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Monday, July 25, 2011

Muddlin' through

This seems to be the mot du jour as the US continues to debate the finer points of cutting taxes and expenditure, the Tea Party continues its lunacy, Spanish people take to the streets without there being any young bulls to kill and the spectre of debt knocks at the door of M Sarkozy et Co.

Germany - the former 'sick man of Europe' seems to have shaken off his cold and emerged triumphant, standing tall through the sun roof of his VW as he zooms along the autobahns regardless of rising oil prices. What cares he? He has cash in the bank and the bank has cash in its own banks, and well, so on and so forth.

The UK too seems to have found its feet again, slipping and sliding but struggling ahead nevertheless, free from the encumbersome burden of the Euro and thankful for a nice stretch of water between the island and the continent, or else there would be more political force exerted upon it from Brussels to cough up for the Piigs and the next dominoes in the line should these all collapse.

FTSE100 keeps fluctuating between 5800 and 6000, bound in a range but buoyed by corporates putting out relatively good interims, while gold - ah, gold - shines like a star in the firmament for those canny investors who paid attention to my postings in 2006/2007 and bought it back then.

Too late now for the rest, perhaps, unless you can melt down your gran's old rings in a frying pan.

China is in for a soft landing and on the Eastern front, Japan's equity markets have not been as dire as one would expect, although exo-shocks to the region are still very much on the cards as we head into typhoon season.

As for me, well the money under my bed is now showing signs of strain as the bed itself looks like it is breaking. Depreciation of Norwegian wood stock after six years of wear and tear is having an effect on the resale value of my sofa bed in the secondary market. Home improvements and renovations may need to be a wise expenditure in this market, without being able to get off the first rung of the housing ladder and onto the second.

However, owner of the freehold might not like me adding decking onto the outside of the property and erecting a barbeque/half-covered seating area on the first floor of the flats in which I live. Therefore perhaps I should invest in shoring up the bed until the cash beneath it is safe enough.

Note: of course I've not put £ under my bed. I fear the eroding effect of inflation. Instead, I keep the ex-boyfriend's body under there. It is eroding by itself, but at least it keeps the bed frame from collapsing. The smell might be one of the reasons the resale of my flat is becoming more difficult.

Still - gotta keep muddling through.

Note: of course the ex-boyfriend is not under my bed. I'm not that cruel. I let him live in a cage in the garden.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Greece, Greece, Greece - and Harry Potter

Every single fund manager in the world is talking about Greek debt, whether or not he or she actually manages Greek debt.

UK equity investment managers are putting out statements about the situation in the Hellenic Republic; US academics are stitching together 19th Century political and economic history and the current situation in the Aegean.

This week we received about 30 press releases about Greece: manager comments on Greece, Forex traders' comments on Greece, Equity fund managers on the impact of Greece's debt on the Eurozone, Bond fund managers' concern about sentiment towards fixed income, Consumer groups lamenting the knock-on effect, SAY NO campaigners heralding this as yet another reason to stay well out of the Euro, Australian Farmers simply taking the proverbial out of the UK because they couldn't care less..

All week we have had missives of doom and gloom, such as this one, which interpolated normal text with BIG BOLD LETTERS ABOUT UNANSWERED QUESTIONS: "Despite politicians expressing their strong commitment to keep the Euro together through this new package, we continue to worry about the peripheral countries' capacity to deliver on their adjustment programme."

But when it becomes ridiculous is when fund management groups strive too hard to attract the attention of media pundits and financial journalists with their own take on Greece.

For example, one press release we received this week said: "This weekend’s family activity centred on the final film in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, 10 years on from when we saw the first instalment of the magical film series in 2001. Meanwhile in the Monday to Friday muggle world, the markets are focusing on the modern classical tale of Greece, that also began 10 years ago in 2001 when they entered the European Monetary Union. How will that blockbuster story end?

"In the final instalment of Harry Potter, the story centres on the deathly hallows. Spookily, the three elements of the deathly hallows are comparable to some of the magical instruments Greece has at its disposal."

I mean, really, mashing together the last of the great Potter blockbuster films with the situation in Greece is going three Quidditch pitches too far in an effort to get our attention.

Expelliarmus Hellenicus Debticus!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

What has annoyed me today?

1) People ringing me up at work on press day to tell me how their day is going. I do care, I DO. But I WORK. Send me an email, or call me after 6pm. Is that too much to ask? I WORK
2) Mum insisting on having a text conversation with me WHILE I AM AT WORK. I AM AT WORK. I cannot text or spell correctly when bashing out texts at speed on my BlackBerry Torch (TM)
3) People ringing me up at work on press day to ask me for directions to my mum's house.... WHEN THEY HAVE BEEN THERE FOUR TIMES BEFORE. I am NOT Last time I looked, I was not a search engine, a map, a cartographer, a policeman, a community support officer, a local cabbie or the freaking A-Z. I WORK.
4) Being asked to buy London 2012 Olympic Tickets - not for someone to GO to the olympics, no, no, I have to spend my overdraft for a ticket FOR POSTERITY...

I WORK, people, I WORK. Do you understand the concept of full-time employment?

I also freelance in what passes for SPARE TIME. This means I work at home, too.

When I say I am busy, I am not saying 'I am busy filing the hard corny bits on my feet for a few hours so I cannot talk to you/come for a coffee/have a sleepover at yours despite being a fricking adult whose idea of a sleepover does not consist of staying on the mattress in the spare room of a newly married couple.'

Even if I WERE shaving the corny bits off my feet, I should have the freaking right to do so without being made to feel guilty for not pandering to your ridiculous requests.

So the next person who rings me to whinge or ask a bleeding ridiculous question that even an 11-year old would be ashamed to ask, I will collect my foot shavings, stick them in a freaking home-made cupcake and watch you freaking eat it.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Why I will NEVER eat at Strada again

Strada restaurant

I'd remembered its prawns, you see. Delightful, light, juicily marinaded gambas in a sweet white wine and chilli sauce. I remembered them with fondness, which is why, when we were looking for a decent restaurant to eat at last night, Strada seemed like a good choice.

I don't really know what went wrong last night, other than the restaurant having no professional serving staff and hiring a shipping container of rabid chimps in uniform.

Don't get me wrong, the food was good. But it was just the wrong food at the wrong time, the wrong cutlery and the wrong kind of service. Ie, none. It was like being trapped in a Norman Wisdom spoof.

I'd already lunched well (at The Ivy, no less) so only wanted a light meal and no starter.

But it was a chore to get one of the waiting staff to take our order in the first place. My companion decided to pretend to cry like a baby, which disturbed the Yankee next to us.

Just at the point when I considered standing on the chair and doing a full-on belly dance, waiter One came up. The chap with whom I was dining ordered a plate of cured meats to start and spaghetti for main.

I said: 'Please may I have the prawns and a salad, but can I have these as my main course please?'

Waiter One said: 'You want this as your main?'

Me: 'Yes please, I don't want a starter, so please can I have the prawns and the salad as my main course?'

*DONG* (sound of Pavlovian warning that trained chimps cannot compute when the parameters of their training changes).

We waited.

Waiter TWO brought my companion's cured meats for starter, along with my prawns, without the salad.

I called him back. "Excuse me please, but I ordered these prawns as a main course to eat with my salad. Can they be put to one side please?"

Waiter Two started to take them away, whereupon I had visions of the prawns being left out in the meantime, or microwaved to keep hot.

Now, I don't mind diahorrea, after all, it's a good way to get thin quick without having to diet or throw up. But I don't like the feeling associated with bum curry, to wit, a pain akin to having a small, exoskeletal, fire-breathing animal driving a spiked chariot through your colon before developing into an intense burning sensation in the anus.

So I thought it expedient to eat the prawns there and then.

But I was not happy. And then, on the first prawn, I realised that they'd not brought me a bowl with lemon to clean my fingers. How was I supposed to shell the prawns? Eat them whole like an anaconda and hope that I can crap out the shell? That wouldn't be like the feeling of diahorrea - that would really be the pain of passing a small exoskeletal creature through my duodenum. I'm not ready for that kinda thrill.

I confess that I lost my temper and ranted for a good five mins while my patient dining companion just waited for me and offered me his napkin instead.

When we eventually attracted the waiter's attention - it was back to Waiter One - I explained that I had ordered a salad to eat with the prawns, and that I needed a bowl of water.

He brought me my salad and a bowl for finger-cleansing, and a menu so that I could order a main course as well - I wasn't going to sit there while my date ate by himself. I ordered a pizza from Waiter one.

Waiter Three came up and took away my companion's plate before he had finished eating.

Waiter One came up and put a long, thin jar of chilli oil on our table. I assumed this was for the pizza, because he didn't say anything when he put it there.

Waiter Two came with our main course, and tried to give it to the Yankees next to us, who had just paid their bill and were ready to leave.


Waiter Two left the food on our table, but neglected to clear away my dirty napkins or the bowl of water, and didn't give us any cutlery with which to eat our food!

Then we had fun trying to catch the attention of a waiter - it was not that crowded by that time - there were many empty tables - so that we could eat our food without resorting to picking it up with our fists and ramming it into our faces like some retarded ape on amoxycillin.

Waiter Three walked past so we asked him for some cutlery so that my date could eat his spaghetti and I could have clean cutlery for my pizza.

Waiter Three went away.

Waiter Two came to our table. With ANOTHER salad.

I still had the original, untouched, beside me. When I explained that I'd only ordered one salad, he tried to take both away. I had to hold down the original salad. It was very hard to explain in one-syllable words that I only wanted one salad and to take his sticky fingers off my food before I sawed them off with a (dirty) knife.

Waiter Three came back with clean cutlery, which he then proceeded to lay carefully upon a very dirty prawn-sauce encrusted napkin.

He gave my date a knife and fork with which to eat his spaghetti.

Half-way through the meal, when the spaghetti was almost finished, Waiter Four asked him 'Do you want any grated parmesan on that'!!!!

Waiter One returned to ask if everything was fine - given the whole debacle that preceeded this, we just burst out laughing. I don't think he understood why.

Quite frankly, I am pleased that 'service' was optional as there were WAY too many cooks and they would have spoiled our broth, or would have brought us two bowls of it and then forgotten that we needed cutlery.

I mean, four waiters, one simple order and basic knowledge of things like: 'humans need cutlery to eat' and 'give the customer pepper and grated cheese before they start eating'.

Seriously, Strada is supposed to hire staff with basic skills and understanding of how restaurants work. This isn't a Butlin's-style self-serve canteen. Nor is it a tiny one-man band trying to operate on a skeleton staff.

To be honest, the only reason why I didn't complain was because my dining companion is such an affable, laid-back and good-natured person who finds humour in everything.

Otherwise, I would have stabbed waiter four to almost death with the dirty cutlery that waiter two had left behind, poured chilli oil into his still-bleeding, prawn-infused wounds, thrown dirty finger-water over Waiter one while screaming for "Shaved Parmesan, now, or the Yankees get it", and force-fed Waiter Three with all the salads I could find this side of the Southbank.

"Think I like Rocket that much, do you? DO YOU? Choke on that, you imbecile."

And that is why I will NEVER eat at Strada again. Prawns or no Prawns.

I just might not see the funny side next time.


Saturday, February 05, 2011

Dazed and confused

The past month has been a whirlwind for the Merms.

I would like very much to explain why it has been so whirlwindy. Or Whirlpooly. But to do so would be to mention work, and that is a no-no on this blog. After all, some completely exaggerated imaginings that I released online a year ago - which had pretty much no basis in reality except that they had been triggered by a horrid situation at work - precipitated me into a terrible situation from which I had no energy or willpower to extricate myself.

So I can't write about work, nor any romantic entanglements nor any amusing incidents because they are all utterly work-related. Is anything uncomplicated anymore?

The only thing I can do is recommend some links to a fun evening that a few of us in the financial world did a few weeks ago, called glastonbury in the city. The mermins is the one crooning on the mike in the front.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Learning early is the best way to financial health

You don't have to be rich to be good with money. Being good with money isn't always about getting rich, which is why I get shivers up my scrawny spine when I see adverts for 'Rich Dad' or 'Prosperous Parents'. The idea that the unwashed masses can achieve stellar returns by following the tips given by some 'guru' is noxious. The only reason these gurus are rich is because they make lots of money off the numpties who buy their books.

That said, the value of early learning should not be dismissed. After all, if my mother had not taught me to read at 1, I would not have been such a quiet child at 2. If my father had not taught me how to fish, I would never have been able to sew crayfish into my friend's curtains at uni.

One of the above statements is true.

However, I digress. I don't often brag about my parents and, considering that they are both mentally unstable and have poor fashion sense (sorry Old Tarf, but it's true) it's understandable.

However, with all the press releases and surveys I get at work about how terrible it is for first-time buyers, having to borrow from mum and dad, I thought it worth giving a bit of praise to my maternal unit.

My mum - nothing short of a financial genius.

I have seen how she came back to the UK in the early 1980s - hardly the time of equal financial and employment rights for women - with less than £700 in her pocket, unable to return to teaching, and a small daughter to bring up on her own.

I watched as she raised herself up, pound by pound, by clever saving, saying 'No' when the man from the Pru tried to flog her an endowment mortgage, and making expenditure less than her income - Micawber would have been proud.

Was it tough? Did we go without a few luxuries? Of course! Yet this woman managed to put me through private school and buy a house of her own and pay off her mortgage. And, now a pensioner living on less than £8000 pension a year (yes, a year), she is NEVER in debt AND still manages to save, when she's not gadding off around the Bodliean looking at early Church documents.

Moreover, she's taken on Barclays over unfair lending terms and won. She's scoured T&Cs of various pamphlets that pour through the door from providers and written letters to them and the OFT and who knows who else over what she deems to be sharp financial practice.

It's because of her that I got interested in saving when I was 16. I never, ever thought twice about putting aside a few pounds each week into my then Abbey National account. I didn't question whether or not to join the pension scheme at my first job - a defined benefit scheme - even though I was a highly qualified post-graduate, earning just £16k in what I thought would be a temporary job before I got my dream position preserving Anglo-Saxon manuscripts at the British Museum Library.

I didn't go against her advice when she suggested I put my bonus and, later, redundancy pay-outs into an Isa and start saving for a deposit. Every time, I have benefited from her good advice and sound wisdom.

I have never gone to her for money - she could not afford to support me through university education, but I took out small loans, worked during the holidays in a pensions office, and got a scholarship from the British Council for my MA, which helped me pay off my loans by the age of 22.

Perhaps rather than young people going off to the bank of mum and dad to help them onto the housing ladder, or to save up for a car, parents should take on the responsibility of educating children about money from a much younger age.

This is why I welcome the efforts of the Opposition MPs who are pushing for more debates on the Child ISA and a reprieve for the Child Trust Fund. Such schemes helped to educate both parent and child and that education is priceless. No matter how much - or how little - you have, learning early about saving is the very best financial start that any child can have.