Category Archives: we’re bocht altogether

Before the Flood

Sorry I’ve been missing. I’ve been up to my eyes at work.

In these straitened times, that should be a good thing, but it isn’t. Another river of shit is flowing towards the wonderful people who work with me. We’re all going to get paid less when we come back after Christmas, and some, though thankfully only a few, won’t be coming back at all.

I’ve been so busy because I’ve had to pull together information that the people at the top will use to control the river, to decide in what directions to channel it and where to let it burst its banks. Shit happens, and they have to decide who to. They hate it, and I don’t envy them.

Meanwhile the staff carry on working, and discussing next week’s (much-diluted from last year) Christmas party.

I feel so sorry for the ones who’ll be going. The rest of us, well, we’ll manage. we’ll get by on our lower salaries and, if things ever pick up again, we’ll see good times again.

But the anger at the Government and the financial misfits who caused all this will still burn inside. It will not burn with flashy and short-lasting flames of rage and shouting. It will smoulder deep, deep inside, and because of this it will last much longer. And this deep-felt anger is burning  in other companies, in the public service, in all of society.

We keep being told that things are going to change. Unless the powers-that-be really are as divorced from the people as they appear, then they must see that things will have to. Because the people of Ireland have had enough.

Banana Nama – 2

Sorry, but I can’t let this topic go.

The Government’s NAMA has bought €77 billion worth of loans from the banks. The property relating to these loans is worth €47 billion, but we’re paying €54 billion for them. We’re told that it’s not a bailout, that NAMA will pursue the developers for their loans just as diligently as the banks would have. And I’ve no doubt that Brian Lenihan believes that.

Ok, let’s keep it simple.

A property company, Balls of Brass Limited, borrowed €1.5 million from AIB to buy a property. This property is now worth €1 million. We have bought the loan from AIB for €1.15 million, to reflect “long term economic value”.

Next week Balls of Brass goes into liquidation. It is entitled to do this, indeed obliged to, as it is hopelessly insolvent. Its only creditor, which is us, gets legal ownership of its only asset, the property which is worth €1 million.

And we’ve just paid €1.15 million for it.

And that’s the end of it. The company is in liquidation – effectively deceased – so there is no-one and nothing left to pursue. The company has met all its legal obligations by handing over its asset to its creditors. No-one has done anything legally wrong.

But we’ve just lost money, unless the Government intends to hang on to the building in the hope that prices will rise. What if they keep falling? At what stage does NAMA lose its nerve and sell for even less than the €1 million it’s supposedly worth now? 

Bank share prices surged on Thursday after the figures relating to NAMA were released. You can see why.

A Better Opportunity

Way back in the last century, when our last recession was at its worst, I had my own business.

My typical week was spent dealing with the needs of the couple of clients that I had, reading the paper a lot (that was when I learnt to do the Irish Times cryptic crossword) and waiting for the phone to ring.

And ring it did, quite often. Every month or so some new person would phone offering me the opportunity to invest in some grand scheme. I remember one where we were going to invest in gold coins (possibly bought from ageing Nazis),  and another one where we would buy special champagne, which would be released for sale to the world when the then far-off millennium arrived.

Each salesman would ring doggedly every day for couple of weeks till it finally sank in that no meant no. Then a few days later some new person, with some new scheme, would ring, and the whole rigmarole would start again.

Time passed, the economy improved, and I noticed that phone calls like that stopped, as if the people had realised that now they could make more money from, well, real jobs. Of course, scams did continue (I won the Dutch lottery once), but they tended to be done via fax or eMail, so you felt that their heart wasn’t really in it, and that they had no real expectation of success, like the small boys you see fishing along the Grand Canal.

Now, of course, we’re fecked again, and so yesterday I received a letter offering me the “opportunity to make a substantial first or second tax-free income with very little effort.” They say that they have chosen me “through careful profiling” (i.e., opening the phone-book at random), and assure me that the business has “absolutely nothing to do with stock market investment”. Then they say that:

“It’s time to tell you what we do but remember, please read this letter through to the end.” With my heart now beating wildly (if they’d profiled me carefully enough, they’d have known not to make that happen) I turned the page.

They bet on horseracing.

I did read through to the end. They call it “investing”, claim that they invest only when the circumstances are totally in their favour, and that if I ring a special number each day they will let me know whether or not there is an opportunity that day. They freely admit that not all selections will win, but claim that more than 52% will, and then produce a table showing how in such a circumstance my winnings will grow and grow.

All this for just a €160 registration fee and a €97 monthly subscription (neither of which costs, incidentally, feature in their working example).

Now, it’s true that there are surer ways of getting rid of all your money than betting on horses, such as setting fire to it, waving it above your head while walking up O’Connell Street, or having children. Nevertheless the suspicion remains that if their method was that good then they’d keep it to themselves, since the more people bet on their selections the lower the price is likely to be (see, I know stuff).

Anyway, I’ve decided that my life has enough excitement in it already (I have Sky Sports 1, 2 and 3!!)) so I won’t be availing of their offer. I do have a friend, though -well, acquaintance, really – who might be interested. I met her through the internet, she’s a Nigerian princess who is unable to gain access to her substantial funds at present, but who is looking for someone who’ll allow her use of a bank account to transfer them into. I’m going to give her all the details of my new friends.

I’ll think they’ll get along together quite well.

Banana Nama

So now we know.

The new National Asset Management Agency is to take €77 billion in “distressed” loans away from the banks.

The property to which these loans are related is currently valued at €47 billion, but we are paying €54 billion for the loans, to reflect “long-term economic value.”

Why? Because the banks need that amount, or they’ll be undercapitalised. So? Well, in which case we’d have to give them money. Oh.

That’s 7,000 million euro that we are paying out over and above what NAMA reckons the properties are worth at present.

And even those valuations are based on “the assumption that prices have fallen 50 per cent since 2007 and are now close to the bottom.”

Are they?

When we bought our house in 1985, it cost four-and-a-quarter times what I was earning then. Two years ago it was worth 12 times what I earn now, but as far as I can tell from sales around the area it’s still worth over eight times my current salary.

If I decide to sell it tomorrow, the buyer will need a mortgage. And you can bet your bottom dollar (which is probably all you have) that the attitude of the banks in the future will be very different to that of the last couple of years.

There will be no more 100% mortgages. The buyer will need a substantial deposit. The guidelines on the amount of the loan will be stricter, too. There will be no allowance made for predicted overtime or bonuses, or for the possibility that the buyer might get rent from prospective but currently mythical housemates.

They will stick to the old rules of granting a mortgage of 2-and-a half to three times one’s main salary, plus once any lower salary. Assuming the buyer earns roughly what I earn (anyone earning more would buy a better house), then the most they will be able to afford to pay is … about four-and-a-quarter times my current salary.

I’ve an awful feeling that prices still have a long way to fall, and will never again reach where they are even now.

Which means we’ve given the banks 7,000 million euro (seven billion doesn’t sound as much, does it?) that we’re unlikely to get back.

I think that’s frightening.

Oh Carroll

Those of you who live in Ireland will be familiar with the problems currently facing property developer Liam Carroll.

His Zoe Developments Group, builders and owners of hundreds of box-like little apartments all over Dublin, is currently deeply insolvent. One of the banks to whom it owes money has applied for, and been granted, the right to appoint a liquidator.  Zoe set out to block this by applying to the High Court for “Examinership” – a court-backed protection from its creditors while an attempt was made to see if it could work out a rescue plan. This was rejected by the High Court, since the Group’s evidence was

(a) Our assets will eventually be worth enough to cover our loans, but we won’t tell you how much they’ll be worth, because that’s sensitive financial information, and

(b) Our banks, other than the one pursuing us, will back us all the way, but we’ve brought no letters from them or anything to confirm that. (Anyone who thinks I’m unjustly belittling the evidence they produced should read the court report).

The judge shot their case down. Therefore they appealed it to the Supreme Court, as is of course their right.

The Supreme Court turned them down as well, so they applied to … well, the High Court.

They went along, said sorry, Liam Carroll is temporarily not well, it was his idea to give you no info last time, now here’s some letters & stuff, please can we have another go.

The judge said this was most unusual, and he was very reluctant to re-hear a case which had already been rejected by the High Court and Supreme Court, but – and here’s the important part – he agreed to hear it anyway.

So Zoe produced all its evidence.And, as of Thursday, it lost again (this time the judge said that the figures that it produced were either “badly presented or just plain wrong.” Wonder how much its Accountants will charge for that).

Anyway, the reason for this post is that amongst the more detailed evidence that Zoe produced was the little nugget that it was intended that no interest be paid on Anglo Irish Bank’s loan until 2014.

That’s the Anglo Irish Bank that we had to nationalise after its corrupt chairman, reckless lending and inept management brought it to the brink of collapse.

In other words, that’s us.

So, had Zoe’s application for Court Protection succeeded, then one of the biggest property developers in this state, one of those whose greed helped cause of all our tax increases, benefit cuts and job losses, would not have had to pay us any interest on the money he owes us for five years.

Do you remember agreeing to that?

Vegetable Plot

For most of our history we Irish were a tiny, poor country on the very periphery both of Europe and of life, though we did have a reputation for punching above our weight in literature, in corrupt US politics and in, well, punching people.

And we were happy with our lot. We knew our place, tugged our forelock (no, it’s your fringe) and accepted that the good life was not for us. When Irish eyes were smiling, it was usually because we knew that all other Irish people were doing as badly as we were.

Then, over the last decade, it all changed. We became the success story of the world, had more TVs than people and more traffic than both, and basically lost the run of ourselves in our determination to fill our lives with anything, so long as it was gaudy, garish, and over-priced.

Many people have tried to pinpoint the origins of this madness. They have blamed politicians, lawyers, the media, the banks.

I blame broccoli.

evil, evil, evil

evil, evil, evil

When we were young our mothers would yell at us to “eat our greens”, and would warn us that if we didn’t we’d catch scurvy or rickets. None of us knew what scruvy or rickets were (for the very good reason that neither exists except in stories where people say “pieces of eight” and Aaarrrr!”), but both sounded so terrifying that we duly did eat our greens, and indeed small boys would eat their own bogeys in a desperate attempt to boost their greenery intake. Greens, basically, came in two varieties – peas, which we got six days a week, and cabbage, which we got on Sunday. (There was a third, served just once a year. The Brussels Sprout, a bollock-shaped flavour-bomb with a taste that was not so much mouth-watering as eye-watering, was eaten on Jesus’s birthday, as a bitter (in all its senses) reminder that Jesus suffered for our sins).

BroccoliAnyway, Irish ricket-&-scurvy prevention thrived for many years on a bi-vegetable basis, and we were a contented lot. Then the birth of the chartered flight brought the first, newly wealthy, Irish to Continental Europe, from whence they returned with new ideas, among them a new green that looked like a collection of chef’s hats. And although our traditional Irish greens were superior in every way (try & recall the taste of broccoli – you can’t, can you, because it doesn’t have one), the intruder had the advantage of being “exotic” so, like a kind-of vegetable grey squirrel, it overwhelmed the incumbents. Ireland had met the word “brassica”, discovered that it is not, apparently, a Yorkshire colliery heavy-metal band, and embraced it. Soon words like “hummus”, “decking” and “tracker-mortgage” were creeping into our everyday conversation, and from then on we were fecked.

Our madness reached its Zenith with the opening in Dublin of our first branch of “the Sunglass Hut”. In the wettest, most dreary country in Europe a store could open which sold nothing but sunglasses, at two hundred quid a go, and could survive.

Eventually, of course, we copped on to ourselves, and have returned to the life of poverty and mass emigration with which we feel more at home (is being “at home” with mass emigration not a contradiction? Not if you’re Irish). The humble pea and cabbage are back, and if we feel like something different, well National Sprout Christmas Day is just three months away.

The simple fun of watching your kids take their first-ever mouthful of Brussels Sprout is one of the great joys of parenthood.

The Dream Team

Last night I had the weirdest dream. I was captain of an office football team, and we were about to play an important match.

I had been chosen as captain because I was the youngest, and I was to be the main player in midfield, because I was the quickest. This would be fine if in my dream I was once again in my twenties but no, I was exactly as I am now.

The rest of the team were, well, ancient. Our goalkeepers name was McAuley. I know that because it was printed on the back of the violently pink padded anorak that he wore as a jersey. Above that he wore an ordinary plain tweed cap. I can still picture all of the back four. They had a combined age of infinity. One of them looked like Eric Sykes, the rest looked much older. Their hair was grey but their skin was much, much greyer. As they gathered at the changing room door they still wore jackets and ties. Indeed, I noticed that all of us were in street shoes and had our trouser legs rolled up. There were eight of us.

“Where are the three new guys?” I heard myself asking. “They said they’d meet us in the bar,” I was told. Sure enough, the dressing room led out directly into a crowded and very smoky bar. The three new players stood up, cigarettes and whiskey glasses in hand. “You can tell this was a long time ago,” I said rather bizarrely, explaining the lack of a smoking ban to my sleeping self.

We all headed out onto the pitch, my team moving with a quiet and dignified air of fatalism that was painful to watch, and be part of. The pitch suddenly became a rather small indoor hall, and I realised with a sigh that our ball control in our street shoes was not going to be tight enough for this pitch.

Our opposition were a type rather than a collection of individuals. They had a football strip that matched, in a smoky mustard yellow. All of them were blond.  Their captain made his way towards me. I extended my hand towards his, having removed the fingernail from my middle finger like a thimble before I did so. At the last second he held out his left hand instead of his right, because his right hand now held a large railway sleeper, for no obvious reason.

The referee tossed a coin and I called heads. The coin clearly landed as heads, but the other captain said “right, we’ll kick off “. This left me with choice of ends. We were indoors with no wind and no slope, so there was no advantage to playing either way, but I was annoyed by having been cheated out of the toss, so I opted to change ends, making each goalkeeper walk to the opposite end of the pitch. “I’ve always wanted to do that”, I said to the referee. I looked at his face (he was ancient too) and realised that this had been a mistake. I could expect no favours from him now.

The ball was placed on the centre spot, my team moved slowly and painfully into position and … I woke up.

I woke up panting with fear, yet also almost sobbing with relief that we would not now have to play the match. I just knew that awful, gut-screwing humiliations would have befallen us had the dream gone any further.

What was it about? Who knows. We’ve all had the walking-into-an-exam-having-done-no-study dream, and I’m particularly partial to the waiting-to go-on-stage-in-a-play-without-having-learnt-my-lines dream, but this was somehow scarier. In this one I’d done nothing wrong, and indeed neither had my team, but I could tell that this fact was not going to help us in the slightest.

As I wrote that last sentence I realised that perhaps it was suppressed anger and helplessness at how we ordinary citizens are being fucked even though it wasn’t us that did anything wrong. Perhaps it was the fact that I read last week that the Deputy Governor of the Central Bank reckons that it was the fault of small shareholders that they lost all their money in the banks, and his brazen denial that the banks have been bailed out in any way, or that it was his job to have prevented them from acting irresponsibly (if it is well known that the Government will not let any bank fail, then it is the job of the Central Bank to make sure that the banks do not risk this happening. Antone who doesn’t see that as self-evident should not work in the Central Bank).

Perhaps it’s the fact that this twit still has his job, when so many other people have lost theirs. Perhaps it’s the fact that, less one year after the banks ran screaming to us for protection, they are now putting up interest rates for ordinary borrowers, because they’re losing money through writing off loans to big borrowers. Perhaps it’s the fact that not one senior person in either the banks or their supposed regulators has been fired over what has befallen us (being allowed to resign on a large pension does not count).

If this really is what the dream was about, then the sleeping me is a lot more deep than the waking one.

Visions of Sugarplums

Just three days after I mentioned 1985’s Moving Statues of Ballinspittle in my blog, the front page of yesterday’s Irish Times carries the tale of the village church in Rathkeale, Co Limerick, where 2,000 locals have signed a petition to prevent the removal of a tree stump, because it depicts an image of the Blessed Virgin, as illustrated below:

Virgin Mary treeWell, I’m convinced.

Meanwhile, in Stockton, California, a tree knot has been spotted which looks like a young Michael Jackson….

Michael Jackson tree

Felix Garcia, the guy who spotted this, reckons it’s Jacko at about 20, though to me it looks like him at the age XBox’s baby is now.

Anyway, since I’m not one to miss a chance to ride a bandwagon for all it’s worth, here is a picture of the tree in my front garden:

SP_A0068

Study the picture carefully and tick off one by one as you find each of the following:

  • The Blessed Virgin
  • Karl Malden
  • The spaceship Battlestar Galactica
  • Wally
  • A wombat’s sphincter
  • Susan Boyle
  • The company logo of the Nakatomi Corporation
  • One page from the Dead Sea Scrolls, translated into Irish
  • A miniature, to-scale model of the Battle of Midway
  • An ent from the Lord of the Rings (a bit of a cheat, this one)
  • Ludwig von Beethoven
  • The poster of the girl in the tennis dress, scratching her arse
  • Moldova
  • Harry Potter, while wearing his Invisibility Cloak, but as a toga
  • Windows’ Mystify screensaver
  • And finally, the ever-lovely Yelena Isinbayeva (actually, don’t bother looking for her, I haven’t posted a picture of her in ages, so here’s one now).

    ATHLETICS-ENG-WOMENS-POLE VAULT-ISINBAYEVA

    She's back...

Of course, now that my tree of visions (sorry, my Tree of Visions, hype is everything in these situations) has appeared on the Internet, I’ll have many pilgrims flocking to my door, so I’m converting my garden shed into a small and tasteful souvenir shop. People will be able to buy blossoms from the tree, dog-poo from the garden (kindly donated by my neighbours’ dogs), and a range of buttons and T-shirts (“I saw JC in Tinman’s tree”).

I was also thinking of trying to get a drinks licence, but that would be gilding the lily. People who can see the Virgin Mary in the top picture here don’t need alcohol.

Pretentious? Moi?

Since I drive only to the station each day, while Mrs Tin drives Tingirl to school & then drives to shops, meetings and the gym, she has taken to driving the Tincar, while I drive Tincarjunior, a tiny Peugeot that we bought from her mother.

This car has been overheating lately, so we have twice had it patched up. This morning, however, just as I reached the station, the overheating light came on again.

The guy who repairs our cars reckons it needs a new engine, and wonders if it’s worthwhile given the car’s age (it’s older than two of our children). So we have to decide should we get this one fixed, buy another one, or revert to being a one car family.

BallygowanWhile we’re deciding this, however, I have to get the car home this evening, so I’ll have to fill the radiator with water. I have no container in the car, so I decided to buy a litre bottle of coke, pour out the coke (I don’t drink it) and fill the bottle with water. When I got to the shop, however, I realised that this was stupid, I could buy a litre bottle of Ballygowan and I could actually use it.

I’ve just realised what this actually means. In the middle of the worst recession of all time, I’m going to be driving a car whose radiator is filled with mineral water.

I’m also now thinking of filling the tyres with liquid gold, the petrol tank with the crushed horn of a unicorn, and getting a man to walk in front of the car, spreading rose petals in front of me.

On The Doorsteps

From Saturdays’ Irish Times:

As if Fianna Fáil general secretary Seán Dorgan hasn’t enough to contend with at the moment, a bogus letter supposedly signed by him has being doing the rounds of websites in the last couple of days. Written on party-headed notepaper, it appears to convey instructions to party workers on how to deal with difficulties faced when canvassing.

Seán Dorgan received a copy of the letter yesterday morning. “It’s not genuine. Clearly, it’s my signature, but nothing else. This is juvenile politics and nothing else. It’s a complete and utter fake and forgery.”

CanvassingHere, however, are the instructions that he really did send out.

1.  Tippex out the words “Fianna Fáil” on your leaflets.

2.  When the voter opens the door, don’t infuriate him by telling him straight out you’re from Fianna Fáil. Tell him you’re a Jehovah’s Witness.

3. If he rails against the bankers, nod sadly and say “I know, they’re fuckers”.

4. Blame everything on the Progressive Democrats – after all, they’re gone now.

5. If he says he has lost his job, don’t say “yes, but more importantly, if you don’t vote for me, I’ll lose mine too”.

6. Any instruction to “shove your leaflets up your hole” should not be followed literally.

7. If he tries to blame Fianna Fáil for banjaxing the economy,  say “you’re right, and as our punishment you should keep voting us back in until we fix it”. This logic is so daft that it might actually work.

8. Keep a car running outside the gate.