Monday, June 30, 2008

Memory recovery

I have been having a mental block about a company called Energy Recovery. I've been making quite a few presentations recently which involve mentioning this company and, for the first few times, simply could not recall its name which was most embarrassing. A useful memory tool has solved this problem which involves attaching a mental image to a name. Now, whenever I think of the company I see an image of a Lucozade bottle and I say "Energy Recovery" with confidence. Fortunately I have not yet said, "Lucozade" by mistake.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Pomegranates or passion fruit?

I was making a Nigella Express recipe the other day which consisted of roasting some duck breasts, carving them into thin slices on a large platter covered with lettuce leaves, pouring the meat juices over them and then scattering some pomegranate seeds and a little pomegranate juice on top as well as some torn mint leaves. The only problem was that I had bought passion fruit instead of pomegranates. Not only did the passion fruit seeds sit like frogspawn on top of the duck in stark contrast to the jewelled pomegranate seeds in the photo of the recipe book but also the very strong flavour of the passion fruit rather detracted from the duck. Her watermelon, feta cheese and black olive salad was well received, however, as was my summer pudding. Memo to self: stick to the instructions.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The failings of auditors

WPP is in hot water as its Zimbabwean subsidiary, Imago Y&R, has been managing the advertising for Robert Mugabe's election campaign. One would have thought that the name of the woman in charge of the agency, one Sharon Mugabe, may have give Sir Martin Sorrell second thoughts about getting involved in the business. He assured attendees of the WPP AGM at Claridges yesterday that independent auditors had confirmed to WPP that Ms Mugabe was neither related to nor working for her namesake. ZimDaily believes she is in fact his niece: daughter of his brother who was assassinated by the Zim secret service for sleeping with Mugabe's wife Sally (now deceased). Sir Martin described the situation as "embarrassing and totally unacceptable." This does not stop him from doing business with Mugabe though: she is trying to get a flight to London so she can buy WPP's 25% stake in the agency for "a nominal consideration."

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Rumours of the day

HSBC will bid for UBS

Simon Mann will avoid a prison sentence if he agrees to mastermind a coup in Zimbabwe

President Sarkozy gave his wife love letters whilst sharing a carriage with the Queen

Monday, June 23, 2008

Mark Oaten MP

There is a telling interview with Mark Oaten on Iain Dale's new blog
We in Winchester have been hearing rumours for some time that he's preparing to step down and is hoping for a job in the States. Here are a couple of the questions and answers:

Q: Which five words would your friends use about you?
A: Shy, distant

Q: What's your favourite view in the world?
A: Crossing the bridge into Manhattan from JFK

If his answer to the first question raises doubts in your mind about his numerical skills, this answer sheds light on his ability to spell:

Q: What do you never miss on TV?
A: Paying my license. And Frazier re-runs.

And if you were in doubt about his tastes, consider this:

Q: What's your favourite dish?
A: Fried steak with cheese and salmon pate

Quotation of the day

Ah, what a dusty answer gets the soul
When hot for certainties in this our life!

George Meredith

Friday, June 20, 2008

Post-industrialisation era

The price of donkeys in the Yozgat district of Turkey have risen seven-fold as the high fuel price has forced many local farmers to give up their tractors and revert to traditional farming methods. Meanwhile in Thailand the cost of renting a tractor is now £9.59 per acre compared with £4.60 for a buffalo. This is putting smiles on the faces of the buffalo owners whose beasts are in such demand that they have to be booked two weeks in advance. Farmers had forgotten the other advantage of buffaloes: they take up less space, cause less crop damage, can access narrow pieces of field and therefore improve the overall harvest. It's a pity they don't make mozzarella cheese in Thailand.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


Although Mervyn King did not mention the S word in his speech last night, he did say that people should expect their real pay to stagnate this year and that inflation, now 3.3%, is a problem which needs to be stamped out sooner rather than later. Darling Darling reinforced the message, saying that the unions' calls for higher pay rises could be disastrous. Ministers have foregone a pay rise to try to set an example but the unions are sensing that power is returning to their hands. They fund the Labour Party. They are dissatisfied with Brown. They want to fund individual MPs who support their causes, rather than sending cash to the central Party coffers. The Police forced Jacqui Smith's hand. They want a 3.5% pay rise next year. Unison has rejected a 2.45% offer. The average pay increase in the first quarter of this year was 3.8%. The Shell tanker drivers have secured a 9% rise this year and 5% next. The Government is living in a fantasy world if it believes that the workers will follow the self-denial of its Ministers.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Racing uncertainties

It was a glorious day at Ascot yesterday where, in spite of having the option to sport "substantial fascinators", most women were wearing hats in the Royal Enclosure. In the first three races, only one of my horses came in so I thought I'd place a large bet on the favourite, Henrythenavigator, in the fourth. I was standing at ground level, a few yards back from the winning post and there was quite a crowd in front of me so I didn't have a clear view but I was disappointed when it came second and commiserated by one of our party, Edith, who'd had an each way bet on the horse which came third. I placed by bet for the next race at the Tote and was then invited for tea in the Owners' Dining Room by a friend who had a horse running in the final race. He was very excited because he'd done a place pot and every horse he'd backed in it had been placed so far, including Henrythenavigator. I growled at the fact he hadn't won. "What do you mean?" my friend asked, "He did win!" I was flabbergasted that Edith and I had been convinced that it was second and could only attribute it to the many glasses of champagne which had been consumed at our picnic. The awful thing was that I had thrown away the ticket at the Tote when I'd gone to place my next bet. My friend was doubtful that they would have kept it but said it was worth asking them about it. Crestfallen, I returned to the Tote. "I left a £50 to win ticket here on Henrythenavigator a couple of races ago as I thought he'd come second. I don't suppose you have it, do you?" "Yes, Madam, " the charming Jake replied. "I kept it for you!" He gave me the ticket plus £80 and that was the highlight of my day.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Churchill's dream

I was reading an essay written by Winston Churchill in 1947 about a long conversation he had with his father's ghost in a dream. He was telling his father, Lord Randolph, about everything that had been going on in the world since his death in 1895 but not telling him that he, Winston, had embarked on a political career himself. Here's an extract:

"War?" he said, sitting up with a startled air."War, do you say? Has there been a war?"
"We have had nothing else but wars since democracy took charge."
..."Tell me about them."
"Well, first there was the Boer War....We conquered the Transvaal and the Orange Free State."
"England should never have done that. To strike down two independent republics must have lowered our whole position in the world. It must have stirred up a good fight. When I was there I saw lots of them. Men of the wild, with rifles, on horseback. It must have taken a lot of soldiers. How many? Forty thousand?"
"No, over a quarter of a million."
"Good God! What a shocking drain on the Exchequer!"
"It was," I said. "The Income Tax went up to one and threepence."
He was visibly disturbed. So I said that they got it down to eightpence afterwards...
"About those wars, the ones after the Boer War, I mean. What happened to the great States of Europe?..."...
"It cost them their life blood," I said.
"But wars like these must have cost a million lives. They must have been as bloody as the American Civil War."
"Papa," I said, "in each of them about thirty million men were killed in battle. In the last one seven million men were murdered in cold blood, mainly by the Germans. They made human slaughter-pens like the Chicago stockyards. Europe is a ruin. Many of her cities have been blown to pieces by bombs. Ten capitals in Eastern Europe are in Russian hands. They are Communists now, you know - Karl Marx and all that. It may well be that an even worse war is drawing near. A war of the East against the West. A war of liberal civilisation against the Mongol hordes. Far gone are the days of Queen Victoria and a settled world order. But, having gone through so much, we do not despair."
He seemed stupefied and fumbled with his matchbox for what seemed a minute or more. Then he said:
"Winston, you have told me a terrible tale. I would never have believed that such things could happen. I am glad I did not live to see them. As I listened to you unfolding these fearful facts you seemed to know a great deal about them. I never expected you would develop so far and so fully. Of course you are too old now to think about such things, but when I hear you talk I really wonder you didn't go into politics. You might have done a lot to help. You might even have made a name for yourself."

Monday, June 16, 2008

The cubed root of a minority

The German MP, Axel Schafer's comment on the Irish "No" vote, “With all respect for the Irish vote, we cannot allow the huge majority of Europe to be duped by a minority of a minority of a minority,” illustrates the faults inherent in the EU machine. It wants to have respect for its members but in fact does not. When a member steps out of line, even with legal entitlement, its actions are described as being duplicitous. In the end, my guess is that the EU will abandon its policy of giving every state a blackball option and there will be a two tier Europe.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A swarm of toads

Apparently two days before the earthquake in China swarms of toads invaded the streets of Mianzhu, one of the towns which was destroyed. According to Chinese tradition, toad swarming is a portent of doom. My colleague's seen four stag beetles this week and does not recall seeing them since just before the last collapse in the housing market. They make him nervous.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Adios Argentina

In these days of widely reported food riots, it's interesting to read about what's happening in Argentina. People remember shopping in supermarkets there 20 years ago when there was hyperinflation and prices were rising so fast that the increases had to be announced at frequent intervals over loud speakers. In March this year a farm strike caused there to be no beef available for some days and other meat prices, together with vegetables and dairy products, soared. The government's official inflation rate was nevertheless a low 1.1%. The opposition party is howling that the government is manipulating the figures as a third of the CPI basket consists of food and prices are reckoned to be up 20-25% over the past year. Tomorrow the government is publishing a new consumer price index, updating the current basket of goods to reflect consumption patterns of the majority of the population more accurately, meaning that measures of middle class spending on private schools, healthcare and foreign holidays will be omitted and the number of goods being measured will be cut from 818 to 440. They will also stop publishing data from the provinces, where price rises have often far exceeded CPI, and concentrate solely on greater Buenos Aires. "Lies, damned lies and statistics!" is the comment from the opposition.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Goodbye to all that

I've been listening to Robert Graves' autobiography, "Goodbye to all that", with its harrowing tales of the First World War. In one of his letters in May 1915 he recounts an incident about a couple of soldiers who were so fed up with being picked on by their Platoon sergeant that they decided to murder him. They then went to see the Adjutant and said, "Sir, Sir, there's been an accident: we've killed the company sergeant-major!" "What do you mean, you idiots?" he replied. "Did you mistake him for a spy?" "No," they replied, "We mistook him for the Platoon sergeant!" They were court-martialled and executed by members of their regiment, the Royal Welch Fusiliers, against the wall of a convent in France. Before they were shot, they shouted the regimental battle cry, "Stick the Welch!" The incident was overseen by a local French governor who made a short speech afterwards, commenting on the glorious deaths of the English.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Quotation of the day

"The federal government is sending each of us a $600 rebate. If we
spend that money at Wal-Mart, the money goes to China. If we spend it
on gasoline it goes to the Arabs. If we buy a computer it will go to India.
If we purchase fruit and vegetables it will go to Mexico, Honduras and
Guatemala. If we purchase a good car it will go to Germany. If we
purchase useless crap it will go to Taiwan and none of it will help the
American economy. The only way to keep that money here at home is to
spend it on prostitutes and beer, since these are the only products still
produced in US. I've been doing my part, and I thank you for your help!"

Eliot Spitzer (former Governor, New York)

Limerick of the day

There was a young man who said, "Damn,
I hereby perceive that I am
A creature that moves
In predestinate grooves" -
I wonder if he is a tram?

Monday, June 02, 2008


Yves Saint Laurent has died. He was famed for inventing black tie for women which he introduced in 1966. Known as "Le Smoking", it was famously worn by Lauren Bacall. New York socialite Nan Kempner created a scandal when she tried to wear the outfit at La Cote Basque restaurant in Manhattan in 1968. The maitre d' told her she couldn't dine wearing trousers so she promptly took them off and proceeded to dine in the (reasonably long) jacket.