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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

At the Island Bay School Cross Country



Monday, May 20, 2013

Amber from other Angles


I have [at least] three sometimes irritating attributes: an elephant's memory for anything written or read; a large capacity for seeing links, parallels and analogies [even where they may not exist]; and a compulsion to communicate my inductions.  This drives my family nuts – and goes a long way to explaining why I blog.

 So I have been ruminating for a while on linking three stories from the newspapers:

1.       The Guardian on ‘The Hobbit ring that may have inspired Tolkien’ at:  
2.       The UK Independent: ‘8,000 artefacts and rising: City dig pronounced the “most important ever” in London’ at:

3.       Der Spiegel: 'Sensational' Discovery: Archeologists Find Gateway to the Viking Empire’ at:

All through the 3-D lens of an economic geographer / transport economist who remains besotted with archaeology; as one who has tried to get his head around the pre-contact history Maori tribal and trade relationships in New Zealand; and as someone who has long-believed that most history as it is currently written gives too little attention to motion, diffusion and pattern.

Anyhow, my hypothesis is this:

The English Channel was a trading nexus in the Pre-Roman era – the point where maritime trade from the Mediterranean met maritime trade from the Baltic. The Romans did not conquer Britain because it was backward and exotic and had barbarian chiefs who would look good in chains – they conquered it because they wanted to control the Channel and take over London and the east coast ports.

The two charms pictured above illustrate perfectly the overlap between the northern and southern European cultures in SE England in the Roman era.

[The ring was found near Silchester in 1785. It is gold and weighs 12 grams and it is ornamented with a head a spiky head wearing a diadem (possibly a representation of the god Nodens). The Latin inscription reads: "Senicianus live well in God".

It may that Senicianus stole the ring from a Roman called Silvianus, because a curse has been discovered on a votive tablet which informs the god Nodens of the theft and asks him to intercede and ‘grant none health who bear the name of Senicianus until he bring back the ring."

The amulet is from the ongoing Bloomberg Place dig in the City of London. It is made of Baltic amber in the shape of a gladiator’s helmet. As the Museum of London Archaeology notes ‘amber was an expensive imported material and was thought to have magical powers. The Roman author Pliny describes how amber amulets could protect children from illness and the symbolism of the gladiator may also be protective.’]

So far so good!

I am going on though to argue that the two charms explain part of the background to the Anglo-Saxon invasion of the South East of England.

Historians have a preoccupation it seems to me with identifying particular tribes in Pre-History with particular bits of land as though they were dealing with mini-countries. The example of Maori in New Zealand challenges this. Here you had 20-30 tribes that spoke a common language and that were frequently at war in shifting alliances that variously led to roving conquests, eviction and migration, absorption and sometimes tribal extinction.

I argue that the Northern Germanic / Proto-Scandinavians were much the same. And that as with the Maori, war-or-no-war, maritime trade continued regardless.

In this sense, the ‘Anglo-Saxons’ were simply an early wave of Vikings. And it would surprise me little to have it confirmed that they traded and settled in Roman London, and that the Angles in particular dominated commerce at the entrepôt forts of the 'Saxon Shore'. Just as I find it totally reasonable that Dublin may have originated as an Anglo-Saxon trading village.


And this brings us to the Der Spiegel article.

This concerns the 30-kilometer (19-mile) wall which runs through the entire state of Schleswig-Holstein. Termed the Danevirke ["Work of the Danes"] – it is considered the largest earthwork in northern Europe.

By the 8th Century it was three meters thick (10 feet) - and a gateway known as the Wiglesdor has just been excavated near Hedeby (known as Haithabu in German). Archaeologists now think the foundation stone might have been laid as early as the 7th century by the Friesians [or I would add probably earlier by the Angles].

[Incidentally someone should look for the trade gateways between the English and the Welsh along Offa's Dyke. This may similarly have been largely designed to intercept and direct cart and pack-horse trains, being for the most part patrolled by the equivalent of customs officers rather than warriors in peace time - but taking on a more offensive function in times of war].

As der Spiegel explains:

'The Frisians, who lived on the west coast of what is now Denmark and on a number of islands in the North Sea, were fighting for supremacy in the region with three other peoples: the Danes, the Slavs and the Saxons. "It was the Kosovo of the early middle ages” but in the end, it was the Danes who emerged victorious.

[I add here the suggestion that the 'Angles' were in reality a sub-tribe of the Friesians - or what Maori in New Zealand would call a 'hapu' of the main 'iwi'] .

'According to contemporary records, King Göttrik of Denmark ordered in 808 that the border of his empire with that of the Saxons be fortified.

‘Only their long boats were state-of-the-art -- fast and light but easily navigable. They allowed the Danes to develop a formidable network of trading routes. They plied Russian rivers all the way to Byzantium and sailed the North Atlantic to far-away Iceland, Greenland and even the northern reaches of North America.

‘But there was an Achilles heel in this far-flung trading empire, and that was at Hedeby. In order for goods from the east to be shipped to the west, they had to cross the narrow strip of land at the base of present-day Denmark. Traders would sail inland on the Schlei Inlet, but when they got to Hedeby, their wares were offloaded and carted overland to the Treene River, 18 kilometers away. Only there could the goods be reloaded onto boats and sailed into the North Sea.

 ‘For the duration of this short overland trek, the valuable goods -- including gold from Byzantium, bear pelts from Novgorod and even statues of Buddha from India -- were open to attack from the mainland. In order to protect this important trade artery, archaeologists now believe, a bulwark of earth, stone and bricks was constructed. The Danevirke, in other words, was little more than a protective shield for commerce’.

Now Hedeby is in Angeln, the original home of the Angles who settled in eastern England - and a 9th Century account of the voyages of a Ottar apparently has this comment:

 ‘And from Sciringesheal, he said that he sailed in five days to the trading-town which they call Hedeby; this stands between the Wends and the Saxons and the Angles, and belongs to the Danes.

 ‘When he sailed there from Sciringesheal, then Denmark was to the port and open sea to the starboard for three days; and then for two days before he came to Hedeby there lay to his starboard, Jutland, and Zealand and many islands.

‘The Angles dwelt in those lands before they came here to this country. And for those two days there lay to his port those islands which belong to Denmark.’

I go on then to argue that the Angles were important traders, in Roman and Post-Roman times, and that at one time they controlled the traffic through the Hedeby portages, and subsequently saw an opportunity to seize another traffic artery, the English Channel, when Roman power weakened. Whether or not this was given impetus by strikes against them in Angeln by surrounding tribes is moot.

All this is clearly at odds with what Bede says, writing around 730 A.D when he comments that the ancestral homeland Angeln  ‘is said, from that time [from the migration to Britain], to remain desert to this day.’ We may ask ourselves then: ‘is it likely that such a valuable piece of commercial real estate as the Hedeby Portages be left ‘desert to this day?’
But Bede was a monk who likely never travelled far from Monkwearmouth and who would have had next to no interest or understanding with respect to commerce and trade. And of course, he was writing at the very time that the Friesians and the Danes were contesting the Baltic-North Sea link.

This leaves us with the inference that the English Angles descended from skilled navigators and traders who at one period of history may have been made wealthy by the Hedeby Portages – so much so that they were able to finance offshoots to their trading empire – but such also that they attracted the envy and enmity of their neighbours.

 And that what happened under the Vikings / Danes [who similarly contested with the Mercians and West Saxons for possession of London in the period 800-900 AD] has some very clear resonances in what happened earlier in the period 300-500 AD.


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Meanwhile around a campfire many years ago


“No! You hear me old man – give the Ashes to mother!”
“Pull the black bark [mate] – spit the worm!”

It seems that 15,000 years ago the English and Australians would have been able to communicate – even if there is a good deal of ongoing weathering of their cognates.

This discovery has been reinforced by work from the University of Reading which has identified a cache of words that embody prehistoric memes inherited from forest-dwelling hunter-gatherers. Their fireside chats about man and mum, and pulling the worms out of the bark, blackening them in the fire ashes and handing them around, may it seems still be reflected in the vocabularies of the language families that have been grouped together under the heading Euro-Asiatic.

Evolution dilutes infinitely but all traces of the original are hard to eradicate.

And if chimpanzees and humans share a 98% similarity in their stocks of DNA and about 95% in sequential terms, when insertions and deletions are included, it soon becomes clear that bits of us go back a long way. Such that evolutionary biologists have been noted as observing that once the fossil record gets to vertebrate proto-fish, things start to get boring.

The possible survival of bits of word DNA from the deep past is therefore not surprising, though there is a good deal of scepticism among experts about the methodology and outcome specifics of the University of Reading study.

As reported in Science Now, the Reading research team ‘found back in 2007 that most words have about a 50% chance of being replaced by a completely different word every 2000 to 4000 years.

‘Thus the Proto-Indo-European wata, winding its way through wasser in German, water in English, and voda in Russian, became eau [through aqua] in French. But some words, including I, you, here, how, not, and two, are replaced only once every 10,000 or even 20,000 years.

‘The new 2013 study, appearing makes an even bolder statement. The researchers broadened the hunt to cognates from seven major language families, including Indo-European, Eskimo, Altaic (comprising many Oriental languages), and Chukchi-Kamchatkan (a group of non-Russian languages around Siberia), which have been proposed to form an ancient superfamily dubbed Eurasiatic.

'Again, using only the word's frequency and part of speech, the model successfully predicted that a core group of about 23 very common words, used about once per 1000 words in everyday speech, not only persists within each language group, but also sounds similar to the corresponding words in other families.

'The word thou, for example, has similar sound and meaning among all seven language families. Cognates include te or tu in Indo-European languages, t`iin proto-Altaic, and turi in proto-Chukchi-Kamchatkan. The words not, that, we, who, and give were cognates in five families, and nouns and verbs including mother, hand, fire, ashes, worm, hear, and pull, were shared by four.

'Going by the rate of change of these cognates, the model suggests that these words have remained in a similar form since about 14,500 years ago, thus supporting the existence of an ancient Eurasiatic language and its now far-flung descendants’.

I love the idea that we can trace our roots way back and the idea that “spoken language can be transmitted through millennia with enough fidelity to give us information about our early history."

There is another angle to this though.

Although some of the words listed in the Reading study may have been matched by happenstance – or may be the equivalent of a redundant but lingering intestinal appendix [e.g. ‘worm’], the bulk are clearly very common. And this suggests in turn that they have observed Zipf’s ‘Law of least Effort’.

Linguist George Kingsley Zipf, published ‘Human Behaviour and the Principle of Least Effort: An Introduction to Human Ecology’ in 1949. He theorised that many behavioural phenomena followed an inexorable tendency for human beings to polish, conserve and popularize the most commonly used tools, words and meeting places. This principle has been applied to things as disparate as hammers, library classifications and cities.

It leads to rank-size relationships and helps to explain why Auckland continues to grow at the expense of the next ranked cities in New Zealand – Christchurch and Wellington – which are roughly half the size of the primate city. It also goes someway to explaining the seemingly inevitably skewed distribution of wealth in societies where less than 20 percent of the inhabitants generally have more than 80 percent of the wealth.

As for language, ‘the frequency of any word is inversely proportional to its rank in the frequency table. Thus the most frequent word will occur approximately twice as often as the second most frequent word, three times as often as the third most frequent word, etc.

 For example, the word "the" is the most frequently occurring word, and by itself accounts for nearly 7% of all word occurrences (69,971 out of slightly over 1 million). The second-place word "of" accounts for slightly over 3.5% of words (36,411 occurrences), and this is followed by "and" (28,852). These ranking results are consistent with the Law of Least Effort.

So it is interesting to look at where the ‘Euro-Asiatic’ word fossils rank.

I had a quick go at picking them off the UK English Top 1,000 Words drawn from publications. Not surprisingly ‘worm’ was not there and neither was the word ‘ashes’.

But the rankings and frequencies are quite thought-provoking:

that – rank 10, frequency 55,871 
not – rank 20, frequency  34,597  
who – rank 51, frequency 11,758   
we – rank 54,frequency 11,526   
man – rank 76, frequency 7,868  
old – 109, frequency 5,569  
these – rank 125, frequency 4,372   
hand – rank 138, frequency 3,924
those – rank 157, frequency 3,442   
mother – rank 187, frequency 3,571 
men – rank 207, frequency 2,743   
woman [originally ‘wife-man’] – rank 214, frequency 2,697   
gave – rank 238, frequency 2,053   
whose – rank 294, frequency 1,615   
fire – rank 316, frequency 1,461   
black – rank 378, frequency 1,233   
women – rank 456, frequency 1,031   
spot [presumably related to ‘spit’] – rank 864, frequency 482   
mother's – rank 929, frequency 476  
thee – rank 976, frequency 335

To me they suggest a preoccupation with possession and identity [and patriarchy] which we may also have inherited as deep memes.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

A Left-Libertarian Inheritance?


“None” argues NZ Journalist Jane Clifton in her recent article in The Listener on the ‘privatization’ of our electricity generation ‘companies’. “If market conditions are correct, the bulb will change itself”.

Setting aside the fact that our semi-state owned power utilities in New Zealand run on extraordinarily complicated EVA rules that allow them to play ducks and drakes with their capital valuations and game their pricing, in simulated rather than real competition, she has a point.

For myself, I term the pure devotion to markets that is an article of faith among the Neo-Liberal Right Libertarian economists: ‘One-armed Bandit Economics’. Pull the lever and the wheel of life spins. Anything other than an equilibrium solution delivers a line of lemons, whereas a line of $s at the sweet spot pours out a stream of cash.

Not of course that I am arguing against supply-demand analysis in general. The problem is that distribution effects get ignored – and these lie at the gist of the real-world political economy of market forces.

I used to work for the New Zealand Institute of Economics Research [NZIER], which is staffed with lovely, somewhat socially isolated, semi-autistic buffers who meet the Daniel McFadden ‘Everyman’ prescription of an Economist:

‘Sovereign in tastes, steely-eyed and point-on in perception of risk and relentless in maximisation of happiness through monetary reward’.

They were the very epitome of homo economicus. But one trouble that I had was reconciling their assessment of individual contributions to GDP per capita to the equally lovely but much less steely-eyed folk from the Intellectually Handicapped Children’s Society who wandered willynilly onto my bus as I made my way home to meet my boys at the school gates.

For as Daniel McFadden argues [across the population in general] ‘homo economicus is “a rare species”. Such that ‘what most economists consider anomalous is the norm - homo economicus, not his fallible counterpart, is the oddity’:

And this has some interesting implications for the interplay between trust, altruism, dignity and monetary rewards.

Which brings me in a somewhat circuitous fashion to Egypt in 1943.

This aberration of neurones was sparked by a recent article by Dean Parker in the New Zealand Herald dated 15th April 2013: ‘What did you do in World War II grandpa? Well, actually, I was appointed Prime Minister in Cairo’, at:

It reminded me that there was a strong Left-Libertarian movement among UK and Allied Servicemen during World War II which put income and wealth distribution issues much higher on the agenda. It led in fact to the short-lived formation of a distinct political party Common Wealth.

As good old Wikipedia explains for us Common Wealth was founded in July 1942 by idealistic British Liberals. ‘It drew on the egalitarian sentiments of the English populace and hence aimed to be more appealing to Labour's potential voters, rather than voters leaning Conservative’. The group called for common ownership, "vital democracy" and morality in politics.

‘Its programme of common ownership echoed that of the Labour Party but stemmed from a more idealistic perspective, later termed "libertarian socialist". It came to reject the State-dominated form of socialism adopted by Labour under the influence of Sidney and Beatrice Webb, increasingly aligning itself instead with co-operative, syndicalist and guild socialist traditions’.

One party proposal was that all incomes should be subjected to an absolute upper limit.

Another was Inheritance Restriction. And the Cairo Forces’ Parliament passed a Bill to this effect on New Year's Day, 1944, by a large majority. 
Now these are ideas that seem evergreen to me. 

And surely, if you are serious about homo economicus and the good that he can do for us all, not from his benevolence but the regard of his own interest, the last thing that you would want for him, from the point of view of society, is to trammel his enterprising spirit with inherited wealth and excessive rewards to his labours?


Let’s take a short detour back to the wartime thinking of the Forces’ Parliament. The big difference between what the troops faced and what we face on a day-to-day basis is that they were avoidant about becoming one of the million Allied Forces combatants who were killed in WWII. Thoughts of death clarified the mind.

Exploring the economics of this takes us in an interesting direction.

Transport Economists like myself are well aware of the ‘Value of Preventing a Fatality’ concept. As its name implies, it attempts to quantify the cost to society of a life lost in road accidents, ‘as a measure of the aggregate willingness to pay for reductions in individual risk’.

It is if you like, the social ‘shadow price’ of your life and mine, taking account of average levels of income losses and all the community expenses associated with one’s premature demise by misadventure.

In the USA, a VPF is currently worth about $7.5 million.

During World War II, around 400,000 US lives were lost in the conflict. The numbers for the UK [including civilian casualties] were broadly similar.

Adjusted for inflation, $7.5 million in current dollars is the equivalent of about $700,000 in 1945 dollars. So, the loss of 400,000 lives had a social cost of around $280 billion in wartime currency. This compares to US and Canadian loans around $5.5 billion to the UK under the Lend Lease Programs [repaid incidentally with interest by 2006].

Coincidentally, the US National Debt stood at around $260 billion in 1945. Of course, all the bonds issued the US Treasury were honoured.

By contrast, the families of dead servicemen and women were never ‘paid out’ by the state to the full coin – theirs was a ‘shadow debt’.

As a war orphan, I cottoned on to this argument at an early age – and it has always made for a clear distinction for me between Homo Economicus and Homo Reciprocans.

Adam Smith himself did not recommend a dog-eat-dog world, even though he observed in the Wealth of Nations that: ‘nobody ever saw a dog make a fair and deliberate exchange of one bone for another with another dog’.

Quite the reverse, in the Theory of Moral Sentiments, he has some sound things to say about reciprocity:

‘When the happiness or misery of others depends in any respect upon our conduct, we dare not, as self–love might suggest to us, prefer the interest of one to that of many. The man within immediately calls to us, that we value ourselves too much and other people too little, and that, by doing so, we render ourselves the proper object of the contempt and indignation of our brethren.

‘Neither is this sentiment confined to men of extraordinary magnanimity and virtue. It is deeply impressed upon every tolerably good soldier, who feels that he would become the scorn of his companions, if he could be supposed capable of shrinking from danger, or of hesitating, either to expose or to throw away his life, when the good of the service required it’.

So it was a grave issue for men in the Allied Forces to watch black marketeers, desk wallahs and armchair Colonel Blimps prosper during wartime, with the option of passing on their wealth to their children to create a rentier class -  while, by contrast, the wives and children of the servicemen themselves faced relative poverty and deprivation.


Given what I have said above, it will be of no surprise that I regard as suspect many of the ideas of Right-Libertarian Economists like Greg Mankiw of Harvard.

I always kick the tyres of the argumentation jalopies that they drive. Greg and his friend Tyler Cowen claim that market freedom and personal freedom always go hand-in-glove [regardless of income and wealth distribution issues and never mind the wartime black market profiteers]. 

To quote Tyler Cowen:

'Economics is sometimes associated with the study and defense of selfishness and material inequality, but it has an egalitarian and civil libertarian core that should be celebrated. And that core may guide us in some surprising directions.

'Economic analysis is itself value-free, but in practice it encourages a cosmopolitan interest in natural equality.

'Many economic models, of course, assume that all individuals are motivated by rational self-interest or some variant thereof; even the so-called behavioral theories tweak only the fringes of a basically common, rational understanding of people.

'The crucial implication is this: If you treat all individuals as fundamentally the same in your theoretical constructs, it would be odd to insist that the law should suddenly start treating them differently'.

But they although they quote Adam Smith with tut-tutting approval in his observation that: 'birth and fortune, as opposed to intrinsically different capabilities, are the primary reasons for differences in social rank’, Greg and Tyler take no account of the perpetuation and accentuation of privilege through the endorsement of excessive income rewards and the protection of heritable wealth.


So I reacted recently when Mankiw argued [in a recent post on his personal blog] that the accumulation of $3 million or more in a SEP-IRA retirement account by America’s Older Citizens should continue to be immune from taxation.

He reckons that ‘exceeding $3 million in such accounts is not very difficult for an individual who is financially successful and frugal. Under current law, a self-employed person can put about $50,000 a year in a SEP-IRA. If he does that every year for 40 years, and his savings earn a return of 5 percent per year, he will retire with about $6 million’.

‘So, yes, President Obama's $3 million constraint would be a significant disincentive for saving. It would move the tax code in the wrong direction’.

But what happens to the money when death casts its final shadow price?

Surely, the accumulated funds are passed down to heirs and beneficiaries who benefit by ‘birth and fortune’ and not by capability?

As another Harvard professor Charles W. Eliot has commented:

‘Why do current valuation practices built into the tax code make it possible for investment partners to end up with $50 million or more in entirely tax-free individual retirement accounts when the vast majority of Americans are constrained by a $5,000 annual contribution limit?

‘A simple calculation shows that the US estate tax system is broken. Assets that are passed to relatives or other personal relations are often badly misvalued relative to what they cost on an open market. The total wealth of American households is estimated at more than $60 trillion. It is heavily concentrated in very few hands.

‘A conservative estimate given the lifespans of Americans would be that 2 per cent ($1.2 trillion) is passed down each year, mostly from the very rich. Yet estate and gift taxes raise less than $12 billion, or 1 per cent, of this figure each year’.

So you don’t have to be a full-blown Left-Libertarian to start thinking again about Inheritance Restriction – or indeed Income Limitation – in a world where income and wealth differentials are widening to Continental Drift proportions, output is stagnating, debt is accumulating like a Glacial Ice Cap, and rising generations [excluding a lucky few] are being short-changed and enervated by their bleak prospects.

I might even get a nod from The Economist here, which comments again with respect to McFadden’s explorations of behavioural economics that choices in life and public policy are ‘undoubtedly messier than standard economics. So is real life’. And likewise death and taxes for that matter.


[and a number of other related articles in this magazine that you can pick up through its Search Box]

Friday, May 3, 2013

All the World’s a Bathtub


Back in 1975 I was a member of a team of consultants that developed a comprehensive Suez Master Plan which laid out a template for the reconstruction of the city following the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. The team was drawn from three UK companies, Sir William Halcrow and Partners [engineers], Shankland Cox [architects and town planners] and Economic Consultants Limited [which contributed the economists like myself].

The city of Suez had been heavily shelled during the war and was largely uninhabitable. The team members lived in Cairo [flats in Dokki and Zamalek in my case]. We went down to Suez periodically to undertake fieldwork, braving the trucks that hurtled towards us down the centre of the highway. Unperturbed, our drivers would hold their ground until – at the last minute – the truck would swerve off onto the verge in a cloud of dust and sand.

At one point, Bill Luttrell, who was the founder and owner of ECL, asked me to entertain 2 young men from an as-then scarcely known Japanese outfit called the Nomura Institute. They were keen to learn about the emerging trade that became international development consulting and had spent time with us in London at our tiny but charming office near Covent Garden [an old drum factory it was reputed] – they were then privileged to join us for a short spell in Egypt on their way back to Japan.

I remember bounding through the wartime rubble of the city up the banks of the Suez Canal to gain vista of the derelict waterway – and beckoning my charges to follow. Looking back, I marvel that we returned unharmed. I was blissfully unaware of the concept of UXOs [‘Unexploded Ordnance’] at that time – and it took an assignment in rural Cambodia in 2001 to bring me up to speed on the concept [or perhaps it would be better to say down to earth].

There’s a very apposite piece online that takes me back to time and place, at


As Elias Antar comments on Suez in 1977:

‘In Suez some 5,000 people remained - out of a 1967 population of 250,000. These few kept essential services going for the soldiers patrolling the canal, but rats, they said, far outnumbered the people. The scars were everywhere. In Port Tewfik waterfront restaurants were unrecognizable piles of rusty metal and torn concrete, and in Suez entire streets were devastated.

‘Shells had turned apartment buildings into huge, grotesque skulls with gaping eye sockets. At the Convent of the Good Shepherd, the roof of the church had been blasted off and the fortunes of war had torn one statue off the wall, but left another unscathed. All told, the Egyptians say, Suez suffered losses of about $650 million in destroyed housing, utilities and industries.

‘Little wonder then that the prospect of rebuilding the cities appeared far-fetched in the autumn of 1973. But with the war over less than a week - and the Israelis still in their cease-fire positions along the canal and around Suez - President Anwar Sadat appointed a Minister of Housing and Reconstruction and told him to start bringing the canal towns back to life.

‘The Minister's reply was typical. "I said okay I'll try," recalls Osman Ahmed Osman, archetypical "can-do" man and the Arab world's leading contractor. (See Aramco World, May-June 1974). Head of "The Arab Contractors Company, Osman Ahmed Osman," he had built airports, bridges, factories, housing and roads all overthe Middle East and - his crowning achievement - the Aswan High Dam, built in cooperation with the Soviet Union. Now, in the wake of war, he was faced with a challenge that in financial terms, was even bigger.

‘Osman, who has subsequently resigned from his ministerial post moved rapidly. By the spring of 1974, he unveiled a program that in fact, was a vision of the canal region during the next 25 years. Industry and agriculture would multiply the populations of the three cities. Free trade zones in Port Said and Suez would attract foreign investment.

‘Their orders were crisp and pragmatic: repair what can be repaired, tear down what must be rebuilt, and do it all as quickly as possible.

‘Which they did. A year after reconstruction began, some 55,000 apartments, 210 schools and 46 hospitals in the Suez Canal zone had been repaired, replastered or repainted. In Suez itself, some 60 apartments were repaired per day. Some of those repairs, it is true, consisted only of filling in bullet holes; but new housing was provided too. "In Suez we have built 7000 housing units from scratch," said Kafrawy and "some 200,000 people have returned."

I have a clear memory of Osman Ahmed Osman welcoming our team warmly – and then setting us firmly in our places by telling us that ‘they were happy to have British consultants because they came from a poor country like Egypt and were therefore easily able to relate to local realities’.

And life in Egypt was indeed very low-key at that time. Cairo still had the air of a blitzed London or a Comecon Warsaw - and the opening of a Wimpy Hamburger outlet was a major event. Groppi’s cakes and the Heliopolis Swimming Pool were the major resources in the battle to stem the blight of broken marriages among the expats, together with the cultivation of mordant humour.

As for the jokes, one was that the proof readers had messed up with the Draft Final Report and that it had gone to the printers advising the Port Authority in Suez to invest in ‘a Large Floating Duck’, rather than a Large Floating Dock.

So I felt a sense of belated fulfillment when I learnt that, as there is nothing new under the sun, a Large Floating Duck has been spotted in Hong Kong Harbour. All we need now is someone to tow it over to the Red Sea!