Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Poem of the next day and a half

Oh, to be in England
Now that April's there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England--now!

And after April, when May follows,
And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!
Hark, where my blossomed pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops--at the bent spray's edge--
That's the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!
And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children's dower--
Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!

Monday, April 28, 2008

G&T science

Somebody points out in the FT today that since 90% of an iceberg is under the sea and given that ice is less dense than water, the effect of ice melting should be to lower the sea level, not to raise it. He illustrates his point with a heavily iced glass filled to the brim with gin and tonic. If you don't drink it and let the ice melt, you will see that the level drops (and that's not due to evaporation!).

Friday, April 25, 2008

Attack or defence?

Iran has been kicked out of an international defence show in Malaysia for exhibiting missile equipment in violation of UN rules. The Malaysian deputy prime minister described the Iranian stand as "offensive".

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The value of zero

"Your allocation is $21m," said the broker at Citigroup. (My usual man with the unusual name of Paris was away.) I had heard that the issue was not going well but even so, to receive some vast multiple of what I had asked for, was rather dumping me in it. When I queried the amount, he said he'd check and call me back. "You got $21,000." This was going from the sublime to the ridiculous and was a fraction of what I wanted. Nevertheless, small fractions are better than vast multiples in a falling market and averaging down is the theme of the day.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The scourge of Yemen

Yemenis love khat: green leaves which they chew by the fistful for hours which they say give them clarity of thought and good humour. Khat cultivation has risen dramatically in recent years, is the second largest source of jobs and uses 30% of the country's water supply, so much so that the capital Sanaa is predicted to run out of water in the not too distant future.. Yemen's alternative crop production suffers as a result and it imports 95% of its wheat, meaning that inflation is running at around 15%. Police are not allowed to chew the drug, yet it is permitted for army use. Presumably the Government thinks the troops need inspiration and cheer for their main daily duty: ferreting out al-Quaeda militants.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Something fishy

I was reminded today of when one of my former colleagues went on a visit to a fish factory in Thailand. He was given a few packets of fish as a present afterwards and returned to his hotel, the Oriental in Bangkok. He gave one of them to the lift operator, who was delighted, and he went back to his room to do some work. After a few minutes, there was a knock at the door. One of the hotel staff was enquiring whether he'd like any room service. He gave away another packet of fish and declined the offer. A few minutes later, there was another knock at the door: would he like his shoes cleaned? He thought not but offered the man a packet of fish. Ten minutes later, there was another knock: did he need any clean towels? And so the afternoon went on until all the fish had been distributed.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Our impossible banking system

I've been helping my 89 year old father with a transfer from his account at Barclays Bank to Legal & General but have been foiled at every turn. First, it's impossible to deal directly with his branch: all correspondence has to go via their office in Leicester. Secondly, his eyesight is poor and his handwriting has deteriorated so when he tried to send a cheque rather than doing a transfer they said that the cheque was invalid as his signature does not match the one on their records. Then, when the transfer did eventually go through, it was rejected by L&G and Barclays sent my father a copy of the letter from L&G informing Barclays of the reason for this which began, amazingly, with the words, "Dear None".

Friday, April 18, 2008

Poem of the day

odi et amo. quare id faciam fortasses requiris.
nescio, sed fieri sentio, et excrucior.


(I hate and I love. Perhaps you're asking how that is possible. I don't know but I feel it happening and it's torment.)

Thursday, April 17, 2008


Newnham College, Cambridge is described in today's FT as being a college "that admits only females". I wonder whether its alumnae prefer to be described as "women" or "females". I also wonder whether the journalist, whom I assume is male, would also write that Newnham "does not admit males." I think he'd use the term "men" instead. And if you're still reading this rant, the worst phrase is "female toilet". Who on earth sanctioned that?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Selling the silver

This is slightly old news but I don't think that David Milliband should be allowed to sell 1 Carlton Gardens. The historic residences given to Ministers are part of our heritage. Mr Milliband owns a house in London where he prefers to live instead which is fine but an insufficient reason to merit selling it, particularly as there'll be a new Foreign Secretary next year or the year after who may be very glad to have it or at least be more imaginative about possible uses for such a beautiful building.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


How amazing that Berlusconi is the only post-war Italian Prime Minister to have survived a 5 year term and that he's managed to get back in again after, having been written off by many after his last defeat. Just shows that there's something to be said for botox, and billions, and media control. My favourite story about him (forgive me if you've already heard it) is when he was introducing the new Forza Italia representative in Sicily. He was extolling the virtues of the man and then said, "But let me tell you something...he's really got his hands in the pasta." There was a sudden hush in the crowded audience as this is a phrase with mafioso connotations in Italian. Berlusconi went on, "...he's a gynecologist!" Tony Blair must be wondering today whether he too could come back. Let's hope not!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Water rights

Water rights was one of the topics at the conference I attended last week. The rights to water ownership, if it's been upheld in court, is valuable on the water scarce West Coast of the States but not so much on the wetter East Coast until recently when excessive development together with climate cange have made people more aware of the issue. One man who's taken the idea to heart is T.Boone Pickens. He's been accumulating a great deal of land over the aquifer in northern Texas, hoping that he will one day own the rights and be able to pump it down to Dallas.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Botox in a bottle

A quick report from the land of the erstwhile consumer where sentiment, like the dollar, is in the doldrums. Although not advertised in the windows, there are quite a few sales on within the shops and I managed to find a Diane von Furstenberg suit for under £100. One thing I have noticed in my brief (honestly!) retail research is that a few department stores are promoting a face cream called Freeze 24.7 which they claim "diminishes the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles within minutes of application." The shop assistant persuaded me to try some around one eye and it did seem to do the trick. The only problem with this skin improving scam is that the better one part looks, the worse the rest seems to be. Let's not get into the debate about the merits of liposuction in St Lucia versus tummy tucks in Trinidad.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Red letter day

How about this for a one in a million day - not only has a huge bunch of roses and lillies been sent to me but also my flight to New York, which I'd been fretting about going from T5, is in fact leaving from Terminal 4 and I've been upgraded to first class! Looking forward to some serious shopping in between meetings.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Seeing is believing

I met a man who'd been one of the auditors of Parmalat, the Italian dairy company which became embroiled in massive fraud and went spectacularly bust in 2003. The auditor said that he thought that it was strange that a company whose main businesses were milk and mozzarella cheese for the Italian market, had offices in the Cayman Islands. He visited one its milk factories in Rome. When he arrived, it was all locked up and there was no evidence of any work going on that day. He eventually managed to get into the building. It was completely empty.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

When in Rome...

I heard Harriet Harman on the radio this morning defending her decision to wear a stab proof vest whilst touring her constituency of Peckham at 9 o'clock in the morning in the company of several police officers (which I initially thought could be an April Fool). Her explanation was that, contrary to appearances, she was not living in fear that one of her disgruntled constituents would come out and knife her, but that she wore it out of courtesy to the police who were accompanying her "just as you would wear a hard hat on a building site or Indian clothes when visiting an Indian area." This is not only poor logic but also terrible personal PR. The reason for wearing a hard hat on a building site is insurance against possible accidents. By wearing her stab proof jacket, HH not only admits that there is a possibility of being stabbed on the streets at 9am in Peckham but also that her entourage of police officers is not adequate protection. As for wearing Indian clothes to please Indians living in this country, I'm afraid I strongly disagree. We must stand up for our own culture, particularly to those people who have decided that the UK is so preferable to India that they have moved in. These people were attracted by our culture so the idea of temporarily adopting their dress for so-called political correctness is laughable.