February 02, 2009

A single plug by Sir Roger Moore late last year has turned me into a Papa Hemingway-like literary hero. In his Proust questionnaire in Vanity Fair, Sir Roger was asked to list his favourite writers. Poor little me was mentioned among some good ones and, presto, you’d think I’d written The Catcher in the Rye, Tender Is the Night, A Moveable Feast, The Sun Also Rises, as well as The Red and the Black. People I have never heard of have written asking about my style, writing habits, sources of inspiration, even my daily routine. (Do you write standing up like Papa, or in a soundproof room like Proust?) Needless to say, I’m very grateful to Sir Roger, and, although I thought he included my name as a joke, if I were selling something—say Jaguar cars, or an American Express card—I’d be ringing his agent and making an offer the knight could not refuse.

So much for making it in a jiffy. Other good news was that Kaká told Sheikh Mansour to shove it. For once the good guys won. Milan and Berlusconi are not Chelsea and Abramo-whatever-the-Russian-is-called. Milan nurtures players and some of them have begun and ended their careers with the club. Under the Russian, Chelsea has played outside the moral rules of the game. (A bit like Juventus and the New York Yankees.) Manchester City, now rolling in oil moolah, is trying it the Chelsea way. But it won’t work. Further good news would be if City is relegated and Sheikh Mansour gets taken by the middlemen while oil prices go down to single figures. Now that would be like scoring with Keira Knightley and Anne Hathaway in two successive nights out, something only to dream about, I suppose. But stranger things have happened.

Abu Dhabi is one of the world’s biggest per capita producers of greenhouse gases, and that does not include the hot air outrageously well-paid PR hucksters emit daily in order to ease the whore and booze habits of the city. The suckers—the fans, poor souls—may create the passion in the stadiums, but in reality they don’t count a hill of beans. It is TV and image rights that rule. The middlemen are out there looking to sell players to people like the Glazers and the Americans who own Liverpool, and, of course, the camel drivers of Abu Dhabi who have grabbed their nation’s oil wealth, called it their own, and now strut the world’s stage as sportsmen. Who was it that first said the world’s unfair?

Oh, yes, before I forget. A British woman was convicted in Dubai for adultery and has been jailed for three months. In any civilised court of law, the fact that she was having tea with a man while divorced from her Egyptian husband would be considered good manners. In Dubai she got three months and is about to lose her children for having tea. And these Dubai bums come over here, buy very expensive four-legged creatures and strut around Ascot, while British aristos act as their flunkeys. But back to Sir Roger Moore and my new-found fame.

It was 30 years or so ago, during a terrific snow storm in the Bagel, when Jay McInerney, Bret Easton Ellis and myself piled into a cab and headed downtown. The driver heard the word Taki, turned around and asked me how I was. Bret and Jay did not take kindly to the fact that a taxi driver recognised my name and totally ignored them. Both had best-sellers out at the time. Needless to say, I rubbed it in while we negotiated snow banks on our way to a nightclub. Just before we got out I asked him which of my books he had read. ‘Or are you a Speccie reader?’ I added. ‘No,’ he said, ‘I’m José’s cousin, he always talks about you…’ I shoulda stood in bed, as they say. José was my pusher back in those bad old days. Jay and Bret are still laughing about that one. I only hope they read Vanity Fair.

So, now for some bad news. This is Davos week, where the once Masters of the Universe meet on top of the mountain Thomas Mann made famous. This year some big names are absent. The heads of Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, AIG, Merrill Lynch and other corporations which once upon a time flew in on their G-5s and Bombardiers are missing, but Gordon Brown is not. In fact he’s the star of the show, which is in a way like having Bernie Madoff lecturing at Oxford on ethics. Or Captain Edward Smith on safety at sea. Brown has steered Britain into an iceberg, has not gone down with the ship as poor Captain Smith did, but is swanking around Davos looking like the fattest tubercular the world has ever seen. Again, who was it that first said there’s no more shame?

The great Greek economist Taki gave it to me straight as we drove up to Davos. The loss of confidence is just a symptom of bad credit and over-leverage, said the sage. The banks are not lending because they know their balance sheets are loaded with future losses, and capital has gone the way of good manners. Sterling is now the equivalent of the drachma c.1991, but not yet as bad as the Zimbabwe currency. Once the banks offer full transparency, and only then, will we see private capital buying into banks again. Thus spake Taki.


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