Saturday, 4 February 2012

Who wants to be a million Sir

In my ideal world I would have been Regimental Sergeant Major in the Black Watch (RHR) or a grumpy classicist in a Cambridge college. I would never in my wildest dreams have been a banker. Indeed for most of my real life I have fought bank managers and I loathe money so deeply that I get rid of as much as I can as quickly as I can.

For all that, I cannot see why there was such a fuss over the bonus sought for the RBS Chief Executive. He was going to get a maximum of £2,000 in cash and a million shares, half of which will go to the taxman. If you are lumbered with devalued shares in a debt ridden and failing bank you are going to do your damnedest to make a success of it.

When I got £2,000 in merit money over the years I was with the Mirror I used to wonder if I got it because the Mirror secretly felt I was not being paid enough. In the event I worked hard because on the Mirror you got sacked if you didn’t. I venture to think that doesn’t happen to bankers. But who are we to complain at their behaviour? Tube workers have turned down a £500 bonus just for doing their job in the Olympic weeks. Not because they believe bonuses are immoral but because they do not believe it is enough when 500 Docklands Light Railway workers are to get up to £2,500 simply for agreeing to work without disruption during the Olympics. DLR staff will get £900 bonuses - and will also be guaranteed five hours of overtime a week, for which they will be paid 75 per cent above their normal shift rate. In my youth in Doncaster miners got an extra shift if they went to work on Mondays.

No wonder the thrifty German worker doesn’t want his hard-earned cash to be hurled at the spendthrift Greeks and Spaniards and the Irish, whose Chancellor Enda Kenny admitted, went mad and lost the run of themselves buying up all around them while he kept an eye on the purse strings and avoided the Gucci bags and the SUVs, the holiday homes in Turkey and the shopping trips to New York.

Clearly the German have not yet bought into Merkel’s plan for a new German empire but that may change. This week the Berlin opera was forced to abandon plans for a production on his birthday of Hitler’s favourite Wagner opera.Watch this space


The evils of TV are under debate. Evils? I dread to think what retirement would have been like without it. I have been entranced this week by a series on the lost civilizations of Africa. As a child Africans were the painted savages who boiled missionaries and chased Tarzan. Only later did I learn about the “lost” civilisation of Benin with its bronzes which were equal to the Florentine masters and Benin, I now learn, was one of many.

The twin evils the human race is heir to have been inquisition and acquisition. It wasn’t curiosity killed the cat but it certainly helped and we pillaged the world with an enthusiasm that made a Santa Claus out of Autolycus, that snapper up of trifles.

Both vices led us to intrude disastrously into the lives of the indigenous people of Africa and the” New” World. Over centuries they had worked out a way of life in which they flourished. We brought the” benefits” of Western civilisation to them by trying to wipe them out. The subject people were quick learners. In Egypt this week five people were killed in riots protesting against a football riot that killed 75 people. In other parts of that basket case continent we have enabled deaths in tribal wars to escalate into millions by replacing the assegai with the Kalashnikov.

We killed uncounted American Indians by selling them blankets impregnated with killer diseases, introducing them to alcohol and resettling them in areas where their survival was impossible. The less said about the genocide of aboriginal people the better. Black chieftains introduced slavery by selling their own people, but only to satisfy western markets. How much better the world would have been if Columbus and Raleigh and Livingstone had stayed at home.

From our lofty perch we look down on the corruption of the countries to which we brought the fine qualities of which we British were so proud.

What shining examples we are. A Cabinet minister is charged with perverting the court of justice. Top civil servants have managed to avoid paying tax or insurance for years, but do not hold your breath waiting for them to be similarly charged.

If there is a Creator, we are told, you can tell what HE/SHE/IT thinks about money because of the people H/S/I gives it to. Has anyone watched a Nature documentary and failed to remark how beautiful the wild things are - and then looked in the mirror at the comic creation which is mankind?

I read this week about a treatise, “Divina Proportione” (1509), in which the Italian mathematician Luca Pacioli echoed fashionable opinions of the day by declaring that our body measurements express “every ratio and proportion by which God reveals the innermost secrets of nature.” Not the first thought that springs to my mind. Apparently he got the idea from a Roman engineer Vitruvius who insisted that a temple could not be built properly “unless it conforms exactly to the principle relating to the members of a well-shaped man.”

All I can say is that he had never shopped in a Fenland supermarket.


A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government.
It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote
themselves largesse from the public treasury.

From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates
promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result
that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always
followed by a dictatorship…

The average of the world’s greatest civilisations has been two
hundred years. These nations have progressed through this sequence:-
From bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great
courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance;
from abundance to complacency; from complacency to apathy;
from apathy to dependence; from dependence back to bondage.”

–Alexander Fraser Tytler (1747-1813)– Recalled by Blog reader Peter Reece

Delighted to read this glowing review of my chum William P. Cross’s book in the New York Times;

“...................This account differs somewhat from that in a biography of Lady Almina that came out last year. William P. Cross’s “Life and Secrets of Almina Carnarvon” tells of a woman who traded her money for a prestigious but arid marriage, took lovers young and old (including her husband’s best man) and burned through Rothschild’s dowry, leaving her feckless son enraged and penniless when he finally inherited the estate. Lady Almina did, in fact, open her home to the wounded, and went on to open a series of tony nursing homes (and discreet abortion clinics) for the rich and famous. But the homes never paid for themselves, and she and her second husband, a military officer named Ian Dennistoun, whom she married a few months after Lord Carnarvon’s death, ended up in bankruptcy court. Almina died in greatly reduced circumstances in Bristol in 1969, at the age of 93.”