29. August 2011 · 1 comment · Categories: Whisky

I rather suspect the medical profession – and particularly psychiatrists – are in the business of inventing new conditions to keep themselves in their lucrative business. It all started with dyslexia. When I was young it was called “poor at reading and writing”. Then there was dyspraxia aka clumsy. After that we got ADHD (stupid), OCD (neurotic), ODD (naughty), Asperger’s (lacking social skills) &c. &c.. However, recent experience with Whisky has led me to believe that ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) is a real condition – at least in dogs. Let me explain…

Whisky is a smart dog. He knows full well that he’s not allowed on the sofa, and during the day it’s not an issue. But every evening after I’ve eaten dinner and sat down to watch TV he’ll jump up on the sofa next to me, only to be pushed off, not once, but time and time again. I’ll tap him to show my disapproval. I’ll rattle my can of coins. I’ll raise my voice. But still he climbs on the sofa. I’ll exile him to the garden, and just as soon as he gets back in (there’s only so much scratching at the front door and whining that I can take), he’ll jump right back. Such defiance in one so young! Definitive proof of the existence of D-ODD.

I also suspect Whisky may have D-ADHD. He is rather prone to bouts of extreme hyperactivity. He’ll bound in from the garden, scattering the decorative pebbles by the front door under his paws and slipping on the mat on the way, only to turn round and run out, slipping on the mat and tumbling down the steps on the way, only to repeat the cycle a dozen times. Other times he’ll chase crazily around the coffee table, leaving me fearing for my furniture and ornaments. It’s at times like this I think about swapping him for a cat.


When Whisky is going through one of his phases I sometimes refer to him as “devildog” – an accurate and fair reflection of his demeanour. I was however, rather surprised to capture photographic proof of his satanic nature:

Whisky, devil dog

Isn’t having a tongue too large to fit into your mouth also a sign of demonic possession?

Whisky's oversized tongue

Oh Whisky! Truly you are a son of Lucifer.


i saw a picture in the newspaper Whisky Portrait
of some dogs going on holiday
they don t look very comfortable
i guess that s what happens
when you travel economy class

they were on their way to vietnam

Dog heading to Vietnam

master says
the people of the travel company
should be strung up
for what they did
i don t know why
but then
he also says the same thing
about michael o leary

i think the dogs
were really lucky
and the travel company
really kind
because the holiday was free

apparently they drove around the streets
picking up any dogs they saw
family pets and street dogs alike

my master said
they really like dog in vietnam
and muttered something about
they ll be a tasty treat
silly master
he said be instead of get

funny though
you usually don t get food
when you travel budget class


Some of my earliest memories are of going to work with my grandfather. He was secretary to a group of Miners’ Institutes in the valleys of south Wales. We travelled in his small car collecting the takings from the snwcer tables (he always used the Welsh pronunciation) from various Institutes which we then counted in his office before taking them to the bank in cloth bags. From him I learnt that eight half crowns or ten florins made a pound.

That was all back in the 1960s. The Institutes even then were in decline with fewer miners to read the newspapers or forage away in the dusty, musty libraries piled high with books. Following the destruction of the mining industry in the 80s under Thatcher, few of the hundred or more Institutes that used to be in south Wales have survived. Many are now simply crumbling ruins.

The Institutes started in the late 19th century as miners gathered together and paid a regular subscription to fund the building and running of an Institute. Each Institute had a library and a reading room. The larger ones had a meeting hall for public gatherings and some a snwcer hall and refreshment area. The Institutes were socialist in philosophy, driven by a desire to help the working man better himself. No one wanted to work down a mine if there were an alternative. The work was filthy, dangerous and poorly paid. Accidents were common as was industrial disease (Miners’ Lung). My own grandfather started working at the pit when he was 14, and lost his leg a short while later when a mining tram he was riding in jumped the rails and ran over his leg. He said it was the best thing that ever happened to him – it took him away from the pit. As I said – no one wanted to work down a mine.

Today in Britain that socialist ideal seems to have vanished. We have young people (albeit a tiny minority, and some not so young) looting and robbing, trashing and setting fire to property, running wild with no respect for others or fear of the police. How did we get to this point? It’s a subject that has been endlessly pontificated about in the press over the last few days with the usual suspects airing their usual prejudices, so I felt like I should pontificate too, mostly to get some of my thoughts straight in my head.


The first recorded use of the word “teenager” was in 1941. By the 50s the teenager had become a clearly distinct group in society. No longer were children in their teens dressed like small-scale adults. No longer were they put to work down the pit or in factories at 14. Society had lowered its expectations of mature, responsible behaviour from this cohort; they had their own music and dress sense and used the freedom to rebel against their “square” (1944) elders.

What are you rebelling against?
What have you got?
– The Wild One (1953)


In the early 1960s London Transport decided it wanted to import workers to drive our buses and clean our toilets rather than to pay a decent wage to attract British workers. Over the decades more and more immigrants have arrived on our shores, some of them highly skilled doctors and architects, but others poorly educated labourers – peasant farmers and the like. This has created an underclass which fails to place a sufficiently high value on education leading to poorly educated youths with few prospects in life.

Of course, it’s not just with 2nd, 3rd or 4th generation immigrants that you find families with low expectations and equally low attainment. There have been other factors at work.


In the mid-80s Harry Enfield created a comedy character, a plasterer who received exorbitant amounts of money for doing very little. Loadsamoney (as he was called) encapsulated Thatcherite greed; people laughed at him because they knew it was true. Thatcher promulgated of a doctrine of “every man for himself”, a doctrine of greed and selfishness. People were left with no broader vision or purpose other than serving themselves. This created a sense of entitlement. You could have a microwave, a colour TV and a hi fi system, enough money to spend on fags and booze, yet still consider yourself to be living in poverty. You didn’t need to work because the state would give you money for nothing which you could spend on the latest consumer goods and your vices. Subsequent governments of all persuasions have continued the Thatcherite dogma.


There are other factors at play – particularly, in my opinion, parenting. The breakdown of the family is reflected by the number of children being raised by a single parent. (3 million children in Britain are being raised by single parents). That’s three million children with one fewer adult to guide and discipline them. Of course, some single parents do an excellent job. One loving parent is undoubtedly better than two indifferent ones. Even for children with two parents at home children are now living much more independent lives as is exemplified by how rare it has become for families to sit down together at a table every night for dinner. I’d also posit that parents have generally become lazier in their parenting over the years, now far keener to sit on the couch and occasionally shout at their offspring, rather than providing strict, consistent boundaries for their children’s behaviour, but then good parenting is undoubtedly hard work.


There have been Jeremiahs over the centuries who’ve complained about how society has been going downhill. Indeed, as one becomes older such an outlook perhaps become the norm. And it’s true there has always been a poorly educated underclass and feral youths. And there have been plenty of riots over the past centuries, and shops have been looted and stores set on fire. However, I do fear the outlook for Britain is bleak. How can society possibly undo the causes that have created an underclass completely lacking in respect for others and for the rule of law, and with such a sense of entitlement to material goods that they are prepared to go to any lengths to satisfy their greed?


It’s now less than a week since Thaksin’s puppet sister was elected Prime Minister. Showing government priorities we now hear that Thaksin’s children are to be exempt from paying the 11 billion Baht capital gains tax on the sale of strategic national assets including telecommuncations satellites and mobile ‘phone network the family company to Singapore. 11 billion Baht? That’s 226 million Great British Pounds or 368 million Yankee Dollars.

The Prime Minister has also made an interesting choice of Foreign Minister. Rather than go for an experienced career diplomat she chose a man who not only has no experience of foreign affairs but has also openly admitted he’s not interested in them. He may be related to the Thaksin clan through marriage, but I’m sure he’s the best man for the job. The job, apparently, is to bring Thaksin back to Thailand without his spending a moment in jail and ensuring he’s totally exonerated of all criminal charges.


In the 1990s Masterchef was a rather campy TV cookery competition hosted by a presenter who was perhaps uniquely skilled in torturing vowels as he spoke – American Loyd Grossman. It occasionally passed the time on boring Sunday afternoons, but was hardly compulsive viewing. Then in 2005 the format was radically changed and now versions of the show have spread across the civilised world and America.

One key requirement of the new format is two judges, one bald, one with hair, and both very shouty.

Masterchef UK judges
Masterchef UK judges

Masterchef Australia judges
Masterchef Australia Judges

New Zealand got it a bit wrong with three judges, all of whom have hair – they’re still shouty, though.

Masterchef New Zealand judges
Masterchef New Zealand judges

America surpassed itself with three judges, including the obligatory baldy, and the shoutiest judge of the lot: Gordon Ramsay.

Masterchef USA judges
Masterchef USA judges

Perhaps the weakest version of the show is the American one. The contestants seem to be chosen more for their back stories than their cooking ability or passion for food.

Also quite poor is the British version. Some of the competitors surpass the judges in their knowledge about food, so the judges can't fairly judge or critique.

The New Zealand version is better, but by far the most gripping is the Australian version. In fact, I can hardly believe I've watched 86 episodes over the last 3 months and been kept glued to the screen. (The show is on six days a week at prime time in Australia, but is filmed over 8 months, so is very gruelling for the contestants, separated from their families, including young children, and loved ones.)

The judges are both top-knotch professional chefs, and every Friday edition is a masterclass in which the chefs show how some of the dishes made by the amateurs could have been done much better; no case of the pupils surpassing the masters here.

The contestants do rather seem to have been selected as a selection of stereotypes: there's the blond surfer dude, a plump Irish guy, a ditzy blond, a middle aged housewife, an elderly Sri Lankan, a young man with scary tattoos, a well-padded girl with maquillage and dress sense from the 1950s, a hippy chick (called “Sun”), a gay Asian man, and so on. Seeing them almost every night on TV you feel you get to know them as people as well as sensational cooks.

What has also been sensational has been the guests. There have been some of the world’s leading chefs: Daniel Boulud, Marco Pierre White, David Chang (Momofuku), Heston Blumenthal, Neil Perry. For the final they had the head chef from what has officially been the world's best restaurant for the last two years: René Redzepi of Noma.

There has also been a great selection of TV chefs and cooks: Rick Stein, Kylie Kwong, Curtis Stone, Anthony Bourdain, Chef Wan (a very camp Malaysian celebrity chef) and Nigella Lawson amongst others.

I don't think Maggie Beer's very well known outside the antipodes, but to Australia she's a national treasure, a lovely woman with the demeanor of a kindly grandmother who’s sold more cookery books than you could shake a stick at. Also not so well known is Adriano Zumbo who creates the most incredible, fantastical patisserie. An amazing master craftsman.

The absolutely blow-your-socks off moment for me, however, was when a particular special guest walked through the kitchen doors: His Holiness the Dalai Lama!!! It was enough to have me squirming in my seat and squealing with delight.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama holds the hand of a Masterchef Australia contestant
His Holiness the Dalai Lama holds the hand of a Masterchef contestant as she offers him food

Now how am I going to fill the hours of the day without Masterchef Australia? Perhaps I should look into the Croatian, Greek, German, Indian, Indonesian, Israeli and Malaysian versions.


One of the things you learn in Investing 101 is the importance of diversification – in short, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. The thinking is that different asset classes tend to respond differently to changing economic circumstances. That’s why most portfolios contain a mixture of bonds and equities, the (somewhat wishful) thinking being that went equities go up bonds will go down. Larger portfolios will usually have some investment in commercial property. Here it’s usually considered better to invest in funds which directly invest in physical bricks and mortar than funds which invest in property companies since the latter are more closely correlated with the broader stockmarket.

With an even larger portfolio it’s pretty common to add hedge funds, private equity and commodities. Some people also add things such as forestry since they believe money can grown on trees. All this is done to increase diversification and (notionally) to decrease risk. That’s the theory.

In practice, I’ve been pretty badly burnt.

My hedge fund investment was badly hit by the Weavering Capital fraud.

One of my private equity investments, an Arch Cru fund, was spectacularly mismarketed and mismanaged.

With both of these it’s going to take several years before I get what is only a part of my investment back.

My venture into commercial property with Carpathian at one point was down 90%, and the fund is now gradually being wound up as the shopping centres and office blocks it owns are sold off.

And now I’ve been stung again: Castlestone Management, in two of whose commodity funds I have money invested was raided by the FSA and there followed a temporary suspension of trading the funds. As soon as the suspension was lifted I gave instructions to sell out of both these funds. I waited and waited but didn’t receive the proceeds. Yesterday Castlestone announced they were closing the business and that the funds would be frozen: no shares issued or sold. Goodness knows when I’ll see the money, and how much of my original investment I’ll get back.

Precisely how many times can lightening strike in the same place?

Forget diversification – I’ll be keeping my money under the mattress from now on.


i ve got a new hobbyWhisky Portrait
it s gardening
i love nothing better than
digging a hole and scattering
the earth all over the driveway
i think my master loves me
doing this because he sweeps up
all the soil and
puts it back in the hole
so i can start all over again
what my silly master
doesn t understand
is that i m trying to grow
a shoe tree
i m going to plant
one of his shoes in the hole
so it grows into a lovely tree
and when it has fruit
they ll be shoes
that way i ll have
lots of different shoes to chew
and master won t be so grumpy
when i chew his



I’m not sure whether to quote Dylan or R.E.M..

“It’s a hard rain a-gonna fall”


“It’s the end of the world as we know it”

But here’s the evidence from a few minutes ago.

Impending Storm


my master has a lovely singing voiceWhisky Portrait

a sort of cross between a baying beagle
and a wailing wolfhound

earlier today he was singing a song about me

whisky is my darling my darling my darling
whisky is my darling the young cavalier

silly master
i m not a cavalier spaniel
i m a pure-bred thai street dog

my master tells me
it s a traditional scottish song
that doesn t surprise me
because the scots are well known
whisky lovers

i did think it would be nice
to take a holiday in scotland
i m sure they have lots of frogs to kill
then i heard about
a torture device they have
it s called a whisky still
i don t want to be put in a copper kettle
and boiled alive
no thank you