- Written by Patrick Street
....a slightly sideways look at last week’s news with Patrick Street. I’m sure you’ve noticed that when the “doodah hits the fan,” Prime Ministers seem always to be conspicuous by their absence. Gordon “Macavity” Brown being an excellent example, Passos “The Invisible Man” Coelho is another. The effect of Coelho’s disappearance from the stage is that all the bad news emanating from the government (perhaps I mean The Troika) is delivered by some underling.
As most of the bad news around Portugal is financial, the current “Aunt Sally” is the much maligned Finance Minister, Vitor “Last Gasp” Gaspar. Poor old Vitor! Every week, sometime two or three times a week, he’s rolled out from his room at the funny farm to break the next tranche of dire news to the public. Tax hikes, IVA hikes, benefit de-hikes, social security hikes etc. This week’s nugget, obviously designed to cheer us all up was his announcement that, “Portugal had successfully returned to the bond market at favourable rates.” What? The little tinker was pulling our legs I think. Swopping bonds due for repayment in 2013 for others which mature in 2015 isn’t borrowing money at favourable rates Vitor; it’s putting off the inevitable! MasterCard and Visa will do the same thing if you can’t pay off your card debt! Presumably he announced this with a straight face before slipping in a bit of truth by also mentioning in passing that, “Portugal was staring bankruptcy in the face and was one step away from being unable to pay wages and pensions.” Hardly surprising the Prime Minister is permanently indisposed.
There was a salutary warning for dear old Vitor this week. A New York hedge fund boss is being dubbed a real pirate of the Caribbean after seizing the flagship of the Argentinean navy in an attempt to settle some of the country's huge debt. Billionaire Paul Singer took control of the tall ship the A.R.A. Libertad with a court order in Ghana this week. The triple-mast frigate, which stopped in the African country as it trained naval cadets, is valued at $10 million and is the ceremonial flagship of the Argentine fleet. Singer's Elliot Management Corp. owns $1.6 billion of Argentine debt, a drop in the ocean of the country's record $95 billion default in 2001. Singer reportedly monitored the course of the ship as it sailed around world waiting for a chance to strike. And the gambit has paid off. A Ghana court backed the seizure, ordering the Argentine government to pay an undisclosed sum before the ship will be released to them. If they refuse payment, Singer can keep the ship. In the wake of Singer's financial swashbuckling, Argentina has denounced him as an 'unscrupulous financier,' calling the move a 'sneak attack of the vulture funds' and a violation of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic immunity. Hmmm. Argentine officials have vowed not to pay the bounty, saying they wouldn't give in to 'international extortion.' Neither will the Falkland Islanders mate. It’s not clear whether Singer owns any Portuguese debt but it’s understood the government have ordered the Maritime Police to place a guard on Boa Esperança in Lagos Marina!
Of 110Kg of Octopus landed at Tavira during the week the Marine Police, believe it or not, found 41Kg to be below the minimum legal size. Now there’s a surprise. As the unfortunate animals had already had their heads bashed against the side of a boat and then turned inside out and were, consequently, ex-Octopus their remains were confiscated and donated to various local charities. Oh yes! Anyway, no doubt if this carries on, and it surely will, there’ll be no Polvo around in a few years time so the problem will solve itself. I find that sad, being from a large family we always had an Octopus for Xmas lunch. There was never an argument, everyone got a leg!
There was more bad news for the Algarve when “Mad Mick” O’Leary, the Irish boss of Ryanair declared that in his opinion holidays were a waste of time and the only reason he took one was because his family insisted he did. He’s wrong! After been stuck on Ryanair for three hours everyone needs a week on the beach to get over it.
The Pope’s butler, Paolo Gabriele, went on trial in the Vatican this week accused of burgling his boss. Over a period of years he removed documents from the Pontiffs office and passing them on to newspapers hostile to the Catholic Church (Doesn’t narrow it down much) proving, in his words, “the extent of corruption within the Church of Rome.” Would you believe it? Since his arrest by the Vatican security apparatus he claims to have been subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment. He says he was kept in a tiny cell at the headquarters of the Pope's police force, with the lights on constantly, which he said contributed to his 'psychological depression.' He also claims the cell he was kept in after his arrest was so narrow he could not stretch out his arms. Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, insisted that the size of the cell, and the conditions under which Gabriele was held for just over two months, conformed to international standards, adding that if Gabriele thinks his treatment is harsh, he should think himself lucky he’s not a choir boy! Quiet! Anyway, the miscreant was, of course, found guilty and sentenced to 18 months in the slammer. As the Vatican doesn’t have a jail he will spend the time under house arrest in his grace and favour house within the Vatican itself. He will keep his home and pension and be found another job within the “family.” And of course the Pope will forgive him, providing he keeps his mouth shut. If he doesn’t, he will no doubt wake up one morning with a horse’s head on the pillow next to him.
Stephen Fry, Britain’s second most popular queen, has attacked critics of same sex marriage by claiming there are 260 species of animal which display gay tendencies - but only humans are homophobic. Fry was speaking during a new video for the Out4Marriage campaign, which supports changing the law to allow gay couples to marry. During the three-minute monologue, he said: “At least 260 species of animal have been noted exhibiting homosexual behaviour but only one species of animal ever, so far as we know, has exhibited homophobic behaviour — and that’s the human being.” Sorry dear, wrong! Ask any Portuguese cat owner who refuses to have his male animal neutered because it turns them gay.' I kid you not.
It would be churlish not to mention the Labour Party Conference that took place somewhere this week, the hall of the people in Pyongyang possibly. In keeping with tradition it was, according to reports (I couldn’t be bothered to watch much of it), mind numbingly boring and full of the standard bolshie rhetoric. For the assembled proletariat the highlight of the week was the speech by chief commissar of the Presidium, their glorious leader, Comrade Ed. (This I confess I watched. I further confess that most of the time, I had no idea what he was on about.) I started the head scratching when he announced that his family had not spent the past 500 years sitting under an oak tree. The consensus from later analysis on the telly being, that he was not from the shires. (Did anyone ever think it?) Not for him that most English of symbols, the noble oak. His people had come from Middle Europe, he proudly announced, and had fled persecution from someone or other, “unlike snooty Anglo-Saxon Cameron,” as he did not quite say. He stuck a casual hand in his pocket and did a riff about his ‘tough’ schooldays and how he wouldn’t be standing where he was if he hadn’t been to a comprehensive school’. Only a spoilsport would observe that Tony Blair attended Fettes, the Eton of Scotland. He acknowledged, without quite saying it, that his father was a raving Marxist, announcing in contrast that he, Ed Miliband, was ‘a person of faith’: a bit odd that, as he has always claimed to be atheist. But immediately he spoilt it by explaining that his ‘faith’ was ‘not a religious faith, but a faith nonetheless – a duty to leave the world a better place’. He could, by leaving it. According to sources, during the speech he mentioned “One Nation” forty six times. I’m not sure if that’s one nation forty six times or forty six nations once each. I don’t really care, after the tenth mention I was heading for the fridge for a malt and barley antidote.
The final word, literally, this week comes from Cromarty in North East Scotland. The Scottish Black Isle dialect is silenced forever as its last native speaker died this week aged 92. Bobby Hogg was the only person still fluent in the age-old tongue of the Black Isle and his death at the age of 92 means it is now defunct. It was a traditional dialect used for centuries by fisher folk, but yesterday it was confirmed by the town’s Mayor that the language of Cromarty had finally died with the passing of its last speaker. On his death bed and with his final breath, Bobby raised his head from his pillow and uttered his final words on this earth. “Druntyach a haffleen naudhin ol roosky a yacaach bodis askhon sharf.” How touching! Anyone know what it means?
Have a good week.