Davos diary: 31/01/2009

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The Independent Online

It's your own time you're wasting, son

Niall Ferguson has obviously learnt a trick or two about dealing with unruly students during his many years in academia. The economic historian's lecture yesterday was fascinating stuff, but one audience memberclearly had his mind on other things, tapping wilfully away on hisBlackberry for much of the seminar. Unfazed, Ferguson addressed the miscreant directly. "I don't care how important whatever you're writing on that Blackberry is," Ferguson told him. "It won't be as important as what I'm about to say."

Battle of the titans: Mandy v Sorrell

Sir Martin Sorrell, right, clearly isn't used to hecklers. Addressing the British Business Leaders lunch yesterday, he told Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary who was also a guest, that at least the advert-ising industry wouldn't be needing a state bailout. Cue Lord Mandelson, who piped up with a rather ominous sounding "We'll see". Actually, given that Sir Martin's advert-ising company WPP has moved its tax base to Ireland, maybe Lord Mandelson would have been better off referring him to the Irish authorities.

HSBC's ideas for reform go down a bomb

Sir Stephen Green's idea for a Business 20 (B20) Forum, to shadow the G20 group of the world's most influential economies, suggests that each country would contribute two delegates to the group. All the HSBC boss needs is to add another 12 and he'd be pushing for a B52, one delegate to the session pointed out.

A banker with an upbeat view

Given the number of bankers who chickened out of Davos in the first place, those who have turned up deserve a bit of credit. And having made the decision to come, like Sir Stephen, Marcus Agius, chairman of Barclays bank, was inclined to be positive about the future yesterday. No, Barclays won't be nationalised, Agius told his audience, and yes, the Government will eventually feel able to sell the stakes it has taken in leading banks back into the market. Not Barclays, of course, which paid through the nose for Middle Eastern money to avoid having to go to its own government for help.

Al gets us going with a tongue-twister

Al Gore is clearly fond of a wittysaying or two but, without being mean, it's not always clear what on earth he's on about. "If only we had some ham, we could make ham and eggs, if only we had some eggs," Gore told his audience yesterday. He added this pearl of wisdom: "If you want to go quickly, go alone, if you want to go far, go together, but on climate change we need to go far quickly." Pass the smelling salts Al.

Swiss humour leaves them speechless

And people say the Swiss don't have a sense of humour. The announcer manning the tannoy in the Davos Press Centre yesterday got the biggest laugh of the day. "Great news: we finally have a printed version of Angela Merkel's speech," he announced, prompting a rush from the hacks whose shorthand had obviously let them down. Just 30 seconds later, he was back. "Bad news, Ms Merkel's speech is only available in German." The linguistically challenged journalists sat back down again.