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January 19, 2012updated 29 Jan 2016 11:54am

Christmas Cheer, Eurozone Blues and Government Ponzi Schemes

By Alessandro Tome

Season’s Bleatings
THE FESTIVE SEASON has been upon us. It shouldn’t be a big surprise, for it tends to happen every year at around the same time, except of course occasionally when the Grinch gets involved. And even though we thought we’d dealt with the Grinch once and for all, it seems he was back, looking to steal everyone’s Christmas — or am I supposed to say End-of-Calendar-Year-Celebration-with-No-Particular-Affiliation-or-Tradition instead, in order not to offend anyone? We can leave that for another time, but if people don’t like the tradition and religious significance that is expressed at Christmas, then they’re welcome to do like the Kranks and cancel their own celebrations all together. But not mine, thank you.

The good news is that in spite of the Grinch making a comeback under various guises, from political correctness gone mad to a Cameron full of broken promises and false hopes to sexual predators and plain old thieves as now-retired leaders of European democracies, somehow the festive season managed to make its way through the molasses.

And I knew it was here not because we had lunch at dusk in order to save sheep in the Outer Hebrides, or even because decorative lights were turned on to brighten the lunchtime gloom, even though they’re fewer and far between and most don’t provide much light because they’re powered either by ever shorter sunlight or wind farms that just don’t work. Nor was it because there were unpleasantly numerous brand-new screaming babies ruining the peace of your dusk lunch due to increased conception around the same time last year, for what else was there to do after lunch (aka nightfall) than go home for some unprotected hanky-panky?

Personally, I knew it was upon us mainly when two subtler alerts were triggered. Firstly, there’s a crescendo of people who want to get together. It starts with closer friends suddenly wanting to catch up, which in itself would only be mildly suspicious as they do love to see Angel Wife. Then there’s a rush of lesser good friends from far away finding a small window of opportunity to see us while going through town.

This group is followed by a growing trickle of ever more distant friends you haven’t seen all year and then vague acquaintances and finally barely-ever-met people somehow all wanting to see us. Here, full alarm bells are ringing as Angel Wife is nice but not that nice. The final confirmation is that most people in the latter categories actually want us to pay to see them. They mainly fall in two camps. First are the ones who (probably rightly) feel that they can only bear us if they’re paid to do so. At least they’re honest — and also practical, as it results in something good for everyone. They get money for a good cause they support, and to me it’s often worth every penny spent not to have to see them again for another year.

The others are the ones who want to flog you something. They are the born-again workers, mostly rich, bored mums with a talent, or mostly not as the case may be. They’re usually financed by their browbeaten husbands, who would pay any sum for peace (or, if you’re of a more cynical mind than mine, for keeping them distracted while they enjoy their own distractions). The result for me is an endless sense of false popularity borne by the innumerable invitations to exclusive sales and private views and unique bargains that feeds my insecurities and their wallets.

The ‘talents’ range from jewellery to cashmere in all shapes and sizes, decorative items, fashion accessories, bags, shoes, coats, gloves, swimwear, lingerie and everything else beside it. Short of a self-winding bejewelled Rampant Rabbit, you name it, they make it or sell it. There is actually some real talent, and some of the creative designs and quality of execution is quite stunning and would put many a big name to shame, particularly when it comes to jewellery. So for those, thank you, long-suffering or long-partying husbands. But for the most part it’s the sort of crap that belongs more in the Presents for Men or Women catalogues, which in turn are the final, undeniable clue that Christmas is upon us.

Newspapers and magazines doubled in weight just like we did around this time, laden with myriads of ‘Good Ideas’ and ‘Expert Verdicts’ brochures offering something for all, mostly unnecessary. In truth, some of those catalogues do have more practical and useful things to sell than most home sales. For instance, I’m certain that retired Silvio bought the Circulation Pro to help ‘boost circulation to the lower limbs’ and the Microwave Hotty Botty Bear to help him ‘sleep snug and warm’ now that his totty brigade is disbanding. Tiny Nic Sarko has a stock of Support Stools to help him ‘reach things safely’, such as Carla’s stockings. And Old Papa bought himself the Mini FireSafe Box to ‘keep important papers and money safe’ from fire or the IMF — but the instructions are all Greek to him.

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So you see, all the Grinches failed and Christmas had well and truly arrived. 
Trash Talk
THE BIG QUESTION on everyone’s lips seems to be: what is going to happen next in Europe and the financial world as a whole? Every dinner, every lunch and tea party seems to be dominated by it. Even at the football game, in between rude chanting, the locals seem to wonder. Baby showers in our age group have been replaced by parents’ evenings and granny baths are next, hence Angel Wife and I are trying to hang out with 25-year-olds instead. But even there the main topic is: what next?

Which leads me to say that if nothing else I’d like to thank the various gnomes who try to pass as leaders of Europe at the moment for this respite from the drearily depressing, utterly boring and painfully repetitive water torture that are the school discussions that seem to be the norm at most of, if not all, the dinners we go to. Some of us have even had to resort, at least in our own homes, to allocating a specific amount of time to the topic in the hope of being able to enjoy other stimulating disagreements. Others are not even given that chance and have resorted to surreptitiously using their discreet, skin-coloured electronic shooting earplugs to cut out the sound.

So somehow many of us are quite grateful to the Greeks — although I hear not all Hellenics are taking too kindly to flippant dinner remarks. But at least it’s not about schools. Much confusion here too, but what about conclusion? There certainly seems to be more of a consensus. From the 25-year-olds to the granny bath parties, they all think it’s going to get stickier than it already is. So that probably means it’s about to take a turn for the better.
Illustration by Jeremy Leasor

Cover and Duck
watch how governments prosecute fraud and Ponzi schemes, only to be the worst offenders themselves. Take insurance: we all know the main purpose of an insurance company is not to pay out any claims, full stop. Another wheeze is to appear to pay as agreed, but to refuse to renew the policy at all as soon as the payouts reach, say, 30 per cent or so of the premiums paid over the years. </p>

Governments have taken the derivative route a step further. Nobody wanted to buy their worthless debt so, in order to make their junk more palatable, they allowed insurers and anyone else they could think of to sell insurance to investors. This policy said that if governments failed to repay their debt, the insurer would repay you instead.

When the Ponzi scheme that is the euro and its weaker economies started failing, plan C for Con was enacted, whereby countries are failing to repay debts but insurers don’t have to pay because the small print says their failure to repay is not really a failure but rather an agreement not to repay.
The policy holders are stuffed, the governments don’t repay, the insurers keep their premiums and, worst of all, they’re allowed to continue selling the same fraudulent policy. You and I would be in jail for a long time for a lot less.

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