Bankers!

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“The conservative banker is an impressive specimen, diffusing the healthy glow which comes of moderation in eating, living, and thinking. He sits in state and spends his days saying, with varying inflections and varying contexts, ‘no.’ … He says ‘yes’ only a few times a year. His rule is that he reserves his yesses for organizations so wealthy that if he said ‘no,’ some other banker would quickly say ‘yes.’ His business might be defined as the lending of money exclusively to people who have no pressing need of it.” — Fred Schwed Jr.

 

http://www.gryphonmanor.com/books

 

 

 

Money Lending

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Money makes the world go round. When it does not rotate quite as quickly as you desire do you reach out to a money lender? Or do you loathe the money lenders, the usurers? In his varied and extensive career in the money lending industry, George Watson has seen money lending in all its manifestations and became fascinated by its history and by its various effects on people and societies. Money lending has become an all-embracing all consuming monolith which either serves societies or devours them depending on your view.

Living life as both lender and borrower, encountering people from every part of the economic and social spectrum, there grew a deep understanding of the extent to which money lending in all its forms affects and implicates everyone, whilst simultaneously, society candy coats the activity and avoids the moral choices.

This book examines how life connects us all to the money lenders, how it started, how it evolved and where it is now. It examines the humour, the pathos, the successes and failures of an activity that has affected us or infected us since the dawn of history.

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George Watson was born in Malawi in Central Africa and educated in the UK. He read law and was called to the Bar in 1971. Being of an entrepreneurial and libertarian nature, he went into business on his own account, providing finance to small owner-managed start-up and early stage businesses in London. In 1998 he moved to Cape Town in South Africa to establish the same business in the new post apartheid South Africa. The business was sold to a government agency and now he divides his time between London and Cape Town, consulting, travelling widely and writing. His extensive travel has shown that the money lending phenomenon is global, its moral conflicts and its social hypocricies universal. Read all about it!!

http://www.gryphonmanor.com/books

 

 

 

 

 

A Money Lender’s Tale

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They say that everyone has a book in them, everyone has a story to tell that will fill at least one book. Some people are driven by the creative process and writing a book is an ambition that becomes real. But for most of us, it is just something that sits at the back of the mind, way down the bucket list. Often we can tell a story in conversation and be met with the refrain “Oh you should write a book!”  We smile, gratified that our little anecdote was well received, but that is all. And if, as I do, you have lots of stories to tell so that refrain repeats itself. Then eventually,  one day, as I did, you sit down and write a book.

 

Writing a book is daunting. You stare at a blank screen and wonder what should the first word be. Harder than it would seem! You want something explosive but inevitably you end up with a pronoun or preposition, in my case “it”! Then it pours out like water from an unblocked drain, words engulf the screen until you realise that none of it makes sense and then the real work starts. It’s a long arduous and educational process, endlessly refined. Stories, people and ideas from long ago float to the surface of your memory and you restrain yourself from embroidering them.

 

The creation morphs from simply being a means of talking to yourself, to the point where you are happy that others will understand it and grasp it, and be able to laugh and cry and question themselves about its message. And above all, you hope that the reader will at the conclusion, be satisfied, amused, and thoughtful.

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A Money Lender’s Tale is a story about one life in the world of finance, or rather the world of “money lending”, for that is the true nature of all finance. A world that engulfs us all although we are not always aware of that, an octopus-like industry that we both need and yet despise. Its about the rich and the poor, the small farmer who fed his best breeding pig on marijuana and cream cakes, to the couple selling t-shirts in the market who build a million dollar construction and plant hire business, and of course it is about those whose lives are consumed by failure and greed fed by the money lenders. It is not a “how to” book, not a clarion call to lend money, nor is it an apologia, it’s about a life.

 

You can find it at http://www.gryphonmanor.com

 

 

Vinales Valley Cuba

 

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About 200 kms west from Havana, a two to three-hour drive lays the small town of Vinales, which lies in the Vinales Valley located in the Sierra de los Organos Mountains. It’s a small traditional town where most people work in the cigar industry. The valley is beautiful and a welcome respite from the heat of Havana.

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The valley is wide and flat, which enhances the contrasts with the mountains. The town itself has woken to the tourist industry and has myriad casas letting out rooms to visitors. It is a place for cigars, hiking, and riding. It’s beautiful and its potential to entertain visitors is growing as new hotels are built there.

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If you want a fun ride to Vinales you can hire an old car, one of the old taxis and drive down. Its good to take some advice as to which car to take since many are on offer, and a good way to choose if to ask the owner of the Casa if you are staying at one. The car that took me to Vinales had been in the same family since the 1950s, was now a family heirloom constantly maintained and used by one family member as a taxi. The old engine had its day and it now sported a Nissan engine and the loudest sound system I ever heard!

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Find your way to a small cigar maker and learn how cigars are made, and they can sell them to you since the government permits part of their production to be sold privately. It is fascinating to learn and if you can handle it smoke one at the end. You learn everything from how to grown and dry and cure to the end product.

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Another fascinating site is the Stone Age paintings on a small hill outside the town of Vinales. They are coloured and distinctive. Away from the hotels, there are some good local restaurants and if you have a good driver then he or she can point the way.

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Vinales is beautiful relaxing and interesting before you head back to the energy of Havana.

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This Man in Havana

 

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In my early youth, Cuba was never far from one’s mind. The revolution with Castro Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos, the Bay of Pigs, The Cuban Missile Crisis, the Blockade, the decadence and depravity of pre-revolutionary Cuba and Graham Greene’s Our Man In Havana made Cuba romantic, scary, and fascinating all at the same time. When the time came to go there a sense that I might be disappointed after all that lurked in the back of my mind but I wasn’t.

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Havana is very much open for the business of visitors, and it is a great city to walk in. People are polite helpful hungry to do business well, and its very safe since the authorities are well aware of the consequences of crime on tourism. There are of course the usual hustlers hanging around but they usually take no for an answer. Development means that new and old sit side by side in the Havana of today.

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Havana is famous for its old 1950s American cars which have been lovingly cherished and preserved through the blockade and continue to serve the residents as well as being a draw for visitors as taxis. These taxis can vary in quality and price so ask around and the best way is to get a recommendation from a local or the place you are staying. It is not only antique cars but you can also find antique Jukeboxes in bars pumping out Cuban music both traditional and modern.

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It can be wearing to have a dish shoved into your face for a donation when you have had to listen to Guantanamera for the 29th time that day, but look around the live music which is everywhere and there is some great music.

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The cult of Earnest Hemingway is prominent and there is a lot to look at. For me a visit to the Ambos Mundos where he stayed was fun, and if the rooftop bar now caters for mass tourism and the odd papa Hemingway look-alike the mojitos are great and will keep you mellow on a hot Havana afternoon.

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There is a lot of great architecture much of it being renovated and it is refreshing that these buildings and churches are not just for viewing they are used too. Sit in a café or bar at the end of the day and absorb the atmosphere and be part of the tradition of talking and absorbing the good things in life at which the Cubans are so adept.

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Problems? Few, just ATMs which are few and far between and sometimes empty so bring cash or use banks, and wifi. If like me you were born before technology and progressed from “great idea but it will never work” to being a complete addict of gadgets and gizmos which all seem to need Wi-Fi you might freak, but stay somewhere that has it or join the interesting groups hanging outside hotels and places using their Wi-Fi hot spots, its actually quite fun and a relief to the addiction.

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Someone wrote that as far as cities go Havana is a festering treasure chest, a primary colour. That is right.

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Rural Vietnam

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Rural Vietnam offers stark contrasts to the energy, vigour excitement and craziness of Saigon or Hanoi. These communities bring you tradition, contrasts, and even a sense of isolation from the outside world.

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I was invited to spend the Vietnamese New Year with a family who lived in a very small town some 3 hours south east of Hanoi in Ninh Binh province on the main road south. The town’s small size is easy enough to digest, until you realise that people are following you as you walk down the street, because they have rarely if ever seen anyone like you in real life. That is a surprise. Coming across a small village one day I found a locked church, which interested me. Someone was able let me in. I wandered around the church and after a few minutes I realised I was not alone in the supposedly empty church; about 20 people had gathered by the door of the church and were simply staring at me, albeit in a very friendly way.

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That part of Vietnam is littered with relics of French colonial influence none more obvious that the strong presence of Catholicism. What was really interesting to me was seeing churches constructed in Neo Gothic style, which have been constructed within the last 10 years by the congregation. Catholicism is as influential here as Buddhism.

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The contradictions and conflicts between agriculture and industry are seen in peaceful rural scenes set against a backdrop of mountains which have had their whole sides simply ripped out by barely regulated mining.

 

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A new year family gathering involved sitting for a long time on the floor eating good food and consuming large amounts of local rice wine that progressively numbs you in an atmosphere of great harmony as we all struggle to be understood with a mixture of Vietnamese, French English and sign language. People are welcoming friendly and inquisitive. Whilst Vietnamese are proud of their history as victors against foreign influence, resentment and recrimination are very rare. And yes men in one place women in another.

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Communism, Buddhism and Catholicism sit side by side in apparent harmony ,the focus of modern life being material wellbeing, which is the common aim, and they work hard, although millions are still dependent on agriculture.. The families are large and and the bonds tight and are the root from which rural life grows. In amongst rice paddies are the graves of family members giving insight into the long connections of families and towns. The young head for the cities to earn a living if they can but always come back on the frequent busses that thunder down the road as the new world passes by the old.

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Bohol Island, Philippines

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Bohol is justifiably famous for beaches and resorts and boats, but if you suffer from beach ennui, or like to take a more quizzical and enquiring approach to discovering places, there are lots of goodies on Bohol.

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It’s fun to cruise down the Loboc river very slowly, have some lunch relax from the slow lazy movement of the water and absorb river life. For me one of the joys of rivers is when they are firmly bounded by nature, the jungle the vegetation so you are se firmly in the middle of nature with only the odd incursion of the world. There is a satisfying relationship between river and vegetation, they know each other and they enclose you. Occasionally humans insert themselves into this timeless relationship and swim or fish or even live on the banks but you are always conscious that humans are welcomes visitors

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The Philippine Tarsier is the smallest primate on earth, they fit into the palm of your hand and the species can be traced back 45 million years. Visit the sanctuary where they are protected and encouraged to thrive and view them with great gentleness and respect. They are beautiful creatures with enormous eyes, which are the size of their brain, and those eyes are fixed and never move such that they rotate their heads to view laterally. They are a fascinating discovery

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There are some interesting churches on Bohol many of which are now being renovated, which reflect the sometimes-turbulent course of Philippine history and reflect the early Spanish Catholic tradition. The Church of St Nino De Anda is one such containing as it does a great museum tracing its history.

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The Chocolate Hills, so named because in summer the grass the covers them turns a chocolate brown, are a particular feature of the island. They are formed of coral that lifted out of the ocean millions of years ago and the erosion of rain and wind has created their conical shape. There are more than 1200 hills. Apart from the geological explanation for their existence, there are local legends: Two just had a fight that went on for days as they hurled rocks boulders and sand at each other. In the end, exhausted, they left the fight became friends and left the area but forgot to clean up and left behind the mess they had made. Or if you prefer a powerful giant Arogo fell in love with a human called Aloya. Aloya died causing Arogo so much grief that he could not stop crying and when his tears dried the chocolate hills were formed. Take your pick