City Diary; Ostrich crisis follows hot on the hooves of mad cow

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The Independent Online
You've had the mad cow disease scare, now comes the crisis in the ostrich industry. The Ostrich Farming Corporation of Mansfield is being wound up by the official receiver on orders from the Department of Trade and Industry.

The company has raised millions of pounds from investors by advertising a scheme selling ostriches as an investment opportunity. However, they are not regarded as investments by the regulators, and therefore had to be shut down, although no investors have lost money.

The receivers will be in control pending a winding-up petition on 8 May. Unfortunately it would now seem the corporation will no longer be able to contribute to a "tightening up" of the industry's code of ethics - which it called for in this very Diary a month ago.

Sick and tired of hearing whiney complaints on the phone at work? Do you ever wish that irritating callers would use more dulcet tones? Now your dream can come true with the "Encore" phone headset by Plantronics of Swindon.

By the mere flick of a switch on the headset the user can select "a fuller, richer tone - or revert to normal telephone tone if the caller is too high-pitched". A monaural set (with sound in one ear) starts at around pounds 86.95 while binaural sets kick off at pounds 106.25. Other versions are planned including four more "noise cancelling" models. The possibilities are endless. How about a set that screens out calls from the bank manager?

The people at Heineken are worried. Not enough City people have applied for a chance to receive the Heineken Export "Wildest Dreams" sabbatical bursary worth pounds 25,000. Entries have to be in by 26 April and the winner announced in June.

Applicants must describe the wild journey they have in mind - paddling up the Zambezi, say, or hiking through Peru. Heineken is worried that one of its core markets for strong lager - young chaps in the City - make up only 3 per cent of applicants so far.

Which means you lot must either be working too hard on something like the Railtrack privatisation, or are still sleeping off a hangover.

Oxford won the Veterans Boat Race against Cambridge yesterday - with a work rate only 7.5 per cent below what the youngsters are expected to expend on Saturday in the real thing. The over-35s race was a huge success, with only half-a-length dividing the boats as they completed half the usual race distance, from University Stone to Hammersmith Pier.

"Its a very, very fast time," said one expert. "A number of the crew are in early retirment, so they have time to train." Their work rates were calculated earlier using a Concept II Ergometer, a cross between a rowing machine and an instrument of torture (for the unfit, that is.)

Most of the veteran Cambridge crew were merchant bankers. Perhaps those lunches slowed them down a bit.

Even Barry Bateman, Fidelity's managing director, will be at work today - it is the last chance for PEP applications in the current tax year. Get your Tessa money in now.

Ever since 1844 the Equity & Law name has been part and parcel of Lincoln's Inn Fields in central London (above). The name of the insurance company, founded by lawyers from the area, even survived the sale of the company in 1988 to a giant French company, AXA, to become AXA Equity & Law. Next year the British bit of the name will at last be scrapped, leaving AXA Life, although the UK head office will remain in Lincoln's Inn Fields. The old E&L was hugely popular with independent financial advisers, part of the reason the French bought it, and now the company feels enough people recognise the AXA name over here. So what does AXA stand for? Nothing in particular, according to the company, it's just a modern sounding, internationally acceptable name.