Category Archives: Current Affairs

Lastminute Martha

The UK’s best-known Martha is Miss Martha Lane Fox, the co-founder of, an internet travel agency that has prospered despite the IT crash. Earlier this week the 30 year-old doyenne of Britain’s dot com boom made the news yet again for selling two million of her shares, worth 4.6 million pounds. Apparently, she suggested it might be time to buy a new home (amongst other things).

To-Let signs on a residential street in London

London is flooded with rental properties

The experts increasingly think otherwise. Almost a year ago the Economist was predicting a property crash, and since then more and more pundits have agreed that the time for a correction must be near. On Monday even Stephen Nickell, a member of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee (which sets the country’s prime interest rate) warned of the increasing risk of a dramatic fall in property prices.

I couldn’t help wondering about this latest boom last night as I watched the usual Wednesday night litany of property-buying and house-decorating programmes on television. What will the TV producers do once the market turns? Switch from how-to-buy to how-to-sell I suppose, but that’s not likely to be as much fun.

The Financial Times thinks the property programmes are similar to hemlines:

The anecdotal evidence for a bubble is also striking; TV channels are swamped with house-related programmes and there is a good business in seminars offering punters swift riches via the housing market.

But any sell-off needs a catalyst. Higher rates are an obvious trigger but, as Mr [Stephen] Nickell’s remarks show, the Bank is well aware of the dangers and is treading cautiously. Higher unemployment is another potential pitfall, but looks unlikely to be a problem this year. But the catalyst will eventually appear and when it does, the sell-off could be swift; as those buy-to-let investors, desperate to plug a cashflow shortfall, unload their surplus properties on a falling market.

So Martha may have timed her dot com business perfectly, but if she buys a new home soon it may turn out to be rather “last minute”.

Terrorists or Texans

Last week the US Congress scared the living daylights out of Americans by denouncing Canada as a welcoming haven for terrorists (see Terror groups flourish in Canada: U.S. report).

Now there’s equally scary news for Canukistanis as it appears Texans have been caught taking all their bad habits into God’s Country accidentally. According to the BBC (Grenade closes US-Canada border):

There are two Vancouvers – one is a small American town, the other is the large Canadian city. On Monday, a woman from Texas trying to find the small town ended up at the Canadian border.

When officials there searched her vehicle, they found a hand grenade in the glove compartment. Within minutes, the border was evacuated and the bomb squad was on the scene.

Once the woman explained her story though, things quickly calmed down. A Canadian police spokesman says they are satisfied that the woman was simply lost and had never meant to go to Canada. They soon released her and reopened the border.

As for the hand grenade, police say, the woman had no idea it was in her vehicle.

I think that makes both countries even. I mean, terrorists or crazy Texans … which would you prefer?

Managing expectations

Almost two years ago I wrote:

The railways in Britain have suffered from a lack of investment for decades, and commuters are now paying the price. I don’t think the general public appreciates how difficult it is to rejuvenate an industry like rail. It could very well take as long to renew as it took to decline, which puts the current Government in a difficult position. What can it possibly do to improve the railways before the next election?

Well, it looks like the answer is — nothing.

Now, given this morning’s Guardian story headlined Blair: fixing key services will take 15 years, it seems the Government hopes to change public expectations instead.

Surprise, surprise.

Dun Cow Inn

Dun Cow Inn

The news today was full of pub lunches. Well, one in particular. Tony Blair took George W. Bush to lunch at the Dun Cow Inn in Sedgefield, Blair’s home constituency.

As expected, a few protestors lined the route to the pub — but England’s countryside has a better class of demonstrator. When the Presidential motorcade drove past one man stood silently while his placard politely proclaimed:

“George Bush is not very nice.”

Enough said.

Update: Euan Semple describes another characteristically English response to George W. Bush’s visit in Oh I do love living in Britain!.

Cannibalism died out

Anyone descended from missionaries will be interested in this story from the BBC: Eaten missionary’s family head for Fiji.

The residents of a Fiji village are preparing to apologise to the family of a Christian missionary who was eaten by tribes people 136 years ago…

The inhabitants of Navatusila on the island of Viti Levu believe their village has been suffering bad luck ever since the cannibalism incident, and hope saying sorry will help their fortunes.

I love the last sentence which suggests “Cannibalism died out”. Did the last man alive eat himself or die of natural causes?

Curiosity killed the king

Several media commentators have suggested that the official denial of certain unreported rumours by the Prince of Wales this week has backfired. I agree. I am not very interested in the lives of the Royal family, but the fact that something was being purposefully withheld from me was more than sufficient to peak my curiosity and motivate me to investigate.

I knew that the rumour would be available on the Internet at some point, so that’s where I started to look. I failed to find anything helpful at first, but reading between the lines of two stories published today has now convinced me that I know the gist of the scandal.

Royal rumour stories leak in Europe in The Guardian and
Prince Charles Denies a Rumor, but Won’t Say What It’s About in The New York Times, and you too will figure it out.

Hindsight makes solving this mystery seem easy. Just ask yourself why someone named Michael Fawcett would successfully request an injunction preventing The Mail on Sunday from publishing details of a sex scandal involving the Prince of Wales. I’m pleased to report that I wasn’t sufficiently intrigued, nor sufficiently cynical, to make the connection prior to this week’s disingenuous challenge set by the heir to the throne.

Oh well, back to reality now.

Money for nothing

Jessica Lynch, the US soldier who was captured and dramatically rescued in Iraq, is in the news again thanks to her recent engagement (this time it’s a marital, not military, engagement): BBC NEWS | World | Americas | Former Iraq PoW Lynch ‘to marry’.

The most amazing aspect of her story is that someone is willing to pay her a million dollars to tell a story that she doesn’t remember:

Private Lynch, who is still recuperating from wounds sustained during her ordeal and who reportedly has no memory of the incident, recently signed a $1m book deal to publish an account of her capture.

At least it’ll be a quick read.

A place in the sun

As usual in August there’s little real news, so the BBC is reporting on the weather, which is just barely newsworthy. In French heat deaths ‘up to 3,000’ it states:

The French health ministry has said the deaths of up to 3,000 people in recent weeks could be attributed to the European heatwave.

That number of deaths is plausible depending on the number of weeks concerned, but the report goes on to say:

Police trade union officials have called on the army to help remove the bodies of the deceased, saying that undertakers have been “overwhelmed” by the number of dead.

This misleading statement makes it sound like the plague is revisiting France. Here in the south I have yet to see a single dead body (not to mention any Police trade union officials), and we have experienced the same hot weather as the rest of Europe. As I write, it’s 35° Celsius in the shade!

I must admit that even the locals are complaining about the weather now. It hasn’t rained significantly since May, and everyone is feeling the effects of such a long dry spell.

La Vallee de la SiagneStill, it didn’t stop Sudsy Dame and I from hiking in La Vallee de la Siagne on Monday. The Siagne river runs at the bottom of a beautiful gorge overlooked by the village of St.-Cézaire-sur-Siagne. The hike begins in the village, but immediately descends to the river 200 meters below. It involves walking along a precipitous canal wall, and straight through a waterfall just before reaching an old Roman bridge across the Siagne, the Pont des Tuves. You then walk along the river for a few kilometers before re-crossing it at the Pont du Moulin. The best swimming is available at the two bridges, where there are incredibly refreshing (i.e. cold) pools of clean water that are easy to reach from the riverbank. You then return to the village by hiking up the east side of the valley back to St.-Cézaire.

It’s important in hot weather to take lots of water to drink. Between us we consumed 4.5 litres while walking, but nothing matched the drinks in the main square in St.-Cézaire at the end. They were pure bliss.

Hidden agenda

The weapons expert accused by the Ministry of Defence as being the source of the “dodgy dossier” story has gone missing (see MoD expert goes missing). This development is worthy of a thriller. In fact, it reminds me of an excellent film directed by Ken Loach called Hidden Agenda. You could be forgiven for thinking that an apt title for current events.

Update: the BBC is now reporting that a body has been found.

Monegasque jailbreak

Monaco is a very strange place, and now it looks like the Monegasque authorities can’t do anything right. Ted Maher, the American nurse who admitted setting the fire that killed his employer, the Lebanese-American billionaire Edmond Safra, escaped from Monaco’s prison yesterday.

A few years ago (before the Safra affair) the chief of police in Monaco was dismissed because there had been a huge increase in serious crime in the principality - it had suffered three bank robberies and one murder.

The prison warden had better revise his CV. For more, see : Guardian Unlimited | The Guardian | Nurse who set fire to billionaire saws his way out of Monaco jail