To get rich, get on yer bike

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The Independent Online
ULSTER could be the next El Salvador. And that, according to Jim Rogers, is a compliment. Rogers is one of those oddballs produced from time to time by Wall Street but hardly ever by the City. From an unremarkable background (small town in Alabama, Yale, Balliol) he made his pile as one of the acolytes of the great George Soros and in 1990 fulfilled a long-term dream by going round the world on a motor bike accompanied only by a blonde girlfriend (the relationship survived the experience and she is now Mrs R) .

Now comes the book of the trip, The Investment Biker, which he's launching here next week, starting in Dublin and Belfast. Rogers's theory is that you can tell the financial outlook of a country only by travelling through it and smelling the prospects. His hottest prospect remains Botswana, which he tips in the book. This makes him a true believer in contra-cyclical investing since the smart money is going into South Africa, which he won't touch. "If Nelson Mandela was 20 years younger I wouldn't be a seller, but he's 77 and I am." Rogers prefers the rest of sub-Saharan Africa: "It's gone through hell and it's starting from a very low point."

A few years ago he applied the same line of reasoning to El Salvador, then starting to emerge from a bloody civil war. You can see the link with Ulster, if his quick visit confirms his belief that the ceasefire is permanent. And you would do well not to sneer at this man - he was an early, frequent and true unbeliever in the Mexican miracle.

I ONCE worked on a film where the Chinese extras fell down before rather than after the mock explosions which were supposed to spell their doom. A similar sense of mistiming has hit our favourite Aunt Sally, British Gas. They were due to visit the regular Bunhill, David Bowen, on 28 September for an annual inspection of his central heating boiler. Eight days before the great day he was happy to receive an apology, and a cheque for pounds 10, "for failing to keep our recent appointment with you".

For peat's sake

THE GREAT drought of 1995, which gave us dirty water company executives, has been a bonanza for the peat business. Rejoicing in the ability to harvest more of the brown stuff has been William Sinclair Holdings, second largest firm in the business.

It's funny stuff, peat. Speaking from Sinclair's head office in Lincoln, Chris Turner, the technical manager, talked not about digging for the stuff but scraping the top layer, skimming the top few inches from deposits which can be up to eight metres thick in the "lowland raised mires" - the equivalent of open-cast peat workings. When most people think of peat bogs, they imagine soggy moors in the Highlands or the North of England, but these, apparently, are useless, simply a thin covering of peat over the native rock.

To skim the real stuff you need dry weather, and in 1995 they got enough to last them through a wet summer or two. So the only problem remains demand: Sinclair enriches the stuff for this country's gardeners, but lost a large export order when the Saudis stopped trying to grow wheat on their sandy wastes.

THE LATEST Price Waterhouse Corporate Register reveals, surprise, surprise, that more directors of quoted companies went to Eton than to any other school, that Oxbridge leads the league tables universities-wise, and that the RAC and the MCC are directors' favourite clubs.

The last figure is a bit dubious, given that both institutions are much larger than "real" London clubs - Edinburgh's New Club with 69 members probably has a higher directorship rate than any London equivalent.

So far as universities are concerned, Cambridge has stretched its lead over Oxford while London is coming up on the rails: with 598 directors it is less than a hundred behind Oxford, where in 1992 it had only half Oxford's number. Lower down the batting order, Manchester, Glasgow and Sheffield are moving nicely.

But it was the list of schools which I found most fascinating. Like Mark Thatcher I attended Harrow School and remember the enquiry by a fellow Harrovian: "Do you remember old Boofy?" "Why?" "Well, he's just hanged himself in his cell."

So I was glad to see that Harrow has overtaken Marlborough to take fourth place in the lists and is within three directorships of overtaking Winchester, notorious for pious and uncommercial alumni. All we need is for some of Boofy's chums to get out of gaol.

Hezza's crossed line

FAR BE it for Bunhill to recommend that the Deputy Prime Minister should indulge in some crisp and decisive action. But I was puzzled by Hezza's attack on T Blair for consorting with "monopolies", referring, I assumed, to Blair's deal with BT. Well if BT is a monopoly (which I thought it wasn't) shouldn't he be doing something about it in his role as Lord High Everything including Competition Policy?