Wednesday, 30 March 2016

England's Greatest Place?

According to the Royal Town Planning Institute is......

the Liverpool Waterfront which is, of course, a UNESCO world heritage site, one of 25 in the UK.

Sorry, you all know this already as it was announced in December but I was asleep. The Sunday Times Best Places To Live In Britain (13 and 20 March) noted the redeveloping docklands area as one of Merseyside's hottest addresses. Nevertheless, this year they picked Winchester as the best place to live in Britain.

Of course England's "Great Places" and the best place to live are different things entirely.


The shortlist of 10 included the Peak District (see

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Hadn't realised Cruyff gave his son a rebel name

The tributes to Johan Cruyff  mentioned something I hadn't realised. Cruyff's son Jordi was born soon after he signed for Barcelona. Jordi is Catalan for George. George is the patron saint of Catalonia. At the time Jordi was christened (as Johan Jordi), Franco still ruled Spain. Catalan names were forbidden. But the name was registered and the boy was the first in Catalonia to be officially named Jordi for two generations. No wonder, in addition to his footballing exploits, Cruyff is a hero in Catalonia.

By the time of the 1974 world cup final I was gradually converting from a winger, via midfield, to centre back. Even so I worked on being able to execute the Cruyff turn, though I only remember trying it in a game once (successfully!) when I popped up on the left wing after going up for a corner. Perhaps is somethingI know about playing centre back that John Stones has yet to learn, even if it's when and where a centre back should attempt a Cruyff turn.

Thanks for the memories, Johan

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Are most ex-lease cars clocked?

Steve Jackson, chief car editor at Glass's, ran a spot check of cars being returned at the end of their lease agreements when he was with LeasePlan UK, a company with a fleet of 1.55 million vehicles, mainly supplying corporates.  8 in 10 had been tampered with to show reduced mileage.

Twenty years ago clocking affected 1 in 5 cars. But clocking then almost disappeared, made harder by digital odometers. But there are now "50 to 100" companies offering mileage adjustment. A representative of one such company said there were legitimate reasons for changing a cars mileage, such as faults in dashboard equipment. "Everything we do is legal. We do get inquiries about clocking, but we send them away". Per Mandy Rice Davies, well he would say that wouldn't he? Surely fault fixing on today's reliable cars could not sustain so many companies offering this service?

The reason clocking is so attractive is the mileage limit in personal contract purchases (PCPs), which is how three quarters of cars are now bought from showrooms. The typical excess charge is 9p per mile, so you don't have to be far over to justify spending £80 to clock it back.

So if a high proportion of ex company lease cars are clocked and the incentive is there for private owners also, then buying a second hard car sounds pretty dodgy to me these days. On the numbers above I'm guessing perhaps half of used cars might be clocked!

Service history, I hear you say. Good point. But on some cars now the service history is in the computer - you don't get a page in a book stamped and signed anymore. So can those histories be fudged as well?

Facts and quotes from Sunday Times Magazine 6 March 2016. Opinions in the last 2 paragraphs are mine.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

More on the Stock Exchange merger and Brexit

Since posting a few days ago on  the implications of the merger of the London Stock Exchange with the Deutsche Borse for the Grexit debate (see 19 March post) I've seen an interesting interview with the LSE chairman, Donald Bryden (Sunday Times, 20 March).

Amongst the points of interest for those of us who aren't that knowledgeable about the markets were:
1. the buying and selling of shares only accounts for 14% of the LSE's sales. It provides "infrastructure, hard and soft" (me neither) that helps institutions to trade
2. the prospective partners are a good match as Deutsche Borse is stronger in derivatives, while the LSE is stronger in indices and equities
3. London already owns the Milan stock exchange (which I'd forgotten) so combining with Frankfurt will mean closer links across 3 countries and make the market "more liquid" (which I take to mean more cash swilling around in it - though still less, I would guess than in New York or Chicago, whose exchanges might yet come in with a bid for London)
4. the new "merged" company (inverted commas because the Germans will control it, owning 55%) will be based in London, not Frankfurt. This has caused politicians in Germany to ask questions
5. they are still saying that the deal is not contingent on the referendum vote, though, per Mandy Rice Davies, they would, wouldn't they? Other reports are saying they might try to crash it through before 23 June (which makes one wonder if they are worried it could fall through if we vote to leave), though they probably can't get all the paperwork in place that quickly. Bryden said "There is no reason the [combined] group's structure would be different whether we are in or out of Europe....We are a global business today.....Whether it's technically in a political union of Europe, or the European continent, we'll still be able to serve European markets."

I am left with an even stronger feeling that the Herrs at Deutsche Borse can't possibly feel that Brexit would be very damaging and they must think that even the short term shock would be, well, short.

And if we did vote to leave, then the fact that the exchanges of Frankfurt, Milan and London were in one company based in London would make me feel pretty confident about the future of the City outside the EU.

Bryden was careful to stay out of the Brexit debate as such. But judge by what they do, rather than what they say?

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Can a Martinez team defend? (A rhetorical question?)

It was startling to hear that, even before the defeat to Arsenal on Saturday, Everton had conceded more goals at home than anyone else in the premier league this season, including the hapless Aston Villa.

There's certainly plenty of goals this season at Goodison: 57 in the league so far (F29 A 28). Nowhere has seen more goals, though the same total at Man City. City's record is F39 A18; strangely enough their fans probably aren't much happier.

The EFC fans website Grand Old Team had an excellent analysis of Everton's defensive problems after the 3-4 game against Stoke at the end of December ( Amongst it's conclusions was that the freedom Martinez gives the team to attack causes them to lose shape and be vulnerable after losing the ball. It commended Pep Guardiola's "rule of thirds", explained beautifully by Thierry Henry with video clips on Sky (go to"%20rel="wp-video-lightbox%5Biframes%5D). Fascinating to hear Henry talk of his defensive duties as one of a Barca front 3 and of being subbed after scoring the only goal in the first half for ignoring the rule.

The Martinez project to turn Everton into Wigan is now quite well advanced, going from the stats, at least at Goodison:
Goals conceded Home Away Total
    Total Per game Total Per game Total Per game
Everton 2013/14 19 1.0 20 1.1 39 1.0
Everton 2014/15 21 1.1 29 1.5 50 1.3
Everton 2015/16* 28 1.8 13 1.0 41 1.4
Wigan 2012/13 39 2.1 34 1.8 73 1.9
*after 29 games; 16 home, 13 away

Strange that the average goals conceded per game away is the lowest under Martinez so far this season, but has rocketed at Goodison.

Still, this all left me very worried about Everton's defence. Especially as, since the Stoke defeat, Jagielka has returned (and played well); Coleman, Baines and McCarthy have also come back, and Martinez has at last given Robles a run in goal, all of which would be expected to improve the team defensively.

And since December he has preferred Lennon to Deulofeu, and now has Cleverley on the left, both changes you would expect to tighten things up.

However, when you look at what has actually happened in 2016 at Goodison, the problem looks a bit different.

Everton at Goodison 2015/16
2015 Pl  10 W 3 D 3 L 4 F 22 A 19
2016 Pl 6 W 1 D 1 L 4 F 7 A 9

So, since the new year, the average number of goals per game has gone down, from 4.1 to 2.7.  Everton are better defensively and are back at the 1 or 1.1 per game goals conceded at home under Martinez in earlier seasons. But the goal scoring has dried up as well. Barkley's form has dropped noticeably, possibly because he is worried about positioning and losing the ball. And they are just as vulnerable. Indeed they are more of a losing team at home than in the goalfest period before new year.

(This analysis is only for league games and so excludes the 2-0 cup tie win against Chelsea, turned single handedly by Lukaku).

So, my question turns out not to have been rhetorical. Martinez's Everton can defend at home, but only if they sacrifice the quality of the attack. And the results are worse. No wonder, just as the club has a new major shareholder, Martinez looks confused and worried.

Everton have now lost 8 out of 16 home games; only Villa and Palace have lost more.

Everton last lost 8 home games in a season (the whole season mind) in the dog days of 1996/97, as Joe Royle's era crumbled and we stayed up in 15th place after staggering to the end of the season.

On MoTD last Saturday, Danny Murphy blamed the crowd. One can understand why they are restless. But at the previous game, the 2-3 defeat to West Ham, the crowd were wholly supportive, until the Hammers (by then expected) 3rd goal went in and many headed for the exits, more sullen and depressed than angry. Sorry, Danny, but in this chicken and egg, it's not the crowd the problem originated from.

Amongst other things, Everton are suffering from the lack of left sided attackers, with only the inconsistent Mirallas comfortable playing there, in the continuing absence of the ever injured and now long in the tooth Pienaar. This naturally makes it difficult to maintain shape and attack freely. It is a deficiency that should have been addressed in January.

Personally, I would now give Funes Mori, who overall has done well but made glaring mistakes against Arsenal, a breather and bring back Stones, who has something to prove. But the source of Everton's problems are in front of the back 4.

The Drifters performed on the pitch at half time last Saturday. And not just at half time, as many wags were quick to point out (see Worrying times, indeed, even with an F A Cup semi coming up. At least it's not at Goodison.

Monday, 21 March 2016

A Blair target that's been met - teenage pregnancies!

Tony Blair's coming in for a lot of stick lately. But one of his government's long term targets, set in 1999, has surprisingly been met. And only a few years late. The ambitious target was to halve teenage (strictly speaking under 18) pregnancies by 2010, but it has just been achieved. But don't give government the credit....

The data (link to Office for National Statistics publication) showing “an extraordinary achievement” was published on 9 March. It shows that 23 young women aged under 18 out of every 1,000 became pregnant in 2014, compared with 47 out of 1,000 in 1998. There are "striking" regional differences, mind.

There is no doubt that a lot of work has gone into education in particular in pursuit of this objective, described in some detail in a government review covering the period to 2010 (see The Teenage Pregnancy Strategy - what we did and what we learned at - a rather dry powerpoint even compared with the ones I used to sit through). At that point the reduction in "teen" pregnancies was 25% (35% reduction in those leading to births) to what was then the lowest rate in over 40 years.

"Try wearing a cap" sang the Specials. But the reduction apparently isn't due to better availability of contraception. It's all due to social media, say the Daily Telegraph ( The graph published there shows the teen pregnancy rate going down sharply from 2007, the year after Facebook expanded beyond university campuses. Young people are simply spending less time physically in each other’s company since the social media phenomenon went global.

And it's not just teenage pregnancies that are down. Figures published by the Office for National Statistics in February showed that the number of under-25s opting for total abstinence from drink had leapt by 40 per cent in just eight years, which looks like an almost identical pattern and timescale. Young people have overtaken the elderly as the most sober generation. More than a quarter of young people do not drink alcohol at all and binge drinking is also in decline.

"Life is a drink and you get drunk when you're young" sang Paul Weller in the 1970s. Not as much these days apparently.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Are half of top cyclists still drug cheats? And what about other sports?

In his Sunday Times article on Maria Sharapova last weekend, Lance Armstrong's troll (aka David Walsh) noted that Chris Froome, when asked a year ago to put a number on the percentage of  riders guilty of unethical behaviour, using legal medication for purposes for which they were not intended, had said "40 to 50%".

Walsh says it seemed startling at the time, but not now, in the wake of the meldonium saga.

Well, I must have been asleep at the time, so I was startled this time round.

Froome was asked this question as a supplementary to what percentage of riders were still doping in his sport, which he put at 3 - 4%, while insisting he could not be sure.

Even more alarmingly, Walsh suggests some British athletes are encouraged to take prescription medication, like thyroxine, beyond medical requirements in order to gain possible performance benefits. He quoted a specific example.

And we know that athletes have been coached how to fail asthma tests to get inhalers prescribed.

One wonders just how far abuse of prescription medication extends across all sports.

What do the Germans know about Brexit that we don't?

Brexit and the proposed London Stock Exchange - Deutsche Borse merger

"The proposed deal highlights the huge power of the City and is eloquent proof that Brexit would not lead to Britain becoming economically and financially isolated."

Interesting argument put by Alex Brummer*. I wondered for a moment if the German view is they would win either way, in or out. If Britain does well, they share in it; if not they could route deals in euros to themselves in Frankfurt rather than some going to Paris. But that's probably paranoia. As Brummer goes on to say: "After all, the Germans would not risk investing in a multi-billion pound deal if they feared they might suffer huge losses if the British vored to leave the EU".

It would, indeed, seem a high price to pay to hollow out just part of the LSE. And it somewhat eases my big concern about Brexit, i.e. the damage caused by uncertainty during the transition, which could be lengthy. If there could be a long period of disruption, why would they be so keen to do the deal now?

And they have chosen to kick it off now. While other bids may yet come in for the LSE, it wasn't in play. The timing of completion for the proposed deal isn't clear to me, but it would surely come after the June referendum.

Maybe they would pull out if we vote to leave? They say not: "the firms say the deal will proceed regardless of how Britons vote" according to Bloomberg.

So, at face value, it would appear to be a statement of confidence that Brexit won't cause turmoil, disruption and a plague of frogs for many moons.

Could it be that Germans are more confident about us outside the EU than we are ourselves?

Oh - but why, if the London Stock Exchange is so strong, will the "merged" company be 55% German owned (and therefore controlled?)

*City Editor, Daily Mail, 18 March 2016.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Hi there

I've been meaning to start a blog for some time. Mainly so I can record interesting stuff I've seen. I will try to attribute!

The blog name stems from my fascination with numbers. I believe that most problems can't be properly solved without quantification and, while statistics can confuse and be used to obfuscate, they can also reveal huge insights. And I'm generally better with numbers than words.

But the blog name is also a song by Arthur Lee's Love. Why I picked it will be the subject of a future post.

I don't promise to stick to my stated subjects of statistics, economics, politics, sport and music though it gives me plenty of scope. (C'mon, that does leave out some stuff - er religion and art for starters).

First up and coming soon: the EU referendum debate.