Hey Presto! Orkney gets its potatoes back

People & Business

You can all breathe easily again. Orkney potatoes are safe, thanks to Sir Alistair Grant, chairman of Safeway.

Safeway, which runs the Presto chain of supermarkets, recently applied to open a Presto branch in the Orkneys.

The locals were naturally alarmed, fearing that such a store would take trade away from small local shops and their suppliers. Presto assured the Orcadian authorities, however, that it would sell significant amounts of local produce, and a store on the islands was opened.

But all did not go well. Ronnie Baillie, a local who grows potatoes on Sebay Farm, complained that Presto was buying mainland spuds in preference to his locally grown ones, and that expensive new harvesting equipment he had installed was lying idle. This caused embarrassment, since Presto advertises itself as the store which has "a trading formula which is adapted to serving the needs of smaller communities in Scotland and the north of England".

Even more embarrassing, Sir Alistair, a native of the Scottish village of Haddington near Edinburgh, will address a conference on 8 November on "closing the trade gap" by encouraging small local farmers in Britain to produce more food.

Happily, a Safeway spokeswoman assured me yesterday that Mr Baillie's complaints had been noted and there would be "Orkney potatoes on Presto's shelves once again as from tomorrow". Wa hey.

Spin doctors' corner: Richard Holloway, the former SG Warburg spokesman now with Angus Maitland, has decided not to join JP Morgan as its chief UK mouthpiece just weeks before he was due to take up the job.

The urbane Mr Holloway is refusing to discuss his reasons, although colleagues are baffled that he should refuse JP Morgan's piles of gold. To give you a flavour of the kinds of packages on offer from US investment banks for spokesmen in London, Merrill Lynch is recruiting a new PR person with a pounds 200,000 salary.

NatWest is offering a mere pounds 130,000 in order to replace Simon Lewis, the former head press officer who now works for British Gas Energy. Mr Lewis has been six weeks in the job but there is no sign that Derek Wanless, NatWest's chief executive, has chosen a new bag-carrier. Word has it that an internal NatWest banker may get the job.

Lawyers may appear to be heartless and cold, but they're vulnerable little things underneath it all. For instance, Anthony Julius, Princess Diana's divorce lawyer, recently asked a lunchtime audience at University College London: "Why are lawyers the butt of so many jokes?"

According to The Lawyer magazine, Mr Julius defined a lawyer as "someone who persuades two people to strip and fight and then runs off with their clothes".

Mr Julius argues that most anti-lawyer jokes originate in the US, where litigation is a far greater plague than over here. He concludes that "lawyer jokes are a foil to self-importance and should be welcomed". OK then, here's one: What do you call 200 lawyers at the bottom of the sea? A good start.

Now that lots of football clubs are listed on the stock market, stockbrokers are hard-pressed to keep up with demand from fans who want framed share certificates from their beloved clubs to hang on the bedroom wall.

Soccershares, a service run by execution-only brokers City Deal Services, a subsidiary of Cater Allen, has already sold a couple of thousand football shares since it launched three months ago. Its cheapest framed share certificate starts at pounds 15.

Stephen Pinner, who admits to having started as a stockbroker in 1967, set up City Deal Services three years ago with backing from Sherwood Computers and City Consultants. Last year the founders sold out to Cater Allen for pounds 7.25m, and now Soccershares is reaping the reward of the current football mania.

Mr Pinner says the league table for trades is Tottenham at the top, then Manchester United, Preston North End, Millwall, Chelsea, and lastly Celtic and Rangers.

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