Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Trains Of Thought

The debate continues about the HS2 project, the High Speed Train, from the inner suburbs of London to the inner suburbs of Birmingham to save a few minutes on the journey at a cost of now £50 billion and rising.  The starting price, I think, was £15 billion.

A blunt clear exposition of the fake and faulty economics of the scheme are dealt with by John Redwood in his blog which tally with my own view. The railways have been with us for near 200 years ago and have been the cause of almost as many financial disasters as major train crashes. 

In 1845 The Railway Mania all but wrecked the entire economy and played a major role in worsening the effects of hunger and famine across The Atlantic Isles as the corn dealers and growers joined the bankers and brokers in the debtors prisons.

These 1960's trains were an early form of luxury HST, the Blue Pullmans which indeed offered a special and expensive service to those that used them.  Also, they were rather faster than the ordinary services.  They attracted publicity but not profit.

What they did do was to pave the way for the later 1970's HS trains, the 125's which gave faster, more comfortable trains but running frequently and at prices that were just about affordable for most people rather than a select few.

In short British Railways learned the hard way that what was needed was general improvements in trains and facilities for the bulk of the travelling population across as much of the network as possible.

Monday, 28 April 2014

450 And Alive And Kicking

What is the secret of Shakespeare?  It is not so much a secret  but information lost, forgotten, not looked for or not realised.  Some of this has been covered before in a longer item, linked below.

These are added comments.  One is that he grew up in a house of business with a father in constant and continuing work with others senior in trades and many working people.  The business records are lost but we can imagine what they would have involved. 

Critically, he published and in London with enough surviving copies for others to use and draw on.  It is now being admitted that he was not likely to be some lone intellectual in a garret struggling with the words but a business man in property, an impresario and a man with theatres to fill.

My guess is that the structure of the plays could have been the product of joint effort with senior actors and others.  Once more or less in place the words followed.  When it came to words, Shakespeare was gifted, capable and disciplined.  He would have been aware of the timing and the amount needed.

Life in those days offered intense, continuing and relentless verbal exchange.  This would have been with persons of different classes, trades, standing, attitudes, experience and much else.  The living of life was in a flood of personal contacts of all descriptions.

This previous blog of 25 October 2011 suggests at length that what mattered would have been the prime "network" in which he operated.  It is a complicated tale not just of country folk but of part of London society as well.

An earlier blog of 12 October 2010 had also referred to this in the context of an item having a go at Andrew Marr for being rude about bloggers.

Another matter is that in going back to his time we need to put aside our present maps and notions of transport and movement.  It was a different England then and another world of travel.  We have forgotten not only how the roads ran but how much use may have been made of local waterways. 

The maps were different.  Before the tidying up of county boundaries of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries there were many enclaves of one county within another, notably around the West Midlands and Cotswolds.

Just south of Stratford there was a large tract of a part of Worcestershire within Warwickshire until 1931.  It was in the Hundred of Doddington and at one time had been connected to the Abbey of St. Mary's of Pershore.

Just this month the Royal Ballet have based their latest major narrative ballet on his play "The Winter's Tale" a work with a complicated plot and emotional content.  The reviews have been welcoming and we enjoyed it having seen the play more than once and firstly long ago at Stratford.

Four hundred years on and his work still inspires and informs new productions in different ways.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Shooting The Messenger

One of the hardships of life is to be the bringer of bad news.  Or, if not that, to be the person who says what people do not want to be said whether by accident, purpose or in the course of debate.

An occasion of being in this position was as a junior in an organisation.  In open forum elsewhere in the summer of 1967 I expressed the view that the value of the pound sterling was under stress and might suffer devaluation.

A few days later, back at the shop the boss was more than livid on being told this, he was rabid.  This was high treason, the grossest lack of patriotism, a shocking lack of faith in the ancient tradition of nation and the rest.  The senior staff nodded their heads and looked askance.

Then this happened a few weeks later when Wilson cut the value and blamed the gnomes of Zurich.  Far from being generous in defeat or congratulating me for my insight and seeking after truth the boss denounced me as a liar.  My view that there could be rising import prices was contradicted by the word of the Prime Minister that the pound in our pockets was safe.

Indeed I was one of the evil people who had brought about this national tragedy.  My seniors hastened to agree with him.  The fact that both the serious press and learned journals were my sources or that in a small town far away in the provinces I could hardly sway the money markets did not move them, so I changed jobs.

The reluctance to accept bad news or unwelcome advice or information seems to part of the psyche of so many humans, too many and especially in the higher ranks.  More damaging is that when truth does emerge it is called a lie and those who try to admit to and deal with it are liars and enemies.

You may choose your own choice examples of this syndrome from the recent past.  It is an integral part of the many and various political, financial and other disasters we have had.  What is more worrying is the modern management theory and structures create systems where this is a necessary function.

It was an attitude built in to the last Labour government and prevalent in the present Coalition.  Over in Washington DC the State Department almost gives master classes in the art of evasion.  It is hard now to find either a government or a major organisation that does not operate on this basis.

If you couple this with what is known as Resource Curse, see the long Wikipedia article, then there are all the makings for a lot to go wrong.  There are a number of commentators who expand the concept of this Curse to nations over dependent on other activities, in the case of the UK financial services.

There is a good deal to read on this subject out on the web but much less on the peculiar psychology of the human condition that is unwilling to seek or recognise reality or truth, or when it is revealed to blame and defame those who stumble on it.

Once we had a god or gods to remind us of some of our mistakes and follies along with shamans, oracles, soothsayers and priests or preachers to make sure we heard some bad news and understood it.  These days we have moved away from these sources to ones that tend to tell us what we want to hear or are amused by.

There is a price or prices to pay for this and the bills are beginning to come in.

Friday, 25 April 2014

Taking The Pulse

In the olden days before parents could be gaoled for asking teenagers to do something useful I was packed off to help an uncle sort his surgery papers out.  In 1951 he had just qualified as a doctor at a rather later age than most. 

Other matters had delayed him between 1939 and 1946, one of the few men to see service at both Dunkirk and the North West Frontier with a trip to North Africa in between.  He had this notion that his job was to deal with patients and he needed a body to put paper in the right places.

So I can truthfully claim to have been active in the National Health Service in its earliest years.  My uncle had a basic problem as a fresh junior doctor in an established practice.  He was anxious to fit in and work within the new NHS scheme of things. 

His senior partners did not like it at all and went their own way as far as possible.  After a short time he moved on to establish his own practice and work within the system rather than against it.  It was a common story in the NHS not just at the beginning but for some time after.

Over the next few years there were medical connections in both the Army and studying as well as doing the odd stint for uncle and some fellow doctors dealing with their papers.  The reality was often different from the image and the doctors were about as easy to organise as herding cats.

The culmination of all this and the impact of increasingly rapid change and development in many areas led to many areas of dispute and uncertainty and problems in provision and management.

One that did occupy a lot of time and trouble was that between the NHS and the Medical Officers of Health service in local authorities.  Being in the middle of a situation where the MOH did not talk to other chief officers and the GP's and hospital doctors did not talk to the MOH required diplomatic skills of a high order.

This was resolved, up to a point in the 1974 creation of Area Health Authorities.  The professionals, the doctors and consultants still called the shots and in theory there was unity.  But in the medical profession old habits died hard so a lot of conflict and uncertainty still arose.

This was all very well, but now there was big money, new hospitals to build, new services needed and new forms of treatment and techniques.  The professionals had learned to manage on the job, if at all, with a handful of financial and law people to man the crow's nest.

It was not anarchy although those wanting ordered structures and accounts to be in balance sometimes may have thought so.
Politicians had to "do" things for the NHS and make promises.  These had to be popular both with the public and the staffs.

Those old generations of medical staff have gone.  Also gone in the recent decades of change is the idea that the professionals are in charge.  Now we have management essentially working to idea's and rules culled from business or organisation theory.

For the people most of their ideas come from media coverage or fiction or all the claims made at general elections, none of which nowadays approach what is happening in real life.  One effect is that case management deals with the cases, the care element has been thrown out.

This is especially in what is called "efficiency" in which rapidity of turnover allied to reduction in the number of beds had yielded figures that suggest more is being done with less.  The trouble is the effects this has in a variety of cases where care is in fact critical to real recovery.

What many of the figures grinders and managers did not realise was that increased demands from new population and the ageing of the former one were going to challenge the basic assumptions. Also case but not care had the effect that too many were not so much cured but only temporarily fixed.

There have been other matters which were less easy to foresee in medical terms but have created their own challenges, the booze culture and weekend problems, the obesity problem and related dietary issues.

The upshot of all this is an NHS now vulnerable to any shock that might arise.  Be it an epidemic of some kind, a really prolonged bad spell of weather or air conditions or some combination of circumstances which creates a major spike in case load.

The signs in some maternity wards are that there are times when the case load exceeds any real capacity.  There are risks building up in other areas of medicine.

So what will be the bad one and when and where will it happen?

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Making Room

Another of our self inflicted problems at the moment is what we call the housing crisis.  In the late 1940's there was a severe shortage of homes and one approach was to encourage emigration.  For some, notably orphans, it was deportation.

At the time it was claimed by certain experts that the population problem was one of the factors.  These days, despite having a rather larger population suggestions that this might be an issue is frowned on for many reasons.

One factor is that that the expectation of life has risen so more live rather longer.  Despite the efforts of some NHS services to curb this trend the numbers still rise inexorably.  I really should have bought shares in zimmer frames, wheelchairs and walking sticks.

The latest reports suggest that soon there were be not enough immediate family members to support the aged and not long later there will not be enough available labour to care for the rest.  There are no plans for any radical increase in either care homes or lesser residential homes.

Economically, once day to day housing was regarded very much as consumption because of its nature and the impact on ordinary family budgets.  Nowadays, it is assumed to be largely investment because it has become not just a store of value or has value in use, it is expected to yield a significant rate of return on outlays.

To add to our troubles housing has been a key political issue for some decades leading both to short term fixes and creative accounting in government budgeting.  We may have lost sight of the wood for the trees.  So for many reasons the complications of rapid building are leading us down other roads.

Rebuild rather than new build is one approach.  In the case of the linked article it is applied to London and the more intensive use of existing areas whose older properties are either worn out or have become places to shun rather than to shelter.

There are now parts of London where unplanned use and additions to garden and other areas have made extra room but with the dangers of creating areas of semi-shanty towns.

There are different needs for some that go against the grain of that of the majority with their ideas of individualism with singles, partners or nuclear families in separate little boxes.  There are those for whom the extended family is the norm and the proper way to live.

But this is not modern living as most of us understand it and when before there have been hints of imposing on families the reactions have been strong.  We pay our taxes so the state should do the job, despite the taxes paid not being half enough to cover those costs.

One important feature of building and housing is that we have forgotten the effect of differing forms of tenure and ownership in property.  Additional to this is the muddle we have over leaseholds.  At one time leases were the usual holding, it was during the 20th Century that we saw the shift to freeholds.

The consequence was that when leasehold streets reached the end of the then relatively short leases the way was open to major redevelopment.  There were downsides to this, notably the deterioration common into slum conditions as the leases came close to their end.

Last but not least is what we can afford.  Because so much property is now part of speculative finance and sometimes unoccupied as a result the market is being skewed against the ordinary buyer.  Also, as a financial operation the charges have gone up as well, adding to cost and credit issues.

It is difficult to see much improvement.  Another economic crash might do for the prices but it might make it impossible for more people to afford what housing might be available.  America has been a stark example of this.

It is yet another key area of life, politics and policy where few understand what is happening and fewer realise the serious consequences of potential extensive failures in both the market and in social provision.

How London Lost The Scots

Another day another rant.  Today we are told that, officially, the Cornish are a minority.  It depends on what you mean by Cornish, assuming that all those distant urban second home owners are not and perhaps the retired from here and there. Or are they now?

Also, the mothers of some of one minority group are being urged to discourage them from going to Syria to fight for a cause and then returning to carry on the fight here.  Today, London is no longer "English", it is a collection of minorities as are other urban areas, The gang disputes, some armed, are part of the scenery. 

Currently our media is spending a lot of its non celebrity time and coverage on the centenary of the outbreak of the The First World War and what followed it.  In the context of the coming Scottish Referendum they would do better to look back fifty years and after.

On the web there is footage of the 1968 disbandment of The Cameronians, the 26th Regiment of Foot which has no successors.  It was a moving and very sad occasion when one of the finest and proudest regiments of the line was scrapped without one leading figure of the government showing up.

This was part and parcel of the Wilson government's Army reorganisation which was ill thought out and botched; done in haste and with little awareness or recognition of the role played by many regiments in their local communities, notably in Scotland. 

Inevitably, it was a blow to many and to what the Union really meant.  The whole business was a Westminster farrago done to balance the books, or rather unbalance them in a different way.  There was little consultation and less attention paid to wider considerations.

Not to be out done, the successor Conservative government under Heath looking at the problems and financial state of many local authorities after inflation decided that the easy answer was a large scale reorganisation for 1974.  It amounted to a revolution of local government and health services coupled with a strong dose of centralised control.

Much of it made little sense in England or Wales and even less in Scotland.  One major feature lost in the Westminster smog was the particular and different nature of community and administration in Scotland where there had a strong tradition of local awareness and management.

The entry into Europe was a Westminster driven project, how far this has been good for Scotland or not is arguable.  It has not been good for the Union as governance and law has shifted to Brussels. Also, I recall, the UK once had a thriving fishing industry given away by London.

After 1979 the Conservative attempts to reorder and redefine the economy and the world role of the UK was London centric and weighted to the South East of England.  One part of the failures of that period was the effect of the unlucky takeover of the National Union of Miners by Scargill and his Yorkshire cronies.

Personally, I have little doubt that if Mick McGahey, with whom I was acquainted, had become President, for all his Left wing beliefs he would never have made the mess that the Yorkshire mob did in addressing the needs of the coal industry.  The backwash and consequences of that impacted with severity in Scotland.

If you add to that the knee jerk reorganisations of the Conservative years and then the creative destruction of the Labour Blair and Brown era you are left with the diminishing number of those who do vote having a profound distrust of politics and politicians and a disenchantment with a London centred and obsessed media.

Where that vote will go and to what purpose may well be to parties other than those of the longer past.  In Scotland, often it is to the SNP.  If London has little or nothing to offer them Brown's appeal to save the Scottish Labour Party will not be enough.

In 1914 it was a dangerous and unpredictable world in which blinkered and aggressive elites collided in a war that should not have happened which changed both the maps and societies. 

In 2014 we are in a dangerous and unpredictable world where what might start as a local crisis or squabble in any of the unstable areas could turn into something worse.

In London we have governments that know little and understand less and more and more without counterweights from across The Atlantic Isles to correct the balance of power.

The picture above is where my flesher ancestors once killed the beasts before the Royal Burgh built an abattoir in the mid 18th Century.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Friends And Neighbours?

The news that a pub called "The Saxon Shore" in Herne Bay down in Kent is at the centre of a row because it used the Union Jack instead of the flag of St. George on 23 April, St. George's Day, is another cobblestone on the road to the Scottish Referendum.

The whole issue is now into the realm of a Neverland of fantasy, imaginative storytelling and a world far removed from reality.  Alex Salmond decided to reprise his role as the Tinker Bell fairy of politics by venturing south to Carlisle while David Cameron was off somewhere being a less than convincing Peter Pan.

For those uncertain of the meaning of Neverland, Tinker and Peter go to Wikipedia.  All this was once the stuff of childhood in the days when we all needed to be removed from reality as often as possible.  Those days may be about to return.

After decades of stoking up resentments, picking fights and indulging in quasi racism against anything English and taking as his model the dynastic and tribal atrocities of the past Salmond has suddenly turned coat.

He now proclaims, mindful of the marginal voters, that all will be well on the divorce and we will be a happy couple, friends and neighbours, living in the same social housing in a sharing new relationship.

The Union was born in 1603 in a political and economic shambles with the accession of King James VI of Scotland to the throne of England during a plague epidemic; the previous monarchs of England having slaughtered many of the other possible candidates.

A century of upheaval and strife in Europe and Britain led in 1707 to the union of the parliaments with the Scottish elite essentially buying into the expanding English empire, renamed British.  Again it was a time of political and economic shambles.  Broadly, it was religion, money and Empire that kept the show on the road.

If anyone thinks that this separation or divorce is going to be friendly, easy and all done and dusted in a couple of years or so then it will not.  There are all the makings of a long, nasty, dispute ridden, costly and dangerous continuing political crisis.

This is not because it is a purely local matter.  It is of interest to too many others with interests and with a stake in the eventual outcomes.  To expect to be free of outside interference or complications is to be both naive and very stupid.

To add to that it will all happen in an uncertain world riddled with economic and financial weaknesses as well many locales at risk of flaring up into violence and conflict.  Because we are now prisoners in a globalised world where the money flows are out of our control.

Our politicians would all do a lot better to tell us what could be coming and the costs.  This is because we are not just going into one Neverland, there are too many parallel ones.  The EU is one, the United Nations another and there are many of them that we are connected to.

What happens if we cannot borrow our way out of the consequences?  Will we find ourselves being ruled directly by Commissioners from Brussels, or the UN and the cohorts of the IMF?

Monday, 21 April 2014

Young Dogs And Old Tricks?

This blog is dated as composed on 8 May 2010.  The extent to which it was right or wrong is left to you.


The present uncertainties arise for a number of reasons.  Our new crop of youthful members of parliament has grown up since the late 1980’s.  There are some remnant old stagers around as well as those on the Left who burble incessantly about Mrs. Thatcher.  This seems to be their modern fetish in line with the worship of antique pop groups. 

Back in the 1950’s I do not recall us wittering on about Ramsay Macdonald or paying good money for 1920’s ballroom dancing melodies.  As for dancing the Charleston, I mean my Dad did that and well who wants to do that kind of thing?

For all of her media dominance and thrust of her personality, Mrs. Thatcher still presided over a party of many parts.  It was a coalition of one kind, unluckily because of the electoral system with some bits missing that should have been there. 

Old Labour always was a coalition where the Methodists traded uneasily with the Marxists, never mind the rivalries of the many trade unions. 

Nowadays, but not then, you will find the boilermakers in with the collective of sex workers and a bundle of local government personnel and shop workers as in the GMB, yes dear reader, I am a member of that union, it is a long and strange tale.

Under John Major the old Tory party began to disintegrate and despite the efforts of its publicity people is still fragmented.  The difficulty now is that under the Great Leader concept of party management the old checks and balances have gone and it is very messy. 

New Labour has abandoned its traditional base to build up a client base by huge spending in the public sector.  It has created a new middle class who are not so much consulted as directed by media and modern management techniques and whipped along by bonus payments and target setting. 

The BBC is a case in point.  The dictatorial nature of Old Labour originates amongst the extreme Left groups that so many of them belonged to whose intellectual inspiration was East Germany.  The Liberal Democrat’s began as a coalition of sorts, essentially the dissatisfied meeting the disorientated. 

Bits that might have remained have dropped off, as Greens and such, but they have become a raggle taggle bunch of camp followers who can see only Europe as the future and Britain as an off shore base for good intentions for the world who will take no notice.

In office New Labour took advantage of its position by the process of “creative destruction” which has been very effective on the destructive side but very bad on the creative.  They have certainly created unsustainable debt and expenditure levels but not much else. 

The only people with whom they have compromised are the money men and the big spenders.  For the rest of it they have steam rollered Parliament, dismantled the old civil service, the Foreign Office cannot even be civil to The Pope, and have created a web of entities and activities too big either to control or to co-ordinate.

In short none of the three major parties has any real experience of the nature of discussion, manner or management of a real coalition situation and of their members few have either grown up or been obliged to conduct any serious business or work in negotiation to achieve the results needed. 

It is quite literally like putting not so much the lunatics in charge of the asylum as the predatory animal packs in charge of the zoo.

Historically, at different times and in different places similar situations have arisen before and the results are not happy ones.  In some cases the political entities just disintegrate as a whole, in others one form or another of absolute government occurs, perhaps after a period of bloodshed and misery. 

Occasionally, the state concerned just staggers on from one disaster to another.  Lastly and all too often the state goes off the map as it is taken over by outsiders in one form or another.

Is anyone taking bets?


Will this be a winner or loser?

Sunday, 20 April 2014

What's In The Papers?

In the past, even recent, the trade of history writing was done by people who accessed old records and writings and then presented their findings in varying ways.

There were those who stuck to what was there in the documents some trying to allow for faults and any unreliability.  There were those who used this information for analysis on a limited scale.  The there were those who had grand theories and ideas about the sweep of history.

One reason we had to rely on them was the sheer time, effort and trouble that goes into the research.  This could be immense if trying to disentangle scattered papers or if it meant long and worrying trawls through piles of it.

With increasing digitisation of records it is now possible to do some things very quickly and at the touch of a keyboard.  One area that I find fascinating is in the digitised newspapers where with a little skill you can call up vast amounts of reports very easily.

Chasing events and names not just through a limited number of London based national papers but around what comes up from local sources is proving fascinating.  The perspective of major events seen through local eyes is one aspect but the coverage of local interests takes us into the detail of a world that has gone.

Looking for a name from the past revealed surprises.  The assumption was that he was someone of minor interest.  To find him alongside the great and the good and part of his local elite, aristocrats and all.  But one way to look at what was going on is to go down the lists of names to see who was where doing what.

A choice example was the Salisbury Infirmary or Hospital.  Established and based on entirely voluntary contributions its local board attempted to provide medical services in a district that was thought to be of too small a population to support such a facility.  The board and associated committees were not simply local businessmen or such.  Those involved included British aristocrats, gentry, local businessmen and the branches of many mutual organisations for the working class.  

In the late 1930's it was clear that the need to expand was there but against this was an increasing and worrying deficit.  So in came one of the Royal Family, Princess Alice of Gloucester, wife of Prince Henry, third son of King George V, for a state visit in 1937.

There was a huge turnout of everybody who was anything with public and major ceremonial, crowds lining the streets, troops on parade and the whole bang shoot.   A nice touch was when posies where given to the Princess on behalf of the mutual societies they were presented all by girls named Alice.

Following through into 1939 what was striking were the many reports of activity and preparation for war at local level in several ways early in the year.  Whatever was going on at national level the local authorities were doing a great deal to be ready and on their own initiative.

Near 80 years on this kind of melding of national figures, local figures and the people across the country is not just unthinkable today but impossible.  The dead hand of centralisation and big government allied to big media has crushed the life and meaning of local affairs and government.

It is only by seeing directly into the past that we understand how much has been lost never to be regained.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Wandering Thoughts

There are a number of blogs that often do a set of links either as a main feature or as an adjunct.

Today is a day when the old mental faculties want a rest, so this device is being used.  Do not seek to find a common meaning or message.

I once impressed a group of politicians by telling them I had been selected as a random sample for my opinion.

Another bubble another bust is what Zero Hedge is telling us about the US housing market and there are the signs of slippage there that resemble the 2005 situation.

An issue forgotten at peril from the LSE is about the complexity involved in being a member of key international organisations now vital to the function of a modern state.  It may not be enough for Scotland to send blue stained serial killers wielding claymores to murder those in the way.  The one I liked was having to set up a Patents Office from scratch.

My brain hurts is a medical one suggesting that in another complex system, the human body, gut problems may be very much involved in what goes on in the mind.

The Class War is not over from a fellow blogger puts me in my place but the Monty Python clip is worth the time.

Something to sleep on tells us we are not alone in our basic wants and desires.

There is a cup of tea issue which needs resolving.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Is It Going To Rain?

Last winter it was fair to say that here in the UK we had an inundation.  We were assured that it was due to a curvy jet stream and this did not happen very often. 

Also, there are other stories of how it could happen, one being pollution in the Pacific doing things to temperatures and air flows.

Curvy Jet Steams are nothing new in an article in Science Daily and have happened before.  The article is longish and covers a good deal of research ground but tells us that weather shifts and associated climatic fluctuations are the norm.

The one dealt with around four thousand years ago is from a time before mankind really went into carbon making, we think.   

It may be if this was a time of population growth needing more land to cultivate more forests were burned but that may well have not been enough.

Which raises the awkward question that if indeed there are real changes on the way it may not be mankind it could be whatever else Earth has to throw at us.  What if the idea of change is right but the cause different to what we think?

Population depends on crops.  Crops depend on weather.  Weather depends on air flows and sea temperatures.  So are the air and sea affected by population or not?


Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Picking Up The Bills

It was the duty day of the week today, the one where we have to do the shopping.  Looking at the bill my personal financial adviser aka fund manager aka forensic accountant concluded that it was a bad day at the office.

Inflation is said to be reduced and experts are going into panic at the perils of low inflation for the future of the economy but on the car park we were wondering why the cost of our routine purchasing is now so high and rising rapidly.

Looking at the media there are a raft of stories about sharp rises in property values, how rents are rocketing and all the things people claim they can no longer afford.  For those with cars to repair or care for costs are also well up.

The short answer is that the indexes are now restricted in scope and no longer reflect the broad sweep of expenditures.  As soon as the full reality of the obligations and needs of life are looked at then we do have inflation and it is not checked and it is doing the usual damage to the economy.

A reason why so many complain or have real concerns is that so many are living at the margins.  Effects of this are less voluntary "saving" and when straying across the margins the accumulation of increasing debt and interest liabilities.

Savings is a word with many meanings.  It might be long term aimed at a future pension.  It might be intended for future consumption.  But it might be needed either for essential replacements or future bills.  Sooner or later this or that will need repairs, new parts or stop working.

Low interest rates may do wonders for some people notably those in the businesses of borrowing big but for the kind of savings that are in effect future required expenditure many people are fighting a losing battle as prices rise inexorably and these days often more than income.

Because of the intensity of present consumption allied to the rapidity and uncertainty of money flows it is not balanced but delicately poised for many possible shifts and in directions we do not expect or plan for.

So don't believe a word of what they say.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Capten, Art Tha' Sleepin' There Below?

As someone increasingly detached from the world and indeed reality it is a strange place to live in.  It could be the other way round, reality is mine and it is the world that is becoming detached.

At the sight of this picture there was a small point of detail which made me think that global warming and the rise of sea levels had gone much further than I thought.

If you look at the rear of the vessel you will see the name Luxembourg.  The Principality is on the River Moselle, a big river, but nowhere near that big. 

So how was it that a formerly land locked state had suddenly become a port for huge sea going vessels?  Reading the item on the Tax Justice blog explained all.  Luxembourg has become a place for choice for the registration of ships.

Apparently, it occurred to Luxembourg that if they offered a cheap deal on this shipping lines would, if not sail, flock to them to get the legal bit done.  It would be a nice little earner for the state in these difficult times.

Once it was a matter of pride for ship owners to register in the ports and countries of their origin.  No longer, it is one of those bureaucratic formalities where cheapest is best, especially if some inconvenient matters can be avoided, like tax and legal liabilities.

It is a pity that ploys of this kind cannot be dealt with by the relevant governing authorities.  For example, if English football clubs could play only in the leagues in the state where the actual ownership of ultimate financial control was lodged it could transform world football.

The issue, however, it becoming serious.  In the developed west two blades of the economic scissors are at work.  One is that more and more assets are owned by others. 

The other is that many of those assets together with those owned theoretically by nationals of western states have ultimate ownership listed in the "off shore" entities we call tax havens, albeit that some, like Luxembourg, Andorra, Switzerland etc. are very much on shore.

In an era when predatory extractive finance has become paramount with increasing returns demanded from both working elements and the gaming sectors of operations the economic stresses require states to keep sloshing funny money into the system to keep it all afloat.

If it does not work then we will all sink together and the ships will have nowhere to go to.  Keep your eye on the Baltic Dry Index, one of the interesting economic markers.  

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Wherefore Art Thou Bootle?

I was brought up to believe that my family were Liverpool born and bred down the generations.  Taken by the sad urge to find the family history, the reality was different. The terrible torturing truth was that Bootle appeared in the records. Others have been prey to this deception in many ways.

One is to give the place name of Waterloo, a posh place on the Southport line and in the past thought to be respectable people of a status in society able to tell the difference between British Sweet Sherry and British Ruby Port.

To understand the nuances and subtle meaning of all this is not easy.  The Land of Scouse has many tribes and distinctions (and deceits) of class, faith, football, and fancy cakes.  I have no doubt that Cherie Booth, later Blair, said to be of the Waterloo petite bourgeoisie, was brought up on Samples cakes and not plain Co-op. 

One of the sayings about family history is "rags to rags in three generations".  In the case of Euan Blair, son and scion of Cherie and Tony The Traveller, it is Bootle to Bootle. 

His hat is in the ring, or gauntlet thrown down as one of Celebocracy, to have right of ownership of the title to be the Member of Parliament and Lobby Lord of the Manor of Bootle.

Once in a more romantic past there were proud people of Bootle who claimed that while Liverpool was working class it was Bootle men who did the work and referred to the border at Breeze Hill as the Khyber Pass of Merseyside.  But less us move on from all this to the present.

After a long working life of several years sweating at the computer face at the investment bank Morgan (give us your money to lose) Stanley and later the Sarino Russo work agency helping the losers to claim benefits, Euan deserves a well earned retirement at the taxpayers' expense.

Where better than at the Westminster Home For Poor Progeny of Politicians?  There he will have subsidised drinks, cut price cuisine, many home comforts and free interns to do any work.

So long as he keeps his hands to himself and makes sure his personal forensic accountant keeps the books straight he can look forward to a long profitable life.

He will have been prepared for this.  Silvio Berlusconi, the man himself, will have taught him how to distinguish between a decent Tuscan Montepulciano and a Chateauneuf du Pape at Waitrose as well as the difference between a lap dancer and a Labour Party activist.

I do hope that someone will take him to one side first and explain in a kindly way what the "Gladstone" in Gladstone Dock stands for and what goes on in such a place.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Bone Idle

We have this vision of our species being much the same as it has always been, give or take habits of personal hygiene, fashion and personal eccentricities, either single or mutual.

This is not the case it seems.  A longish item in Popular Archaeology tells us that what we were is not what we are.  It depends on what we do.  It related to the bones and they depend on the nature and demands of our activity as well as diet.

When we look at archive film of people of the past they do seem at times to be of a different breed from that which sways and stumbles round shopping malls.  But most people did other forms of work and life was much more physical for almost all people 

A key factor as Michael Pollan reminds us, is diet and not just the content but the cooking, see his RSA talk on Youtube, "How Cooking Can Change Your Life", which is sobering, in more than one way and will put you off Big Mac chips forever.

It is not the only correction to our ideas.  Science Daily tells us that Neanderthals, far from being the kind of parents who would have had Social Services hurrying to remove their children; they were models for that other more feckless breed who were new in the valley and ruining the habitat, to follow.

All this could take up time at the weekend.  Especially if after reading it your shopping and cooking habits have changed.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Pause For Thought And Memory

There are times when events can have connections that give pause for thought.  Today has seen the announcement of the loss of Sue Townsend (Wikipedia etc.), aged 68, and Richard Hoggart (also Wikipedia etc), aged 94.

Sue was a delightful, prolific and entertaining writer who made her name with the Adrian Mole (there is a Wikipedia page) books the first of which was The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 and 3/4. 

Sue was born in 1946 and when she was that age as a girl in Leicester Richard Hoggart was a Senior Lecturer at the University of Leicester in the period 1959 to 1962 before moving on to greater things.  Among a number of works the most famous was "The Uses of Literacy" of 1957 (Wikipedia page).

The University was quite close to the Linwood Girls Secondary Modern School attended by Sue.  They may have been on the same bus at the same time on occasion.  But I doubt that either of them were much to be seen at the Leicester Tigers ground on Welford Road, passed by the bus.

Richard was a very decent man, earnest and energetic in his work and with a dry sense of humour,  His book showed his concern with the loss of the old working class, its community and its culture. 

He told us that a new mass culture was being imposed and that the losses would be very much greater than the gains.  We would all become prisoners of what those who had to power to do so would decide what should be.

Both were of distinctly working class origin and the irony lies in that Sue's fame owed much to the mass entertainment means that Richard warned against, albeit as a comic form.

I hope there is an "Old Horse" as it used to be up there in the sky where they can meet and swap stories and ideas.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Is Another Sub-Prime Surfacing?

While the media, government and the herd are fixated on a limited number of matters that grab the headlines, the world turns. 

The debate about the next "big one" centres at the moment on climate, for a few population and for a small minority geophysics.

If this one is right they could all be wrong.  Because the ground is already being prepared by our politicians for a bust they will not be simply financial it will arise from energy supplies.

If you thought the last one was complicated if such a collapse does happen it will be even more difficult to comprehend, deal with and to try to escape from.

If it occurs when we have not yet fully escaped from the recent difficulties then this will compound matters.  I hope he is wrong and very wrong.

But if the politicians of many places who are scuttling about at present and confusing every issue go on as they have been going on recently, they may prove him right.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Independence For England?

It appears that Alec Salmond has said that he has no territorial claims in England.  So in 2015 could we have a Radio Cumbria incident to compare with that of Radio Gleiwitz?  Probably, or perhaps possibly, not; there may be other calculations.

If, after the next election, there is a Labour or Labour led coalition this will include a good many Labour MP's from the North.  By reaching out the hand of friendship to them he may hope they will go soft in any negotiations with Scotland.

As there could well be strong differences of view between a largely Conservative south and east and a Labour north the potential for trading off on the back of this division is easy to see.  One good reason is the confusion about what is England.

An extended but clear article on the LSE web site deals with The English Question in the form of a critique about the Liberal Democrat's total lack of ideas, policy or leadership on this question when they are supposed to be Federalist in their overall ambitions and leading and forming the debate.

If the idea of Home Rule For England begins to spread and more people in England see themselves as English rather than British it is possible that Scottish independence could provide the trigger event for that to become a much stronger feeling.

Unless our political parties find a sensible way of addressing the need for some clear policy and ideas on this subject who knows what could be the consequences of this failure?

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Marching To Time

Frantically scratching around the channels to find something, anything, which would escape the current news programmes saw that yet again the films "Fort Apache" and "She Wore A Yellow Ribbon" were on end to end.

These two films were late 1940's offerings from Hollywood starring John Wayne with strong casts.  They dealt with the US cavalry out in The West dealing with groups of First Nation peoples who disagreed with Washington DC's migration policies and plans for economic growth.

The period was the 1870's and the shadow of Custer's Last Stand of 1876 hung over the script and the content of the film.  Between 1876 and now place's the 1940's and its events at around half way.  Shortly after the films' releases the war in Korea broke out and the Wild East replaced the Wild West.

What is striking is that now with all the digital facilities, the massive archives of film and photographs, news sources and all the means of recording for the future we have a huge bank of information, written and visual to take us back to the 1940's.

But then they did not have this to look back to 1876.  There was a good deal of information in print then and some pictures but on nothing like that scale.  Go back 60 years to say, 1814, and there is even less. 

The 1870's were a time when the modern media was in its infancy.  By the 1940's it was into its teenage phase, with all the angst that entails.  Even so, its ideas and assumptions seem a long way from hours and for the last two generations almost beyond comprehension.

One of our difficulties with the past is trying to get into the minds and feelings of those alive then and their beliefs and feelings.  Sometimes it seems to have been almost another world and probably it was.  The tune, for the record, is "The Garryowen".

In the early 50's I was marching to it.

Monday, 7 April 2014

To Begin At The Beginning

The news that the play "Under Milk Wood" is being done as an opera caught the eye and gave a jolt to the memory.  How well the opera works and whether it is a success or not is in the lap if not of the gods then at least the audiences.

Wales has retained a good deal of its varied musical interests although it is removed from The Land Of Music that once it was.  But this piece is an interesting choice as opera because in its original form it may have been poetic verbal with incidental sound but there was a clear lyricism to the words and expression.

Dylan Thomas, like many others from that period has gone well out of fashion.  Once dangerously and seditious modern works have now retreated into a never never land between the new modern and the old traditional.  The late 40's and 50's are now a period we prefer to forget.

The memory lurch was that in late 1956 I turned up in London and playing rugby inevitably found myself among a group of Welshmen.  One evening when the beer money was short it was cheaper to go a theatre and they were anxious to see Under Milk Wood done as a play rather than as sound on the radio.

It was at the New Theatre, later the Albery, now the Noel Coward.  I wonder what Dylan would make of this connection to his piece which was as far removed from Noel Coward then as you could get. 

It ran for seven months, long enough for the Welsh in London to have a chance to see it, but as an unusual and distinctive play did not attract the usual West End audience.  None the less it was a striking performance and Donald Houston, I think, was the narrator.  Huw Griffiths perhaps was in the cast.

Unluckily despite the power of the internet I have yet to turn up a full cast list and wonder whether Richard Burton was involved.  One has to be careful of "false memory" because you think you would have liked him to be in the play.

This was a time when not only were there cohorts of the Welsh in London, but substantial numbers of Irish and Scots and across both the classes and locations.  There were some leanings, the Welsh to education, the Irish to health and the Scots to police, government and jobs that involved bossing people about.

This did lead to some stereotyping at the time, which was then routine and not punishable by law.  One of the consequences of the developments of recent years is that now when in London to hear those accents is becoming rare events. 

It is almost as if the numbers of other incomers have led to the effective exclusion of many ordinary people from the other parts of the Atlantic Isles.  In that period the idea of the UK included the theory that London was home for large numbers of people from elsewhere in the Atlantic Isles.

If that has effectively ceased then it is little wonder that London is seen to have become another country and the other parts of the Isles have not just begun to drift apart but to see themselves as no part of a London dominated polity.

So is it the beginning of an end?