Tag Archives: NATO

The greatest mystery in all of China is to be found in a Northwood restaurant

I will be going to see more movies in the China Image Film Festival in London later today.

In round figures, there are 4,000 cinema screens in the UK.

In China – a vastly larger country – there are only 6,000 screens.

But, within the next five years, China will have 20,000 screens and will become the second biggest film industry in the world after the US – larger than India’s Bollywood. In the last year alone, there were 500 films made in China.

I had a meal in a Chinese restaurant in Northwood last night, not far from ’the bunker’, and got home to watch yet more on the BBC News channel about a world economic situation that is barely – or perhaps not – under control. All the ‘advanced’ countries seem to be in debt that will stretch decades into the future.

But China is sitting on vast amounts of money. The irony of a Communist country becoming rich on capitalism.

The last decade was all about China making things but the next decade will be all about China owning things.

Which reminds me of something a history teacher once said as a throwaway line at my school when I was about 13.

He said: “Civilisation and power moves westwards because invading armies have always ridden westwards, following the daylight.”

Trite, of course.

But, in the northern hemisphere, it is roughly true.

At the moment, power is moving from North America to the Pacific Rim (a phrase that always sounds to me like a dubious sexual practice).

What confuses me is that the Chinese are very expansionist of late.

They have been putting money into Africa, especially into very suspect regimes, for a couple of decades. They are building an aircraft carrier or, at least, have refitted a Russian one. They are now investing heavily in the West.

This seems very un-Chinese. The Great Wall was built to keep the uncivilised long-nosed foreign devils out and to preserve the integrity of China which, with quite a lot of justification, looked inward at itself as the only truly civilised place.

Japan was always the regional expansionist power, not China.

Of course, there was the invasion of Tibet in 1949, but that seemed an unfortunate exception to the rule and a knee-jerk reaction after Mao Tse-tung’s Communists took power.

It seems to be very un-Chinese to be expansionist. It is a great mystery.

Though, sitting in a Chinese restaurant in Northwood last night, it was secondary as a mystery in my mind to the greater ongoing mystery of why the Chinese – who, let’s face it,  invented pretty much everything – never invented the teacup handle not the knife-and-fork. And why on earth were chopsticks thought to be a good idea in a nation where the staple diet was and is based around small grains of rice?

Life is a constant mystery.

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Filed under China, Food, History, Movies, Travel

The Prime Minister, sex, sleaze, prostitutes and Boris Johnson

A friend of mine – an Englishman in Italy – used to work for a large international conglomerate and, in the 1990s, once had to take a briefcase stuffed with cash to Rome Airport and hand it over to a civil servant. Everyone accepted that was how the wheels were greased. That was how the Italian state worked.

I also used to know someone involved with an Italian TV show which had to employ a girlfriend of now-deceased Prime Minister Bettino Craxi on their series. In fact, that underestimates her role: she actually arranged orgies for Prime Minister Craxi. My chum thought, “Ooh, now there’s a big secret I know about!” But then he discovered everyone knew about the supposed ‘scandal’ and it was almost routinely printed in Italian newspapers and magazines; everyone just accepted it. That was how the Italian state worked.

So I am a tad surprised as well as being in moral confusion about the current Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s problems.

He is immensely entertaining, which is always a bonus in my eyes. A bit like London’s current mayor Boris Johnson but with dyed hair. My heart takes flight when I hear any news item about either Boris or Silvio. I just know it’s going to be knockabout laugh-a-minute stuff.

But now Silvio is accused of having sex with an under-aged prostitute. This is not good. He faces a court case and a potential 15 years in prison. This is definitely not good.

The age of consent in Italy is generally 14, though 13-year-olds can legally have sex with partners who are less than three years older. This seems much too low to me but, if that is the law in Italy, then that is what good Italians Catholics have decided is morally acceptable. As I understand it, the girl involved in the Berlusconi case was 17 when the alleged sex took place and, while prostitution is legal in Italy – just as it is in the UK – it is illegal in Italy for a man to have sex with a prostitute under 18.

So the girl involved was three years over the general age of consent but one year under the legal age for sexual consent as a prostitute. This seems a very complicated moral quagmire within Italy, though I can see why sex with a prostitute under 18 is proscribed.

However, both Silvio and the girl totally deny sex took place. If they both deny it, then quite how evidence can be presented that it did take place I don’t know. There was a payment of £6,000 but apparently well after the alleged sex allegedly happened and Silvio and the girl both claim the payment was connected to something totally different. He also got her released from police custody in a separate incident, but that is more abuse of power than directly relevant the sex charges. It’s all a bit murky but sounds too circumstantial for a prosecution.

They could be lying through their teeth, of course, though I’m not sure why a young prostitute would not admit sex took place if she is going to become rich on selling the whole story to the media.

There is also the question in my mind of why on earth Silvio Berlsconi would have to pay for sex with a girl. Call me cynical, but the man is a billionaire, he owns a string of high-profile populist TV stations so he can get anyone he wants onto TV and he is the most powerful politician in the country! Any one of those three facts, in my experience, would mean lithe young nymphettes would be throwing themselves at him for free every day! The casting couch stretches beyond the movie business.

Heavens! Nymphettes throw themselves at impoverished comedians in dodgy basement clubs on a nightly basis let alone powerful billionaires who can get them on several national television series.

BBC News reported that Silvio Berlusconi reckons he has been in court over 2,500 times during various cases over the years. He has been accused of tax fraud, corruption, infidelity, Mafia involvement, you name it. I’m surprised he hasn’t been accused of illegally importing birds’ eggs. At least once he was accused of paying bribes on behalf of his companies at a time when no large company in Italy could operate without paying bribes. It struck me as a purely politically-motivated prosecution. That was/is how the Italian state worked/works.

Last year he was accused of being a member of an alleged secret organisation allegedly called P3 – a revival, it was said, of the infamous Masonic lodge P2 – Propaganda Due which existed from 1946 to at least 1981 and of which Silvio really was a member.

I have no idea if he is guilty or innocent of the current charges. He is certainly not an innocent man in general. And Italy – run by P2 and the Mafia from the end of the Second World War to perhaps the mid-70s – is most certainly not an innocent country.

P2 comprised prominent politicians, industrialists, bankers, journalists and military leaders, the heads of all three Italian intelligence services and even the pretender to the Italian throne. In 1977, P2 took over the influential Corriere della Sera newspaper; it was rumoured to be involved in the 1982 killing of ‘God’s banker’ Roberto Calvi, who was found hanging under Blackfriars Bridge in London, and it even had rumoured links to the 1980 bombing of Bologna railway station and the 1978 killing of former Prime Minister Aldo Moro by the heavily-infiltrated Red Brigades (allegedly because he had started to talk about NATO’s secret Gladio network).

It feels to me that Silvio is being stitched-up at the moment. He may very well be a reprehensible, ageing sleazeball, but this is a case where every fact seems to swirl in very muddied waters indeed.

It is not as if Silvio Berlusconi was running a prostitution racket, is it…

Is it?

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Filed under Crime, History, Newspapers, Politics, Sex, Television

Bankers, Cockney rhyming slang and a very wise woman

There’s a report out today about the British banking system. About whether the banks are too big. The problem for me isn’t size, it’s efficiency – and I wish I could say that in reference to other areas of my life.

The words “piss-up”, “brewery”, “in”, a”, “organise” and “couldn’t” spring to mind and the Cockney rhyming slang for “wankers” comes as no surprise to me.

For many years, my current account has been with Bank of Scotland; I also have an account with Halifax, which is part of Bank of Scotland. Both are now owned by Lloyds Bank.

Because of the lack of Bank of Scotland branches in London, I have long paid money into my BoS account via Halifax: I just walk into any Halifax branch with my BoS Cashcard and pay money into my BoS account.

If I want to pay a bill – a gas or electricity bill or anything else, I can now just go into any branch of Lloyds Bank with the appropriate paying-in slip and pay the bill using a Bank of Scotland cheque.

Yesterday, I attempted to pay a Virgin Media cheque into my own Bank of Scotland current account at a Lloyds branch.

I was told I could not pay anything into my Bank of Scotland current account – not a cheque, not cash – because, although Lloyds own Bank of Scotland, it is “a separate bank”.

Well, chums, Bank of Scotland and Halifax are equally separate, but I can still pay money into BoS via Halifax – and I can still pay a bill via Lloyds using a Bank of Scotland cheque.

So I can pay money into other people’s accounts with other banks via Lloyds, but I cannot pay money into my own Bank of Scotland account, despite the fact Lloyds own Bank of Scotland.

We appear to have entered a surreal parallel universe here.

So I am moving my account to Royal Bank of Scotland. They have not-a-lot of branches in London, but they do own NatWest Bank and I can simply walk into any NatWest branch and pay money into a Royal Bank of Scotland account. No problem.

Lloyds may not be too big to survive. But it is certainly too incompetent to survive.

I remember standing in Liverpool Street station in the heart of the City of London one Friday afternoon at 4.30pm watching City workers going home, early, paralytically drunk. Not just swaying but staggering, their limbs jerking erratically like headless chickens with Parkinson’s Disease wearing dark business suits.

These were not old drunken men; they were bright young City dudes in their twenties and early thirties and they must have been drinking all afternoon, while foggy-mindedly running the UK economy in the financial powerhouse that is the City of London.

I had money in two Icelandic banks when their entire financial system disintegrated in 2007. Those two banks were each more efficient than Lloyds Bank – and they both crashed. I suspect those Icelandic bankers did not drink ‘on the job’.

British bankers do.

Whither the British banking system?

Whither Lloyds?

The mother of a friend of mine used to live in various dodgy foreign countries (her husband was in the RAF and she later worked for NATO). She wore a series of thin but pure gold bracelets on her wrists because she knew, with them, she could buy her way out of any country if it suddenly collapsed.

A very wise woman.

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Filed under Consumer Affairs, Finance, Politics