Friday, August 29, 2008

Australian joke of the day

An Australian farmer had invited an American farmer over for dinner.
"Look out of my windows," the Australian said, "All the land, as far as you can see, is mine."
The American, not to be outdone, replied, "You'll have to come to visit my farm. You can drive for three days without seeing anybody else's land."
"I used to have a car like that," replied the Ozzie.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The answer to the universe

A mathematician was explaining bases to me. We use base 10, presumably because we have 8 fingers and 2 thumbs, so the number 10 means 1 lot of 10 and 0 more units, whereas 11=1 lot of 10 plus 1 unit and 34=3 lots of 10 plus 4 units. You get my drift.
Anyway, the mathematician said that if you change the base from 10 to 13, the answer to the universe, 42, is 6 x 9 because 4 x 13 is 52 plus 2 is 54.
I was sceptical and was comforted to read on Google that Douglas Adams said, "The answer to this is very simple. It was a joke. It had to be a number, an ordinary, smallish number, and I chose that one...A completely ordinary number, a number not just divisible by two but also six and seven. In fact it's the sort of number that you could, without any fear, introduce to your parents... I may be a sorry case, but I don't write jokes in base 13."
So there you have it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

So where were you?

My favourite member of the Labour Party, Dave Cole ( has sent me a tag asking where I was at the time of various key events during the past few years. Two of them escaped my notice, namely, JFK's assassination and England's World Cup Semi-Final against Germany on July 4 1990. I don't really remember the precise event of Maggie's resignation on 22 November 1990 either, just that it was rather a relief after all the hounding by the press (similar to what GB's going through now) but at the same time disappointing that her Cabinet could wield the knife on her after all her achievements.
I remember exactly, on the other hand, where I was when I heard about Princess Diana's death and the Twin Towers collapsing. During the Bank Holiday weekend of 1997 I was staying at Arley Hall in Cheshire where my erstwhile husband was playing cricket. There had been a very jolly dinner on the Saturday evening which rather delayed Sunday breakfast. Our party was alerted to the news, bleary-eyed, by a dashing cricketer at 11am.
In September 2001 I was Finance Director of a software company in California and it was holding its bi-annual board meeting in Paris. I had enjoyed a few delicious days holiday in Champagne and on September 11th checked into my hotel in Paris where I was told what had happened by some French people who were checking out. At first I couldn't understand exactly what they were talking about but all became apparent when I switched on the TV in my room. I was then unable to fly back to San Francisco the next day which was a stroke of luck as I could go to London for a few days holiday instead.
I'm passing this tag on to King Lear, Welshcakes, Ellee and Mopsa.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


I must admit that I am finding the American election campaign very amusing. It's the ads which crack me up. Imagine if we put on such ads over here. You'd have the Conservatives broadcasting Blair's aspersions about Brown and there'd be Labour showing clips of Cameron and Osborne dithering over tax policy and green commitments.
Hillary Clinton has been forced to make a statement about the latest Republican ad which says that she was passed over for Obama's running mate because she had spoken the truth when she criticised him during the leadership campaign. Her statement reads, "I'm Hillary Clinton and I do not approve that message. Let there be no mistake about it: we are united, we are united for change." Surely she meant to say "united for a change"?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Back to Asia

I'm planning a quick trip to visit companies in Asia. It involves a day in Fujian province in China which is over the straits from Taiwan. I haven't been to China on business for 9 years but shan't be able to compare how things have changed as I have never been to Fujian before. The last time I went I was staying in one of the best hotels in Beijing and was robbed there, robbed so craftily that I did not notice it until I was back in London. I had a book of traveller's cheques in my suitcase. The thief did not take the whole book, just one cheque for $100 from the middle of the book. When I was doing my expenses back in London, I noticed that the cheque was missing and reported it. It had been cashed and was traced back to the hotel in Beijing.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Never too old to learn

Spare a thought for poor Wu Dianyuan, 79, and Wang Xiuying, 77, today. Not only were these women forcibly evicted from their homes in Beijing in 2001 to make way for this month's Olympics, but also, having repeatedly applied to hold demonstrations in the Beijing protest zones to complain about it during the Games, they have now been ordered to serve a one year term of "re-education through labour."

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Raising the dead

There's a letter in today's FT from one Mariusz Kuklinski who remembers that Stalin was from Georgia and that the Georgians fared well economically in the post-Stalin Soviet Union era when they "formed the upper crust of the budding business elite." He says "many of them enjoyed wealth unimaginable to average Russians who swapped anecdotes describing the spending habits of their southern neighbours during short breaks in Moscow. One such anecdote ended with the mummy of Lenin being brought to the hotel of a visiting Georgian businessman, who was too busy to queue, by the guards from the Red Square mausoleum upon a particularly generous consideration."

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Easy fishing

Having unsuccessfully attempted to catch a trout in Scotland and then having spent two hours unravelling the knots in my line, I was amused to hear about this experience of one of my brokers in Thailand. He and his family were sailing back from the Phi Phi islands in a group of about a dozen people. They were travelling at 24 knots when suddenly a four foot Oahu (a kind of tuna) jumped out of the sea into the boat, stunning itself on the gunwale. The crew pulled it into the well and killed it and all enjoyed some excellent sashimi and, later, grilled fillets on the BBQ. The boatmen said such an occurrence is very rare and they reckoned that it had been fleeing from a larger fish. The last time they had heard of such an event, the fish had hit a female passenger and killed her.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Debt and Equity

Jon Moulton, one of the stalwarts of UK private equity and founder of Alchemy Partners, makes some interesting comments on debt and equity today. He believes that it is unethical for private equity companies to buy debt in companies whose equity they already own. The recent credit crunch has left banks desperate to sell difficult loans, many of which have been snapped up at significant discounts by private equity companies. That is good on the face of it as it provides some oil to a seized up financial system. However, in some cases, the private equity firms are already shareholders in the companies whose debt they are buying. This means that, as debt holders, they can block the other debt holders from enforcing a debt-for-equity swap which may be detrimental to their equity holding.
He also believes it is unfair to the investors in the private equity fund. If you buy debt at 90p in the pound, your potential gain is limited to 10p. If you buy equity in a distressed company, on the other hand, your potential upside is unlimited. The reason that people invest in private equity funds is to make significantly above-average returns.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Woody Allen

“My view of reality is that it has always been a grim place to be . . . but it’s the only place you can get Chinese food.”

“Not only is there no God, but try getting a plumber on weekends.”

“Eternal nothingness is O.K. if you’re dressed for it.”

Thursday, August 14, 2008

What price a reputation?

Colin Stagg was wrongly accused of murdering Rachel Nickell in 1992 and was imprisoned for 13 months. He has received £706,000 compensation. Barry George was imprisoned for 8 years for the murder of Jill Dando, a charge which has now been overturned. What sort of compensation will he get? £5.2m? How is the compensation calculated? Presumably the longer one is in prison for a deed which one did not commit, the greater the psychological damage so there should be an escalation clause in compensation awarded. We are told that George was psychologically damaged before he was charged with the murder and that was one of the reasons why he was convicted in the first place. What will become of him now?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

(Bad) joke of the day

Today's FT reports, "Tesco is breaking into the Indian retail market with plans to open cash-and-carry stores." Shurely they mean "cash-and-curry"?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

No drinking carriages?

A friend had this experience on a train on Saturday:
" I am still reeling from the effects of a truly shocking trip to Cardiff on Saturday (went to see Chitty Chitty Bang Bang the musical with my obsessed 4 year old son - and that part of the day was delightful). On both legs of the trip - 9:45am departure from London Paddington and 5:25pm return from Cardiff - we were surrounded by hordes of drunken football fans (yes - knocking it back at 9:45am and in style). The whole train was at the mercy of these drunken, swearing and aggressive men. The buffet car kept serving them alcohol, noone dared to ask them to stop smoking, and the language used was just unspeakable and not what you want when travelling with a small child keen to expand his vocabulary...... In the end I was forced to take my little boy and crouch on the floor by the loos - avoiding the broken glass - in an attempt to protect him. When I spoke to the guard and asked him why these louts weren't thrown off the train, he said it was always like this but he couldn't challenge them on his own and there were insufficient police resources to come to his assistance."
Maybe they should introduce a no alcohol carriage on trains?

Monday, August 11, 2008


I was just wondering in view of 9 11 whether we should be worried about 9 September 2009?

Friday, August 08, 2008


Today was carefully chosen by the Chinese as the opening of the Olympics because 8 is a lucky number for them, sounding very similar in Mandarin to the word for "wealth". The Taoist pantheon had 8 immortals, the most ancient of whom was Iron-Crutch Li., a crotchety, ugly old man with a dirty face, straggling beard, hair tied back in a golden band and carrying an iron crutch. He looks after the sick and poor. According to legend, before he became immortal he was extremely handsome and spent 40 years in Taoist meditation. Before one meditation, he told his apprentice that his soul would leave his body and go to heaven for seven days. However, on the sixth day, the apprentice's mother was very sick and he had to go home to look after her so he cremated Li's body. His mother then died.When Li's soul returned it was forced to enter the only available body around: the corpse of a homeless beggar who had just died of starvation. Lao Tzu (the founder of Taoism) gave him a gold band to keep his hair in order and replaced his beggar's bamboo cane with an iron crutch to help his lame leg, advising him not to worry about his appearance. Li's first miracle in his new body was to bring back to life the mother of his apprentice.

Thursday, August 07, 2008


I was reminded yesterday of one of the exploits of Xerxes, the ruler of Persia from 485-465BC. He was preparing to invade Greece in 483BC and built two bridges across the Hellespont (Dardanelles strait) so that his army could march in. Herodotus, the Greek historian known as "the father of history", reports that both bridges were destroyed in a storm which caused Xerxes to be so furious that he ordered his men to give the water 300 lashes, to brand it with red hot irons and to shackle it (ie to throw some iron shackles into it). He also ordered the men who'd built the bridges to be beheaded.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Ghost story of the day

When I was in Scotland, I heard the strange tale of the Black Officer, Captain John MacPherson of Ballochroan. He was called "Black" because of his evil heart and he was the recruting officer who press-ganged the locals into the army. He was said to be in league with the devil which accounted for his great properity in the farming of his lands. On New Year's Eve 1799, a few people were staying with him in a remote lodge on the Gaick estate. There was a knock on the door. The Black Officer answered it and was heard to say, "You have got the wrong year!" The following New Year's Eve, he was back there again and there was an avalanche. The lodge was destroyed. The locals gathered the following day and found bodies of dogs with fierce snarls on their faces. The Black Officer's body was discovered 400 yards from the lodge. The local priest said a prayer but the body could not be lifted, it was so heavy. One of the locals quipped that they'd be better off appealing to the Devil and said a few words. The body could then be lifted with ease.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008


Putin's really enjoying life post-Presidency. The other week, he accused Mechel, a Russian mining company, of price-fixing and tax evasion causing a crash not only in the Mechel share price but also in the whole Russian stock market as investors panicked that there would be a return to the sort of fraud investigations which bankrupted Yukos. Now he's saying that Russia needs to re-establish its positions in Cuba, upping the ante against the US with whom he's furious because of its proposal to expand Nato to include Ukraine and Georgia and to base an anti-missile defence system in eastern Europe. Greenspan, Blair, Putin are thorns in the sides of Bernanke, Brown and Medvedev but they make life more entertaining for the rest of us.

Monday, August 04, 2008

A summer pudding

Notwithstanding the rain yesterday, I poached a salmon for lunch and stuck with my strawberries and cream plan. As a variation, I made two large Florentines and sandwiched the strawberries and cream inside them. Florentines are not hard to make. All you need is:

2oz chopped mixed peel
3 chopped glace cherries
1oz chopped sultanas
1oz chopped hazlenuts
1oz chopped almonds
2oz butter
2oz sugar
1 teaspoon single cream

Mix the fruit together in a bowl. Melt the butter, stir in the sugar and bring the mixture up to boiling point. Add it to the fruit, giving it a good stir and adding the cream. Leave it to cool slightly. Spread it thinly into one large or a number of smaller Florentines on a greased baking sheet and bake it in the oven at 180 degrees for 12 minutes. When they are cool, you can coat one side (or both) with chocolate but I didn't want to push the calorie count even higher yesterday.