Sunday, 27 January 2008

Ph Dunces

A small group of brainy young Ph Ds sit in the heart of every bank developing its strategy. The size of their bonuses is dictated by the amount of money they make. One group decided to make money by lending money to poor Americans, canvassed by salesmen whose salary depended on how many clients they brought it. Although they must have known their clients would be unable to repay, they bundled up the worthless mortgages into bonds and sold them to Pension Funds and other banks. Another small group of brainy Ph Ds tucked them away without first examining them. Yet another brainy youth lost his bank billions without anyone noticing. That is the reason why the world is in recession.

Among the hardest hit are another group of brilliant young men who emerged forty or so years ago. They were called asset strippers. They bought flourishing companies and some that were less so, sold their assets, threw out their workers and closed down their factories. The financial community treated them with contempt.

They are still with us, but have become very respectable. Despite the fact that they buy up companies about which they know nothing, with money they haven’t got, and have to borrow from banks which now refuse to lend it because they do not trust each other. In a world where trust is an essential ingredient and cannot function without it.

I know so little about mathematics that, having spent all my life on a monthly income, I have been unable to work out how much I earn a week. Even so, given those facts, I think I might have worked out the result. It is not surprising that a mere recital of the causes of the credit crisis gave the satirists Bird and Fortune material for one of their funniest routines,

Perhaps that Incomparable Duo should look at another of the unreliable planks on which we walk unsteadily across the chasm of existence: Time.

Time is a majority verdict. If a thousand clocks said half past three, it would be a bold watch which insisted it was 4 pm. Different parts of our country used to have different times. It was the coming of the railway which united them. Stations are long gone from many communities, but the tyranny of time remains. At its most extreme, shops in Corwen, North Wales, close for lunch an hour early to accommodate the arrival of a train which no longer runs to a station eliminated by Dr Beeching.

Corwen is a town still obsessed with its railway, which now awaits the arrival of the private railway from Llangollen which is recovering the old track. In the graveyard is an epitaph to Owen Owen, a driver who died at 29. It reads:

“His life is over
Death has put on the brake,
His soul has been signalled
Its long journey to make.
When death sounds his whistle
The steam of life fails
And his mortal clay shunted
Till the Last Judgement calls.”

Time is a notional notation. If we travel aboard we quite often arrive before we have left Britain. Doesn’t bother us, but we suffer early darkness for the benefit of a minority of Highland crofters whose preference for light mornings rules us all.

One would have thought that with devolved government might go devolved time keeping. I passionately believe that Scotland should misrule itself in the way the Scots have misruled Britain in recent years and I am happy for them to start the morning in a blaze of sunlight.

My old man reckoned his greatest moment came during the siege of Erskine Street, in Manchester, where a desperate gang of IRA terrorists were trapped in a bedroom, armed with more guns than were passed round at the Alamo.

Whilst his inspector paused, wondering what to do without causing casualties, my old man charged up the stairs firing so wildly that his inspector called out, “Get that bloody gun off Skidmore before he kills us all.”

The IRA gang surrendered to a man, but not before my father was shot in his head. In later years he became convinced it was his inspector who shot him out of self interest.

The IRA men got life but, in the way things are, they were shortly afterwards paroled and went on to a life of luxury. When I came out of the army my old man took me to Eire, where there was no rationing, to buy me a suit of clothes.

In Mooney’s bar in Dublin he reminisced about Erskine Street and the man called Shaugnessy who shot him. He asked the barman what became of him. “As rich as Guinness himself,” the barman said. “He manages the dog track at Phoenix Park.”

At the park we asked for Mr Shaughnessy and the girl behind the office counter asked, “Who shall I say wants him?”

“Tell him it’s the man he shot in the head,“ said my old man.

Minutes later, a man the size of a Connemara Cliff burst into the office and grabbed my old man warmly by both hands. “There was nothing personal,” he said. “It was political and no offence meant.”

“And none taken,“ said my old man magnanimously. “Anyway, it was my inspector that did it.”

After a few moments of surreal conversation, Shaughnessy took my father’s race card and marked a dog in every race. I backed them all and they all obliged - until the one in the last race which went down spectacularly with my evening’s winnings.

My old man, who had not bet on a single dog, had a terrific evening being smug. As we trudged out of the stadium, he said, “I knew that would happen. The last time I met yon bastard he shot me in the heed.”




“Thieves stole a coffin at Kiberia Legio Maria Church last Saturdy while mourners were in the church praying.
The incident occurred at Kamera Labu Sama in Nairobi. Followers went berserk when they learned the coffin had been stolen as they prayed.
Pastor Peter Iama said the coffin, which had cost Shs 3,000, contained perfume worth Shs 1,700.

He said: ‘We decided to keep the coffin by the door while we all went in for special prayers. I sent one of our followers to get help in bringing the coffin in but it had already been stolen.’”

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