Monthly Archives: January 2012

#oneaday60: Living in the past?

As usual we (I) am up against a time deadline. Although we have no formal agreed ‘rules’ amingst us Five Hombres, and we said we would each do a blog a week, we have kind of hit a rhythm which has seen us write a blog each day since the 1st of January. So, I am honour bound to write something. At least I think I am. There has been so much going on this week. Cloud gaming, SOPA, PIPA, the launch of Games Britannia and much action over at AppyNation all point to suitable subjects, but sadly they all warrant some proper thought, reflection and time. Something I don’t have right now.

I always seem to be living my life in the future. I am always looking forward to the next ‘event’ and planning the next ‘experience’. As a result I can get a little sidetracked on matters a little closer to home. The ‘here and now’ becomes the ‘what if’?

It was therefore somewhat refreshing to have sat down tonight, switched the iPad and iPhone off and watched a wonderful film called Midnight in Paris. I knew nothing about this film, following my new code of conduct which is not to read any reviews at all nowadays, instead trusting in my own judgement and being completely surprised with what comes up.

It was a real surprise to discover this is Woody Allen’s latest work. Never my favourite film director, I looked forward to the experience given it would not be my first choice all things being equal. But it was a lovely film, rich dialogue, great acting and a wonderful plot. Intriguing and entertaining in equal measure. Beautifully shot, full of beguiling charm with a wonderful pace Midnight in Paris just delivered me pure pleasure on a plate.

I am not going to tell you anything else about it, for risk of breaking my own rules about reviews, suffice to say if you do get a spare hour and a half, then give it a go. It really did make me think about living in the moment, rather than in the past, or indeed in my case, always looking to the future.

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#oneaday59: It’s that time of year again……

January sees most of us count the cost of our Christmas excesses and work out how we are going to make ends meet once we have paid off all of our bills from the seasonal loveliness called Christmas.

But for some, January is bonus time. Yep, the banks will be rewarding their top performers who have so skillfully steered their companies through the worst financial times for 50 years, and as they say ‘quite right too’. The politicians are fearful, again, that if bonuses are too high, us non bankers may moan and be disobedient. They did the same last year after all. Just so we are all aware of the rules and etiquette, today Mr Bob Diamond, CEO of Barclays warned the politcal leaders of Britain, for now a United Kingdom, not to try and influence their decisions. Sound familar? We will know soon enough what obscene levels of ‘compensation’ will be paid to these people, but what action will we actually take? A year ago I wrote this. We now how the #Occupy movement and our local version in the City of London is still there, making a point of sorts.

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So all the tough talk about ‘us all being in this together ‘ (sic) (for those non residents of the UK, this was the phrase introduced by David Cameron, now Prime Minister of the UK at the Conservative party conference in October 2009 and has been the rallying call in these tough times) has proved to be a little wide of the mark. As purchase tax, or value added tax (VAT) as it was rebranded some years back rose 14% to 20% on the 4th of January, and thousands of public and private jobs are slashed,  as deep and rapid cuts to the welfare state and the education system,  the majority of folk in the UK are now getting used to a time of austerity. And you know what, we have no choice. The economy of the UK has taken a major battering, why, well in truth there are so many factors it would be a long essay and stuff that I simply don’t understand. But basically we spent more than we earned and we have to do our financial porridge for some years.

One factor that does stand out amongst all the others however, is the fact that some of our banks became insolvent in 2008. Instead of ‘the bank calling the debt in’ as normally happens when businesses and institutions fail, this time the banks carried the debts and could not meet their commitments. There was no one bank to call all the other banks in so to speak. They really were ‘all in it together’. The decision was taken, we are told, in the national interest, by Prime Minster Gordon Brown to bail the banks out. Amazingly no one actually seems to know to what extent. Namely we don’t know the final number. Some sources quote upwards of £1 Trillion. in the case of RBS (Royal Bank of Scotland) we are told that the citizens of the UK now own 83% of the shares. In return for these share the nation poured £45Billion in cash, insured £280Billion of risky loans and set aside a further £8Billion in case things get really bad. So you’d have thought as majority shareholders in this company, we i.e our Government would have had a say in how that business should be run, in the national interest and all that.

But the Government insisted earlier today (when I wrote this anyway) it would not intervene to stop Royal Bank of Scotland’s chief executive, Stephen Hester, earning up to £9Million for last year’s work. Furthermore it will not seek to cap the bonus pool of more than £1Billion that the bank intends to pay it’s high earners. A spokesman for David Cameron said: “We’ve made a broad statement which is about the need to see some restraint and some responsibility from the banks, but we are not going to set bonus pools for individual banks.”

We know the sketch here. Money talks blah, blah. But for all the recent fighting political talk – see below – of those who govern us, those that our pickled voting system has thrust upon us, right or wrong, is always the same. It is just talk and talk, unlike property is cheap.  Indeed the extra tax rate/levy on bonuses from last year has been wiped out,  replaced by a lesser yielding tax on the banks’ balance sheets.

So if you are young and  live in London, or are trying to buy a house in London, or indeed in the countryside close to London – aka The Stock Broker Belt as it used to be called when VAT was purchase tax, one of the consequences of this indecent and bloated excess is that property prices will rise again, thus putting property even further off the radar of those starting out in their working life, those trying to bring up a family. The very same people, many of them pay as you earn (PAYE) tax payers (you know the ones who pay the correct amount of tax as they do not have access to fancy schemes for tax optimisation) are royally being shafted.

The youth should always be at the centre of any society’s future, yet they find themselves over taxed, if they are lucky enough to have a job, under served and utterly betrayed. And the bank band played on. Pfffff. I am not given to cheap prejudice, but I can tell you now, I have complete and utter contempt for these people.

So there you go and to keep it interesting, I have a meeting with our bank manager planned for next week to discuss our  ‘facility ‘for 2011. The name of that bank? I will give you 3 guesses. You should get it right first time. Wish me luck.

Footnote what our leaders said when in Government (courtesy of The Independent )

‘It is wholly untenable to have millions of people making sacrifices in their living standards only to see the banks getting away scot-free – the banks should not be under any illusion: this Government cannot stand idly by.’ – NICK CLEGG, Deputy Prime Minister17 NOVEMBER 2010

‘I make no apology for attacking spivs and gamblers who did more harm to the British economy than Bob Crow [the RMT union leader] could achieve in his wildest Trotskyite fantasies, while paying themselves outrageous bonuses underwritten by the taxpayer.’ – VINCE CABLE, 22 SEPTEMBER 2010

‘Every decision the banks make like that [paying large bonuses] makes it more difficult to keep a tax regime that they might favour.’ DAVID CAMERON, Prime Minister 17 DECEMBER 2010

‘We will not allow money to flow unimpeded out of those banks into huge bonuses, if that means money is not flowing out in credit to the small businesses who did nothing to cause this crash and suffered most in it.’ – GEORGE OSBORNE, Chancellor of the Exchequer 4 OCTOBER 2010

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And just in case you need to see the man in action here you go

We now how the #Occupy movement and our local version in the City of London is still there, making a point of sorts. It has all been peaceful and I for one hope it stays that way. But surely we can take more effective action? Like all change our bank accounts to a bank that has some ethics – like the Co-Operative? It is easy, if a little time consuming and think of the effect if there was a mass defection from the banks that are too big to fail…..

Act NOW.

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#oneaday 58: Citius, Altius, Fortius…?

So says the Olympic motto – faster, higher, stronger. Indeed this year’s Olympics could and should do a lot of things for Britain. Much has been written about the legacy vs cost of the whole project and the latest figures to be quoted show a hard cost of £9.1Bn to the UK tax payer.; To put some perspective on this, £9.1Bn  is about half the bank bonuses paid in the City of London in 2008 just before the major crash and about twice what was paid out to bankers this time last year.There will be a load of new homes for people (note I don’t say ‘houses’ because many will not actually be that, but stick to the official word) in East London some of which will be ‘affordable’ again official speak. 6 of the 8 sporting venues have been found a use post games, leaving only 2 to go. The project has been delivered on time and by all accounts within budget and to a high standard. This is all good. Tickets are oversubscribed and whilst thousands of UK citizens have not been able to get tickets, this is the first time that any Olympics has been sold out so far in advance. I guess that is a tribute to the UK public’s appetite for sport and the big occasion. The organisers even sold 20,000 tickets to the Synchronised Swimming when capacity was half that. Who’d have thought?

Indeed I will make no bones about it, I am a big supporter of the Olympic Games. Even though it has become a fully professional games and we will see a second Wimbledon tennis tournament this year with most of the same players taking part, it is still a great sporting occasion and one that Britain has a very decent track record (no pun intended) over the years. It is probably best that it is virtually all professional now and that aspect is out in the open. For years the USSR and DDR plus other Eastern Bloc nations would show up and win loads of medals through a mixture of ‘focus’ namely they were state sponsored full time athletes, gymnasts, weightlifters and so on, or through blatant cheating by using performance enhancing drugs. Over age ‘college’ kids from the USA would sweep up the other medals and everyone would shrug their shoulders and accept it. Great Britain would produce the occasional super performers like Daley Thompson, Steve Ovett, Sebastian Coe as well as fantastically talented and unassuming amateurs like Mary Peters and David Hemery.

Anyway I digress! For me the Olympics are fab. This year, and every four years there will be an army of volunteers who will give their time to help run the games and welcome all the visitors from overseas. But I have read reports that the volunteer army have been given strict instructions by the IOC (International Olympic Committee) on how they can and can’t use social media through the games and this has to be a really suspect decision.

Before we call for the head of Lord Coe, who has not only proved himself to be a truly world class athlete, but has run the whole enterprise with an amazing sense of professionalism and passion (much like his running ability), we have to look at the Olympic organisers, the IOC. Much like FIFA they report to no one bar themselves and make decisions without fear of consequence. And they are based in the tax haven of Switzerland, just like FIFA.  It is the Olympics themselves that have put this dictate down.

So imagine that you are one of thousands who will give up their time to help most likely nowhere near any sporting action, and you are told ‘no Twitter, no Facebook, no communication’ during the games please. Instead of encouraging thousands of volunteers to let their friends know what is happening, good or bad, direct from the coal face and in the process generating millions of Olympic tags, you snap that off at the source and introduce dark ages rules that will only irk those who are giving up their time for the honour of helping out. Seriously the IOC need to reconsider their position and do that rather quickly.

This sort of backward thinking would have been perfectly accepted at the Bejing Games of 2008, after all China does not really like the World Wide Web, preferring the Chinese version.  But as for Britain being complicit in this outrage, well it is astonishing, out of touch and just plain wrong. We have not seen this sort of totalitarian approach to information control since Henry VIII broke with Rome, although Murdoch has had a pretty good go at playing his own special hand in recent years.

Outrageous and out of touch. Dear IOC, for the sake of your own reputation please reconsider your position on the issue of social networks for this year’s Olympics or suffer the heat that will inevitably rise as citizens reject your nonsense rules. Higher, faster, stronger in everything, thank you.

 

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#oneaday57: Irony, Lady?

When I was old enought to vote, I voted for Thatcher, whether you prefaced her name with Mrs, Margaret, Maggie or another less savoury term. It was 1983, I was 20 years old and we had just ‘won’ the Falklands War. Spirits were temporarily high, or at least they were for a naive 20 year old, and the alternatives were Michael Foot’s Labour party or the emerging Social Democratic Party who were allied with the Liberals (The Alliance). Labour was too lame to mention and The Alliance were ‘too new’. But as time went on even those who  voted for her began to have some doubts.

We had experienced the violent inner city riots of 1981,  and then the miners’ strike of 1984 saw even more violence not only between the police and strikers, but between workers and families from the same pit villages and towns. It was a divisive piece of British history and you can’t help thinking that Mrs T loved every minute of it. A decade before, the whole country suffered power cuts caused by striking miners and most of the people had had enough. This was her revenge for that action and her sworn intention to smash the power of the unions. No matter what ideology you follow, if you do, and I don’t happen to follow a left or right wing mantra, when the leader and Government of the country is waging war on some of its people, that can’t be an enlightened thing. Thatcher thought she was Churchill, trouble was the unions were not the equivalent of the Nazi party and Arthur Scargill was not Mr Hitler.

So when it was that I heard about the release of ‘The Iron Lady’ I decided that I needed to see it and managed to view via an advanced screening. A film made about a living ‘legend’ (love her or hate her) is a rare thing. Normally these thing happen after the protagonist’s life on earth. Pre release hype and trailers suggested it was all going to be sabre rattling and gung ho attacks on conscripted Argentine troops. Some right wing commentators exclaimed theie sheer unbridled frenzy at the prospect of this homage to a true Brit. I suspect that when they seee the film,  they will be somewhat disappointed.

Meryl Streep performance as the Iron Lady herself is nothing short of amazing. I can remember the Thatcher manner. That clipped middle class, slightly patronising drawl, those stone cold eyes that would cut through tungsten, the bouffant, the upmarket WI style battledress and an unflinching self-belief. Amazing. And equally amazing was her portrayl of Mrs T as an octogenarian suffering from Alzheimers, sometimes there, often not, but clearly wrestling with a sense of confusion about what she had actually achieved and whether her husband, Dennis, brilliantly played by Jim Broadbent, was there or not. He had actually died some years before and was a ghost masquerading as a fool in a wonderfully Shakespearian way.

Being ‘of the time’ I found the whole film thoroughly entertaining, but I suspect to those that did not live through her ‘reign’, those too young to remember,  will find it pretty dull. Expect outcries from The Daily Mail at least. As many have said it was light on politics and heavy on her personal struggles against men, her children, the Conservative Party, the Common Market (now the EU), any foreign leader bar Ronald Reagan and General Pinochet,  Unions, political foes, members of her own Cabinet, TV pundits, Socialists, Liberals, the world.

In the end she became the very image of the puppet that messrs Luck and Flaw had cast her in Spitting Image. The first woman leader of a Western nation  left us with many legacies, less council houses, more people owning property (ie having mortgages and paying huge interest on their loans) less union power, a Poll Tax that came and went, a decimation of’ non performing’ state owned industries, a free market,  foreign owned utility companies, a share holding middle class, few manufacturing industries,  a de-regulated City of London, Yuppies, Harry Enfield’s Loadsa Money, power dressing, and the biggest division of the people in Britain since the English Civil War.

I told you that I voted for her. I did. I was 20 years old and had been brought up to feel ashamed of Britain in decay. By the time of the next election in 1987, which she won again with a landslide, I had given up bothering. The two party sysytem would never deliver national progression in my view and I certainly did not want her back. I did  not vote again until 1997 and that was for (New) Labour. in 2010 I decided to go for the Lib Dems and look what happened. In the  end though, comedy can always help one ascend the Slough of Despond. Enjoy these 2 clips if you get time

 

 

 

And don’t expect the same barrel of laughs within The Iron Lady. Love her or hate her, Mrs ‘there’s no such thing as society’ Thatcher definitely brought the extremist tendencies out in all of us British people. Not many do that. And thank god we don’t get lary too often, it only leads to tears and misery.

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#Oneaday 56: New Year’s resolutions?

This is a blog I wrote late on New Year’s Day. THis year, we are 5 trying to do ‘one a day’ as a team….that is 73 blogs each this year…

Is there any point? I mean each and every year for as long as I can remember I have been suckered into making New Year Resolutions. Mostly they last a few weeks, occasionally they last longer, but I never keep them. Ok I did once, 1st Jan 1983 I gave up smoking.

But why do we do this? Last year my resolution was to blog once a day. Enticed by the #oneaday blogging movement, I resolved to write every day even though plenty of people told me to do #oneaweek. Nope, I thought one a day would be doable. What was I thinking? I managed to finish the year on 54 blogs, just over one a week. It started poorly and I never ever caught up with the daily average. Yet until about May, I thought I could pull things back. I didn’t, clearly.

So this year, instead of learning my lessons, I resolved to blog once a week with my fellow Fab Four Amigos. Together we are calling ourselves the Five Hombres, and it already feels much better. We are together, we will support each other and make sure that we deliver one blog per working day ie five days a week. Yep, I am confident we can do this, so confident that I actually volunteered to be first up. And here it is and here am I, at 11.37 on Jan 1st 2012 writing a few hundred words to get the ball rolling. So much happened last year on a micro sort of personal, as well as on a global level, that sometimes it was hard to keep up. Exciting and uplifting at all times and it was actually cool to glance back at some of the things I wrote about during 2011.

Here’s to my fellow Hombres! Together we are stronger, of that I am confident. 2012 is going to be a brilliant year.

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