Auntie’s Scandal





My dogs, my novel and my health – not necessarily in that order –  are still the main factors governing my life at present.

My new Labrador, Mickey, (I still can’t decide whether to spell it with or without an ‘e’ – decisions! decisions!), is starting to settle in very well with my happy little pack, although he continues to dominate our spare time as he seems to be perpetually awake, and is always very demanding, in terms of games and attention.

I don’t know if it is typical of Labradors, but he seems to be far more active and agile than Cookie, (my golden retriever) ever was – even in her prime. I suspect it is just Mickey himself – rather than his breed. The dog is very bright – more so, seemingly, than Cookie – and is incredibly agile. I am sure that in the right hands he could be trained into something really special. He can leap so high, from a standing start that it is truly breath-taking and twists and turns his 35 kilo body in all manner of contortions – much like a gymnast.

He never tires of playing and has prestigious reserves of strength. He will ‘rough house’ with us till the cows come home, but what really amuses me is when he ‘ rough-houses with my two little ones, (shih tzsus) and even with ancient, creaky old Cookie when she decides to join in. I hold my heart in my hand as they get really ‘physical’ with each other; snapping their teeth and even the odd growl, but none of them are hurt and all continue to wag their tails – obviously loving every moment.

I have no idea what the ‘pecking order’ is, and which one is the pack leader – if indeed there is one, which I doubt. You might imagine that Mickey, being the strongest and youngest of the four dogs would immediately assume the leadership, but it doesn’t appear to be the case – at least not yet.

I have observed them closely in fascination; the little ones aren’t afraid of him and neither is Cookie. When Cookie blocks the way out of the door by lying across the exit gap, Mickey patiently waits until Cookie decides to get up and move. Ditto the little dogs. They all seem to co-exist with each other without any one of them portraying any leadership traits; so I can only conclude that I – Mobi – am the pack leader. They certainly jump and obey whenever I assert my authority. Who knows? Any dog experts out there?

I think I am making progress in training Mickey to walk ‘to heel’ on a short lead, but – oh boy – is it hard work? He is a very strong and sometimes a very stubborn dog and it takes all my less than impressive strength to try and keep him under control. He will mostly sit when instructed and ‘heel’ at my call, but at the slightest sign of distraction – of which there are many – his stubborn streak will come into play and it becomes a mighty battle between an ageing, sickly man, and a young male  beast at the height of his powers!

I have given up taking him for long walks as it absolutely drains my energy, so I now take him for one very short walk in the mornings, (along with Cookie who happily hobbles along by my side without a lead and sits whenever I tell Mickey to sit to show him how it should be done), and a slightly longer walk with all the other dogs in the late afternoon. It is all I can manage without collapsing in a sweaty heap, but I think that I am slowly, but surely winning the day.

I am sure this all good exercise for me although for a while I was starting to wonder if all my strength had finally deserted me. Now I realise that a strong, stubborn dog can force me into utilising muscles and energy that I never knew I had!

On the health front, I am continuing to self-medicate and my INR blood readings couldn’t be more perfect. My blood pressure still gives me a little cause for concern, being almost too low at certain points of the day and too high in the late evening and early morning. I have finally weaned myself off the drug I was taking to prevent atrial fibrillations, so I will monitor my progress carefully over the next few weeks. I am pretty convinced that the reason I had the ‘A-Fib’ was because my BP and heart rate was too high, so as long as I keep them under control I should be OK.

That’s the theory, anyway….

Auntie’s Scandal 

Long term readers of my blog will know that I am not always totally enamoured with the BBC’s output, and in particular their World TV News service which, although having improved somewhat in recent months, still frequently leaves much to be desired in terms of professionalism, technical content, creativity and choice of news items.

But if only they would get rid of that bombastic Nik Gowing from their evening news programme –  ‘The Hub’, I would die a happy man. He always looks and sounds like someone from a state-controlled, communist era ‘big brother’ news service, than from what is supposedly the finest free public news service the world has ever known. (Only joking…)

The fact remains that all the other news readers, without exception, have a soft spoken, non-confrontational style that puts across the news clearly and distinctly; without affectation and without trying to become part of the news they are presenting.

Putting my antipathy to poor old ‘Nik’ aside for a moment, the recent problems which have beset the BBC and which have garnered adverse banner headlines all over the world, have, in my humble opinion,been somewhat  overdone.

Having said that, no-one would dare to suggest that Newsnight’s failure to broadcast the Savile documentary and then its subsequent broadcasting of unsubstantiated, vile allegations against a public figure should not be condemned in the highest possible terms. Further, there is no doubt that the people responsible should be held well and truly to account and that an enquiry must establish just why these bad decisions came to be taken in the first place.

But looked at in the context of the entire BBC organisation, that broadcasts 24/7 on countless radio and television frequencies, not only in the UK but throughout the world, produces some of the most informative news websites that are available in the free world and is a producer of some the finest dramas, documentaries and news programmes ever transmitted; then I personally feel that two, unquestionably serious errors of judgement, by a single TV news programme with a previously unblemished record, should not be considered to be the precipitant of  the downfall the entire BBC organisation as we know it.  

The furore, mainly led by the print press that hates the BBC with a purple passion for their part in exposing their illegal phone hacking and other excesses, is clearly over the top and disproportionate to the crimes committed.

I mean… nobody is suggesting that we abandon our parliamentary democracy just because a few MP’s fiddled their expenses. Our current political system may be a long way from being perfect – but it’s the best we’ve got.

And so it is with the good old, ‘auntie’ BBC. I may launch the occasional ‘broadside’ against it – but it’s still my favourite Auntie and I still love her dearly – so please don’t take her away over a couple of very silly, albeit very regrettable errors of judgements.

After all, the allegations which have surfaced, mainly concern offences that occurred many years ago in a different era and very few – if any – of the current BBC staff were around at the time. Lets’ not get too obsessed about all of this.

As for their late and little-lamented head honcho – the estimable George Entwhistle; well quite frankly, the man’s very brief performance as Director General of one of the finest broadcast organisations that had ever existed, beggars belief.

I listened to BBC’s John Sergeant the other week when he tried to explain to us, the humble licence payers – uninitiated in the ways of the BBC – how the BBC culture would tend to dissuade Entwhistle from being inquisitive when he was informed that Newsnight had decided to cancel its expose on Savile. The rationale sounded a bit naff – given that Entwhistle was in charge of all TV output at the time, and as such, should have had a natural curiosity on what was clearly a significant subject, given that it impacted other programming over the holiday period.

But even if we forgive him that ‘hiccup’, how on earth could anyone countenance the Editor in Chief not having the slightest clue about the forthcoming Newsnight programme that made serious allegations against a former government minister and the tweet that announced its imminent transmission, and even the subsequent news article in the Guardian?

Entwhistle stated publicly that knew nothing about any of these events. Why? Because he was giving a speech!!!

OK, we can fully understand that the BBC Director General would not be aware in advance of every news programme that BBC puts out – that would clearly be impossible.

But given the current furore over News night and the subject matter in particular, then surely anyone with a modicum of ‘nous’ would not only have personally kept his ears and eyes to the ground to pick up any related developments, but would have also ensured that his team of advisers, sycophants and underlings would have kept a careful look-out for what was going on the wide world of then BBC, and kept him fully informed at all times – day and night.

It’s known as ‘leadership’ – something that the new DG clearly knew little about.

John Humphreys’ interview on radio 4 on the day Entwhistle resigned was truly a ‘tour de force’. The course of the interview made it absolutely clear that Entwhistle was completely out of his depth in such an exalted position and he showed the world for what he was; and incompetent, bumbling second rate executive who could barely string a lucid sentence together, let alone begin to run an organisation as large and diverse as the BBC. 

And while we’re on the subject of resignations, it seems to me inconceivable that the Chairman of The BBC, Chris Patten, should not also fall on his sword. What on earth prompted him to appoint an inept dolt to such a high office in the first place? He must have been drunk.

Still, with a name like ‘Entwhistle – what could you expect??

Taxing Times

Starbucks, Amazon and Google were recently accused of being “immoral”, “manipulative” and of “practising tax avoidance on an industrial scale” by a UK parliamentary Public Accounts committee.

The US companies were branded a disgrace by MPs who uncovered information about Starbucks’ “sweetheart deal” with Dutch tax authorities and attacked Amazon in the face of revelations about a £142m French tax probe.

The fiery exchange, led by Public Accounts Committee chairman Margaret Hodge, saw all three companies accused of siphoning profits away from Britain by using a complex web of accounting strategies that were cynical and “unjust”.

“We are not accusing you of being illegal,” said Mrs Hodge, “we are accusing you of being immoral.”

Immoral? Or just looking out for their shareholders – which is what any Chief Financial officer worth his sort should be doing. I should know – I used to be one, and I used to spend a great deal of my valuable time working out legal ways to minimise my employer’s world-wide tax bill.

The committee of MP’s apparently expressed shock at revelations that Starbucks had signed a secret deal in the Netherlands – where it has its European headquarters – to pay a discount rate of corporation tax. We learnt that in the UK, Starbucks has paid £8.6m of tax in the last 14 years thanks to reporting losses on it audited accounts in all but one of those years. But Starbucks UK also pays a long list of fees for royalties, intellectual property rights and interest on loans to other Starbucks divisions in Amsterdam, Switzerland and to the parent company in the US. In Amsterdam, Starbucks employs 220 people, compared with 6,500 in the UK, raising questions about where economic activity is concentrated.

In a further disclosure, it emerged that Starbucks’ Swiss business – which trades coffee, pays 12pc corporation tax and employs just 40 people – charges the UK arm a 20pc premium for the coffee it sells to it.

Then there is the proverbial filing cabinet with an agreement in it that states that it owns the Starbucks or Google brand name in an office in Luxembourg that seems to constitute a trading ‘activity’.

But the bottom line is that everything that Starbucks, Amazon and Google amongst other international taxpayers do to reduce their European tax bill is perfectly legal.

But by enjoying a low or nil rate of tax, Starbucks’ UK based competitors, such as Costa Coffee, and Café Nero  and Amazon’s UK competitors, such as Comet and John Lewis, operate under a severe trading disadvantage.

Can you imagine what the shareholders of Starbucks of Amazon might say if these companies volunteered to pay more tax in the UK because they felt that what they were doing was immoral? A lot of nonsense isn’t it?

This committee shouldn’t be accusing these very successful companies of sharp practice – they should be exhorting their Chancellor to get to grips with outdated tax laws and ensure that all these  corporations pay an equitable amount of tax on ‘deemed’ trading profits within the UK. All you need to do is to come up with some simple profit-calculating formulas.

I’ll even come out of retirement and give you a few pointers if you like.

It is not beyond the wit of man – not even of the dimwit Osbourne and his cronies at the Ministry of Finance – to draft some new tax laws that can catch these international behemoths more effectively into the UK tax net.

Come on Georgie Porgie!” Get you get your effing finger out of your effing pie and do something constructive for your long suffering electorate!


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