Thursday, January 24, 2008

3 1/2 billion quid?????????????????

I once had a situation at work where I forward billed £350,000 into the last month of a year and reported 60% profit against it, fudged a bunch of WIP for the auditors and then feverishly spent the next 4 months of the next financial year trying to get jobs passed that would deliver that £175,000. The company was a nightmare to work for and stressed me beyond belief. Incidentally I sat on the board of that company with Michael Howard and Steven Norris (oops proabably shouldn't have said that should I). Now if you're Paul you can stop shaking your head now.

However, if you're Jean-Pierre Mustier of Societe Generale it's the kind of money you find down the back of a sofa when you're looking to pay the pools man.

3 and a half billion quid.

Just to put that into perspective that's 4 Wembley's... sorry bad example. How about 80% of the channel tunnel rail link errr. Oh I don't know how about if you put all of that in fivers end to end it would go to Mars and back. Errrr... it's a fuck of a lot of money isn't it.

Now by all accounts this bloke pulled a salary of less than £50K. In bank terms that's one above cleaner. So how did he get away with it? Well apparently it was a complex administrative fudge. But come on, surely someone must have twigged. When Nick Leeson blew just a quarter of that sum... i.e. one Wembley stadium, sorry I'll stop the silly analogies now... he was basically a lone man sat in a back office in Singapore. This guy did it in the Paris office of France's biggest bank.

Either Jean-Pierre is the worst scapegoat in history and tomorrow we'll find out that it was a systematic plot from board down or, the entire process at Societe Generale needs tearing to shreds and rebuilding from scratch, starting with a clear out of most of the back room staff.

It's a quite extraordinary tale of city excess and just seems so apt as we head towards recession, which in the weeks leading up to Christmas, just a month ago was denied by every financial bod I heard doing a review of 2008.

'Oh no, no, no we'll certainly see a slow down, but confidence is high and we'll bounce after Christmas' confidence is high my arse.

I only have one city friend who admits to needing the attention of Gamblers Anonymous. If a few more owned up and stopped pretending it wasn't a glorified bookies, we'd be better off.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Britain heads towards hell in a handcart

Now I'm a pretty easy going guy, but even I can be broken. There are some things that just make me apoplectic with rage, oh yes rage I say. There I was this morning reading my paper, over a traditional breakfast of my favourite wholemeal bread and thick cut marmalade* when I read something that nearly made me spit the bugger out.

Yes ladies and gentleman Golden Shred, Frank Cooper's and Rose's are dropping the name Marmalade in favour of 'Orange Jam'.

Do what?


David Atkinson of Premier Foods - the three brands'manufacturer - was quoted thus “We’re looking at ways of making marmalade more accessible...The challenge is to entice a new generation.” Now granted this press release was probably written by a graduate recently promoted from photocopying duty, but what kind of pisspoor rationale is this. It could apply to anything.

'Yes we're looking at ways of making the Nintendo DS more accessible to pensioners, the challenge is to entice an older generation'

'We're currently looking at ways of making Saga holidays more accessible, the challenge is to entice the frisky fifties'

It's bollocks, why not say it like it is, 'Marmalade is completely unprofitable and we've lost iinterest/patience. Frankly we're happy for it to be manufactured by small organic orangery's and flogged at farmer's markets as a delicacy for £7 a throw. This is just one last desperate throw of the dice before we delete the line'

Anyway, I'm sure it'll inspire a run on supermarkets akin to the Branston Pickle crisis a couple of years ago. Or maybe they thought it's long enough since Heinz pulled off the relaunch coup of the century with Salad Cream and they were pushed for new ideas and thought ah 'we'll do that again'.

(* This is a made up story to make it seem like I have a lovely relaxed breakkie with my feet up. I actually grabbed some crumpets and ate it as the kids ordered me around)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

I've been crying a lot in the last week

Somehow Sigur Ros have completely evaded my record collection until last Friday when Takk their last album arrived on my doorstep.

Music has always been the best thing to get me blubbing, but this album has just taken it to a differnt ridiculous level. To my ears it's the most emotive heart wrenching stuff I've heard since I was a teenager listeneing to throwing Muses. Anyway for the unititiated or for the fans here's my current favourite.

On the other hand

Although Sigur Ros has been making me cry I still can't stop my child like glee when I hear some proper late 90s silly hands in the air trance. I've been burning my entire music collection to MP3 recently and came across this that I hadn't had out for a few years. This is a choon at it's preposterous addled best.

I give you Mauro Picotto's Lizard live in Caracas Venezuala because this was always how it was recieved - pass the glow sticks I'm off to climb some ladders.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

A cure?

In November Nic and I went up to the 7th annual Patient and Carer CML conference organised by CML Support. We attended with a mixture of trepidation and with a complete lack of expectation. We had no idea what we'd find and to be honest we feared it would be a big organised hug, full of people 'supporting' each other.

What we hadn't expected was the high level of engagement from the specialists in the area, with all the lead consultants in the area from the UK there and a couple from France and Italy, as well as the 3 main pharmaceutical companies involved in production of the three main drug therapies now used to fight the disease.

Thankfully it was all consultant led and while the drug companies were largely funding it, there was no overt manipulation of agendas. In short the three companies do not technically compete against each other, but rather there is a lead drug and two other different drugs that will combat different strains of the disease's mutations when and if they occur and become resistant to Imatinib (developed by Dr Brian Drucker - or God as CML patients like to call him - at Novartis) which is very much the lead. A little about Imatinib and it's wonder drug status is contained here.

Anyway, the day was frankly exhausting. It was a series of half hour lectures over 10 hours with a cut down 45 minute lunch break and couple of quickly snatched tea breaks. Not that I'm complaining the whole thing was fascinating and everyone found it so, hence the fact that we had to cut down the breaks and also overran on the room booking by 2 hours. They went into extraordinary medical and molecular biological detail and unfortunately most of the real brain twisting stuff came towards the end of the day, but we learnt an amazing amount. Not least that the word 'cure' has begun to be uttered - in very hushed tones let's be careful about this.

Again I'll try and explain this in very simplistic terms.

There is strong evidence after 7 years on the market that Imatinib can ensure that people not only reach full remission but stay there. By that I mean it is undetectable by any test that is available currently. Note any test currently, because they know that they are currently unable to test below a certain level (and therefore cannot say this is a medical cure), however they have so far been perfectly happy to accept this as a zero score.

There is precedent however of people coming off Imatinib for sustained periods when in remission and then staying there. The most common reason for this is in women who wish to become pregnant. A clssic example is Erin Zammett Ruddy an editor of Glamour Magazine in the States who when diagnosed started a column called 'Life with Cancer'. Erin came off Imatinib for a period during 2006/7 while she was trying to get preganant and then for the full term of her pregnancy a period of around 13 months. During that time she did not come out of her state of remission.

This is a story that appears to be increasingly common amongst patients who have achived remission fairly quickly and simply and remain resistance free. This in turn has started to raise the possiblity that Imatinib may actually be a cure.

In order to understand this further we need understand that Leukaemia is essentially a disease of the stem cells. In each active stem cell parts of two chromosomes (the 9th and 22nd) switch places. As a result, part of the BCR ("breakpoint cluster region") gene from chromosome 22 is fused with the ABL (the Abelson proto-oncogene)gene on chromosome 9. Imatinib effectively acts as an inhibitor to stop this process occurring and therefore proliferating and in fact it kills them off hence the move towards remission.

Now what the specialists don't know is whether this process occurs to the extent that the mutation stops completely and there are of course many factors to take into account, the main two in mind being as follows:

1. Do I have a pre-disposition to the chromosal mutation i.e. even if I get rid of every single leukaemic cell will it matter if my body just wants to continue operating in the wrong way.

2. What about dormant stem cells? Stem cells lay dormant for 20 years and because no one can actually read anything from a dormant stem cell and Imatinib does not effect these cells either we have no idea whether these cells are effected by the leukaemia, i.e. when they finally come to life will they be mutated or will they not have been effected because they were dormant. It's a great unknowable.

However they have started to do some trials in Scandanavia to test the cure hypothesis. Volunteers are coming off the treatment having been in full remission for a period of time to basically 'see what happens'. It's a fairly low risk strategy as it has been proven that those that have achieved remission quickly and come off for a period only for the leukaemia to return do in fact achieve remission again just as quickly when they return to the medication.

So there you have it, who knows eh. If Dr. Brian Drucker has found a cure for Cancer I can't think a nobel prize for medicine can be far away.

Monday, January 07, 2008

By the way

The leukaemia's fine.

Sorry I haven't posted about it.

I met up with a friend the other day and almost immediately after he was through the door he said 'How are you?'. He followed that up by saying 'sorry it's just that every time I see you I forget to ask and then kick myself when I get home'.

I thought 'well great' because, I don't want to come across as Mr ill but I guess sometimes that's unavoidable because you are. Thankfully I'm absolutely fine. My physical state is good and progressing towards 'cure'. I'll come back to cure because there's a very long post in that and it by no means concludes that there actually is a cure. And my mental state is much better. I've had quite a few counselling sessions which have really helped and I attended a CML patient conference in Edinburgh in November which was a revelation (again that's another post).

All in all I hit 2008 as happy as I've ever been and I'm not just saying that for effect. See below.

My New Year's resolutions

1. Start writing more on here again, my lovely neglected blog

2. Treat my friendships with the care they deserve

3. Say less things for effect and more things because I mean them

4. Write things down in my diary

5. Buy a diary

6. Don't lose my temper with Eben because something else is annoying me

7. Put things back where they belong, not on the nearest available surface

8. Clean my bike as soon as I get back, not when the mud's dried on solid

9. Stop saying 'I'm doing a triathlon next year'

10. Stay happy

Happy New Year everyone.