My heartfelt thanks to the correspondents who have sent me messages urging me to purchase a pair of fashionable boots of a particular brand (let’s just say ‘Ugg’ to that), describing the merits of their particular credit deals in German, promoting the wonder of poetry (can’t argue with that), acquainting me with the qualities of different brands of steel sink, and telling me I should really buy a guitar.

I appreciate all your thoughts, and I have no doubt that all your offerings are genuine and above board.

I also enjoyed the more personal messages you’ve gone to the trouble of sending me, which I know you won’t mind me sharing with the wider world exactly as I received them

  • your own write-up. It evident that you have a great deal knowledge on this subject. Your items are very well created and relatable. Thanks for composing interesting and fascinating substance
  • could you increase the amount of your posts, i would like to read them more often [ah, if only I had the will and the imagination], and best of all albeit somewhat mystifyingly
  • s learn And I appreciate all an easiest way this was almost only Shining in the burst; myself the may a Eve, skittish mare. her lower back, and wonderfully didn’t said as far as I could.You taught uncollared dreams I try..(bo

Unfortunately the heartless and cynical people at WordPress directed all of your kindness and wonderful thoughts to my blog’s spam folder so I’m afraid they have been deleted.  Sadly, I suggest you save yourself similar effort in future.

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21 August 2012

Dear Tyler

Thank you for calling me today from the security department of my Windows computer. I hadn’t realised that the computer had a security department tucked away inside, let alone a human being able to address me by my own name.

I jest of course.  I know you’ve got other people there because I can hear them in the background and, indeed, I think some of them have called me in the past.  So I guess you work in a call centre, probably somewhere in South East Asia judging by your accent.

I have had more or less friendly conversations with many of your colleagues, or perhaps they are competitors.  Who knows.  There seem to be a heck of a lot of you and you all tell me that my computer has a security problem.

Since you all know my name and that I use a computer with Windows I have tried asking on previous occasions which of my two computers has the problem, what you believe its brand name to be, and whether you are employed by Microsoft itself or their appointed agents.  Curiously, at this point, the line usually goes dead.

I do hope you weren’t phoning about the same, forgive me, scam that one of my friends fell for when someone called him about the security problem his computer also had.  That other person took him through a long routine online that ended with him saying, I may have the detail wrong, ‘And if your screen shows the number 2789.54 you have a security breach that our software can resolve.’

My friend was so impressed with the diagnosis that he subscribed to three years’ worth of protection from the problem.  Pity he read later that the same sequence of steps on any computer would result in the same number.  Sort of magic, isn’t it?

Anyhow, my apologies for putting the phone down on you so quickly and abruptly.  I expect all this has made me more cynical than I should be.  Feel free to call again and we can compare notes about the weather in Scotland and Manila, or wherever you’re based.  I don’t expect you get much light relief.  It must be a hell of a way to earn a living.

Yours sincerely


Ahh, money!

Lovely money.  Lolly, bunce, spondulicks, quids, bucks…

As many names for it as the Eskimos are said to have for snow or, to lower the tone, slang words we use for our own human sexual organs.

And for the same reasons.

They’re all things that are really important (yes, them too).

But money’s different from the others in one critical respect.

As the song from the musical Cabaret has it

Money makes the world go round

It makes the world go round.

It’s literally the currency that keeps the economy of the world moving.

We all like it and studies have shown that whatever we’re paid most people would like a bit more, roughly 10% more in fact, that being the amount people tend to think they’re underpaid for the work they do.

Most of us provide a product or service for that work.

Those products or services are incredibly diverse – from potatoes in umpteen different varieties, through fast food, vehicles as different as Mini Coopers, Rolls Royces and JCB diggers, to physiotherapy, dentistry…you get the point.

But there’s one trade where the product is money itself – banking.

And I think that’s one of the many problems with banking.

The product – money – they deal in is also the product they (the bankers) pay themselves.  How easy it is to cream off a bit more of the vast sums of money flowing through the system, a slightly higher commission here, a bit more bonus there.  No-one will notice, surely?

It’s not like that for anyone else.

If you work on an assembly line of the company that makes Mini Coopers, or even manage it, you don’t want to be paid in cars, you don’t want your bonus to be half-a-Mini this year, 65%-of-a-Mini next year if profits go up.

If you flip burgers for a living you certainly don’t want to be confronted with 120 meal deals at the end of the month with your pay slip.

(Gratuitous old joke – Q: What do you say to a graduate of XYZ [insert your favourite] University?  A: Big Mac and fries, please)

So just as we have to put up with being paid in their product – money – I propose that bankers should be paid in units of the products and services we produce.  After all, each of those products and services has a market value.

I wouldn’t be too mean about it.  I’d let them choose the product or service they want to receive their remuneration in.  Having determined an employee’s salary and bonus the bank would then transfer to the individual that amount by value of the product/service concerned.

You can imagine the scene on the trading floor of the casinos that pass for investment banks.

‘Yay! That deal with the Kazakhstan derivatives went through.’

‘OK, what did you get?’

‘Two IKEA kitchens.  Woot!  Woot!’

‘Big deal.  The scam with the Mexican trade got me 50k.’

‘50k?’

‘Yes, 50k pairs of M&S briefs.’

[Silence]

‘Er, swap you a cupboard for 500 pairs of knickers?’

And so on…

The system would also have the merit that it would be more difficult to cream off that little extra of the product (money) we give them to invest for us.

Wealth adviser (sic) to client – ‘Um, our commission’s gone up this quarter.  That’ll be another £350.’

Client – ‘That’s fine.  How do you want it? Eighty-five sacks of potatoes or two-thirds of my ride-on mower?’

I think this could be a goer.

Brilliant idea ©HelpGov 2012


A couple of  weeks ago in Crail, Fife on a sunny Saturday afternoon.  The High Street is en fete as part of the excellent East Neuk Festival.

Just before the turn of the road north a large sand sculpture is being constructed by two professional sand sculptors.

A middle class, middle aged male, probably English, in a pink shirt is explaining some detail to a young teenage girl, one of two with him, his daughters presumably.

Ten/fifteen minutes later I am outside a fruit and veg shop that has made-up punnets of strawberries set up outside, £2 each.  The Englishman and daughters arrive.  One daughter selects a box of strawberries and starts adding more from other punnets to it, as well as removing one or two from the container she doesn’t like the look of.  Father looks on approvingly.  By the time she takes it inside to pay, the fruit is well above the level of the container’s rim and about a 1/3 – 1/2 greater in quantity than the remaining, now diminished containers.

For some reason, this small vignette reminds me of the recent LIBOR furore.


Blog spam is mostly like e-mail spam, offering me projects and services I don’t need or trying to entice me onto dodgy web sites that I assume will test my anti-virus software to the limits.

But perversely I do quite like the unwanted messages that are so inept or bizarre they deserve some special award for creativity.

Here’s a selection of the latest that HelpGov has received.  Sadly, they have gone the way of all the other rubbish an active blog attracts, what in my youth we used to call ‘File WPB’ (Waste Paper Basket):

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All I can say is ‘Hey dudes, im thanking you for amazed me on all your awesome crap.’


while ago I mentioned this blog would gradually change into a more open, free-flowing account on anything that interested me about the public sector.  I should have added ‘and beyond’.  On this the longest day of the year I am posting the account I kept of my day.  I’ve edited a few personal details out.  I know that for a blog it’s far too long.  But today I don’t care.

Woke at 6.10 a.m.  Decided to take the road less travelled on these occasions – to wake up and get up.  The road more travelled of course is to roll over, close eyes and go back to sleep.  Instead I resolved to start and maintain an extended diary entry on ‘the longest day.’

So far – 35 minutes – it has been one of unremitting greyness and gloom.  Greyness outside where the weather looks set to fulfil the forecast made of it yesterday – cloud followed later by rain.  At the moment the sky is just filled with high, uniform grey cloud, not a break in it anywhere.

Switched the radio on at 6.20 a.m. and the greyness continued on Radio 4 – the Today programme with John Humphries and Jim Naughtie.

Some investment adviser was talking about a ‘fire sale’ (‘It’s not quite that yet’) of assets by banks in the hardest-hit Eurozone countries.  It seems they are ‘restructuring’ their businesses to dispose of ‘equity shares in a wide range of companies’ as well as ‘portfolios of debt.’  Oh God, the number of times I’ve wanted to buy a portfolio of debt.  How much better it would make me feel.  ‘Who’s buying them?’ asked the journalist.  The phrase ‘private equity’ was mentioned.

Yesterday it was revealed that a millionaire comedian (yes, they exist), Jimmy Carr, who would be described in the language of the times as ‘edgy’ and who has a baby face and strange starey eyes (many find him funny, I find him mainly cruel) placed his earnings in a ‘tax efficient’ scheme in the Channel Islands called ‘K2’ (the scheme not the island).

There were cries of outrage led it seems by the presumably less tax-efficient prime minister.  Political jumping up and down all round, supporting, condemning, accusing.  I assume Mr Carr will be getting additional and specific doses of heckling these next few months and will no doubt work out appropriate humorous and cutting put downs.

Carr announced that his aim was to pay as little tax as possible.  Fair enough, I shall make it my aim to laugh as little as possible at his anyhow mostly unfunny humour.  There was a brief shot on the TV news last night of his house, a large brick affair with a paved front drive and gates.  Clearly not all the money has gone to the Channel Islands. [Update p.m. – Carr now says he’s discontinued using the K2 scheme.  He didn’t say when.]

Meanwhile back at Radio 4, the ‘banks’ item was followed by sport and some talk about a racehorse by its trainer, one of the inevitable Irishman they always seem to wheel out when there is a horse race that is said to be of some note.  It is what is called Ladies’ Day at Ascot today so this apparently matters.  There was mention of England (that is England as in the organisation that runs the national football team) being fined £4,000 by something  called EUFA for a ‘pitch invasion’  or perhaps it was an attempted invasion, by ‘fans’ in the current European Cup competition.

In the run up to the 6.30 a.m news, the programme provided an update on the UK national ‘strike’ of doctors today (I write the word in inverted commas because they say it is not a strike, they will still attend to patients who are ill).  Their first national industrial action in 40 years they (or their trade union, the mis-leadingly named British Medical Association) state in mitigation.

The radio gave us the essential details.  A GP earning £120,000 – it seems they can – currently retires at 60 on a pension of £48,000 with a lump sum of £140,000.  They are objecting to proposals to move them to the lesser pension terms and conditions that many other public sector workers have had to accept.  It must be difficult for them to get any public sympathy for their desperate plight.

Perhaps Jimmy Carr will lampoon the medics on TV for their greed.

All terribly important and as ephemeral as the blink of an eyelid.  The news followed at 6.30 a.m. and apart from the items already noted that preceded the news and may have been summarised again none of it gladdened my heart so much that I could remember it half an hour later.

So far all is silence in the house.  I have switched the radio off.  I can hear the tick of a small clock in front of me on the windowsill but that is all.  The one cat in the house lay in her basket, looked at me, yawned when I approached her, rolled on one side to exposes her giblets for stroking, purred, and watched me indifferently as I walked away.

I shall now stop writing to commence the essential tasks of any day – switch my internet browser on, check the half dozen sites I do every day, and then go for a shower.  I may even enjoy some more unremitting gloom from the radio.

8 a.m. The Radio 4 news, complete with unremitting gloom …

  • Doctors’ industrial action
  • Education Secretary of State Michael Gove’s (educated at the private Robert Gordon’s College in Aberdeen) proposal to reintroduce O Levels in England
  • Invitation by HMG to ruler of Burma to visit the UK as both ‘reward and incentive’
  • Continuing attempts of Egyptian military to thwart people’s desire for democracy (Why?  Well, inter alia they run a number of profit-making companies) by postponing announcement of the result of the presidential election.  Since it was a run-off between an ex-general/Mubarak henchman and a Muslim Brother not much progressive change either way can be expected
  • Civil servant suggests public sector cuts could continue for ten years – shock, horror, yawn
  • Greek political crisis and attempts by their government to get conditions attached to their international loans alleviated
  • Spanish inability to sell bonds on the markets…next Euro government needing a ‘bail out’?
  • 0800 telephone numbers and ‘scandal’ that insurance cos. etc. only allow new customers to use these free numbers.

8.50 a.m. Last night (said Radio 4) was the summer solstice at 23:09 precisely.  I went into the garden at  midnight to see if I could get a photo of the light.  100% cloud cover.  Not possible.

10 a.m. Now fiddling around wasting time on the web…

12.10 p.m.– alerted by a tweet, watching the wonderful videos created by Matt Harding on the ‘Where the hell is Matt?’ web site.  Still grey outside but no rain yet.

2 p.m. to our local Parish Church for the funeral of our late neighbour x aged 89.  She and her husband moved out 4/5 years ago to a modern flat that would be easier for both of them, especially him: he pre-deceased her by 2/3 years.  A lovely woman remembered simply and beautifully in a service led by the retiring minister.

Came back to realise I was just in time to see the address by Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi to the Houses of Parliament on the BBC Parliamentary channel.  I nearly wrote ‘martyr’ because that’s what she could have been – 24 years mostly under house arrest in her own country isolated from her husband and two sons, her husband Michael Aris, an Oxford academic who died while she was  under arrest (she refused to go back to see him when he was dying because of her fear that she would not be allowed back into her country).  Known, understandably because of her great dignity, as ‘the lady.’

The BBC, who so comprehensively botched and trivialised the Diamond Jubilee Thames pageant, set precisely the right tone for this event.

The front row of senior Commons parliamentarians (and it seemed ex-PMs) comprised – Cameron, Milliband E, Cherie Blair (presumably for Tony, absent no doubt earning money), Gordon Brown (understandable) but also Sarah B.  Why her?  When ASSK was chatting to others nearby, she took a pic of her with what looked like a mobile phone camera.  Crass or what?  On the basis of the two Bs being there or represented I would have thought John Major might have been afforded the same privilege.  But no.  Perhaps he was tucked away somewhere else.

10.45 p.m. Just finished watching on BBC4 the wonderful Venezuelan Simon Bolivar Orchestra perform an open air concert in Stirling where ‘La sistema’ seems to be transforming the lives of many of the children on the Raploch estate.  And so, as the great Pepys wrote, to bed.


Great headline in my local paper today, the esteemed Aberdeen Press and Journal:

Study shows risk of dying doubles.

So that would be doubled from 100% would it?

The text of the article compounds the error:

Scientists in the US found that “feeling lonely” almost doubled the risk of dying in a population of 1,600 older individuals.

Of course, what it really means is that at any given age loneliness can almost double the risk of dying.  At the end of the day the grim reaper gets us all.

It reminded me of a diagnosis I once had of a (not actually too serious) medical problem.  The first medic, a rather gloomy registrar volunteered ‘You have an irreversible degenerative disease, Mr White.’  When I retailed this to the head honcho, a neurologist, he added the helpful corrective – ‘Yes. We all have an irreversible degenerative disease.  It’s called life.  And what’s more it’s sexually transmitted.’