At the End of the Year

There is little more depressing than being in a ski resort when deep snow has been followed by heavy rain. Everyone walks round with a long face, the pavements are ankle-deep in slush, and French drivers – as ever – show no consideration for des pietons as they spray everyone with cold mucky stuff.

It is at such times – even on New Year’s Eve – that kids are a treat. “I’ve been on an aeryplane before,” said little Daniel this morning, “but I’ve never drived one.” His sister Ella – who calls him “snail-brain”, a description I’d have been proud to invent – said this afternoon, “Computers are not for writing, they are for watching telly”. But to Daniel, snail-brain is more of a term of endearment than “sausage”, which is what I called him the other day. “I am not a sausage,” he protested, ” but you are a smelly sausage” – before collapsing in laughter at this sub-young version of smut.

Two days ago, Ella (who is just three) drew a lobster. It was amazingly like a lobster even if she had forgotten the claws, but before I could offer praise, she said “It may look like a wiggly worm but it isn’t“. I assured her that it bore no resemblance at all to a worm, wiggly or otherwise. I’ve now taken to calling her Schnitzel, which she pronounces shitzel.

Yesterday I had a not unfamiliar battle with the local pharmacy. One of my mantras is, “After too much Dom Perignon, take Domperidone”. This is the generic name for Motillium, an intestine unbender of unaparelleled efficacy. But the assistant (with no intention at all of assisting) couldn’t sell it to me OTC, I would need a prescription, she said. I don’t need one in Lot et Garonne, I countered. This is not Lot et Garonne, said she. But it is France, I answered, trying to smile.

Chemists in France are, without exception, patronising jobsworths who dispense all medication with a large dollop of bollocks. The lady sold me some lemon-flavoured stuff that had me farting citrus groves for hours afterwards, and some Gallic mumbo-jumbo alternative nonsense. I offered to go to a doctor for an ordinance, but this only convinced her that I was a troublemaker.

“You do not need a doctor, ” she snapped, “Eat plain food and take the tablets”. I left muttering that she needed a psychiatrist. The bill was over 27 euros, and both of her suggestions have proved to be useless.

‘New Year celebrations begin’ headlined the Telegraph website this afternoon. Philippa Space is alive and well. David Cameron has said that the New Year’s Honours List is geared towards his Big Society idea. I wouldn’t have thought Ronnie Corbett had much to do with anything big, although Professor Andre Konstantin Geim, Professor of Physics at the University of Manchester, is definitely about a Very Big Universe. Perhaps Professor Mark Brian Pepys got a gong for services to Biomedicine, probably on the basis of making society even bigger than it is already. I don’t know to be honest: it just looked like the usual list of time-servers and national treasures to me.

I didn’t get many predictions wrong in 2011, but the Sterling/Euro exchange rate was one of them. It is 0.02 cents away from being back to 1.20 euros to the Pound tonight, but I thought it would be 1.30 at least by now. Still, at least it’s going in the right direction at last – and obeying a real market…as opposed to one responding to the ECB secretly slinging billions at it every week. I have an uneasy feeling that there will be a 3-6 month window for we Brits to exchange such Pounds we need to; for after that, I fear we too will begin going down….followed by the Dollar later in the year. One can only pray that, at some point, the Chinese float the Yuan, because I for one will be buying it, recession or not.

2011 was far from all bad: the progressives seemed to be in general disorganised retreat, some entertaining young, free-thinking columnists made an appearance, Murdoch was stopped in his slimy tracks, the EU began to fall apart, Gadaffi was slaughtered, and some early signs that the bankers won’t get away with it entirely were evident. But Hackgate has started to be divisive along political lines, the Americans left yet another country in disarray after becoming bored with cops and robbers, and both Camerlot and the Ed Miller Band remained utterly bereft of common sense, creativity or wit. The only truly enjoyable part of politics this year has been watching Ed Balls, Nick Clegg and Nicolas Sarkozy suffering a degree of discomfiture. The worst bit was realising that, very probably, Dave will stay in position, largely because there simply isn’t anyone else. The same sad truth applies to Obama, Netanyahu, and the unspeakably ghastly Julia Gillard.

Tonight here in the wet and cloudy Alps, we have fireworks. In Sydney eight hours ago, they spent £4m on fireworks. There is only so much staring at the sky and going ‘oooo’ that I can bear: I lost most of my interest in fireworks after the age of twelve, and then had my remaining passion for them extinguished once the HSE started to put 40 foot barbed wire round every display, and hiring 8000 stewards for every sparkler.

And talking of putting things out, our fire extinguishers in the chalet here labour under the brand name ‘Spit’. Quite appropriate that, really: on the whole, 2011 was the sort of year you could spit on and douse almost entirely. 2012, I fancy, is going to be considerably more inflammable.

Whatever happens, Happy New Year – and many thanks as ever for your lively debates and loyalty this year.

34 thoughts on “At the End of the Year

  1. The small minded french pharmacists reminds me of why I am so looking forward to going to India in 2 weeks. By way of contrast, two years ago while travelling in Tamil Nadu my girlfriend became worried that a tick bite had become infected.

    As we boarded the little steam train to take us back down the mountain, I beckoned to an indian gentleman who I had been chatting to in the ticket queue, that he might sit by us for a good view. He gave us his card. Professor of dermatology at Jaipur. Informal consultation proceeded and ended with him writing a prescription on the back of his card. Medicine obtained at next pharmacy for 50p. The charming Professor still drops us an occasional email.

    I am also reminded of a recent vist to Lyme Regius where you could hardly see the sea from the beach as the view was obscured by large officious warning signs. Whereas in India, at a bird sanctuary where big crocs hang out in the lake, hardly a sign to be seen, but a tale told of an unlucky child who had not kept her hands inside the boat the week before……

    Good fortune for all Sloggers and John in 2012 – and plenty of staying power.


  2. John,

    May you & yours – AND the Slog – flourish in 2012.

    Nil carborundum, as they say, and thanks for all the pearls so far.


  3. John and all fellow sloggers, I have followed this blog for a great of this year, most postings have been of exceptional quality – Thank you for presenting such an outstanding blog that certainly seems to do what it says “Evidence based bollocks deconstruction”. I have had quite an education from it. I would like to hope that our future is not as cataclysmic as it seems, but at I am at least more aware and can prepare as best I can for myself and my family. All the best in 2012 and please keep up the good work


  4. Happy New Year to you and yours John, and to all of the Sloggers. Looking forward to more bollocks deconstruction in 2O12. Wishing you everything you wish for yourself and that certain people get what they deserve, as opposed to what the ever growing elite have been enjoying and expect to continue doing so. Let’s hope that 2O12 is the year of retribution for the Diamond Geezers (by name or nature) Morgans & Murdochs of this world. We can but hope.


  5. I believe it is a feature of humanity that there will always exist a given percentage of Farmaçias, as they say here in jolly old Portugal (sounds better than sad poor deflated Portugal, but means the same). Farmacias advertise their existence with eyewateringly horrid green luminescences, that tell you their name, the date the time, temperature, and cause numerous road accidents as they confuse Portuguese drivers into thinking they can carry on at a hundred kph. This is not unhandy for the Farmacists, who get to treat the injured. Sincebtheynall belong to the same trade cartel, there is no good reason to choose one over another. Except, as JW so correctly notes, these shops are inhabited by relics from the old Fascist dictatorship, and try every trick in the book to make you feel like a junkie come in out of the cold with a brown paper bag full of meths, and a collection of child porn hidden accidentally in your State papers.

    It was only when I was wrongly given a box of some tablets intended for someone else that I came to see just how these franchises exploit their employees. At almost midnight there came a knock on the frontmdoor, and there stood one of these gauleiters from our Farmaçia. She told me of the mistake, swapped the pills, and more money changed hands after several forms had been signed in triplicate. “But why did you come round so late?” I asked. The assistant, who was a single mum and had left her children unaccompanied at nearly midnight, sobbed that were the error not corrected that day, she would be fined the market price of over a hundred euros, nearly a week’s wages.

    Farmaçias Portuguesas is a monopoly, closed shop, cartel, franchise , Ponzi scheme. I now take no hostages when getting a prescription made up, and the camp guards offer me a chair while they generate photocopies in triplicate, ask colleagues for thee correct procedures and wonder why this foreigner has the right to enjoy the bureaucratic niceties of this idyllic example of why Portugal has had to sell its soul to the hated Troika!


  6. ”……..Chemists in France are, without exception, patronising jobsworths who dispense all medication with a large dollop of bollocks. The lady sold me some lemon-flavoured stuff that had me farting citrus groves for hours afterwards, and some Gallic mumbo-jumbo alternative nonsense. I offered to go to a doctor for an ordinance, but this only convinced her that I was a troublemaker…….”
    You pick up on several points here:
    a) Patronising jobsworths: Competition badly overdue and needed in this sector invented by and firewall protected by the EU Social Chapter with attitude to match.
    b) National hypochondriac tendencies and rampant alternative nonsense quackery.
    c) Troublemaker. Yes – ‘ English ‘, with independence of thought and speech to boot.

    Our european friends will be taking a long hard look at themselves in 2012 and asking themselves if they are so worldly marvellous after all, and be adjusting their attitude accordingly.
    It is previewed that there will be a lot more egg on faces in the coming months, to put it mildly. This Socialist disaster will soon be pronounced officially DEAD.

    Happy New Year JW – and to all Sloggers.


  7. The year 2012 has just arrived a few minutes a go her in NYC metro. I would like to you wish you all in the UK & (all Slog’s readers) elsewhere a very healthy, happy & prosperous new year. & that goes for you & family too John; I look forward to reading you rather (at times) provocative blogs & enjoy.
    Best wishes for all.


  8. Peter, interesting post (and a good read) from Portugal. We hear little from Portugal except headline figures which tell a macro tale of woe, but it is good to hear about a slice of real life, I, for one, would appreciate an occasional ‘letter from Portugal’ from you. Another stat I see is that Portugal has a very high gap between rich and poor. I presume this is also a fascist carry over. Such a gap is often an indicator (and probable cause) of many social ills. I would like to hear your take on that. BTW last time I drove there, I remember the mad driving and young men on crutches seemed commonplace . Even the craziness of Indian driving feels much safer (bad roads, bullock carts and slow vehicles in a funny way calm the traffic).

    I hope you read this comment and if John thinks likewise and supports my idea, perhaps be can contact you directly. It would a great reality check to balance the endless columns that we plough through about Merkozy, the bankers, media etc etc. . I really want to hear how ordinary people are coping and feeling in other countries.

    Maybe as we go into 2012, the Slog can enter a new mode with more contributions invited from Sloggers around the world, in addition to responses to John’s latest blog.


  9. Happy New year John and I look forward to your views in 2012. As a dyed-in-the-wool contrarian though I believe the concensus will turn out wrong. The reality will either be that the pessimism is being overdone or it will be far, far worse. Let’s hope for the first.


  10. Happy New Year, sun came up and all that….. :-)

    Ok JW – looking forward to hearing some of your 2012 predictions.

    Can we do a check on your 2011 predictions (which from what you say, were mostly correct)?

    For 2012 as a stake in the ground it will be interesting to compare your predictions with Guido’s:

    Guido’s predictions for this year:

    Margaret Thatcher will outlive the €uro as we now know it. If one of the weaker countries doesn’t break free in 2012 it will just mean the crisis will drag on unresolved until 2013.
    The probable Eurozone recession will be worse than the possible UK recession.
    Inflation will drop sharply as the VAT hike falls out of the calculation but it will be stubbornly higher than many forecast. Savers will still face negative real interest rates. There will be no sign of the deflation predicted by Mervyn King since 2008.
    There will be a collapse of another major European bank, arguably some have essentially collapsed already, it is just being hidden by governments and the ECB propping them up.
    Boris will vanquish Ken Livingstone from frontline politics forever.
    Ed Miliband will remain as leader of the Labour Party.
    A Tory cabinet minister will resign in disgrace.


  11. Happy Newro Year everyone!

    In the past few months I’ve read all the links you’ve kindly posted and have become even more amazed at the current mucking awful fuddle. However, I’m grateful to Brian for this positively GCSE grade A material on how our Greek cousins will solve their debt crisis:

    “It is a slow day in a little Greek Village , the rain is beating down and the streets are deserted.

    Times are tough, everybody is in debt, and everybody lives on credit.

    On this particular day a rich German tourist is driving through the village, stops at the local hotel and lays a Euro 100 note on the desk, telling the hotel owner he wants to inspect the rooms upstairs in order to pick one to spend the night.

    The owner gives him some keys and, as soon as the visitor has walked upstairs, the hotelier grabs the Euro 100 note and runs next door to pay his debt to the butcher.

    The butcher takes the Euro 100 note and runs down the street to repay his debt to the pig farmer.

    The pig farmer takes the Euro 100 note and heads off to pay his bill at the supplier of feed and fuel.

    The guy at the Farmers’ Co-op takes the Euro 100 note and runs to pay his drinks bill at the taverna.

    The publican slips the money along to the local prostitute drinking at the bar, who has also been facing hard times and has had to offer him “services” on credit.

    The hooker then rushes to the hotel and pays off her room bill to the hotel owner with the Euro 100 note.

    The hotel proprietor then places the Euro 100 note back on the counter so the rich traveller will not suspect anything.

    At that moment the traveller comes down the stairs, picks up the 100 Euro note, states that the rooms are not satisfactory, pockets the money, and leaves town.

    No one produced anything. No one earned anything.

    However, the whole village is now out of debt and looking to the future with a lot more optimism.

    And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is how the bailout package works or at least most European Politicians and French / Italian Technocrats hope it will work out……”


  12. I will look forward to venting my dismay/angst/irritation via the Slog throughout 2012. I have every confidence there will be sufficient materiel for me to end 2012 a considerable percentage grumpier & angrier than I end this year.

    Happy new year everyone.


  13. Happy New Year from beautiful Wales! It’s raining, of course!

    I look forward to tomorrow, as it brings normality with it. I love normality! Normal routine, normal TV news-times (force of habit), normal food. I have struggled to finish a bottle of Chateauneuf-Du-Pape for the past 3 or 4 days – is it overrated or is it just my palate? I will be truly happy when all of the rich foods are gone and I’m back to more ordinary fare and a decent bottle of Chardonnay/.

    I also look forward to being informed of what has now become ‘normal’, the European Debt Crisis. I believe it will go on and on and on, and on, with the possibility of Greece dropping out of the Euro and then …

    I look forward to your deconstruction of everything in 2012, John and thank you in advance!


  14. …… The other version was :
    It is a slow day in a little Greek village, planet earth. The rain is beating down and the streets are deserted. Times are tough, everybody is in debt, and everybody lives on credit. On this particular day a rich German tourist is driving through the village, stops at the local hotel and lays a €100 note on the desk, telling the hotel owner he wants to inspect the rooms upstairs in order to pick one to spend the night. The owner thinks about maybe beating the tourist to death, but decides to give him some keys and, as soon as the visitor has walked upstairs, the hotelier grabs the €100 note and shoves it in his pocket. He owes Piraeus Bank down the street €100,000 but has little intention of repaying it as his business has been contracting for several years. That bank also has claims of €10,000 on a butcher’s business, €50,000 on a pig farmer, €75,000 to a supplier of feed and fuel, but in turn owes €100,000 to EFG Bank which itself has fractionally reserved claims on a pub owner and a prostitute who bought two homes on 105% Loan to Valuation among many others.

    At that moment the traveler comes down the stairs, states that the rooms are not satisfactory, and asks for his €100 note back. The Greek innkeeper asks “what €100 note?” The German threatens to call the police. The innkeeper says “go ahead, ask for my brother who’s a Lieutenant down at the precinct, he’ll help you out.” The German storms out back into the night, €100 poorer. No one produced anything. No one earned anything. However, the whole village is still buried in debt and looking to the future with a lot more optimism at the thought that maybe the Germans really are that gullible.

    And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is how the bailout package works.


  15. Happy New Year from NL where its also raining. I’ve very much enjoyed this blog and all the comments over the last year especially from around the EU countries. It helps to put all the political bollocks into perspective.
    Being a semi-retired engineer, I’m most depressed by the loss of “making things” in the UK, something the Germans still have. In my business, (underground gas storage at the moment) most items of any value come from Germany, and occasionally Italy. Got most depressed when I heard that even the boats in the Oxford/Cambridge race generally come from Germany. Being positive though, I still hope the Brits can find a way to contribute to Europe (so much needs changing) instead of the continuous bitching and negatives. Dont forget most Europeans speak some english and can follow the news there, but very few Brits know whats being said in other EU countries.


  16. best wishes for a happy and healthy new year to all the sloggers and to john and family of course. ps john up in the mountains dont eat the yellow snow! atb cc


  17. Happy New Year John and to all other sloggers.
    Glad I discovered this site in the last quarter of the year. It has
    helped to put the financial crisis into perspective for me.


  18. “U.S. increases pressure on Iran”

    Call me Dave, if he want’s any “help” tell Obama to sod off.


  19. Quite a good one! The proprietor here seems to have been channeling Rabelais there in his French resort, and the humor is contagious. :)


  20. “I have struggled to finish a bottle of Chateauneuf-Du-Pape for the past 3 or 4 days – is it overrated or is it just my palate?”

    Both, to a certain degree, I’d venture. Highly rated champagnes are perplexing substances in my limited experience. Suffice it to say some are nearly undrinkable, for me at least, while some others, usually even more expensive, are a delight.

    Your ‘Euro debt crisis … on and on and on ..’ is very interesting. Not only jibes with Merkel’s public statements to the effect that resolution will be incremental and more time-consuming than people generally foresee, but is orthogonal to the general apocalyptic projections of fear.

    That last at least, is refreshing. Happy New Year!


  21. From the translation bot:
    “As an example, calls the procurement center Armasuisse about the design of new unmanned drones and other weapons. Their development is so expensive that Switzerland will pay the corresponding projects alone can hardly.”

    My dear late Mother, of Pennsylvania in her youth, used to try to educate me concerning syntax with her favorite citation of generic ‘Pennsylvania-Dutch’, and ask me what I supposed the farmer was saying?

    “Throw me over the fence the cow.”


  22. Happy New Year to you John. Hope you are warmer there than on this oil rig – turbine packed up last night!

    Thanks for all your hard work and excellent posts during 2011.

    Best regards.


  23. I endorse your view of pharmaceutical life in Portugal from personal experience as a Portuguese speaker. It is indeed a hangover from the days of Salazar, as are quite a few other things, though a little influence still goes a long way. The amount of bureaucracy is however not all that unusual down in the south. You could try a farmácia in Spain for example. Their main purpose in life is to create the maximum friction in getting a receta completed, thus reducing the state’s rather enormous bill for pharmaceuticals. Ours, for once, seem to work rather well. There are many things in the Peninsula that need a drastic sort-out, but I have no doubt that both countries will have to be at the gates of hell before that happens. After all, the dictators died in the 1970’s and still their malign influence persists in the bloated and awkward bureaucracies they left behind.


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