You won't need me to tell you that the Government's policy on Child Benefit is half-baked. Unless you're Nick Clegg, George Osbourne or any other member of the Cabinet, that is. As I doubt whether any of those cretins read this blog I shan't bother going into details of how badly thought through the policy is. Suffice it to say that they are going to end up spending a fair bit of the estimated savings from the policy on the costs of implementing it. That's if there are any civil servants left to do the work of sending out letters, checking the replies, and implementing the tax code changes. And if Cameron carries out his vague promise of changes in taxation for 'married couples', I expect those costs (in tax relief as well as administration) will completely wipe out any savings from the Child Benefit clawback.
Saturday, 30 October 2010
...but he's accumulating enemies who might wish him so.
Two days after the seven day deadline for sorting out various deficincies (see below), Mad Dog Marinos the Bonkers Builder sent a fax to the architect complaining that he had not been allowed access to the building and so he hadn't been able to do the work specified. This is of course a load of bollocks as he had claimed that the work was 'finished' and what we are saying is that he hasn't done the things he should have. And a number of the things he has done have not been done properly. In any case, he had plenty of time in August when El Prez was here to get everything done but he was too busy being psychopathic to get on with it. Moreover, he has made no attempt to contact us in the time that we've been here on this visit. So we've agreed with the architect that he will write to Mr Psycho and tell him to stuff his vine leaves where the sun don't shine.
Meanwhile, we have engaged the services of a Mr Panikos, recommended to us by Aki who runs the motorbike shop. Mr Panikos has renewed the pavement outside our building using actual paving slabs and cement. He has done this for the sum of €200, which is the amount of the deposit that The Minicipality should be repaying to us now that it all looks nice and hunky dory. Mr Panikos tells us that he doesn't actually know Marinos, but he knows of him because Marinos nicked his scaffolding which he'd left in the yard next door after doing work for Aki. Like the rest of us, Mr Panikos has no wish to encounter Marinos so he's unsure of whether and how to attempt the return of his scaffolding.
We contacted Mr Giorgios who made and fitted the windows to ask him to sort out a couple which wouldn't shut properly and so he came round for a look see. During his visit he told us that a cheque Marinos has given him for €1,000 has now bounced four times. Giorgios is a tad cheesed off about this because he has known Marinos for some time and worked with him lots, so he thought Marinos would at least have the courtesy to apologise for the bounciness of his cheque and perhaps negotiate alternative payment arrangements, but Marinos has become 'difficult to contact'.
One hopes he also has creditors amongst the Russian Mafia.
Friday, 29 October 2010
Electric Schmectric: Dawn Raid
Before the Electricity Authority will supply power to your building, they undertake an inspection of the wiring and so forth and, if they're satisfied, they give you a Certficate and a meter. The electrician who does the installation arranges all this, along with the electrical engineer who provided the plan as commissioned by the architect. That's not really all that difficult to sort out, but these chaps managed to add a few wrinkles along the way.
The electrician wired up the new flat to the supply for the old flat, pending Certification - this may or may not be legitimate but it meant that we had power. He eventually notified the Authority that he'd done his stuff, after we'd got him to put right a few things like connecting up the cooker and the dishwasher. Imagine our surprise when at 7.30 am one morning a team of workers from the Electricity Authority turned up, disconnected the supply and installed a meter, saying that it could not be reconnected until after the inspection which had been set for a week later. The electricity chappies advised us to contact our electrician. He came round and reconnected the new flat to the old flat's supply, which seemed to be OK with the authority's chaps. We are told that when it is time for the inspection the authority will disconnect the flat again but that our electrician can then reconnect the new flat to its own supply, assuming it passes the test. I think that's how it's going to happen. Just so long as it's not another dawn raid.
The building project is 'finished'; this means that one has to get a 'Certificate of Completion' from the Municipal Authorities for which the architect has to fill up a form for us to submit to the Powers That Be. The architect duly sent us this form via courier, which we had to pick up from their offices and take to the Town Hall. But when El Prez got to the Town Hall they told her "This is no good. He's only filled up the first page of the three page form." Caramba! El Prez therefore phoned the architect from the Town Hall offices and explained matters, and he agreed to start again. So, a repeat performance followed the next day, with El Prez having to collect a new set of forms from the couriers office and take 'em to the Town Hall. We are told that the process will take another month before the Certificate of Completion is completed but we may not be here then, having returned to Old Blighty. So we have been advised to phone 'em the week before we leave and see what's what. Harumph. Couldn't the architect have got this all going several weeks ago when he took the handover of the building?
Sunday, 24 October 2010
The building project here is 'finished'. Well, as finished as anything ever is in Cyprus anyway. We've paid Bobopoulos The Bonkers Builder but witheld 2% for 12 months, as per the Law in Cyprus, to cover any problems in the 12 months following completion. We've had a meeting with the architect and discussed all the odds and ends that need putting right - such as applying some gloss paint over the undercoat; filling in the patches they've missed and so forth. All piddly little things that you'd think any professional with an ounce of self respect would have got right to start with. We'll give him a week or so to put 'em right and then get it done ourselves and deduct the cost from the 2%.
Meanwhile, they made an almighty mess and only half-heartedly cleaned things up so we've spent a fair bit of time, effort and money on cleaning floors and windows. They splattered cement over the window frames so I've re-painted a couple, and there's more still to be done. But on the whole, we can at last begin to get on with our lives and hope never to have to set eyes on the stupid B***ard Bobopoulos The Bonkers Builder ever again.
Thursday, 21 October 2010
He might be Welsh, but I reckon he's in the running to be next Pope. His left foot, at least, seems to be infallible.
Spurs' defence in the first half was woeful, particularly William Gallas, and Gomez the Gormless Goalie got himself sent off for being typically reckless. But after they went four goals down, Spurs seemed to get their act together and Cardinal Redknapp seemed to get 'em sorted out mentally at half time. It remains to be seen, however, how far Spurs will get in t'Champions' League simply by trying to score more goals than t'opposition - it might seem paradoxical but you have to stop t'others as well, Brian.
Note: One watched the game using 'Live Streaming' via Cytanet, for the grand price of €5. Unfortunately as Cyta only provide a 1Mb service this meant it kept 'buffering' and so the match stuttered somewhat. We are promised an upgrade in December.
In the wake of Wednesday’s spending review announcement by the coalition government, which heralded half a million public sector job losses, thousands of associated private sector business collapses, across-the-board tax increases, and restrictions on spending on essential services at levels not seen since the 1920s, the Great British public confounded pundits by taking the news on the chin, giving a plucky shrug, and deciding things probably wouldn’t look so bad after a nice cup of tea.
Wednesday, 20 October 2010
There I am, quietly reading a book, whilst El Presidente snores. Then comes the sound of a straining diesel engine, lots of clattering and banging and a few shouts. El Prez awakes. "What's that noise? What's that? Someone's breaking in! Call the Police!"
"Don't be silly, the noise is outside. It's nothing," yawns The Mighty Xorg.
"No. Someone's breaking in! Go and see!"
"Oh alright. It's probably the bin men, though."
Xorg gets up and brings El Prez to the front of the house, opens the shutters, and points at the bin lorry. "There you go," upon which a slightly embarassed Presidente returns to her slumbering chamber, muttering.
Xorg grins. "I'll just call the Police." Picks up phone. "Hello is that the Police? Yes? The bin men are here."
Saturday, 16 October 2010
Here's what our road looks like during the day, viewed from the balcony.
That's Koulli with his head under the wheel arch of the quad bike. Koulli is one of the coolest dudes on the planet; totally inscrutable and minimalist in conversational inclination. I have yet to see his facial expression change from that of a chap who knows what he knows and you lot know nothing of what he knows. But don't mistake this for grumpyness; he's actually quite a nice, helpful fellow.
The bloke on the right with the bald patch is Aki, who actually owns the motorbike business 'Origenis Motors Ltd'. He also has a full-time job as entertainments officer for the municpality, and he has a number of property holdings. More expansive than Koulli, and with a fine sense of humour he, too, is a nice, helpful fellow. The chap on the left is an acquaintance of Aki and Koulli, and is providing irrelevant advice - a not uncommon phenomenon amongst Cypriots.
Origenis Motors sells new and second-hand motorbikes, scooters and quad bikes and, from time to time, they have some spiffing vintage models for sale. Lambrettas from 1960 and so forth, all lovingly restored and shiny.
As a change from the somewhat gloomy writings of Chekhov, my reading has taken a more light-hearted turn recently:
It Just Occurred To Me by Humphrey Lyttleton
A very random set of memoirs and thoughts of Chairman Humph, spanning his multifarious careers as a trumpeter, band leader, cartoonist, journalist, and radio presenter. Always amusing and erudite, the occasional rant, and a good dose of pedantry.
Adolf Hitler; My Part In His Downfall by Spike Milligan
I've always been a fan of Mr Milligan and read this book when it was first published ages ago. Definitely worth re-reading for its humour and pathos. The next three volumes of his war time memoirs are on the shelf awaiting reading over the next couple of weeks.
I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett
The latest Discworld novel, featuring the teenage witch Tiffany Aching. this time (I'm told this is aimed at 'younger readers', whatever that means. I don't go along with this market categorisation business - a book is a book. But that's another story.) Any road up, it's amazing how Mr Pratchett keeps up such a high standard without being repetitive or formulaic, unlike some authors who write a series of novels. The story is of a battle of good and evil and gives some insight into humanity along the way, whilst being based in fantasy. The title of course is a spoof on the poem by Jenny Joseph 'Warning: When I Am An Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple'.
Thursday, 14 October 2010
Next door but one to us is 'Jimmy's Tavern' a kebab shop run by my mother-in-law's second cousin George. He is getting on a bit now and is handing over to his son, after fifty-odd years of kebabification. They make the best souvlakia kebabs in Larnaca and, possibly, the world - although I would have to undertake more research to be certain of that. Most of George's business is take-away but he does cater for some who 'eat-in'. But the snag is George's premises do not actually include an indoors beyond the food preparation area so he just sets up tables outside, in the road. Customers eat out and eat-out rather than eat-in, as it were. Our next-door neighbour, Petros, is a bit stroppy so he parks his car right outside his house to prevent George from putting his tables there. George therefore puts his tables outside our house, which is fine by us seeing as he's related and makes the best kebabs in Larnaca.
Here's a picture of last night's diners, taken from our balcony using a one second exposure - hence the people who were moving are a tad blurred.
During the daytime, this bit of the road is used by Aki and Koulli who run a motorcycle repair shop from the premises below us as their 'forecourt' and it is littered with bikes, mopeds and scooters in various states of dismantlement. Fortunately, they clean up every evening prior to George's customers arriving. Likewise, George cleans up after his diners have finished, so our little bit of road gets cleaned twice a day. Somewhat unusually for Larnaca. Or anywhere, I guess!
Around this time of year, everybody's apple trees are producing fruit in great abundance and people have more apples than they know what to do with. Consequently, they give the apples away to everyone they know. A result of this is a plethora of apple chutney and the like. But FabMary went one better and made some pies. Spiffnifficent!
Here's one she made earlier.
Friday, 8 October 2010
The Government's main justification for its public expenditure cuts is that there is a structural deficit in the UK's finances, which was left by the previous set of incompetent nincompoops. It's standard practice for an incoming Government to blame the previous regime for anything and everything that might be wrong with anything at all, so that's fair enough. Never mind that it's anybody's guess whether or not a Conservative Government would have done anything different in the circumstances of the last three years (Michael Howard would have been Prime Minister had they won the 2005 election...)
So what is the structural deficit? Well, it's a notional figure - 'A budget deficit that results from a fundamental imbalance in government receipts and expenditures, as opposed to one based on one-off or short-term factors', as defined by The Financial Times - but it is nevertheless an estimate based on forecasts of how the economy will operate in the long term. Not everyone agrees that there is such a thing in 'reality', or even if there is a structural deficit that it is necessarily a problem. For example, if you've got a mortgage you have a structural deficit in your household budget but it doesn't mean you're doomed to everlasting perdition. There's an article over at The Investor's Chronicle which examines the concept critically in more detail.
Any road up, we are told that the structural deficit is £178 billion and that the Government deems it essential that we clear this within five years (the lifetime if this Parliament, coincidentally or not). This is to be achieved through public expenditure cuts which involve all manner of misery and hardship and which, so far, have been focussed on welfare benefits and quangoes, and we face an era of austerity and uncertainty as Government departments look for ways to cut between 25% and 40% from their budgets. All so that the financial markets do not lose confidence in the UK's ability to repay its loans. But there is a way to rectify the deficit without any of this talk of gloom and doom.
There was a 'Tax Gap' in the UK's finances of some £40 billion in 2007/08. Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) quote this figure in their publication Protecting Tax Revenues 2009. Basically, the Tax Gap is the difference between what HMRC expects to collect and what it actually collects, and it arises from several factors such as simple error and failure to take reasonable care, evasion, avoidance, and crime. It is safe to assume that this figure of £40 billion recurrs every year. So, you've guessed it, what we need to do is fix the Tax Gap for the next five years and, Hey Presto, we move from a structural deficit of £178 billion to a structural surplus of £22 billion! You could thus spend up to £22 billion on fixing the Tax Gap and still break even.So there you have it. Problem solved by The Mighty Xorg.
The snag so far as the Government is concerned, however, is that this would mean reinforcing staff numbers and systems in HMRC in order to sort it out and this goes against their doctrine of reducing the 'size of government'. Another problem for the likes of Cameron and Osbourne is that it is the financial markets who are perpetrating the biggest slice of the tax evasion and avoidance, and a fair proportion of the crime. (Remember Bernie Madoff? It's not just self-employed builders dodging VAT who operate in the 'Black Economy'). Oh, and if the Government doesn't owe all this money to the financial markets any more, the financial markets' profits would be affected negatively.
Addendum: Meanwhile, you could reduce day-to-day expenditure without rendering widows and orphans homeless by scrapping Trident (£20 billion) and withdrawing from Afghanistan (£10 million per day). And save lives into the bargain. But that's just the old peacenik hippy in me talking, I suppose.
Wednesday, 6 October 2010
Cripes, lummee and yer what?
Sir Trevor Brooking, an otherwise splendid fellow and accomplished footballer, who is now the Director of Development at the Football Association (amongst other things,) said yesterday that the FA may re-appoint Steve McLaren to the job of England manager after Fabio Capello retires. Ahem. Sir Trevor should have kept this thought to himself, I fear. All followers of the England team will be spending sleepless nights over the next two years in trepidation that this may come about.
Whilst it is understandable that the FA should want to find an English manager, besides Sir Trevor there's probably only Mr McLaren's mum thinks it should be him. I suspect Our Trev is just being an old softy because he was involved in giving Mr McLaren the job first time round after the debacle following Sven's dismissal. You will recall that the FA couldn't get any top-flight managers to take it on and McLaren was about fifth choice. Meanwhile Sven's contract meant that the FA had to continue paying him for two years afterwards, whilst Mr McLaren fumbled England's qualification for Euro 2008 - another reason why Sir Trevor should keep a low profile in the matter of choice of manager!
I need not go into the reasons why Mr McLaren should not have the job. One may as well ask why we don't re-appoint Norman Lamont as Chancellor; or Coco the Clown.
Tuesday, 5 October 2010
On occasion, when I have been rattling on about some esoteric subject or other, or ranting about some vexing issue that nobody else is interested in, I am advised to 'Get a Life'. I believe this is intended as a form of generic putdown and abbreviated critique.
Well, over at the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB), help for unfortunates such as myself is at hand. The ODNB is an archive of biographies of people who have, in some way, contributed to British history, politics, or society. They only feature articles on on dead people, however. But on the Home page there is a button to click on which says 'Get a life at random'. Of course, by life they mean biography, but it struck me as a groovy concept that one could merely click on a button and 'Get a Life'. So far today I have been a member of 'The Cato Street Conspiracy' - a radical group who plotted to blow up the British Cabinet in 1820, but were betrayed by a Government spy - and a 19th Century publisher, writer and editor named Charles Ollier who published works by Keats and Shelley.
Sadly for all you plebs one has to be a subscriber to take advantage of this facility, which I am by virtue of my status as a student of the highly esteemed Open University. You may be similarly institutionalisationally affilliated. Or not. Get a Life.
Saturday, 2 October 2010
El Presidente has many talents, peace be upon her. But an essential part of her being is cooking and today she has done us proud with a Steak,Guinness and Cheese Pie prepared from a recipe by the estimable Jamie Oliver.
Served with mashed potatoes and peas.Fairly reasonable!
Here's one she prepared earlier.
Apparently, we're all in this together so we've all got to make sacrifices and suffer the effects of Government austerity measures. And the International Monetary Fund approves. Depends on your outlook, I suppose, but I don't see how putting 600,000 public sector workers on the dole is going to reduce public spending. We're going to lose the taxes they pay, and we're going to have to pay them unemployment benefits. The theory is, of course, that the private sector will take up the slack and create jobs for all these unfortunate wretches. Yep. That's why they have been so busy outsourcing as many jobs as possible to India, Thailand, and so forth. So get on yer bikes, lads, and head east.
But the financial mess we're in isn't the fault of the people who are going to have to pay for it. If you recall, it all went pear-shaped because the financial markets invented new ways of creating credit, lending money to each other and to people who couldn't afford to pay it back. The bubble inevitably burst and the taxpayer had to bale out the financial markets because, we were told, we could not afford to allow 'the banks' to fail.
The Government doesn't want to raise taxes, so it borrows money from the financial markets, which is why we must have austerity measures, so that the financial markets don't lose confidence in Government Bonds. But hang on, didn't we lend them money and increase the money supply to keep them afloat? So aren't we borrowing back our own money and then paying interest on money we lent them? Meanwhile, the chaps in the financial markets continue to get paid bonuses rather than suffer the pay cuts and loss of services the rest of us are threatened with.
Communism seems to have failed, but I am not persuaded that capitalism has succeeded except for maybe the financial markets!
Friday, 1 October 2010
I think golf is one of the most boring sports ever invented. And somehow or other it seems to take over the sensible parts of the brains of golfers and the chaps who administer the game. I once accompanied some chums of mine who are keen golfers, whilst they played. I was allowed to be an observer only - my complete lack of experience in playing golf meant I was forbidden from taking part. I only lasted for half the round - by the cringe it was tiresome and, what's more, they didn't seem very happy and seemed to do nothing but complain and moan. So I went back to the Club House and read a book. Meanwhile, it rained. But this did not deter the golfers who eventually returned wet as well as miserable and frustrated. Takes all sorts.
Any road up, I'm just listening idly to BBC Radio 5 at the moment, as I do from time to time, and they are all in a right tizz and no mistake. It seems Europe and the USA are supposed to be playing a golfing tournament known as the Ryder Cup today and over the weekend, but it's raining cats and dogs so play is impossible. So it goes. But what is mind-boggling about this affair is that the tournament is taking place in Newport, South Wales in the Autumn. Az eny fule kno, it often rains in Wales - especially in the Autumn - that's why The Powers That Be built reservoirs there to store rainwater to be piped to other parts of the UK where there is less rain. Well, dur.
A beneficial side-effect of this, however, is that the commentators on Radio 5 are having to fill in their broadcast time with something or other and it's all getting a tad bizarre. We've just had a discussion about 'dog pedometers' and whether or not a dog finds it more difficult to run uphill than a human does. And John Inverdale has asked listeners in Gleneagles to let him know if it's raining there - because the tournament is to be held in Gleneagles in four years' time. When it might or might not be raining.
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