Wednesday, February 27, 2008

On the Wrong Lines

Thankfully I am among the millions of travellers who don't have to make use of the services of First Great Western and their railway. If reports in the British media are to be believed (and who would doubt them?) on some days the service appears to resemble a Bombay commuter train.
No doubt the directors award themselves a bonus (does everyone in the UK get a bonus?) for the number of passengers who have to stand in the toilets multiplied by the number of miles they have to travel. If so, they must do themselves pretty well.
Unusually for Britain today, it has come to the notice of the authorities that this is an unsatisfactory state of affairs. I can only assume that a government Jaguar must have broken down somewhere, forcing the hapless official to have to slum it on the railway and thus raise the matter.
There is talk of First Great Western losing their franchise and unless one of the board can come up with a big enough contribution to the Labour Party, this may well happen.
Personally, I think the company should be sued for trading under false pretences.
It is not the first Great Western and I think someone should go to Kensal Green cemetery and have a quick check of the grave of Isambard Kingdom Brunel as it has probably just turned over.
When Brunel built the Great Western Railway it was a staggering example of British engineering, so much so that it was known as God's Wonderful Railway.
That First Great Western should have the temerity to play upon the reputation of one of Britain's finest achievements, seems to me to be reprehensible and probably flies in the face of the Trade Descriptions Act.

Monday, February 25, 2008

One Big Fib

A few years ago I wrote a book exposing the fraudulent First International Bank of Grenada and its founder Gilbert Ziegler who had taken the trouble to change his name to Van Brink, a name thought to be a cerebral association with the company that transported loads of cash.
When justice finally caught up with the scamsters, the book, 'One Big Fib,' became a best seller amongst the legal teams wrangling over the case, an affair which became rather less interesting when Van Brink thoughtlessly died before he could be brought to trial.
One of the greatest difficulties I ran into was finding victims who were prepared to speak of their experiences. There's a sort of 'Stockholm Syndrome' prevailing amongst the defrauded which often allows the crooks to get away with it.
But with the trial now over and Van Brink's henchmen and women brought to justice, there are now those who will come forward to speak.
Bill Kurtis, the well known producer of investigative TV documentaries has put together a programme charting the events of the bank and its many subsidiaries using my book as a basis. There were innumerable mini-banks spawned by Van Brink and FIBG, all of whom promised returns on investment of over 100% per annum, often using religious affiliations to encourage investors.
The trail led from Oregon to Hawaii to Grenada and finally to Kampala, Uganda, leaving financial misery in its wake for hundreds of investors.
The programme airs on the 26th. of March, I believe on CNBC.
Perhaps it will convince many of the truth in the old saying that, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

'One Big Fib' is still available from Amazon and all on-line bookstores.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

It Takes Two to Quango

The other day I wrote a piece wherein I used the word 'quango.' It occurred to me later that I was not really sure what a quango was. Nothing new there I hear you say. I did know, however, that quangos were a very expensive luxury item costing the British taxpayer millions of pounds each year, money that those ignorant of or outside of the booming quango market, might think would be better spent elsewhere.
Items such as body armour for the troops, a system for retrieving lost government data discs or providing one way tickets for the undesirables of the nation spring to mind. Funding to complete the job so lamentably handled by Guido Fawkes was originally on the list but, on reflection, they would just have rebuilt the place, installed another bunch of free loaders and sent the bill to the taxpayer.
Turning to my trusty Oxford English Dictionary, I find that, along with a bunch of interesting 'qu' words, 'quango' is sandwiched between 'quandary,' a state of uncertainty and 'quant,' which is a pole used to push punts out of mud. Rather appropriate, thought I.
But the OED has few doubts. It starts of by saying 'Chiefly derogatory' and goes on to explain just why they cost the taxpayer so much money. It says: ' A semi-public administrative body with financial support from and senior appointments made by government.'
So now you know why quangos are so expensive. All you need is to find out how to become one.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Shopkeeper and the Princess

Re-reading Diana Souhami's excellent book, Mrs. Keppel and her Daughter, got me pondering just how the behaviour of both the establishment and the public have deteriorated over the years.
As the unseemly and to me, totally unbelievable, charade of the Princess Diana's further inquest unwinds, I begin to question the sanity of the British legal system. That they should be held to ransom by an immigrant bazaar owner would be unacceptable in any other democracy whose governments would not have the temerity to charge their taxpayers with the costs of such a futile and unnecessary exercise.
The absurd and surely actionable assertions of Mr. Fayed should surely be enough to have him run out of the country but I suppose this would infringe his civil rights.
During the reign of King Edward the VII, the actions of both the Queen and Mrs. Keppel were admirably restrained and civilised.
As the latter was prompted to remark during the brouhaha surrounding King Edward the VIII and Mrs. Simpson: “Things were managed much better in my day.”
But then of course, so was Harrods!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Stressed Out

The British have a long history of brilliant inventions and discoveries. The steam engine, nuclear physics and penicillin for example.
But this time I believe they have surpassed themselves and set a trend that will reverberate around the world. For they have succeeded in producing what has been the Holy Grail for researchers throughout the years.
I refer, of course, to the stressless examination. Why nobody has stumbled across this before is a moot point. I suppose they were all too busy swotting up for the next bit of stress and didn't see the obvious.
Now, thanks to a decision no doubt made by a quango of some sort (for years I thought a quango was an Australian marsupial), it is possible to obtain a language qualification without having to prove one's ability to speak the language. Better still, it is no longer necessary to go through the agony of having to write anything, which gets over the difficulty posed by those pesky French and Germans of littering their language with accents, grave, acute and circumflex to say nothing of umlauts. All you need do is tick the boxes and go and collect your diploma. Brilliant!
The future ramifications of this are enormous and virtually unlimited.
Bus drivers, train drivers and airline pilots will no longer have to be exposed to the stress of having to prove their ability by a practical test. Ticking boxes is a much more restful procedure.
Doctors will no longer have to waste so much time walking the hospitals to prepare for their qualifications. A quick brush-up on the major diseases in the Encyclopaedia Britannica should suffice to get the right boxes ticked.
And similar principles can be applied to all professions where, until now, the rigours of an examination has proved to be a stumbling block.
However, looking at the state of affairs amongst the Ministers of Her Majesty's government and Members of Parliament, there may be grounds for imposing a rather more testing experience.
A practical examination as to whether or not they can differentiate between their own money and that of the taxpayer might well be advisable as there seems to be some confusion in the minds of some.
This might prove to be rather more stressfull than just ticking boxes. But I am sure they will find an easy solution.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Brussels Besieged

The British antipathy towards Brussels and the diktats of the EU (although they happily accept the bits that suit their political purpose) is not ill-founded. The British are, or perhaps were, a proudly independent nation but their latest broadside against Europe is, might I suggest, a low blow.
The bureaucrats of Brussels have, over the past few years, been Kinnocked and Mandelsoned, something which even George Bush's happy band of torturers would have considered a waterboard too far.
But now Britain is preparing to launch its ultimate weapon, the Patricia Hewitt nuclear holocaust on them.
It is fair to say that during her sojourn as a minister of Her Majesties government she did serve an invaluable role inasmuch as she made John Prescott look like a statesman by comparison.
Never forget that Belgium, which we should possibly add for the benefit of those at school, is where Brussels is located, was Britain's ally in two world wars.
Is this any way to treat a former ally?
And soon the halls of the EU will be ringing with that deathless phrase, heard so often in the past in Britain:
“Maintenant, si vous me laissiez juste finir.”

Friday, February 15, 2008

Immigration Unlimited

Having been an immigrant myself, many times over, I find the British attitude to their current problems quite extraordinary.
At no time did I expect my hosts to change their ways, religion or even eating habits to accommodate myself and my own way of life. Rather it was up to myself to be a gracious guest in their country.
And I must say it seemed to work pretty well, for my living and working in foreign fields was always enjoyable and instructional. Mind you, I had no inclination to blow any of their citizens up nor to avail myself of the benefits paid for by the tax paying natives, so I suppose they were quite pleased to see me. And I did my best to conform with the laws of the land.
I've no idea who coined that hackneyed phrase 'When in Rome etc.' but he did have a point.
But now the entire structure of British society is being changed, or rather being allowed to be changed, by this obsession with multi-culturism which does not, in fact, have anything to do with being multi-cultural but more accurately with political pandering.
Why a nation should be prepared to ignore the wishes of its peoples in preference to the demands of those who wash up on its shores from foreign lands is inexplicable – except, I suppose, to those in government who aim to gain by it.
It may be worth recalling that the last time there was an immigration of the sort now under way, it was the arrival of the Anglo-Saxon mercenaries and spelled the end of the civilisation of the Britons.
Now it seems many are following in their footsteps and fleeing across the Channel.
You can hardly blame them.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Not in Stock at Tesco

There is, I am reliably informed, nothing new under the sun. And this does seem true since here I am leafing through the Army and Navy Stores catalogue for 1907. Lest you should think that I am a bit late for my Christmas shopping, I should mention that it is all part of some research into the Edwardian era, and this substantial publication, all one thousand, two hundred and eighty pages of it, provides a wonderful mirror of the life and times of the Edwardian.
Harrods, even before they became the property of an unsavoury Egyptian market trader, were mere amateurs at the retail business.
And for those of you who think that Tesco is the ultimate in one stop shopping, well I've got news for you.
Just try sauntering into your nearest branch and asking the spotty faced manager (with a degree in retailing from the East Burpingham Polytechnic) if they can provide you with an elephant's foot liqueur stand, a Mauser repeating self loading pistol and a 'Berkefeld Patent' Traveller's and Army Pump Filter, and I suspect, nay, I am certain, you will be treated like a lunatic. Ask if they will deliver to Tristan d'Acunha or Palaos Island and the gendarmes will be called to cart you away.
Yet, one hundred years ago, these were routine orders (promptly despatched, according to their catalogue) for the Army and Navy Stores.
Admittedly, you had to order in writing and not by way of the internet but at any rate your credit card was not in any danger of being mis-used.
But perhaps my favourites in the catalogue are contained in the 'Entertainments Department (second floor)' where one can retain the services of such performers as Professor Smith's Royal Punch and Judy with Dog Toby, as performed at Buckingham Palace, June 23rd., 1903, before Their Majesties The King and Queen and Royal Family.
Or you might prefer to engage 'Wallah and Jarhoo, the Royal Durbar Entertainers with their Indian Mango Mystery. Fakirs, Jugglers, Conjurers and Mystery Men in Native Costume (Note: These Entertainers are NOT natives but appear exactly as natives of India. The entertainment is very wonderful and clever.)'
On second thoughts, I don't think Wallah and Jarhoo will be a good idea, race relations being what they are in Britain today, and you'll be better off hiring 'Herr Moritz Francois Blue Hungarian Band who will show up in Handsome National Uniforms complete with the Famous Hungarian Czymbalo.'
You've probably got some European neighbours who will appreciate them.
But I bet you can't get them at Tesco!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Oops Ups!

It's not very often that I regret living in the country. But yesterday was one of those times. Now I would be the first to admit that our cottage is not the easiest of places to locate, having no street address and therefore no number. But it's the same as thousands of other little places in France and, to make life easier, the Marie have thoughtfully placed a diagram in the town square directing the benighted traveller to these out of the way spots.
We can't be that hard to find. The mail man delivers the bills promptly each day, the electricity man comes to check the meter regularly as does the water man and we show up on Google maps.
In fact the only ones unable to locate us seem to be the Jehovah's Witnesses – and United Parcel Service.
UPS deliver stuff far and wide around the globe, day after day, using the latest in modern technology and a fleet of brown vans. But our place has got them beat.
Not for the first time either.
Expecting an important package from the UK, I duly checked the tracking number and viewed its pilgrim's progress, which seems to have been about as fast as Chaucer's lot. Our package arrived on-time overnight in Angers, our nearest city, and was duly loaded onto one of the aforementioned vans and headed south towards us, a mere 25 kms. away. It returned to Angers like a man with his braces caught on a door handle and the tracking log says, plaintively, that the address was insufficient for delivery.
No doubt dismissing the driver as an incompetent fool, it was sent off again the next day presumably with a more seasoned navigator at the helm. It came back to Angers with the same result.
The third time it happened, I suppose they were out of drivers willing to venture once more into what must have been a terra incognita for them, for the tracking log was prompted to say that 'an exception' had occurred, whatever that may mean, and that they would be writing to us.
Remarkably, the letter arrived overnight at the exact same address that UPS were unable to find.
By now I had E-mailed UPS office in Paris, pointing out that we had been at the same address for ten years and that it was the only one we had. Would they like us to move to make things a bit easier for them?
An apologetic reply has been received and I now note that the tracking log of our package says that it is being re-delivered to 'a new address.'
I'm just wondering whose address they are proposing to deliver it to.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Lessons of History

It was, perhaps, a tad unfortunate that the publishing of my latest book, Assaulting Britannia, a history of the invasions of the British Isles, should coincide with the news that 55% of British schoolchildren think that Winston Churchill was a mythical figure but that King Arthur and his Knights of the Round table were for real.
It's easy to blame the kids as being moronically uninterested in the subject of history as it keeps them away from their computer 'shoot 'em up' games, but the fault lies surely with those that teach history today.
I recall that when I was sent to school in England, the textbooks we were provided with were of mind boggling ennui and, for me, the situation was only retrieved by my having two history masters who not only knew their subject (they were Oxbridge MA's) but who could bring the stodgy matter to life.
There is a wonderful story by Richmal Crompton in the William series, entitled 'William and the Temporary History Master' wherein the master, a Mr. Renie, attempts to rouse William's interest by encouraging him to act out famous events in history. Anyone who has read the William books will realise that this was a recipe for hilarious disaster. I suspect that, if they were published today, the Health and Safety people would be carting the worthy Miss Richmal Crompton off in handcuffs, as the stories deal with such subversive matters as the climbing of trees, use of catapults and, heaven forbid, bows and arrows.
But Mr. Renie was right in principle, just unfortunate that he ran up against William Brown.
There is, as Peter Cook might have said, a lot of it about when it comes to history and a teacher can do little more than scratch the surface. But he could at least make it enjoyable.
The history books used in school are written by worthy academics but few have the wonderful sweep of history and the English language of a (no doubt mythical) Winston Churchill in his 'A History of the English Speaking Peoples.' It may not be academically pleasing, slightly prejudiced but undeniably readable and would make a great introduction to the subject were it available in the classroom.
On the subject of mythical characters, isn't it a pity that Tony Blair wasn't amongst them! If the old adage of George Santayana that 'those who ignore the lessons of history find themselves doomed to perish by them' is true, Britain is in for a pretty rocky future.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

One Born Every Minute!

When I was a kid, I read in one of my father's magazines, an article entitles 'Fifty Ways to be a Sap.' I assume it was an American magazine by the title and remember only one of the fifty ways mentioned which has remained in my memory ever since. It was 'A Sure Fire Way of Killing Ants.'
For one dollar, sent by mail in those pre-internet days, you would receive a small package consisting of two blocks of wood together with the instructions: 'Place the ant on one block, then smash it with the other.'
Even in my youthful innocence I could see the beauty of this scam. Firstly, the promised results were achievable and thus it could be argued that the contract had been fulfilled. Secondly, the amount of money involved was so small that nobody in their right mind would be prepared to go after the promoters.
It was a perfect swindle.
This came to mind when looking at one of the many and various internet scams that are blighting the network. Back in November I mentioned the so-called reverse pension plans that have sprung up to part the unwary or plain greedy with a few dollars, euros, pounds or whatever.
The most popular, if that's the right word, of these is one called the Global Pension Plan where, in return for 30 Euros, participants will receive 55,000 when the membership reaches 100,000. The closing date for this remarkable piece of fiscal legerdemain was originally August but was then moved to December and, incredibly, members were given the chance to subscribe for 250,000 additional pensions. From their promotional material:

“The Global Pension Plan is nothing more complicated than a simple Pension Insurance. Now, Insurance policies have been traded on the open market for years. In the same way that there are companies that will buy your outstanding Invoices at a discount giving you cash immediately and then they collect the full value from the clients. Your Pension Insurance Policy will be sold to an Investor at a discount, giving you cash immediately, and then they collect the full amount at maturity.
This is a simplistic view of a complicated and unique process developed by the GPP consortium. It requires 100,000 people for the plan to work and this is where you can benefit.
It costs just EUR 30 to register as one of the 100,000 and when that target is reached the scheme will be closed and you will receive EUR 55,000 ... as long as you are less that 67 years of age at that time or EUR 110,000 if you are less than 28. You can also receive EUR 2,000 for everyone you refer who joins in the 100,000 membership.”

Of course, neither the insurance company involved nor the principals in this scheme can be revealed and the sole contact the 'investors' have is by way of an entity named Stella who has an anonymous E-Mail address.
Claimed to be a Trust located in Lichtenstein, GPP's original instructions for sending the money were by way of Western Union to Inara Astica, Oksana Snetkova or Ivita Vingra, all of whom seemed to share the same address of Gertrudes 15-31/35 in the city of Riga.
Cheques could be sent to The Oceanic Trust at BCM Drawbridge House, 27 Old Gloucester Street, London WC1N 3XX, England, a maildrop shared with an unlicensed Somalian bank, Oceanic Bank.
Subsequently, payment options have been through various dubiously legal money exchangers and, as the funds still seem to be rolling in, further delays in paying out are in the pipeline.
These schemes are always promoted by 'cheerleaders' who post enthusiastic endorsements on the internet forums, in this case from as far to the west as Kelowna, BC to Europe and the UK. All work under assumed names.
But the chance of the punters receiving even two little blocks of wood for their money is no better than slim to none – and probably not even that good.