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Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The fun way to misery!

At the last second I switched my choice of book from the Dawkins’ hit on evolution and chose “Whoops – Why everyone owes everyone and no one can pay” by John Lanchester.



This is a brilliant book. Lanchester, with a novelist’s sure touch in the writing, makes this a compulsive read. [If you haven't read it already then I thoroughly recommend his first novel "The Debt to Plasure" a very funny, very nasty and unforgetable story.] He doesn’t talk down to the reader but he acknowledges that what he is writing about is going to affect all of us for some time to come and therefore he feels that he has a mission to help us understand what he thinks has gone on and what needs to be done.

He writes, “The credit crunch was based on a climate (the post-Cold War victory party of free-market capitalism), a problem (the sub-prime mortgages), a mistake (the mathematical models of risk) and a failure, that of the regulators. It was their job to prevent both the collapse of individual companies and systemic risks which ensured they failed. But that failure wasn’t so much the absence of attention to individual details as it was an entire culture to do with the primacy of business, of money, of deregulation, of putting the interest of the financial sector first.”


This sort of clarity is a key element in the narrative which he tells. His explanations are clear and easily understood and he links anecdote and allusion to illuminate his perceptions. He is very much a participant in this story and it is difficult not to be drawn into his world when he starts off chapter one with, “As a child I was frightened of cashpoint machines.”


Essentially this is a depressing book with his descriptions of (some) bankers and the activity of banks guaranteed to test the limits of the reader’s credulity while we the taxpayers fork out money to keep them in business.


This book should be required reading for anyone who feels short changed by what has gone on and wants a clear explanation of what has happened, is happening and what is likely to come.


I won’t waste my time suggesting that this should be compulsory reading for bankers as the ones that were most to blame are the ones still to blame and they are carrying on (with little or no governmental opposition) as though nothing has happened.


It is at times like this that I begin to think that our lack of participation in the radical jollifications that went on throughout Europe in 1848 might be made up for in a crusade against the guilty: we could always import suitable lanterns from the French.


Read it!


Last day of freedom and an 8.15 am start tomorrow: at least it is within a couple of days of the weekend!


I go back to a fury of assessment when all sorts of results have to be loaded into a creaking computer system for use in an after school meeting to discuss (interminably and impertinently) the details of students’ achievement. In Catalan. Sigh.


Lunch today was a deeply unsatisfying experience in a Turkish restaurant. The meat was doggedly tough and the wine tasted as though it had just been made. And not cheap either. To my bewilderment the restaurant filled rapidly and people seemed eager to eat the well displayed by culinary vacuous offerings.


Today was a fiesta and there was much blowing of raucous reeded instruments in the town square in front of the church and town hall. Stretching down our little Ramblas was a snaking line of small stalls staffed by people wearing approximations of peasant clothing to emphasise the home-made qualities of the produce they were selling.


Though they were undoubtedly quaint I was not tempted to buy anything and happily returned to my book. Many of the stalls were of what can only be described as the “frippery” type with ornaments, soap, pottery and highly priced bread. The prices were all encouragingly high and one wonders yet again where the financial crisis is in all this. There is supposed to be 20% unemployed in Spain; the construction boom has come to an abrupt halt; government employment seems set to take another cut both in terms of employment and in terms of the money paid – all should be doom and gloom but the shops are packed and people seem to have plenty of money to throw around. It is most confusing – though as few people seem to have shown any relationship with the reality of the situation I suppose that I will have to go on dancing on the rim of the crater until the ash begins to fall!


The one thing that I did buy in town was a further supply of Red Earl Gray tea – after all it is only sensible to stock up on essentials in times of trouble!
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