Tuesday 31 August 2010

Government? What Government?

A few days ago I posted a comment on a site concerning the listing of all the major players in the Tax Haven networks. This was to the effect that they and their global financial associates now ruled the world and the governments that are supposed to be elected to govern are only their local accounting clerks.

We are just becoming aware of how little the UK government can actually do now in the way of making and implementing decisions and how little effect the views of the people they are supposed to represent have any real impact outside the occasional media flap.

We are all aware of how large a part the EU plays now in our day to day lives. We are still not aware of how much Labour gave away authority to non government organisations run by appointed cronies. Then there is the “landmine legislation” passed by Labour in its last weeks to disrupt and impair the work of the incoming government.

There are a large number of international agreements which restrain and affect the decisions of the UK government, of which the current debate on extradition is only a small part, however important.

In the meantime financial authority has seeped away with the gradual loss of UK control and ownership of major sectors of the economy. This has gone along with major losses of potential tax revenue to the tax havens.

This has been exacerbated by all the gross wastes in spending, a great deal arising from the surrender of authority by the government. On top of this we are having to bridge the tax gap because no taxes, no spending and borrowing means spend now and pay a lot more later.

All the libertarians who welcome the removal of wealth, profit, income and control from the economy do not realise that it does not mean freedom. It means the movement of control to an unelected and outside power base. This is not freedom or democracy, it is quite the reverse.

It seems that not only is the EU too big and bureaucratic to govern properly, but even the USA can not longer govern itself, especially with big money buying up most of the Senators and Congressmen. Around the world the story is of collapses and attrition of government and the erosion of any real democratic politics.

From a post by Nate Hagens on the Oil Drum web site on August 28 this week that express his concerns about the USA:


Now an insight. This thought has been swirling around in my head for some time, waiting to peek its ugly head above the grey surface. It struck me this week after having some discussions with some Washington DC inner beltway types, someone at the IEA, and someone at the Fed, that there exists no institution that is going to take a leadership role addressing our current problems.

The tea leaves are too disparate and threatening to the status quo. There also is no individual or natural demographic of individuals that on their own can reframe our value systems going forward. At a minimum, it's going to take a) education b) a 'hitting the bottom' moment and c) hard work and sacrifice from people that have the skills and passion to effect change.

But most of the people that are effecting change now are not thinking about the Federal Reserve death spiral in the coming 5 years, and what that implies for social stability and the future of global energy supplies and interconnected trade relationships.

My insight, in a nutshell, is that shouting to the world about the problems, isn't not working because people are afraid, or ignorant, or feckless, but because they don't know what to do. And this especially includes institutions.

As such, my insight this week is that neither individuals, nor policymakers (current) or institutions are going to mitigate the energy/economic/environmental tsunami coming our way. There have to be new institutions, flexible and with urgency, formed to address

a) How to get through the financial bottleneck, and
b) How to move forward with different value systems other than growth/debt based models.



Well they aren’t here in the EU, or in the UK, or in any other country. The irony is that one of the few countries that might retain some balance is Germany. And guess who wrote the constitution for the Federal German Republic?

Monday 30 August 2010

Breaking Football News

An unspecified team to play against another team from a far away country later in the week has been announced. Following an appeal against the team manager, of Mediterranean extraction, granted by telephone call to a High Court judge by the distraught WAG of a man who has not been selected, an injunction has been granted on the grounds of privacy to avoid hurting his feelings and his prospects of a highly profitable imminent media rights agreement.

The manager would not comment save to say it would make life easier in the after match analysis. The spokesman for the football authority concerned said “Who reads the programmes anyway?”


Mr. X.


Mr. X. Mr. X. Mr. X. Mr. X.


Mr. X. Mr. X. Mr. X. Mr. X.


Mr. X. Mr. X.


Mr. X. Mr. X. Mr. X. Mr. X. Mr. X. Mr. X. Mr. X.

Spectators will be blindfolded and assisted to their seats.

Representatives of the media will not be permitted to name players nor give any description that might allow identification.

The referee and officials will not be permitted to point to players or to record their names or any decision.

The judge will be available in a hospitality suite to give injunctions, guidance and committals for contempt of court as necessary.

No result of the game or associated games will be announced until the formal appeal is heard in court sometime late in 2011.

Saturday 28 August 2010

The Terminator And The Timelords

The Terminator is Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California who wrote an Op Ed piece for the Wall Street Journal that I have lifted from Zero Hedge. It is about the issues arising from public sector pension liabilities in California and how to tackle them.

The Timelords are the top officials in the UK public sector who have grossly abused their pension schemes taking over something like 10 to 20 times the ordinary pension. To this many be added the way early retirements have been used to allow constant reorganisations, restructuring and changes due to Government legislation.

In the UK the blog “The Slog” has been posting about Civil Service and other public pension funds and the risks and liabilities that have arisen from the way in which they have risen sharply in the last few years with the rise in numbers employed.

The great majority of public service pensions are middling at best, often modest, but laxity over funding in a time of increasing expectation of life has created huge deficits for which the taxpayer is liable.

It is quite simple. Take an employee on £20,000 paying in £1000 a year matched by another £1000 from the employer. At 40 years they draw a pension of £10,000 and live for eight years. The input to the scheme is £80,000 and the liability is £80,000. This was the way it was when I started work.

Times change and people with 30 years service are drawing enhanced pensions for 30 years as people live longer. Assume the payments in are the same, if a £10,000 a year pension is paid on that basis, then there is £60,000 going in and a liability of £300,000. You can see that many of the “cuts” complained about originate in local council problems with the various pension schemes.

California may be an extreme example but it stands out as something that could apply to most public pension schemes in the USA as well as the UK. In the USA in many places state and local authorities are cancelling and defaulting on their schemes.

It could happen in the UK in the public sector as it has in the private. In Europe there are worse problems in some countries. This is what Big Arnie had to say:


Recently some critics have accused me of bullying state employees. Headlines in California papers this month have been screaming "Gov assails state workers" and "Schwarzenegger threatens state workers."

I'm doing no such thing. State employees are hard-working and valuable contributors to our society. But here's the plain truth: California simply cannot solve its budgetary problems without addressing government-employee compensation and benefits.

As former Speaker of the State Assembly and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown pointed out earlier this year in the San Francisco Chronicle, roughly 80 cents of every government dollar in California goes to employee compensation and benefits. Those costs have been rising fast.

Spending on California's state employees over the past decade rose at nearly three times the rate our revenues grew, crowding out programs of great importance to our citizens. Neglected priorities include higher education, environmental protection, parks and recreation, and more.

Much bigger increases in employee costs are on the horizon. Thanks to huge unfunded pension and retirement health-care promises granted by past governments, and also to deceptive accounting by state pension funds (such as unreasonable projections of investment returns), California is now saddled with $550 billion of retirement debt.

The cost of servicing that debt has grown at a rate of more than 15% annually over the last decade. This year, retirement benefits—more than $6 billion—will exceed what the state is spending on higher education. Next year, retirement costs will rise another 15%.

In fact, they are destined to grow so much faster than state revenues that they threaten to suck up the money for every other program in the state budget. (See the nearby chart.)

I've held a stricter line on government employment and salary increases than any governor in the modern era (overall year-to-year spending has increased just 1.4% on my watch). Nevertheless, employee costs will keep marching upwards because of pension promises, and they will never stop doing so until we get reform.

At the same time that government-employee costs have been climbing, the private-sector workers whose taxes pay for them have been hurting. Since 2007, one million private jobs have been lost in California.

Median incomes of workers in the state's private sector have stagnated for more than a decade. To make matters worse, the retirement accounts of those workers in California have declined. The average 401(k) is down nationally nearly 20% since 2007.

Meanwhile, the defined benefit retirement plans of government employees—for which private-sector workers are on the hook—have risen in value.

Few Californians in the private sector have $1 million in savings, but that's effectively the retirement account they guarantee to public employees who opt to retire at age 55 and are entitled to a monthly, inflation-protected check of $3,000 for the rest of their lives.

In 2003, just before I became governor, the state assembly even passed a law permitting government employees to purchase additional taxpayer-guaranteed, high-yielding retirement annuities at a discount—adding even more retirement debt.

It's as if Sacramento legislators don't want a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, but a government of the employees, by the employees, and for the employees.

For years I've asked state legislators to stop adding to retirement debt. They have refused. Now the Democratic leadership of the assembly proposes to raise the tax and debt burdens on private employees in order to cover rising public-employee compensation.

But what will they do next year when those compensation costs grow 15% more? And the year after that when they've risen again? And 10 years from now, when retirement costs have reached nearly $30 billion per year?

That's where government-employee retirement costs are headed even with the pension reforms I'm demanding. Imagine where they're headed without reform.

My view is different. We must not raise taxes or borrow money to cover up fundamental problems.

Much needs to be done. The assembly needs to reverse the massive increase in pension formulas to government workers (including already retired workers) that it enacted 11 years ago. It also needs to prohibit "spiking"—giving someone a big raise in his last year of work so his pension is boosted.

Government employees must be required to increase their contributions to pensions. Public pension funds must make truthful financial disclosures to the public as to the size of their liabilities, and they must use reasonable projected rates of returns on their investments.

The legislature could pass those reforms in five minutes, the same amount of time it took them to pass that massive pension boost 11 years ago that adds additional costs every single day they refuse to act.

And after they've finished passing those reforms, they could take another five minutes to pass legislation terminating the annuity give-away they passed in 2003 and ending the immoral practice of pension fund board members accepting gifts or even campaign contributions from lobbyists, salesmen, unions and other special interests.

Reforming government employee compensation and benefits won't close this year's deficit. It will, however, protect the next generation of Californians from overwhelming burdens. The same is true with respect to the other reform I'm demanding, including the establishment of a rainy-day fund so that legislators can't spend temporary revenue windfalls.

All of these reforms must be in place before I will sign a budget.

I am under no illusion about the difficulty of my task. Government-employee unions are the most powerful political forces in our state and largely control Democratic legislators. But for the future of our state, no task is more important.


It will become very rough and unpleasant and the signs are that it will be the ones at the bottom of the heap that will suffer the most.

Wednesday 25 August 2010

Peter Mandelson, Who Do Think You Are?

In looking for likely lads and ladettes for their programme “Who Do You Think You Are” the BBC have been quite selective. Despite their concentrating on celebrity names poor old Michael Parkinson was deemed uninteresting, see my post on Tuesday 21 July last. The BBC shies off politicians and any with real media clout if only for the sake of safety and the retention of the regressive license fee.

So I thought I might try a home made version of one for Peter Mandelson. He was born in 1953, so long ago now, I would like to think conceived to the strains of Guy Mitchell’s “She Wears Red Feathers” on the radio. Probably not, in that his mother Mary it is said, as well at teaching him manners, preferred Vivaldi and Telemann. His father was Tony Mandelson, a politician/journalist, and is said to be the one who told him how to break the rules. I wonder which had the greater influence?

There is a possibility that his Mandelson grandparents, members of the Jewish faith arrived from Russia in the period when large numbers were fleeing Tsarist Pogroms of oppression and violence. One of the strange twists that has emerged this year is that Adolf Hitler is claimed to have DNA in the male Y chromosome of a rare kind and which occurs frequently in both Ashkenazy and Sephardic Jews. Does Peter share this ancient line?

To return to more conventional family history this leaves us with the female line. Mary Joyce, his mother, was the only daughter of Herbert Stanley Morrison and Margaret Kent who married in the Hitchin district of Hertfordshire in early 1919. Herbert went on to be a Life Peer Baron and one of the leading grandee’s of the Labour movement firstly as a major figure in London and then in Government.

Herbert was a pacifist and conscientious objector during the First World War and went to work on the land in Letchworth. Presumably, Margaret went to join him when hostilities had ended and he was nearing release. He had already been politically very active before the war. He was born in 1888 the son of a London police constable, Henry Morrison, who on retirement went into the National Call Centre, the early system used by the police and the fictional Sherlock Holmes.

His mother was a Priscilla, the maiden name would need a certificate to be sure but unusual in this context. If a look at the London police is needed and the reality of their work in the central London districts is seen then the Charles Booth Archive of his extensive studies of this period is essential. They knew their patches in detail and Booth gives them full credit. One thing he does mention is that a great many of them were Scottish in origin.

Perhaps their superior literacy, the fact that they were not local and therefore less likely to be corrupted than some of the early force and maybe that many had earlier military experience. Also, it may be that Protestants of a sterner morality were preferred.

But Henry was born in St. Marylebone around 1849 and his early life was formed by HM Customs, where he may have begun his career. His father was a William Morrison and this is the London of the age of Dickens. William married to a Lucy, was a Customs Officer. For me this is where it becomes intriguing.

There was a time in the 1840’s when one of mine, a Master Mariner puts into the Thames. He was a Yarmouth man working out of Liverpool and Dundee with many men from there in the crew. At the same time there is another vessel in the Thames with another of mine, from Greenock but born in Leith is in from South America. Awaiting the pair of them is one of my wife’s, also a Custom’s Officer. What a marvellous row they could have all had, and to think that William Morrison could have joined in.

William Morrison lists his birth place as Gosport and this rings bells. It is highly specific and not just Portsmouth or Hampshire. It brings us not only close to Dickens again who was around there during his childhood but other things. Gosport was a military Garrison and in 1820 the time of William’s birth the 42nd Regiment of Foot were there, otherwise the Black Watch.

This raises a very interesting matter, only a possibility, but one I cannot leave out. For at Waterloo there are two Morrison’s of the 42nd, an Alexander and David. Might one of these be the father of William when they were billeted at Gosport? There is ample material on the web about both Waterloo and the role of the 42nd.

Where William was in 1851 is not certain. But his wife was there and her broad East Midlands accent seems to have caused the Census taker to list her as Marison. But she is definitely the lady in the case. Also her sister is there, unmarried which gives us her maiden name.

It is Sykes, there in St. Marylebone in the time when Dickens was walking the streets of London, that we have a Mandelson ancestor who is one of the Sykes family. Literally, you could not hope for a better name in the period. Bill Sykes, accomplice of Fagin, you may recall, was one of Dicken’s major villains in the book “Oliver Twist”. It does not end there.

For Margaret Kent’s parents there are two key choices, but the one that takes the eye given her unusual musical knowledge and interests little known in this period is that of Ernest and Ellen Kent in 1911. He is a Professor of Music and his father John Kent is with them, aged 71 and born in Gloucestershire, earlier Census records list it as Cirencester.

This is the period when Ralph Vaughan Williams of Downe Ampney, a parsons’s son, nearby was composing with Edward Elgar in Worcestershire, also a son of a musician.

In 1871 John Charles Kent, married to an Elizabeth Emily has Ernest also named Beresford and it all looks very upmarket. His father, John is with him aged 69. Unluckily in 1861 the only likely John Kent I can find that matches is resident in Newgate Gaol.

So on the one side a Sykes and on the other Newgate Gaol. What an interesting background.

But to think about the early Morrison’s, should Alex Salmond hold yet another tribal gathering “Homecoming” in the style of the Scottish fantasies of Walter Scott and Prince Albert of Saxe Coburg Gotha perhaps a ceremony might be held.

Peter Mandelson in his Black Watch Kilt, Laird of Glencairn (obtainable on the internet for a price of £10, a square foot of Caithness buys you a Lairdship) would stride down the Royal Mile to the strains of the Bay City Rollers Greatest Hits.

Like any true Laird, he will have his Tail (entourages to modern celeb’s) made up of Russian Oligarchs, financial advisers, Blair and his security detail, and sundry others to have bestowed on him Scottish citizenship for which he will turn Scotland into the biggest and most bent tax haven and money laundry in the world.

Robert Burns was an Excise Officer and there were Morison’s at Mauchline in his time so all together now for Peter, “Should auld acquaintance be forgot………..”

Tuesday 24 August 2010

Turning Out Nice Again

Around a decade ago and for a while afterwards we pessimists were a lonely few brooding over figures and facts and coming to conclusions that everyone knew were hopelessly wrong or misjudged.

They thought we were just trying to attract attention to ourselves in the same way that squalling infants do when they have scratched a finger.

Then we had no means of communicating with others who shared our isolation and could only scribble things to the media who promptly binned them with all the forecasts of alien invasions or visitations of the saints in all their glory.

Now the web is full of them. You can hardly put “money” or something like it into a search engine and the screen will groan with links to armies of persons with one disaster or another in prospect about all the economic woes.

It is a relief to return to the hurricane, earthquake and volcano sites for light relief and a welcome dose of uncertainty. One happy moment this week was reading that the San Andreas fault has delivered bigger earthquakes more frequently than we have thought in the past and with luck Hollywood will be under water before the next disaster movie hits the screens.

You may not know that Herbert Morrison is the name of the radio reporter who was present when the airship “Hindenburg” crashed in flames and whose emotional reports are an essential part of any documentary on the subject.

It is one of those weird coincidences that a leading member of the post war Labour Government had the same name and who was responsible for several disasters of another kind.

He was grandfather to Peter Mandelson, economic and financial guru to Tony Blair. Tony is now to front a boutique investment bank in Mayfair to assist all his little friends with tax avoidance and playing the complex financial markets.

What role might Peter play in this scheme I wonder? More to the point, where is all the capital for this caper coming from?

Meanwhile, out there amongst the pessimists are some who have taken up the idea of “The Hindenburg Omens” (Wikipedia), a series of financial movements that presage a nasty crash in the markets. This is rarified and highly technical stuff. I enjoy looking at the charts but not attempting the mathematics.

These forecasters and experts who have turned pessimists are saying that it all going to be rough soon. Also, it may be rougher than the last two or three years. Given all the experts of one field or another who are claiming that we are now over peaks and on the way down in the supply of vital resources of all kinds they could be right.

In the UK we have major deficits in trade, energy supply, food supply and a lot of other things, so it all brings a smile to the most devoted pessimist. The thing that really makes us start to laugh is the idea of Tony Blair going into investment banking at exactly the wrong time.

And the hurricane season seems to be warming up at last.

Monday 23 August 2010

Banging Up And Bangers

We went to prison again a few days ago for the usual reasons. Purely as visitors you must understand and as part of our ordinary routine. It is now one of the few places where you can safely leave the car unlocked.

Also, the people you meet there seem happy to see you and pass the time of day without worrying too much. It is quite like old times.

It is a sort of parole to us free from the concerns of daily life. You are free from the rapaciousness, violence, threats and impersonality of modern living and do not have to be looking constantly over your shoulder and double checking everything you do for security and care.

In the shop you can actually talk to people who give you a straight answer, share a joke, are not trying to dump rubbish on you and know what they are doing. More to the point they understand why we are there.

How unlike all the supermarkets and high street shops never mind the banks and money shifters. As for travel agencies, say no more.

It the quest for simple decent food that takes us there, where we know what the stuff is and where is comes from. We can find vegetables pulled that morning and meat we know has been raised and handled properly.

In all the local usual supermarkets and shops it is now impossible to find food in packaging and especially uncovered that is not coated with levels of contamination that make you wonder what it might do to your insides.

As for the food itself in all these usual places, notably the packaged and prepared, what is being stuffed inside it and in the case of meats what the animals have been fed with beggars belief.

So our prison is a haven of sense and sound goods, somewhere that is reliable and truth told. No wonder so many of them look so well and cheerful.

What a pity it is that they do not do holiday apartments or even better service flats for permanent residents.

At least you could trust the neighbours.

Saturday 21 August 2010

Wet And Windy

For those of use who have given up on soft drinks out of cans, for cost as much as anything, never mind all the health issues this article, culled from The Big Picture tells us all a tale.

These drinks are being severely criticized by the merchants of health because of the filthy sweetening agents, addictive substances, nasty endocrine effects and alleged role in the obesity plague.

So surprise surprise that they are now vast globalised industries who have bought their way into politics and international finance.


Rather fascinating discussion of the beverage industry from Professor Philip H. Howard of Michigan State University. He concludes there is an oligolpoly, with 3 firms controlling nearly 90% of the beverage options.

This lack of competition in this industry is obscured by the apparent variety of choices. Professor Howard calls it pseudovariety – variations on themes:
“Three firms control 89% of US soft drink sales.

This dominance is obscured from us by the appearance of numerous choices on retailer shelves.

Steve Hannaford refers to this as “pseudovariety,” or the illusion of diversity, concealing a lack of real choice. To visualize the extent of pseudovariety in this industry we developed a cluster diagram to represent the number of soft drink brands and varieties found in the refrigerator cases of 94 Michigan retailers, along with their ownership connections.”

That 89% is broken down as follows:

- 42.8%: Coca-Cola’s 25 brands and 139 varieties;- 31.1%: Pepsi’s 18 brands and 163 varieties;- 15%: Dr. Pepper Snapple Group’s 20 brands and 109 varieties;

I am curious as to what % of these are junk drinks using the same cheap, unhealthy corn syrup as their sweetener, versus how many use actual cane sugar.

I find the prof’s graphic (below) bizarrely intriguing chart porn (full version here). There is also a fairly robust discussion at Hacker News.


Scotch and soda anyone?

Friday 20 August 2010

Cheese Eaters Of The World Unite!

Wallace was right, free cheese for pensioners and save the NHS!


“Cheese found to improve the immune response of the elderly.” Published in E!Science News on Thursday, May 13, 2010 under Health & Medicine

Scientists in Finland have discovered that cheese can help preserve and enhance the immune system of the elderly by acting as a carrier for probiotic bacteria. The research, published in FEMS Immunology & Medical Microbiology, reveals that daily consumption of probiotic cheese helps to tackle age-related changes in the immune system.

"The increase in the proportion of aged individuals in modern society makes finding innovative ways to thwart the deterioration of the immune system a priority," said lead author Dr Fandi Ibrahim from the University of Turku in Finland.

"The intake of probiotic bacteria has been reported to enhance the immune response through other products and now we have discovered that cheese can be a carrier of the same bacteria."

Dr Ibrahim's team believe that the daily intake of probiotic cheese can tackle the age-related deterioration of the immune system known as immunosenescene. This deterioration means the body is unable to kill tumour cells and reduces the immune response to vaccinations and infections.

Infectious diseases, chronic inflammation disorders and cancer are hallmarks of Immunosenescene.

To tackle immunosenescene the team targeted the gastrointestinal tract, which is the main entry for bacteria cells into the body through food and drink and is also the site where 70% of vital immunoglobulin cells are created.

The team asked volunteers aged between 72 and 103, all of which lived in the same care home, to eat one slice of either placebo or probiotic Gouda cheese with their breakfast for four weeks. Blood tests where then carried out to discover the effect of probiotic bacteria contained within the cheese on the immune system.

The results revealed a clear enhancement of natural and acquired immunity through the activation of NK blood cells and an increase in phagocytic activity.

"The aim of our study was to see if specific probiotic bacteria in cheese would have immune enhancing effects on healthy older individuals in a nursing home setting," concluded Ibrahim.

"We have demonstrated that the regular intake of probiotic cheese can help to boost the immune system and that including it in a regular diet may help to improve an elderly person's immune response to external challenges."


Now for some Dorset Blue Vinney, you don’t get more probiotic than that.

Wednesday 18 August 2010

Social Housing Ins and Outs

Evicting people from council houses is a fraught and difficult business. If those involved richly deserve it there can still be an undertow of sympathy for them. For any who have done little or nothing to warrant it other than to grow old or see their families depart then it seems harsh and intolerant.

So councils have a serious shortage of housing for families. The costs and time lags in new building mean it could be decades before the problem is met, even if the financial difficulties allow it to happen. Deportation or transportation as in the past is out of the question. So for that matter is 1940’s style billeting where an official turns up at the door to announce the arrival of strangers tomorrow.

A couple of decades ago in the town where I lived there was a debate about the same problem, not enough houses for families. It was a compact town, small enough to walk around and with a predictable population balance.

Then I calculated that there were around 3000 surplus bedrooms in a town of 30,000. In earlier times most, if not all, would have been occupied by sundry wider family or lodgers.

I suspect that now the number of spare rooms has increased because of the ageing of the population, the number of separated couples and more single people living in larger premises. The majority of these will be private properties which leaves only a minority as social housing. In some parts of the country now this will be a relatively small minority at that.

When councils look at its housing stock it will see a complicated picture. A lot of OAP couples and quite a few widows and widowers now alone. Additionally, some singletons in lower age groups will be occupying multi bedroom properties for a number of reasons. In the meantime the effect of New Labour policies has seen a large number of developments of private small flats in towns many of which have a high turnover or are currently vacant.

As the property market and tax and benefits system has been so distorted there is no effective market to ensure that the old and single have to move out and down size to smaller properties. It does happen but often as a lifestyle choice and not the way the market works. Moreover some have more than one property, the result of inflating prices and easy mortgages of the past.

The press have recently had stories about old people having lived with family in a council house for almost all their life whose tenancy has had some sort of glitch being served with eviction notices and this has aroused wide anger, if only because of the question “could it happen to us.”

The anger has been amongst families as well. The prospect of parents, grandparents or other relations suddenly arriving with a couple of suitcases with nowhere else to go has concentrated their minds.

There was one lovely story about two ladies who had been neighbours for six decades and had always been friends especially during their long years of widowhood. They both lived in three bed roomed houses.

The notion that they might have shared one to allow a family to take the other does not seem to have been on the radar of anyone including the local council. It has a lot of OAP voters still in its council houses.

The profligate policies of the last two decades have left us with housing issues that are now very serious and mounting in difficulty.

Whatever policy or action you care to consider has a package of nasty down sides. Whereas for the last decade governments have simply tried to spend their way out of trouble either directly or by gross inflation of the property market, the options now are becoming more limited and have neither easy answers nor popular solutions.

Soon many will be triple locking the house and garage to avoid the squatters coming in. Others will be twitching the curtains looking out for the officials walking the pavements checking their information systems with a coach load of homeless parked at the end of the street.

More will be dreading the call from granny to tell them that the men from the council have been and she will be coming to stay.

And if you Google “euthanasia” or stock up on pain killers at Tesco the rozzers will soon be round.

Monday 16 August 2010

Tsars And Social Mobility

So Mr. Alan Milburn is to be Tsar of Social Mobility. Historically, Tsars do not have a good record for administrative effectiveness or social mobility. This is why the Russians got rid of them and before then assassinated a few. Putting Alan in charge is roughly like appointing Dr. Harold Shipman to head up Age Concern but perhaps I am defaming the medical profession.

Social mobility occurs when the economy grows at a rate greater than that of the population in conditions where significant structural change occurs. This means real growth and real change and not artificially induced fixes of the figures for political reasons.

We are told that the financial sector has greatly increased in importance. This is concentrated in the South East and we hear loud wails from its chieftains that huge wages and bonuses are necessary to attract the best and brightest of the world to extract more from our economy to bet on its products.

It seems to me that if you bring in a lot of people from elsewhere into the highest paid jobs in our economy somehow this will reduce opportunities for the native population (me, my family and my relatives). If their profits and incomes have the effect of reducing ours this will exacerbate the effect. We are less likely to stay free from debt or to accumulate capital or savings.

As a person with a beady eye for the realities of history I have to point out that in the past a good deal of the social mobility of the UK occurred amongst the males. The females mostly were engaged in marriage, child bearing and certainly in the higher classes did not have paid employment. Sometimes they married below their station which could bring up their sons a peg or two. Sometimes, higher, and then pulling up other members of their family.

When we went for Equality this has had the effect of putting virtually all the upper and middle class females into the employment market in direct competition with males at entry level and junior management. Although at the topmost levels we may then find a relative shortage of females there are only a small number of those jobs.

At the middling and supervisory levels, however, the lower rungs of the ladder are occupied by many more females and I suspect largely from the middling or upper orders. In short, for your average male, depending on the extent of economic expansion there can be proportionately less room in times of growth and a lot less in times of reduced activity or contraction.

You will be very tired of me telling that in the old days chaps used to start at the lowest levels, then work there way up by part time study over many years. Today, however you need a degree, largely by full time study away from home. This is both too great a cost for many and a significant disincentive for others who would rather be in work than sitting around classrooms to little real purpose.

More and more often you need a second degree for the better opportunities. Added to that in some spheres, notably the media or entertainment, you are faced with long periods of zero income and dependence on others.

Unluckily, for native males starting at the bottom has become less easy as well. If the rate of immigration exceeds the rate of growth and the extent of employment legislation and regulation impacts heavily on job recruitment then both native males and females from lower income families will be up against it. When quota systems for balancing ethnicity result in recruitment excluding native males or females from many areas in the public sector, then even the bottom rungs of the ladder cannot be taken by many of the lower orders.

There is another complication as well. Once you worked until you dropped, now we have the notion of “retirement”. It could take some years to work your way up and seniority in status often coincided with age. Today, our irresponsibility in the way early retirement is dealt with has allowed a large proportion of the work force to be dumped out in their 50’s and recently in their 40’s.

Consequently, there are many to who lose the chance to make the final stages and I suspect this may impact on many whose origins are amongst the less wealthy a great deal more than on others. It may seem paradoxical to suggest that all the people ending work at or around 50 could impact on social mobility but it is one factor amongst many.

So all the talk of increasing social mobility in real terms is just that. In order to allow this then we have to hugely increase the rate of real economic growth against all the odds and forecasts. Moreover, we have to do this with the existing population if those people are to have any chance of mobility.

The only way to deal with the present situation is to change the world as it is. There is not much chance of this in terms of growth. But we can no longer go back to the near past or any time when social mobility was greater. New means will be necessary or perhaps old ones with an ancient tradition.

I am thinking of establishing a war band in my own area and if I can persuade other war bands to accept my leadership as a Warlord we could be in business. What I can promise, for the survivors, is social mobility on a scale undreamed of in the recent past.

Anyone interested?

Friday 13 August 2010

Normans, Saxons And Danes

The BBC has gone strong on The Normans. As ever the need to simplify and push a party line or two means that a lot is missed out. They give us Saxons, then Normans. The reality of the 11th Century is that it was very complicated and there are also The Danes as well. The fable below, 4600 words long, might explain it better than the BBC. But it is very rude in parts, has extreme stereotyping and is calculated to offend as many people as possible.


Eadric looked into the wooden bowl held between the knees of the man sitting beside him. He did not like it at all. The man evidently could not wait for a cut off one of the animals being turned on one of the several spits to be given the attention of the many cooks for spices and refinement, or the cold meats of the table and had resorted to a dish more commonly taken by the slaves or lepers.

Wulfnoth, looking up from his stirring and cutting, saw the corners of Eadric’s mouth turned down, and winked, not so much in an act of friendship but almost as a challenge. “Good old Saxon food this!” he declared, “None of your modern Danish muck.” He pulled out a piece of heavily chewed meat, rubbed it on his nose to check that the bristles were soft enough to ease between the teeth, and then put it back into the bowl to gather up some of the beaten oats and nettles that filled out the dish.

“All this smoking, curing, messing up, and spiced tastes. Get out into the forest and hold of a good wild pig. Then have the ears fried in goose fat for an hour and that’s what is fit for the King and Queen, and not all this other stuff. Ham off the bone indeed, and a rot gut called wine, and a Danish beer brewed from goats piss. Real food and Real Ale is what I want, this lot gives me an ache in the bladder.”

He began to eat again, and Eadric was grateful. The assembly had a number of large Danes, well equipped with swords and knives, and rather more dangerous, smaller ones with their double headed axes. Now that Knut had fastened his grip on England, one had to be pleasant to the Danes, it might be difficult, but it was safer. An unwise comment, as well as good ale, could leave you legless in the fullest sense of the word.

This was not an ordinary gathering, a hall feast for a marriage or to celebrate a temporary peace before the next round of battles and treachery amongst the nobles. It was a deeply religious occasion in the names of both the King and Queen. Knut and Ymme had come with a clutch of senior clergy to bestow offerings on the Abbey of the New Minster, the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Peter, and had called all those of high rank, together with a token few brought in from the lower ones for form’s sake, to join in the celebrations.

A new extension had been built to house the Golden Cross of Knut, with two golden images of saints, both festooned with precious stones, and more relics of the holy ones. There were enough bones to fill a small ossuary. The Queen’s Chaplain, Reinbald, had been blessed by a visitation of a Moorish trader from Tripoli, where the bottom had fallen out of the market for the remains of saints, and who by great good fortune was offering two for the price of one.

The relics were all presented well in decorated caskets boxes of rare Asian woods, tastefully studded with the teeth of unknown martyrs. A seal of approval was attached asserting their authenticity from the Bishop of Atlantis. For only the active males of two Essex vills, deemed by Reinbald to have been Pagan in their beliefs, so marketable as galley slaves, the Abbey of the Minster would have best relic profile in the English pilgrim trade. Alnoth, the Abbot was out of his skull with joy, shared by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Aethelnoth, and even Aelwine, holy Bishop of Winchester.

The only sour face was sat on a lower bench with a group of impertinent Housecarls; Reinbald, who the Bishops detested as much as he envied them for their position and preferment. He had spent too much time in Rome for their liking, and spoke of strange ideas. They were all fervent in their loyalty to Rome, so long as the current Pope did not bother them too much with the odder notions coming from the East.

As the afternoon wore on it became clear to Eadric that Wulfnoth was too ready with wrong words. He held recondite views on religion and politics, as well as the proper relationships between the many tribes that resided in England. It did not seem to matter to him that this was a Moot of great moment, the occasion of confirming a new Royal Hall, built of stone, high and pillared, and featuring the latest conveniences, a stone floor, glass windows, and a tile roof that would never rot.

Wulfnoth did not like the modern building styles. They cost a great deal too much, were troublesome to maintain, and the great number that the Queen Ymme was giving to the Churches meant too much land was being taken from the warrior classes, one reason of many that explained why he was a subject of the Danes and no longer a Saxon landholder. Others, notably the fastidious Franks and Normans began to be restless at his complaints.

They were the Queen’s guests who should be given every courtesy so Eadric moved to calm them down. “He’s barking mad, spent too long in the Forest staring at pigs arses. Just pity him and take no notice.” The Kings Shield Bearer, who had moved close, winked his agreement with Eadric. This was a feast not a Saxon fighting free for all.

When he resumed his place on the bench they had been joined by Aelgar, the Kings Minstrel. “Shouldn’t you be telling tales or singing?” asked Wulfnoth. The Minstrel shifted about and looked at the roof, “Later perhaps, the Queen has other ideas. But I am preparing a great Saga, it will last for many hours. It will tell of the old Gods, of the Rhinegold, The Valkyries, Siegfried and his sword Nothung, and then the Fall of the Gods. They will be held in thrall.”

Eadric gave him a soft smile, “Aelgar, don’t bother, you will be wasting your time. They only want this Frankish twittery plinky plonky, romantic, song and dance stuff. All soppy love and fondling, not a good old tale of blood and bare backed swiving with strong women.” “Ha,” Wulfnoth gave him a blow on the back, knocking the breath out of his lungs, “True all true, and now I go to show what I think of all these fool Danes and fancy Franks.” He went to the wall and relieved himself, paused, and then for good measure added a few stools, by a long way the smelliest that Eadric had encountered for some time.

The many fires in the Hall had added heat to an already warm and sultry day. The air hung heavy enough outside and had become still. Wulfnoth, a man who had a great deal of flesh on him beyond ordinary human needs was sweating very heavily. But Eadric saw that while the drink was warming his temper, his mind remained crafty. Doors had been opened to let out smoke, but the air that came in was beginning to stir and becoming damp.

Wulfnoth moved his head about, and began to grin like an ass. He stood, and it seemed that his belly almost propelled him forward into the centre of the Hall. “Oh, this a fine place,” he roared, “A very fine place, very pretty, and it cost many a penny. But it will not stand as our Saxon Halls stand, it is foreign stone, weak and shaky and it will fall.” “Villa Regalis they call it! What’s that then? It sounds like something nasty you get from a randy monk!” Some Housecarls began to laugh, but the frozen look of the Queen did not encourage the others to join them.

“This is not a place for the King to rule from, it’s a harlot’s house where the priests can tell you when and where to piss and poke.” The clatter of talk fell away, this was not good to hear, it was insulting to the High Table. But Wulfnoth went on, “I call on the ancient god of my tribe, Donner, grandson of Not, daughter of the Giants, to bring his hammer to rest here and tell us that this is a great wrong.”

The Hall was now silent, but then a buzz of anger rose. As men began to rise, the storm broke, the lightning hit a corner of the roof, shattered a part and blew some of the stonework out of the wall, leaving a wide crack jagged though the masonry.

Reinbald was quick to see that there was the possibility of affairs going badly wrong. With the many warriors from different lands, together with a mob of thirsty monks. A battle could ensue and the inevitable casualties lead to recriminations and feuds for generations. For the Great King of a Christian Empire to have a bloodbath on the occasion of the sanctification of his New Hall would not only impair Reinbald’s prospects of preferment, but lead to a collapse in the political structure of a shaky collection of fiefdoms.

He strode to the centre of the dais, ignoring the proprieties of deference to the King’s Table, lifted his arms and began to preach the Word of God, calling on the storm to cease. As he hoped, the thunder abated as the storm moved on and then he made a quick calculation as to the time of day.

Crossing the fingers at the end of his upraised arms Reinbald moved to a spot under the hole in the roof, did his trance thing, and began to chant. A break in the clouds, as happens in storms, delivered a shaft of light right on cue. Reinbald could calculate as well as preach. He was bathed in a beam of light. The assembly were held in awe, but now he needed someone to blame for this terrible event.

The advice he had given to the King about employing building workers from amongst the local population had been all too correct, but this was not the time to enter into a discussion about the appalling standards of Saxon and British builders, a scapegoat was needed within the minute before the glow of sanctity moved on in the heavens.

Wulfnoth gave a disrespectful long belch. It drew Reinbald’s eye and he recalled that Wulfnoth had told him in no uncertain terms that in his experience stone buildings were made to fall down, the Downs and many other places were littered with the remains of the old Romans. Wood and thatch were far more reliable. Reinbald, still affecting his trance, gave a loud cry of pain and pointed to Wulfnoth. For a moment Eadric thought it was him who had been fingered and shifted well away from the priest’s gaze.

“There is the creature of Satan who has brought this upon us.” Reinbald gave a few cold shivers, “He and his demons have sought to destroy the Holy Hall of the King, he is a foulness of utter horror who is the enemy of God and us all.” Eadric did think that Reinbald had a point about the foulness, but did not care to argue about the general interpretation. As the Housecarls moved towards Wulfnoth to take him, he lurched towards the bench snatching an axe from a stupefied Dane.

It was a brief and nasty encounter. Wulfnoth showed himself surprisingly adept for one now a churl taking out three Housecarls before the remainder cut him down. The body was picked up and carried before the King, Queen, and Reinbald. “Ah.” said Knut, who preferred to leave decisions on these matters to others. “What is he?” asked the Queen, who liked to have the social niceties observed when events like this occurred.

Reinbald needed no help, “He is a man of Pagan Evil, filled with heresy, and he and his familiars have done all the evil that has ever been done against you and the Holy Rule of our noble King and Queen.” Knut thought for a moment, and decided on a positive approach, “Yes, well, I suppose we must do something.”

Reinbald pointed to a fire at the end of the hall, burning well, with the spit unused. “The only way is to burn him, and then cast him and the embers into the river. This will bear him away to the ocean. The seas will bear him to the end of the Earth, where he will fall over the Edge and into Hell where he will spend Eternity in the flames.” King Knut hesitated, wondering, Reinbald had spent a lot of time persuading him that the Earth was round, but this was religion and not science.

Knut turned to his Queen, “Sound’s fair enough to me, dear, what do you think?” “It must be; our priest has spoken for God.” replied Queen Ymme, clutching hard at the small gold box that contained a finger bone of St. Eadburga to give her purity, strength, and a reduction on the time to be spent in Purgatory . The remains of Wulfnoth were taken to the fire where they soon provoked a fine sheet of flame. “It’s always the same with a fat one.” muttered Aelgar the Minstrel to Eadric, “Go up like a torch they do.”

While they were watching Knut, ever curious, repeated the Queen’s question, but this time it was Aelgar The Minstrel on whom the King’s eyes rested. He had heard enough from Reinbald for the moment. Aelgar had been at Court for a long time and knew that boldness was the only way to deal with Knut, for all his studied politeness he would have your balls off in a trice.

“Wulfnoth was once a Freeman Warrior, one of the Shield Wall of Aeldorman Osgod who fought valiantly for his King Aethelrede, and a Hundred Man of Doddington in Worcester. Taken in battle, injured, and then given into slavery to a man that was not worthy of him, he went into the Forest as Wolf’s Head with others. He was here to seek the King’s mercy on such a Feast Day when wrongs are put right and sins forgiven.” Eadric was worried, Aelgar was not only trying his luck, this was a challenge to Reinbald in the implications that the Laws of Hospitality had been broken, a grave sin in itself.

The priest was prepared already. “Yea, the Minstrel speaks truly, and by God’s miraculous intercession a wonderful and holy mercy has been done. The heretic has died quickly and at the hands of noble Christian men, and has been spared the agonies of age, or being flung into a pit of dogs, or being blinded and starved, as can be with those who deny the Lord.”

The Housecarls were content that justice seemed to have been done, but for Reinbald to call them noble Christians was a new one. At least Wulfnoth once had been a Free Warrior, which explained his abilities with an axe, so the bad business had a smack of honour about it, unlike dealing with impertinent slaves.

The rain had ceased, the air had freshened; there was the feeling of a rebirth. The remains of the fire and Wulfnoth were shovelled into a tub and carried down to the edge of the river, and the assembly followed to make sure of his departure. The tub was emptied and washed out, ready to be filled with ale, and Reinbald took himself onto a hillock to pray again at the Queen’s behest. Purification was necessary.

Reinbald positioned himself carefully so any rays of the sun would appear over his right shoulder and launched into yet another diatribe against sin. Amongst the Housecarls there were whispered wagers made on how long he was good for. The sky did indeed begin to clear, and as the assembly turned congregation looked beyond Reinbald they saw the clouds begin to lift and chase. Suddenly a dozen clumps appeared together in motion flickering along at speed.

The whispers turned to one secret word. “Valkries!” As the clouds lifted further and the light played around the sky a great square of piled cumulus rose high and white, and far away. The word became “Wallhalla!” As Reinbald went into high fervour he was delighted to see the rapt attention of the assembly, as was Queen Ymme, just behind him. Knut was not so certain, looked back over his shoulder, and understood.

The clouds had told the Housecarls that Wulfnoth was a Hero amongst the Gods, even a Wolsung child of Wotan. So by this token Reinbald was a dwarf man and a smart tongued Nibelung whose tongue would make a meal for a river rat. He saw that his warriors had instinctively moved into the form of the Shield Wall and their eyes had begun to stare. Their stillness and silence was deafening.

The implications worried Knut, and if any of his Housecarls had noticed as they slipped into the Trance of War, he was not now in a good mood. By the time Reinbald had finished, and the winner of the wager was the one who had made the most pessimistic forecast of the time taken by the sermon, the clouds had moved on and the sky was quiet.

Aelgar whispered to Eadric, “Perhaps it is time for music to sooth the minds of men, a tale of an Enigma and its variations in the mind, something to make them wonder?” “Just bloody shut up, you would only make matters worse,” was Eadric’s terse reply.

The King turned to his Queen and Court, and told them he needed a few words with the men, to ensure that nothing else untoward would happen to spoil the remains of the day, there as still much to eat and drink. As the rest of the company drifted back to the Hall, King Knut cast a cold eye on the men, and in a moment changed from the diplomat and courtier to the war leader and commander.

It came as a relief to the Housecarls, they could understand this, as opposed to the business of words with flourishes, and the hypocrisies of politics. “Right, you lot, stand up straight for once and listen to me, I know what was going on and I understand why. If I’ve told you once I’ve told you a dozen times, we are now Christian believers, all of us, baptised, for life, and we are told the life after death. Walhalla is out of the question in spite of all the obvious attractions.

More important, there is only one God, and it is his Church that makes the rules. Any objections, or any other ideas, and that means trouble, and a great deal of it. Now the Queen is very particular about God and the Church, so we all, I said all, so that means me as well, have got to be very, very, careful. My Queen is a most noble person, but she has brought many priests and monks from over the water whence she came, and where they go, their brothers and cousins follow. Believe, if that lot get into power and start to run things, none of you will have a team of oxen to call his own, let alone a spear and shield. And there will be heaps of stone in every Parish and Manor, and who will pay for it?”

The King paused for a moment, there were few enough silver pennies about for them to want to give more of them up for religion. The King lifted his voice, “The next thing will be one of them for King after I am gone, and only a mad man would want that. So you lot just watch it, I don’t want to have to send you on your way because of religious technicalities. Got it? The Queen has sons with others who might succeed One, the Prince Eadweard is over the water running with the Norman warlords and the Queen is the daughter of the Duke of Normandy.

If it goes badly the Normans will be over here and they will have all their relations with them. You don’t want that, if you have any sense, they have a greed for land that surpasses all understanding. So as to what went on today you keep it in your hearts, and not in your mouth. I do not, repeat not, want The Queen or the bishops, or that holy son of a whore, Reinbald, to find out. Now have you got that, and got it clearly?”

He took breath, and there was the edge of venom in his voice, “Now I have been trying to get our friend Reinbald a bishopric in his home land, but they do not seem to want him. Nor does anyone else over there. The one thing the Pope may agree is that he goes to Ireland on a Mission to remind them again of their errors about the date of Easter and other theological things they think they know best about, but don’t. So any of you make a mistake and then you are one of his body-guard, whether you like it or not, now do you understand me?”

The Housecarls stood very still, this was no mean threat, the King was always as good, or as bad, as his word. There had been talk. It was difficult to believe, but it was that Ireland was worse than the Welsh Marches. They all wanted to stay in Hampshire. The food supplies were better and more reliable, the property values enhanced, and the odd cross channel plunder a useful source of income. The Housecarls and others beat their shields and cried “Aye”. Knut was the King they had, they did not want another; at least while he kept winning.

The King turned to Eadric and Aelgar, it was a deeply worrying moment for both of them, not least because the King had beckoned to his Writer and other advisers, as well as motioning the Kings Shield Bearer to remain in his place. The King sniffed, called Aelgar forward and offered his hands, Aelgar placed his within them, and bowed, very deeply. “The Queen has a great interest in music, but not alas, yours. In these matters, I bow to her, out of husbandly love, and not because, as the mean minded suggest, it keeps her nose out of my affairs. I honour your craft, but it is time for you to move on, and I fear a little distance away, as our great friend Reinbald has taken a dislike to you. Your praises of male carnality and the Ancient Sagas are a little too forward for his taste. You will be made Free, but for what there is the question.”

The King turned to his Shield Bearer. “Well?” “Sad, my King, he’s no use as a warrior, but can keep the churls happy.” The King conferred with the others. “So, it seems that Wulfnoth’s former lands given to Gorm of Samso are available again, the Manor of Leigh with Bransford, and a few other pieces in the Hundred.” “What happened; did Wulfnoth’s family take revenge?” asked the Shield bearer. “No, they went off to serve the Scots and have carved out lands there, and the waters seem to have made them mad. Gorm was fool enough to go to a feast at the Hall of the Prince of Powys in Wales, and did not return. Well bits of him did but not quite all, so the land needs a master.” The King spoke, “Aelgar can be given Holy Orders and a dispensation to marry, so fix him up with a wife and some pennies and get him on the road as fast as possible. And make sure that if he has no sons to inherit, then the writ makes it clear that the lands revert to the Crown.”

For once Aelgar know when to keep quiet, he made his obeisance and retreated into the furthest corner possible before the King changed his mind. Now it was Eadric’s turn, he looked the King in the eye, then bowed, and went on to bend a knee. “Well, what about this friend of Wulfnoth?” The Shield Bearer smiled, “He’s a Good Man, loyal to his King and his family, he can wield sword or axe, but is best with the spear. He tried to control Wulfnoth, and gave his honour to all your guests, but no man could have done better. Wulfnoth was too far gone.”

The King looked his Shield Bearer for a full minute, but he did not flinch. Knut offered his hands to Eadric who took them. “So?” asked the King, asked the question of his scrivenors, the talk went on for a while in a dog Latin that others did not understand. The King then turned back to Eadric, “Ulf our brave and loyal Thane has lands in Cambridge that are lordless, the locals have been at each other’s throats again. Book reading always causes trouble. He needs a man with a steady mind and a strong arm. You will be Free and hold lands of Ulf under my writ. We will give a wife and slaves, and as many pence as necessary.” The King turned to the Shield Bearer, “Well?” The twist to the smile gave the clue to thing Kings thoughts.

The Shield Bearer nodded firmly. The King continued; he was prepared. “Tolig of Suffolk has daughters to spare. Young Gunnor is a fine one, built for duty and bedding, for suckling the young, and not too holy. You will be Eadric the Spear Shaker, and your seed shall be many and fruitful.” Eadric could not believe his luck, he had been much affected by the loveliness of Gunnor every time she bent forward. “So?” said the King to Eadric, who was now on both knees, “I am the loyal warrior and a man of my King and of Ulf, for all my time and word” he said and the business was finished.

“Well, it won’t be the same, but I might get some peace and quiet.” Said Aelgar relieved that he was still in possession of his vital organs. “With luck, and a good marriage, you could be one of upper classes, and even have a horse,” responded Eadric, who was voicing his own hopes. Given the rate of attrition in the wars, a survivor on the right side could go far. But Aelgar could not help reverting to his trade, “Yea, and I could write a tale of chivalry, of our mighty past, and great matters of the noble knights and their ladies, a tale of Arthur the King, and all the wonders of his age.”

Eadric winced, “Just forget it, what happened on this sod patch many moons ago will be of no interest to anyone. And if your are thinking of using our Anglo-Saxon tongue, forget that as well, the only languages that will be known in the far future will be Latin, the Norse, Frankish, and whatever they speak in the distant places. How many of our rulers speak it now? It is only us poor fools who cannot wrap our mouths round the sounds of others.” Aelgar did not like what Eadric had said, but he was always right.

They walked back to the Hall, a little reluctantly, but they were both thirsty. Silent at first, it was Aelgar who was the first to speak. “Now Caracatus; that might make a song of love and duty.” Eadric shook his head. “Well, something holy, a piece on The Apostles?” Eadric made the same motion and this time pulled his face. “About being young, a Wand of Youth”, “Age? A Dream of Gerontius?” “For the warrior shipmen, Sea Pictures?”

Eadric almost shouted, “No, no, no, your minstrelsy is past, it is over, ended, finished! You are now a landed Freeman in service to your Lord. Go to your holding, take a wife, and a few other women in service, raise crops, brew ale, rear livestock, breed children, and forget the past, it is done with.”

Aelgar walked quietly for a little way, but could not resist a last voicing of his thoughts. “Just a long poem? About ordinary men and women?” he muttered. Eadric the Spear Shaker stopped for a moment; raised his hands and said with a threatening but kindly tone of finality, “Aelgar, Aelgar, you are becoming too silly, so what is this tale to be?” The reply was slow in coming, “All’s well that ends well?”

Eadric the Spear Shaker shook his head gave Aelgar a light tap on his shoulder with his fist, and they moved on into the gathering darkness together, humming an old tune.

Wednesday 11 August 2010

Lowndes Square, Pile Ups And Privilege

This item below from the Daily Mail yesterday, also in other media, caught my eye because days earlier I had been taking a good look at Lowndes Square arising from background searches for other posts. This was not in 2010, but in 1851, another time and effectively another country


Two Middle Eastern businessmen were arrested after a £180,000 supercar spun out of control crashing into four vehicles, police said today.

Abdulla Saeed Khalfan Al-Dhaheri, 28, and Sultan Khalifa Al-Muhairbi, 35, both from the United Arab Emirates, were held after the smash in Lowndes Square in Knightsbridge, central London, where residents have complained about boy racers disturbing the peace at night.

Lowndes Square is home to some of London's wealthiest residents, among them Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich
According to London's Evening Standard, the car, a new £180,000 Lamborghini with only 250 miles on the clock, was on loan from the Italian carmaker to a client. No one was injured in the crash which happened in the early hours of July 25.

The two men appeared at Isleworth Crown Court on Tuesday last week. Al-Muhairbi was charged with dangerous driving and driving with no insurance and Al-Dhaheri was charged with perverting the course of justice.

The men, who are due to appear in court again on October 12, are said to have walked away from the pile-up, telling a passerby: 'It's all right, we'll pay for the damage.'

A parked BMW was reportedly flipped over by the force of the impact. Property company director Siraj Dadabohy, 45, who lives in Lowndes Square, said: 'It's disgusting the way guys come here with blaring music and revving their engines.'

His neighbour Louise Shaw, 37, said: 'They all seem to think they're Lewis Hamilton and don't give any consideration for how much noise they're making. Most of the so-called billionaire “blingmobiles” have Middle Eastern number plates and are flown in for the summer.


For the post on Wednesday, 4 August “In Praise Of…..” on Sir Alec Douglas Home, checking him out, I saw that the Caroline Nesbitt Macan, ancestress, who married RN Captain Charles Conrad Grey was widowed young by 1851. He was cousin to the Earl Grey, the Prime Minister who had brought in the Reform Act of 1832.

In 1851 she and family had moved in with her Mum, Harriet, in Lowndes Square. Step Dad was William Henry Whitbread, head of the brewery firm and a major figure in politics and social reform. He had been an executor to the will of her first husband, Turner Macan, a cavalryman and aide to the Governor-General of Bengal and a leading expert on Asian languages and literature.

He had taken an Egyptian version of the “1001 Nights” to Calcutta for William Macnaghton to produce an Arabic edition. William was another executor and a leading figure in the Royal Asiatic Society. Turner Macan was also editor of the Calcutta version of the “Shah Nameh” of Firdausi. The Shah of Persia and Princes of India had honoured Harriet, his widow.

So who else was in Lowndes Square? Move along a few doors, and there is the Barnsley lad made good. Joseph Locke, one of the major railway engineers, see Wikipedia, who was arguably more influential than George Stephenson. Locke lists himself as first an Engineer and only secondly an M.P. Going round the whole square we have an array of aristocrats, some connected to Court, Pelham’s and such, major City figures, senior legal people and the rest.

Then it dawns on me. The Railways of India were first begun in the 1850’s and critically dependent on finance and expertise from London. And there they all were in Lowndes Square, a ready made network and all the wives and families taking tea together. In the post on Friday 6 August on “The Raj…” I mentioned Auckland Colvin, a major figure in the Indian Civil Service later on, but the son of John Colvin, earlier the Governor of the North West Provinces. He was cousin to Harriet.

So in 1851 Lowndes Square was one of the main locations for the movers and shakers of the period and probably remained as such for some time. Now in 2010 it is home to Russian Oligarchs and the leading suppliers of oil and high rolling financiers.

But these are not British and their interests are not the future of Britain. They are here to move their money about and our politicians have taken their coin and follow their instructions.

Referring back to the post of Sunday, 2 May on “Social Mobility…..” this is based on the Earl and Countess of Antrim and their connections. Jane Emma Hannah, born Macan, is sister to the Caroline Nesbitt Macan above. The post says mobility can be down more often than up.

Here is the twist in the tale.

Harriet’s father, the Rev. Wetenhall Sneyd, when widowed, married again and had family by his second marriage. Unlike the children of his first marriage their futures were not quite so bright and downward social mobility was evident.

The son, Clement Sneyd, had a natural son by one of the servants. His life was in sharp contrast to those living in Lowndes Square. She was found a husband quickly, one of the labouring classes, possibly with the help of a decent dowry.

It is suggested that amongst the lower orders in Hampshire of the period, virginity was hard to find so he would not be alone. As was discipline, this was not long after Captain Swing had been busy and many transported.

When one looks at the present resident families of Lowndes Square and their footballer associates and the rest one wonders how many single mothers there are who have borne their progeny out of hours. They are more fortunate and will not need any dowry or help from the families concerned.

They will be all provided for by our Government and the local councils with decent accommodation in Central London and enough benefits to allow them to have an independent life. You and I will be paying.

How times change.

Monday 9 August 2010

The Premiership, Going Nowhere

There will be a number of anchorites, other persons isolated from much of human life, isolates and ladies spending too much time in the kitchen or looking after the kids who are not aware that the English Premiership begins next Saturday.

The rest of us do whether we like it or not. In the welter of media publicity and personal interest stories that we are enduring may I recommend one intriguing source of information of interest to those who love the game and especially to all those who hate it.

It is www.footballeconomy.com that tells you much of the real story and what it all now means to all and sundry in the media and politics. Money and power as you might expect. It seems that the ownership of Liverpool FC is being contested by persons from India (thank you Dave), China and Syria with maybe a Soviet, sorry Russian oligarch lurking behind the memorials in Anfield Cemetery.

During the summer we have had the fascinating spectacle of the nation’s new blood sport, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs in hot pursuit of many clubs for unpaid taxes and the submission of accounts apparently written by the many ghost writers of footballers’ biographies rather than accountants.

It seems that until this year the HMRC have been generous, even lax, in looking at the tax affairs and liabilities of clubs and have suddenly tightened up. There were some spectacular cases before that they could not avoid, albeit arriving very late on the scene. Why I wonder, surely not political pressure from the Government? It is possible that one or other clubs could simply close down, as do many other business firms in trouble.

Rather like the courtiers who hung around the courts of the Medici and the Borgia’s there are administrators from the Big Four and others waiting up on their toes for the next victim of their services. Which club may survive? Which may lose enough points to wreck their season? Which famous name will begin the descent to the football abyss of The Championship and beyond because they lost the Great Gamble of spending to win?

Yougov have asked my opinion of all this. Usually, I do my best to mislead them and skew their results, but this time I weakened and gave some honest answers. Yes, I do want Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United to be relegated. Yes Blackpool should be champions and Scunthorpe United promoted. I will be out of luck. The real issue is whether the huge funds put into Manchester City will finally pay off.

It is all a long time since I first stood on the terrace of a football ground as a little ‘un. One of the grounds of my childhood was Anfield. I recall asking my Uncle why it was called “Spion Kop” (you can look at Google or Bling). He pointed to an ancient propping up the wall and told me to ask him. He explained in brutal terms what it meant. He had been there in January 1900. The lesson I learned was that football at the top was not entirely just a game.

Now it has long been a business of various kinds. No longer can I have a pint with one of the team in the local pub’. I would have to elbow my way through the entourage at a very expensive night club. The player would not longer live over a shop with his parents. He would be in a vast mansion in Prestbury ruining the local economy by spending anywhere but in the village.

The question for those of us with beady eyes looking at where the money is coming from and where it actually goes is whether the whole thing is a financial “bubble”. Is the money coming in for lack of safe places for investment? It is unlikely to be sustainable in the future.

What may happen if suddenly people actually begin to lose interest? I have not been to a match for years now for reasons of cost. My viewing of TV is becoming less and less by the season. What I do notice is the lack of young faces in the crowds. Are viewers watching now more by default or because they think they are supposed to?

There are very many things from the time I first went to a game that have changed in England and The World. Others have come and gone. So I wonder how long the present set up can last and when the collapse will begin and if it will be fast or slow.

Like steam railways it might just run into the buffers.

Friday 6 August 2010

The Raj, Cracking The Whip

When Cameron visited India it was a very odd business. Who was he trying to impress? What did not impress was his performance at the Formal Inspection of the Guard of Honour.

The way he went past looked like an old age pensioner with an out of date Senior Railcard scuttling by a line of South Eastern Rail shock and awe squad of ticket inspectors.

It really is time to give politicians some basic training in the courtesies of such inspections. On the whole The Royals do them well. Perhaps for new boys there could be a few 6.00 a.m. early morning parades conducted by the HRH, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.

You can take the junior naval officer out of The Navy, but you cannot take The Navy out of the Queen’s Consort, as we all know. It would be nice to see him on bootleg Youtube cracking the carriage whip and giving them the benefit of decision making, Quarter Deck style.

In India they have long memories and other meanings. I may well be wrong but the Indian Army detachment of The Guard looked rather like the Jammu and Kashmir Rifles. If so, this is an interesting political statement given the long history of the regiment.

Given the ignorance of history of our politicians and their advisers and briefers it is likely this was wholly missed. In any case the present UK view of the history of our connection to the sub-continent has been seriously warped by too much dogma and propaganda.

What we forget is that before The Raj came the Mughals, whose rule began at the beginning of the 16th Century. The British Honourable East India Company began as a trading entity which developed the need for political control.

In essence it was what The City calls a “Reverse Takeover” where a much larger, richer firm is taken over by a much smaller but more effective and active one. The consequence is often asset stripping and over time the transformation of the larger by the smaller.

How long did it take for this? The HEIC gained its Firman from the Mughals in 1717 and until the 1830’s sought to establish economic and consequential political control over the various entities without imposing too much on the cultural. In this “The Orientalists” had the upper hand; notably with the Royal Asiatic Society playing an important role.

It was in the 1830’s that others came along to propose the imposition of a more British set of ideas and character on the life and law of India. This culminated in The Indian Mutiny, which ended the existence of the HEIC as the UK Government took full control.

The last remnant Mughal was deposed and replaced as Emperor a decade later when Disraeli and Parliament created a new Empire of India with Queen Victoria as Empress. The consequence of this was The Raj that most of us understand as the Indian Empire.

For the flavour of this the Wikipedia entry on Auckland Colvin is very useful. One key part of his life is the effect of the collapse in the value of the Rupee as the British Cabinet moved to a single metal, gold, based monetary system for the Empire.

Colvin urged an international standard in bimetallism, gold and silver, and then had to pick up the pieces of the UK government’s decision to go for gold, at the urging of the City, a bad decision in both the short and the long term.

It was the economic and social damage wreaked in India that began the long journey to its eventual Independence. London’s attitude was typified by Oscar Wilde who made light of it all in his play “The Importance Of Being Ernest”. But at a time of famine and upheaval there were some who realised the implications.

So what was Cameron offering in India? It could not have been new railway technology, in the UK we do not do this. Nor could it have been much in the way of new capital investment for textiles and other industries. Nor much of production of vehicles and a range of consumer products.

Our media is such a sorry mess that clearly India will have had little interest in that. As for high tech and IT, if anything India has much to teach us. Well, we do have a number of functioning arms manufacturers, so long as you do not mind the delays and final costs of large multiples of initial estimates.

We can do a lot of preaching on ecological matters, but don’t mention Bhopal and a few other places please. What we do have is Financial Services and The City. Here we need all the help we can get as we now have pinned the future of our economy on these and property prices.

The biggest thing we have to offer is our services in tax evasion and tax avoidance as well as accounts manipulation to allow all the rich and powerful to offshore their liabilities via The City round the connected tax havens.

So the more money that India can create for itself by economic development the more we want them to pass it round our financial services to give us a good commission.

Oh dear, it appears that the Indian government have this old fashioned notion of wanting their people to pay their taxes and conduct their financial business at home to the benefit of India. We are likely to be out of luck there. As for India’s relations with Pakistan, read the history of the Jammu and Kashmir Rifles.

As I suggest, they remember their history and the time the British came looking for money three hundred years ago when the Mughal Empire had fallen into disarray.

They might prefer to leave us to stew in our own curry.

Wednesday 4 August 2010

In Praise Of Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Apparently, in a poll of a number of historians Sir Alec Douglas Home, who had been the 14th Earl of Home before disclaiming his peerage and becoming a knight when appointed Prime Minister in 1963, was voted 11th out of 12 (the last being Eden) and therefore one of the worst two Prime Ministers of recent times. I wonder who these historians were; perhaps they should have had a closer look at the detail?

As someone embroiled in the Suez Crisis in 1956 I can agree that Sir Anthony Eden deserves one of the lowest listings although he involved us in only one bad war unlike Blair and Brown. Given his health problems as well as his temperament he should never have become Prime Minister. It was not simply bad succession planning it was the total lack of it.

In dealing with Sir Alec, however, he is one of the very few leading politicians about whom sporting metaphors can be used with any truth. He played cricket as an amateur for Middlesex and the MCC in an era when there were many fine cricketers in the game, professional and amateur.

Despite an undistinguished academic career, devotion to cricket does not go well with high honours given the time involved, Sir Alec became one of the reliable work horses of politics. He was trustworthy, knowledgeable, astute and unfailingly courteous. Given a job to do he would do it.

Also he had contacts in all classes and always knew a good man to talk to. Running a major estate requires skill and The Borders had a range of key Scottish industries that related closely to the local agriculture and economy.

Essentially, he played a straight bat, was a good man to go in when the wickets were falling and as a stock bowler kept the opposition’s runs down; which is precisely why the Conservative’s put him in as Captain of the team in October 1963.

It was when Harold Macmillan’s government was scoring ducks and Butler looked to be losing his nerve again, as he had done in 1940. Douglas-Home took control and made them buckle down in the field, bowl tight, and dig in behind the crease.

Macmillan had been betrayed by the Profumo scandal and had mishandled the issues involved. He had suffered rejection by De Gaulle over Europe. His Cabinet was in increasing disorder and the economy was beginning to blow fuses after his 1958-1960 spending. The Right were in anguish over the loss of Empire and world status and the Left were mesmerised by the Soviet mirage.

The Centre had grasped at Keynes ideas from the 1930’s to give some sort of basis of policy but had not realised that in the context of the 1960’s the changes in structures and money systems meant that inflation and other disruption were the consequence.

Amazingly, Douglas Home got his team back in the game. They lost the 1964 Election by very little when in 1963 it seemed that the Conservatives could be looking at another 1945 wipe out.

Labour took 317 seats with 44.13% of the vote and the Conservatives 304 with 43.40%, the actual margin being only 203,000 votes overall. A little more time and another Budget and Douglas Home could have won the election.

He did this despite being on the end of personal media vituperation and nastiness that was almost unparalleled in modern British history. The BBC was taking a terrible revenge for the Conservative decision to allow commercial television to compete for audience and attention and compromise its monopoly.

What he did lack was a pretty face, media experience and a salesman’s manner. His slightly shy, brusque, but determined stance echoed Attlee’s but this was now the TV age and Douglas Home was far from being the camera’s friend. Attlee was lucky to have missed TV.

Also, the age of the gentleman amateur was departing. When Douglas Home said with a wink that when trying to work out economic issues he used a box of matches it did not meet the age. Probably, he knew a lot more about practical affairs than most. Wilson played the expert technocrat and his party took their parts in this way. They claimed that they knew how things worked and so how to manage them.

As a statistician Wilson was fascinated by all the charts and lists of figures. The snag was that most of them were unreliable and needed analysis and careful thought. Wilson and his followers did not do that. They did decisions on the immediate figures. We all know where that kind of approach can lead us.

In the out turn Douglas Home’s matches may have been a better guide to working out economic policy given the catastrophic course of the Labour administration of 1964 to 1970. He had only a year and never had the chance to be a Prime Minister in the full sense of the term. His worst mistake was to promote Edward Heath but it is likely he had little option.

He did not get us into bad wars, he did not break the economy, he did not ruin half the population, he did not provoke a boom bust, he did keep us in touch with world affairs and he did maintain a decency and balance that we have all forgotten.

After he resigned the Conservative leadership he returned to be a very capable Foreign Secretary under Edward Heath. There hasn’t been a better man since. So we could never vote him one of the best Prime Ministers, but he was far from being the worst. Given choosing Sir Alec Douglas Home as Prime Minister against some of those since or before, then I would vote for him.

Certainly, I would be happy to see him at the other end of the pitch if I came into bat as last man in with ten to win, an hour to play and a failing light.

Not least, he was a Borderer of Nesbitt descent.