"teh basement cat iz in ur screen, stealin' ur blogz..."

Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Back in Lagos...

I've just spent the last few days a few hours north of Lagos near Ibadan, at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, or IITA. It is a research campus which doubles as a hostel for visitors, and is a stone's throw from the second largest city in Nigeria. From the peace and carefully presented grounds, you could be a thousand miles away.

We didn't spend that much time on campus, save to poke around and take a drive around the artificial lake they have created to help with the irrigation of their experiments. One of our company wryly suggested that given that they were meant to be researching ways to help grow substance in dry conditions, having all that irrigation on hand rather defeated the object. Missing the point, somewhat, but amusing nonetheless.

While there, we took an eleven-hour daytrip that saw us venture to Osogbo, visiting a local king and his chiefs, then to a UNESCO world heritage site: a sacred shrine to the old Yorouba religion. Much of it had been built and decorated by a woman called Suzanne Wenger, who moved to Nigeria back in the 1950s. She is now 94, and her work is very much in an African style, but as though she had been channeling Gaudi while doing it.

Now that I'm back in Lagos, the plan is to head back down to the Yacht Club for New Year's Eve. Safely back in the expat fold, removed to our little bubble. Hopefully there will be a few bubbles in my glass tonight.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Correspondent's Diary - Lagos, Day Four

Christmas Eve in Lagos. I’m told by Chris that the traffic is a little worse today, especially heading to the Supermarkets and market in Lekke, which are both on my hitlist for this morning. Instead of following the main roads, we duck down some of the back routes of varying surface quality. Drivers down these back roads are a little crazier than those on the main roads, if such a thing is possible. Even so, it takes a good while for us to cover the distance.

Driving through Lekke is like driving through the middle of a field of construction, with great open spaces awaiting development. Along the roadside are hundreds of merchants waiting for the traffic to build up so they can walk in between the cars caught in the inevitable go-slow – or traffic jam – and tout their wares.

After a while, the car pulls off the main road onto a dusty track, winding about stalls filled with merchandise of all types. Chris manoeuvres the car into a fenced area, and as he does, scores of children spot the oyiebos – white men – in the car and come running up alongside, following us to where we park. I take a deep breath and step out the car. My brother and I are swarmed with hands reaching out for us to shake as they shout their names and tell us to remember them.

This wasn’t unexpected. Eventually, one of the older boys seems to take control and chases away the others until it’s just him and a younger lad called David who accompanies us. Their role is to point stalls of interest and to carry anything we buy. At the end, we’ll give them a ‘Dash’ for their efforts. Chris shows us around the market, and does a little negotiation on our behalf as we pick up some fruit and vegetables – mangos, pineapple, tomatoes and potent little peppers. My brother is offered a DVD loaded with 48 movies, which he decides isn’t bad value. Chris negotiates the merchant down from 1500 Naira to 500, about £2.50. Everything out here is negotiable, especially when oyiebo is involved. As you can imagine, the price they offer the first time around is vastly inflated.

We see a lot of African art, carvings and beads, clothing and more knock-off DVDs than you can shake a stick at. Movies only just coming out at home are available for purchase on pirate DVD and I’m told, though I can’t confirm, that the quality is pretty good.

After a while wandering the market we jump back in the Toyota Pradu and head for the Supermarket, still in Lekke but a good half hour in traffic and around some sneaky back-ways that Chris knows. Entering the mall, you could be anywhere. The supermarket is packed – everyone is stocking up at the last minute for Christmas. As I said, you really could be anywhere.

What strikes me most about the supermarket and the mall surrounding is how expensive everything is. These really are luxury goods. There is a lot of money rolling about Nigeria, and hard as it might be to believe, most of it is in the pockets of Nigerians. There are a lot more millionaires, per capita, in Nigeria than there are in the UK. There are also a lot more per capita below the poverty line. It is very much a country of extremes.

Tonight we will be heading down to the yacht club for small chop – food – and carols. It’s a little slice of tradition with a Nigerian flavour, and given that there’s a bar involved, promises to hold just the right sort of tradition for me.

Correspondent's Diary, Lagos - Day Three

Lagos is hazy in the morning, a persistent cloud that shrouds the air, though the sun still beats through. It is the time of the harmattan, dust carried on the wind from the deserts of the north. It is ever-present, but only seems to affect the air high above. At ground level the air is balmy, if humid.

Chris accompanied me out to the Federal Hotel where I was to exchange £500 Sterling into Naira. My mother reckoned the exchange rate was about 206 to the pound, at least according to the internet. I had envisaged walking in to the hotel lobby where there would be official travel exchanges set up. I couldn’t have been more mistaken.

We arrived at the hotel and Chris led me to some wooden huts set up outside the hotel. They looked like market stalls, filled with fabric, threadbare chairs and local carvings. I got the impression from Chris that he knew one of the guys here was better than the rest, and we went inside. I left the talking to Chris, sensing that this was not the time to flex my negotiating skills.

After a few moments of barter and chuckles – two I didn’t exactly expect to go together – Chris beckoned me to come outside, then asked me again what the rate on the internet was. He nodded when I told him, then he took me back in and spoke to the guy again. After a few minutes he motioned to me and I pulled out the sterling, counting it out to Chris, who checked it and handed it to the trader, who did his own count. Several rolls of Naira were handed to me, and I stashed them out of sight after a quick check.

Heading back to the car, Chris explained that the traders knew the internet rate and would immediately offer that to ‘Whitey’, but he knew they did this and would negotiate with them for a better rate. Sure enough, he got us 210. Doesn’t sound like much, but it amounted to an extra 2000 Naira, which at present rates is about £10. Worth the few minutes of bargaining.

After my Dad finished work we headed to the yacht club again, and Elias, the assistant Bosun who also looks after the Tarpons, helped us push my Dad’s GP14 in to the water. He and I had a quick sail on a close reach, broad reach and a run, then back to the club. The winds were dying and as most of the boat-boys had gone home early we had no safety boat. Getting stuck against an ebb tide with scant wind wasn’t on our list of things to do, so sensibly we got the boat back out the water and de-rigged.

We had arranged to meet up with two of the other expats later on in the evening at an English place called Pat’s Bar. It was your classic English home-away-from-home sports bar, and the kind I usually avoid like the plague. It was also filled with mosquitos, though not the malarial biting kind. Some very svelte Nigerian girls were in, with a clear objective on their minds that would inevitably involve a transaction of some kind.

Not a transaction I was interested in making. Unfortunately, with homosexuality being rather illegal over in Nigeria, playing the gay card wasn’t really a viable option. Instead I just had to grin through their attentions and play along, knowing that at least I had some backup and an escape route. My brother fared a little better than I, having experienced the phenomena in Thailand.

For my part, I wasn’t at all sorry when we called home-time and headed for the safety of our Toyota 4x4.

Correspondent's Diary, Lagos - Day Two

This one is a few days late, and I’ll try and catch up on the reportage – internet has been down for a few days and we’ve just got it up and running now.

So, Monday. Even this close to Christmas, Lagos was busy with life, and with traffic. We woke early to head down to the BG Nigeria offices to be given a security briefing – mandatory for all guests, visitors and family.

The Security Advisor taking us through all the details was an ex-Army chap who had been working out in Nigeria for the past twelve years. From the sound of it, he had been on the rough end of a kidnapping himself on at least one occasion. His message to us, more than anything, was that Lagos, and Nigeria, like anywhere, had places you could go, and places you should avoid. Common sense was the key, and that was what my brother and I took to heart. We have no intention of heading anywhere near the Delta on this trip. In all but name, a civil war rages there, but for the distance, it might as well be a different country. Until Lagos sorts out its infrastructure it will never be a holiday destination, but having seen some of the culture and some of the potential, I have to wonder that maybe in a few generations once the political process has had time to bed in, that might just become a reality.

We headed down to the yacht club a little too late in the day to get any time on the water – winds were dropping and most of the boat-boys had gone home, so I sat and indulged in a Bloody Mary while Iain got a dry lesson on the GP14.

Life is tough.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Correspondent's Diary - Lagos, Day 1

We arrived in Lagos at 22.15 local time last night. The flight had been delayed for almost two hours at Heathrow after a group of passengers had decided that they weren't going to show up, despite having checked in. One of the British Airways stewards was overheard saying that she suspected they had gone into London for a spot of shopping, and lost track of time. In any event, their bags needed to be removed from the hold before we could leave, which meant taking everything off and finding them.

On a 747, that's a lot of bags.

That little hitch aside, the rest of the journey was fairly smooth. A touch of banter and a cheeky smile or two with the steward in our section ensured that my brother and I were well looked after, with enough drinks to keep us suitably lubricated. A few in-flight movies later, and we had touched down in the sweltering heat of Lagos.

We were met by a young Nigerian who guided us through immigration and customs. Dad was waiting with his driver, Chris and our 'mopol', an armed police escort. It was explained to us that a mopol is pretty standard for trips to the airport, especially late at night. As Chris drove us back to the compound, we passed armed police checkpoints, dodging and weaving around trucks and other cars. There seemed to be little hurry, our pace was far from rushed but neither was it sedate, and Chris had no intention of stopping if he could avoid it. Assertive was very much the watchword.

As I write, we are preparing to head out to the Yacht Club on the Lagoon to take out the Tarpon for a little spin. The sun has started to break through the thick haze, and this will be our first opportunity to catch the city in daylight.

Should be fun...


Chris, our driver, took us down to the Yacht club on Lagos Island. We met with a number of other expats, these all employees of Shell stationed out in Nigeria. One, Jim, had the foresight to suggest a few Bloody Marys, which on a Sunday morning seemed entirely appropriate to me.

Every club, in my mind, should do a Bloody Mary. And every club, in my mind, should have a little special something about theirs. A secret ingredient, a little zhuzhy something that gives it that little je ne sais quoi . The Lagos Yacht Club certainly has that part sorted. It is a simple variation of the classic drink, lacking port, horseradish, celery salt, but with one addition that makes all the difference. A bottle of what was once Smirnoff Blue was tucked behind the bar, filled to the very brim with osmosis-filled chilli seeds and pods. Out of this bottle, barely two drops were added to the vodka, lime, tomato juice and salt that would have made for a fairly ordinary airline quality drink. With those two drops, a magnificent riot of flavour waged war upon your tongue.

Definitely set me up for the sail to come.

My brother and I helped my Dad rig his Tarpon, a wooden sailing boat based on the Lightning, and a boat that was in fact older than him. The Shell boys headed off in their Lightning, while we finished getting the Tarpon into the water, and set out to tack down towards Tarkwa beach. My brother had never sailed before, and once he learned that on a boat, normal civil courtesies or a detailed instruction sometimes take too long to say when you have a dredger bearing down on you in the middle of a shipping channel, he did rather well.

For my part, steering the Tarpon took a little more getting used to than a nice 49 foot cruising yacht. The tiny adjustments resulting in far more movement than you expect to begin with.

Arriving at the beach after around an hour and a half sailing, we were ready for a little lunch at the beach hut. Jim and I took a walk along and around the beach to a stretch of sand that eventually would lead you to Benin if you kept going. It is home to a magnificently tragic sight, somehow majestic for all that. As far as the eye could see there were ships, anchored off the shore. These were cargo vessels from all over the world waiting to get in to port at Lagos. Some, Jim told me, had been there for literally years. Some had run aground.

A cargo vessel jutted out of the beach as if caught on a wave in a storm. Its prow jutted powerfully out of the sand, buried from about half way down the hull. All that was visible of the stern was the tip of the bridge and two funnels – a sight I had mistaken at first for some kind of beach emplacement.

We returned to the club a few hours later, the final vestiges of the day’s sea breeze enough to carry us home on a broad reach. Appropriately enough, we returned to the apartment after a few drinks at the club to watch Master and Commander – big ships to our small boats.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Just step aboard a Boeing, going...

Tomorrow morning I board a flight for African climes. I’ll be joining my parents out in Lagos, Nigeria, for the Christmas season and staying through New Year. For someone who has never ventured so far south before, it promises to be an interesting venture and I’m looking forward to discovering for myself what expat, and local, life is like.

Aside from obtaining a visa, I’ve been turned into a human pincushion in preparation for my trip. No less than six infectious diseases to be vaccinated against, boosters for jags I last had when I went to Romania in Sixth-Form. I’ve got anti-malarial tablets to take while I’m out there, and have been advised not to wear any scented deodorant and cover up as much as possible – prevention being better than cure, as the nurse reminded me.

I admit it makes sense, but it sounds like the sort of thing my mother would say. She’s been living out there with my Dad, and is one of the most efficient organisers I can think of. Nothing gets past her. Especially mosquitoes, who have always considered her a fine delicacy. Despite that, she hasn’t warned, mentioned, complained about or in any way referred to being swarmed by the creatures. Rightly or wrongly, this leads me to suspect that all is not quite as horrific as the nurse was leading me to believe. We shall see.

Speaking of horrific, the FCO website doesn’t exactly sell the place as paradise either. Kidnappings, spontaneous civil unrest, scams, curfews... Sounds just like Glasgow on an Old Firm day.

As befits such an adventure, I will be keeping a record of my visit on this blog. Hopefully I’ll have some interesting stories to tell, and if not, I’m sure I’ll find something to rant/wax lyrical about.

This will also be my first visit to T5 at Heathrow. Oddly, I’m more worried about that than the rest of the trip...

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

You what?!

Seriously, how dumb do some people have to be?

Benecio del Toro seems to think that it's okay to support mass-murdering fuck-heads (to use Eddie Izzard's phraseology).

Further evidence that intelligence is not a prerequisite for film stars. If he was talking about Stalin or Hitler he'd be creating a PR disaster, except that the general public are blithely unaware that the bearded cigar-smoking motorcyling one was a brutal killer and enemy of freedom and liberty.

Eye of Newt

Last night, my friend Tom and I indulged in a little theatre of the musical variety. I first saw The Witches of Eastwick at the Prince of Wales in London when I was 18, on a summer school at Guildford School of Acting. Yes, in my younger and more vulnerable years I was of a thespian bent, and this was a theme that carried on through into student theatre while at University (in Glasvegas, no less).

About a month or so ago I spotted a posted for the current tour, starring Marti Pellow as Darryl Van Horne. Having never quite forgiven the Rocking Revs at school for murdering ‘Love Is All Around’ I was torn as to whether I would risk it, but remembering how much I enjoyed it those years ago, I suggested it to Tom and then booked us tickets.

I have to admit I was a little excited. It has been ages since I last went to the theatre, and the Playhouse in Edinburgh is a quaint little affair, all dark wood, red paint and gilted cornicing. In other words, it really does give you that theatrical buzz. My only regret was that I didn’t pick up a packet of Fruit Pastilles at the refreshments stall, something that was synonymous with a visit to the theatre as a child.

The production itself was excellent. Working with quite a small stage area, they had a compact set that filled the space well without swamping it. The orchestra were spot on, and the chorus were fantastic. One blonde lad particularly stood out, and Tom noted wryly that if his Fitlads profile was anything to go by, he wasn’t half as innocent as he looked. Had a bit of the Jude Law circa Talented Mister Ripley about him.

The stars of the show were, by far and away, the three witches: Alexandra, Jane and Sukie. Jane entirely stole it for me, with real presence and a simmering sauciness she unleashed with absolute abandon.

Marti Pellow, as Tom put it in the interval, came across a bit more the Devil’s nephew rather than the man himself. I couldn’t help but agree. He seemed skittish and lacked depth, his antics on stage obscene rather than seductive. Vocally, as you might expect, he acquitted himself well, but he wasn’t the saucy devil he should have been. To be fair, he came back quite strongly in the second half, but that was largely down to his signature piece ‘Dance with the Devil’, which suited his overly energetic style.

All that said, it was a bloody good laugh and I really enjoyed it. Wasn’t as good as it could have been, but then I never understood the casting of Jack Nicholson in the movie. He just wasn’t sexy, and at least Marti cut a dashing, increasingly dishevelled figure as the show progressed. Definitely worth a pop if you can catch it. Good songs, some great harmonies coming from the girls, and a solid performance from the leads.

And I really liked the look of that blonde lad in the chorus, did I mention he was fit?

Giving the issue a wide berth

I read this article with some interest and, I’ll admit, dismay. I might have even found myself getting a little angry, possibly because I recognised that to some degree, I don’t like to offend people and I don’t like to hurt people’s feelings – and that can be counterproductive. The BBC are suggesting that obesity might be turning into a taboo subject. I think that’s a disaster. People should call a spade, well, a spade.

In this case, they should call an obese person for the fat Buddha that they are.

Quite frankly, all this talk about protecting the children from being ‘stigmatised’ and ‘labelled for life’ is completely divergent from the message that we need to act to prevent child obesity. Referring to these children as ‘very overweight’ just uses two words to replace one that said it pretty damn well. It perpetuates the myth that it is acceptable to be overweight, and it sounds like the plea of parents who are trying to excuse themselves of responsibility for the wellbeing of their children.

A report due to be presented to ministers today will outline that childhood obesity is set before the age of five. This is an extremely important period in our development as it is, and I suspect the findings of these researchers will come as no surprise to most responsible parents. Until you pack the little buggers off to school, it falls to the parents to shape the future of their child. Stuffing it with crisps, sweets, and foods with high calorie-density is as damaging to their development as showing it video recordings of Hitler at Nuremburg. It also means that all the focus on PE and healthy eating at school is wasted if the parents take their eye off the ball and get lazy with the massive responsibility they have brought into the world.

While Jamie Oliver’s school-dinner frenzy is ultimately changing things for the better (even if it is interminably irritating), this report shows that the real focus ought to be on the parents before the child gets to school. The mandatory measurement of height and weight at school suggested by Professor Terry Wilkin of the University of Bristol is likely to be met by wails from parents determined to deny that they had any part in turning their child into a small blimp that is going to struggle with its size – possibly for the rest of its mortal life. I agree that it is of prime importance that we don’t alienate parents, because it is of vital importance that they are on-side and understand their role in this. I also believe that playing a sop to their ego is unacceptable. If they think they are being made to feel responsible for their child’s health, well, in almost all cases, they are. As a wise man once told me, man up and face it.

The Chief Medical Officer for England, Sir Liam Donaldson, has gone on the record saying that although we need to get in early “...and build the foundations of healthy living at an early age...” it is also “...never too late. Obesity is one of the few serious medical problems that can be reversed very, very quickly.”

David Haslam of the National Obesity Forum concurs with this view, telling the BBC that: “It is never too late or too early to intervene. The earlier the better in terms of long-term outlook.” In his view, childhood obesity is probably down to environment and learned behaviours.

So that’s three learned figures all telling us that it’s down to the parents. And yet these are the parents who we’re listening to trying to excuse themselves of the guilt for turning their child into ‘the fat kid’. Except there seem to be rather more of them these days.

Obesity should not be a taboo word. If their child gets the shit kicked out of it mentally or physically at school for being the size of a small moon, then that should send a pretty fucking clear message to the parents. You can’t blame the kids (although you can blame their parents for not teaching them tolerance). Stigmatised? Good. Then do something about it.

You want to become fat in later life? That’s your call and your responsibility. Don’t take that choice out of your child’s hands, they’re not responsible enough to make that decision for themselves because they don’t know any better. Give them a fighting chance in life. Show them pretty colours and clever toys. Read to them. Give them a copy of The Hobbit as soon as they’re capable of reading for themselves; tell them about the gay penguins if you like. Do all this, and for their sake, feed them healthy food and take them out to play.

Raising a child shouldn’t be easy. It’s not difficult and it’s not rocket science, but it does take effort. If you’re not prepared to put that effort in and invest in all that potential just waiting to be realised, you don’t deserve that child.

Monday, 15 December 2008

A slight change in tone

This blog, ultimately, is a personal blog. My intention for this was always to be a commentary upon the little events in the world that I found interesting, in the hope that others out there would find something to think about.

Thus far, there appears to be a trend towards the political and economic. It’s not entirely accidental, as these are subjects fairly close to my heart, and the recent events both global and local have caused these to prey upon my mind.

I also prey on other things. I’m sure my friends would have a smart comment to make about that. They’d probably be right.

In the words of Clarkson: And on that bombshell...

When did the world get so prudish?

I stood today in the gym changing rooms, stripping to my nude after a thoroughly enjoyable workout in preparation for a shower. Sharing the changing room with me were a couple of lads who, from the look of them, were no strangers to a little physical exercise. Now, I’m quite good at checking people out on the sly. If I think they’re checking me out, I’ll be a little less subtle about it, but on this occasion, I was landed in a pack of fit straight boys.

Quelle tragedie.

To a man, they stripped down, face to the locker, back to the room, and two even wrapped towels around themselves before they dropped their pants, and scurried off to the shower room so covered. Up to this point, I hadn’t been paying them much attention beyond an initial, very casual glance around the room.

I’ll admit I have a vested interest in asking this, but why do people feel the need to cover themselves up? What is it about the male genitalia that young lads get all shy?

For clarification, I’m talking twentysomething lads here, but it applies to older chaps as well to a degree. As a rule, I have noticed that people seem to be less bothered about that sort of thing with age, so there is no doubt a correlation.

When I was a young boy at Robert Gordon’s College up in Aberdeen, we went to the playing fields every week, and showered naked in the communal showers and thought nothing of it. When I was a little older, on the cusp of puberty, I found myself in a gym changing room at Secondary School down in England, and everybody seemed to be showering in swimming trunks.

What the deuce?

Was it adolescence that brought this awareness and shame to the fore? Were people afraid their manhood might be compared to the boy next to them, and found wanting?

Is that what the lads were worried about in the gym today?

Let’s assume for the moment that they didn’t know I would have liked a sneaky peak. I’m fairly confident of that so we can take it out of consideration. Assuming that I was just another lad getting changed, I find myself wondering why I don’t mind being naked, and they all appear to.

If it’s a size issue, well, I have nothing to be ashamed of, even if I’m not in the Dirk Diggler leagues. I don’t think it’s particularly a straight/gay thing either, as I know plenty gay lads who get all shy. By the same token, I know plenty gay guys who get it out any chance they get. I may even be one of them, in the right environment. The gym changing rooms is probably one such environment.

Short of asking them, I’m unlikely to get an answer. Even if I did, I suspect they might not even know. It’s far more likely to be conditioned, or through a lingering self awareness from puberty – one I admit I never really had.

In the meantime, I’d just like to say this: Get your cock out for the lads!

Because naked is fun, and if you’re fit, you should be used to being looked at. Enjoy it.

After some of the comments posted I feel I should clarify my position. I'm not just saying fit boys shoudn't be all shy, it applies to everyone. Devil be damned what everyone else thinks.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Friday Frivolity

Today's image, again courtesy of icanhascheezburger...

What are you afraid of? Ze Germans?

Actually, Gordon really ought to listen to them. When he dismissed Peer Steinbruck's criticism of Labour's economic policy as 'internal party politics' because of the Grand Democratic Coalition in Germany, he didn't anticipate being contradicted at the source by Steffen Kampeter, Angela Merkel's Chancellor.
Mr Kampeter said: "Peer Steinbruck's comments have nothing whatsoever to do with internal German politics, as Prime Minister Brown has suggested. In questioning the British government's approach, Peer Steinbruck is exactly expressing the views of the German Grand Coalition. After years of lecturing us on how we need to share in the gains of uncontrolled financial markets, the Labour politicians can't now expect us to share in its losses. The tremendous amount of debt being offered by Britain shows a complete failure of Labour policy."
Despite all of this, David Milliband raised his head above the parapet to claim that the Germans backed UK policy.

No David, they don't. They are willing to provide fiscal stimulus, but they are not prepared to borrow vast amounts of money to do so. How about you go back to Gordon and explain to him that since borrowing got us into this mess, maybe trying to borrow our way out of it isn't quite such a good idea.

UPDATE - Quote added.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Work! What you waitin' for...

Err... yes. Been rather a hectic day and thus no chance to seek out or make commentary on the big bad world. Tedious, I know.

Instead, I raise the stiff gin and tonic I mixed myself on arrival back home but a few moments ago in toast to the end of a busy day, secure in the knowledge that tomorrow is Friday.

That, people, is a good thing.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

It's official: Gordon Brown is the saviour of the world (in his own mind)


The worst of it is that this little freudian slip is probably what he tells himself every night over prudent milk and cookies.

Even the BBC found it hard to put a pro-labour spin on this one.

1205: David Cameron starts by sending his condolences to the soldier's family. He asks how the government is going to get the banks to lend to businesses. He says Bank of England Governor Mervyn King has said recapitalisation should ensure the flow of lending returns to normal rates. Mr Cameron said on this basis the PM's plan has failed. In his reply Mr Brown says he has saved the banks, then raises laughter by accidentally saying he has "saved the world".

Flash! Ah-ah, saviour of the universe...

I've said this already...

...but in all seriousness, just because other people are doing it doesn't make it right.

The Tories have the temerity to suggest that we live within our means, or at least make an effort to. Darling and Brown respond by calling them a 'do nothing' party. I get it... no, really...

While I agree that doing nothing is not a viable solution, I can't see that is what the Tories are suggesting. Cameron and Osborne are suggesting that the £20bn is unsustainable and could cripple us in the long-term, and having looked at Gordon's sums, I can't say I disagree.

We're facing a massive tax-hike down the road to cover the cost of borrowing now, when our currency is dropping like a brick. That means printing more money to reduce the real-terms value of the debt, which will benefit borrowers, but penalise the savers who are the only ones who acted responsibly through all this.

Yes, fiscal stimulus is needed, but not in the amounts Labour are proposing. It's a lazy, clumsy response and is akin to using a sledgehammer when what is required is a well-honed sabre.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Somewhat delusional

And so Gordon Brown has responded to David Cameron's critisism of his spending frenzy by declaring that everybody else is doing it, so it must be the right decision.

Yes Gordon, you keep telling yourself that while you plunge us further into debt. Did someone say something about lemmings?

It also seems that I'm not the only one a little confused about his math.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Public Safety Announcement

This is a public safety announcement.

If you are a pedestrian in the City of Edinburgh, this applies specifically to you. It goes for every other city too.

Please look before you cross the road. Just because you can't hear a car/bus hurtling towards you or you think that the traffic light is going to stay red long enough for you to run across the road does not mean that it is in fact safe to cross. Cyclists use the road too, and are much quieter than cars. They may also be going quite fast, and nipping past the queue of cars, because they a) can, and b) are perfectly entitled to do so. Running out between cars without thinking to check in both directions is patent stupidity at best, tantamount to suicide at worst.

If you have a death wish, please ensure that of you are going to step out gormlessly into the road, you do so in front of a bus or 4x4, and not in front of a fragile, high-speed cyclist. You will likely kill them, rather than yourself.

Pedestrian Crossings are there for a reason. Please use them, and if there is a red man, it is on for a reason.

That will be all.

Friday, 5 December 2008

ZanuLab strikes again?

Guido has unearthed something lurking in the Banking Bill that ought to raise a few concerned eyebrows.

You have to ask, why would you suddenly stop requiring the Bank of England to publish weekly reports?

Friday Frivolity

Since I did take the moniker basement cat, I suppose it would only be appropriate to provide some amusement courtesy of the magnificent chaps at icanhascheezeburger...

Scum and villainy

This story popping up on the BBC was particularly intriguing, and I know one or two people who will be interested to read about it.

It appears that a German company has been sending a ream of letters to all and sundry demanding money for downloading porn from P2P clients, pensioners included. Quite what interest a little old lady in Bedfordshire would have in 'Young Harlots' is quite beyond me.

Actually, scratch that.

Nil points?

He's good, but he's no Wogan. Farewell, Sir Terry of Wogan, you were all that made Eurovision bearable.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Modern monogamy?

I like this perspective. It's the modern world, people, let's accept a little flexibility, shall we?

I have come to the conclusion that just because monogamy works for some people, doesn't mean it's right for everyone. Relationships need to be defined between people, but this idea that one-size-fits-all is perfectly ridiculous.

Two friends of mine have been together for well over 15 years now, and are very happy together. I also know that they have had dalliances with others in that time, without damaging the core of what they have together.

This idea that you have to spend your entire life with one person at the expense of all others is, I think, a little outdated and very constricting. The freedom to indulge your passions and desires can prevent stagnation in a relationship and ultimately stops you feeling tied down.

Now, I also accept that the counter-argument to this is not without merit, and for some people that may be the right solution for them, but at the heart of it has to be an agreement between the people entering a relationship.

More important than fidelity is openness and honesty with your partner(s). As long as you are clear and honest about your intentions (even if your intentions aren't) and you have the boundaries agreed, then so long as you communicate, a flexible, positive and healthy relationship is possible.

Socialism. It's insidious.

Actually, insidious implies that we can't see it coming. In a time of economic crisis, Gordon Brown seems to have reverted to type and instead of doing what is best in the long run by accepting a short-term pain, he refuses to do anything that might lose him votes.

Instead, he announces a savings account scheme that will be funded out of the taxpayer's purse, and that he will underwrite mortgages up to £400k for up to two years. Now correct me if my economic head is not screwed on correctly, but far from fixing the problem, that is going to prolong the contraction in house prices by artificially supporting the market. The market needs to normalise - the boom was artificial and unsustainable, but that doesn't appear to have ocurred to GB. He seems to have it in his 'towering intellect' that he can fix all this by throwing taxpayer's money at the problem.

Now, if I had taken on a mortgage of £400k and needed to take advantage of this little mortgage holiday, the chances are that I wouldn't have been able to afford it to begin with. If I were one of those who had lost their jobs, well that's what mortgage insurance is for. So this repreieve means I can get two more years of living in a house I can't afford without having to worry about it, at the taxpayer's expense, no less.

Far from treating the root of the problem, GB is encouraging us to spend and exacerbating the situation further. Imagine, if you will, that our economy is a castle that GB has built over the last ten years. It looked magnificent, and Gordon picked a spot that had a great view, but he forgot to check the soil and skimped on the foundations. It turns out it's on sand, and the weight of this monstrous construction is too much. Urgent work is needed to shore up the foundations before the mighty towers crumble and fall. Instead though, Gordon has called around his favourite architect, they're trying to build an extension to the east wing and add another floor on top, ignoring the fact that the building is collapsing around them.

Reality check. Please step outside the building and look at what is actually happening. Stop playing politics and grow a spine, stand up to the electorate, admit that you made a mistake and stop trying to buy their votes with crowd pleasing policies that are going to cripple us in the long-term.

A matter of distance...

It looks like Harriet Harman can see the writing on the wall. She clumsily avoided giving any vote of support for the Speaker, Michael Martin, whose failure to stand up to police (who entered without a warrant) was compounded by a weak statement at the opening of parliament yesterday. This should hardly surprise us, after all, he lets Brown and NuLab get away with murder in the commons.

Interestingly, the focus seems to be moving away from Jacqui and Gordon. Their apparent ignorance of the plans of the Counter-Terrorist police to arrest Damian Green suggests that they are either incompetent, or liars.

Surely not?

Back to the Speaker for a moment, the Times makes a good point about the actual rights of MPs, but you might have thought that it was his duty to ask Police whether they posessed a warrant, and at least satisfy himself that their response was in proportion to the alleged offence.

The real issue at stake here is why the police suddenly felt this particular mole and MP were worth going after, and why the response was so heavy-handed. After all, Gordon Brown made boasts about his leaks for years, perhaps the Met might like to chase down some of these politicians as well?

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Thieving son of a goat...

A number of blogs have been carrying banners for Axe The Beer Tax, and for good reason. If you weren't aware (and I imagine that's more than a few of you out there), 33% of the cost of a pint is tax. A THIRD. Buy three pints, and one of those was pure tax.

Not that the politicians are too worried about that.

What makes that even more hard to swallow is the other duties we pay on alcohol. As of the PBR, £1.57 of a bottle of wine in the UK is duty. That means that horrific bottle of plonk you picked up for £3.50 in the supermarket contains less than £1.93 of wine. That's before you count the costs of shipping and bottling.
Spirits? On a bottle of, well, let's say Smirnoff (oddly enough, my text recognition software on my phone reads that as Poison before I get to the ff) at 37.5%, that's £6.03. Given that one can pick up a bottle of the stuff for about £15, that's about 40%.

And they think they need new laws to dissuade us from drinking?

Softly Spoken

The speaker 'regrets' that the Police had been able to raid Damian Green's office without a warrant. Apparently, yes, ladies and gentlemen, the House of Commons speaker really is that wet. He spoke not so much with conviction, but with a whimper. Grow a spine, man, and stand up for democracy!

In other news, amongst the other Bills contained in the Queen's Speech was the Savings Gateway Account Bill, whereby the Government intends to pay 50p for every £1 that low earners manage to squirrel away into this special new account, up to a maximum Government contribution of £300. Without massaging the figures, that's a 50% interest rate for the first £600 saved. Now I'm sure there must be stringent controls over how this works, but hold on just one second, I'm all for incentives to save, but isn't that what ISAs are all about?

It is important for people to have savings - you need that cushion for a rainy day. Furthermore, it encourages financial discipline, and in my opinion, saving for something makes far more sense than borrowing the money to buy it. Not only do you feel like you have earned your purchase, but you don't have to pay ridiculous interest on it.

So what we have here is the Government telling us to go out and spend (wait, isn't that how we ended up in this mess?), while at the same time telling us to save (which could contribute towards stagnating the economy) which it will encourage by spending taxpayers money at a time when we have a budget deficit. Talk about mixed messages.

I is payin fur mah guverment. I wantz refund.

In the beginning...

And Lo! For Basement Cat looked upon his domain, and saw that it was good.

Finally, he thought, somewhere to flounce my wit and bemoan all those whose actions and words drive me to despair. A place where I can declare my fury, express my joy... and question the integrity of those who lead our nation to the precipice of oblivion.

I say this because, quite frankly, it seems like the current government seems hell-bent on eroding our civil liberties and saddling us with a national debt that makes US Defense spending look almost reasonable. The Taxpayer's Alliance were quick to point out that the Pre-Budget Report (PBR) showed that Darling's (aka Brown's) budget was going to cost the nation more than it did to defeat the Kaiser. If you were wondering about the number, the total debt planned for the period 2009-2014 stands at £512,000,000,000,000.

Of course, the Government has a responsibility to look after the economy, and since we've all been spending too much of the money we clearly didn't have, let's solve this by encouraging people to spend even *more* money! It's bombproof! And since we're short of cash as it is, let's lower VAT to get them out spending (2.5%, I'm touched, Gordon, really), ignoring the cost of change to the retailers, plus failing to mention that we plan on hiking it to 18.5% next year. For crying out loud... If you think you can spin that to show how it benefits businesses you're forgetting that fundamental flaw in your plan - Businesses claim VAT back anyway.

At this point I should add that I know this is all old news in blog terms. The PBR was last week and the VAT slash took place on Monday. Apologies, I'm playing catch-up.

Funnily enough, I had a sneaking suspicion that the VAT cut might be politically motivated (Never! I hear you cry), because NuLab are desperately in need of some popular politics right now. The announcement of a 2.5% reduction could have a number of effects - after all, if you knew that the £1000 shiny new Television that Gordon really wants you to buy would suddenly cost you only £948.75 if you held off your purchase til December, you might be tempted to hang on a week or two. Replicate that logical decision across the nation, and November will be a dire month for retailers (if it wasn't already). December, on the other hand, should see a surge of delayed purchases PLUS the general Christmas rush, allowing Comrade Brown to declare to the public 'Look, my plan worked!'. Once you factor in the demise of Woolworths and the fire sales to follow, sparking a brutal throat-slashing extravaganza between retailers on the High Street and beyond, I have little doubt that December will see a big boost in sales, if not so much in profits.

Yesterday's Scotsman (Hootsmon to those who know) led with a front page story on the success of the 2.5% rate cut bringing hapless shoppers out into the street. Really? Wasn't just because Christmas is coming soon? Wasn't anything to do with the massive reductions on the High Street that make the 2.5% cut utterly irrelevant?

Teh econumi. Ur doin' it wrong.