Bunhill: One hundred million quid to spare? Then the number of the beast could be yours

Let the market decide: part one. Oftel has decided it is time to change our phone codes again. Quite right: what a catastrophe for the stationery industry if we decided to stick to the same numbers for more than three weeks.

But there must be a better answer than to fiddle around with ones and noughts. We should treat digits as we do other scarce resources and charge for them. Or rather dole them out to the hoi polloi, but let the wealthy bid for the best ones.

Thus, we could imagine an Asiatic billionaire spending at least a million quid on 88888 (if Nick Leeson didn't get it first), because eight is lucky. However, the really expensive numbers would be the short ones. I would suggest a formula that uses an inverse exponential relationship between the length of the phone number and its cost . If you have 10 digits it would be pounds 10, nine digits 10 squared, eight digits 10 cubed, and so on. That would mean a single digit number would cost pounds 10 to the power of 10, or pounds 10bn. The Treasury would like that, wouldn't it?

This process would of course reduce the number of numbers available for the rest of us, and what a blessing that would be. If people had to dial 27 digits to get through to me, they wouldn't bother, would they?

Desmond Newling of Basingstoke has been having an interesting correspondence with a firm of unit trust managers. He wanted to transfer the holding in fund A to fund B. Simple, eh?

The first letter from the firm said: "Your units will be sold at the bid price following, and proceeds invested into fund B at the offer price less a full 4.988 per cent discount. The cost of switching will therefore be around 1 per cent, based on a spread of 6 per cent."

Mr Newling, a chartered engineer, is obviously pretty good at numbers but not quite good enough it seems. After various other letters and queries, he received the following exasperated note. "I can confirm that the spread between the price at which units are bought (offer price) and sold (bid price) for our underlying funds is 6 per cent, which includes our manager's initial charge of 5.25 per cent. When your switch was processed we applied a 5 per cent discount on this full 6 per cent spread, which completely removed our normal initial charge, and reduced the cost of switching to 1 per cent.

"I regret that this was not made clear on your contract notes. The initial charge on our PEPs is reduced by 2 per cent, from the normal charge of 5.25 per cent, to around 3 per cent. The total discount you received was 5 per cent, and I apologise for the remaining 3 per cent you received not being itemised in your deal confirmations." Quite.

On my honour

Let the market decide: part two. Let us assume, somewhat implausibly, that I want to abolish the honours system. Socialistic politicians have been wondering how to do this for years. Their problem is that they are thinking in socialistic ways, when they should be using that unbeatable tool, the free market.

All they need do is make honours hereditary - so hereditary that all children, dogs, cats and hamsters of the honoured one automatically assume the title.

Soon we would have honours inflation on a Weimar Republican scale.The man on the Clapham omnibus would barely be able to climb to the top of the stairs because of the weight of KBEs, CMGs and KCVOs on his chest. Bitches would slink across the park dragging their OBEs or DBEs behind them. Soon, discontent among the masses would be so great that the system would have to be abolished. Then we'd all be like the Americans. Oh dear.

I met Al Berg last week. He is American and his company, Marshon, makes spectacle frames. Mr Berg was telling me about the latest type of glasses which, he says, will be the absolute rage any moment now.

They use a material called Flexon, which was developed by Nasa but which now, in the way of these things, is made by the Japanese. It does for metal frames what Panama did for hats - you can sit on them, go to sleep on them or otherwise abuse them, and they will return to shape. Apparently the Japanese like to put Flexon in bras, because it returns to shape after a spell in the tumble drier.

Trouble is, Mr Berg explained, it loses its magical properties when temperatures drop below minus 20 degrees fahrenheit. "Doesn't that give it problems in cold places," I asked? "Alaska is one of our biggest markets," he countered. Which , I suppose, is the origin of the old Inuit saying: "The man with floppy glasses will never catch his moose."

A sorry state

ANother letter, this time from L Pott of Anglian Public Relations, who achieves a level of angst rarely found in the PR community.

"Re: Telecommunications NVQ - Gala Awards Evening," L Pott writes. "I am writing following the issue of our press release THRA/PR.002, on Thursday, November 7, regarding the above event.

"It is with deep regret that we advise you that, due to circumstances entirely beyond our control, we have had no alternative but to put back the date for the NVQ Gala Awards Evening... THRA wishes to express its sincerest apologies for any inconvenience this unfortunate occurrence may have caused."

I wonder what L Pott would have written if someone had died?

Bunhill's Advent competition starts here. The aim is to fill the modern executive's stocking. Here are some starters: a mobile phone that does not look like one; bags of foil-covered chocolate Euros; a rotten tangerine held up by French lorry drivers; and biscuits baked in the Channel Tunnel. More please.

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