Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Spending the weekend in London

It was a lovely weekend and we decided to make the most of the fine weather and take the Clipper Boat up the Thames from Canary Wharf. We had originally planned to travel up to town on the Dock Lands Light Railway (DLR) but engineering works meant that great chunks of the system were closed last weekend and we didn't fancy fighting our way onto one of the replacement buses and sitting (or probably standing) for hours in a traffic jam.

We set off quite early planning to go up to Green Park but when we arrived at Tower Bridge we thought, what the hell it's been years since we've been here, let's hop off and grab a coffee by the river and sit in the sunshine people watching - god how I love people watching. I can spend hours just sitting and watching the tourists and making up little stories about them, I kid you not, they all have a story. For example; see that pretty young girl over at the postcards, well she came away with her boyfriend but they had a terrible row because he got very drunk last night. The poor girl is heartbroken, she was expecting a romantic lunch with the man of her dreams but instead she's on her own and her boyfriend has spent all morning in bed with the world's worst hangover - and see that 25 year old teetering along the cobbles in her Jimmy Choos, the one with the blond hair extensions and the expensive St Tropez tan, is she really with that middle aged bald bloke for his sparkling wit and personality?

But rather than drive Dave nuts with my rabbiting, we finished our coffee and set off over Tower Bridge to look at the Mayor's River Festival on the south bank. Not that we knew it was the River Festival, all we could see was a load of marquees set up outside the Council Offices and it looked like there was something going on!

It was good fun in a hippy dippy kind of way - lots of people out to save the planet and sell you trinkets from Peru and food stalls selling Argentinian Beef and Jamaican curry but the best fun was the army of Greenpeace activists who with incredible politeness were trying their best to get new recruits. Even our protestations of penury didn't deter one young bloke who offered us such a fabulous deal on the subscription we would have been mad to turn him down - mad and proud of it, that's us - the next time I'm asked what's the one thing that you are particularity proud of I shall say I didn't give in to Greenpeace - even though they had pulled out all the stops to put their cutest people on the streets.

Train, planes and automobiles

Dave's regular commute to Canary Wharf comes at the end of a long week of back to back meetings and random trips up to the Midlands, so I have promised him that at least once each month I will join him down south to save him the travelling.

It will come as no surprise to those of you who have travelled with me down to London on the West Coast Penaluna that I hate that tilting train with a passion. It is against all the laws of nature to expect a human being to sit meekly while travelling at 100mph in a carriage that is listing at a 45 degree angle. OK so I might be exaggerating about the angle but you get my drift. I have lost count of the number of times I have stood on the concourse at Euston Station, green at the gills and fighting to keep my hastily eaten breakfast in my stomach rather than decorating the pavement with it like a poor man's Jason Pollock. So what is a girl to do? why fly that's what - VLM fly Manchester to London City in 50 minutes and it's cheaper than I can get a standard rail fare on Virgin Trains (though off peak it's far cheaper to let the train take the strain). You travel in style and comfort, they give you sweeties when you take off, sandwich and drinks while you are cruising and beautiful Belgian chocolates just before you are due to land AND if like me you have a whole raft of VLM executives on your return flight you have the added bonus of a smooth flight, text book take-off and landing and arrive in Manchester 15 minutes early!!

(word of warning - if you want to know more about Penalunas make sure that you Google the phrase Penaluna Trains and not just the word Penaluna otherwise you will be directed to a very mucky website!!!)

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Hot off the press

Our athletes are now SECOND in the medals table at the Bejiing Paralympics with 14 Gold 11 Silver and 7 Bronze medals so far.

Thinking of emigrating - read on...

On GMTV this morning there was an item about about the huge numbers of people in Britain that would like to emigrate. Apparently it is all the fault of the credit crunch , immigration and the weather.

OK so let's let's look at this a bit closer.

Do those people who want to up sticks and move half way around the world realise that the current economic climate is a global problem or do they think that it is only in the UK that we are looking at falling house prices and dearer food and fuel bills. Do they really think that just because they can buy a house cheaper in Adelaide that they won't have any more financial problems and that the world price of wheat won't affect them? Are they so naive to think that OPEC oil prices won't hit their cost of living just because they won't have to use their central heating for 6 months a year? Well presumably they will still want to drive a car, they will still need to have their air-conditioning unit blasting away and presumably they will still need to eat food in a country, that in some areas, is in the thrall of a 10 year drought.

When those people emigrate to Spain, who do they think the immigrants are in their new country? Is it the Africans or the Eastern European that are the new immigrants on the Costas? Don't they stop and think for one minute that it might be them who are now the immigrants. Some of these people who are complaining about immigration in this country are planning to go to a country where they don't speak the language, have no intention of assimilating with the indigenous population and know little of the culture and customs of their host country. If this was reversed and it was the Spanish working classes that were coming to the UK, these same people would be moaning about Tesco having whole aisles dedicated to the 'incomers' and bang on about the strain on local schools having so many children joining them who couldn't speak our language.

But I think the most ridiculous reason of all for wanting to go is that old chestnut about our great British weather. Yes this summer has been a wash out and not just in the 'North', this year even Southerners have had a grey and wet summer. And that's the rub, it became very fashionable this year 'because of the economic climate' and 'reducing our carbon footprint' for the chattering classes to holiday in the UK, those London based journalists, who are more used to jetting off to Tuscany with little Tarquin and Annabel for their Summer holidays, have been huddling under a brolly in Cornwall and Devon this August. So what have all the red tops and the television news items been banging on about for the past six weeks? why our dreadful weather of course. Now any of us who regularly holiday in the UK could have told them you don't take a holiday here for the weather, we know that we can't guarantee long hot days sitting by the pool, we holiday in the UK for our fabulous scenery, our cultural and regional diversity and most of all the hospitality of this great country - ask any Japanese tourist!

It never ceases to amaze me that somebody who works a seven day rolling shift in a factory in the UK looks to emigrate to Australia to do the same job and working the same hours for less money, is making the move because the weather in Australia is better. Don't they realise that they are going to be stuck indoors all day, doesn't it occur to them that their partner will probably also being working full time, their children are going to be in school all day, they are going to get home from work moaning that their legs ache or the boss is a pain or the traffic is awful. Life down under is only going to be different for them if they work hard at it. Nobody is going to give them a boat so that the family can go sailing every weekend, nobody is going to give them lots of money so that they can have prawn barbies every night, and nobody is going to magic away any family tensions that they might have had in the UK.

Don't get me wrong, I am not against people wanting to emigrate, in fact if our circumstances had been different we might have been tempted to try for new life down under but what I do take offence at is the people who spend all day moaning about living in the UK and then do nothing about it. If your family needs more 'quality time' get organised and make time because if you can't manage it here how the hell do you think that moving thousands of miles away is going to make any difference. If you want to emigrate do it for the right reason and not just because we are in the middle of a global economic crisis and it's raining!!

Age brings more to the table than dribble

Over the past ten years or so it has become 'fashionable' for large companies to offer their older staff early retirement. The immediate benefits are obvious, older staff are more expensive than younger less experienced workers, younger staff are more motivated, work longer hours, have less family commitments and bring new innovative ideas to the work place and the older staff have the chance to enjoy their retirement knowing that they will still be entitled to a full pension - so win win then?

No no and thrice no

What many companies are now beginning to realise is that an older person bring more to the table than just age - they can bring common sense and a wealth of experience. Imagine the scenario, young chap/chapess straight out of business school working for a major UK Bank looks to the USA and sees that a lot of US Banks are making mega bucks by buying into the sub-prime markets. So quick as a flash they call a meeting of the great and the good and present a proposal that the bank should grab a slice of the action. Let's face how can it possibly fail, there is nothing safer than bricks and mortar now is there?

These young bloods rub their hands with glee, a lot of people in the US have made a bundle by taking a punt on this market so why shouldn't they? As a thirty year old they can't remember living in a recession, they have no experience of negative equity or high unemployment. Sure house prices in the UK are high but with mortgages of 125% based on 5 times your salary, they had no trouble buying their over priced apartment in Docklands and their annual mega bonuses pays for the flashy cars and Caribbean holidays.

But let's step back for a moment, what exactly is a sub-prime mortgage? It's a special mortgage for those people who would have been turned down by the more traditional lenders - and why? because they can't afford one that's why. But as the lenders had taken a charge on the properties they couldn't loose could they? If the mortgage holder defaulted on the loan the lender could just sell the property and get their money back. OK so the home owner would be on the streets but hey this is America and the free market rules.

So what went wrong?

In any market there are peaks and troughs and the housing market is no different. It's the old story of supply and demand. Small town America is not immune to global economics and when the largest employer in town closes the wood yard or factory because they have been priced out of the market by their foreign competitors then their employees won't be able to pay their mortgages. And who wants then to buy the house that has been repossessed? Nobody in that town for sure because everybody is now in the same boat. No job and no means to pay for a mortgage that was wholly reliant on them being in full time employment because they couldn't get the extra insurance payments that might have covered them against redundancy.

The knock on effect is that the sub-prime market then went into free fall. The major players wanted out. The value of the market was severely depressed and instead of big profits the banks were looking at huge losses. And all because the was no one saying hold on here, what if the world goes into a recession - what if there is a collapse of the housing market - what is the worst case scenario of putting so much money into a new market that doesn't have a track record of weathering even a minor financial storm. In other words there was no old bugger sitting at the board table saying let's evaluate the risk to the business in the light of 100 years of data around boom and bust in the housing markets.

I'm not saying that the current financial situation is all the fault of a lack of experience in our banks but as an ex foreign exchange dealer I can say that all the dealers I knew, whether they dealt on the money markets, commodity markets or the Stock Exchange, all had one thing in common - they were gamblers - pure and simple. Most of the time, especially in Bull Markets, they could make massive profits for their companies and huge bonuses for themselves. But, and here's the rub, in a Bear market they took a hit and depending on how experienced they were and who was monitoring their dealing book, they either weathered the storm or in the worst cases, went under.

The sub-prime market was massive with billions of dollars being traded - big profits then for the lucky ones but equally big losses for the unwary,unlucky or let's face it inexperienced.

So what's the answer? In the short term I don't think that there is an easy answer. Until employers realise that age brings more to the table than just a cantankerous old git who stands in the way of progress and starts to value the experience that they have, we are stuffed.

That is unless they bite the bullet and start re-employing some of the senior managers again.
Let's be innovative here, let's say to the 52 year old give us two days a week, we will respect your work life balance and won't expect you to be at your desk for 60 hours a week, but we need your experience and your steadying hand on the tiller again. Or is that too radical for a forward thinking company in the 21st Century?

Monday, 8 September 2008

Southport Airshow

Every year on Dave's birthday I have the same problem, what do you buy for the man who has everything - last year it was dinner in Biarritz watching the sunset and for his 50th I rented a log cabin in Northern France for the weekend. Things are bit a bit more awkward this year with him working in London all week there just wasn't enough time to arrange a big trip so after racking my brains for weeks I came up with a VIP trip to the Southport Airshow.

After the dreadful weather conditions last week I was terrified that they would have to cancel but luckily for us Southport seemed to be sitting in a window of mostly dry if not a little windy weather on Saturday and most of the demonstrations were able to take place. In typical British style we dressed in our warmest waterproof clothes and had a brilliant time but the highlight of the day for me was the Red Arrows aerobatical display - it was outstanding!

Friday, 5 September 2008

La Princess

La Princess has arrived in Liverpool. I'm really excited and hoping that we will be able to get into town this weekend to see the giant spider before see scurries away but in the mean time here a link to some fab photos of her on flicker

Mid you, we have a busy weekend ahead. It's Dave's birthday tomorrow and I have a special treat lined up for him. I don't want to spoil his surprise so all I'm saying is, he'll probably have a crick in his neck by Saturday night! Then on Sunday Janis and Graham are coming to visit. It's Janis' birthday on Sunday so I'm going to cook a special birthday dinner for them both then - cakes, pop and loads of jelly (Jamie Oliver eat you heart out!)

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Derbyshire in the fog

We took the dogs away in the van this weekend. It was only a quick overnight trip to the Manifold Valley in The Peak District staying on a working farm in the village of Butterton. The Manifold Valley is not as well known as the rest of the Peak District but what a gem. The scenery and walks are fabulous.

We had planned to have lots of trips away this summer but unfortunately it was not meant to be so we thought that we would try and make the best of what little good weather we have left this year to try and get away while we can.

Needless to say the dogs had a wonderful time swimming in the stream, well Murphy did, Bella totally wimped out at the sight of running water preferring to stand on the river bank and shout encouragement! and even though Murphy can't walk far we had a great time strolling along the valley following the track of the old railway.

The weather was kind to us for most of the weekend and for this summer that's some going!!

World Names Profiler

If you are researching your family tree or just want a bit of fun why not look at the World Names Profiler website. Just type in your surname and hit Enter to see how far your name-sakes are spread around the world - great fun