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Saturday, 25 October 2014

The Lavender Hill Mob

I haven't looked at my (modest) share portfolio for some time. It's too painful an experience.

I call it "An Old Man's Folly" Warren Buffett I am not.

My timing is impeccable. I bought Northern Rock shares just as the queues were forming out side the bank's branches. I bought shares in a series of small UK hi tech/biological companies, convinced that I was getting at the basement level of a boom in all things hi tech. In the basement they have stayed.

I thought my acquisition of Genus shares was inspired. A company whose sole purpose was to impregnate livestock - especially bovines - was sure to be a sure fire winner: what with China switching to rump steaks and Sunday joints. For a while my stocks soared like that cow in the nursery rhyme as chop sticks in their billions gave way to steak knives. But then China stalled and my stock headed for the knacker's  yard.

Tesco's was a bad, bad buy. But even the "Sage of Omaha" bought into Tesco's. The thing is I don't shop at Tesco's, I think the stores are boring, tacky and not Waitrose: I've thought this for years so why did I buy into a company I dislike. Serves me right.

In a stroke of genius I sold my holdings in a successful (in terms of share price rise) UK pharmaceutical company and invested the proceeds in.......Foxtons, the up your arse London high end estate agents.  They have bombed, rather like London's high end housing market.

I blame it all on Mrs Thatcher - the milk snatcher - yes that's how old I am. It was she (and Sir Keith Joseph) who came up with the share owning democracy. A wonderfully egalitarian policy. Encourage us plebs to own a share in the great companies of this fair nation of ours. Share in their success and at the same time hold them to account with the general public buying up swathes of company's equity.

Of course, like most of Snatcher Thatcher's ideas it didn't turn out as she had hoped. Selling off the family silver - the utilities etc and offering shares to Joe Public at knock down prices had Sid buying loads of shares and rapidly selling them to the professional investors once they realised that with the profit they could buy that new colour TV or an extra week in Ibiza. In the same way those cosy, customer owned Building Societies were gobbled up by the owners of capital.

Anyway, the market was fixed. As a small shareholder you're definitely at the mercy of the big professionals - the disgraced banks and their investment arms, insurance companies and their ilk.

Looking back on Thatcher's  share-owning revolution: it was nothing of the sort. It certainly was a re-distribution of wealth but from the not so wealthy Joe Public to the entrenched owners of capital. It's gone from bad to worse since then. Fewer own more now than in the days of the Roman Empire. Capital and labour are almost as far apart as in Victorian England. UK productivity remains low, salaries and wages for the many are decreasing in real terms, yet the owners and managers of the country's capital have seen growth in double figures.

Many suspect that for the Tories the financial crisis in 2008-9 was a god send. Under the pretext of "balancing the books", digging the UK out of an economic black hole, they have been able to implement policies which would have been laughed out of court is more affluent times.

The "undeserving poor", have been identified and targeted. Benefits which had made life bearable for many have been cut or abolished, housing restricted and services curtailed or priced out of the reach of many. 

We've learnt we cannot look to the likes of Cameron, Clegg, Miliband and Johnson for our salvation. It's in our own hands. And all we can do is keep keeping on. In spite of their attempts to "rescue" us!

Friday, 24 October 2014

THE STRANGE WORLD OF COFFIN JOE


I know, I've been away far too long.

I was ill.

Have you had a hacking cough you can't get rid of? I have for what seems like the whole of the autumn - about 5 weeks. I just coughed and coughed and coughed. From the rising of the sun and at its setting my lungs were in a constant state of agitation.

My whole life was phlegm and snot.

I'd wake up three or four times a night and try to empty my lungs. Whole sustainable forests have been untimely cut down to contain the ocean of vile mucus my lungs and sinuses disgorged. Talking on the phone was impossible: besides the hacking cough the headset would soon get drenched in slime and slip out of my hand. Typing was a chore as the keys became embedded in a crust of drying lung phlegm.

This is not putting you off?

Anyway after the long nights of terror I managed to see my doctor. He tapped my chest, gave me some anti-biotics. "If it's viral they won't touch it". They didn't and it was.

Now you may say I kicking up a lot of fuss about a silly little cough. In fact I'm sure that's what you're saying as you read this snotty blog, but.......

I'm on this medication which "compromises" my immune system. No, not in that way: it means my defences are lowered and bugs that get to me have an easy time making my life hell. So earlier this month I went to my 6 monthly appointment at the hospital to see how I was progressing on my medication.

I told the consultant that the medication was keeping my underlying complaint (don't ask) in check but I had this cough which had lasted ages. Frankly I thought I was going to be rushed off to intensive care given his reaction to that news. I knew that the drug messed around with my immune system: I didn't know or remembered that it could also affect the lungs. I was told to stop my medication forthwith.

I did, and nearly three weeks on I'm almost  a snot free zone. I still manage the  60 a day plus retch, but that's just for show. However, all that coughing has left me with the sorest ribs and chest muscles.

Anyway I'm getting my old mojo back and will for the first time in an age spend time on the allotment.

I've had my flu jab, and received an invite to the OAP's Christmas Lunch provided by the Council. The trouble was by the time I phoned up all the places were taken - and due to unprecedented demand the offer's been withdrawn. Hum...