Friday, November 30, 2007

Horoscope of the day

I've stolen this from

I think it's a good idea for you to give up mediocre pleasures that drain your energy and diminish your intelligence. I also wish you would sacrifice irrelevant fantasies and deluded hopes that lead you away from your riveting dreams. On the other hand, I will rejoice if you commit yourself twice as intensely to the robust pleasures that refine your energy and boost your intelligence. And I will love it if you take three practical actions to supercharge one of your riveting dreams.

Capital flows

The shift of capital control from West to East continues. Earlier this week the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority paid $7.5bn for a 4.9% stake in Citigroup (and Citigroup is paying a staggering 11% for that capital injection). Today Dubai International Capital has appointed the former heads of Sony and BMW and the CEO of Glaxo to help it buy stakes in listed companies. This Dubai fund which is owned by Sheikh Maktoum, has large stakes in HSBC and EADS (the Franco-German aerospace group which owns Airbus). Ping An Insurance, the second largest life assurer in China, is paying $2.7bn for a 4.2% stake in Fortis, the Belgo-Dutch banking and insurance group. Meanwhile the head of China Investment Corp says that he wants to emulate the Arab sovereign wealth funds and is actively looking to take stakes in large Western companies. He hasn't had a great year so far: he paid around $3bn for a pre-IPO stake of nearly 10% in Blackstone, the US private equity firm, which has since fallen by over 40%. Ouch!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Liquid assets

I went to a wine tasting and debate last night about whether enjoyment of wine is a science or an art. Alan Brown, Chief Investment Officer at Schroders, was proposing that it is a science and made the case that the analysis of the Professor of Economics at Princeton, Orley Ashenfelter, which largely uses rainfall and temperature to produce a quantitative analysis of wine, is far more useful when trying to buy a good, reasonable vintage than going by the rankings of Robert Parker whose positive comments have an over-inflated effect on price. It's worth having a look at Ashenfelter's website: The opposer was a man from Corney & Barrow who said that everybody's palate is different and that it's impossible to say that one vintage of one chateau will be found universally to be the best.
We had a blind tasting from two hot years, 1995 and 1997, and we tasted wines from two vineyards which are two kilometres apart: Chateau Talbot and Chateau Gruad-Larose. There was not much difference between the wines but the consensus was that the Gruad-Larose was better than the Talbot in both years (although I preferred the 95 Talbot to the 95 Gruad-Larose).
A vote was taken at the beginning and at the end of the debate. In both cases, it was won by the "wine is an art" point of view. However, there was a swing to the "science" case after Brown had explained Ashenfelter's theory.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


When I got home last night I heard a cat crying. I called it over and gave it a stroke and he seemed happy. Anyway, I opened the front door and the cat darted inside and upstairs. Up and up he went until he found a bed to hide under. It took me 20 minutes to get him out! It reminded me of my last term at school when my old friend JC and I lived with a landlady in Woodmancote. We had a routine: come back on the bus, then rush upstairs to our bedrooms. I'd always be ahead of Jane and would find the landlady's cat asleep on my bed at which point I'd curse, pick up the cat and throw it at JC who'd be near the top of the stairs. Our other routine was to play backgammon every night before we went to sleep. She remains one of my best friends and whenever we see each other, we always play backgammon.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Chinese foie gras

There's a great article in today's FT about Chen Xiuhong who owns 3000 imported French geese and 10,000 of their Chinese born offspring on the banks of the Hepu reservoir in Guangxi province. This man introduced karaoke to China in the late 80s and was one of the first private property developers in the early 90s. "Karaoke spread slowly from Guangzhou and Shanghai all over the country. Foie gras will be the same" he says. He owns the Hong Yan Goose Heaven restaurant in Nanning which is decorated in the style of a European Alpine lodge and has private rooms named after European cities including London, Paris, Rome, Cambridge, Cannes and Porto. It seems that he doesn't offer Sauternes with the foie gras: he serves a 2005 Beaujolais and disdains the usual Chinese habit of draining the glass in one with a shout of "gan bei!", Chinese for "dry glass".

Monday, November 26, 2007

Asian spies

The BBC website has an article about Asians working for MI5 and MI6:

In the exclusive interviews - the first recorded at MI5's London headquarters in the organisation's 98-year history - the officers discussed the challenges of leading double lives.
"When out with friends or relations I tend to be quite vague about my work - I don't want the unnecessary attention," said Jayshree, who analyses intelligence from a variety of sources, including overseas.
She added that her parents knew about her role, but were "not as excited or interested" as she thought they would be.
"To the point that once my father said 'What's there to get excited about? You work for MFI', and I had to remind him that I don't work for a furniture store, I work for the security services."

Purl, Flip and Dog's Nose

Over twenty years on, I am re-reading Our Mutual Friend which I am enjoying all the more because I've forgotten most of the plot. One early scene is in a London pub where they serve Purl, Flip and Dog's Nose. The reference at the back describes these drinks. Purl and Flip are mulled ales, the first flavoured with gin, sugar and ginger and the second with sugar, spice, spirits and a beaten egg. Dog's Nose is beer and gin, the thought of which rather makes my stomach turn as I am not a great fan of either.
I was amused by the illiterate dustman, Mr Boffin, engaging Silas Wegg to read to him and Mrs Boffin. He suggests Wegg begins with "The Decline and Fall of the Rooshan Empire." Wegg arrives on his first day and is somewhat bemused when he picks up the book:
"This, Mr Boffin and Lady, is the first chapter of the Decline and Fall off____....Why it comes to my mind that you made a little mistake...I think you said Rooshan Empire, sir?"
"It is Rooshan, isn't it, Wegg?"
"No sir. Roman. Roman."
"What's the difference, Wegg?"
..."The difference, sir? There you place me in a difficulty, Mr Boffin. Suffice it to observe that the difference may best be postponed to some other occasion when Mrs Boffin does not honour us with her company."...
Then Mr Wegg in a dry unflinching way, entered on his task...stumbling at Polybius (pronounced Polly Beeious, and supposed by Mr Boffin to be a Roman virgin, and by Mrs Boffin to be responsible for the necessity of dropping it.)

Friday, November 23, 2007


Last night was Carter's annual Thanksgiving Dinner. This is her fourth in London and I was excused from carting home-made apple pies from Winchester and given the responsibility for the cheese course instead. My favourite cheese shop is Paxton & Whitfield on Jermyn Street and I bought a small Mont d'Or, a goat's cheese, some stilton, some mouth-watering gorgonzola dolce and some Coolea gouda which was delicious. Carter, meanwhile, had cooked a 16lb turkey. It was organic and she was amazed by the price: £68 versus £25 for a similar bird in the US which had also shocked her "Mom". She'd used her mother's stuffing recipe and made a yam and carrot puree, Waldorf salad, roast potatoes and cranberry sauce. One of her American friends made the apple pies this year and she'd bought a couple of (very good) pumpkin pies.
Her parents weren't there this year as they'd been over for the wedding and we laughed, remembering her Dad's speech last year which contained many heavy hints to his "sin-in-law" to do the honourable thing. Jacko finally succumbed and proposed to Carter on the Golden Gate Bridge and...their baby is due in July which is very exciting!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Economies and stockmarkets

In these days of doom and gloom about stockmarkets and concerns about a US recession and an ever weaker US$, it is refreshing to read a piece of research written by Jim O'Neill of Goldman Sachs about the correlation between GDP growth and stockmarket performance. From 1993-2005, China had the fastest economic growth in the world but its stockmarket fell 70% because the market was dominated by inefficient state-owned companies and the strong private companies chose to list in HK or the US instead to attract foreign investors. Since 2005, Chinese companies have been forced to become more competitive, more private companies have listed there and the market has boomed. This suggests that earnings growth and not economic growth per se, drives stockmarket returns. Equity returns are strongly tied to the business cycle. The average emerging market return during a recession is 5% versus 17% during periods of growth. The best returns are gained by investing at a time when an economy is coming out of recession: in 1996 Russian economic growth fell by 3.6%, however, if you'd invested in the Russian market that year, you would have made 151% in US$ terms. We're still waiting for the US recession so it's too early to think about diving in. Next year could be a different story though...

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Yesterday I had no time to blog as my aunt and various cousins descended on me for lunch. One of my favourite recipes for an easy lunch, which can be made in advance, frozen and simply reheated is a lamb casserole with apricots. Soak some dried apricots in half a pint of water overnight. Brown the cubed lamb in a casserole, preferably in dripping, but otherwise in a mixture of butter and olive oil, and keep warm. Slice 4-6 onions and a couple of garlic cloves and fry gently in the casserole for 10 minutes. Add 1-2 teaspoons each of cinnamon, carroway seeds and cardamom and 1-2 tablespoons of plain flour (depending how much meat you're using). Stir for a minute or two. Then add the meat and the apricots and their water, give the whole thing a good stir and put it in the oven on about 150 degrees for an hour and a half. I also made a dead easy bread and butter pudding using a pannatone which I'd bought in Florence and ready-made custard from M&S. Not bad!

Monday, November 19, 2007


Florence is one of my favourite cities. I must have been there at least ten times but every time I visit, I think to myself that I should make an annual pilgrimage there, if only for a weekend. It's the art. And the architecture. I could happily spend days in the Uffizi, the Pitti Palace, the Palazzo Vecchio and the countless churches and museums. To risk a cliche, every picture tells a story and I love looking at all those paintings and remembering the Greek and Roman myths, the stories from the Old Testament and, of course, the hopeful narrative of the New Testament. All this is inter-twined with the personalities and events of Mediaeval and Renaissance Europe. All in all, Florence contains the pillars of western civilisation, up until around 1800 anyway.
Our conference was held in the Palazzo Vecchio which was stunning but absolutely freezing. We had dinner in Signor Antinori's beautiful house and drank his delicious wine. We went to an amazing piano recital by Alfred Brendel at the Teatro della Pergola. We had a gala dinner for 150 people at the Villa Fontallerta in the hills above Florence. Our private tour of the Uffizi, scheduled for Sunday morning, was cancelled as the Queen of The Netherlands took precedence over us, so we went around the Pitti Palace instead. The rise and fall of the Medici family is quite a story in itself.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


I'm off tomorrow for our conference in Florence. This is going to be the most extraodinary conference I have ever attended. It starts at 5.30pm on Friday (who's ever heard of a conference starting at 5.30pm?) with various Italian politicians and senior financial specialists talking about transparency in financial markets. Then there are drinks and dinner with a Tuscan wine producer discussing transparency in wine. On Saturday morning, there's a presentation about our company and fund management in Italy in general, followed by a private tour of the Palazzo Vecchio. Later in the afternoon we will have a piano recital and then a fabulous dinner with a talk about transparency in art given by the Minister of Culture. The whole thing winds up on Sunday morning with a private tour of the Uffizi. See you on Monday, apart from those attending our bloggers' lunch today.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Character sketches

Bleak House is giving me much entertainment. The character sketches are so brilliant. Take this one:
"Whether Young Smallweed...was ever a boy, is much doubted in Lincoln's Inn. He is now something under fifteen, and an old limb of the law. He is facetiously understood to entertain a passion for a lady at a cigar shop, in the neighbourhood of Chancery Lane, and for her sake to have broken off a contract with another lady, to whom he had been engaged some years. He is a town-made article, of small stature and wizened features; but may be perceived from a considerable distance by means of his very tall hat...he is a weird changeling, to whom years are nothing. He stands precociously possessed of centuries of owlish wisdom. If he ever lay in a cradle, it seems as if he must have lain there in a tail-coat. He has an old, old eye has Smallweed; and he drinks , and smokes, in a monkeyish way; and his neck is stiff in his collar; and he is never to be taken in; and he knows all about it, whatever it is...
Into the Dining House...Mr Smallweed leads the way. They know him there, and defer to him. He has his favourite box, he bespeaks all the papers, he is down upon bald patriarchs, who keep them more than ten minutes afterwards. It is of no use trying him with anything less than a full-sized "bread", or proposing to him any joint in cut, unless it is in the very best cut. In the matter of gravy he is adamant."

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


My Burmese friend (whose family left Burma many years ago), Jessica, has recently moved from Tokyo to Singapore. She was in London last week and was telling me about the appalling living conditions of many of the maids there. The Singapore Government has strict rules about maids. Each maid must belong to one household (no sharing is allowed) and must have a monthly health check-up. If a maid is found to be pregnant, her work permit is cancelled and she is forced to return to her home country (usually Indonesia, Malaysia or the Philippines). For this reason, many employers refuse to let their maids out of the house in the evenings. There are often stories of physical abuse. Jessica's neighbour refuses to allow the maid to use the washing machine in order to save electricity and she is often seen beating sheets at the back of the house in the early hours of the morning. The same neighbour counts the slices of bread in the open packet and if one is missing, she knocks it off the maid's pay. Jessica's husband is Balinese and their maid comes from his village in Bali and loves their 4 year old daughter, the darling Grace. Jessica has told her that she may give extra food to the maid next door but on no account to be discovered so doing. She also said that she believes that thousands of monks have been killed in Burma.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Nelson & Villeneuve

It was my father's 89th birthday on Saturday and we went to Portsmouth for lunch and to visit the Victory. It was very moving to see the spots where Nelson fell, shot by a French sniper, and where he died a few hours later, happy in the knowledge that they had won the battle of Trafalgar. His hair was shaved off and his body placed in a barrel of brandy until they reached Gibraltar when it was moved into a mixture of wine and surgical spirit to preserve it for the six week journey back to England.
The French Admiral Villeneuve was captured and taken on board Euryalus. He was then put in an open prison at Bishop's Waltham but was allowed to attend Nelson's funeral which was a great occasion at St.Paul's with 7000 invited guests and huge crowds lining the streets. Villeneuve dined out for a few weeks afterwards in London, recounting his story of the battle. A few months later he returned to France and news came back that he had committed suicide in Rennes. His body had six knife wounds in the back and it was generally believed that Napoleon, who was furious with him, had had him murdered.

Friday, November 09, 2007


Carter made a Mexican mole for her dinner party last night. It had 40 ingredients. As she was serving it to one of her Swedish girlfriends, I said, "Do you know, it took Jacko (Carter's husband) from 10 until 4 last Saturday to shoot those moles." The Swede handed her plate back to Carter and said, "Sorry, I don't eat red meat."

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Climate change

I went to a talk last night (part of a series being run by Winchester Cathedral and University) on climate change by Professor Sir Ghillean Prance of the Eden Project. His main thrust, being a botanist, was the disastrous consequences of destroying the Amazon rainforest. Just 7% of the original forest remains along the Atlantic coast of Brazil and Argentina. Only last week, there were 15,093 fires burning there. Deforestation causes 23% of total carbon emissions and he's also very concerned about the plants and species which are being lost. One of the points raised was that much of the cleared land is being used to grow soyabeans which are used to feed livestock which produce methane. This point is raised in an article about China in today's FT.
China feeds 22% of the world's population with 7% of the world's farmland. As the Chinese become wealthier, their diet is shifting from rice, vegetables and pork to more meat, eggs and dairy products. The urban population is growing by 15-20m people a year and eats three times more meat than the people in the countryside. 70% of China's corn and soyabean crop is used to feed livestock. It is now a net importer of soyabeans and will soon become the world's largest net importer. So China is responsible for a double whammy of climate change: not only is it encouraging deforestation but it's also building a massive amount of coal-fired power plants. No wonder they're having to shut down the power plants and ban driving temporarily for the Olympics:the smog's so bad over there that the spectators wouldn't be able to spot the winners.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Ancient palindrome

Matteo Arpe is one of the darlings of Italian finance. He had a lot of trouble earlier this year holding on to his position as CEO of Capitalia when his Chairman, the roguish Cesare Geronzi, wanted to get rid of him. Matteo survived a vote of no confidence, Capitalia was taken over by UniCredito, Geronzi was given a job there and Matteo was left with a large golden goodbye to consider his options. He's now started his own private equity and asset management company: Sator Group. The name "Sator" (Latin for sower) comes in a famous ancient palindrome, known as the Sator Square:


meaning literally "the sower Arepo holds the wheels with care" and can be interpreted as "you manage your own affairs but there is a destiny which is managing you."The letters can be rearranged to spell paternoster (our Father) twice, going up and across from the central N with two lots of alpha and omega. Anyway, good luck to Matteo Arpe!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


Next week our new Italian girl starts, Agnese from Terni. I was surprised to read on her cv that her marital status is "nubile". My colleague assures me that this is an old-fashioned Italian word for "unmarried". Let's hope she has a better start than Alessandro of Assisi. He was very charming, had an MA in statistics and had "cucina" on his cv as one of his major interests. His first day, a Wednesday, seemed to go well. The second day, when one of the partners was over from Milan, he e-mailed saying he was unwell. We e-mailed him on the Friday to ask how he was and he replied that he was still unwell but hoped to be in on Monday. He had not yet signed a contract and we assumed the worst: that he was using our job offer as leverage to get a better job elsewhere. We were amazed when he arrived on Monday morning, apologising for the fact that he'd had terrible sinusitis. Our compliance officer gave him the contract to sign. He said that he'd look at it overnight. When I came in on Tuesday morning, his office keys were on his desk. He later e-mailed to say that he could not sign the contract and was sorry to have wasted our time.

Monday, November 05, 2007


Which novel begins with this paragraph?
"London...Implacable November weather. As much mud on the streets, as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from the chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snow-flakes - gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. Dogs, indistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers, jostling one another's umbrellas, in a general infection of ill-temper, and losing their foot-hold at street-corners, where tens of thousands of other foot passengers have been slipping and sliding since the day broke (if the day ever broke), adding new deposits to the crust upon crust of mud, sticking at those points most tenaciously to the pavement, and accumulating at compound interest."

Friday, November 02, 2007

Jugged hare

The Chinese are great believers in warming and cooling foods. Lychees are warming, melons cooling. One dish which is definitely warming (not that it's Chinese) is jugged hare. I made this for the first time last autumn and am starting to prepare for this year's appearance on the Sunday lunch table. Winchester farmers' market stocks the meat. The cooking of it is a week's process. First, drain off the blood and keep it in a bowl in the fridge. Secondly, dice the meat and marinate it in red wine with plenty of onions, carrots, juniper berries and a bit of garlic. Leave it for 3 days minimum, stirring occasionally. On the day, take the meat out and brown it, put it back in the marinade with some stock and cook it in a slow oven for 3 hours. Before serving, put the casserole on top of the oven, add the blood and heat it carefully. It is very important not to let it boil as it will curdle. I hadn't appreciated the meaning of blood-curdling until I made jugged hare.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Pierce Penilesse

Nor have we one or two kind of drunkards only, but eight kinds. The first is apedrunk,
and he leaps and sings and hollows, and danceth for the heavens; the second is
lion-drunk, and he flings the pots about the house, calls his hostess whore, breaks the
glass windows with his dagger, and is apt to quarrel with any man that speaks to him;
the third is swine-drunk, heavy, lumpish and sleepy, and cries for a little more drink
and a few more clothes; the fourth is sheep-drunk, wise in his own conceit, when he
cannot bring forth a right word; the fifth is maudlin-drunk, when a fellow will weep
for kindness in the midst of his ale, and kiss you, saying, By God, captain, I love
thee; go thy ways, thou dost not think so often of me as I do of thee; I would (if it
pleased God) I could not love thee so well as I do, and then he puts his finger in his
eye, and cries; the sixth is martin-drunk, when a man is drunk, and drinks himself
sober ere he stir; the seventh is goat-drunk, when in his drunkenness he hath no mind
but on lechery; the eighth is fox-drunk, when he is crafty-drunk, as many of the
Dutchmen be, that will never bargain but when they are drunk.

Thomas Nashe 1592