Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Monday, February 27, 2012
Sunday, February 26, 2012
- tax evasion (as suggested by the World Bank) - £70 billion
- tax avoidance - £25 billion
- tax paid late - £25 billion
Saturday, February 25, 2012
Thursday, February 23, 2012
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Monday, February 20, 2012
Despite the fact that the roads are covered with snow, life goes on as usual here, with snowploughs deployed to clear the roads somewhat, and grit put on the pavements to make walking a bit easier. They don't salt the roads here, as salt is ineffectual at temperatures below minus 8 degrees centigrade, but with the aid of special studded or all weather tyres, even cyclists can get out and about.
Santa Claus Village offers visitors the opportunity to rush around on snowmobiles, be pulled along in a reindeer-drawn sleigh, and meet Santa Claus. Unexpectedly, Santa keeps regular office hours, and you'll find him here every day. Apparently, he has some sort of machine to distort time, thus allowing him to visit all the good boys and girls, and deliver presents to them.
I did think of asking him for an extra 10% in the opinion polls, but he's not a miracle worker...
It is an utterly absurd spot, with obelisks marking the line of the Arctic Circle, allowing you to photograph your loved one on either side, a special Santa Claus post office where you can send cards to friends and family, and enough retail opportunities to buy Santa kitsch to last a lifetime.
More than five years ago, I went to Ecuador, to stand on the Equator. Now, I've stood on the Arctic Circle. What other absurd places are left, I wonder?
Despite the cold, and the snow, we've managed to keep ourselves pretty busy. On Friday evening we went for an evening stroll before finding a lovely little restaurant for dinner. The reindeer tenderloin was delicious.
Yesterday, we explored the city centre, walking to the railway station, before heading down to the kauppatori (market square), where they were having some kind of event. Whilst it wasn't entirely clear what was happening, there were reindeer, so we took a closer look.
I got to stroke a reindeer - their fur is incredibly soft - before we set off in search of a bowl of soup for lunch - salmon for Ros, smoked reindeer for me - in the rather lovely kauppahalli. But we were still hungry, so we fortified ourselves with a reindeer sausage each before we set off back to our hotel.
On the way, we found that the road was closed off with barriers, so Ros asked someone with a fluorescent bib on for an explanation. Her answer was that there would be reindeer racing in ten minutes. Well, we weren't going to miss that, so we found a good spot and settled down to watch.
Reindeers race pulling someone on skis, and they're pretty quick too. But soon it was time to take a break, as the temperature was beginning to drop, and the wind pick up - a bad combination when the temperature is below zero to start with.
The afternoon was spent at the Pohjois Pohjanmaan Museo (the Museum of Northern Ostrobothnia), which has more labelling in English than I had expected. It's not the most exciting exhibit I've seen, but it does give you a good idea as to how Oulu became the city it is now.
Dinner was at a Viking restaurant, with all the wild boar I could eat (and I can eat a lot of wild boar).
And so, now we're on our way to the Arctic Circle, with Santa Claus, reindeer and the Aurora Borealis on our agenda. Yes, it is minus 8 degrees outside, plus the windchill (making it about minus 16 degrees) but we're fairly hardy, and how bad can it be?...
Thursday, February 16, 2012
Ros and I are off to Yerevan, Armenia in May for a conference (as you do), and once the dates were confirmed, I was tasked with booking flights. So, having shopped around, compared fares and flight times, I alighted upon Air France as my preferred option (flights depart and arrive at sensible, civilised times).
I go to their website, book the flights, enter the credit card details, press 'confirm' and... a message comes up, telling me that I need to call Air France to confirm my credit card details. But they've gone home for the evening, presumably to sing torch songs and drink white burgundy.
So, I go to bed, girding my loins for hassle in the morning, Air France being one of those state-run monstrosities that so annoy our free market worshipping friends.
Morning comes, and I awake, feeling pretty good. Until, of course, I remember that I have to call Air France...
At precisely 8.00, I dial the number and, having made it past the call filtering, the phone is answered. Not by someone in a call centre at Gatwick, but by a real Frenchman. We exchange pleasantries, before getting to business. He asks me for my booking reference, which I provide. He explains that, yes, my booking has come up on his screen, and that we are travelling to Yerevan, Armenia.
A very interesting place, he notes. I agree, pointing out that, given the new French law making denial of the Armenian genocide an offence, it seems appropriate to go there on Air France. He agrees, and asks what takes me to Yerevan. I explain, which generates more discussion.
Of course, we haven't actually dealt with the reason for my call, but...
My new friend explains that he is bringing up the payments details on his screen, but that this is taking rather longer than expected. We bemoan the technology, blaming Microsoft (as one does), and sharing the irony of tools intended to improve efficiency slowing things down.
But eventually, the screen pops up in front of him, and we go through the process of confirming all of the payment details. When we get to my address, I have to explain Creeting St Peter. He asks where it is, and I tell him that it is a small village in the country, which he seems to like.
It's all very amicable, but I still don't have any ticket confirmation. He's on the case, however, and almost unexpectedly, he says that all is well, and that the tickets are done. We talk a bit more, before I thank him and say goodbye.
A simple ninety second job has been stretched to eleven minutes, enough to drive most people crazy. And yet, I come out of the conversation having rather enjoyed the experience.
Ah well, c'est la vie....
Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
- England 404,043
- Scotland 48,832
- Wales 33,299
- Northern Ireland 4,355*
Monday, February 13, 2012
Sunday, February 12, 2012
I'll have to keep up the blogging though. Given the propensity of Liberal Democrat Voice editors to fade into blogging oblivion, I'd like to strike a happy balance between reportage and gentle whimsy, between occasional frustration and tales of my rural idyll...