Language of love lashed by an acid tongue

BUNHILL (Diary)
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The Independent Online
IT MAY be a bit premature to start bemoaning the colourful characters Parliament will lose if Labour wins the next election, but a meeting the other day reminded me how refreshingly eccentric the Minister of Trade is.

I had asked Richard Needham something about overseas students in Britain at a press conference. He answered briefly, then shot off into a robust attack on the French language. "Why on earth are we spending so much time teaching our kids French?" he demanded. "French is not a business language. German and Spanish are enormously important; why do we teach German to a quarter of the numbers we teach French to? The balance of language in schools is totally wrong..." And so on.

He is quite right, of course: there are any number of reasons for starting kids off on Spanish, not least that it's much easier than French. But it is difficult to imagine many ministers (especially Needham's boss, Michael Heseltine, who he calls "him indoors") saying anything quite so, er, true.

It comes naturally to the amusingly abrasive Needham. As the sixth Earl of Kilmorey and Hereditary Abbot of the Exempt Jurisdiction of Newry and Mourne (whose fag at Eton was the King of Nepal), he doesn't give too many hoots what he says. When he went to the family seat in Newry, he said he had "come for the back rent". He described British industry as "a number of diamonds swimming in a sea of shit". And most famously, he was overheard on his car phone telling his wife that he hoped the "silly cow", Margaret Thatcher, would resign.

Come to think of it, Needham is probably to the left of Tony Blair anyway - so maybe he will have a job after the next election come what may.

LUCK is rather important in the horse world, and so far Springfield Racing hasn't had much. It was set up last year by Keith Springer and Mark Fielding to take advantage of tax changes that allowed owners to claim VAT relief if they actively looked for sponsorship. From March, as a result, advertisements have been appearing on jockeys' silks, as well as on other equine accoutrements.

Springfield had the idea of selling all the space for a particular race to one sponsor - so every jockey would wear the same advertising, for General Motors, Futcher the Butcher, or whoever. But its only venture so far has ended in failure. It sold pounds 38,000 worth of ads to cover a Chester meeting last month, but was then told by the British Horseracing Board that it hadn't given the requisite three weeks' notice. It tried another race, and was told the notice had gone up to four weeks.

Apparently the board is worried that the Coca-Cola classic, for example, could be hijacked by a load of jockeys wearing Pepsi-Cola silks. It demanded enough time to be able to stop such embarrassments. Sounds a bit fishy to me - to the extent that a horse race can be fishy.

On to the next stage

YOU'VE heard about the Twearlies? They're the old dears who get on the bus around the time their passes become valid (9.30am in London), and demand: "Am I twearly?"

Let me introduce you to another name for the elderly: Bo-peeps. This tag, coined by the insurance industry, stands for Better off Pensioners. I wonder if they can get insurance for sheep loss?

BUNHILL predicted a few weeks ago that Nigel Whittaker, formerly of Kingfisher, would be on the shortlist for the director-generalship of the CBI. Now, here he is shortlisted for the top job at the Office of Fair Trading. We will know in the next few weeks whether he's got it - but I wouldn't move too much money off him on the CBI number. The OFT shortlist shows he's got just the form these top jobs call for.

Gates in the net THANKS to that wonderfully modern invention, the Internet, Bunhill has seen a preview of an NBC interview with Bill Gates, the richest man in America.

It has some nice quotes: q "This is the golden age of the nerd. We are just now coming into a period where the skill in doing technical work is going to be more broadly desirable than in any previous point in human history." q On why he never travels first class: "Well, there's no problem, you know, flying coach. You get there just as fast as first class. If I was super large, probably sitting in those bigger seats would make a big deal. I take my computer along and mostly I'm just sitting there."

q When asked if he has an infinite appetite for power: "It doesn't ring any bells with me. In a field like ours, there isn't much in the way of power."

DOES this cartoon ring any bells? It was drawn in 1940 by Peter Arno, and published in a book called Where are the customers' yachts? which, for obvious reasons, is now being republished.

The author, Fred Schwed, Jr, was a trader on Wall Street from 1924 until 1929, when he lost most of his money in the Crash. He took up children's book writing, then he turned on the Street...

"...What we [on Wall Street] are constantly exchanging, over the incredible network of wires, are quotations, bluffs, fibs, lies and nonsense..."

"...I had trained for the profession, as had so many others, with an intensive course in the liberal arts, with emphasis upon Romantic poets of the nineteenth century..."

"...The notion that the financial future is not predictable is just too unpleasant to be given any room at all in the Wall Streeter's consciousness..."

"...There is no denying that the more financial predictions you make, the more business you do and the more commissions you get. That, we all know, is not the right way to act at all..."

"...Your average Wall Streeter, faced with nothing profitable to do, does nothing for only a very brief time. Then, suddenly and hysterically, he does something which turns out to be extremely unprofitable. He is not a lazy man..."

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