Tuesday, 8 June 2021

Simon Vaughn Alexander Kettles - take a bow! 59 at last

https://youtu.be/BlH-I3VPBq4 Readers of this column will know Simon still plays with Carbona Not Glue and S.A.L.T. Previously after chucking Life Support to one side he found solace with Donna, Sharon, Nick & Barney in The BEAUTIFUL SUIT, latterly the Ruby Suit with band changes etc but as we all know, life goes on and so does the music. Nobody appreciates more than Simon how being in Rock'n'Roll in his 50's has changed him.....but not as much as next year will - so enjoy it wee man, you deserve it!

Friday, 28 May 2021

Go on a nicking spree Hit the wrong guy

Yes KB loved nicking a good line for the line teasers and this easy one was hardly worth typing as everyone knows it, but in the same issue, "you said you'd stand by me in the middle of chapter 3" must've been the easiest that week. "I met you in a telephone booth, 4 years ago" however, is one nobody was likely to get. I could hazard a guess at "there's a space in sky where his plane used to fly".

Yes, "I know it starts to fashion and a trifle uncool", but issue #9 is where I'm currently doing my dementia test. I figure if I keep doing them I'll know when I stop getting them right I'll head to the docs. "I could be the driver an articulated lorry" has me stumped though. I'm off to find the answer!

Nightmare, that was easy, although in my defence I think there was a wee typo.

I quite fancied trying to get them all into a sentence as the public gets what the public wants and so why not I thought as I looked in the mirror and mused "your hair is beautiful - ah tonight"......

6/10.....try harder next time 

Tuesday, 18 May 2021

Early onset dementia in left handers

It comes as no surprise that the atrophy of the brain should attack left handers first.

In the early development of the brain, left handers brains develop with the focus on their left-handedness just as a right-hander would focus on the development of the skills centres of their brain.

Living in a right-handed world left-handers learn to become more ambidextrous. This is a great advantage learning to catch with both hands is a recognized trait and playing sport right-handed is often a consequence of economical bias. Let's face it who's going to buy a left handed set of golf clubs when there's a right-handed set of handmedoons.

While the brain develops, the left hander then starts to use and develop the skills centres in the brain that the right handers use,  constructing bridges with these wonderful neurons in their own brains.

Many studies have shown natural thinking for the left hander looks like lateral thinking to the right hander because the brains been developed in a different way.

Sadly however it's can be like the hare and the tortoise. Keeping the brain functioning at this level is not always easy and so left handers are more prone to early onset dementia.

The reason seems quite simple to me. There are areas of the left handed brain that stop functioning and this atrophy starts a sequence of events. Having developed in childhood these areas are discarded in later life effectively boxes in the attic. Some people have dry attics but not all attics are the same.

Boxes in the attic can often just stay there but they can get eaten by mice, in left handers they seem to go mouldy more often and the little bits of brain that like middle age muscle, starts to atrophy, in left handers there is more to go off and so they do.

I'm not confused by left handers early onset but I would like to know why the boxes in the attic don't always go mouldy. I presume as with Covid-19 some people are more prone than others. 

As I approach 60 I'm aware a few of my boxes have gone missing! My abilities have declined at a rapid rate recently and understanding it has made it less of a challenge. Whereas I juggled 50 plates in my working life I never noticed dropping 10, now I juggle 2 and I watch them both crashing to the floor. It's very funny but also advisable to stop juggling before I run out of plates.

One of my greatest strengths now is sleeping. I never forget to do it and I can do it for long periods. I have also become more binary. I like writing but I'm really just a blether. I've neither the vocabulary or the creative skills to make it interesting, but I do like to blether, crossing the border into slavering after the second glass of wine. I think this is why I took so well to the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. The life is very simple. You get up and you walk. You feed yourself on the way and then you arrive at your home for the night. You wash, feed yourself again, drink some wine, blether a bit, snore in a dorm and repeat. Over a month it is compelling. Some might think I'm describing it like nurse kratchit and indeed it feels as wonderful as some drugs do.

If I have missed anything during lockdown it has been wandering through tapas bars in Burgos or Leon, lunching in Lorca, or living in Cardenuela del Rio pico, Eirexe, etc or climbing the hills to mont del perdon or O'Cebriero. I'll be fascinated to find out how my directional sense is bearing up. I always called intuition the sixth sense and I am very intuitive, but it is something that has declined lately.

When driving the other day I made a wrong turn. It wasn't a major disaster in our journey but it was in my own journey. I knew it wasn't the turning I wanted but my intuition didn't stop me. It's a journey I've made 15-20 times and I know it's the third turn off not the first. Unfortunately it wasn't a coded message but a stark slap in the face with a right handed croquet mallet.

I've been trying to get involved in trials for a while and how ironic the call would come through when we were driving!

I'll keep you posted if I remember.

Wednesday, 28 April 2021

I thought it was the Sun until I saw the yellow brick road to recovery!

No Sunshine in Leith this  morning as the Scotsman finally shifted from it's 80's independence stance to jingoistic wee, "good to see you back Ma'am", ever so 'umble, and another stale warning about economic woe, while lurking in the corner is the reason why independence as a notion has raised from fanciful to real.

The UK prime minister was happy to see bodies piling up in the street.

Draw breath and think about that. It's not just a random outburst of frustration about a situation over which he has no control. He has control over the lockdown and his alternatives he has assessed. He genuinely wanted to let the bodies pile up in the streets because he wanted to say, like all the wee boys with all the wee toys everything's ok Mum, honest. 

This is the only reason why the independence vote will get that 5%, they need to get it over the line. Some people think it's toys out the pram, this union since 1707 or whenever, has largely been a great success. The truth is that legacy of our colonial past is perhaps not the success and that the union was perhaps the reason that it was perpetuated. England has voted and they have made it clear. I think on Brexit and on how they wish to run the country they are largely singing from the same hymm sheet. We sing a different song and for 40 years I've tried to help, with my vote and paying taxes, the UK to become a better democracy, in my opinion. It is quite clear my opinion is out of step with the rest of the country and so it seems perfectly reasonable that this union is at an end, for me, no drama. We will enjoy our friendly rivalries but more importantly thrive as competition is everything to some parts of the economy. There is nothing more galvanising than separation to get behind a common cause. This will therefore be better for England Wales Northern Ireland and Scotland. Greater specialisation will take place as Scotland becomes a rural backwater selling premium products not dubious discounted dross. Our Education needs investment not more political shenanigans. Time for politicians on all sides to listen. Maybe independence will get them all to draw breath and move on 

During the pandemic firms have gone to the wall but others swam upstream taking the opportunity to sell less but charge more. Placing the emphasis on quality and putting a spark back into ingenuity is perhaps a pipe dream but as the red wall collapsed in England the wee smarties repainted them and the yellow brick road to recovery is here to stay 

Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Jose Archer - Tosantos approaching villambistia

"Do you know Tommy I love Tosantos. Even more than I loved Belorado. And you know I loved Santo Domingo de la Calzadas even more than I loved Azofra. This Camino thing is hauntingly mysterious. This love inside me I thought it burst out on the first night but it's like a lava flow. The love is setting hard wherever we go and yet there's always more wherever we arrive."

"You're just a love machine" said Tommy cackling. "I feel the same, but not quite your skill with the words"

They had just walked through a field of sunflowers in late September. The sunflowers bowed their heads to the huffing and puffing pellegrinos as they marched by, fair pecking  in Tommy's case. Pilgrims had drawn smiley faces on their big seeded heads. No surface was untouched by the pilgrim graffiti which would make its way into the food chain then due course.

What's that on the hill Tommy in the rocks. It's like a shrine built into the hillside.

Tommy looked at his half empty  beer then up to the shrine. 

Yes it looks like a temple of some description or maybe it's a tomb. Would you like another he said sensing an opportunity to not climb a hill.

No I might just have a look up there.

Tommy picked up his sticks as if to stand up and walk but then turned to the table and started drumming with them.

"Well if you don't mind, I'll just stay down here, rest my feet and have another beer." He sang then sank back into his chair with a laugh. 

"Oh you've got away with words now." Josephine joined him in an exhausting embrace. The warmth and laughter soaked through them as their bond solidified. A pilgrim took their picture, cementing it in time. Big Tommy on the chair and wee Jose towering over him, powerfully standing and nurturing simultaneously. An image they were both oblivious to. The pilgrim knew it, here was someone who would get this other person to Santiago, the mythical Kingdom. 

"It was beautiful Tommy. One day I'll bring you back here and make you walk up that hill. But in the meantime here's the pictures."  She handed over her phone. Tommy finished his beer and started flicking through them.

"Looks really good" he smiled

"Yes, it was, now finish that beer. You'll get another in Villambistia, it's a full 40 minutes away. This section is methadone heaven for you." Jose chided in comical fashion. 

"Buen Camino" Tommy shouted at the rest of the beer garden pilgrims as he downed his beer and donned his pack.

"Buen Camino" the courtyard chorus replied.

Saturday, 13 March 2021

My top 10 momentous moments -which aren't as I only have 4 or 5 and forget them

I often laugh at the most momentous moments in my life which I have ignored and other people find fascinating.... So I am now documenting them that should kill all fascination.

In no particular order but largely they relate to my youth.

When I was six I had to do a jobby on a potty for three days because I swallowed a thruppenny bit. This taught me how long the bowel took to process metal. It's also taught me about the strength of the acid in your intestines and stomach as the coin was very shiny when it finally emerged. I don't recommend children turn themselves into human slot machines as they could read this instead. I didn't become a doctor or a biologist in fact the closest I get is having an allotment.

When I am on the Camino walking across to Santiago or wherever I choose to end I bump into people regularly that I feel so at home with. I've never been a fan of "like-minded" people but it is true that on the Camino that are very many people like me. Mad as hatters and relaxed in their madness. I've just forgotten the memorable moment that I always forget, so will fill it in later. As I say this memorable  moments section is full of momentous moments that I disregard all the time as I forget them.

I had a wonderful chat with the treasury minister Angela Knight after her speech at the Mansion House in London in 1997. I basically said that her speech writers were rubbish and that this new system called Crest was a fantastic electronic system which was going to make the market far more secure resilient and would put London ahead of its peers in the world financial industry. It would enable London to move to immediate settlement thereby removing risk completely. If a firm does not have open positions then they could go bust and nobody would notice in the marketplace. Some years later when MF global went bust and it took a few years to unwind all the positions, it demonstrated that the market still had an appetite for risk despite there being mechanisms that removed them. You can install a lift to the top of a mountain but people would still walk. What I always forget is my Rangers supporting mate Tom grabbing me or as he used to say hauling me off the cabinet minister.

I was kicked down the slope when leaving Easter road after Hibs very Rangers game. Your opinion bastards was shouted as the foot went into my back that propelled me down the slope as I exited the old East terracing. In those days fans were segregated using the top tier and the lower tier. This segregation plan came unstuck when they both had to use the same staircase. This particular range is fun to say that the I should use the grass. It reinforced the belief that Catholics had tried to perpetuate in my youth of victimhood. We were all Jock Tamson's victims. I however did not become a priest later in life nor did I bother going to church again. I decided that all that stuff was fairy tales and what was real was the foot that connected with my back and nearly killed me.

When I was 26 I felt fated to commit suicide. Having been married for 18 months I decided on the eve of my 26th birthday to get divorced. I have had suicidal thoughts for many years leading up to this point but was lucky enough to go out with a girl whose brother had the same name as me and had committed suicide when he was 26. She read me the riot act about suicide and I never mentioned it again to her. In fact one of the reasons why we split up was I felt I would let her down one day and that hurt me more than anything. 26 years therefore goes down as being a momentous occasion as I survived it. There was one night in particular when I was living on the 21st floor of a barbican Terra in London. The railings around the balcony were waist high and one night in a fit of pique I left all the doors open and went to sleep saying if I sleep walk and die it was fated. I never had the confidence to kill myself, as troubled as I was there clearly was something in my core that kept me living. I have tried drinking myself to death for the guts of my 58 years and have given it a really good go. I do occasionally still home suicidal thoughts or thoughts about not living. After my mom's funeral I joked with my pal about how "You don't need to commit suicide when death is on its way, naturally" which was a massive stress release for me. Life has been one long continuous struggle trying to do the right thing and watching so many wrong things. I think it is the eye for detail which sees the imperfections and at my worst I am haunted by them. 

I went to the White House Christmas parties when I was 9 & 10. I ran around like a wee daftie searching for the green room. It was pat nixon who gave me a Christmas present and I always tell people it was a tape recorder. I have also puked up on the front steps of said White House but that was on another occasion. I am very blase about all this because it never really left a great impression on me. That is why it makes it onto this list. It is something that others might find curious and I find tedious but as I get older and have fewer stories to tell it is retrieved from the archives.

Well that's five to start us off.
My Deadbeat moments are well documented here so for a ock'n'oll story, (my keyboad has a sticky r) I have two to choose from. They are both Clash moments. I saw the Clash in Paris in 1981 at the Mogado. Mogador if the R is not sticky. The Beat and the Selector were supporting and it was a great night. It was the first time I got in to see a real band for FREE and going backstage to enjoy the buffet was icing on the cake. The free bevvy was the candles. We got backstage passes because we were lucky enough to meet the road manager aloft the Eiffel Tour!I threw him some funsize Mars Bars and we got talking. It got better when he started winding us up about being the tour manager. "Oh yes he was" I said to my mate. We turned up at the door and gave our names, more in hope than expectation, and suddenly we're in a sell out gig with backstage passes. My mate left after "Washington Bullets" and so I went home alone via a few beers and 27 canapes backstage where the band needed help with the food. Fat Al never needed a second invitation. He arrived in Scotland with an appetite, being almost 10lbs at birth. That appetite served him well at 19! I'd get to me Joe and Paul later at the end of Deadbeat when they were in Edinburgh and looking to play at La Sorbonne. As Neil the bassist of the band booked that night said, "we'd hired a van, so we needed paid, and they'd only pay, if we dumped the Clash to play." I turned it into a Life Support song a few weeks later, it worked a treat.


I meant old napper Tandy yesterday while I was out walking and he took me by the hand to what I can only describe as a banksy.

It was like a banksy meats Guernica.

The scene was Bella Houston Park in Glasgow and it had been painted red white and blue with all the ranger supporters who had turned out to celebrate their clubs victory in the league.

It was a fantastic piece of lockdown socially distant art. The fans Had clearly sought to paint the park blue.

In the corner of the painting stands the famous george square statue with the cone on it. It is also painted green on one side and blue on the other side. In the painting we see mostly the blue side And of course the wondrous cone which stands above all to demonstrate the comedy genius of this Great divide.

I stood at this painting for hours as its social history reached into my core.

I love a good painting.

Friday, 12 March 2021

I see what you're carrying

I see what you're carrying

 I see that it's food I see what you're carrying 
I see that it's no good I see what you're carrying I see this is food I see what you're carrying it'll come to no good I see what you're carrying I have to turn the blind eye I see what you're carrying I need to know lie I see what you're carrying I care I'm in distress I see what you're carrying I can't live my life in this mess

I don't think you're a drugs meal I don't think you have VD I don't think all those things that everyone says to me

I know what you're carrying



Thursday, 11 March 2021

First world europe helps 3rd world USA

I was reading a book recently about how many people from Europe are going over to the USA quite early in the life. What some regarded as a brain drain from Europe was being viewed as missionary work. These wealth generators would galvanize the economy locally and nationally to help the increasingly alarming level of poverty for many citizens of the USA.

I wasn't too sure I believed in this trickle down mentality. Europeans are just as likely to send money home as any other migrant. 

What did surprise me was the number of ivy League places taken up by Europeans. It got my head thinking how academia really was international and felt global but also extremely detached.

I had heard before about Ivory towers and certainly these people will be in a great position to influence policy especially now that Trump has left the White House but I do wonder whether the vast impoverished masses in third world USA have a voice.

In 21st century we have seen passive reactions to events like Louisiana, a rise in police brutality, or a cementing of their racism which was already endemic. White America continues to think it has god on its side, and from this distance just looks like a powder keg. Trump's election came about from the impoverished white communities feeling what about me. Testosterone fueled men suddenly felt they had a voice and a return to when men were men and violence upon whoever was not just acceptable, it was taught.

Women were to be home, man was bred to look after the little woman, to be strong and feel superior through racism. 

I sat in a primary school during P5-6 and it was a quirky thing. I was really condemned hard for not standing up to pledge my allegiance to the flag every morning. I know little about Stockholm syndrome but if you pledge your allegiance on a daily basis then I guess you feel something. Catholics say "I am not worthy...." Regularly! I know, as I did do that one for a few years.

In Sweden education starts with social interaction while in Britain we used to be all about the three R's. In grades 5 & 6 it was all about the flag. I remember memorizing all the presidents all the states all the state capitals and other such trivia.

My classmates would tell me I knew more about America than they did. I would say yes I know about the whole of North America, Mexico & Canada too. Your section is called the United States of America which you often abbreviate to America which is incorrect.

The education, as it was, seemed to be less cultural and more the imperial version I associate with Britain and empire. Being in charge and obliterating, dominating or enslaving other races to get your own way. If you had the money, you had the power to own the town. It was all very monopoly board diplomacy which I found funny as my Dad was a diplomat in Washington DC.

I'm not sure in the 50 years since I was there how the country has progressed but it's not pretty. The rise of the black lives matter movement distressed me as much as it impressed me. It distressed me because I felt during the seventies when I was there we were slowly moving away from a stereotypes and realising the folly of our ways.

 If you know better you do better.

Lessons from history suggest world war I was followed by world war II and for the USA Korea Vietnam Afghanistan Iraq to random acts of state sponsored terrorism like institutional racism. British policing can be bad but when you look across the water from Rodney King to George Floyd in such a few years, police in many states have become more violent and racist. They see a person of colour as an opportunity to let them know who's in charge.

I'm curious about the impact vietnam veterans, who were the subject of many films had on the shaping of the USA in the last 50 years since I was at school there. I can't help thinking like the velvet underground, I was just a few years too young to appreciate it. I was going to white house Christmas parties with the nixon's and running around the green room because I supported Hibs and I missed my beloved Cabbage and Ribs. I feel the generational chasm such a polarising war created just got wider as years went by.

Civil rights and the anti war 60's almost vanished in the 70's and then the iron fist of the state arrived in the 80's and that closed the door to the USA becoming a country of it's people. It became a modern dictator where cash was literally King and this King was not a constitutional leader.

Conscience could be salvaged by the generous donations to charity to help the poor needy folk.

This is where we take pictures of poor little kids with no shoes and say give us a buck to help.

When I was growing up in Edinburgh, I was asked to take thruppence every Friday for the black babies. It's quite appalling looking back at how easily young minds are manipulated, but then it was a Catholic school and as previously mentioned, manipulation is part of the game. Interestingly, this worked on my parents too who would give their 5 children a thruppence. No wonder Catholics and birth control didn't work!

I've drifted off piste again but suffice to say changing minds is so much easier if you haven't filled these heads full of shit in the first play.

More in the stream of consciousness series which will never see the light of day

Give me the kid at 5 and......good habits, bad habits,, brush your teeth, wash your hands, bite your friends ear, spit and kick them when they're down, survival of the fittest, help your neighbour, take flowers to the care home, steal their fags, 

Give me the kid in puberty........ industrialist, terrorist, football player, mathematician, miner, diner or even a 49'er, find out what habits were installed at 5 and make hay...

Monday, 1 March 2021

issues 18 32 & 33 from the original proofs

The pics were much better when the ink didn't run..

#34 Blood Uncles

Its been a while but Deadbeat's #34 which was due for publication on April 23rd 1986 will be out shortly after April 2021 and here's a sneak preview. Apologies to Kate Comfort and we hope the gigs went well - the news desk was always a bit slow at Deadbeat!

Saturday, 13 February 2021

Deadbeat tape 1 - wakey wakey!

Its still the music to make me get up, 40 years on. http://www.mediafire.com/?zjmyy68licz44zm My desert island discs are so unknown but here I go again, listen to those first two tracks by the imperious Strawberry Tarts. I'm digging out my feather boa and off doing my couch to 5k. If you see a fat feather boa wearer, bent over double puking at the side of the Astley Ainslie, give me a wave!

Friday, 12 February 2021

update on the review of Carillion Collapse - I'm behind schedule

Its a great book and today I walked with Jimmy And John who were at school together in primary from 1950-57. If I have the dates wrong they'll remind me. Essentially, society had slowly moved away from the ruling classes and now back toward them again. Over a 600 year view ,not a 2020 one, we are simply assuming a role well laid out. Under POCA, we want the windfalls from slave owners that bought land in Scotland to have that property confistcated for the state, including any other lands following the findings of the national tribunal/enquiry Its really sad as education became free and people from scum schools, like my beloved holyrood, sent pupils to oxford or in my case st andrews or even to hibs or other football teams. Free grants disappeared so quickly as soon as Tony Blair backed the Enfield model. The country knew that as long as the enfield constituencies votes "NEW" Lanour the party was electable. What we all agreed was that the party bended it knee to Enfield, and did not convince Enfield Labour had a message. By the time Blair became the Messiah, as he told the Queen about Diana, ENFIELD ROOLS! Unions would be disappointed, but we all were. That's the part Gordon Brown misses even now. As he coses up to Gove he looks like Clegg. We all thought AAAARRGGHHHHH! We abhor nationalism. We really abhor ENGLISH NATIONALISM. Thats why we humbly submit our considered views. 2 communists, 1 labour and 1 random labour/socialist. We 4 are Pro INDEPENDENCE

Tuesday, 2 February 2021

Dr William Frankland

I've been listening to a lot of podcasts and January has been 10 hours of desert island discs through the night. I wake up listen to a bit and fall asleep. Some, like Sally Wainwright I've played 3 times as you miss so much at 4am so when that happens that's where I start the following night when I go to sleep, and whether its Mrs May, Kylie and co doing "Dancing Queen" or Judy Dench or former neighbour Michael Lewis taste is varied, but you'll usually get Louis Armstrong "its a wonderful world" or Ella Fitzgerald's "Strange Fruit" at least once a week. Bill, as he liked to be known was chatting about his life in 2015, he was 103. He was literally from another world and yet from this one, maybe it was me that was from another world. To think that he'd been lapping people by the time he sadly died in April, during the first outbreak of Covid-19 at the age of 108 is simply amazing. When it finished talking to Kirsty I put him in the good guy corner. You can always tell the good'uns, they say thank you and mean it. Sometimes they say thank you its been a great privilege, experience, honbour, and sometimes its a politicians hand off and "thank you, where are we next Jeeves." We liked Bill and after living through the Spanish Flu pandemic we're sorry you didn't get to live through another pandemic, but everyone with allergies owes you a huge debt. Thank you Bill.

Monday, 1 February 2021

#33 December 1985

Vinyl Villains ad on the back page and the Alarm on the front.

#33 pages 8 & 13

Issue #33 time to go

If you ain't got anything good to say then don't say anything!

That was our credo and there it goes!

Truth is I liked Fergus! The Sheep!

It had some similarities to that fire engines sound and a hint of hey! Elastica! With that barra barra barra. Unlike Grease's shit be bop the B52s sound really works. 

The wall of noise scratchy guitar that many searched for when over produced ends up sounding like twisted nerve, more goth to these ears but it was the 80's and the drugs were better.

All things considered I'm still hearing it 40 years on but leave Fergus! As an A-side and do something revolutionary and have no b side!!

Now that would've been 80's!

Sunday, 31 January 2021

Chicken or egg

I'm not sure if I want to be hard boiled 

I'm not sure if a long life where I've toiled is preferable to a short one with a runny yolk 
and that my funeral will be attended by loads o folk

Lang in the tooth there's a wee white lie
 if you count them in my head when I die 

you'll not find so many, 6 if you try
The others ones lang gone och aye!

So hard boiled it is with a napper to match

You could strike off this head if the fire doesnae catch

You can fetch some more twigs, logs and the rest

Then settle me down in my Sunday best

I love that picture at a viking funeral pyre

The fire goes out instead of going higher

My mongrel life which had been due to expire

Is struck on the head by a wee wooden fire

Wednesday, 13 January 2021

We found a fake news article today where Jack Ross concedes the league

Unlike Donald Trump Jack Ross knows when the game is up. With hibs trailing rangers by 28 points and only 15 games left the game is up.

Livingston's David Martindale on the other hand is still quite optimistic. With 8 wins on the bounce, he's entitled to be. Although a further 7 points behind hibs they have played two games less and play aberdeen tonight and a Covid free Celtic team on Saturday. 6 points from these games will leave them only 29 points behind Gerard's pacesetter's.

It's all about our finish. If we can win all 17 games we'll have more points than Rangers do just now and we'll have beaten them twice. We'll have 81 points and they'll have to get 16 points from 15 games just to get level on points.

With Rangers yet to lose a match it seems unlikely, but fans like to dream.

Deadbeat checks the authenticity of all it's content and this is definitely shite. The league will get called in March as usual!

Friday, 8 January 2021

Bandit Capitalism - Bob Wylie - Carillion and the corruption of the British state

What great gifts Christmas brings us, ahh...Bisto and the Great British Oligarchs enjoy. 

"Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics",....dont I love it when they're exposed!

I move randomly across the chapters and parallels I've witnessed. I hope to complete this by May 2021 so buy the book, its easier than working out what I'm trying to say!

Bob Wylie's book is excellent as it dismantles the myths and explains why capitalism in this country, as around the world, continues to ensure, the trickle up of cash, from the workers to the management. It strikes a chord with me as I saw first hand the deregulation of the city. I sat, jaw open, as the futile fight between Scargill and Thatcher took place. I screamed for Mick McGahey to bullet Scargill. I called out her fight to my Economics tutor as he defended her right to batter the unions by creating high unemployment. He was NE Fife Liberal, Stuart something....but not Menzies!

My Dad and I have often discussed Coase and his economic theories. During the 90's I watched the chocolate marketing & financiers eating themselves. There seemed so much moving of goalposts there was none being made. My Economics tutorials from 1980-82 were still haunting me as manufacturing and output gave way to counting empty boxes as the dotcom paradigm grew.

Thatcher had a plan of high unemployment to batter unions, I disagreed, in those days you were allowed to offer an alternative, unlike 50 years earlier, before the mines were privatised.

It's not quite as brazen as the old mine owners who used to issue tokens for their shop but there are no punches pulled by Bob, as he describes the blatant theft of those allegedly enhancing shareholder value. The vicious circle that requires more financial analysts to identify which managers are helping a business grow and which blatantly exploit clarify how difficult it is to find an honest broker or more relevantly, auditor...

This book resonates so much with me as I had a board room seat watching some of these chancers, I mean, characters. As a trustee of a pension fund I knew I was working with a good employer who wanted to fix the problem not hide from it, postponing it for the never never. I knew I was lucky.Trustees in other firms told me terrible stories where they knew they had to resign but couldn't risk becoming blacklisted. In the financial services nobody knew how big the blacklist was but they knew honesty wasn't rewarded. Bob brings the buildings blacklist to the fore, and highlights the full extent of the horror, a UK disgrace.

It manifests itself today in our efforts to combat Covid. People are asked to be considerate and 80% are but if you have 3 kids and you take them out sledging then, "look pal, I've got these 3 to manage so could you take your 88 year old pop's out of my way" is the disdainful look given. The slow erosion of values such as helpfulness, trust etc, inevitably lead to an easy society to corrupt.

The corruption that leads all staff to park their morals at the door is endemic in the UK and it grows with each passing day. Its hard to fight against when your leaders lean into you and you watch those patsies push past you for promotion. Its hard to stamp your feet when you see sharp practice whether it be pension poverty, PFI pilfering or the current cladding on building, When someone working in your home suggests cash will get you 20% of a job is it any wonder 80% will pay cash. Bob's description of Grant Thornton's Sacha Romanovitch removal had me googling to read more of her story, but more of that later.

There are huge benefits when a good culture is endemic, but as we know, the word is rarely used in a positive way. The deep roots associated with something that is endemic is that cutting the head off is pointless. I use allotment analogies all the time but whether it sexism at Westminster, racism in the Met or the greed of the banks, cutting off the head or even the top tier cant change the culture, its in their nature, its in the unwritten procedures manual.

I've ranted before about Blair's babes being largely ignored. If you cant take advice on how to change the House of Commons working practices, flexible hours, what chance you could understand even simple things such as maternity leave in any other workplace. So men who have no homes to go to and just want to network in the bar dictate pointlessly long hours of business. Let's hope a few have learned their value during lockdown. I do blame Tony as he took the photo opportunity but did nothing.

I've also ranted about the Met producing statistics that suggest crime has a size, shape and colour to it. Never have they stopped and searched Gove and their targeting begets the statistics, which then reinforces all the believe required by the serving officers. If a Police Officer is trained to believe that criminals 'look like this', then they will naturally aim their suspicions and efforts at their previous arrest records. Certain offences are easy to prosecute and so with limited resources its safer to harass a small percentage of the London population rather than apply the law fairly across all, never mind the really labour intensive stuff like Bankers or even more difficult like modern slavery. 

Limited resources in Lockdown will doubtless lead to more targets being hit as the law is applied and interpreted arbitrarily throughout the land, depending on whether the chief constable is target driven or maintenance of order. Laws are there for disputes, when we aren't able to do the right thing. Prosecuting the law another thing altogether. If someone walking the west highland way gets prosecuted for having a nip from a hip flask, we'll all be outraged, but if 10 people having 24 tins each in the meadows get lifted we'll say, quite right. The point of the alcohol ban is to help reduce the spread of the virus, but I've slipped off message.

Bob's book commences on the construction collapse of Carillion but with great assistance he's tackled many of the glaring anomalies, shining lights on how corporate luck is as likely a reason for rising shareholder value just as corporate collapse can be calculated on a lack of foresight, but blamed on markets. Its the smooth slogans that let bankers blank their bad judgement and blame the over exuberance of bond markets. The light shined on everyone's inability to do due diligence is quite simply illuminating. I find it amazing that after Michael Lewis' Liars Poker and The Big Short, after Enron's collapse, Maxwell and the rest, we still find ourselves surprised that the crooks are still 3 steps ahead.

Shout it from the roof tops, they still make up the rules. Regulators are still not wanting to catch those  opportunistic corporate oligarchs. I was once told by one, our new Chairman at the time, that he'd made more millionaires than he'd made millions, as if to appeal to the Socialist in me who wanted all the staff to participate. The same guy took his brusque optimism out the door 12 months later having ruined our business as he listened to shareholders instead of the management. Management had been split over accelerating growth from 60% year on year to the 200% demanded by shareholders. Meek noises about management wanting sustainable growth were confronted with maximising shareholder value. Corporate brokers knew there was a window for them to make £5m before the bubble burst. The company was only worth £30m at best but they could sell us for £120m if we just went along with their ideas. We didn't, as the bubble burst before we even got a chance to disagree. The staff were let down as a large chunk went out the door, but thankfully there was enough money left to pay 6 times the basic entitlement and almost all volunteered to take a bung to move on to pastures new. A profit of £1.2m turned into breakeven, but that was luck, not judgement. If we'd taken three steps further down the road, someone would've lost £100m, everyone would've lost their jobs and there'd have been no redundancy money in the pot. I cant help thinking how many people's savings our chairman had taken in his unsuccessful launches. When it works it's usually asset stripping. Enhancing shareholder value does ultimately lead to asset stripping and that does include stripping the rights of the employees. Even when a company goes bust, its always the management who take the gamble, in my case encouraged by shareholders prepared to risk all as they have a diversified portfolio.  

I remember emptying myself on the basis that management should've done better. I also remember being told a few years later that I'd never work in the city again as I was too honest. "You're a rogue, you're too honest, if you saw us overcharging a client you'd want to pay them back and also check to see how long we'd been thieving. That's not how it works now. If the client hasn't spotted it, then its ours. I mean who's going to advise the board? Are you seriously asking me to say we've a wee black hole and we need £1.4m to pay back to a client we forgot to credit over the last few years., when they and their haven't even spotted it."

Everyone's got a 'take' on corporate failures and for every successful business there will be others that fail. Like football clubs, they cant all win the league, but it would be better if we only had one winner and one relegated! It would also be better if winners were a bit more spread around. Covid has produced winners and losers, online wins and local economies destroyed. We may be heading for a feudal economy where bread really is valued. In football, there's currently only one loser, the season ticket buying fans. If truth be told, these fans have just bought shares in an 'unsponsored rights issues'. Football clubs have not gone to the capital markets, not when the season ticket holders have 'got behind their teams'. Many football clubs are well run and have respect for their fans. It is a two way street, but let's not blind ourselves to the others who represent corporate greed as prosaically as a Carillion board member. Those football supporters who have paid good money and yet none of it is being viewed as a 'cash for equity' swap. Instead its viewed as a 'cash for sentiment' swap. Great wealth does not make you smarter and these supporters aren't stupid, but back to Carillion.

What I love about Bob's analogies are they hit the mark. The one about a bricklayer on £2000 a week is beautiful as it binds us to the construction theme while also pointing out how we genuinely have a shortage of brickies in this country, just as the Germans did in the time of Auf Wiedersein pet. £2000 a week sounds great but brickies dont get pay offs like the Carillion Chairman got at two of his previous jobs. One for failing and one for succeeding, both times owing to the background market conditions. That is the beauty of turnng up at a casino, where the house always pays to anyone, wearing a cravat. Knowing the rules, is the caveat, to the path of great riches.

One place where Bob does seem to pull punches relates to Kiltearn's Carillion holdings. In praising the wisdom of Standard Life's investment techniques that had them out of the stock before 2017, one would've thought Kiltearn would be damned for still holding a stock that declared high dividends but increased pension shortfalls and a diminishing cash balance. I'm not professionally trained portfolio manager and look after a small personal pension, but my experience as a Trustee ensures I look at companies  cash positions and pension shortfalls as part of my basics before I look any further. A new start wont have much cash, but they wont have pension issues either. 

It still frustrates me, that decades after Maxwell, far from resolving the pension issues we still have regular failures. For the rank'n'file of most organisations the pension as part of their annual compensation, aka pay, is suitably ignored. I felt when DB schemes were abandoned the compensation to move to a different scheme deserved Government intervention and not just a Labour chancellor taking away the tax credits. When Thatcher was busy selling the family silver, the bricks and mortar of our Council estates, while decimating the manufacturing infrastructure of our country, its a sad fact that New Labour's plan was to sell off the gold and tax our pensioners pots. It is no surprise to me to see the rise in support for the SNP as Blair & Brown's Labour did not work out well for Scotland and having witnessed the ravaging of the country under Thatcher, voters only had one roll of the dice.

As we head off into 2021, the corporate collapses that will befall the average voter after covid are quite scary. The parallels with the 'elephant in the room' analysis of Carillion are there for all to see.

When Bob articulates that the contracts they were signing up to were less than the costs required to fufill them you knew Carillion the Charity had arrived. The fact that the government used contracts to provide a quasi nationalisation of the company, was like the Cabinet office's official seal, Carillion had been given charitable status. It reminded me of times when we'd been under pressure as a business and potential 'partners' would use those magic phrases. We like to have a Partnership, we think of it as a marriage. I'd look across the table at these idiots and think, yes I understand your idea of marriage vows. No matter how desperate we were for revenue I'd stonewall them and say no we cant do it at the price.

My fellow board members couldn't understand why I'd repeatedly turn down '£1.5m worth of business', or '£15m over 3 years' or '£1m in the first year alone'. SAGA were the first to try to break us. They wanted to know what our Marginal costs were and wanted a deal based on that. I explained we worked on Average costs and we could give them a discount on the average but could never go to Marginal costs as that would necessitate them giving us guaranteed volumes which they couldn't do and us telling the staff no pay rises for the length of the contract which we wouldn't do. I asked if they wanted MC, who would pay for the set up of the service, the costs associated with us even sitting around the table. The price of having such a good partner was that they would be able to sell their services cheaper than we could to our other customers. This meant we would be in a race to the bottom when what we offered was viewed a superior product. 

Not everyone on my side could add up so they were easily distracted by revenue and had no appreciation of cost. Costs could be controlled, they thought. Costs we hear, can always be eradicated and there are always cost overruns so they just need controlled. Its not like you can put a condom on them I'd reply to the all male negotiation table. Costs are real and I'd use analogies. I'd say this hole is a par 4 because it takes 2 shots to reach the green. Its 440 yards long and I dont hit it that far in 1 shot. They'd argue back that with practice we could. I'd explain its like the Opera house. There are only 3000 seats so we cant fit 30,000 in for one performance on Christmas Eve and 3000 the rest of the year. 

What astounds me still looking back is this was indemic in our society. Football fans watched their teams being controlled by aspiring oligarchs and every time a mistake was made by the chasing pack they'd be lambasted into administration. All the time, the big fish moving the money around would get away with another trophy and the wee teams would lose points and fans. When The Glazers reversed into Man Utd it was time for intervention, this free market has to stop thought those in red.

Standard Life were another 'partner' who we sent packing as they searched for the finer pencil partnership. I laboured the point that we wanted to provide a service at a certain level, we were not fine dining, but we weren't flipping burgers. They hammered home their desire for a bespoke service with specific enhancements for their clients and once we had created their platform for free we could have a 3% profit above those Marginal costs. You dont need a degree in Economics to know that in a volatile market that's suicidal and when you look at the detail of the MoD servicing contracts Carillion signed up for you can feel the holes in their pockets widening. The clarity at the same time as Bob beautifully puts it of the pension taking the brunt while the board brush any residual crumbs off the table into their pots. I cant wait to see who gets the wine cellar!

I've often wondered what happens at the allotment if your watering can has a hole in it and the tap is 50 yards from your plot. I think that's what happened to a lot of these pension funds. By the time the weeds on the path had been watered there was very little for the trustees. Cue, losing the plot or pension pot to piss in anecdotes.

I realised when I was working that my instinct was to be an auditor, a regulator, to find the problem and let the local management know. I did it as part of my nature and helped out many of my colleagues, especially when they had a problem about 11am that I could solve over a coffee. I applied for a job with the FCA and they never replied. With my track record of finding and solving problems, I wondered why. I never got any answer apart from, integrity doesn't work. 

One of the attractions about the book, is the way Bob gently goes back, repeating some of the key themes. £29m in the bank and £7bn worth of debt. During this period probably 200,000 people handed back the keys to their house and declared themselves bust with debts of £40,000-£100,000 and annual wages of £20,000. These numbers are what drives the mental health of our nation and sleepless nights for years stealing from Pete to pay Pauli.

What is truly disgusting is yet again seeing a company created the way Hitler did the third Reich. Its so frustrating that we truly dont seem to be able to learn. We dont spot these things and as individuals we are so compliant we allow them to happen.

As I know a bit more about EAGA I will explain why I held no Carillion at the collapse. As I say I am not the wisest investor in town. I sold out a lot of my pension in August 2006 and did not put anything in the pension pot during 2007 as I said thee was going to be a crash owing to the credit bubble in USA. At the end of 2007 I'd missed out on the biggest year yet. I reminded myself I was not a professional adviser and in January 2008 I started contributions again while mumbling about 'how could these companies write of £50bn in bad debts so easily'. I didn't get the new paradigm in 2000 and I didn't get the bad debts handling.

My single ambition when I was working was to pay £1m in tax. Whenever I assess companies to invest ethically in I look at how much tax they pay. I have unethical investments too though investment trusts I have, but I like a company who pays tax or declares a loss. As Sir Tom Jones used to sing "its not unusual" f Carillion paid 50 times out to shareholders what they'd pay in corporation tax.

I liked the analysis of the subbies and in particular the couple who lost their business, 20 years in the making. I would imagine that they paid more in tax than Carillion and I'd love to know the answer.

The subbies experience clarifies how difficult it can be to ensure capital in society flows properly when there are so many randoms assessing risk. Clearly banks and auditors are not the best judges of who to trust with cash.

Bob's account of the post 2008 crash rings too many bells for me. The great art heist in Philadelphia when the Barnes foundation got ripped out from under the great benefactor in less than 50 years after his death is right up there with them but as the Labour MP Clive Lewis put it the Banks plundeing post crash deserves a mention as

"The largest theft anywhere ever"

A lovely expression to lay before parliament and yet one that would just keep going and going. This relates to the banks who were rescued and being tasked to prime the economy with quantitative easing (QE), keep small businesses going, decided on their own backs to do the complete opposite. The bankers closed so many businesses by putting them into the "Special needs classification". Loans for beauticians of £5000 or aspiring property tycoons of £1m, it didn't matter. If there's more money to be made from calling in the loan than lending, you know the bank will maximise profit. It shocked me how I became a business angel' during that period helping someone out for a small amount of money. It seemed normal as it was earning me no interest and the individual concerned seemed to be paying over 9%. The extrapolation using the rise of credit unions, tells you all you need to know about our banking regulators. Borrowing has become a complicated act and best you have a friend to read the small print, or just hold a tape recorder! Its no surprise that crowdfunding has become so successful. Its over a year ago I mentioned the change in the capital markets for smaller businesses. People are much happier either giving their money to a start up or receiving vouchers and systems for raising cash cheaply are becoming simpler and more effective. The less you promise in return the less the need for regulation and the more trust creeps out of the woodwork as a way to transact.

Like any good accountant, there's a shadow ledger. With Bob, as you read, its hard to keep up as he's created so many shadow ledgers in your mind. I'll concentrate on one for a moment as it goes hand in hand with the Black lives Matter movement. It's always made me chuckle how Parliament could vote for work place drug tests and exempt themselves from them. In the book the pursuit of crime as Anthony Stansfield would have it is tuned from the fraudsters, well to whatever ticks the boxes. 

I've gone to the bog for a piss so please accept my apologies.

When this message is deleted you'll know, I have returned.

I may be some time. 

Its my prostate.

I'll put my notes down here and will assimilate later

I'm back cutting and pasting my paragraphs

On banking, since 2009 and the QE its been well documented how these banks were tasked with pump priming the economy. What frustrated everyone was how they ignored that role and instead set about bankrupting small businesses as if they were performing diligent house keeping that previous regimes had ignored. They weren't, because what was endemic in the bank, as articulated by Bob, was that the primary obligation lay in achieving independence, to make shareholder value grow. 

I worked for banks on numerous occasions and their management rarely related to good practice as I saw it. In 1988 I was sent down to London to help out on a securities backlog in the firm that had just bought us. The combined business traded on our name while my job was to help tidy up the wee backlog in a firm that had only been trading for a year. I joined the team of 40 working on the backlog and it was chaos. Within a week I asked my boss to give 38 of them back to the daily work and me and 2 others would do it. It really was a real case of too many cooks. 

The following week I mentioned in the meeting that the backlog was actually £600m, money which we were losing interest on. I was told '

it wasn't real money and that it related to counter party risk requirements'.

I laughed and said, "You're right it does relate to the CRR, but it is real cash. What the CRR report highlights is you've paid clients £312 million for stock that you haven't delivered to the market yet. Sold stock that you call your sales backlog. There is also £287 million of bought stock here you have paid the market counter party for the shares but given it to your client without being paid. If you want to be in stockbroking settlements you should get the money back whenever you pay for something. If you dont the CRR sensibly lets you know that you are short and in danger of going bankrupt. Luckily for you, your parent, NatWest bank, dont understand it either and have wired money into your account, over £600 million in the last year. There was another £32 million in the last 2 weeks.

Silence, then a very angry 'how did you find that?'

I was uncontrollable in my laughter asking 'surely your internal auditors or annual auditors brought it up. I mean, with interests rate at 12% equivalents overnight its costing a fortune.'

'No its not as the money is in our account, its just for CRR!' said a purple faced director.

'Eh no' I laughed, 'I got back £17million this morning after delivering an ICI deal from 4 months ago. We had the stock but couldn't find the docket and Geoff didn't know how to regenerate one so he just waited for it to magically appear. We paid the client £17m, not today when we got paid, but 4 months ago. The market maker has been borrowing this stock for 4 months. Its not rocket science but this one deal has cost the bank roughly £600,000 in lost interest. I'm not going to add it all up for you but every receipt from the bank has been diligently registered in the GL and its balance is now over £600m'. 

I was astounded how incompetent the whole enterprise was and it brought out an autism in me that just delivered the truth with hysterical giggles. We didn't know that Nick Leeson would bning down Barings but hen he did many in that room weren't surprised. I did lie in the meeting as I had done a rough calculation based on when the money arrived on the GL from the parent bank. I reckoned it had been between £30-£40million just lost in interest and face saving was the only reason it went on so long. Local management had blamed it on products that a team of 'rocket scientists' had produced but it wasn't that at all. It was just the simple business of buying and selling gone bad. Paying and never receiving.

I showed my boss the ledger and his eyes popped. I was not long in the job and the only clerk who understood the recently launched CRR reports. When I explained them to him, I found it so incredulous that the regulators had brought them in without guiding senior management why they were useful. I paraphrased one of Harry Enfield's characters "Loadsamoney" to explain it.

"Fing is Guv, if your subbies ask you for extra dosh every day for materials, you know they're using your gear on a homer." 

"How come the bank keep paying the money?" he asked

"That is what I find so funny. I'm on £15,000 a year and I'm asking you for 5% which gets knocked back. They keep asking for tens of millions of pounds and their bosses in the bank are just paying it. It makes me wonder if they're all part of Chigwell 942!"

"Stop it!" He laughed, he was a hibby too!

Seriously though, as I read Bob's account of Carillion's collapse and corporate UK's rewards for failure it all reminds me of how compliant they all were with what they were told. They are complicit but it goes further than that. As I've said before, it stretches back further than Scargill v Thatcher. This idiotic faith placed in leaders comes at a great cost to society when those leaders go rogue. The Tories quietly loved Thatcher doing the dirty stuff and couldn't wait to despatch her with their priest. No fishing analogy works but I liked the thought. They didn't want to stick their head above the parapet but Thatch did her spitting image best and was effortlessly guided by their greed. With union power diminished they could bin her.

The people in Nat West gave a subsidiary (who only made £20m a year ) £600m because over 13 months in operation it continually had cash flow problems. It wasn't like a pay day loan here money went back each week. This was one way. It was endemic. "How much do you need for your CRR today?" The anser was always £millions. A good day was when it was only £3m. I never met anyone from Nat West who understood what they were funding or what it was costing. For the avoidance of doubt, this wasn't an increase in an overdraft. This was physical cash (electronically transferred) moving from Nat West to its subsidiary investment bank arm.

So the regulator had brought in something that was very valuable as it raised red flags everywhere. Unfortunately, if incompetent management want to distance themselves from the action then quite simply, red was the new green!

You might wonder how we sorted this with 3 people and its quite simple, its what anybody would do. I got the reports and we sorted by value. We had £200m back in a month and thereafter it got very tough. When we finally finished the work we'd spent a year and the last transaction turned out to be the 'new backlog', from the 'we are on top of the' daily stuff!

In the greatest of ironies the local management got their on back on us when they closed the Edinburgh office and moved the work to London. Everyone loves a bit of Ian Hunter but no hint of 'once bitten twice shy' there! I got emptied and it after another we sojourn down to London to show them how to do the work I moved on with a redundancy cheque.

Before I left I had the great pleasure of handing in the Hands of Hibs petition to Downing Street with Brian and Tony who would set up London Hibs later that week. Later that day Nelson Mandela arrived in Downing Street, about an hour us, to my shame, we'd gone off for a pint or 6. I had a gig with Rich at the Barbican tube station, a tiny wee pub called the Sutton Arms I think. We did a great version of platfom 99, which had become about the millenium bug. "Soon you'll all hear about this slimy slug, they've named it already this millenium bug, they say jump aboard early you will be fine, get yourself a ticket at platform 99...." Certainly an improvement on the 1985 version 5 years earlier.

Not long after I'd been emptied, I found myself at the Bank of Scotland savings schemes adding things up. 

I liked numbers and once I'd reconciled the accounts I'd been given and another 4 they hadn't asked for I said ;

'There's about £30,000 to claim from people we paid in error.'

No we cant do that as they've already been written off.'

'Eh, No, sorry about that, but you wrote off £1700 but it was actually £32,000 you were owed and you owe £30,000 to members of the scheme. I've bought them the units they were entitled to but someone will have to write the letter apologising for not investing the money when we got it, some gave us as many as 11 monthly amounts and we bought nothing for them. I've done a list of all the scheme members where; you've over invested, bought after they stopped contributing or paid twice when they left. Luckily one of them hadn't cashed the 2nd cheque so I've cancelled it, hence its only about £30k

'You cant do that, you're not authorised.' I was told

'No, I didn't buy the units, I let the folks know which clients needed what done to them, they made sure your scheme members who had paid money into the scheme got their units, as I'm not authorised. I'll get my coat..' I laughed, it as 5pm, but why would a supervisor and another junior member of the local management team chastise me for fixing something, I was in Edinburgh, not London right? 

'Its already been written off' rang in my ears again as I left. I really didn't get people who were lovely sociable people acting as if their incompetence had made the money the bank's.  The money belonged to those who had entrusted it to them. If they had messed up with other scheme members they couldn't just use their money. It was a massive mistake as the profit margins on these schemes were small and big losses through incompetence endangered their jobs, but frankly, they were shit trustees of others money. I was offered a full time job after temping for 2 months but the salary offered suggested they were happy if I just left and took my honesty with me.

It's when I realised how endemic our problems were across society and how much of a sheltered world I lived in. I honestly thought we were better in Edinburgh, that honesty and integrity were not just soundly expected but never applauded because it was the norm. If you found a problem you shouted it out like a miner would if the canary died. Finding a problem is good, it means you can learn. Its the start of a new enlightenment. Oops, that was 1990 and Nick Leeson was just getting going!

Analysing behaviour. Good, bad and the rise of the opportunists

Studying behaviour has been a pet habit of mine. I've been a watcher, when we did Deadbeat, I was shit at reviewing a sound, preferring to review how people reacted. It was the same with the lyrics in the band. My favourites from the band days are "Fall from Grace",  "Watch you Grow" or going back to the "Penny Drops" era I liked "On Your Own" and "People at their Best." When playing live the lyrics always moved ith the venue, the people, the journey to the gig, the news of the day. If Hibs had scored a goal the goalscorer would suddenly find himself replacing "Hiawatha", or "Move your feet" would be 'to the Scotland beat' after a 1-0 defeat against Costa Rica. I've forgotten where this is going. Oh yes, back to the book, we need to waken up.

I was lucky enough to do a transfer in 2nd year at uni swapping maths to study Psychology with the Economics. I had to do a crash course 1st year while doing the 2nd year course and I loved it. There were a few things I learned about Behaviour that made me want to do Behavioural Economics but the Uni didn't like transfers from Science faculty to Arts. Science didn't do Economics & Psychology, I was also largely a jakey, so I took my ordinary, eventually. The learning was just beginning and why do I feel I'm answering questions about myself that nobody asked or better still wants to hear the answer. Did someone just drop £20 though the door with a book and say read and discuss the relevance in your own shabby existence.

Ah, good point, but I'll just answer that. Eh, no £20, just the book, no questions, just Christmas wrapping paper with trees on it to remind me how many came down to wrap this book.

Lies, damned lies and Statistics, saw me  look bizarrely at a sunday newspaper as it wrote "Given what might be politely called the NHS's history of struggling with logistics" I just exploded, but luckily I wont give them any more time. 

Sustainable and equitable growth. I thought that was the buzzwords we lived by but only during our bleeding edge of technology web days did we get to do it. We only had a fleeting time until an institutional shareholder during the 1999 dot com bubble insisted our 60-70% year on year growth was missing the market. Our Chairman insisted operations always moaned when the marketing guys succeeded and it seemed explaining that the marketing guys were bringing in chocolate fireguards somehow had us missing the point. It was not opeationally important whether the chocolate fireguards worked, just whether we could sell them. Other notes of worth. Grant Thornton are currently accused of not checking the cash in the business added up, see patisseie valerie or AssetCo. Whether they are a better version or not, or whether they've gone back to the lazy audit way to secure business remains the subject of others. All I know is many people are still lamenting their involvement in the film industry tax dodge. This was legitimate tax avoidance for two years until the government realised their mistake, restrospectively changed the law, and it became tax evasion. The accountants all had autonomy and yet it was their tax dodging clients that got done. Strange but true, the accountants all got to walkaway. One guy got jail for organising it on an industrial level, yet utility companies or Universities with large housing stocks continue to abuse loopholes to maximise their profits.

Tuesday, 29 December 2020

Scotland's Economical smiles

Yes we all know Glasgow smiles more but that's because they know smiles aren't taxed, they dont even appear in GDP, but if you ask me a good laugh is something we've exported for years, and its well noted, if not by all economists.

I noted with amusement that @glackinreports is this week talking up independence as he mentions Ireland's main trading partner (40%) is the UK and with Scotland at 60% he's seemingly making the case that its not just about trade. When you realise that over 5% of all our trade is in Whisky, I start getting interested. Diageo a while back realised that alcohol is a brands game. As with cleaning clothes where Lever Bros and Proctor & Gamble benefit from increasing the brands almost daily, Diageo just keep buying them when they reach puberty or whatever brand maturation is called. Whereas the Soviet Socialists Republic just called it vodka, Capitalism proved to beat the competition you need more brands, more names for the same stuff, Poitin! This has become self evident in the boom of Gins in recent decades. In Scotland it used to be that Whisky was consumed but now we largely export it and are more likely to consume Gin or Vodka. The maturing of the market as pubs became gender neutral resulted in Whisky looking to the misty eyed hills, aka the export market. "Hoorah", we shouted, "Hoorah!"  all progress is good....!

We have a number of growing industries but we need the skill and acumen to keep them.

I remember when we were at the bleeding edge of golf club manufacture but, when I was a kid, John Letters stopped making clubs in Scotland, relocating to England after the Dunlop takeover. Siemens did the same with a number of our great engineering companies. I dont remember when we designed electrical sub stations, manufactured them here in Edinburgh and put them on boats in Leith docks bound for another continent but I drink with guys who did the work. We are a great entrepreneurial nation, with ideas and the capacity to collectivise behind them and realise the dreams. Whatever the subject matter, whatever the reason, we just seem to work better with Europe than Westminster. 

During my lifetime we have lost out on a number of the new industries because Scotland has largely been a distraction to the more pressing matters in the UK. A devolved parliament is neither fish nor fowl as its not like we can do an Oregon.

"An Oregon" for those of you who are interested is like doing a Netherlands. One of the huge Global growth markets is Cannabis farming. Legalising Cannabis farming has been a contentious thing since the 80's and while Government Ministers can consume as much Cocaine as they see fit, they still enthuse over drug testing in the workplace unless that workplace is the Houses of Parliament, the HP sauce flows fine there. I know teachers, doctors, nurses, bus and train drivers for whom it is standard practice, and yet you can still pull out a mirror, a wrap, a £10 note in the cabinet room and get on with the business of government never mind getting breathalysed before entering the chamber for a vote. 

Quite simply its not a headline. "Drunk Politician votes wrong way on key vote". Its not even getting a titter from the back row. Some people might think it strange but if a bus driver, nurse, ambulance driver, teacher, turned up with ta rosy tint or he slightest look of a Rubens masterpiece they'd be slandered, we only beat our own.

I've written before about how we could use the old mine workings to generate heat but I've never suggessted making them Cannabis factories. An independent Scotland could approach its drug laws in a different way. We have a huge heroin problem but the pipeline for this has long been identified and we need to move in a different direction.

I joke about Bit Coin manufacture but as a way of tackling the boom bust of generating energy when its required, the trick is to consume it and store it. If battery technology is not keeping pace with generation then perhaps using any surplus for bit-coin type manufacture is a way forward. Its the new gold standard, and goes hand in hand with our burgeoning drug industry. Our police force are familiar with the dark web so mix our financial services guys with those wonderful people from Police Scotland and we have a way forward. 

I've looked at a number of our industries in Scotland and those great invisible earnings that we get from very simple things. Whisky sales are well documented and those who have memberships and live in other countries, but the same applies to other industries, from the arts to the golf course. Most Golf Clubs in Scotland have visitor numbers that have plummeted during the pandemic, but many have overseas, or members in England who continue to pay their fees. I remember speaking to a Japanese member of our club who paid his membership every year but made it over only every 4 years. These exports don't get recorded because its far too granular and we dont do the census like it 1834.

The other side of that coin is that its not 1984 either. Friedman economics were largely booted into touch by many but still made it onto the syllabus for every student. Money supply and quantitative easing are real tools the public have been educated on, like growth. Growth, is everything, we are told. Clinton won an election by saying... its the economy....proving yet again that three words are better than 1428, when last I counted.

Our Covid world has carelessly caressed those in the organising service industries which to my mind are just hobby jobs while kicking the shit out of the health & hospitality sector. The problem is clear to see for me and therefore I do give the politicians a nod on closing them but I dont like they kept them open with optimistic winks. If you find yourself at a loose end because you used to be an organiser, then you needed a bit more training as you should have been organised for this. Rant over, but please, we cant feed our population without resorting to food banks and yet we need someone to help us organise an 18th birthday party.

Oops, I slipped off piste again, but that's that.

Ok, party central Scotland. We are a destination venue and everyone knows this. From T-in-the Park to Grouse shooting on the Moorland, I'm not going to judge, I'm just aying, we are a destination. Tourism is huge now in the western world because we can all afford washing machines and TVs. I have three older brothers and they never got a TV until 1968. I was 5, so I wouldn't have remembered if we'd had one before. Who knew the TV would be so popular. We never used it much, mostly had it on the radio. For my Dad not much has changed as he usually has it on teletext.

Back to the point and an independence discussion. If the SNP are serious then they need to tell me what new industries we will pursue. The Danish famously manufactured the turbines we invented to harness the power and I want us to pursue wave power more vigorously. I want us to look at the work SEPA and others have done on the old mines and the issues with the contaminated water and turn this into a world leading solution. We can transform old mines and we can work with climate change to avoids flooding. Its not about building flood defences, its about working with nature and making shed loads of cash from exporting our savvy.

Its a common misconception that our near neighbours in England have a bad track record of building on flood plains or not understanding the geology of the landscape. The truth is that like us they have solutions but rarely have the backing. Water is a magical resource, which like wind power, often arrives when you dont need it.

Anyone who has ever worked in the golf industry knows how much it costs to water their course. On average it £10,000 a year to keep the grass green. Harvesting water is clearly something all countries need to concentrate their minds on and yet few gain headlines for it. In Scotland alone, 300 of our golf courses will pay £10,000 for their water and for those with a clubhouse, another £20,000 for their gas and electricity. Quite simply £10m and that's before we flush a toilet. 

Golf Clubs are a bad example though as I tried to get us to save the clubs £2m recently by abandoning the use of Vouchers as prizes. In Non-Covid years, Clubs tend to invite visitors to play open competions. They give them a discount to the normal green fee and also pay out a large chunk of the entry fee in prizes while the rest is eaten up in goodwill from helpful volunteers. The hidden costs come after when those prizes are paid out in the form of vouchers. These move around the Scottish mainland and Islands via the postal network and then via the bank system the cash makes its way to the place where the recipient spent said voucher. Often these vouchers are worth less than £20 and 99% are under £60. I pity all golf professionals who receive a £15 voucher with a smile and then have to post it off and wait for the money arriving. Then phoning up two weeks later to chase for the cash, I digress but I know that 30,000+ of these vouchers every year are issued by 450 clubs. Some clubs, like mine issue 200 every year. If only it was like stamp collecting.

The time has perhaps come for more of our courses to migrate to becoming municipal courses like St Andrews or Montrose. I dont know about that but we need to get these green spaces into the green environment so that instead of spending money on utilities they are generating profits by supplying them. I'm thinking of the offshore wind farms at Trump Aberdeen of course, still a source of great amusement. I do wonder if he became president just to get back at Salmond, its a funny wee side show, but no of course I dont think that, ha ha!!

So back to the point. I want to hear more about our inventions being delivered into live. From Games in Dundee to beer in Aberdeen, via Gin in St Andrews, Golf in Ayrshire. I want to hear that Ardrossan wind turbines are going to be used to power something. I want to hear about Euro and Crypto Currency!

Most of all, I want to hear that we are now measuring GDH, aka Gross Domestic Happiness. Yes, how happy we are. I want to hear Danish laughing classes and see Glasgow smiling better!

I seem to have cut and paste a piece here and like a traditional DIY Christmas present, I have a leftover screw, nut and bolt......you decide!

The question about independence that I'd like to hear asked are about the new industries.

We like wind power more than Trump, but if we explain we are going to use our excess capacity to mine Bit-Coin will he change his tune?