That's My Girl

A quick update from our intrepid explorer in the Middle East for her kind supporters.... the call went something like, 'I'm having the time of my life.' On you go then love. Clip above from some self satisfied sod who just got himself a drone... (I do secretly have drone-envy, IWOOT).

Lau, the Flashbang thing was a joke love... not an instruction...

Lau, the Flashbang thing was a joke love... not an instruction...

Diesel, Arthur and I meanwhile are all doing as well as can be expected. If in passing there are any experts out there who know where the powder goes in the white washing machine in the outhouse, (it's one of those that lights up like a Tardis when you press 'On') or indeed where one finds the powder, then do please feel free to call. 

 

 

 

Time Out

Having spent most of the day mucking around with a presentation for tomorrow, now is the moment for a time-out. At least I didn't have to tackle the 48 Excel worksheets my colleague has created but then he actually knows what he's doing with Excel and Powerpoint. I've just got slower at this stuff as I've got older.....

Anyway, here's a bit of Dolly; everyone needs some Dolly in their life. As she likes to say, 'if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.'

Thirty Years

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Thirty years ago tomorrow morning on Friday 16th October 1987 I slept in. The alarm clock hadn’t gone off. I was abruptly woken by a ringing telephone. It was my friend Chris, ‘There has been a storm, electricity is down, tubes aren’t running; how are you getting to work?’ ‘Buggered if I know,’ I thought to myself. I’d slept through the biggest storm in 100 years. The storm though, was just beginning. 

I jumped in the car and drove to the City. It was an eerie journey, much quieter than usual, driving around fallen trees around Shepherds Bush and avoiding advertising hoardings and signposts on the roads. I parked in Finsbury Square and jogged down to the office in the Stock Exchange building. Only a few of us made it in. As I remember, the Stock Exchange opened late at around 09:30hrs but there wasn’t much business around and the phones were largely quiet. I only did two bargains during the whole morning. Together, they cost my book £125k by 10:00am on Monday. The market closed early at around midday and we headed off for the weekend. At 1:30pm the monthly US trade figure was announced. It was larger than expected and elevated concerns that the Fed might raise rates after a low interest rate period that saw the Dow rally 44% in just 7 months of that year. That the Americans and Iranians were busy lobbing missiles at each other that week and the next did little to help confidence. Markets began to sell off, spurred by ‘triple witching,’ option expiration in the States and the Dow closed down 4.6% on the day. It was a nervy weekend for market operators.

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The waterfall event on Monday, or Black Monday as it became known, took no prisoners. Everything got hosed. Our telephone dealer boards lit up like Christmas trees from the get-go and however wide we made our prices, we got stuffed with more and more inventory. The cascade selling accelerated with index arbitrage programs flooding the systems with more orders than could be processed creating a frantic and chaotic trading environment with stock exchange systems repeatedly failing and where everyone it seemed, was rushing for the same exit. When these events happen, investors sell what they can sell, not what they should be selling. Often, that means the big liquid blue chips get smacked first because liquidity vaporises in smaller names. The blue chips are of course, the names that have the biggest weighting on the indexes. The Dow finished the day down 22.6%, the FTSE -26%. 

Numb and exhausted, we got in the lift at the end of the day and repaired down to Jonathan's, the bar at the bottom of the Stock Exchange. It was full, but very, very subdued. Brokers and market-makers were hunched over their drinks mulling over the catastrophic events of the day and the impact on their lives. Some had lost fortunes; some their firms. 

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Interesting then that this week saw the 10th anniversary of the 2007 market high. In fact, the market rally from August 2007 to October 2007 is remarkably similar to that which we now see from August this year. I’m not going to write a technical market note, for the moment anyway, but would remind the casual observer that the start of bear markets are characterised by sudden, violent and persistent one way price action that wipe out years of gains in days. The current bull market, which has been underpinned by Central Banks for so long, is way past it’s sell-by date. If you choose to look, there are stacks of experienced market practitioners and commentators warning that this mature market is over-heated. Don’t ever anyone then say, ‘no-one saw it coming.’ We did in ’07 but similarly, no-one was listening then.

Flashbang Away!

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That's Mrs Flashbang away then on her charity fund raising trip cycling from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea, (don't panic, she has more luggage than just a Sainsbury's plastic bag). Good luck to her, and to those of us left behind; that would be me and the dogs. She'll be joining her Dad on the trip, who actually started these international charity bicycle endeavours 25 years ago. I did a few of the early ones at the end of which I swore I was done. If every bike on the planet was melted down and turned into paper-clips I wouldn't lose any sleep. Still, these challenges raise huge amounts for charities and thats a very good thing. 

Only the one for dinner tonight then..

Where's that cook gone?

Stranger Than Fiction

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The following tale is a repost from the Sandhurst Trust's Facebook page. They publish a bio of an old officer every Friday and a very entertaining read they are too. This one though, takes the biscuit. The most fertile minds in fiction writing couldn't come up with this story and deliver it in any way that would appear in the least believable. 

The son of a Warrant Officer awarded the MBE for services in the First World War, Douglas Clay was born in 1917. After a short period as a cavalry trooper he married and drifted between jobs until the outbreak of WW2. Initially joining the RAF he failed the aircrew exams, went AWOL, bigamously married his girlfriend, worked in an armaments factory and joined the Home Guard. He also began wearing his father’s old uniform complete with additional pilot’s wings and, after a traffic accident whilst in uniform was mistakenly sent to an officers’ hospital. There, he stole a cheque book before being charged with obtaining money by deception and impersonating an officer. However the charges were dropped as he repaid the money and, in order to cover his tracks, he changed his name to Berneville-Claye.

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Enlisting as a Private in the West Yorkshire Regiment he claimed to have been educated at Charterhouse School and Magdalen College, Oxford and, based on these falsehoods, was selected for officer training. Commissioned from Sandhurst in October 1941, he served with 11th Bn West Yorks in Egypt. Again charged with cheque fraud he managed to convince the authorities he was a barrister, conducted his own defence, and was acquitted. By now having supposedly inherited his father’s title and calling himself ‘Lord Charlesworth’ his regiment was probably glad when he volunteered for, and was accepted for service in L Detachment of the SAS. After taking part in operations behind enemy lines, he was captured and sent to POW camp firstly in Northern Italy and then to Oflag 79 in Germany.

Fellow POWs became aware that there was an informer in their midst and planned to court martial and execute Berneville-Claye so he was moved by the Germans for his own safety. A few weeks later, a POW working party spotted him wearing civilian clothes in Hanover. He next appeared in early 1945 appointed to the staff of III SS Panzer Corps as a Hauptsturmführer (SS Captain). Soon afterwards the Corps Commander, after being told he was a Lord and Captain in the Coldstream Guards, appointed him to head the British Free Corps (BFC). (The BFC was an attempt by the Germans, at the behest of the British Fascist, John Amery, to recruit disaffected Prisoners of War. However, between its inception in 1943 and the end of the war, only 54 men were recruited and its strength never totalled more than 27.)

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Berneville-Claye, however, managed to persuade another member to accompany him and they surrendered to the British. Unbelievably, as the only officer to serve with the BFC, he managed to avoid any repercussions. The prisoners in Oflag 79 had no hard evidence of his informing, he stated that he had, as was his duty, escaped from the camp and stolen the SS uniform in order to blend in. Furthermore, the evidence of the misfit traitors of the BFC was too tainted to be used in a Court Martial.

Returning to England as a Captain and, ironically, Adjutant of a POW camp, he was Court Martialled and demoted for wearing the ribbon of the DSO and again for an inappropriate relationship with a female soldier and thirdly for theft, after which he was cashiered and imprisoned. After yet another bigamous marriage, he achieved a measure of respectability as a manager at Rank Xerox living in the country, riding to hounds and playing the role of a retired Guards officer.

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In the early 1960s he emigrated to Australia becoming a much-respected school teacher in New South Wales. For many years after he died in 1975 the school had a Douglas Berneville-Claye Memorial Trophy.

Wilbury Down

Nobody's Child.... gets me every time

I note that rock legend Tom Petty left his mortal coil today. I can’t say that I know much about him or indeed his music except that is, for his contribution to my favourite band, that antidote to the modern music industry, The Travelling Wilburys. A group which included Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty must have something special about it.. and they did.

Handle With Care; Pretty cool when you have Roy Orbison just for the chorus

I first came across the band at a charity dinner in 1990, held at a restaurant in Beauchamp Place, the name of which I have long since forgotten. The dinner was organised by Olivia Harrison in aid of  The Romanian Angel Appeal. To be honest, I was a bit out of my league at the dinner but it was nice to be included. I nervously cast my eye down the items in the silent auction which read like a Bond Street Wish List. The auction proper had items that would challenge the pockets of a Lottery winner; holiday for ten in Mustique, that kind of thing. As I say, bit out of my league. Then they played a song on the sound system. By the end of the first verse of ‘Nobody’s Child,’ taken from the soon to be released first Travelling Wilburys album, I had my cheque book out. Song still gets me every time I hear it.

Farewell then Mr Petty and thank you.

Catalonia

Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy just achieved what many thought impossible having in just twenty four hours succeeded in putting Brexit on the back-burner on the ‘list of things to worry about,’ for the EU. His heavy handed and insensitive approach to yesterday’s referendum has put succession tension in the region on the world’s front pages and will have unquestionably strengthened local resolve and pushed many ‘no,’ voters across to the independence camp simply out of family and community loyalty.

Images of ordinary decent citizens being beaten up by para military police are shocking. These weren’t the usual protesting unwashed anarchists we are used to seeing ripping up paving stones at G7 summits. They were mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters who were simply out and about with the intention of casting a vote. Rajoy has blown it and there will be consequences beyond Catalonia.

A positive vote with a convincing turnout was always a low probability event but Rajoy now has a simmering feud on his hands which will be a persistent and long lasting issue for future successive Spanish governments. And let’s not be naive here. The separatists managed to manoeuvre the national government into a no-win situation by refusing to engage and offering no optionality forcing the government down a path of action which would have negative repercussions across the worlds press. Of course, the federal police agencies weren’t forced into their heavy-handed actions. That simply amplified the impression that normal people are being denied their democratic rights. Moreover, the reported 42.3% turnout lacks legitimacy even if 90% of the votes were in favour of separatism. Legislation for the vote was only passed 4 weeks ago and opponents of independence simply refused to debate or engage in any meaningful way. The referendum was held in a manner that would not pass any independent audit with separatist movements issuing their own ballot papers and the local government suggesting that voters even download their ballot papers from a Catalonian government website.  

Prime Minister Rajoy’s credibility though is shot to pieces. Rajoy anyway relies on minority parties to help him with his legislative programme in parliament and some of those may be less well disposed to sit in his corner. The problem for the EU is that this comes at a time when many national governments in Europe, including Spain, have minority governments and with Merkel struggling to form a coalition there is a striking lack of leadership across the EU with the possible exception of France where of course Macron is flying into strong headwinds of his own with his reform programme.

I have consistently repeated two views regarding the EU and Brexit. First, that we are better off out because the whole monstrous construct is structurally flawed and will anyway, implode at some future point because of accelerating national divides, (watch the trend in popularism infect Eastern Europe, Belgium and Italy in the months ahead), and economic disparity between north and south. Second, that whilst an advocate of Brexit my long-held concern is that Westminster lacks the expertise, experience and wisdom, both politically and within the civil service to ensure a smooth and elegant exit. Funny how both are manifesting themselves simeoultaenously. 

Heaven Not Hell

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Some folk go through life collecting prizes and awards. I don’t. Never have in fact. The last one was “Best Dressed Tourist,’ in the 2011 Haslemere Rugby Club Under 14's 'Ken & Barbie' Tour. So, it was a something of a Blue-Riband, memorable event when Crumble passed the finishing line first on Friday evening in an unexpected and well received win over pretty stiff opposition to win the much coveted “Hell or Heaven Best Chef Award.’ I kid you not…… it pays to be a winner.

your correspondent in a previous winning guise on the 'Ken & Barbie Rugby Tour,' but as I was reminded on Friday evening, I only won because I brought two outfits... day and evening.

your correspondent in a previous winning guise on the 'Ken & Barbie Rugby Tour,' but as I was reminded on Friday evening, I only won because I brought two outfits... day and evening.

The back story to the event was that a good chum had accidentally bought a ‘Chef comes to your house and cooks with you evening,’ at a silent auction at Twickenham. (Note to the unwary….. don’t ever fill in a form for fun and carelessly leave it on the table when you leave to watch the match….. they will track you down.) Being a good spirited soul my chum honoured his ‘commitment,’ and kindly included me on the guest list. A brisk start saw us kick-off at 5pm with the first glass of fizz and straight into the task at hand, boys cooked under the benign supervision of Andy from Culinary Temptations ; and girls chit-chatted as they do whilst we toiled. I of course was stiffed with the starter which may sound like a breeze but there was the small technical challenge of it being a goats cheese soufflé. Unfortunately, I don’t much like eggs and I definitely don’t like goats cheese….. issues…

Winner!

Winner!

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With one of our number delayed at Geneva airport the field was reduced to just the three of us, starter, main and pudding. I very much approach cooking in the same way I would building an Airfix kit. Follow the instructions to the letter and without deviation. We have form here. The Crumble boys never lost the annual St Edmunds School Airfix modelling competition and I wasn’t going to let the side down. I had though, very stiff competition with my fellow guest doing the main course who was doing a blistering job with his Moroccan lamb and was easily more technically accomplished than was I. His marinated courgette had me worried and to be frank, it was the best thing I tasted all night but then he had cous-cous on his menu. Well, you’re never going to win when you have to present something that even at it’s best has the consistency and taste of hamster droppings. I mean, who ever really orders that thing? My host was, at least to begin with, all over his big task of creating and serving chocolate fondants with caramelised banana and honeycomb. No easy thing there. Obviously, his competitive spirit came through right from the get-go and to be fair, he was doing an amazing piece of work …. right up until the combined impact of too much enthusiasm with the early opening of the Tattinger followed by a ‘taster,’ of the Yamasaki Japanese whisky, (first for me and actually, not a bad dram), dulled his timing and technical edge to produce some disappointingly droopy, but nice tasting, chocolate fondants. Droopy but nice tasting could be an anthem for middle aged men.

So, the goats cheese soufflé won the day and what a fun and memorable evening it was. Winning was a bit of a surprise but was welcome and uplifting nonetheless. I’ll take every win I can get at this stage.

A Bloody Good Film

The sound illusion off the Dunkirk movie soundtrack explained.

I haven't seen many films this year. It has after all been something of a hum-drum movie year with not much to sit up and get animated about. I quite enjoyed Patriot's Day, about the Boston bombing, with Mark Wahlberg. If you have ever been unlucky enough to be close to an IED then you may want to give it a miss, the bombing scenes are done well enough to give you flashback bad dreams. I found the big headline film of the year so far, Christopher Nolan's 'Dunkirk,' disappointing. Although the three stranded timeline in the script was very clever, and well executed, it didn't add anything to the Dunkirk story for me and the historical misses were just silly. How can you have a movie about 365,000 soldiers being evacuated to England and not one of them, not one, smoked apparently? Certainly, it isn't a patch for me on Leslie Norman's 1958 'Dunkirk,' which nails it in all respects. The soundtrack maintained stress levels throughout and the explanation of how that was achieved in the clip above is interesting. Redemption for the new version comes though in that young people, many or most of whom knew little about the evacuation, started talking about it which is by any measure, a good thing. 

Catrin (Gemma Arterton), an untried screenwriter, and a makeshift cast and crew, work under fire to make a film to lift the nation's flagging spirits; and inspire America to join the war.

If however, you want to put your feet up and enjoy the best of British film making this year then search no further with your remote than to 'Their Finest,' in which Gemma Arterton plays a former secretary who is appointed as a scriptwriter for propaganda films and joins the cast and crew of a major production while the Blitz rages around them. Sam Claflin is her prickly love interest while Bill Nighy, well he does what he mostly does in every movie which is to play himself, this time as a character in the propaganda film they are making. 

Directed by Lone Scherfig I suppose one could contort this witty and pleasurable 110 minutes into seeing it as a feminist drama. I simply enjoyed a well scripted, acted and directed movie which I can't recommend enough. One for the nights drawing in. Oh, and I think I am very much in love with Gemma Arterton. 

Unlimbited; Simply Awesome Top Blokes

Drew Murray and Steve Davies; two top blokes doing good things.

There are times when the world may seem to be a joyless place. The last few weeks especially so with weather, geological and geopolitical chaos spreading misery across many parts of the world. We don’t though, have to look so very far to see the light of goodness and joy.

I found it in all places, in one of my favourite television programmes, ‘Shed of the Year.’ Who knew that was a thing? Well it is and very entertaining watching it is too. While watching one episode I was completely bowled over when the cameras took us into one wee small shed in Swansea in which, two guys, Drew Murray and Steve Davies  design and manufacture with 3-D printing to order, prosthetic hands and arms for whoever asks for one. Drew originally designed a limb for Steve who then decided to volunteer. Steve is a man who understands the difficulties facing the children he helps. He described in the programme one of the first prosthetic arms he was given as ‘something out of a medieval torture chamber.’ He said his grim experiences when a youngster with prosthetics were his inspiration ‘to make things better.’ The guys design and make the limbs in any colour and design at the childs request. The price to create one of his specially designed arms is about £30, far cheaper than sphisticated bionic limbs which can cost north of £50k. Given the rate at which children grow they are simply not tenable for most family situations. The charity, Unlimbited, doesn’t charge children for their services and they share their designs online so people all over the world can benefit.

Drew and Steve? Simply top blokes doing an awesome job. They certainly cheered me up watching them... well, made me cry first but who wouldn't get emotional?

JFDI

Textbook disaster relief response from the UK. You can read more about the Royal Navy's part here.

Textbook disaster relief response from the UK. You can read more about the Royal Navy's part here.

The UK government attracted unfair criticism in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma with suggestions from a number of quarters that the UK had not done enough and lacked urgency in it’s relief efforts. Most of the criticisms came from people who know little to nothing about disaster relief. The UK’s response has in fact been text book. You can read more at the excellent Thin Pinstriped Line blog here and here

Are we though, when sequential hurricanes are removing entire postcodes from the map in the West Indies, acting at the political level with appropriate imagination and verve? I do not believe we are. It would not take much though, to turn this around. Here are two simple ideas which would create a change of basis for the Islanders.

What are we even thinking about? Let's just get the kids the hell out of there.

What are we even thinking about? Let's just get the kids the hell out of there.

First and as a priority, all children of school age from the affected islands should be evacuated to the UK, should their families so wish, housed with local families for a term and found places at schools for the duration. This will enable their Mum’s and Dad’s to focus on rebuilding their communities while the children continue their education in a safe environment free of disease and of course, further hurricanes. All the Government need do is ask and good people will step forward. Any critics should remember that we have form here. If we managed to evacuate 827,000 children of school age and 524,000 mothers and young children (under 5) in the first three days of September in 1939 we can certainly look after a few youngsters from the Caribbean until Christmas.

Cometh the hour.......

Cometh the hour.......

Second, having Royal Marines, sailors and soldiers on station is good but for the rebuild many, many more builders and craftsmen than we have in uniform will be needed. The Government therefore should immediately recruit 2,000 builders, plasterers, decorators, plumbers, electricians from across the UK. For administrative reasons they should be temporarily enlisted in the Reserve with the rank and pay of Corporal. They will undertake to spend 4 months rebuilding infrastructure and housing with an entitlement of one flight home and 5 days Rest & Recuperation during the period. While doing so they will use local paid labour and services and undertake to train young apprentices while working. Normal entry requirements of fitness, age and nationality will be suspended under ‘special measures.’ Normal daily military discipline will not apply but civil law obviously will. Military medical, insurance and repatriation rights will apply. The craftsmen will be discharged on their return. In addition, each island will be twinned with a major UK city who on request, will augment town planning, surveying, architectural, drainage and other infrastructure expertise as requested.

So, action with imagination and verve. The technical term for the next step is JFDI.