A moment of peace amid the terror

IT was not the most original, insightful comment - nor, in the circumstances, the most unexpected. But in those circumstances it had a certain undeniable aptness.

Aidan Semmens

IT was not the most original, insightful comment - nor, in the circumstances, the most unexpected. But in those circumstances it had a certain undeniable aptness.

The man rose from his riverside bench, saw me with my camera and my dog, and said: “Makes the troubles of the world seem a million miles away, doesn't it?”

I don't know exactly which troubles he had in mind.


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It might have been the so-called War on Terror, the threat of a renewed Cold War, the real wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the war of words between senators McCain and Obama.

It might have been global warming, the plight of penguins and polar bears, the catastrophic decline in bees (which could lead to a catastrophic decline in us).

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It might have been the prospect of renewed investment in nuclear power in Korea, Iran and Suffolk.

All of these potential terrors nag constantly at the back of my mind, as regular readers will know.

But given his striped suit and the headline news of the day, I'd say it was probably the turmoil in the money markets and threatened collapse of the world banking system he had in mind. Which is sure to have consequences both predicted and unforeseen, which may or may not be dire.

But all of those things seemed, if not literally a million miles away, then pretty remote on a glorious morning by the Deben.

From that bench he may have been watching a cormorant diving for fish and guessing whereabouts on the water's surface it would next appear. (A few days earlier he could have played the same guessing-game in the same place, as I did, with a full-grown seal as the subject.)

He may have been watching a pair of black-tailed godwit strutting along the water's edge, their long bills probing in the shallows. Or listening to the haunting, bubbling call of a flying curlew. He may just have spotted a kingfisher - first an almost inexplicable pulse of red, then the more familiar departing streak of brilliant blue.

He undoubtedly watched the sunlight striking through the mist on a small boat as it manoeuvred, tan sails rippling in the breeze, before the back-drop of Woodbridge's picturesque tidemill.

He will have seen the wind in the willows tug at the turning leaves. He may, if he was observant, have spotted tiny rainbows caught in the dewy cobwebs hung on the gorse bushes.

And he may have thought, as I did, that it's not a bad old world really. One well worth preserving from its troubles.

EVERY week I know just how much I will win on the National Lottery, the roulette table, the fruit machine and the Tote Placepot.

The sum of my winnings is always exactly the same as my outlay. Zero. I always break even, which makes my net return superior to that of the vast majority of gamblers.

Actually, it's better than that. Very slightly.

I remember at the age of 11 or 12 visiting an elderly relative with my parents. In order to keep me amused while the grown-ups chinwagged, she gave me her pools coupon to fill in.

This I did by making sensible guesses as to the likely outcome of each match - a method which I now know gives you no chance whatever of hitting the jackpot.

After a week or so a letter came. She had sent me my winnings in the form of a half-crown postal order.

A decade later, in 1979, I was persuaded to bet on the Derby. My £1 wager on Troy seemed very rash and frivolous, but it netted me £6, about equal to a day's pay. At that point I quit while I was ahead.

All of which I mention merely to show that I am no compulsive gambler.

If I were, I'd be tempted right now to take a punt in the biggest game in town.

I reckon now might be a very good time to bag a few shares in a big bank or two.

Gordon Brown's no mug - not in financial affairs, anyway. In the past week or so he's gone from dead-duck PM to a world leader. And while his multi-billion intervention in the banking sector has been billed as a bail-out, it could also turn out to be a very shrewd investment.

Not only have HBOS, Lloyds TSB and the Royal Bank of Scotland effectively been nationalised, giving the government the right to call the shots. When the shares recover - as is most likely - the taxpayer stands to make a very tidy profit.

Meanwhile, private investors can expect no dividend pay-outs for a few years. That means a lot of older shareholders who until recently looked on banks as a safe investment will be trying to get out.

And that should bring prices down to bargain-basement levels for those prepared to wait a while for their returns.

When I put it like that, I could almost persuade myself to take my third flutter

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