Friday, May 30, 2008

Le grand fromage

There's a row going on in France about Camembert. Real Camembert is made with unpasteurised milk and has an Appellation d'Origine Controlee label which enables it to be sold at a significant premium to the supermarket price of the so-called "industrial" Camemberts made with unpasteurised milk and the industrial makers are lobbying the government's food certification body to extend its AOC label to the pasteurised form as well. This is causing outrage amongst smaller Normandy cheesemakers who say, "Pasteurised milk is dead milk and you don't make a good Camembert with dead milk." I wonder what Mopsa would make of that. History doesn't relate if Louis Pasteur was a Camembert fan.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Crime mapping

Boris Johnson's proposal to publish detailed maps of reported crime in London strikes me as a sensible idea. Highlighting dangerous areas should focus the public's mind to be more careful in those places and be useful for police when assessing how much manpower to deploy and it would be interesting to see how quickly the crime levels come down as a result. The privacy watchdog claims that such maps could breach data protection laws but it is not obvious to me why this should be the case, after all, every time a crime is reported on tv, the location of it is published. The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors is complaining that the maps could cause house prices in those areas to collapse but there's still such demand for property in London that it is doubtful that they would fall that much when in all probability the prices in those areas already reflect the level of crime.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Emily Davison

I was listening to the old story of Emily Davison this morning, the suffragette who died after throwing herself in front of the King's horse, Anmer, in the 1913 Derby. Here's a link to a newspaper reporting at the time:
This article is remarkable for a number of reasons. First, it says it was history's "most wonderful Derby" because the favourite was disqualified so a 100-1 bet won the race. At the time of printing, Emily was still alive, so the fact that she was injured is secondary to the euphoria of the race but the implication is there, is it not, that the fact that a suffragette was nearly killed, also added to this "most wonderful Derby"?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Hull or Paris?

A friend of mine was in Hull and overheard this conversation between a woman and her elderly mother:
"Where shall we go for our holiday next year?"
"I'm so old, I probably shan't be around next year."
"Well, assuming you are around, where would you like to go?"
"Paris! That's a good idea...and easier for us to get to than Hull."

Friday, May 23, 2008


Don't want to crow about Crewe but what a tremendous result! Maybe Richard Dunwoody would have been a better bet for Labour?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The rainmakers

There's an interesting article about China in the National Geographic magazine. Here's an extract:
"The glaciers and vast underground springs of the Qinghai-Tibet plateau supply 50% of the Yellow River's volume. But a hotter, drier climate is sending the delicate ecosystem into shock...Already more than 3000 of the 4077 lakes in Qinghai Province's Madoi County have disappeared...The glaciers are shrinking at a rate of 7% a year.
To save its great rivers, Beijing is performing a sort of technological rain dance, with the most ambitious cloud seeding programme in the world. During summer months, artillery and planes bombard the clouds above the Yellow River's source area with silver iodide crystals, around which moisture can collect and become heavy enough to fall as rain. In Madoi, where the thunderous explosions keep families awake at night, the meteorologists staffing the weather station say the "big gun" project is increasing rainfall and helping replenish glaciers near the Yellow River's source. Local Tibetans, however, believe the rockets, by angering the gods once more, are perpetuating the drought."

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The American mentality

It's worth quoting this from one of my favourite American analysts:

"Suppose the Jones family has available disposable income of $75,000 per year. Over the past
several years, however, they have spent $85,000 per year refinancing their home every 5 years or so to raise another $50,000. But that option is gone and the Jones family now has debt of $20,000 to pay down. Therefore they want to cut spending to $70,000 per year in order to get out of debt and live within their means. How do they do that in a time when food and gasoline inflation eat an extra $2,000 per year?
There are plenty of answers. They keep the car(s) an extra two years. They downsize the cost of the family vacation. They eat at home an extra two nights per week. They change their Phillies tickets to a 10-game plan. They buy fewer new outfits for the summer season. Their Saturday night dinner is at Applebee’s not Morton’s. They turn down their thermostats. Perhaps, one
works a second job part-time. In other words, they make a few adjustments, change their lifestyle and move on. None of these actions require a lot of time. All can be done almost instantaneously. Of course, not every family will change at exactly the same time but most will do so within a short period, something less than a year.
2008 is the adjustment year. It might leak over into 2009 but it won’t go longer. When the adjustment period is over, normalized growth will resume and the dollar will strengthen."

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

To Russia without love

My colleague, a keen Chelsea supporter, is in a high state of excitement as he's off to Moscow for the match tomorrow. His plane lands at 8pm and the game starts at 10.30pm so much depends on delays at the airport and the punctuality of public transport but he's not checking in any luggage and is confident he'll make it. His wife is an avid Man-U fan and had no desire to go with him; she even refuses to watch matches between the two sides in the same room as him at home.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Sovereign Islamic bonds

The fact that this Government is determined to launch a sovereign Islamic bond is a testament to its desperation for funds (any funds) and its inability to promote multi-culturalism and religious tolerance whilst simultaneously giving preference to the historic beliefs of this country. To issue debt instruments, in whose principles this Government has no belief and to call them "sovereign", as if to stamp them with some validity, is utterly shameless. You can just see what the worst case could be: an Islamic bank borrows the bonds from the UK Government, lends the money to a group of fanaticists who then use it to blow up the Houses of Parliament.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Dog on the line

A train from London to Winchester came to a screeching halt the other night and passengers were told there was a dog on the line. The driver got out, picked it up and took it back into his cabin, "It's a Staffordshire bull terrier," he informed the train, "and I'll drop it off at the next station, Wimbledon." There was a 20 minute wait at Wimbledon, which was an unscheduled stop on that service. The train set off once more and the driver explained what had happened: "Apologies for the lengthy delay but the staff at Wimbledon were unwilling to accept the dog as they thought it was a Pit Bull terrier. I managed to persuade them that it was in fact a Staffordshire and they have locked it in a cage at the station overnight."

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


My colleague is back from China. He was at Kunming airport, waiting for a flight to Hong Kong when he felt a tremor beneath his seat and it dawned on him that the building may be on the verge of collapse. A few moments later he felt it again and the chandelier in the waiting room (only the Chinese could have chandeliers at airports) swung alarmingly. He texted his wife, "I think I may be in an earthquake!" A few seconds later she replied, "Yes, I've just seen it on the BBC news." He was hundreds of miles away from the epicentre, had no idea of the scale of it and caught his flight. A couple of hours later all the flights were cancelled so he was lucky not to have been stuck there.
Talking of jams, I cut down all my remaining rhubarb and have made 5lb of rhubarb and ginger jam. I added pectin but it still hasn't set. Are there any jam experts out there who know whether reboiling with more pectin will work?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Plantation life

I was remembering my visit some years ago to a tea plantations company in Sri Lanka. We were given tea by a plantation manager in his bungalow on his beautifully manicured estate with its smart white painted fences and immaculately mown emerald green lawns with the tea plantation stretching down the hill below and given a stroke by stroke account of the one day cricket match between Sri Lanka and India. We went on to dine at the plantation managers' supervisor's bungalow which was very similar to the first except that it was twice the size. The supervisor, a rather formal man in his 50s with lanky black hair glued tightly to his head with a mixture of oil and sweat, welcomed us. His wife had a headache, he explained, but would join us for dinner. In the meantime, would we like to see our rooms and join him at our leisure for a drink? The rooms were straight out of the 1970s with vast mosquito nets draped over the beds and ancient copies of Good Housekeeping strwen on rickety side tables. The conversation over drinks was made rather awkward by his trait of saying "Correct" in an abrupt fashion rather than "Yes" and made us feel as if we were contestants on Mastermind, although we seemed to be asking most of the questions. We then heard a door open and a huge old English sheepdog bounded in followed by the plantation managers' supervisor's wife who was about 20, very pretty and absolutely charming. She gushed over us, apologising for her absence and invited us into dinner. She had not known what to serve Europeans, she explained, and so we had a mixture of eggs, spaghetti, lamb curry and salad, all on one plate. It turned out to be a very jolly evening.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Treasure hunt

I went on a treasure hunt with was in fact a shameless marketing drive by Berry Bros. They had 25% off all bin ends but the "treasure" was certain bottles in their warehouse which were marked down 75%. Meanwhile, they'd put out plenty of Berry's Madeira, sherry and port to improve the punters mood and tempt them even further. My hopes of finding cheap Sauternes were dashed there was very little sweet wine on offer. Nevertheless a hugely reduced bottle of Domaine Armand Rousseau, Chambertin Clos du Bezes 2000 made the expedition worthwhile and, yes, I bought the Madeira.

Friday, May 09, 2008

The French invasion

Electricite de France is bidding for British Energy. Remenber that classic question of how to stage a coup? Get hold of the power first.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Chinese proverb of the day

"Do not tear down the east wall to repair the west wall." There is a huge project underway in China to transfer water by canal from the Yangtse river in the rainy south to Tianjin and Beijing in the dry north. It was first proposed by Chairman Mao in 1952 but only got started 50 years later. Critics are questioning whether it will be viable in the long-term as South China is now beginning to experience water shortages. The Three Gorges Damon the Yangtse has been an environmental headache and the Three Gates Gorge dam which was implemented by Mao on the Yellow river was disastrous in terms of water shortages and land disputes. Farmers were evicted and housed in slums in nearby towns. Then the river silted up and industrial overuse reduced its flow causing large areas of arable land to re-emerge and prompting many of the farmers to return to the land to eke out a living. In the mid-80s the Govt relocated large numbers of displaced farmers back to their ancestral homes but allocated them a fraction of the land they’d left two decades earlier. Maybe Mao should have listened to the Western proverb, "The devil is in the detail."

Friday, May 02, 2008


I have been busy electioneering and am delighted that the Conservative candidate in our St Michael ward, Robert Sanders, was elected last night in place of the LibDems, giving us a hat trick of Conservative councillors. Talking of hats, I have to take mine off to the incumbent councillors, Fiona Mather and Ian Tait whose good work has ensured them a loyal band of supporters and who were assiduous in assisting Robert's campaign. The only disappointment was that the bar at the Guildhall had closed by the time the result was announced so the champagne remains on ice.