The banking crisis. Word of honour!


The chief executive of Barclays is an American, Bob Diamond. He overlooked the malpractice of his traders to “protect” his bank during the banking crisis. He rigged the market! He has now been forced to admit it….but other banks were doing it, too…so he says, so he had to!!

This wreaks of the American gung-ho attitude: all risk is great until it isn’t and then its tears all round.

We have drifted too far from reality, from morality. But it is morality, “word of honour” that underwrites capitalism. We seem to have lost a grasp of that. But, we will all have to bear the consequences this time.

RBS, HSBC, Lloyds and perhaps 20 other large banks including Citi, Deutch and UBS are being investigated for price fixing and fraud. They will be fined hundreds of millions of pounds/dollars or whatever. But, these dishonest people, though they may destroy the reputation of the City of London, their banks and heap even more trouble on all our heads, will not be punished personally. Why? Because the law has no provision for such situations. It was unimaginable.

After today’s High Court judgement, at least the Americans will have a universal health care system for everyone. The new world is catching up with the old in some areas. Good. In other areas they are undermining our society with their rampant version of capitalism. This has to stop.


Once famous, now in Warsaw

Well spoken, nice looking, the young doorman at the Hyatt hopes to read American studies at Warsaw University. A junior diplomat at a European embassy looked blank when I mentioned the name. At least the doorman said that he thought he was a Nobel laureate or something.


I am involved in a lovely project. The recording in English and Polish of the entire works of Joseph Conrad. Apparently, very little of his stuff has been recorded so this will have historic importance. The release of the recordings will coincide with the opening of a new museum at his place of birth in what is now in the Ukraine. Currently, I am working on Amy Forster. If you want to understand how a Polish immigrant found England 120 years ago and, indeed, strangely similar to how my father described his first impressions of England in 1945, then I recommend this short story. When offered a lump of white bread by the servant girl Amy, the starving Janko`s first amazed reaction is that this is the bread of the rich. He handles it with reverence and wonder before gulping it down.


After my daily workout in the Hyatt gym, 450 pln a month which, if you go every day as I have to, makes it cheaper than any public gym and pool in Warsaw, I have a cup of tea in the hall and study the text for a while. Yesterday, I observed a large van pull up at the front door from which a small group of people emerged. A very tall blond elderly woman dominated, but the centre of attention was her husband, a squat man with strongly Semitic features, whose puffy skin shone in the way that it does on people who are used to being looked at.


I met this couple years ago at the British Residence in Rome. I particularly remember the day. My wonderful American brogues were in dire need of repair and the cardboard I had put in them to offer some comfort from the bare cobbles of the streets had given up the fight to the stony gravel of the drive of the Villa Wolkonsky. My feet were sore but the embassy carpets were thick and comforting. The sense of relief rather outweighed the awe I should have felt at being presented to probably the most famous politican of his era. 27 years later, the man who opened the door to China entered the Hyatt Hotel almost unrecognised. Henry Kissinger.


What the Poles haven`t got that the English,Scots and a lot of others have.

There is a profound spirituality in the inhabitants of the British Isles that many people of other nations and, indeed, sometimes, too eager to live up to Napoleon’s description of them, the British themselves fail to observe.

However, look at any flag pole bearing the flags of those nations or, even better, the Union flag itself, and there it is, as clear as day, a representation of the Christian faith. It was only this morning that, cycling around Warsaw, seeing the flags of Europe, it came home to me.

The Poles may have Jesus Christ and Mary as the unannointed monarchs of their Republic, but they have not got a cross in the flag. I am surprised that no political party has picked up on that.

The Warsaw Marriot: avoid it if you value your health

  Earlier this evening I went to the Marriott Hotel to meet some people for a drink. Though the city was quiet, a night off from the football crazed, the air was heavy and on arrival I made straight for the gents.


The day had been long and stressful, spent at the Ministry of Culture debating the future programme of the state music schools, something I am sure I will tell you about at some other time. I was looking forward to washing my hands and face, not only because of the stickiness but also because the hair oil I am using has a tendency to dissolve down the forehead whenever the temperature rises much above mild. What greeted me in the gents of this supposed five star hotel, the infamous underground facilities at Nottinghill, where Michael George was taken into custody, could not hope to compare with. No soap. No soap? None of the soap dispensers worked.


I went to the front desk and summond the manager.

 “I can’t find him,” said the agitated receptionist. “Would you like to wait?”  

“No”. Why should wait to tell the manager his job?  

“Are you a guest?” I shook my head. I imagined I’d just missed out on a compensatory bottle of champagne or a box of custom made chocolates, though since the front desk was littered with bowls offering tired strawberries to the weary traveller, I might have been offered some healthier, less welcome  option.


“Just make sure he gets the message, if you would be so kind?”


In the lift a young man with a swarthy complexion, bottom bulging out of the waist of his designer jeans, was picking his teeth with his fingers. Unwashed, no doubt. What an unsavoury place.

A generation with an inflated view of itself. Mine.

Many people I’ve been talking to recently are certain that Poland is in for a nasty shock. EU funding will diminish next year and the unemployment levels in the young are set to soar, especially since so many young people who have emigrated westwards will be forced to return to Poland because of the long overdue economic reality hitting the Euro-zone. Only, don’t tell the government, not that it will disturb their sleep.


The Tusk government has achieved very, very little. Yes, it is competent at managing the press (but what a press!) and putting on a good PR front. But, infrastructure lags and they have not challenged the one area in Polish life that is doing more damage than anything else: the public sector. Power remains in the hands of a protected group as much as it did before 1989, except that it is growing and at our expense (I’ll come back to that).


If the public sector works, if it encourages deregulation (some hope) and facilitates education, business and the creation of wealth, all to the good. But, it does not. All it does is to obstruct and absorb money, our money, our children’s money and our grand children’s, to the umpteenth generation. Do you recognise something of the Old Testament about this?


Edmund Burke, the great British 18th century all-rounder wrote of a social contract between generations. I am deeply sorry that my generation has broken that contract both through our greed and our inability to make decisions, take the long view and live within our means.


50% of young people in Spain and Greece are unemployed. This is what Poland is about to offer its young peopleĀ….oh, and a stomping great bill for our inflated view of our right to a standard of living.  Young people, now is the time for action.


Team work in schools and careers advice for the young…the lessons of last night!

divdivThe defeat last night highlights the failure of team work. Two or three players made all the running and when they were exhausted in the second half, the team collapsed. This is the big Polish problem and it effects every part of the economy and society. Adrenolin driven emotion is no substitute for skills, vision and teamwork. This is why the performing arts are so essential in school and the mentoring of the young in all fields vital.

Wine snobs should listen to their taste buds!

  Few things irritate me more than wine snobbery. Near where I live in Mokotow there is a wine bar, perfectly decent in itself with a well chosen but overpriced selection of wines (I prefer the range and prices of Marks and Spencer so I rarely buy anything there apart from the odd glass of an evening when loneliness becomes intolerable.) The maitre knows his stuff and so does one member of his staff. The rest leg it. But that hardly matters. Almost all of the customers know nothing about wine at all. Yet the poor staff feels duty bound to go through the motions of treating them as if they do: presenting the bottle, the sniffing, the nodding of the head in approval (though not always: sometimes someone, if a girl friend is sitting opposite, will take a macho stand and send the bottle back, but not very often). Usually, it’s a matter of pearls before swine.


Yesterday in The New Yorker there was a marvellous piece which blew the whole facade apart. French and American experts were unable to tell the difference between the best Bordeaux and a New Jersey plonk. Because the wines were dished up in tinted glasses, some of the “masters” could not even tell the difference between red and white wines, which I should have thought was pretty basic.


Apparently, when buying wine our brain plays tricks with us. If we know it’s expensive, with a fancy label, nicely served, we are more likely to like what we taste. If we know it’s cheap we are programme to be critical. If it is served up to us in a bottle without a label and we have to make up our own minds without any aids, then, invariably we get stuck. We don’t know what to think. Of course, the more sensible of us will listen to our taste buds, if we have the nerve!