Sitting with Eileen this afternoon, she asked me what I’ve done today.
‘Well,’ I replied ‘I’ve sold you to a white slave trader.’
She sniffed. ‘As if that would make any difference. Where did you get that idea?’
‘From David Murray.’
I note from the front page of today’s Herald that ‘The’ Donald Trump is still at it. It seems that the First Minister’s refusal to allow him to dictate Scotland’s renewable energy strategy is a personal ‘betrayal’. Legal action is being threatened to prevent the installation of off-shore wind turbines which would he claims ‘spoil the view’ from his proposed billion-dollar golf resort, a scheme so hair-brained and ill-considered that even he must realise by now that he will drop a bundle if he carries it through to a conclusion. Clearly Mr Trump must know as little of the the law of Scotland as he knew of its climate when he put forward his project, if he think that threat will carry any weight.
I’m currently watching Newcastle vs Wolves on Canal+. Mike Ashley, the Magpies’ unpopular owner may think he’s changed the name of the stadium, but as far as the Spanish commentators are concerned, it’s still St James’s Park.
. . . if Motherwell beat Celtic this afternoon, just wait for the conspiracy theories to start.
A Spanish painter of rare talent.
A couple of years ago, after boarding a Ryanair flight at Prestwick, I discovered that I’d left something in the lounge. The flight crew were very helpful and recovered it for me before take-off. I was so pleased that in a rash moment I promised the flight director that never again would I say anything rude about Michael O’Leary, its flamboyant chief executive. Sadly, I have found it very difficult to maintain that pledge.
First there was Ryanair’s outrageous behaviour in Spain, where they went head to head with the AENA, the state-owned airport management company, and with the Catalan government, looking to obtain ever higher public subsidies in return for maintaining routes out of Girona. While they were doing this, they were quietly moving services to Barcelona’s Terminal 2 which had become seriously under-used after the opening of the new Terminal 1. You can bet they received preferential terms; any time you board a Ryanair flight through a jetty, you can be sure that someone else is paying for it. The whole affair dragged on for months; Ryanair never did withdraw from Girona, but it is no longer possible to fly from there to Scotland.
Now they’re at it again, in Scotland, using confrontational tactics in an attempt to bludgeon reduced landing charges out of BAA, the owners of Edinburgh Airport, and countering its rejection with the threat to cut five routes and with them, 300 jobs. That was uttered by Mr O’Leary in person, on a no doubt flying visit to the capital. The problem he has on this occasion is that there was nothing to be lost in translation. No sooner had he made his threat than it was pointed out that four of the five routes in question did not yet exist, nor did a single one of those 300 jobs, since Ryanair has no direct employees at Edinburgh Airport, and accounts for no more than 20% of its turnover.
Those who watched the Scottish TV news a couple of nights ago, probably saw Mr O’Leary clowning for the cameras with one of his model planes, then heard him refer to the airport owners as ‘prats’ for refusing to back down in the face of his demands and concede a deal which would have started a stampede from the other 39 airlines who fly through Edinburgh. Those who didn’t switch off in anger would have heard Ryanair’s announcement that people who had booked on the aborted routes would receive a refund, but also . . . the really nasty part . . . that when it came to the cost of ancillary bookings, such as hotels and car hire, they were on their own.
Ryanair boasted recently in a press release that as a company it has €3 billion euro in cash reserves. If that is true, indeed even if it has added an extra ‘0’ to the real figure, (previous press releases have included a suggestion that standing passengers were to be allowed on Ryanair flights, so it isn’t beyond a spoof) then much, maybe even all, of that money has been squeezed from taxpayers in subsidies, and from the shareholders of airport operators weak enough to have given in to its threats.
Two weeks ago, in Barcelona Terminal 1, I witnessed a noisy but orderly protest by supporters of Spanair, the recently collapsed Catalan-owned budget airline. Their message was ‘Save Spanair — Ryanair out’. Instinctively I’m on their side.
However I have a nagging problem, and it is this. Ryanair actually does what it says on the tin. It’s cheap and it gets you there on time, in modern aircraft. Its performance and its illogical unpopularity are both down to one man, Michael Kevin O’Leary. A glance at his business record leaves no room for doubt that he is a fantastically gifted man. A glance at his public statements makes it just as clear that he can be his own, and his company’s worst enemy. Ryanair should be what it claims to be, ‘The world’s favourite airline’, not the most hated, as it probably is.
Have I broken my promise to that flight director? No, I don’t believe so. I’ve said nothing rude about Mr O’Leary; I have told the plain truth.
A couple of years ago, a large man made a resolution; he went on a diet and he foreswore strong drink. He stuck to it, and after three months the Big Man became the Thin Man.
Now I’m somewhere in the middle, and my regression has to be reversed before all that good work goes completely to waste, or rather to waist. The warning signs exist; I haven’t had a steak for over two years, but last night I had a hamburger, albeit a very good one, in 1869, L’Escala. So, as of today I am back in the old routine, watching what I eat, and most important, off the alcohol. I am declaring this publicly, so that any back-sliding will be seen as weakness, something I do not like to display. Regular bulletins will be posted.
‘Sometimes when I think how good my book can be, I can hardly breathe.’— Truman Capote
I’ve followed boxing all my life, and when it comes to its doings I reckon that I know shit from Shinola, as the very old saying went. A boxer acting crazy is nothing new; half a century ago, Cassius Clay, as he was, invaded Sonny Liston’s training camp and behaved so bizarrely that he planted the first seed of doubt in his fearsome opponent’s mind. More recently, we had Mike Tyson’s famous threat to eat Lennox Lewis’s children, (LL didn’t have any at the time, but it was a great line) and his use of his teeth as weapons, but Iron Mike sold tickets and pay-per-views by the million so nobody every threatened to ban him. But the guy Dereck Chisora, in Germany last week? I’m not so sure about him.
I am sure that if he’d issued such specific threats in a British gathering he’d either have been arrested or sectioned, maybe even both. If that doesn’t happen, as it still could, it seems to me that the boxing authorities shouldn’t allow the guy anywhere near a gym, far less allow him to fight, before he’s had a psychiatric examination. That won’t happen though, since clearly the dear old British Boxing Board of Control doesn’t have any, not any more. It allowed Mr Chisora to take a world championship fight even though he’d lost two of his three previous contests. When I was a boy a guy called Brian London was forbidden from taking such a fight on those grounds, and suspended when he did. Also, the BBBC seems to have turned a blind eye to the fact that Chisora has a recent conviction for assaulting his girl-friend, for which he is under a suspended prison sentence. There was a time when an assault conviction ended a professional boxing career, but this one, on a woman, didn’t even draw a reprimand. Nor did his previous, for police assault and possessing an offensive weapon. Normally, seasoned observers would say Saturday’s brawl was a stunt, gone too far, to pump up interest in a fight between Chisora and David Haye, but given the evidence of the former’s erratic and provocative behaviour during the week, and his criminal record, that may not have been the case.
As for Haye, what of him? First of all, why was he there? Answer, he had been working as a TV analyst during the official fight, (Yes, there was one, in which Mr Chisora, who’s a bully, not a boxer, and tends to come unstuck against bigger men, was severely thumped.) for a station called Boxnation. That is owned by one Frank Warren. He is Chisora’s manager and promoter, and who has been condemning everyone involved ever since, loud and long. Yet the fact, as yet unexamined, is that Haye was in Munich at Mr Warren’s invitation and on his dime. And this is fact too; if a proper, legitimate fight between Chisora and Haye ever does take place, Mr Warren will make more money out of it than either of the combatants.
Cynic, QJ? Too bloody right I am.
Off to the Carnaval parade in an hour or so: a big winter event in L’Escala and across Spain. Think Mardi Gras on a Sunday and you’re there, only it’s a lot colder than in Rio and people dress accordingly. We had a preview last night in Sotavent, as many of the participants arrived after final practice.I am expecting men in green sombreros, and at least one Jack Sparrow.
Personal experience has led me to believe that the world is run by people who have a very clear Plan A, one that invariably works well when the global economy is on an upward cycle and the world is full of Eskimos buying refrigerators, but who have no effing idea what do do when it turns in the opposite direction. In my ever-modest opinion, Ex-Sir Fred Goodwin and Still-Sir David Murray are two of those, big time. As for Always-Mr (Can you be stripped of Mr?) Craig Whyte of Rangers, he seems to know asset-stripping, sorry, company rescue, and that’s it; in fact he doesn’t seem to be very good at it. If he ever had a game plan, it looks as if it was shattered the moment that the administrators, men he appointed, revealed that the Ticketus £24m, raised against future income, is nowhere to be found within the company. As I understand it, that sum is not a loan, and Ticketplus’s parent company says that it is not a creditor as such. Future season ticket sales are viewed as a de facto football asset, one which ‘Mr’ Whyte has sold, and which Ticketplus now owns, and will continue to own under any future restructuring. Two questions are begged. 1) Where’s the money raised if it’s not within the club? 2) Do we have an extradition treaty with Monaco?
The new manager of Leeds United? As just announced, Neil Warnock. Now there is a match made in heaven.
Thanks for that. These days we all need all the promo we can get. I’m sure that Hachette Australia will be grateful for your help. Promise; if I ever get to Brisbane, I’ll let you know in advance.
I’m pleased that The Loner worked for you. Yes, we described it as a standalone when it was published, but now I’m not so sure.
The sad collapse into administration of the once mighty Rangers Football Club is a very large event indeed. Last night I invited my dear wife, a native of Tyneside, to imagine a scenario in which Newcastle United and Sunderland both went bust at the same time. ‘This is bigger,’ I told her and I meant it. I am no lover of Rangers, nor have I ever been. Yes, I recognise that many fine men have represented the club over the years; indeed I was at school with the sons of a couple of Ibrox giants, and one is a friend to this day. While its sectarian past is not to be overlooked or condoned, there were many among its followers who stood above all that. But alongside them, out-numbering them, I have seen the arrogance of the others, I have heard the bile they spewed at their opponents in what is, in the words of the late Jock Stein, ‘only a game at football’, and I have witnessed the violence of which they have always been capable.
While it will be good for the soul of the club that it is humbled, as were Celtic thirty and more years ago when they failed to plan for the post-Stein era and became a shambles until they were rescued by a man who realised that any institution with a multi-million pound turnover must adopt sound business principles, it is to be hoped for the sake of the Scottish game as a whole that what is now conceivable, namely the liquidation and disappearance of Rangers FC, does not come about. No-one would benefit from that; indeed the nation would lose, economically and socially. But it is possible. Those who believe that the club is protected in some way by the ‘listed building’ status of the Ibrox main stand would do well to look at what happened to Highbury Stadium after Gers’ old friends the Arsenal moved to the Emirates.
There is no way out of this without the creditors . . . and they include all of us who are stakeholders in HMRC . . . taking a severe hit. I hope the administrators can achieve the rescue and restructuring that is their remit. They have some interesting questions to ask the failed management, that’s for sure. For example, why did they not meet their basic obligation to hand over PAYE deducted at source to HMRC? What did happen to the £24m that Mr Craig Whyte is said to have borrowed against three years of season ticket income? Why do its creditors include several other SPL clubs? Why the hell was the club on the verge of signing a well past it 35-year-old for £7500 a week, knowing that administration was imminent? Above all, how did things get so bad?
All professional football clubs these days are ‘brands’ and Rangers, globally, are among the biggest. So why is it that successive owners of the business have failed so spectacularly to cash in on that brand value? I am not a big fan of transAtlantic ownership of British football clubs. Indeed, a green and gold scarf hangs in my cupboard. But one thing North Americans do bring to the party is commercial awareness and international marketing expertise. Is that the way forward for Rangers? Possibly. For sure, it’s a thousand times more attractive a prospect than continuation in any sort of restructured form under Mr Whyte and his associates. Dare I say this? Hell yes! Rangers need another Fergus McCann.
Thank you for your interesting comments and observation; I’ll bear them in mind, as soon as I can work out what it is you’re actually saying. Meanwhile, if you’re disappointed that you weren’t able to smack your forehead on finishing that particular novel, I’d be happy to do it for you.