Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Newgrange and Bank Recapitalisation

December 21st 2008 was noteworthy for two reasons. Firstly, the winter solstice, normally observed in Newgrange by the light of the sun illuminating the passage and chamber of the 5,000 year old mound. Unfortunately it was a dull damp morning at Newgrange on December 21st 2008. Cloudy skies prevented the sun's rays from illuminating the passage and chamber.

At the same time, the Government were announcing the recapitalisation of the banking sector. Despite the bank chiefs saying that they did not need any funding, their share price had continued to head south as no investors believed them! The lack of funding has been all too evident at ground level, where few mortgages or business loans have been approved in recent months.

I do not think that the €7 billion promised by the Government will be enough. The bank loan book is €450 billion. If 10% of that is bad debt, they will be down €45 billion! The banks will re-visit this in time to ask for more. The fact that the same people who got the banks into this mess are being allowed to stay in their highly-paid jobs is unbelievable.

The management of the Irish banks has played our Government. At the beginning of this process when the guarantee was announced, the Government could have had full control of the banks. Lenihan could have directed policy as he wished. Instead he dithered and the sharper bank management beat him silly. Not only have they kept their jobs but they negotiated a huge subsidy from the taxpayer as well. People on the minimum wage will be paying for the bank managers multi-million euro salaries!
To make matters worse, Lenihan is telling us that we have got a good deal. He is either lying or stupid! The taxpayer (us) has lent €4bn to the two main Irish banks at an interest rate of 8pc, in return for 25pc voting rights. According to the market, both main banks were only worth €3bn on Sunday, 25pc less than the government’s loan to them. And the banks’ management and boards are still in place. Anglo has been given €1 billion for a share of 75%. The market value of the whole lot is €220 million! We have been stitched up by Lenihan and his advisors.

When we awoke on the 21st to hear that the Government was finally recapitalising the banks, we hoped it would be the start of the recovery. I am afraid that like events at Newgrange on the same morning, it is a false dawn.

Happy New Year to everyone.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

New Website, Google mapping and a calf named Paddy

14 months and many drafts since it was first discussed with the developers, the new version of http://www.pfq.ie/ has been launched. There are a few small errors, but these will be fixed today, I hope! It is much more interactive than the older version, which served us well for the last few years. The search facility is much improved and the graphics are better.

The big bonus is the addition of mapping, which should make it much easier for prospective viewers to find the rural properties (and some of the town ones also!). I am one of the worst offenders in this office for getting lost. I blame years away in school and college, together with travel abroad, but a lot of my friends had a similar life history and they can find their way to any part of the county (or country for that matter) without the need of a GPS or map. So maybe it is just me.

When I am in the car, if I get lost I can make the time up again. If I go 10 miles out of the way, it is not the end of the world. Getting lost while cycling, is another matter altogether. Even if you know the road in a car, it is very different on a bike. You notice much more about the road, the countryside and particularly the hills, that you do not see while driving. Junctions to side roads look totally different at 17-20 mph than they do at 50mph. Road signs on rural roads are few or none, sometimes they are turned the wrong way!

I once got lost near Drangan or at least I thought I was near Drangan! Beautiful country, but hilly country. As I sped down a hill, I wondered if the climb on the other side was before or after the next junction. When I got to the junction, there was only a turn in the wrong direction, so it was onwards and upwards, literally speaking. After going around in circles for 30 minutes, not recognising any part of the road I was on, I eventually decided that I should ask at the next house. I arrived at a roadside cottage, clicked out and walked to the door. I knocked but got no reply. As I turned to go, a voice came from the small field nearby, asking me if I was alright. The owner of the voice came around the corner, an elderly but sprightly man I knew to see (names are another of my weak points!). He occasionally visits our cattle mart in Fethard. “Jaysus, Pat” (he obviously knew me!),”what sort of get up is that” he asked referring to my “fancy” cycling clothes. “As you are here, I need someone to hunt in that heifer with me” he said, pointing to an excitable looking Limousin, steaming around the paddock,” she is trying to calve. I called the vet, but he won’t be here for half an hour. Will you help me?” Somewhat reluctantly, but sounding as enthusiastic as I could, I agreed. I still could not remember his name, but knew I was now in Curraheen, remembering his address (Why is that?).

“I’d better give you some boots” he said and from the out-house he brought an old pair of wellingtons. I took of my shoes and put them on after tipping them upside down to remove spiders and debris. As I stood in the mud, the right boot leaked immediately. “I’m not sure why I put them in the out-house, they look like a grand pair of boots” said my still-unnamed friend. I did not tell him why.

We went to the paddock, where the heifer looked at both of us with a mixture of suspicion and hostility. “Easy now, girl” he said, too loudly. The heifer ran to the far ditch with her head held high in the air. I was thinking this will not be easy. The cattle crush was along the side ditch, with no holding pen other than 2 old gates tied together with twine. There were 2 other cattle in the field which was approx. 1 acre and both were also a bit excited. I was already late having gotten lost. I was now going to be very late, would probably have to stay until the vet came and worse still, had no mobile signal to call anyone. The only phone was in the house, but we were now in the field, trying to shepherd 3 wild young heifers, one with calf’s legs sticking out of her rear-end into a makeshift pen. God knows how we were supposed to keep her in it with only twine to secure the two gates and no barrier at all on the ditch side. I put all these thoughts out of my mind as we inched forwards, slowly “pushing” the cattle by our presence. Although they say cattle are colour-blind, they must have been spooked by my bright yellow rain-proof jacket, because they went into the pen first time. I was thinking that my friend’s name might be Jimmy, when he said, “There you go Pat, that was easy” too loudly and they bolted out before either of us got to the gates.

We brought them around that field 6-8 times, I lost count in the end, but finally, we got them in and I managed to get the gates closed without being charged by the 3 of them. We got the right heifer up the crush and put a bar behind her. Just then, the vet arrived. I knew him well. He looked at me and asked “What are you doing here... and dressed like that?” No words would have sufficed so I grunted back. He turned and said “Well Johnny” (I would have been wrong!). He walked to the crush, “She looks small, we might have to do a Caesarean.”

He tried to pull the calf first. He put ropes on the 2 protruding legs and gave one to me. We pulled and the calf came a bit, but not enough. “We’ll have to use the calving jack” he said, “Hold on to those ropes while I set up. The calf was duly pulled out, while I got a good covering of afterbirth on my jacket and leggings. “A fine bull calf” said Johnny, “I’ll have to call him Paddy, after you” he said. The calf was soon up and attempting to suckle. He would be fine, as would his mother. I was still lost, late, covered in afterbirth and a long way from home. As we were washing up at the outside tap, I asked the vet where he was going next. “Back to Fethard” he said. “That’s the best news I heard all day, will you run me in?” I asked. We took the front wheel of the bike and put it in the back of the jeep on top of his equipment, said goodbye to Johnny and set off for Fethard which is only 5 miles from my home. “How did you end up there?” the vet asked me as we left. I told him the story and he laughed as we drove less than a mile to the main road to Fethard. “You should invest in a GPS for the bike" he said.

Later that week, we were finalising the layout and design of the new version of the site. There were lots of decisions to be made, all coming with a cost-factor. We sell a lot of rural property, sites, houses and farms. “The most important feature is a working mapping system” was my mantra that day. Today it is a reality. I hope when driving around, searching for property that you see on http://www.pfq.ie/ that you will benefit from the mapping tool.

Just remember, if you get lost, be careful who you ask for directions!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

House Market Crash - Shock!

It appears that however bad the market is for selling real houses, the market for Doll's houses is worse! We see house prices falling by 20-25% since 2006/2007. The Doll's house market has collapsed by 60% in the last month, with more to come after the 25th December I am sure. I am glad that we are not agents for doll's houses. No matter how bad you think things are, someone else is faring worse.

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Monday, December 8, 2008

Christmas Lights, Christmas Spirit

This year, Gladstone St did not get any Christmas lights. Many people have asked me why this is. Why have “the Corporation not done the lights?” The truth is, the Borough Council never erected lights on the streets at Christmas. It was always left to the traders in each street. Really, it was left to one individual on each street to make sure the lights from last year still worked, replace those that didn’t, invest in some new ones, arrange an electrician to erect them, arrange power supplies along the street and finally chase all the other traders for money to pay for them.
As this is a thankless job, a few committed people got landed with the job each year. As a company who always paid our share (even though we are not retailers), it disappointed me to see that each year, a number of retailers would not pay. They were happy to free-load, while the majority of the street paid for them.
It tended to be the larger chain stores that didn’t pay. In 2007 payment was not received from Carphone Warehouse, Boots, Sasha, Carl Scarpa, Birthdays and Meteor. These stores have a substantial presence on the street, benefitting from the contributions of smaller local enterprises while not paying their share.
This is the reason there are no lights on Gladstone St this year. O’Connell St traders have pulled together to provide lighting, as have other streets. It is sad that the town’s premier trading street will be bereft of seasonal cheer.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Single-Parent Jesus

My mother recently visited Woodies in the Poppyfield Retail Park to purchase a crib for Christmas. She duly purchased one and brought it home. On unpacking it, she found a baby Jesus, Mary, cow, donkey, 3 wise men, straw, crib etc, but no Joseph. She rang the shop, who said they would change it for her.

When she got to the store later, she met the girl she had spoken to on the phone, who informed her that she had checked all the other crib boxes and there was no Joseph in any of them! Seems the product, made in China, did not have a Joseph included at design stage. Or maybe in these recessionary times, Joseph was deemed superfluous and subjected to cutback. It was after all an Immaculate Conception!

In any event, whether through cutbacks, a non-Christian manufacturer or a modern single-parent take on the Nativity, there is no Joseph in Woodies cribs.


Road Works

It appears that despite there being little monies in the coffers, the Borough Council are determined to spend whatever they have before the year is through. In the middle of the Christmas shopping period, when already hard-pressed retailers are trying any method possible to shift stock to a public afraid to spend money, both Market St and Parnell St traders have to endure enormous disruption due to road works. It seems that an upgrade of the sewerage system could not be done at any other time of year!
Yesterday, no traffic was allowed on Market St. As this is an integral part of the concentric one-way system we have in Clonmel, this caused congestion all over town. More importantly, it seriously impacted on the traders on Market St and Parnell St, which is fed by Market St.
Although pedestrian traffic is allowed, behind 2 metre high palisade fencing, it is not a safe environment for shoppers. Excavators, mini-cranes, dumpers, jack-hammers, con-saws all made themselves seen and heard. Many people chose not to enter the street at all.
The Borough Council state that this work will continue for most of January, so any chance these traders have of a post-Christmas sale will be seriously diminished. The economic environment is bad enough at the moment, without this added burden to traders.
Surely the experts in the Borough Council could have scheduled this work for another time of year, when the disruption and subsequent congestion elsewhere would not have had such a severe economic impact. They obviously do not think commercially, except when it comes to collection of Business Rates, demands for which will land on trader’s doormats early in the New Year. I hope that all the traders who receive one will be in business next year!