Sunday, September 9, 2007

Only the birds are coming home!

Have you heard of the crisis in the US sub-prime market? If not, you're about to.

American banks have been lending shed loads of money to the sub-prime market, simply put – lending money to people who have a bad credit history.

This business is high risk, so the banks charge higher rates of interest and secure the risk by a charge on the property. Which is all fine and dandy in a booming housing market.

This banking debt then becomes commercial paper and a financial commodity, to be bought and sold. The banks start trading in this paper to take the capital off their balance sheets and increase their liquidity. This brings in more cash and the whole lending cycle starts over again with a batch of new high risk customers and the deadly game of financial musical chairs is in play.

By the way, the music in this high risk game is the regular siren of increasing property prices.

Now for the fun bit, but its not funny at all. It hurts everyone - industry, business and our pensions. Surprise surprise - the risky customers in what is laughingly called the “sub prime market” are in over their heads with personal debt and decide not to pay their mortgages and so the banks begin fore closure proceedings.

This in fine until a trickle of bad debt, turns into a river and then a deep sea of debt and properties begin to flood onto the market. This glut of houses outstrips demand in the US and house prices fall sharply which consequently undermines the value of the huge commercial paper in the banking system.

The music in our game of financial chairs has now become deafening in its silence.

But in our game there isn't a chair left - just bewilderment as the key players stand around, scratching their heads and asking, “whose sitting with the debt-ridden commercial paper?

While everyone is waiting to find out who is holding the baby, sales of commercial paper dries up, there is a squeeze on credit and there is a serious loss of confidence in our financial institutions and the world markets.

You might imagine, this is a problem for the US banks and not ours - you would be wrong - we live and work in a global economy and when the US sneezes, we get the flu.

The birds are coming home to roost, but not the sub-prime customers - their homes have already been repossessed.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

The first Richmond

The first Richmond and mother of the 57 Richmond's across the globe, is a small Georgian market town in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales from which the song, “The Sweet Lass of Richmond Hill” was written.

Richmond is built around the Norman castle which towers above the River Swale. The name Richmond, comes from the Norman - Riche-Mont, to mean, Strong Hill. The castle was built in 1071 and is famous for never having been besieged.

The market place, a centre for rural commerce in the 18th century has charmingly failed to keep pace with modern England in the 21st century and originally it was the outer bailey of the castle and home to the medieval stocks and pillory.Both the Normans and the Danes have influenced Richmond and the nearby villages of Easby and Skeeby. The term, BY is Danish, to mean village.

The architecture is a reminder of Richmond's religious past. Walk up the narrow, twisting corridor of Finkle Street into Newbiggin and you will be in the square, where in 1558 - Richard Snell was burnt at the stake, for renouncing Queen Mary's brand of catholicism and where John Wesley the founder of the non-conformist sect, preached in 1774.

In 2002, Country Life magazine named Richmond in the top ten best places in Britain to live. The survey considered the towns historical setting, house prices, the crime rate and local amenities including sporting and outdoor facilities.

The King's Head with 30 bedrooms - was built in 1718 and is Richmond's principle hotel. This elegant Georgian building, is a feature of the hopscotch, cobbled landscape of the market place.

The Green Howard's museum in the heart of market place shows off - 318 years of regimental history, with rare artefact's such as Sergeant Alfred Atkinson's Victoria Cross which he won at the Battle of Paardeberg in 1900 and photographs of the Crimean War, the North-West frontier of India, the Boer War and film from both World Wars.

A walk down Millgate, brings you through a narrow twisting hillside to the River Swale. Barrie's Ice's is on hand, to offer ice cream and hot and cold snacks and beverages, served by smartly dressed assistants. Sit awhile and watch the fast flowing river splash over the shallow water falls. Across the road from Barrie's ices, families with children can play safely in the well equipped play area. By the river there is ample room to picnic or just have fun in the relative safety of the shallow waters amongst the naturally stunning beauty of the tree and shrub lined river banks.

There are clean public toilets where you can actually find them in Richmond – one is located on the car park near Barrie's Ice's and the other toilets are right next to the local tourist office on the corner of Victoria Road and convenient for Friary Gardens.

Richmond is quite steep and very cobbled – however, there is always a footpath at hand for easier walking. The town trail walk is only 1.5 miles long and peppered with interesting short walks through narrow streets, and alleyways offering history, charm and character. Friar's Wynd takes you under a medieval gateway, and to the UK's first Theater Museum, opened in 1979 by Richard Baker and home to Britain's oldest set of theater scenery.

Next door, is a little jewel, Richmond's Theater Royal. It was built in 1788, and is Britain's only complete Georgian Theater. The 214 seats are set in an intimate, rectangle setting with boxes on three sides and a small gallery above. The furthest seat, is only 11m from the stage, whose proscenium width is only 5m. The current summer season includes classics to modern comedies and from musical classics to tribute bands such as the ELO Experience.

The local tourist office is on Victoria Road, adjacent to the well kept Friary Gardens where the Franciscan Friary bell tower, built by the Greyfriars of Richmond, still stands.
Walk down behind the Kings Head Hotel and into Ryders Wynd and you will come across Richmond Museum. The tiny museum, established in 1978, is home to a transport gallery which has a model of Richmond station, a chemists shop from Catterick Garrison and also the famous James Herriot set from the TV series 'All Creatures Great and Small.

Millgate House Gardens, is a must for any visitor and although a small, intensively planted garden, the displays are simply breathtaking. It's full of surprises, designed to encourage you into intriguing little corners and tempt you with winding paths through elaborate planting to hidden floral treasures.

What about family fun? There a an excellent family swimming facility set in beautiful surroundings, within 5 minuets walk from the market place - offering a main pool with a smaller accompanying children's pool. There is also a Leisure Suite incorporating sauna, steam, spa and sunbed facilities.

The cricket and bowls club is just off Victoria road and another safe play area for children on Quaker Lane. There is a full 18 hole golf course with club bar and restaurant located at the top of Gallowgate, on the road from Richmond to Ravensworth.

Richmond has inspired artists for generations and today there are several highly competent artists dotted around the market place, but its the work of Middlesbrough born, Mackenzie Thorpe in Finkle Street who has become world famous for his original pastels of square sheep, shocking landscapes and childlike images.

Visitor's have a wide range of accommodations to choose from but if you wish to indulge in a little self catering opulence, then Culloden Tower designed by Daniel Garrett, architect of The Banqueting House, is for you. Here is two tall octagonal rooms, bathed in glorious daylight and decorated to the highest standard. The Gothic style carving and plaster work of the lower room is in sharp contrast to the Classical style of the upper room. Here you can sleep under what must be the Land Mark Trust's grandest bedroom ceiling and well worth the 60 steps hike up the tower to reach it.

Richmond is only 15 minutes from the main bus and rail links in Darlington and only one hour by road to the famous Gateshead Metro Shopping Centre and south to Leeds City Centre. Although, only 4 miles from Scotch Corner and the main A1 link, you are in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales and only 15 minutes from Wensleydale and its rambling, unspoilt villages.

Richmond caters well for the visitor, you will find traditional English cafĂ©'s and tearooms in and around the market place including Thai, Italian, Indian and Cantonese restaurants. For dining with a difference – you can visit The Restaurant on the Green, located on the corner of Bargate and Craven gate. It was re-built in 1689 and comes complete with original inglenook fireplace and flag stone floors or if you prefer a modern Bistro setting, 29 The New Frenchgate Restaurant at the bottom of Frenchgate also enjoys a good reputation.

For excellent dining, a short drive from Richmond to the village of Kirby Hill - you will find the 18th century inn – The Shoulder of Mutton Inn. The old English pub restaurant set in this tiny Georgian hamlet serves up first class fare and real ales by top class chef Micheal Yates - who along with his wife Toni Bennett, runs the pub. The views from the pub car park across the dales are simply breathtaking

Escaping the stress of everyday life can sometimes be difficult in a modern consumer driven culture, but a visit to the Georgian town of Richmond in the North Yorkshire with its brisk walks and friendly folk and you will soon recharge your batteries.

Monday, September 3, 2007

The Busby Stoop Curse

Is the infamous Busby Stoop chair and its shadowy links with the notorious murder of Daniel Awtey in 1702, a deathly curse from the past or just a clever marketing ruse?

Just west of the pretty market town of Thirsk in North Yorkshire and famous for the James Herriot vet stories, is the Busby Stoop Inn with a dark history and a curse reaching from the summer of 1702 to the present day.

In the late 17th century, a coin clipper and forger Daniel Awety moved from Leeds to the rural hamlet of Kirby Wiske some 3 miles from the Busby Stoop Inn, to continue his illegal business of counterfeiting the King's sovereigns. He bought a farm on the edge of Kirby Wiske and renamed it “Danotty Hall”, a derivative of Dan-Awety, which stands to this day. The hall sits at the top of a gentle rise, providing an excellent look-out for unwanted visitors.

Awety extended the hall - he built a hidden room linked by a secret passage from the underground cellar. He put a large oak door on the west of the hall which faced the access track and behind the door he installed a square iron bar. When visitors were seen coming up the track the iron bar could pulled across the back of the door.

Thomas Busby a local man married Awety's daughter Elizabeth and became partners with his father in the illicit coining business at the hall. It was reported, Busby a bully, returned home to discover Awety sitting in his favourite chair and after an argument he threw Awety out. It is said, Awety threatened to take his daughter Elizabeth away from Busby and return her to Danotty Hall.

Later that night Thomas Busby went up to Danotty Hall and bludgeoned Daniel Awety to death with a hammer. After murdering Awety, Busby hid the body in nearby woodland. When Awety failed to appear, a search was mounted which led to the discovery of Daniel Awety's body and the arrest of Thomas Busby.

Busby was tried at York Assizes in 1702 and condemned to hang and his body to be dipped in pitch and left exposed in a gibbet opposite the coaching inn at the cross roads on the old Great North Road leading into Thirsk.

Gibbeting - exposing the corpse in an iron cage, was feared by highwaymen more than the execution, it was believed the spirit could find no rest in the afterlife.

As Thomas Busby was being lead to his execution he is supposed to have cursed anyone who dared sit in his chair. Thereafter the inn at the cross roads became known as the Busby Stoop Inn, and the curse of the chair was born, or was it?

For the full story see The Dalesman Magazine September 2007

Yorkshire's version of The Minute Men

CRIMINALS, from the counties of Cleveland and Durham are not welcome in North Yorkshire England and will be in for a nasty surprise if they venture into the Yorkshire Dales without good cause.

The good folk of Richmondshire have set up a “Volunteer Border Watch scheme ” covering the rural police beats of, Gilling, Eppleby, Barton and Middleton Tyas.

The volunteers, mount mobile observation patrols to observe strangers in and around the countryside adjacent to the A66 boundary road, separating North Yorkshire and County Durham, covering hundreds of square miles.

High profile policing and CCTV surveillance in the English towns of Bishop Auckland, Darlington and Middlesbrough have tempted criminals to try their luck in the North Yorkshire countryside.

The border watch volunteers, acting as the eyes and ears of the police were set up in 2005, to combat increased thefts from garages, garden sheds and farm buildings.

The border watch scheme was set up by the North Yorkshire Police under the Richmondshire Community Safety Partnership. The police support and oversee the scheme, but insist they are independent volunteer organizations.

The police called on the community to help them cover the large area, north of the Richmond district and “tip the scales in favour of law enforcement, against the villains”, the police recruitment notice said.

A secret army of unpaid volunteers, patrol the countryside from early evening until the early hours of the morning every day. The volunteers, observe, note and report any suspicious activity or anything which looks out of place on their watch. Vans and cars with trailers attract particular attention from the border watch units.

One volunteer remarked, “Criminals have got cute, they often bring dogs with them to give the impression they just innocently poaching rabbits, whilst masking their true intentions. But we are wise to that ruse”

One farming member of the Gilling West unit said, “It's my way of giving something back to the community. The police cannot be expected to be in every part of the dale, day and night. When you have been a victim of crime and lost tools and equipment or life-stock, this is one way you can make a real difference”

Volunteers, travel in pairs and share the responsibility for driving and taking notes. They log on with the police at the start of their shift and one unit is even equipped with a set of ex-military, night vision sights

All suspicious activity is noted and reported, through a dedicated link to the police control room. The intelligence gathered by the border watch volunteers is collated and prioritized by the police.

Urgent incidents attract an immediate police response. In other less urgent circumstances the information supplied by the volunteers, will trigger follow up inquiries or filed to build up a bigger intelligence picture, linking a number of suspicious activities. The owner of a vehicle spotted late at night by the border watch will attract police inquiries.

One volunteer said, “This alerts urban car drivers we are watching them, which works both as a warning and a deterrent”

A local businessman and a Gilling West volunteer said, “We have made a real difference and feel very proud of our small contribution in helping make our countryside safer”. However on one occasion at about 3 in the morning, we reported the number plate and location of a car which had been spotted, being driven very slowly and erratically. Suddenly the driver pulled his car into a hidden lay-by near the A66, and turned off his lights. The police were on the scene within minutes of it being reported and soon discovered, it was a Frenchman who had got himself lost. He was on his way to the annual French market in Richmond, with a car full of fresh bread.”

New volunteer recruits to border watch receive no training but are issued with guidance notes from the police. They are advised to remain anonymous for security reasons and instructed by the police to act at all times, as passive observers only.

Border Watch members, although they use their own private vehicles during patrols, cannot reclaim fuel, insurance or wear and tear expenses, for what is in effect, front-line police surveillance.

PC John Wilbor, the North Yorkshire Police liaison officer for the border watch scheme said, “The volunteers provide a valuable community service. Their intelligence reports have led to a number of arrests and have deterred crime in rural North Yorkshire” In the first six months of border watch, reported crime in the rural areas was down. We are always recruiting new volunteers and if anyone wishes to learn more or join one of our units, they can get further information by calling me on, 0845 60 60 247.

Rash advice

When my baby son was in nappies, my wife tried everything she could to rid the little mite, of a worsening nappy rash. She tried every lotion, powder and gel on the market, to no avail. Even a prescription from our local GP failed to clear the problem up.

Then one day, the health visitor called and took one look at the nappy rash and exclaimed, “Cover his bottom with plain old powered starch, my dear, it'll soon clear up”. She did and the rash had gone in two days.

Three cheers for rash advice.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Working Men's Clubs in the UK

Clubs- Are in recession

THE celebrated working men's club circuit, a corner-stone of working class culture for over 145 years and famous for shaping young aspiring live entertainers, is under serious threat from recession and the smoking ban.

A recent BBC Survey suggested, one in five working men's clubs could close when the smoking ban comes into force in England on the 1st of July. Of the 560 clubs which responded to the survey, more than four out of five, also thought they would lose money when the smoking ban takes effect.

From July smoking as been banned in pubs, clubs and enclosed public spaces, even if the area is only available to private members. The government had originally supported allowing private members' clubs an exemption against the smoking ban, but the House of Commons voted to include clubs in the scope of the legislation.

The Club and Institute Union [CIU] was formed in 1862 to promote and support working men's clubs. In 1977 the CIU had over 4000 affiliated clubs but, such is the decline in recent years, membership has fallen to less than 2200 clubs, a fall of 45% in only 30 years.

Jim Kennedy, secretary of the Scottish branch of the CIU, confirmed not one of his 36 clubs had closed since the smoking ban became law in Scotland. However, income was down by between 11 and 15%. Mr Kennedy added, “My own club lost £23,000 in the first year of the smoking ban and I know of two clubs which have lost over £100,000 each in takings”.

Barry Slazberg, president of the South-East Midlands Branch of the CIU, said; “Clubs are in recession and the sector is on a knife edge. This smoking ban could tip many clubs over that edge”. “Clubs can adjust to the smoking ban, but they need financial help in the short term. I think the banks should offer a moratorium on bank charges for six months and breweries and other major club suppliers, should provide additional discounts, to help with this short period of adjustment.”

The largest concentration of working men's clubs are in the North West, Yorkshire and the North-East, many located in communities, near to the old traditional industries, such as textiles, coal and steel. The clubs are registered as non profit societies and managed as co-operatives, solely for the benefit of their members, which ensures bar prices are competitive.

Working Men's clubs offer a wide range of leisure options, from a pint with friends, a game of snooker, dominoes or darts, and on most week-ends, live entertainment and dancing to the latest sounds. Beer prices are low compared to pubs, with most working men's clubs offering a pint of beer from as low as £1:30.

Mick McGlasham, secretary of the County Durham branch in the CIU, which supports over 200 North-East clubs, agreed clubs are in recession and some clubs will need extra help. He said, “We should see the advantage of a cleaner and healthy club environment, which in time, will attract new members”. “I feel sorry for the old folk who are set in their ways. For some, their local club is the only way of getting any social contact”.

Bishopthorpe Sports and Social Club in York, with over 500 members, is a model of success. The club has added sports to its name and secured a better brewery deal and has invested in new soft furnishings and member facilities, such as Sports TV and top live entertainment. In the past 12 months, Bishopthorpe Club has bucked the club recession and increased its membership and bar takings.

John O'Brien, Bishopthorpe's ebullient club secretary, said; “We have made great progress. ”

He added however, “The smoking ban will hit clubs hard and, although our wholesaler has offered some assistance, the breweries response is, too little and too late. The brewers have only provided a glossy guide on the smoking ban, seminars on re-financing and a list of preferred suppliers of their branded awnings”.

David Jones, from for S&N, the UK's leading brewer and second most profitable brewer in Europe with reported profits in 2006 of £452M, up £55M on 2005, said,” We do not want to respond directly to the call for brewers to assist clubs with additional discounts”. “We feel the support we have put in place - which clubs can access via individually tailored finance packages should allow clubs to spread the costs and soften the short-term impact of the ban.

John Logie, from Barclay's Bank PLC, whose profit before tax rose by 35% in 2006 to £7,136m said, “Barclay's are available to discuss any change in circumstances that may impact on our clients' businesses”.

Although, CIU affiliated clubs in Scotland have seen a drop in their takings since the smoking ban came into force, nonetheless all 36 clubs are still in business. Bishopthorpe Sports and Social Club in York, believe modernizing the club and widening its member services, is the key to increasing membership and income.

There is no doubt, the fear of the smoking ban and its possible impact is causing alarm in some quarters of club land. But the evidence suggests there is hope for many clubs if they are prepared to modernize and adjust to a changing leisure industry.