Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Goings-on in Wasilla

In the confines of Newgate we seldom concern ourselves with goings-on in the far-flung colonies, but we are moved to comment this week on the arrest of a certain Sherry Johnston on drugs charges. Sherry is the mother of Levi Johnston, who is, you will recall, about to enter the state of holy matrimony with a certain Bristol Palin.

This upstanding young gentleman, who in his MySpace profile charmingly describes himself as a 'f***ing redneck', has had his own brush with the law after a youthful poaching exploit; this year, he found himself at the heart of a national scandal. The shock revelation of Bristol's state - forced on the family by media speculation about the parentage of young Trig - meant a damage limitation package involving happy plans for the future wedding which may have come as something of a surprise to the Johnston family.

It would be churlish to suggest that the 18-year-old, who says he doesn't want kids, found himself staring up the barrel of a metaphorical shotgun wielded by his future mother-in-law (whose unerring marksmanship is a matter of public record), but whatever the exact details of the case, it can scarcely be doubted that Ms Johnston has been under a certain amount of pressure over the past few months.

Once living in comfortable obscurity in Wasilla (pop.6,715), she has had her son's sex life and MySpace pages made a matter of public record (sample quote; 'You f**k with me and I'll kick [your] ass') and is about to see him led as a sacrificial lamb to the altar of Republican respectability. Now, in the ultimate humiliation, her arrest is reported throughout the world as 'Sarah Palin's in-law on drug charges'. Even when she breaks the law, they have to bring that woman into it.

And all over the US tonight political satirists are sighing into their beer over what might have been.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

What's in a name?

As JM of Jonny Mac's Place has remarked, Bernard Madoff has rather dominated things here in Newgate over the past few days. Although there is little to add now that he is safely immured in his gilded cage, we have as yet left untouched the vast amusement being generated by his name and its easy incorporation into punning headlines.

Daniel Finkelstein in his Times blog goes one better and has collected his favourite examples of names suited to their owner's circumstances. I am sure even he was unprepared for the sheer volume of similar exmples his article has generated - the page rivals in size the 742 comments (and counting) clocked up so far by the Telegraph's petition against the sacking of Edward Stourton.

Although not in the same category as the solicitors Doolittle and Dally or the headmaster Mr Kane, I should like to offer for your contemplation the name Hugo Boss. If a focus group sat for weeks on end trying to think up a suitable name for a brand aimed at the go-getting professional, I doubt they could do much better, yet Hugo Boss was indeed a clothes designer in pre-war Germany - in fact, he had the dubious distinction of designing the black uniforms of the SS.

Sixty years after his death, the firm is still in business and is currently promoting the 10th anniversary of its fragrance range with a collector's edition - evoking the scents of apple and cinnamon with a hint of vanilla. So now you know, girls; get up close and the thrusting young executive smells of Apfelstrudel.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Madoff in Manhattan

Where is everybody? A week ago, the well-heeled of the US eastern seabord were queuing up to shake the hand of Bernie Madoff. They wined and dined his in-laws to secure an introduction, or stumped up thousands in golf and country club memberships in the hope of bumping into him in the clubhouse and being - oh joy! - invited to invest in his funds. He could pick and choose; only a select few were admitted to the amazing returns generated by BMIS.

And yet this sought-after man is now under house arrest in his Manhattan apartment, tagged like a common felon, because he cannot produce the four 'financially responsible' signatories needed for bail. His wife and brother have signed the bond, but he still needs two further signatures to guarantee $3m (remainder of $10m after Madoff put up the apartment). Of the numerous people once so keen to meet him, not one has come forward to put a name on the dotted line.

Admittedly, electronic tags aside, there are worse fates than being under house arrest in a $7m apartment, particularly given that if he goes out, even in the select enclaves of Manhattan's wealthy elite, his reception is likely to be on the frosty side. His 7pm curfew should give him ample time to reflect on his new status as social pariah.

Monday, 15 December 2008

It's a mad, mad, mad, Madoff world

The emperor's new clothes continue to unravel as bank after bank admits exposure to Madoff's investment services. As more details emerge, we are presented with a scenario which could have come straight from the pages of an airport novel.

From the mysterious offices on floor 17 to the locked filing cabinets and encrypted files, Madoff presided over an empire that was opaque and inscrutable even to the employees of other divisions. Only his close relatives and a select few others were privy to the workings of the organisation and the auditing was handled by an obscure three-person firm in a remote suburb.

The complaint filed on December 11th makes no bones about it - it states that Madoff 'employed devices, schemes and artifices to defraud' and -rather picturesquely - seeks an order 'directing the defendants to disgorge their ill-gotten gains'. Alas, therein lies the rub; these ill-gotten gains have presumably been disbursed either in the high returns which so delighted Nicola Horlick or among the $200m Madoff announced he intended to pass to associates before giving himself up.

Since the whole reason this alleged fraud came to light is that the pyramid was on the verge of collapse, it is unlikely that investors will see much of their money again. Those who were in early enough to reap the artificially generated returns are better off than recent investors lured in by the unwitting shilling of their predecessors. The fairy-tale promises were false; yet again, the goose's golden eggs turn out to be addled.

If John Grisham doesn't want to write the script, I'm free!

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Madoff - the movie

Robbing Peter to pay Paul is nothing new but the scale of Bernard Madoff's alleged pyramid scheme is almost beyond comprehension. Even in less straitened times, it would be difficult for most of us to resist a frisson of schadenfreude at news of substantial losses for 'some of the most prominent and wealthy Americans'.

UK citizens have also been affected; city superwoman, earth mother and general Mother Theresa-alike Nicola Horlick - among those who invested heavily - endorsed Madoff in an interview in May, citing returns of 1% to 1.2% per month (see alphaville). In a display of handwashing worthy of Pontius Pilate, her company this week deplored the criminal activity and questioned a regulatory system which could allow the scheme to work unnoticed for years - did they never wonder how those returns were being consistently generated in the economic climate of the time? As a financial commentator wrote yesterday 'Even the savviest investors tend to look the other way when extraordinary returns are being made'.

The fact that Madoff's prominent firm used an obscure accountancy practice in Westchester and employed many of his nearest and, presumably, dearest in senior positions adds to the air of intrigue and speculation. Combine this with the high-society connections and country club lifestyle and you have a Hollywood blockbuster in the making - all we need now is John Grisham to write the screenplay.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Woolworths Sale - update

A pleasant surprise this morning that, despite the media attempts to create a feeding frenzy, the closing down sale at Woolworths began with a whimper rather than a bang. Footage on the BBC website, presumably garnered from camera crews sent out at dawn to catch the expected stampede, shows shoppers waiting patiently in line before filing slowly through the opening doors, some of them even giving way to others. The atmosphere was friendly and even a little solemn; appropriately funereal for the demise of a once-loved high street fixture.

Perhaps it should have been complemented by suitable music for the occasion - Pachelbel's Canon or Barber's Adagio - rather than the Christmas tracks I mentioned recently. Following that post, I have to admit that Kirsty MacColl/Shane McGowan's Fairy Tale of New York is more than acceptable and I would be happy to shop anywhere that played Cerys Matthews/Tom Jones, even if they're singing Baby It's Cold Outside.

Pride of place, however, goes to lampoonmeister Tom Lehrer for the following:
Christmas time is here, by golly! Disapproval would be folly,
Deck the hall with hunks of holly, fill the glass and don't say when;
Kill the turkeys, ducks and chickens, roast the goose, drag out the Dickens;
Even though the prospect sickens, brother, here we go again!

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Woolworths Sale of the Century

The word has gone out - closing down sale at Woolworths tomorrow after 99 years of trading. All round the country shoppers are girding their loins for the struggle, ready to brave the hordes to secure...what? If you really wanted/needed it, surely you bought it last week when they knocked 50% off.

Woolworth's is struggling because it sold stuff people didn't want to buy. So what's changed? Why was it bursting at the seams last week? Has the stuff suddenly become irresistible? Or is it simply that we are programmed to respond when a retailer cuts prices? How much will be spent tomorrow on things people really don't want or need?

And as you jostle through the masses tomorrow to join a queue of Ouroborian proportions, spare a thought for the poor beleaguered staff. Already uncertain of their future prospects, they will tomorrow find themselves confronted with an army of ruthless bargain hunters, and, if the media succeed in whipping up a frenzy like that seen in a New Jersey Wal-Mart after Thanksgiving, facing the potential hazards of an undisciplined mob.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Dr Who versus the Clangers

Sad news today of the demise of Oliver Postgate, whose instantly recognisable voice accompanied the adventures of the Clangers and Noggin the Nog to name but two. Not only were the Clangers inherently delightful, they also conveyed a strong eco-message. Who could forget their ill-advised meddling with agriculture (in 'Sky-Moos') or the machine that produced useless plastic tat?

In fact, it's difficult to decide whether the most evocative voice of the seventies was that of Oliver Postgate or the mellifluous rasp of Jon Pertwee as Dr Who. To listen to either is to be instantly transported back in time. In fact, as austerity brings a resurgence of the tastes of that era (shops full of Angel Delight and Wotsits, a musical based on Abba songs), perhaps it's time for the BBC to bow to the inevitable and offer the role of the next Dr Who to Sean Pertwee, that gravel-voiced chip off the old block.

PS Was Bernard Cribbins actually reprising his Dr Who role from the Peter Cushing film when he appeared with Catherine Tate or was it just a weird coincidence?

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Bah Humbug (shoo-shooby-doo)!

Somewhere out there is the person responsible for the compilations of Christmas music played in shopping centres throughout the land and I want his head on a plate. He (or she) has collected together some of the most nauseating, mawkish and tasteless Christmas songs possible and unleashed them on a defenceless public already at the mercy of the retail behemoths.

A recent foray in search of socks and pyjamas exposed your correspondent to rather too much of it this week - a particular irritation being Debenhams' endlessly repeated 'Santa Baby' (verb. sap. - all that 'put a sable under the tree' stuff doesn't go down too well in the current economic climate).

Anyone who has spent time shopping recently will be familiar with the subcategories - syrupy renditions of the cuter and fluffier carols, a cod 1950's American earmuffs-and-cosy-log-fires vibe and, of course, the Band Aid single (sorry, St Bob and the blessed Midge, but they probably didn't care whether 'It's Christmas time', on account of a substantial proportion of them not being Christians, as well as not having enough to eat).

If the single were doing its job, customers would be flocking round the corner to the Oxfam shop, where a veritable cornucopia of cards and fair-trade presents awaits the shopper with a social conscience but instead, they just merrily hum along while filling their baskets with overpriced gifty tat.

Since the recession-hit holiday season bears as much resemblance to 'a merry little Christmas' ('next year all our troubles will be out of sight?' Yeah, right!) as the November fog does to a 'winter wonderland', we need something to replace this crass jollity.

Suggestions would be welcome; meanwhile, I'm going shopping to buy myself some earmuffs.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Advent Calendars For Dogs...

..and cats are being sold in a local pet shop, according to a sign outside.

Now, I checked in the dictionary, and Advent is defined as 'the season before the Nativity'. The idea of a calendar to count down the days until the birth of Jesus has already been secularised to a startling extent by Disney and Spice Girl versions and we have reached a stage where a child is likely to feel short-changed if the windows don't contain chocolate, but an advent calendar for pets takes it to a whole new level.

Only the most blindly devoted anthropomorphist could maintain that a dog or cat has any understanding of the concept involved so we must assume that, far from a demonstration of the intelligence of pets, these calendars are a manifestation of the besottedness of owners - unless, of course, you are buying one in a delightfully post-modernist ironic way*.

Counting the days until the arrival of presents rather than the earthly manifestation of Christianity's supreme being did, of course, greatly increase the potential market for advent calendars beyond the actively religious (and the chocolate must have helped) but it has yet to be seen whether manufacturers will beat the credit crunch by tapping into an as yet unexploited market.

*It's one of those irregular verbs; I make a post-modernist ironic purchase, you have more money than sense, he is just a vulgar idiot.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Santa's a Sexist


Alice (9) shocked family and friends yesterday by revealing that she had asked Santa for a train set. As horrified parents covered the ears of younger children, she also admitted to wanting meccano, a chemistry set and a bow and arrow. "I don't know what's come over her" sobbed her mother, "she used to be such a nice little girl! She loved her dolls and her Disney princess outfits."

Relatives are now worried about her brother Neil (5) who has expressed an interest in a toy kitchen. "It's probably because of Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver," said an expert, " but we will be monitoring the situation closely in case there are any signs of an interest in housework- or nurture-related toys."

No wonder Britain is short of female scientists - take a look at the toy catalogues cascading through your door this season and see the way they portray children playing. Argos go one better, placing all science-based toys in a section labelled 'Boys' toys' while the 'Girls'' section contains Bratz and Barbie.

Not that this would deter any sensible parent; it is simply pandering to the limited outlook of adults whose own aspirations and expectations prevent them understanding that children are individuals and, in modern British society, should be able to escape the restrictions that bound previous generations.

Unless some seasonal sharing goes on - 'Ralph, did you change the labels on the presents again?' - then many potential future scientists will spend another Christmas surrounded by pink fluffy things while their brothers happily mix up sulphates and scan the night sky.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Scents and Sensibility

Fans of Peattie and Taylor's 'Alex' comic strip will recall Vince the wide-boy city trader Christmas shopping in the perfume department- "a bottle of 'Brut' for Dad, some 'Tramp' for my sister and I'm looking for some 'Silly Old Bat' for my gran".

The perfume counter this season may not have exactly that, but it offers some pretty bizarre alternatives; from the insufferably twee ('Be delicious') to the downright peculiar ('RWD PLAY FFWD'), there has never been such choice of over-packaged celebrity-endorsed pongs with peculiar, not to say off-putting titles.

While honourable mention goes to 'Notorious' and 'Unforgivable' (which conjures up the spectacle of a furtive-looking pet and a suspicious dark patch on the carpet) the prize for all-out weirdness this year goes to Thierry Mugler for 'Alien' - I've seen the movie and I really don't want to smell like that!

Still, full marks to Mugler for pioneering the refillable bottle - you may smell like something slimy from the outer galaxy, but at least it'll be green.

Friday, 21 November 2008

A Sale of Two Titties...

... made of bright pink nylon, 20% off; also a breast-shaped face flannel, a soap hilariously inscribed 'bum' on one side and 'face' on the other and a bow tie designed to be worn on what the Elizabethans called the privy member. All of these can be found this weekend at 20% off the marked price in a popular high street store.

Tacky, tasteless and sexist, these articles are being marketed as 'stocking fillers' according to the sign on the display - a perfect example of the infantilisation of the British male. Even at 20% off, they weren't exactly flying off the shelves and will probably end up in the January sales with a non-existent profit margin (the more frugally minded among you might like to note that the bow tie would admirably suit a small teddy bear).

Quite apart from their inherent vulgarity, the price of £3-£5 makes it highly likely that this exploitative tat was assembled by low-paid workers in a third world sweatshop, quite possibly in a region where they hold strict religious beliefs. Oh, to be a fly on the wall as they discussed the products and their eventual purchasers!

The astounding thing is that in this summer's financial climate a buyer actually thought it was a good idea to order hundreds of bow ties for bits and have them imported from the other side of the world. One silver lining to the cloud of global recession and a sinking pound is that it may make retailers a little more discerning about what they choose to import for next Christmas.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

An All-night Party With Laura Attic

63 Times readers so far have commented on the story of the boy who collapsed after 24 solid hours of World of Warcraft -a predictable mix of 'shouldn't be allowed' and 'never did me any harm' (many of the latter showing an interesting variety of grammar and spelling at odds with their assertions that computer gamers do well in class).

Since we in Newgate are somewhat behind the times and have not yet entered the era of online gaming, we have to make do with the adventures of Lara Croft - or Laura Attic, as she has been dubbed by a relative even less 'down with the kids' than us. Compelling as the delectable Ms Attic is, I find it hard to imagine anyone going without food or sleep for 24 hours for her sake.

It seems that online gaming is insidious in its continuity - leaving the game is like going home just when the party's at its most exciting, only this party goes on 24/7. As with Second Life, reality can take a back seat while you get on with living on-screen (and yes, I'm well aware of the irony of sitting here writing this post in the guise of character from an 18th Century dramatic work).

If you discard most of the knee-jerk comment, the case of the collapsing teenager is really a question of a refusal to acknowledge his physical limitations - hands up anyone out there who has never stayed up inadvisably late - and the best thing to do about it is teach him how and when to say goodbye and leave the party.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

(Second) Life's but a walking shadow

The talk of the Newgate taverns this weekend has been of marital infidelity - 200 years and nothing changes! The novelty in this case is that the husband was not merely in flagrante delicto, but also in cyberspace, caught in a compromising position on a sofa composed entirely of pixels.

The technical aspect of the offence evidently fascinated (to a slightly worrying degree) a BBC journalist, whose website article asked an expert exactly how cyber-infidelity is accomplished and was told, 'First you need to purchase some genitals....' The detail which followed was a bit too much for breakfast-time reading so we shall move swiftly on.

What happens when Second Life couples subsequently meet in the real world? Imagine it - after cavorting in the virtual surf and exchanging meaningful dialogue with a six-foot bronzed beach god/voluptuous sloe-eyed houri (delete as applicable) you decide to consolidate your relationship with a real-life date. What are the chances that the avatar of your dreams will walk into the bar?

Exactly. The real surprise is that Pollard and Taylor did just that and then lived together for four years - despite the fact that neither of them - how shall I put this? - quite measures up (or down) to their online persona.

The good folk of Newgate wonder how many more virtual Dorian Grays are out there, parading their perfect bodies in designer clothes and sipping champagne in digital villas while their all-too-3-dimensional portraits eat, sleep and pay the broadband bills.

Friday, 14 November 2008

A sick society

A story is emerging in the courts this week which has us wondering whether we have all been returned to 18th Century Newgate - a mother (partial to bawdy jokes about policemen) who conspires to kindnap and hide away her drugged child in order to secure a reward from well-meaning benefactors could have come straight from the easel of Hogarth or the pages of Swift or Defoe.

In fact it has been alleged that the plot was inspired by an episode of 'Shameless' broadcast a few weeks before. While Hogarth sought to document and combat social evils as well as to entertain, it seems his modern-day successors might actually be helping to create them.

Meanwhile in Haringey Baby P dies of ill-treatment and neglect. For some people the slums of Hogarth's London are very near indeed.
(William Hogarth; Gin Lane)

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Wishing on a Starbucks

Bad news for fans of the Seattle-based purveyor of caffeine to the masses - profits fell by 97% in the fourth quarter of the year, partly due to their attempt to saturate the market by opening branches everywhere - or as satirical journal 'The Onion' announced back in 2000, 'New Starbucks Opens In Rest Room Of Existing Starbucks'. We even have a branch here in Newgate, squeezed between the oakum-picking room and the gallows storage shed.

There's something of a fine irony in the plight of this modern-day coffee-house as the financial descendants of its 18th century counterparts totter and shake. It brought a touch of transatlantic glamour to the British high street, and what a catchy name! Slightly exotic, and with interesting subconscious associations depending on your age and literary taste*.

Unfortunately, what it tried to do in response to the downturn was bombard us with bizarre concoctions of fruit and strange ingredients - vivano, anyone? The hapless customer arrives at the counter in a state of utter bewilderment and, in response to the multitude of suggestions, asks plaintively 'Can I just have a cup of coffee, please?'

*Starbuck was, of course, the name of the second officer in the original Battlestar Galactica, or, if you prefer, the chief mate of the Pequod in 'Moby Dick', whose most memorable line to Captain Ahab was immortalized in 'The Art of Coarse Acting',
'Was't not the same Moby Leg took off thy...er...'

Monday, 10 November 2008

Coming to a High Street near you...

A warning this week from PwC that high streets may become ghost towns (all together now - This tow-own.....) as the recession hits chain stores. The shiny new malls opening round the country will only exacerbate the problem as retailers fight for the best locations in a game of retail musical chairs.

While those who have money to spend will be happily strolling round the air-conditioned temples of conspicuous consumption, what will happen to the poor neglected high street, exposed to the elements and the traffic? Last time, it was the coffee shops which moved in to fill the void, as we became a nation of latte drinkers delightedly emulating the transatlantic chic of Friends and Sex in the City - albeit in slightly less glamorous surroundings.

This time, PwC say nothing is waiting in the wings, but a saunter through the local neighbourhood tells a different story. Where once there was a thriving collection of independent retailers of everything from furnishing fabrics to photography, we now have the dubious benefits of two fast food joints, a betting shop and a pawnbrokers - well it is Newgate, after all! - and a sign announcing the arrival of another gambling establishment.

The public-spirited Tessa Jowell (she of the super-casinos and cafe-culture licensing hours) once said that to object to gambling because of its impact on the poor carried a 'whiff of snobbery' - but who apart from the poor ever ended up in Newgate Prison for debt?

Friday, 7 November 2008

Obama: still considering choice of dog for White House

Hold the front page! As the BBC news strapline said, in answer to a question from one of the highly-trained political journalists at this evening's press conference Barack Obama revealed that they had still not chosen the future First Puppy.

He explained that this is because the dog must be hypo-allergenic (?!) and secondly - here's the good bit! - they would like to get a dog from a shelter, and they can't name a breed because "most shelter dogs are mutts, like me".

Parental concern, social responsibility and racial integration all rolled into the answer to a trivial and facetious question - that man is one skilled political operator!

Back in the UK, a cursory glance at tonight's television schedules shows that the Friday night slot left unexpectedly vacant following a certain resignation is to be filled by a screening of 'Armageddon'.

Last week, the hastily-found replacement for the show was 'Speed', in which an out-of-control bus causes havoc. Is the BBC trying to tailor its programming to the tastes of those newly deprived of Ross' sophisticated repartee or is someone trying to make a not-so-subtle comment on his career?

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

A Call to Arms

There has been much debate among the inmates of Newgate about the trend-bucking increase in profits at a certain budget high street fashion chain recently voted least ethical clothing retailer in Britain. Now the credit crunch is biting we can see just how much impact the welfare of third world garment workers will have on British shoppers and it's not a pretty sight!

The chain in question has created a website promoting its ethical record and attributes its low prices to to simple styles and economies of scale. However, much of the clothing on sale at the cheaper end of the market features hand-sewn beads and sequins - as seen in a BBC documentary being sewn on by children - which are highly labour-intensive.

While it has often been argued that buying sweatshop-produced clothing gives developing countries an economic boost, it seems likely that recession in Britain will put manufacturers under further pressure to reduce costs and lead in the long term to more outsourcing to child labour and unsafe or illegal factories. This applies even more to intricate embroidery and beadwork.

If we must have inexpensive fashion, we need a new 'austerity chic' featuring well-cut simple styles which can be made cheaply by skilled machinists - after all, who needs sequins on their pyjamas? Unfortunately we also need a better-educated public; consider this recent comment from a fashion website - '18 squids for a sequin shift?! I am *so* having it!'

Looks like we're facing an uphill struggle.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

The Rich Are Different

Here in Newgate we know a thing or two about debt, so it was with interest that we read about the repossession of luxury homes in Dorset's Millionaires' Row, Sandbanks. In fact the total number of repossessions was two and, since one is owned by an investment company and the other is a third home, it's a safe bet that nobody is being left homeless.
The Times included this helpful quote from the author of several well-known guides to house purchase and buy-to-let;
"High borrowing is not just the preserve of the poor or those on modest incomes. The wealthy or aspirational have often taken on the biggest mortgage they could get....it can all come crashing down if a job is lost or bonuses vanish, and it can be even more distressing because of the previous perception of wealth."
Even more distressing than what, we ask? The impact of repossession on the 'poor or those on modest incomes'? How does one measure distress? Do the 'wealthy and aspirational' feel disappointment more? Was Scott Fitzgerald right; are the rich different?

Meanwhile, I am grateful to jonny mac's finely honed intellect for pointing out that the city traders mentioned in my last posting must have been on minimal salaries for their kind. It would indeed appear that they were aspirational rather than wealthy, and, what's more, bad enough at arithmetic to be completely surprised by the size of their monthly repayments, which probably goes a long way to explaining why neither received a bonus this year.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Mortgages...two and two make eight.

"We are victims of irresponsible lending" - the words of a couple forced this week to sell their home because they could not keep up with mortgage repayments. This unhappy story is being played out up and down the country, resulting in much hardship and distress. However...

The couple in question are city traders who 'needed' £1.5 million to fund the purchase of a 'dream Sussex farmhouse'. A broker arranged a loan for the full amount (eight times their regular income) which was agreed by the bank without any salary check. Four months later, the couple are selling because they cannot make ends meet on the mere £1,300 they have left after paying the mortgage each month.

This is worthy of comment in so many ways that I shall leave it to you, dear readers, to muse at leisure on the matter. Meanwhile I shall refrain from comment on the issue du jour except to say that far from the 'adultification' cited in my previous post, the radio equivalent of two little boys shouting obscenities through someone's letter box and running away is a perfect illustration of the infantilisation that permeates contemporary society.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Of Ghoulies and Ghosties and Long-leggety Beasties

Well, something out there seems immune to the credit crunch - latest forecast figures from Planet Retail predict that Britons will spend a total of £195 million on merchandise for this year's Hallowe'en (up from a mere £12m in 2001).

This growth (up 22% from last year) is due to what they call the 'adultification' (yuk!) of the festival - Asda alone stocks 15 different costumes in adult sizes.

Does this mean we are about to be beset by 6' tall trick-or-treaters intent on recouping the £25 cost of their outfit or is it a bizarre form of last hurrah as the ruins of our economy crumble about our ears? Either way, it's too late now to wish you'd bought shares in SweatshopHorrorDuds Inc.

Me? I'll be the one bobbing for apples by the light of a tattie bogle.

PS We are, at least, still some way behind the Land of the Free where this year's Hallowe'en expenditure is set to top $5.5 billion.

Friday, 24 October 2008

A crisis by any other name...

Today is officially Downturn Friday. Those clever chaps at the BBC have put their thinking caps on and decided that using the word 'crisis' might just be damaging public confidence. Shame that their laudable efforts to turn it into a 'downturn' are completely undermined by the hysterical red arrow plunging downwards from their carefully designed logo.

Not since Robert (Stormy Petrel) Peston stood admiring the queues outside Northern Rock has such an iconic manifestation of impending disaster graced our screens. Its visceral appeal to our inner lemming should ensure that the retail sector shuts down faster than a speeding quark.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Giving fleas a bad name

A charming comment this week from Lord Tebbit, the soundbite king, reminded certain well-heeled Tories that 'if you sleep with dogs you get fleas'.

The lattices of an alternative reality intersected with the real world on the island of Corfu where, a dimension away from the sunburnt vulgarity of the package resorts, a group of honourable gentlemen were wined and dined at the expense of the mega-rich.

Now here's the question; are they being economical with the truth, or were they invited simply because they are their own delightful selves? The former is, of course, out of the question, so we are left with the happy thought that this gathering was a metaphorical garden of roses and the subsequent vitriolic exchanges purely a figment of our collective imagination.

PS Don't let the story put you off the Agni Taverna; your correspondent has been there several times and can reassure you that there was not an oligarch or plutocrat in sight.

Monday, 20 October 2008

We've been here before....

And so the party's over. The bubble has burst. Thousands of people have seen their life savings wiped out in the worst economic crash in living memory. Payments to bankers continue while ordinary people lose everything. Scotland faces fiscal chaos as the banking system threatens to collapse.

Just when a national disaster seems inevitable, the English government steps in to help with a massive injection of cash - but at a price; Scotland must lose its Parliament and all future government is to be based in Westminster. It will be nearly 40 years before confidence is fully restored in Scottish banking.

A bleak forecast for our future? No, dear reader, the year is 1707 and Scotland is reeling from the collapse of the Darien Adventure. Perhaps instead of maths and physics graduates (now leaving in droves to enter the lions' den of teaching) the city should have been recruiting historians.