residence where it could barely fit into his room, looked at the internet site about the speaker which appeared fine on the face of it but which on further inspection proved, surprise, surprise, to be a complete sham. He then discovered many comments from other people who'd been conned by this scam. He didn't take the registration number of the van. He went to the police who said there was nothing they could do about it. I'm still debating whether he's stupid or simply naive.

Thursday, September 27, 2007


It's the memorial dinner for my dear late friend tonight. A few military men and old Cambridge friends are making speeches and I'm going to say a few words. Choosing the appropriate anecdotes is hard: there is such a large selection! His nickname at Cambridge was "Duckers". This was his favourite shoe shop (it's in Oxford). Once when he was punting he'd taken off his Duckers shoes and one of them fell into the Cam. Duckers was distraught. He spotted some young boys on the bank and persuaded one of them that he would be well remunerated if he'd dive into the river and get the shoe. The boy stripped off and dived in but couldn't find it. Duckers then said in a rather dramatic fashion (as was his wont) that there was no point in only having one shoe so he tossed the other one into the river. Two minutes later the boy shouted, "I've found it!"

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Blame it on the Rothschilds

Song Hongbing, an IT consultant and amateur historian who has lived in the US since 1994 has written a book called Currency Wars which has become a best-seller in China. It is so popular that the number of pirated copies in circulation is double that of the official sales. He blames the Battle of Waterloo, the deaths of 6 US presidents, the rise of Adolf Hitler, the deflation of the Japanese bubble economy, the 1997-8 Asian financial crisis and environmental destruction in developing countries on the money supply created by the Rothschild banking dynasty. He claims that the Fed' s key functions are controlled by 5 private banks, all of which have "a close relationship" with the Rothschilds. The book is being derided by some as a rewrite of conspiracy theories and as being anti-Semitic. It started its life as a blog.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Macho Jacko

I heard General Sir Michael Jackson speak at lunchtime about the role of the army. His speech was broadly as follows. The end of the Cold War and 9/11 were extraordinary events which changed people's perception of our defence force. Holding terrain is less important than it used to be: it's more a battle of ideas although energy sources are potential areas of conflict. Winning the war is now about preventing unlawful violence from disrupting the life of the majority of law-abiding citizens. NATO has a long-term strategic interest to be in Afghanistan, at the request of the Afghan Government, to keep out the Taliban. It is only natural that problems are surfacing in Iraq: the same happened in Kosovo after the lid of the pressure cooker was removed. Military resources are tight. The defence budget at 2% of GDP is the lowest since the 1930s and he was very disappointed that GB didn't mention the armed forces in his speech yesterday.

Monday, September 24, 2007


The charming Eurodog has kindly awarded me the Awesome Dude blogging medal and I am passing this on to King Lear, Mutterings & Meanderings, Lady MacLeod, Wife in the North and A Beautiful Revolution. Those people will have to access the award from Eurodog's site as I don't have time at the moment to put it on this one.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Dogs' tales

I met the charming Eurodog outside a chocolate shop in La Grande Place in Brussels a couple of weeks ago. She is delightful and told me many interesting tales, including the disasters of Belgian politics and that of a dog which drinks champagne every morning and tea every afternoon. Regarding Belgium, she thinks the country will split but, in my view, the European Parliament's there anyway so why does Belgium need its own government? Yesterday, I lunched with the new bride, my Californian friend Carter who told me that Peggy Guggenheim used to feed her dogs foie gras and wondered why they died so young. When a vet suggested the reason, she took that out of the diet and they lived for 15 years.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


We're starting to interview next week to replace Margherita and we were remembering a man we'd interviewed before she joined. You may have gathered that we employ many Italians. In fact, I am the only non-Italian in the company. Anyway, an Italian arrived for interview who was in his early twenties. First impressions are important and the first ones which struck me were that he was wearing a cream crumpled linen suit and that he had some dazzling false teeth. We soon gathered that he knew little about finance, let alone about hedge funds. On further questioning we learned that he was working as a waiter. I asked him, "Why did you come to England?" His reply was, "For love!"

Herr Homm update

The FT publishes his resignation letter today in which he says, "I remain the largest single shareholder in ACMH - with my ex-wife and children also holding substantial stakes..." so my colleague Margherita is off to Majorca next week to track him down before she starts at Barclays. There's a large photo of him in the paper smoking a cigar, his hair curled up over the back of his collar like a buck's tail.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Life in the fast lane

Florian Homm has resigned from Absolute Capital Management, the hedge fund company which he co-founded. He personally injected £23m into the company when it was having a bit of a disaster in August. None of the board followed suit or offered to give up their bonuses so Herr Homm resigned. The FT's report on this says that he has had a colourful career which includes being fined twice by German regulators and being shot during a robbery in Venezuala. I was reading this to my Italian colleague who unfortunately is deserting us for Barclays at the end of this week. "Is he young?" she asked. "It doesn't say," I replied, "Nor does it mention if he's married." The FT rarely discusses the interesting details.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Northern Rock

The Northern Rock crisis raises serious questions, two of them being how independent is the Bank of England and should taxpayers be forced to bail out banks? Mervyn King made it perfectly clear that he did not want to inject funds into the system to lower LIBOR. The Bank's role is to be a lender of last resort. Period. Darling Darling should have taken greater heed of those words. He knew that the Rock was being battered by massive waves from the credit crunch and he should have spoken to the CEO, formed a sensible plan and averted the panic. To charge in at the eleventh hour and say that he'll guarantee all deposits is a nonsense. Taken to its logical conclusion, he's saying that all faltering banks will be bailed out by UK taxpayers. Anatole Kaletsky reckons that in the worst case the Bank of England would have to lend £30-40bn to Northern Rock, there would be a massive loss of confidence in the whole banking system and that interest rates would have to be slashed and markets flooded with money. Not good news for sterling or inflation but, hey, that's the worst scenario.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Breath of fresh air

There's nothing like a week in the Highlands to clear one's head and remind one of the beauty of life. I am lucky to have a friend who lives there amidst dogs, chickens, deer, grouse and stunning scenery. This visit was not as stunning as a couple of previous ones. Once we were in an argo cat with my dear late friend, driving down a very steep hill. The two chaps were in the front and jumped off. I was in the back and the whole vehicle flipped over and partially landed on my head, leaving me concussed for 2 or 3 minutes. Another time, I was standing behind my friend watching him shoot duck. It was a cold November evening, snow on the ground. Men with guns crouched behind hessian sacks waiting for the ducks to come in. All was quiet, all in shades of sepia. It was as if we were starring in a black and white film. Shots sounded and my friend shouted,"Duck!" This is an ambiguous word to shout on a duck shoot. I assumed he was referring to the wildlife. It was only when a dead duck hurtled from the sky at full speed and landed on my shoulder that I realised my mistake.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Perception and reality

The main joy of blogging is corresponding with sympathetic people and the characters of those people develop, starting from the pseudonyms which they choose and progressing with each post they write or photograph which they display. The reality can be quite different from the imagined persona, as I discovered when I met the charming King Lear and the delightful eldest Miss Lear last week. The King did not have a long white flowing beard, he wasn't deranged, nor did he wear a kilt. His Scottish accent wasn't that strong either. Anyway, we had a very jolly (soft) drink and he left me with Miss Lear to discuss common interests. This weekend I'm going to Brussels to stay with friends and am meeting Eurodog. I imagine she'll arrive with many dogs. On va voir. Off to the highlands next week. Back 17 September.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Bertie Wooster

P.G.Woodhouse is a good tonic for the spirits. I've nearly finished "Thank you, Jeeves". Bertie Wooster has sacked Jeeves and got a new valet, Brinkley, from an agency. He's doubtful about him from the start, describing him as "A melancholy blighter...who was musing on the coming Social Revolution and looked on Bertram as a tyrant and oppressor." Later Brinkley gets drunk and has a mad fit which results in this exchange between Bertie and the "old pot of poison", Sir Roderick Glossop:
"He nearly got me with a carving knife."
"As far as I could discern, the weapon he carried was more in the order of a chopper."
"He varies," I explained. "Now the carving knife, anon the chopper. Versatile chap. It's the artistic temperament, I suppose."
"You speak as if you know this man."
"I do more than know him. I employ him. He's my valet."
"Your valet?"
"Fellow named Brinkley. He won't be my valet long, mind you. If he ever simmers down enough for me to get near him and give him the sack. Ironical that, when you come to think of it. I mean, do you realize that I'm giving this chap a salary all this time? In other words, he's actually being paid to chivvy me about with carving knives. If that's not Life, what is?"

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Life & death

The cremation for my dear friend yesterday was horrible. An impersonal service with no hymns, no readings, no tributes from anybody who had known him. Only 15 people were invited. Some of his old friends are arranging a memorial dinner at the Cavalry & Guards Club later this month and this idea has proved so popular that numbers have had to be closed at 40 amidst disappointment but the logistics were difficult. Another group of his friends is arranging a memorial service. For the record, when I die I'd like to be buried, have the service from the Book of Common Prayer and readings by my nearest and dearest, plus a jolly tribute if anybody could be persuaded to make one. Afterwards there must be a huge party with champagne and delicious food, all paid out of my estate. No tears please.

Monday, September 03, 2007


Today we have the first (I think) economic policy proposal from George Osborne. He will match Gordon Brown's spending targets for 2008-2010 which allows for real expenditure to grow by 2% per annum. The reason for this is that he does not want to be accused of cutting public services to fund tax cuts. "New" Labour said exactly the same thing in 1997. I appreciate that this is the Conservative Party and that DC is wary of publishing his manifesto too early, but it does fill me with despair when they announce spending targets without all the details of the accompanying policies. In 1997 Labour was felt to be a breath of fresh air. Ten years later, the Tories can only resort to TB tactics and offer Labour's economics with a change of personality. It's been said before yet worth repeating: no wonder people are disillusioned with politics. Surely somebody can come up with some interesting new ideas or have we all been brainwashed by the tabloids?