Sun, 18 Mar 2012
Do Not Call

I've been getting a lot of "robo calls", recorded marketing telephone calls, from various organisations lately. From never getting them at all, I was now getting two or three a week. My habit now is is to pick up the phone and say nothing initially, waiting for the other party to start talking. The calls all seemed to be about payment protection insurance, and how to reclaim money if it had been wrongly sold to you.

Well, I was sick of it. So I have now registered and added my telephone number to the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) and hope this stops the unsolicited and marketing calls. It might take 28 days to filter through the system, but I hope that I'll be free of them after that. If not, I'll be making sure my complaint is heard and the perpetrator punished!


Sat, 10 Mar 2012
Pay Less

Warren Buffett, the well known investor/businessman, has/had a fortune of $62 billion. That's a lot of money. How much would he have if he had out-sourced the management of his investments to a typical financial management service?

From John Kay's book, The Long and The Short of It :

Suppose that Buffett had deducted from the returns on his own investment - his own, not that of his fellow shareholders - a notional investment management fee, based on the standard 2% annual charge and 20% gains formula of the hedge fund and private equity business. There would then be two pots: one created by reinvestment of the fees Buffett was charging himself; and one created by the growth in the value of Buffett's own original investment. Call the first pot the wealth of Buffett Investment Management, the second pot the wealth of the Buffett Foundation

How much of Buffett's $62 billion would be the property of Buffett Investment Management and how much the property of the Buffett Foundation? The - completely astonishing - answer is that Buffett Investment Management would have $57 billion and the Buffett Foundation $5 billion. The cumulative effect of 'two and twenty' over 42 years is so large that the earnings of the investment manager completely overshadow the earnings of the investor. That sum tells you why it was the giants of the financial services industry, not the customers, who owned the yachts.

This shows how big a deal cumulative interest is. Astonishing is the right word.


Tue, 06 Mar 2012
Lucian Freud at the NPG

So, Sunday was a rainy day and I did a trip to the National Portrait Gallery for the Lucian Freud exhibition.

Although booked in advance, and some attempt at restricting the numbers viewing at any one time (time slots), it was quite busy, so I had to edge around some paintings carefully (at least in the first main rooms). The layout was in chronological order but the room map was hard to decipher, so also a little confusing.

The early works shown were from the 1940's and early 50's, including the picture on the left, Girl in a Dark Jacket, Freud's 1947 portrait of his first wife Kitty.

On the right, Girl with a White Dog (1950-51), Kitty again. Of this painting, the Tate says :

The style of the painting has roots in the smooth and linear portraiture of the great nineteenth-century French neoclassical painter, Ingres. This, together with the particular psychological atmosphere of Freud’s early work, led the critic Herbert Read to make his celebrated remark that Freud was ‘the Ingres of Existentialism’.

The sense that Freud gives of human existence as essentially lonely, and spiritually if not physically painful, is something shared by his great contemporaries, Francis Bacon and the sculptor Alberto Giacometti.

An obituary of Kitty (Godley now) appeared in The Telegraph. Her mother was Kathleen Garman, one of the infamous Garman Sisters, a part of the bohemian bloomsbury set in London. Lots of fairly typical upper-crust english immorality, including her mother being shot.

I found many of these early portraits delicate and beautiful.

His later pictures, the ones he is most well known for, are very different. The painting is looser and the flesh becomes almost overwhelming. Some of the subjects almost repulse with their fixed and unsympathetic gaze, the sagging flesh and underarm hair. One can only take so many large Nude Portrait after Nude Portrait.

At £14, this exhibition costs almost six times the RBA (see last post). Was it worth it? To me, not quite, but the early Freud almost made it so.


Sun, 04 Mar 2012
Royal Society of British Artists 2012

A bit of rain in the mid-morning but it cleared up into a lovely sunny afternoon, even if a bit blustery. So I hopped on the bike and trundled my way up to The Mall and the RBA Annual Exhibition for 2012. Saturday afternnon on the bike is a little bit more sedate but you still have to watch out for the cars and buses. Not quite so many speeding bikers around.

I thought that the only gallery on the Mall was the ICA but the Mall Galleries are just up the road, a little closer to Trafalgar Square. The show is a real bargain at £2.50, and I would highly recommend a visit if you're around central London (it's open until Saturday 10th March).

The great thing about a show like this is the variety. Lots of different artists on display, young and old, mostly oils but also a lot of watercolour, pastel, drawing, sculpture and print. Available to buy as well if you feel like an alternative investment.

There are some really stunning works here and I took a few notes of the names, but also bought an exhibition guide. For a sample of some of the works, visit the web site.

Ann Heat has some lovely small oil paintings, mostly farm scenes with cows, but all suffused with a beautiful early morning light that she captures wonderfully.
Nicholas Verrall has a very evocative painting of a snowed in church in Prague. There is a good biography at the Catto Gallery. The painting Church in the Snow, Prague is listed for £2500 at the RBA but £3500 at the Catto Gallery. Not sure what's going on there but it would be a beautiful painting to hang on my wall.
Peter C Warden and Wave is an acrylic painting. It looks better and brighter in real life. A snip at £1200.
Michael Grey-Jones has a painting of a Morris Minor that has seen better days. In acrylic and looking almost real, the play of light and shadow is superb.
Julian Halsby is another artist with a great skill at capturing light, whether midsummer afternoon haze or the long shadows of dusk and dawn. The painting on the left is called Evening Vaporetto, Venice. Quite a few artists seem to take inspiration from Venice. Another common theme was the snowy landscape.

I could go on a long time because there were so many good pieces to see. Of particular note were also the number of young artists on show, from various schools and colleges up and down the country. The show is on until Saturday 10th March and well worth the trip.

The next exhibition at the Mall Gallery is Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours 200th Exhibition and the one after that is The Wapping Group of Artists: London and its River, so it looks like a busy gallery and one to visit again, regularly.


Fri, 02 Mar 2012
Greece

I have a lot of sympathy for ordinary Greeks just now, trying to get by when things are looking so bad. But for the Grace of God and all that. I've been to Greece a long time ago, and hopped around a few islands, as you do. And back then, it was clear that Greece was a lot less developed. This was clear in Athens and would have been clearer still in the countryside.

This is a quote from Economist Meg (Megan Greene) :

My friend explained that the owner of the bookstore/café couldn’t get a license to provide coffee. She had tried to just buy a coffee machine and give the coffee away for free, thinking that lingering patrons would boost book sales. However, giving away coffee was illegal as well. Instead, the owner had to strike a deal with a bar across the street, whereby they make the coffee and the waitress spends all day shuttling between the bar and the bookstore/café. My friend also explained to me that books could not be purchased at the bookstore, as it was after 18h and it is illegal to sell books in Greece beyond that hour. I was in a bookstore/café that could neither sell books nor make coffee.

We have all heard a great deal about all the various reasons that Greece is in such dire straits. We know that there was a desire from the EU leadership to look the other way in the interest of the project. We know about the massive imbalances created between the very different economies within the Eurozone. We know about the huge amount of fraud and corruption endemic in the country. The list could go on, and will no doubt be added to over the next few years as things play out.

An article I recently read about this crisis took a slightly different route in explaining the background to the problem, and why Greece has ended up the way it is. The thrust of the argument is historical and tries to illuminate the nature of Greece as a people and a state. Greece has had a very turbulent history, even leaving aside the bad 20th Century, with tyranny and despotism in the Military Junta, and war and terror with the Nazi occupation. The country's been the hub of the Roman Empire and Byzantium, then extinguished and overrun by the Ottoman Turks, leading to hundreds of years of subjugation.

From Greece: The history behind the collapse by Georges Prévélaki :

Despite the existence of a highly westernized cosmopolitan elite, the population of Greece is culturally, for the most part, eastern. Aside from occasional nationalist twitches, the average Greek is more at home with a Turk, a Lebanese or a Sephardic Jew than with an Englishman or a German.

This sort of history changes people, and changes peoples' concept of nationhood. Furthermore, the way that the state has grown and functioned is quite different to the way the Western (Westphalian model) states grew up :

The building of the modern state was carried out, with difficulty, throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with advances and retreats. In order to win the allegiance of the rural population, who were resorting to banditry in response to imported political modernity, the central power used the mechanisms of state, not only as an instrument of repression, but also as a system with which to distribute a kind of income or tribute. The principal currency was recruitment by the state. Initially, a post in government service was the reward for submission pure and simple; later the prize was suffrage.

And this is the way it has worked for a long time, and one of the main reasons that the EU and the Eurozone membership has been such a disaster.

The article does offer a glimmer of hope: that the Greek people inhabit a larger world than the Greek "territory" itself, with many very able and astute people working overseas. Greece has a large pool of talent throughout the world. If it can rebalance itself at home, maybe it can attract these people back to rebuild. Right now, it is difficult to see much hope in the situation, one has uneasy feelings that things will get a lot worse before they get better.

This was an excellent and thought provoking article for those interested in a historical and social background.