All posts by John Band

The problem is you, not the sandwiches

Sorry, has this man actually ever been to London or New York?

At present we are offered a ‘choice’ between an oligopoly of three or four chains, all spending so much money on advertising and formulaic minimalist interiors, that they haven’t got enough left over to spend on a filling, so have to make up for this with mayonnaise. The main alternatives are those italian sandwich bars, which are scarcely any more appetising.

Yet if real, vigorous competition were to arrive – a new cafe selling better food, for a decent price – would anyone notice? If it was in the toytown world of Borough Market, maybe, but elsewhere people would be either too distracted to spot it or then too busy to remember it. The problem in such situations, as the left liked to complain about markets, is inadequate information and rationality. Whereas the discerning New Yorker would discover such a place, tell their friends, and carry on eating there until an even better option had arisen, the Londoner dolefully heads off to Pret for another ‘Bacon Mayo Supermayo’.

I mean, seriously. London’s Italian cafés are pretty good; our chains aren’t at all bad (Eat, Leon and Pret are better than most of the food, chain or non-chain, that gets served anywhere, even if you eat the no-mayo sandwiches, which is a lot of them); and most of New York’s delis are absolutely bloody awful…

Is there a word, beyond ‘lying’, for this kind of claim – that a sandwich served by a company is inherently worse than a sandwich served by a worker, that a small grocery shop provides a better range and better service than a supermarket, that Fawlty Towers is better than a Malmaison, and so on? It’s analogous to the pastoralist belief that 12 hours a day of back-breaking manual labour on a starvation diet followed by death at 40 is better than an oh so unnatural modern lifestyle – and very nearly as silly.

Update: although I stand by my views on London sandwiches in general, the tuna melt I had this lunchtime from Bagel Factory is one of the most inedible things I’ve ever been served – I had to throw it away after a single bite. And I’ve happily eaten chicken feet and fish eyes…

SPV of the week

[Sorry, it's a forward so I can't link the original...]

“Munich Re has launched a bond programme under which $1.5bn in extreme mortality risk will be transferred to the capital markets…. Munich Re said that the programme would protect it against an exceptional rise in mortality after a major pandemic or similar event in the US, Canada, England & Wales, and Germany.”

I’m glad payouts are triggered by Germany as well. Still, it’s going to piss the hell out of the insurees if the bioterrorists go for Bermuda, Scotland, NI and the Netherlands…

Northern Rock again: why Granite isn’t that hard

If the Northern Rock debacle has done nothing else, it’s certainly given a lot of people a great opportunity to rant about things they don’t understand. The latest example is Granite, the name used for a collection of Special Purpose Vehicles [*] and associated companies [**] used by Northern Rock.

According to hard-left MP John McDonnell, Granite “holds approximately 40% of Northern Rock’s assets, around £40bn… where Northern Rock’s best assets sit outside the reach of taxpayers. So the bill to nationalise Northern Rock will, in fact, be nationalising only dodgy debt“.

The good folk of Commentisfree have gone even further to town, uniting socialist idiots and right-wing idiots alike in a chorus of “someone somewhere has carried out a rather large fraud and I would like that someone prosecuted“-type comments.

There’s only one tiny problem with this kind of commentary: it’s bollocks. The mortgages in Granite are exactly the same quality as the mortgages that stayed in NR, nothing untoward took place anywhere along the line (well, not involving SPVs), and NR isn’t liable for Granite’s debts.

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Photography on London Underground is permitted

There’s an occasional debate on whether photography is allowed on the Tube, generally sparked when a staff member harrasses someone for doing it.

The answer is crystal clear: photography is indeed permitted on the Tube without express permission, as long as you don’t do anything dangerous like using a flash, or sell the pictures you take.

TfL’s website confirms that photography on the Tube is allowed for personal use. This is supported by part 10 of rule Sa109 in staff’s Working Reference Manual (I don’t have a copy, but anyone hassling you should), which says:

10.1 Passengers can take photographs with small cameras for private purposes, provided
* flashlights and/or tripods are not used
* No obstruction or inconvenience is caused to staff and/or passengers.

10.2 Representatives of the media, press or photographic agencies and film companies, and other persons taking photographs for commercial purposes must first get permission from the Press Officer.

I think the only reason this is an issue is that the TfL page on commercial photography is easier to find than the one on general photography, and hence one gets mistaken for the other. Hopefully this post will help direct people to the right places…

(thanks to, and also; in response to the comments here)

Am I missing something here?

A surprisingly large number of commentators seem to believe that Northern Rock’s shareholders should be eligible for some kind of compensation, following the bank’s nationalisation. To me, this seems utterly bizarre.

According to the Merril/Citi/Blackstone plan to sell Northern Rock in October 2007 (which was leaked by Bad People, and which certainly can’t be found anywhere on the Internet these days), the bank had mortgage assets in October 2007 of just over £100bn, and liabilities to retail depositors, commercial lenders and the UK government of just under £100bn, giving the company shareholders’ equity of somewhere well south of £5bn (based on its balance sheet, not on share prices).

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…and people criticise me for *my* rhetorical style

Fine 18th century invective from Captain Christopher Middleton, directed against a random idiot who was talking rubbish on the Pamphletnet – a snip at £2,000.

A REJOINDER TO MR. DOBB’S REPLY TO CAPTAIN MIDDLETON; IN WHICH IS EXPOS’D, BOTH HIS WILFUL AND REAL IGNORANCE OF TIDES; &C. HIS JESUITICAL PREVARICATIONS, EVASIONS, FALSITIES, AND FALSE REASONING; HIS AVOIDING TAKING NOTICE OF FACTS, FORMERLY DETECTED AND CHARGED UPON HIM AS INVENTIONS OF HIS OR HIS WITNESSES; THE CHARACTER OF THE LATTER, AND THE PRESENT VIEWS OF THE FORMER, WHICH GAVE RISE TO THE PRESENT DISPUTE. IN A WORD, AN UNPARALELLED DISINGENUITY, AND (TO MAKE USE OF A VERODOBBSICAL FLOWER OF RHETORIC) A GLARING IMPUDENCE, ARE SET IN A FAIR LIGHT. LONDON

Regular readers will doubtless be unsurprised to hear that Captain Middleton turned out to be right in the end.

I tell my mum I play piano in a brothel

If someone had told my 15-year-old self that in the year 2008, I’d be a high-powered professional, up at twenty to one on a Tuesday night in the heart of the big city, eating fried chicken and exploring the innermost parts of models, then I’d’ve been quite pleased about the way my life was going to turn out.

I don’t think I’d heard of financial models when I was 15. And I liked fried chicken quite a bit more than I currently do…