Still Waters

For reasons I won't bore you with I found myself trawling through the obituaries from the Second World War of old boys from my children's school. The most famous of them was the indomitable Roger Bushell, remembered for his exploits as Big X at Stalug Luft III in what became known as the Great Escape, (although at the time of publishing in 1949 it was more modestly known as the great break away). Bushell though is only one of many old boys who gave their lives. 

The forward to the Wellington College Roll of Honour, said this,

"Perhaps it was this feeling of the inevitable which was responsible for a greater forbearance in the attitude of boys to each other in the years immediately preceding the war-and it was this generation which suffered most. In this brief period of spring before the autumn storms, the tree blossomed with the promise of abundant harvest. Games, though still holding pride of place, ceased to be the only passport to success. Scholarship, music, art, literature and drama, claimed and secured recognition and a devoted following. Yet in all this there was a feeling of frustration and unreality. Boys talked little of their future, and we hesitated to speak of it to them. They knew, and we knew, the road along which destiny pointed the way. They were neither boastful nor morbid. They turned the gifts they had acquired to the stem uses of war and went forth, without any heroics, to play their part in securing the freedom of mankind. Their lives in epitome are a record of men and boys, confident in themselves, confident in their cause. They did not live to see the triumph."

The short obituaries tell of success on the sports field and in the classroom at school and of heroism and fortitude in battle. From the Boer War and Great War veterans who pushed and pulled to get into uniform again to the youngest eighteen year olds, straight into service from the Upper Sixth. Of them all, this simple obituary of a 2/Lt Money left the deepest impression. Still waters run deep.

Second Lieutenant ROBERT COTTON MONEY, The Cameronians, was in the Hardinge from 1932 to 1937. He was a quiet boy, wrapped up in his books and field sports. On May 27th, 1940, during the retreat on Dunkirk, he heard that a friend in the Hardinge had been left behind seriously wounded. Towards dusk against advice and orders he set out to look for him and from that journey Roy Money did not return.

 

Birthday Blog

For the boys

Glancing down the sidebar at the archives I am reminded that the blog is seven years old this month. My repository for random thoughts, ideas and occasional middle aged rants has become something of a good companion. Certainly, writing now and again has proved to be somewhat more cathartic than shouting at the dogs when no one else will listen which, understandably, is most of the time. To write a successful blog it should be regularly updated, (best done at specific times daily), and the more specialised it is the more likely it is to harvest a strong and loyal readership. I do none of those things, preferring an eclectic and individual approach about things that mostly interest, concern or amuse me. As a result, the number of hits vary enormously with some posts receiving many thousands of hits while others immediately sink without trace. Attempting to analyse the readership is simply baffling with the most unlikely posts spiking in popularity without obvious reason. The post on dialects for example remains the best read post on the blog of all time.

So, to mark our seventh birthday, and to prove just how shallow your correspondent really is,  I happily represent one of the early posts from 2010 and shall stare at the skies all weekend with an air of hope and optimism. Just to demonstrate the equal opportunity blogger that you know I am, here's one for the girls.

For the girls

Europe; Coming Unglued

The financial media have, as usual, been watching a different movie.

The financial media have, as usual, been watching a different movie.

A friend recently said in reply to a comment, 'I think we're going to hell in a basket.' She is probably right but not for the reasons she thinks. My friend was referring to the consequences of Brexit. I am referring to the structural issues which are baked into the Eurozone and which are coming unwound at a pace which is very likely to accelerate throughout 2017. Standing close to an exploding bomb is never a good idea. The further away we are the better although it will take more than the English Channel and the political aspiration, if not commitment to leave, to save us from at least some of the backblast.

Political risk in Europe appears to be growing. The truth is, it never went away. It was simply subdued temporarily by successive ECB bailouts which have rescued (some) ailing banks but have done nothing to correct the systemic flaws in the Euro which have ruined southern European economies. Now, as political risk takes front and centre stage with Le Pen soaring in the polls the underlying economic risks which have been fermenting for years are at risk of ripping loose. The means of transmission are again, most likely to be the banks. You see, nothing has really changed.

We saw during the last period of Euro stress in 2011-12 that a sell off in bonds hit the balance sheets of European banks who tend to hold their own governments debt which increased their need for bailouts. In turn, that hits depositor and investor confidence which damage the banks even more creating a death spiral requiring direct central government intervention. As you may have guessed, the three countries with the banking sector most exposed to their own governments debt are Italy, Spain and Portugal.

With the ECB scaling back its bond purchases and the rising incidence of inflation yields have been rising. More importantly, spreads have been widening reflecting growing risk between member states.

Markets have so far placed a low delta on a Le Pen victory in France. Markets are being naïve. The French electoral system is designed to keep the door firmly shut against extremist parties but with the other candidates carrying baggage of their own her defeat is far from certain. Italy’s election meanwhile could result in a government under the influence of the Five Star Movement of the Northern League, both of which are committed to leaving the EU. Markets would not wait for an EU referendum result in these countries. Merely scheduling one will result in financial chaos. Meanwhile another Greek crisis similar to 2015 looks baked in when they run out of money in July.

Investors are hardened to serial crisis in these countries but are broadly complacent in their thinking that after a lot of fuss there will be another bailout and normal business will resume. Italy’s banks still hold 276bn in bad loans and the countries debt to GDP ratio stands at 134%. With 12% of the country’s bank assets being held in national debt there is a financial death spiral just waiting to be triggered. A small issue here is that Italy is the third biggest economy in the Euro block. That won’t be an easy fix.

Portugal meanwhile is back where it started with debt as high as it was in 2010. The 78bn Euro bailout there did not reverse economic trends. It did though, save the banks, for now.

The ever sensible and cautious Germans have been trying for years to neutralise this threat, first with a proposal to limit the amount of domestic sovereign debt that a bank could own. Germany failed. The second German proposal was adopted. That was to require that bank bond holders take a draw down, to zero if necessary, before government money could be used to bail out. Unfortunately, when Banca Monti Dei Paschi ran onto the rocks in December the rules were bent out of shape by using out of date stress tests and reimbursing debtholders saying they had been misled. That prevented a political fuss in Italy but has left the potential financial death spiral in place.

Other ideas, mostly based on the ‘bad bank,’ approach have circulated in recent years and include creating two classes of bonds, pooled together from the Eurozone countries, and divided into ‘safe,’ and lets call it ‘less safe.’ Loosely, that would be Germany plus one or two other countries and the rest. Unfortunately, the Germans are not big fans of either of these plans or any of their derivatives. The Germans in fact have been playing a quite crafty and streetwise game and who could blame them. German banks have pulled back their lending to non-German companies in the Eurozone over the past few years. Their appetite for shared risk is diminishing and the banks preference for keeping their money inside their national borders reflects this.

Germany itself has its own handcart of problems. Germany will of course work hard to keep the Eurozone together but it is not without its critics from both within and from outside. Germany is under constant criticism for having the largest trade surplus in the world, something that has not gone unnoticed by the Trump administration. It is ironic that Germany is the most powerful member of the very institutions that were imposed upon it in post war Europe. Indeed, the Euro was created years later in part to tie a reunified Germany to France and losing the Mark was the price paid for reunification. The trade off for Southern Europe in being unable to devalue was access to Northern European borrowing rates which allowed much needed structural reforms to be put firmly on the back burner.

Monetary union with fiscal union blocked potential wealth distributing mechanisms and acceptance of risk sharing required Southern Europe to gift their fiscal policies to Brussels. The Eurozone crisis and subsequent austerity measures have created fertile ground for growing resentment which has fanned the flames of populist movements which are gaining traction across the Eurozone. The refugee crisis and local political scandals have poured kerosene on an already politically volatile state. Growing recent civil unrest in France, (not much reported in the UK), and less violent demonstrations in Germany, reflect the heightened political volatility.

Political and economic structural tensions in Europe will continue to rise across the Continent in the coming months. They may well be contained and then abate. Protectionist rhetoric from Washington however complicates matters somewhat and are anathema to Germany’s export led economy. How the global economy, which has been designed and built around the free movement of people, goods and services reacts to fundamental changes driven by Washington remains an open question. Certainly, a much stronger dollar would be deflationary and wipe out the glimpses of inflation we are now seeing and that has a world of implications starting with Emerging markets and the $9tr of foreign dollar denominated loans which are ticking away.

With, for the moment, inflation at the gates and with bond yields rising in France and the periphery, the increased cost of debt repayments will do nothing to stabilise matters. Equities meanwhile have been skipping along without a care in the world. They may be about to stumble. For what it is worth, I firmly believe that the whole rotten construct is closer than most believe to coming completely unglued. Let’s hope that the financial boffins at the Bank of England are earning their money and are stress testing the banking and clearing system to destruction. It won’t be so very long before risk managers across the City are once again obsessed with counter party risk.

As a quiet postscript, those investment banks such as HSBC and Morgan Stanley who are making noises about moving some staff to Frankfurt and Paris, good luck. You are going to very much need it.

Foot Tapping

music_millenium_records4.jpg

The weekend break in the Six Nations gives me the opportunity to feed my somewhat neglected blog. Not having finished a couple of longer pieces, here then, is a cleaner to gap fill.

I previously wrote about the joys of spending a rainy Saturday afternoon perusing the dusty recesses of Tower records in Piccadilly and unearthing eclectic music pieces. Writing it at the time reminded me of my first visit as a young teenager to the sort of trendy record shops that you always felt were a hazardous risk to personal and public hygiene. You know the sort of place, racks of LP's with an unshaven hippie with unwashed dank and greasy hair behind the counter who treated you with contempt and disdain if you uttered anything resembling a polite question. The first time I went into one of those places I walked out with my first, and last, LP; Bridge Over Troubled Water. I couldn't make head or tail of the rest of the nonsense and never went back. 

itunes and Youtube mean I don't have to do that ever again.......... and the joy is, I keep finding eclectic and interesting music, often surprising myself while doing so. Here then are three tracks which, while may be old news to you, have added a little bit of joy to my weekend.

I have an abiding affection for old Music Hall and a deep and sincere love for Twiggy. Here then is the magic mix. The English language expended adequate adjectives for Twiggy decades ago; lets just say she is a very special girl and this is a rather fun old time song.

Timi Yuro.......... possibly the most explosive voice I've ever heard. How could it have taken me this long?
 

Darlene Love hitting the Wall of Sound. Spector, deviant pond-life that he is, was a musical genius. What a girl though, what a voice, what is there not to love?

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Happy Valentines Day!

Well, Happy Valentines Day then. I wish I could muster more enthusiasm but its never been a priority for me. Disappointment hit me early in life when what I thought was a witty little poem crashed and burned. I didn't write it; I copied it from a 1974 issue of Punch magazine. I think it may have been the line, 'and when the moonlight flits across your...... ' which failed to find any romantic resonance with the unfortunate recipient. I wept no tears when Punch went out of business.

I set the tone early in marriage by refusing to bow to the commercial outreach of schmaltzy corporate America by doing nothing. So set is that trend now that if I were to pop up with a dozen roses and a dinner booking it would be viewed with deep suspicion and result in the sort of intense questioning not seen since that frightful scene with Dustin Hoffman in Marathon Man. 

Of course, those who took the other fork in the road marked, 'what do you mean it's Valentines Day tomorrow.... bloody hell,' have made a neverending rod for their own back. I wish them luck. You can never get it 100% right. The shame is, the vast majority of men can't stand the whole charade and would much prefer to make their own gestures at a time and place of their own choosing.

For those stuck on their own I wouldn't worry. It's not such a bad place to be. It's a bit of a shame that you'll probably end up dribbling down your shirt in a nursing home with no visitors but it could be worse; well, probably not.

Thing is, people, (especially, but not only young people), don't much talk to one another. The concept of going to the pub and chatting to girls is dead and buried. Some girls have told me they would quite like to be chatted up, not having ever experienced it but then that would require them to go to a pub, something else which is in steep decline. It baffles me how a fast dating app like Tinder can be acceptable but talking to a stranger off the cuff is deemed to be odd, unusual or something 'your parents did.' Part of the fun and challenge of the game was to strike up a conversation, get blown away and try again. They don't know what they're missing because the truth is, one half of the population has lost it's sense of fun and social courage and the other half wishes they would man up and just bloody ask the question.  

Anyway, for all you lads on your own tonight, here's Norman to jolly things along.

Hurrah!

We'll take that on the chin lads...

It's back. The best six weeks in the calendar with skill, drama, heartbreak and joy throughout. The Six Nations lifts the soul and gladdens the heart, whatever the hue of your jersey. It's one big happy pill to take you away from whatever aches, pains and worries may ail you. I absolutely love it.

What is there not to love about French rugby?

The French are in town today and of course we all hope they are back on track and closer to rediscovering their old flair and elan.  I have posted this before, but here again is the clip of the unforgettable try scored by Philippe Saint-Andre in 1991, who didn't have a great spell as a manager, but whose try against England was voted in England's centenary year, 2009, the best try ever scored against us at Twickenham. 

Peak Sport?

Shares of US companies Fitbit and Under Armour have been properly malleted

Shares of US companies Fitbit and Under Armour have been properly malleted

Some sporting shares have been hammered recently. That is interesting. If sport were an equity index I would probably be bearish. I have talked previously about the fall in attendances at US sporting events and in viewer numbers. The Super Bowl for example, peaked in 2015 at 115 million television viewers, which was a 26 year high, to 111 million viewers last year. We could ask, or rather shareholders should be asking, how much the Italian accounting calamity that struck British Telecom was due to management looking at the green grass of the Premier Division rather than their core business and what that implies for levels of future television rights; the premise on which the whole shaky construct stands. That is, the shaky construct of football but also of BT. Who in their right mind would invest billions of pounds into a business whose biggest business risk is the binary outcome of a bidding war, getting the number in an envelope wrong and losing their audience and business model at a stroke. Television viewing figures for both SKY and BT were reported to be lower last year but the reasons why were complex. They varied from straight cost, quality of football, too much football, the formats, inflexible pricing, illegal streaming alternatives and value amongst others. The Leagues themselves can sell overseas rights as the Premier league did with China last November so have more of a cushion. Golf meanwhile seems to have peaked back in 2014 along with Tiger Wood’s game and cricket…… well, don’t get me started.  

Ho hum...

Ho hum...

Not many joggers there..... now I'm not saying the Old Days were better but..............

Not many joggers there..... now I'm not saying the Old Days were better but..............

Closer to home the sudden panic about urban air pollution which has engulfed us, and which will invariably lead to equally sudden and poorly thought out legislation, may have an impact on domestic sporting goods sales. Having been encouraged for years to get out jogging and cycling citizens may now rethink their personal fitness goals if, having avoided being mown down by an Eastern European HGV they now learn that their lungs are dissolving into a pit of slimy diesel-flavoured mucus. It’s a bit galling to discover that they would have been better off sitting in a pub garden with a pint and 20 Benson’s for the last 20 years which pretty much has been my alternative plan to the jogging hysteria. Not mentioned yet, (of course it wouldn’t be), is the impact on air quality that newly imposed 20mph speed limits in the City and beyond have had, the addition of some 50,000 registered Uber drivers and of course, the ridiculous cycle lanes, the construction of which has clogged up the streets for the last couple of years and slowed down traffic commensurately.

I fear, we are in a death spiral of health related unintended consequences. All the health fascists have achieved has been to make the population more neurotic, (which is unsurprising given they are being diagnosed with and warned about increasingly creative ills), and it seems to me, have made us less stoic, more angry and a whole lot less comfortable within ourselves and whatever shaped bodies the good lord and the accidents of DNA presented us with.



Throwing it all together, have we, might we, just have reached Peak Sport?

Doe-Like Delusion v Barbaric Cadence

In the days of a never-to-be-seen-again twenty-eight inch waist, when soldiering in the jungle, movement was difficult and precision navigation challenging. Often, we would resort to what we called gross error navigation. That is, we would aim for a recognisable feature such as a river or unusually shaped contours three or four clicks distant. When we hit them, we would then figure out where we were in relation to our exact target. Unfortunately, jungles tend to have lots of rivers and are very hilly. Nonetheless, it was a method by which we convinced ourselves that we knew what we were doing.

Doe-Like Delusion

Doe-Like Delusion

I am reminded of those days when looking at Trump’s actions. He is making decisions and while the execution has so far been poor, largely because of an absence of planning and the right staff not yet being in place, he is heading in the direction that he made clear he would do from the outset of his campaign and is doing so on the basis that they will figure out the bumps in the road along the way. The only surprise has been the speed at which he has moved but again, he is doing exactly what he said he would do.

The manufactured hysteria that has greeted his executive orders, on both sides of the Atlantic, strike me as being shallow and delusional. On the US side this president hasn’t said anything that has not been said before by previous incumbents and he is executing policies on which he was elected. The development which raises some concern though was the statement issued by Obama in which he declared he now supports all the protests against Trump. That definitely isn’t good and potentially could legitimise in the eyes of some a different level of protest. On this side of the Atlantic the protests and petitions have little resonance with the majority of citizens, the majority of whom would like to see exactly the same restrictions and deep vetting placed on immigrants from countries that offer a threat to our safety and well-being. The same is true of mainland Europe.

The press have been very cute in their reporting of the migrant issue. Led by the BBC, who like to drive the narrative rather than report it, we don’t hear much about violent incidents against the person perpetrated by individuals who live to an ignorant and barbaric cadence better suited to medieval times. If in any doubt, refer to the family of the poor Swedish woman who was gang raped by three men who live streamed their bestial act on Facebook.

An ordinary bloke called Big Joe speaks for the average Joe while wandering through a demo in LA

From a purely British perspective the Transatlantic Relationship is not just important; it is critical to our survival. Today, we have just 19 surface ships in the Fleet and less than 82,000 soldiers with which to defend ourselves. Anyone who thinks that is sufficient to stop a determined enemy for longer than a few days has detached themselves from reality. As a point of orientation, at the height of the Troubles in Ulster over 21,000 soldiers were deployed. In Op Granby, (the first Gulf War), 45,000 soldiers and 11 surface ships were deployed, (not including mine counter-measures ships). We couldn’t do that now. How ironic is it that without the United States, the nuclear trigger point for the UK is lower than it would otherwise be because the ‘last resort defence’ jumps up the queue should our survival be at stake. Something the protesting Snowflakes may wish to ponder.

The other irony is that when the tofu munching liberals get their own way and it turns to rat shit they disappear and are not to be found. It is then mostly left to the sons and daughters of those who are diametrically opposed to their views who have to go and fix things. That is mostly how we ended up with 456 dead in Afghanistan.

The madness of the whole thing is of course that on average, some seven children and teenagers are killed by guns every day in the United States. In fact, more people are killed by toddlers with handguns than are killed by terrorists in the US but then that is another discussion which even Trump is unlikely to have the courage to lead.

Saturday Night

I had the joy of popping up to London on Saturday to meet my daughter for a late birthday dinner treat. We avoided joining the marching sisters protesting about, well just about everything as far as I can work out but mostly against President Trump. In their mass demonstration of toddler petulance, ‘if I can’t get my way I’m going to lie down and cry,’ they are in denial. It is this very hectoring and lecturing, holier-than-though attitude, (neatly described by Brendon O’Neil in the Spectator), that has alienated the silent majority who are now making their voices heard. Anyway, our evening kicked off at a rather fun cocktail bar called Cahoots, which is set in a 1940’s tube station with music and themed cocktails to match. It was more like walking into a movie set than a bar which was fine because given the period I immediately felt at home. I have form here having previously co-starred with Stephen Fry and Hugh Lawrie in Jeeves and Wooster, (I was a Drones Club member). Two things though, struck me as being slightly off theme. The first being the cocktails. None were of the time. Most were sweet and sticky which I guess is what people want rather than the Horses Neck’s, Pink Gins and Whisky & Sodas which would have been more prevalent then. In fact, the very drinks that some senior members at the Club still regularly imbibe although their numbers are now sadly, in steep decline. The second thing that struck me was that all the men there, and I mean all of them were dressed like 1970’s folk singers. All had beards, flat caps and flannel shirts. These I guess are the so called ‘hipsters.’ It was like a Geography teachers convention in a 1973 power cut except that all of these specimens were drawn like magnets to any nearby reflective surface to check their hair, carefully placing any wayward strand with a finger flick. Very prissy, very non 1940’s. Nonetheless, I would recommend the bar as a starter for an evening. Do book though, it is popular.

the Godfather of the 'Hipster' look

the Godfather of the 'Hipster' look

In fact, popular doesn’t quite cover it. Central London was buzzing and I lost count of the number of new restaurants, bistro’s, cocktail bars and ‘kitchens,’ that we walked past. Obviously, the currency is contributing and Q4 fears in the hospitality business that many Eastern Europeans would return to work in Europe for an immediate salary uplift, (when calculated in value of funds they send home), after Christmas bonuses were paid seem on the face of it, unfounded. I couldn’t help thinking though, perhaps we’ve reached ‘peak cocktails.’ (We must definitely have reached peak beards). When even my local pub in West Sussex now stocks 30 different kinds of gin, is that telling us anything about social and market peaks? Perhaps it is just telling us that we are rediscovering a 19th century enthusiasm for gin consumption on an industrial scale. Then again……… 

Gunner; 2003-2016

We lost dear friend Gunner this morning. While sad it was the right thing. He had been suffering from a degenerative hip for some time and had lost considerable mobility. When a dog reaches the point of enduring rather than enjoying you know it's time.

Gunner came from Skipton in Yorkshire but displayed none of the traditional traits of irascibility and obstinacy usually associated with that county. His father was an English field trial champion and it showed. He was the easiest of puppies and the most biddable young dog imaginable. They say that Labradors are born half trained and Spaniels die half trained. Gunner certainly fell into that tradition and was a walking advertisement for the breed as a family dog. Gentle with children and cautious with strangers it was a rare to find oneself telling him off. In one moment of dissent though, when we moved from the last house, he laid down across the garden path and steadfastly refused to move, making the removal men step around him........ for five hours.

Gunner never lost his dignity, right up to the last. With Zulu and Gurkha they made our family life complete if occasionally chaotic. Now Diesel and young Arthur are left to fly the flag. Gunner was a decent fellow and the end was gentle and super quick. I'll tick that box if I ever have the chance. He will be missed.

Vigilance!

Mrs Flashbang is taking me back to the QA in Portsmouth this afternoon for a follow-up endoscopy to check all is well after the last procedure. Being my sixth visit this year it's all pretty routine now. Above, you can see a picture of Arthur. Mrs FB took him to the Vet's yesterday for a 'procedure.' If you sense a hint of betrayal in his face it's probably because he came back less intact than he was before he went. I shall be striding into the QA later with maximum vigilance.