Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Death tax

The FT's cartoonist, Roger Beale, has an amusing sketch of a couple sitting at a table with their young son who's reading a comic called "Dracula." The boy says, "I think I've found you a good death tax loophole."

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Ask three stooges...

All credit to Channel 4 for organising the Ask the Chancellors debate last night and particularly for making it advertisement free! It was interesting to see the three men head to head, all looking rather nervous. It's easy to criticise people on television from the luxury of one's own sofa but I was rather disappointed in GO whom I thought could have been far more punchy. It was only in his final one minute summary that he said that Labour had made the UK one of the weakest economies in Europe. He didn't mention "Prudence", he didn't say that GB ruined banking regulation at a stroke when he split the regulatory responsibilities between the Bank of England and the FSA, and he didn't question the dithering which led to the nationalisation of Northern Rock. He also didn't ask how VC would fund his proposal to raise the personal allowance for income tax from £6500 to £10,000 which will cost an estimated £16bn a year. Neither AD nor GO criticised VC's plan to scrap Trident. All three men criticised Barclays' bonuses when Barclays managed to do all its capital raising without recourse to the UK taxpayer: the politics of envy permeates. GO also didn't explain properly why the Conservatives are ring-fencing the NHS from spending cuts. He simply attributed the idea to David Cameron and "the modern Conservative Party." Anyway, I'm sure CCHQ will be going over this debate with a fine toothcomb and hope that DC will get some ideas from it for his performance.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Are you going to New York this autumn?

If so, you must go to see the Lod mosaic at the Met which will be exhibited on 28 September for 6 months. It is 1700 years old and was discovered in 1996 when workmen were rebuilding the road from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The mosaic is 600 square feet and believed to have belonged to a wealthy Roman living in Lydda (ancient Lod). It looks amazing; I do hope it will come to London at some point.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Alexander in India

In spring 326BC, Alexander the Great marched over the Hindu Kush and arrived in India. He crossed the Indus and arrived in the Kingdom of Taxila where the King, who had heard of Alexander's conquest of the Persian empire, offered Alexander his army if he spared his kingdom.

King Porus of Punjab lived on the other side of the river Hydaspes and hated the King of Taxila. He hated him even more for surrendering to Alexander and determined not to submit to the invaders. When Alexander's envoys summoned him to Taxila, Porus refused to go, replying that he could only meet a king as an equal. Alexander's army marched towards the Hydaspes and saw 100 of Porus's elephants arrayed on the other side of the river. Behind the elephants were 1000 chariots and 40,000 infantry. Alexander realised a direct crossing was impossible and the river was rising with the melting of the snow so he waited a while. Porus's spies reported that the Greeks were gathering a huge store of grain so Porus assumed that the invasion had been delayed.

One morning Porus heard that boats filled with horses were crossing the river 30 miles upstream. Alexander had moved a third of his army up there. Porus did not believe that this was the main invasion and sent his son up there with 120 chariots and 2000 men. They were swiftly defeated by the Greek archers and the nimble Macedonian cavalry. Porus then decided to march his whole army up river. He led the way in spectacular fashion: he was over 6 feet tall and rode astride the largest elephant, carrying the image of the warrior god Indra.

The Greek archers attacked the Indian left flank whilst the cavalry charged the right flank. They then launched a surprise attack from the rear which caused the elephants to panic and stampede, trampling Porus's infantry to death. Porus was wounded and dismounted his elephant to drink some water offered by Alexander's envoys. They led him to their leader. "How would you like to be treated?" asked Alexander. "Treat me, Alexander, like a king," Porus replied. Alexander was so impressed by the man's dignity that he allowed him to keep his kingdom and extended its borders.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Devalued to death

I am hearing that the North Korean Finance Minister, who oversaw the chaotic currency devaluation last December, has been executed. The North Korean won was devalued from 100 to 1, wiping out people's savings and causing a scramble for US$ and renmimbi. The rice price rose fifteen-fold.
Perhaps we should reinstate hanging, purely for corrupt and/or incompetent MPs, or at least public flogging?
(Cartoon from Edward Lear via

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Odysseus and twelve of his crew, on their way home from the Trojan War, landed on the island of the Cyclopes (one-eyed giants) in search of provisions. They came across the cave of Polyphemus, and went inside hoping to steal food while Polyphemus was away tending his flock. Being inquisitive, Odysseus wanted to see what a Cyclops looked like, so they hid in the cave until Polyphemus returned.
That evening, Polyphemus herded his flock of sheep and goats into his cave and, for safekeeping, rolled a huge boulder across the entrance, not knowing the Greeks were inside. On seeing the one-eyed giant, Odysseus and his men gasped in disbelief, giving away their hiding place. Polyphemus rushed forward, killed two of the men, devoured them, then fell fast asleep. Odysseus relished the thought of killing Polyphemus, but knowing full well he and his men could never remove the boulder from the cave entrance, he devised an escape plan. On waking the next morning, Polyphemus caught two more of Odysseus' men, and ate them both for breakfast. He then rolled back the boulder, allowing just enough room for his flock to get out, then rolled the huge rock back into place, leaving the Greeks inside ready for his next meal. Meanwhile Odysseus and his men sharpened a stout pole and hid it ready for that evening.

As dusk grew close Polyphemus returned, again rolling back the boulder and letting in his flock. He caught two more Greeks, killed them and ate them. He then asked Odysseus, "What is your name?" Odysseus replied "Outis" (in Greek this means "nobody"). Odysseus offered Polyphemus a full goatskin of wine and when he had finished the last drop Polyphemus fell asleep. This was the time to take action: Odysseus and four of his men brought out the pole and with one great thrust plunged the point into Polyphemus' eye, pushing it in deep, to ensure it made him totally blind. The agonizing pain made Polyphemus scream so loud that the neighbouring Cyclopes rushed in to see what was wrong. "Who is hurting you?" they asked. Polyphemus screamed "Nobody is hurting me!" Assuming he'd been punished by the gods, the other Cyclopes left again.
At daybreak, Polyphemus rolled the great boulder from the mouth of the cave to let out his flock, but being totally blind, and knowing the Greeks would try to escape, he felt each animal as he let it pass. Odysseus and his men clung on to the underside of the sheep and, one at a time, escaped from the cave. They quickly ran to their ship and once aboard, Odysseus taunted Polyphemus by telling him his true identity, and Polyphemus, realising he had been tricked, hurled rocks at the ship, trying to smash it to pieces. When Odysseus had made his escape, Polyphemus prayed to his father Poseidon asking him to send a curse, and throughout the rest of Odysseus' journey home, Poseidon was his enemy.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Chinese caption of the day

Monday, March 22, 2010

Bad joke of the day

A man walks into a pet shop and asks if he can buy a fly. "We don't sell flies," the shop assistant says, "this is a pet shop." The man replies, "But I saw one in the window."

Friday, March 19, 2010

Poem of the day

Nowadays we worship at Saint Tesco,
At first the neighbours seemed a little shocked,
But then, Saint Tesco's doors are always open,
Whereas Saint Cuthbert's doors are always locked.
It's hard to get to know the congregation,
And the vicar isn't actually ordained,
They haven't got a pulpit or a chancel,
But they've got enormous windows, and they're stained.

I'm glad we're in the parish of Saint Tesco,
I feel so happy walking down the isle,
The Reverend was rather gloomy,
But the check-out girls have always got a smile,
Their uniform is anything but dreary,
It's polyester cotton, and it's striped,
Pretty tunes come floating down from Heaven,
It isn't organ music, but it's piped.

Thank heaven I converted to Saint Tesco,
I find the new religion suits me fine,
It's altogether younger than Saint Cuthbert's,
Where the congregation all look ninety-nine,
The vicar used to talk about the prophets,
But he didn't mean the same as you or I,
He couldn't hold a candle to Saint Tesco,
And anyway his steeple's not as high.

Sometimes I dream I'm sitting in Saint Cuthberts,
In the old pew where water always dripped,
I can smell the incense sweetly burning,
And the rising damp that flourished in the crypt,
Today no candles twinkle in the window,
And no confetti lingers at the gate,
No more blushing brides and bouncing babies,
Verily. It's past it's sell-by date.

But business is booming at Saint Tesco's,
The worshippers are spending more and more,
They're getting such a throng on Sunday morning,
That they are going to reinforce the floor,
Frankly, it's been a revalation,
On Sundays now we relish going out,
And seeing all that inexpensive lager,
Has made my husband so much more devout.

They're stripping out the timber at Saint Cuthbert's,
It doesn't earn enough to pay its keep,
They ought to take a lesson from Saint Tesco,
And learn to pile it high and sell it cheap.
Some ladies still are singing in the choir,
Of the earth they will inherit if they're meek,
But Saint Tesco have on high the voices of angels,
With all the special offers for the week!

Yet sometimes in the busy supermarket,
Above the merry ringing of the till,
I fancy I can hear the church bell ringing,
From Saint Cuthbert's on the hill,
The bell has gone, the roof, the stained glass windows,
I dare say it's a merciful release,
For nowadays we worship at Saint Tesco,
It's closing time Saint Cuthbert;Rest in peace.

Pam Ayres

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A ghostly dream

I dreamed the ghost of a dead friend telephoned me. "Where are you?" I asked. "Where do you think I am?" came the sarcastic reply. "Can you see what's happening on earth?" I asked. "I can," he said, "but I'm very busy and haven't much time for that."

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Redshirt rally

Here's a photo of the Redshirts from a friend in Bangkok.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

God save the Queen!

There's a good anecdote in today's FT about one of its writers, Gideon Rachman. He was in Tokyo, participating in a conference about world affairs, economics and monetary policy. He commented afterwards to a Japanese translator, "That must have been difficult, especially with all those references to QE." She replied, "Oh no, that's easy - it's Queen Elizabeth."

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Ides of March

I am remembering Julius Caesar who was murdered on this day in 44BC. Dante placed Brutus and Cassius in his lowest level of Hell, their feet in the jaws of Lucifer. Only Judas Iscariot suffers worse treatment: his head is inside Lucifer's mouth whilst his back is skinned by the devil's claws.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Your inflexible friend

Having experienced problems with using my credit card overseas, I phoned Visa to tell them the dates I'd be in Sri Lanka. There were no problems with my card and they even sent me a text message wishing me a happy holiday.
My colleague has just returned from a business trip in New York. His corporate HSBC Visa card was refused at his hotel and he had to spend 20 minutes speaking to HSBC to prove his identity. All was ok. The following day he was taking a client out for dinner and presented the card to pay the bill. It was declined again...

Thursday, March 11, 2010


Isn't it staggering that top public sector employees are being given a pay freeze while MPs, after all the expenses scandal, are offered a 1.5% increase?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The land of Serendip

Back from Sri Lanka, the land of tea plantations and egg hoppers and a great antidote to our winter of discontent. We spent a few days in Galle where the fort built by the Dutch in 1663 saved the old town from the tsunami. We missed the Galle Literary Festival which is in its fourth year, founded by Geoffrey Dobbs, a leading ex-pat light down there and we also missed the elephant polo where an Australian player narrowly escaped being killed by an elephant she was riding last year. Nevertheless, cricket, croquet and good company were enjoyed as were a few days on a palm beach further south.