Friday, August 26, 2011

Summer recedes

I welcomed the warmer weather a couple of posts ago. That was merely the prelude to days of rain and coolness. There have been flash floods all round the country - we had plenty of downpour in beautiful Ruislip but fortunately it didn't hang around (though living on the side of hill definitely has its advantages). I had hoped that the trains would revert to the half-empty state of past summers but each morning they cancel one or two on the Met just before mine arrives so they are as crowded as ever. However the rain does not appear to have affected the service levels which have actually been pretty good in recent weeks.

I have to admit that as I move closer to standing down from my job and taking a back seat at work, the prospect of not having to get up each day in order to sit on a train for nearly an hour becomes brighter and brighter. One can endure commuting and learn to adapt to it but does one ever enjoy it? Reading books on paper or on screen, or listening to radio comedy can make the time pass but there is always the feeling that these activities would be so much more pleasurable if one was not being jolted back and forth, weaving one's body to avoid one's fellow travellers as they jostle past and not having the endless announcements running in the background. And behind that is the pressure of working fixed hours, the need to wake up regardless of how well one has slept, the need to leave the house no matter how grim the weather or how disrupted the trains.

So it does seem that these ramblings will become less fixated on the Tube and will either transmogrify [does putting this word in win a bet or something?: Ed] into a more general commentary on early 21st century living in London or will gently fade into the middle distance. Let us await developments.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011


Criminals rioting in London and other cities, financial markets tumbling. Are we as a species bonkers?

The riots followed a police shooting in North London. After a brief peaceful protest the looters and firebrands moved in and have burnt and destroyed shops and buildings in many boroughs. It has gone on for three nights. All day today, I could see smoke rising from a fire somewhere away to the north of my office in Waterloo, possibly the giant Sony distribution centre burnt to the ground in Enfield. Does a youth in a mask who smashes in a shop window to steal the electricals inside do it to make a political point? Or those who torched a bus or buildings with people inside? Are these the same kids who complain about the lack of opportunities and jobs in their neighbourhoods?

As for the markets, the far east goes down because the Dow Jones goes down and the FTSE follows the far east and then the US markets follow the trend. This has been going on for over a week. The rerating of US National debt from AAA to AA+ by Standard & Poors contributed to the "fear" (not my word, the Guardian newspaper). But the rerating followed the trend, it did not make it. If the people selling could not work out for themselves that the huge US debt made it less likely to meet its obligations (and I use my words very carefully here, the word "less" does not mean the same as "unlikely") and had to wait for a credit agency to do it for them, then they should not be investing. Using an agency to get a snapshot about corporate health is one thing, using it to make an essentially political judgement is another. Fear doesn't come into it. We are dealing with stupidity. The debt problems have been there for a long while. Either you think the major economies will continue or you don't. If you don't then why hold any investments?

This morning the FTSE fell 3% then it went up to close 2% higher on the day. Absolutely ridiculous. These sort of swings exhibit the same crowd mentality that makes kids think it cool to burn and loot - because everyone else is doing it.

So the answer to my question is, I am sorry to say, yes. There is a fundamental stupidity built into the human psyche. We are terrified of making independent decisions or acting rationally. We protest about poor opportunities by taking actions that will further reduce what opportunities there are. We value our economies according to the rules of a gaming-house. And here in the UK where maybe some careful investment might have improved conditions in the poorer London boroughs and helped strengthen our economy, we waste billions on the farce of the Olympic Games. I was against the bid to stage the Olympics and when I think what might have been done with the money I could almost weep with frustration.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

An Augustan summer

Temperatures soared at the weekend and we have some real summery weather at last. Glorious it may be outside but travelling on the tube has not improved. Although many of the regular commuters are missing, the trains are jammed with tourists and school groups. Coming home last night on the Bakerloo was bad enough, but at least it is a short journey. I hoped to catch a nice cold S stock at Baker Street but all that was on offer was the A stock, crowded and not air-conditioned. Standing seemed preferable to being crushed into a seat but it wasn't that great. Still, I managed to escape for a while to the Los Angeles of the 1940s, where men carry guns, dames are deadly and only a tough guy defies the cops. I was reading Raymond Chandler on my new smart phone. And it is amazing how many others are doing something similar, whether it be reading, playing games, web-browsing or email catch up. Social historians may care to note that it was in 2010/11 that the smart phone replaced the mp3 player, the radio and the laptop as the single comms/entertainment device that almost everyone is carrying. I used to marvel that I could carry my entire music and radio comedy collection in my pocket. Now it holds a library as well.