Tag Archives: blogging

To Plot or to Pants?

27 Jul

It’s the great question of our times. When I’m writing my novel should I plot it out to the Nth degree, or just get on with it (fly by the seat of my pants) and see what happens?

When I wrote my first novel I plotted it out to the Nth degree. The main reason I did so was because I hadn’t done anything quite like it before, so I figured I needed as much help as possible. Think of it as akin to being a kid and riding a bike with stabilisers. Something that’s plotted out in detail gives you a very good framework to write to, and you always know exactly where you are. That is, until a character does something you don’t expect. If you’re working with paper-thin characters, then you can just beat them over the head and tell them to get back in the box and do as they’re told. They play second-fiddle to the action. However, I found that once my characters had developed character, they took on a life of their own and started dictating their own terms. Orders to get back in the box no longer worked. The next problem you encounter is having let a character get away with misbehaving once, they won’t stop. Before long, your carefully plotted story-line has gone by the wayside and you’re in uncharted territory. And that’s exactly where I ended up, two-thirds of the way through novel #1. This time, with novel #2, I decided I didn’t need the stabilisers and instead I was going to pants it a lot more.

Pantsing is great fun, but you have to be able to trust yourself to get to the end at the right time, with the characters and story still intact. This time I only knew the rough story in advance. I knew it involved a 10-year old boy trying to figure out what life was all about, and why was it that grown-ups insisted on making simple things complicated. I knew that he didn’t understand girls, but had fallen for the new girl in class. I knew that he had a gang who were going to get in trouble. I knew that his dad was involved in black-market shenanigans, and that this too was going to cause trouble. I knew the dad was a Tory/Republican and the mother was a Labour/Liberal teacher. I knew that the boy was going to be continually presented with two points of view and he was going to have to decide which parent was right without upsetting the other. Finally, I knew that one of the gang was going to become our hero’s sworn enemy and cause him a lot of trouble in the last third of the book, resulting in him getting thrown out of the gang unjustly. The framework I chose for the story was a school year. This gave me some rigidity whilst also allowing flexibility.

By allowing myself a lot of leeway I was able to develop the characters and go with them. By not being so rigid with the plot, the story developed very organically. At the outset, I thought that the gang of kids was going to encounter bigger gangs of kids and have to fight them, in a sort of computer game ‘big boss’ set of scenarios. After the first gang encounter, I realised I’d put quite a lot of work into developing the character of JJ, the rival gang leader. He really was a chaotic and nasty piece of work. Hence my solution was as follows: in the background, he moves between gangs, taking them over, so that when our hero encounters the different gangs he keeps on running up against his old nemesis. This becomes a much scarier proposition than fighting an unknown. To my mind, this is the ideal mix of plotting and pantsing. I was able to allow my characters to develop their own personalities whist ensuring that all the key events happened at the right time. I also had the added flexibility of being able to change who did what to whom. This allowed me to keep the palette of characters to a minimum, which in turn meant more screen time for my favourites.

The key point is enjoy your writing. If you have to plot in order to do that, then plot. If you have to pants it, then pants it. There’s no one-size-fits-all when it come to art. Be the best writer you can. Go and produce the best work you can, using whatever method works best for you.


Head Down, Back to Work

7 Feb

It’s been a while since I last wrote anything Ferrety, mainly because I’ve had my head down in the day job keeping the country secure from foreign interference.

I work in cyber-security and at the moment everyone wants people with my skills. It’s nice to be in high demand, but it doesn’t half soak up the bandwidth – leaving me with little free time to write. Sure, I’ve been banging out reports for the last three years but it doesn’t satisfy in the same way that plotting the ins and outs of a story does. Anyway, I’ve reached the point where I’m a bit frazzled and I need to do something different.

Three months of freedom coming up!

The question is – am I going to write the follow up to Ferret, which involves all my favourite things such as computer games, hacking and a loony conspiracy, or am I going to write the novel that the missus has been badgering me to write for the last 20 years?

At the moment the missus is winning, which means Pornofish is winning. What’s a Pornofish I hear you ask? Well, it’s a made-up word. The novel is a story about fish. Specifically black market fish and the hidden fish economy of the town in which I grew up, until all that nonsense came to an end in the mid-1970s thanks to the second and third Cod Wars. There’s some porn in it, but only in passing – which means in terms of priority it should be called ‘Fishporn’… but somehow that doesn’t really work. I’m sure David Attenborough has a ton of the stuff, but what he does in his spare time is his own business. Hence Pornofish wins. Pogsy is the protagonist of the piece. He’s a ten year old boy whose ambition is to become the leader of the gang rather than always be number two. However, the leader of the gang isn’t going to give up his position that easily. So a story of self-discovery and ambition, set against a backdrop of the Cod Wars, the Three Day week, political turmoil, inequality and power cuts.

I’m going to be blogging at www.philliplegard.com rather than here, so pop on over and give me a follow. You can also find me on Facebook.

Saving the Packhorse Inn

3 Apr

The Packhorse, South Stoke, BathApproximately 18 months ago I became involved with a campaign to buy back and restore the only pub in the village in which I live. The role I carved out for myself was running the social media campaign to keep the Packhorse in the news. Although I work in Cyber Security by day, it seemed to me to be a fairly good fit for what I’d been doing in the publishing world – not only did it give me the opportunity to use and hone the skills I learned when pitching and publishing the Ferret Files, I also had the opportunity to expand my circle of contacts within the media. I should add that the project to bring the village pub back to life was a community effort, with many hundreds of ordinary folk pitching in their time and skills for free. Over the course of a year and a half, thousands of people-hours were put into the garden alone. For the strip-out, we filled 25 skips with rubbish. When the call went out for a local stonemason to assist with the reconstruction of a (c)17th fireplace that was discovered behind plaster, an ex-lecturer from Bath University, now living in France, gave up a week of his time to lead the restoration work. From an insider’s point of view it seemed that the wind had our backs, and whenever we needed a specialist the right person with the right skills and attitude came our way at the right time.

The end result is a testament to what can be achieved by a small group of dedicated individuals who refuse to take ‘no’ for an answer and believe that they are capable of succeeding no matter what the odds. At the outset, the neersayers were many; we simply got on with the task in hand and left them in the dust, raising just over £1m in funds, which allowed us to purchase the pub, complete renovations and open debt free. If you want to read more about the project and the history of the pub, which is 400 years old this year, then have a rummage around the website: www.packhorsebath.co.uk. As resident PR bod I wrote most of the content.

The Packhorse Bath Opening Day March 18th 2018

The Packhorse Project Team – I’m far left

On the day we opened, it snowed heavily overnight. By 9am a team of 15 shovellers of all ages and sexes had assembled and together we dug out the village. We’d waited six years to reopen the Packhorse and there was no way a little bit of snow was going to call a halt to proceedings! The BBC covered the event and broadcast footage over two nights. More importantly, the story was soon picked up online by the Daily Mail, followed by the Mirror, the Sun and every other UK national. The feelgood story continued trending at number #1 for the Mail Online and was only knocked off the top spot by news of Putin’s reelection later that evening. The next day we featured in every single national newspaper, and over the following week appeared in publictions in South America, China and Germany. Requests for interviews followed and were duly answered. I did my first ever radio interview for BBC local radio. In retrospect it appears that our feel good story was one that the world wanted to hear, and perhaps due to the situtation we find ourselves in globally right now, was in dire need of.

The message that this story contains is pretty simple when you break it down. What appears impossible on your own becomes much easier once you have the right team in place. If you believe in your project and ask the Universe for help when you need it, help will appear. This is how we accrued our stonemason, our lead gardener and our interior designer. Most of all, by committing to take part in a community minded venture and expecting nothing in return, I ended up with a whole load of media experience and an immense feeling of pride in a job well done. Oh, and I now have a pub that serves great food and an unbeatable range of craft beers and real ales within spitting distance of my front door.

That’s what I call a job well done!

Here are the links to the various publications we’ve been featured in. More are being added all the time.

Bath Echo


The Guardian


Bath Magazine









Ali Vowles radio story https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05yrlrl#play (starts 20:24)

The Observer


The Sun


Daily Telegraph


Daily Mail


Daily Mirror






And again in the Metro


Bath Chronicle


Bristol Post


Good Housekeeping






Somerset Live




360 TV



And the international links:







Spanish (it’s actually Russia Today!)


Czech Republic





China / Chinese language





10 Gold Hoards You Need to Know About

15 Feb

inca-image-1Most modern economists have little good to say about gold, naming it as a ‘barbarous relic’ [1]. Funnily enough, although the economist John Maynard Keynes is credited with this observation, his criticism was leveled at the gold standard of the day and not the metal itself [47]. Whilst gold is shunned as a modern investment in the West (President Nixon cancelled the convertibility of dollars into gold aka ‘the gold standard’ in 1971), the yellow metal is still preferred by much of the rest of the world for international trade settlements and as a store of wealth, mostly thanks to local currencies that don’t keep their value. Despite all the negative connotations that surround gold in the mainstream media, the thought of finding a cache of the yellow metal makes my blood race and my heart beat like billy-o. I don’t know about you, but personally I can’t get enough of reality shows like Gold Rush, which feature big boys’ toys and hardy prospectors eking out a living from the land. The piles of gold they produce each week tap into the animal spirit in a way that paper money can’t. Gold has this ability to send people crazy with yellow fever and once they get that look in their eyes, there is simply no coming back.

It is no surprise that our nations’ nuclear secrets are highly classified, but it may come as a shock to discover that everything surrounding official gold holdings is highly classified too. Although figures for gold holdings in metric tonnes are relatively easy to obtain for every country in the world [3], once we start digging into what is really going on behind the scenes, we find that things become deliberately opaque. For instance, a nation may lease or swap its gold with another entity [4], without any official announcement, which means it is not possible to truly know who owns what. As to where our gold is stored and the numbers and types of bars held – funnily enough, this is a state secret too. What this means is that while most of the figures in 10 Gold Hoards are verifiable, others are guesstimates. When I began my research, I foolishly thought that all the quantities of gold under scrutiny would be stated in imperial tons (gold is weighed in troy ounces). No such luck. Some values are in $$$, correct at the date of publication, while other weights are in kilos, ounces or metric tonnes. I’ve converted all of the hoards into metric tonnes, as this is the figure which is used when stating international gold reserves. If a hoard is valued in $$$ and it contains silver, then the silver is discounted from the total.

For the record, the internationally recognized standard for gold bars is the 400oz good delivery bar. A tonne of such bars easily fits into a single drawer of a filing cabinet. As an infograph paints a thousand words, follow this link [40] for a representation of how much space various tonnages of gold take up.

Aztec Gold (<1 tonne)

hernan-cortesI’d always assumed that the Spanish conquistadors under the command of Hernán Cortés plundered massive quantities of gold from the Aztecs before killing most of them in a series of pitched battles. A quick dig and we soon find out that this is not the case. Although Mexico is home to some of the world’s largest silver mines, compared to Columbia, Ecuador and Peru it has very little gold. The hoard that King Montezuma II had accrued filled only a single room and this was gifted to the Spanish by Montezuma’s envoys in 1519 without the slightest hint of violence. For ease of transportation, the golden objects were melted down into 1kg ingots. The largest single treasure was a golden sun, the size of a cartwheel, valued at 10,000 pesos [8]. Today this artifact would be priceless. Here, we run into trouble with our calculations, as Cortés valued the same piece at only 3,800 pesos. As 20%, or a Royal Fifth, of the 200 odd items that the conquistadors acquired were gifted to King Charles V of Spain, it wasn’t in Cortés’ interest to be accurate with his accounting.

tenochtitlanIn 1520, Cortés mounted a raid on Montezuma’s treasure stores within the city of Tenochtitlan, figuring that the Aztec king was lying about the true size of his hoard. Unfortunately there are no surviving records regarding what was taken, as soon afterwards the Spanish pushed the Aztecs too far and had to flee the city under cover of dark, losing most of their plunder in the process. The escape during La Noche Triste (the Night of Sorrows) was made all the more tricky by Cortés’ prior destruction of all the rope bridges into and out of the city.

As a good stack of Spanish gold was plundered by the English pirate Sir Francis Drake before it reached Spain, and yet more was lost in a series of shipwrecks, it is almost impossible for us to know how much gold the Spanish looted from the Aztecs. On paper, it appears to be less than a ton – but as with all things gold related, we’ll never know for sure.

Inca Gold (11+ tonnes)

pizarroIn sharp contrast to the Aztecs, the Incas had bags and bags of gold. They’d been mining and refining for centuries when Francisco Pizarro and his band of around 160 seasoned warriors rocked up in northwest Peru in 1532, hell-bent on conquest. The Spaniards were mistaken for the god Viracocha and his entourage, which goes someway towards explaining why they weren’t immediately disemboweled. Pizarro had visited Peru on two previous occasions, but what he found this time was a country in turmoil from a combination of European smallpox and a civil war of succession. By the time the Inca emperor Atahualpa realized that the Spanish were evil thieves, it was too late. Two thousand of his unarmed Incas were massacred by Spanish gunfire and cavalry charges, and he found himself taken prisoner. In bargaining for his release, Atahualpa offered to fill a large room (22ft by 17ft by 8ft) with gold and twice over with silver.

cuzcosacPizarro netted 13,000 pounds or 5.9 tonnes of 22 carat gold and 12 tons of silver, delivered as statues, cups, plates and jewellery. The entire hoard was melted down into ingots, destroying many priceless artifacts. Later, after Pizarro reneged on the deal and sentenced the emperor to death for treason, he headed off to the Inca city of Cuzco, where he was warmly welcomed by Atahualpa’s brother – the loser in the war of succession. The Spanish immediately set about sacking the city, accruing at least the same amount of gold and silver as the emperor’s ransom haul, the most prestigious item being a throne of gold. Most of the cultural relics were smelted into ingots [9].

News of Pizarro’s wealth spread far and wide and over the next 120 years many European explorers set sail for Peru, determined to seize their own slice of Inca gold. A rumor circulated that the Inca had escaped into the Amazon basin, making off with far more gold than Pizarro had accrued. Thus began the search for Eldorado, the fabled city of gold – a search that continues to this day.

Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple (380+ tonnes)

sri-padThe citizens of India love their gold! While it is estimated that some 18,000 tonnes of the yellow metal is held in private hands across the whole Indian subcontinent [48], the largest hoards are to be found in the Hindu temples of southern India, where, over the centuries, rich devotees and royalty have deposited large amounts of precious metals and jewels. The Tirumala temple in eastern Andhra Pradesh state, for instance, is reported to have 4.5 tonnes of gold [33]. This pales into insignificance when compared to the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, which is acknowledged by the Guinness Book of Records as being the richest in the world.

Any donation which is made to a temple becomes the property of the deity who resides within – in the case of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple this is Vishnu, the supreme Lord. The story of how the temple came to be audited under the instruction of the Supreme Court of India is rather convoluted [20]; suffice to say it began with a complete denial that any kallaras or treasure vaults existed underneath the temple, and ended on 30th June 2011 with the opening of Vault A and the discovery of approximately $22 billion in precious metals and gems. This valuation is by weight alone [15], and allowing for a gold price of $1,800 at the time of valuation, this gives us approx 380 tonnes of the yellow metal. It took 15 men 12 days to empty and inventory the vault, which many devotees said should not have been opened due to a curse [19]. The items of interest, in summary are: 800Kg of gold coins dating to 200BC; 100,000+ gold coins from ancient Rome; a gold sheaf weighing 500Kg and 1 ton of rice trinkets. Some of the gold was sent to be melted down and purified, ending in a scandal when 266Kg went missing [16]. Rumor has it upwards of another ton has been stolen, possibly through a secret passage [18].

sree-pad-cobrasOf the 8 vaults so far discovered, 3 have yet to be opened. When the assessors tried to open Vault B, they found one of the locks was jammed. A locksmith was called, but the attempt was abandoned when it was claimed in court that the spiritual integrity of the temple would be damaged [20]. Later, a ritual was performed to ascertain the will of the Lord, which revealed that any attempts to open Vault B would cause divine displeasure. To this day, no further attempts have been made to enter. The entire wealth of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple is recorded on a set of 10,000,000 leaves, which are yet to be audited [20], but based on what has been discovered so far, the contents of Vault B are estimated at $40 billion (approx 690 tonnes gold). This assumes that no further sub-vaults are discovered. Legend has it that beyond Vault B lies a chamber with walls made of solid gold, which contains the largest treasure vault in the history of the world [18].

King Solomon (500+ tonnes)

kstKing Solomon was the third king of Israel and a key figure in the Old Testament, ruling between roughly 970 and 931 BCE. Under his leadership, the kingdom of Israel grew from little more than a city state to an empire that dominated the Middle East. Aside from being a wise and powerful ruler, Solomon also had a love of gold in all its forms. According to legend, he had drinking cups, candlesticks and tables made from pure gold, along with 300 shields of beaten gold, a gold and ivory throne and last but not least, the Ark of the Covenant. Technically speaking, gold is quite a soft metal, so it is likely that this was 22 carat gold (91.6% pure – the standard for jewellery and coins in circulation). Solomon had the First Temple in Jerusalem decorated with precious metals, copper and gems; it is estimated that by the end of his reign he’d accumulated over 500 tonnes of the yellow metal [10]. In one year alone, he is alleged to have collected 666 talents of gold in tribute (1 talent = 67 pounds, so around 20 tonnes). When Solomon died, his kingdom split in two. The First Temple was later sacked and the riches stolen. Much of the gold most likely found its way to Egypt, taken away by King Shishak [11], although there are some who say it remained hidden until it was discovered by the Knights Templar.

kingsolomonsminesOne question which has perplexed archaeologists and historians for the last 4,000 years is where all this gold came from. Records tell us that one of King Solomon’s besties was King Hiram of Tyre, which is located in present day Lebanon. The pair dispatched expeditions of Phoenician sailors (the marine corps of their day) to the mysterious land of Ophir to gather all the gold they could find. No records survive regarding Ophir’s location, which is hardly surprising given the secretive nature of the gold industry. Nevertheless, treasure hunters have spent the last twenty-five centuries hunting down the legendary mine. The Victorian imagination was fired by the adventures of Allan Quatermain in Rider Haggard’s 1885 novel King Solomon’s Mines, which placed Ophir in central Africa. For a while, no self-respecting dinner party was complete without a new well-thought-out mine theory. As we now know, the Phoenicians were expert deep water sailors who navigated their way around the Cape of Africa. Modern day speculation places Ophir in West Africa, East Africa, Arabia, Asia and even South America! All we can say for certain is that if the location of Solomon’s mine has been discovered, those that found it remain very tight-lipped.

Nazi Gold (740+ tonnes)

nazi-goldWhen the Third Reich came to power in 1933, gold was still the means by which a nation’s financial clout was determined. It is pretty certain that Hitler had spent nearly all of the German gold (23 tonnes) by 1939, buying raw materials from abroad as part of his rearmament campaign. Handily, neither Austria nor Czechoslovakia complained when their gold reserves were annexed between 1938 and 1939, thus replenishing the coffers. During their march across Europe, the Nazis stole gold from the central banks of every country they occupied. Later they confiscated coins, jewellery and even teeth from hapless civilians. The requisitioned gold was estimated at $772 million [34] (gold was $36.20 a troy oz in 1940, therefore 740 tonnes). It was shipped off to Berlin, where it was smelted down into bars to help bolster Reichsmarshall Goering’s expense account.

By 1943, things had gone seriously wrong for Hitler, forcing the Berlin Reichsbank to ship its gold to branches throughout Germany. An estimated 91 tonnes was secretly moved to Switzerland, to be squirreled away by the Gnomes of Zurich. Only 3.6 tonnes of this was ever recovered. According to some sources, the Vatican got their mits on a fair chunk, although this is still denied with much wailing and shaking of heads. Neutral Portugal was a supplier of armaments to the Nazi regime and they demanded payment in gold, having previously been ripped off with forged currency. Generously, the Allies allowed them to keep it after the war. During the summer of 1945, the US Army began a serious hunt for what remained of Hitler’s gold. Approximately 230 tonnes was recovered from various Reichsbank vaults. The largest single hidden haul was discovered in Merkers Mine [5], 200 miles south of Berlin. merkers_mineIt included: 8,198 one kilo bars; 55 boxes of crated gold bullion; hundreds of bags of gold items; over 1,300 bags of gold Reichsmarks, British gold pounds and French gold francs. After WWII, the Tripartite Gold Commission set up a gold pool to repatriate 10 million ounces (347 tonnes) to its rightful owners [7]. Estimates of the total quantity of looted gold vary, with experts divided. It is generally agreed that over 700 tonnes was stolen, centralized and later dispersed [34], which is why Nazi gold hunters continue to comb continental Europe to this day in search of missing Nazi treasure [6].

The Roman Empire (1,650+ tonnes)

britain_gold_roman_coinsThe Empire of Rome has a special place in the history of gold, for it was the Romans who first introduced the widespread use of a struck gold coin with a standard size, purity and weight. Although gold coins had been in use previously in Greece and Turkey, there was never enough gold to support an economy and hence silver was the monetary metal of choice throughout the region. As the Roman Empire expanded into Egypt, Spain and Romania, its access to gold increased. Indeed, the conquest of Syracuse alone yielded 2,700 pounds or 1.22 tonnes of gold. Once the Romans got up to speed, it is estimated that between the years 100 and 300 AD they mined around 10 tonnes a year [12], using mechanized production methods that remained unrivaled until the Industrial Revolution. Unlike other civilizations, rather than turn all that gold into jewellery, the Romans minted coins.

roman_coin_02aThe standard Roman gold coin was the aureus, which was 22 carat and weighed 0.23 troy ounces. It was the standard pay for a legionnaire for a month, and in Britain would buy 29 gallons of cheap wine or 200 pounds of flour [12] – which is more than enough alcohol and pies until the next pay day. The gold hoards we’ve examined so far were static, as in gathered in one place. This is great if you’re a greedy monarch, but gold in storage is useless for an empire built on conquest and trade. Hence the Roman gold hoard was distributed around the empire, except for what remained on deposit at the central bank of Rome, which held around $30 million at 1927 valuations [13]. Gold was roughly $30 a troy oz back then, so this equates to a million ounces, or 35 tonnes, which was a fraction of the estimated 1,650 plus tonnes that the Romans mined.

After the Roman Empire divided into the Eastern and Western Empires around 285 AD, gold supplies began to dwindle. This was accompanied by a debasement of the currency driven by rising costs, which saw both the gold aureus and the silver denarius became mostly cheap filler metal. We’ve seen a similar situation with the British money supply during the 20th century, as silver coins were gradually taken out of circulation and replaced with nickel and zinc discs with no intrinsic value, in order to finance wars (WWI & WWII). A lot of Roman gold found its way East, to India and China, as payment for luxury goods [20], a situation which is echoed today, as the gold vaults of the west are being systematically emptied by the Chinese and their insatiable appetite for gold [46].

The Persian Empire (2,500+ tonnes)

lydian-lion-head-solonAt its height, the Persian Empire extended from the Balkans to the Indus valley and included Egypt and parts of the Arabian Peninsula. The Persian rulers had a liking for gold and silver, which they accrued in their ceremonial capital, Persepolis, which was founded in approx 518 BCE. Some thirty years earlier, the Persians overran the kingdom of Lydia, which lies in modern Greece, adopting the country’s coinage without changing the style or technology used in production. The Lydian Lion is recognized as the world’s earliest coin – it is cast from electrum, an alloy of silver and gold. Although the Persians used some of their silver and gold in coins, the majority of their gold was hoarded by the rulers.

How much gold did they have? Well, this is a tricky question to answer. They certainly took a large amount of the yellow metal from Egypt as a yearly tribute, which as we’ve already seen, originally came from King Solomon. During peak looting, the Persians took around 40,000 pounds (16.5 tonnes) a year, which was stashed away in the vaults. The biggest clue we have to the size of the Persian hoard comes from a combination of Plutarch (46-120 CE) and Diodorus Siculus (90-21 BCE), who both claim that during the sacking of Persepolis by Alexander the Great in 330 BCE, 20,000 mules and 5,000 camels were needed to carry off the loot, which included upwards of 2,500 tonnes of gold [14]. Records indicate that 1,120 tonnes of gold was deposited in Susa, now in modern day Iran. Once fully sacked, Persepolis was raised to the ground as revenge for the destruction of Athens in 480 BCE.

atg-gold-2Alexander turned the majority of the 12,200 tonnes of silver he stole into coinage, which he then used to pay his troops, persuading them to follow him all the way to India. Although Alexander introduced some gold into circulation, it doesn’t account for the 1,380 tonnes of gold which didn’t make it to Susa, which is presumably why the hills of Asia Minor are full of adventurers looking for buried treasure.


We’re now seven hoards down and ready to tackle the big three. One of the issues with researching modern gold stashes is that we have to verge outside of mainstream news sources to discover what’s happening. With a little basic maths the historical stuff was relatively easy to wrap our heads around. For what’s coming next we need to prep our tinfoil hats and remember to take everything we read with a pinch of salt and a dose of good old fashioned humor.

Fort Knox (4,582 tonnes)

fort_knoxThe USA has the largest stated gold reserves of any modern country, weighing in at a hefty 8,133 tonnes [3]. Of this, 4,582 tonnes are stored in Fort Knox, which is arguably the most famous bullion depository in the world. Given that it is located on a US Army base, it is also one of the most secure. According to mainstream sources [30], the bullion inside Fort Knox is a mix of ‘good delivery’ bars (400oz – as defined by the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA)) and also coin-melt bars, which were created from bullion coins handed in by the public after President Roosevelt banned the public ownership of gold in 1933. As a result of Executive Order 6102, the Federal Reserve’s stash of gold increased from $4 billion to $12 billion, necessitating the construction of a secure depository in which to store the country’s gold reserves. Construction of the thirteen vaults was completed in 1936 and the gold was transported to its new home in 1937 using over 500 train cars. At the outbreak of WWII, many European nations shipped their gold reserves to the US for safekeeping; at its peak in December 1941, Fort Knox held 649 million ounces (22,200 tonnes) of gold [29].

fort-knox-vaultBut is the gold still there? Apart from a visit by Roosevelt in 1943 and a press visit in 1974 to allay fears that all the gold had vanished after Nixon took the US off the gold standard in 1971 [27], no member of the public has ever been inside the vaults. The gold was last physically audited in 1953 (only 5% of the gold was assayed by a non-independent source), with all modern audits only checking the vault seals and not their contents [28]. Naturally, conspiracy enthusiasts have concluded that something is indeed awry with the nation’s gold. In true Doublespeak fashion, the claim that America’s gold is ‘held in deep storage’ is reinterpreted by some to mean that Fort Knox is empty and America’s gold is underground, waiting to be mined [39]. According to one source, the vault seals were all replaced in 2010 [28], which coincides rather neatly with a story that began doing the rounds a year earlier concerning the discovery of 60 tonnes of good delivery gold bars in Hong Kong that were salted with tungsten [31]. Tungsten is cheap and happens to be approximately the same density as gold, meaning that it can’t be detected by weight or x-rays. The only way to ascertain whether a gold bar is 99.99% pure is to either melt it down or drill it out.

tungsten-gold-barChinese officials later played detective and allegedly discovered that 1.5 million 400oz tungsten inserts were produced and plated with gold during the Clinton administration; 640,000 (8,900 tonnes) of which were shipped to Fort Knox and New York to replace the nation’s gold which various administrations had illegally stolen. The balance of the bars found their way onto the international market [31]. As with all things that involve a tinfoil wrapper, it is impossible to know for sure how much of the story is true. Suffice to say that the Chinese amended their gold purchase strategy shortly afterwards so that gold bound for the Shanghai exchange is now melted down and recast before being added to the inventory.

Romanov Gold (4,600+ tonnes)

nikolai-alexandrovich-romanovFollowing the death of Tsar Nicholas II In 1918, the New York Times reported that the Romanov family had been the wealthiest in the world, with an estimated fortune of $9 billion. Prior to the Russian Revolution, they governed an empire that covered over one sixth of the Earth’s surface and according to journals of the time had the largest strategic gold reserve in the world. Getting to the bottom of how much gold the Romanov’s had, where it was stored and where it went is a rather tricky business and it takes us a long way away from the traditional safe-spaces of the internet. What is certain is that everything they had was plundered by the Bolsheviks, who were assisted by the Western banks, and had vacated Russia by 1921.

I once heard an interview with Dr Jim Willie, in which he claimed that Baron Rothschild had approached Tsar Nicholas II with a deal to lease 12,000 – 15,000 tons of gold and, once Rothschild had the hoard, rather than repay the loan the Romanovs were murdered [36]. If the entire $9 billion fortune of Russia’s Imperial family was held in gold, at 1918 prices ($20.67) this gives us around 15,168 tonnes, which fits the profile. However, according to the World Gold Council, the total quantity of gold that had been mined worldwide by 1920 was 30,000 tonnes, with only 11,000 tonnes held in reserve by central banks [44]. As the $9 billion wealth fund likely included estates and land, we should be suspicious of the 15,000 tonne claim. We must, therefore piece together the size of the Romanov hoard from other disparate sources.

gold-in-national-bank-in-kazanOne figure which we can lock onto is the 1,600 tonnes of gold that were sent east under the guardianship of Admiral Kolchak prior to the Bolsheviks kicking off the Revolution. This was apparently 73% of the total gold reserves held in St Petersburg [42]. This gives us 2,192 tonnes of gold held in the capital, with perhaps 100 tonnes held elsewhere. Kolchak’s gold later went missing, which has prompted many treasure hunters to search for it ever since, with the most likely site for its final resting place being the bottom of Lake Baikal [32] [42]. According to other sources, once the Revolution started, the Tsar ordered $1 billion worth of gold to be shipped to Remington in the US to finance the purchase of weapons to quell the upstarts. At 1917 prices, this equates to 1,685 tonnes. Given that America lies to the east of Russia, I’m inclined to believe that this is the same gold shipment that Kolchak was entrusted to guard.

Another source [37] claims that Rothschild liberated $700 million in gold from Russia (1,180 tonnes), with US banks holding onto $900 million (1,492 tonnes) and European banks keeping safe a further $427 million (750 tonnes). As gold was the only real money in the early 20th century, it is likely that these bank deposits were initially made in gold, which may then have been used to purchase paper (stocks, shares & dollars/pounds/francs). This is backed up by a chart of US gold reserves, which shows a jump of 1,500 tonnes on deposit between 1900 and 1918 [21]. This leads us to conclude that 2,300 tonnes of Romanov gold was held abroad. Baron Rothschild’s haul consisted of what remained in the St Petersburg vaults, along with an extra 600 tonnes pillaged from private citizens [35], probably taken out of the country on four ships stacked with bullion [38]. romanov-gold-coinIn his book History’s Greatest Heist, historian Sean McMeekin outlines how the Bolsheviks went crazy for anything of value that wasn’t nailed down and sold it off to help pay for the revolution [43]. Although the governments of the world initially refused to recognize Lenin and disallowed the sale of Russian gold on the open market, the Swedes were not so circumspect. Covertly, the Swedish mint smelted down revolutionary gold and stamped the bars with the Swedish hallmark [43], thus facilitating its sale on the global market.

A gold hoard of 4,600+ tonnes is certainly feasible. A quick flick through the history of Russian mining [41] reveals that at a conservative estimate 2,100 tonnes were mined in the pre-Soviet era, with an average of 200 tonnes a year produced today [45]. Throw in Alexander the Great’s gold which went missing in Russian territory, along with gold captured in various military campaigns over 300 years of Romanov rule and it soon adds up.

Yamashita’s Gold (5,450+ tonnes)

yamashita-goldThe Yamashita of the title is Japanese general Tomoyuki Yamashita, who was nicknamed The Tiger of Malaya. During the Japanese invasion of Southeast Asia in late 1941 / early 1942, his job as commander of the Twenty-Fifth Army was to loot as much gold as possible from the captured territories and stash it all in Singapore, with a view to transferring the hoard to the Japanese mainland. The story goes that General Yamashita was assisted in his endeavor at the highest level by a secret task force assembled by Emperor Hirohito, which included in its ranks yakuza gangsters. The operation was codenamed Golden Lily and it was certainly a clandestine affair which is only paid lip service in serious history books. Those that do pick up the trail usually dismiss the story as a hoax. At best they’ll concede that General Yamashita had away perhaps a few tons of gold. However, Sterling and Penny Seagrave, who have authored a pair of books on the subject [23] [24] argue differently.

What we can say for certain is that much like India, Southeast Asia has a lot of Hindu temples and those temples were loaded with gold before the Japanese invaded. By the end of the Second World War they were empty. The Emperor’s task force allegedly captured around 5,450 tonnes of gold from Nanjing during their assault on the Chinese mainland in 1937. Later on, once Southeast Asia fell, they plundered with abandon. Gold was assayed, melted down into ingots and sent to the Philippines on hospital ships. This came to an end in 1943, thanks to an outbreak of American submarines. According to the Seagraves, it was at this point that Golden Lily began stashing their loot in hidden underground locations such as bunkers and caves. In all, 175 imperial treasure sites were created and those who assisted with burying the loot were entombed with it. After WWII ended, a crack team of US investigators located 15 of the hoards by torturing Yamashita’s driver. They found piles of gold ingots higher than their heads [22]. General MacArthur was informed of the finds and President Truman hushed everything up, intent on using the loot to fund off-the-books CIA activity. imelda2Ferdinand Marcos, later the ruler of the Philippines, got in on the act and recovered gold worth $6 billion from a sunken Japanese cruiser and $8 billion from a tunnel [25]. Allegedly, Marcos discovered the whereabouts of five more sites and appropriated their contents. Like Goering before her, his wife Imelda spent the loot with abandon on a luxury lifestyle that included thousands of pairs of designer shoes. Later, a lawsuit was filed against Marcos by a treasure hunter who accused him of stealing $22 billion in gold at gunpoint. This was reduced to $13 million on appeal, with newspapers declaring that Yamashita’s gold had finally been found and this was an end to the matter.

Except of course it isn’t. If we spend a bit of time searching the internet for Yamashita’s gold, we soon discover a rabbit hole of immense proportions. Some sources claim that the Marcos’ fortune was nearer to $1 trillion and they had in their possession over 60,000 tonnes of gold from the Golden Lily hoard, which actually totaled a million tonnes [17]. Given that the World Gold Council estimate that around 165,000 tonnes of gold have been mined in the whole of human history, of which the central banks store 33,000 tonnes [2], something is clearly not right. Is the World Gold Council mistaken? Has the US really got a secret stash of 170,000 tonnes of ‘recovered’ gold in Hawaii as a whistle-blower claims [26], or is this controlled misinformation to cover up the fact that Fort Knox is empty? I’ll leave that for you to decide. Meanwhile, let us raise a glass to the thousands of treasure hunters who descend on the Philippines every year in search of Yamashita’s gold. The best of luck to you all.

Two gold wedding ringsWhat have we learned from this waltz through the great gold hoards of history? If you stash all your gold in one place, someone will eventually come along and plunder it. Then, once the perpetrator thinks the hoard is safe, someone bigger still comes along and takes it again. Gold is the ultimate store of wealth and the ultimate recyclable. Every year hundreds of tons of jewellery and gold bars are melted down and recast. That gold coin your granddad left you, or perhaps your gold wedding ring might just contain a small part of an Inca hoard purloined by the Spanish conquistadors, or perhaps some of Alexander the Great’s loot stolen from Persia, which in turn came from ancient Egypt as a tribute, but originated in King Solomon’s mines, wherever they may be.

If you enjoyed this article why not try out Phillip’s latest novel ‘The Ferret Files’ – available now on Amazon



[1] http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2011/10/who-first-called-gold-a-barbarous-relic.html

[2] https://gold.to/how-much-gold-in-the-world/

[3] https://www.gold.org/research/latest-world-official-gold-reserves

[4] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/markets/7884272/Secret-gold-swap-has-spooked-the-market.html

[5] https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/1999/spring/nazi-gold-merkers-mine-treasure.html

[6] http://hitlernews.cloudworth.com/nazi-gold-lake-toplitz.php

[7] http://therealasset.co.uk/nazi-gold-bullion/

[8] http://www.mexicolore.co.uk/aztecs/ask-us/how-much-gold-did-the-conquistadores-get

[9] http://latinamericanhistory.about.com/od/theconquestofperu/p/The-Treasure-Of-The-Inca.htm

[10] http://www.miningweekly.com/article/the-gold-mining-legend-of-king-solomons-mines-2012-06-22

[11] http://www.creationmoments.com/content/accounting-king-solomon%E2%80%99s-gold

[12] http://info.goldavenue.com/Info_site/in_arts/in_civ/in_civ_romans.html

[13] Tenny Frank “An economic history of Rome” sec. edition 1927.

[14] https://www.ancient.eu/article/214/

[15] http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2011/07/06/137627235/some-22-billion-in-gold-diamonds-jewels-found-in-indian-temple

[16] http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/266-kg-of-gold-lost-from-temple/article6893987.ece

[17] http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/sociopolitica/es1/p_sociopol_fed05e.htm

[18] http://www.forbes.com/sites/jimdobson/2015/11/13/a-one-trillion-dollar-hidden-treasure-chamber-is-discovered-at-indias-sree-padmanabhaswam-temple/#6746c68621eb

[19] http://www.messagetoeagle.com/incredible-padmanabhaswamy-temple-and-its-ancient-treasures-hidden-in-vaults-guarded-by-serpents/

[20] http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2012/04/30/the-secret-of-the-temple

[21] http://www.24hgold.com/english/contributor.aspx?article=4249489564G10020&contributor=Tim+Iacono

[22] https://www.lrb.co.uk/v25/n22/chalmers-johnson/the-looting-of-asia

[23] The Yamato Dynasty: The Secret History of Japan’s Imperial Family (2000).

[24] Gold Warriors: America’s Secret Recovery of Yamashita’s Gold (2003).

[25] https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1243&dat=19920203&id=LVYPAAAAIBAJ&sjid=j4YDAAAAIBAJ&pg=4782,3870408

[26] http://www.silverdoctors.com/gold/gold-news/dollar-valueless-about-to-crash-170000-tons-of-gold-held-in-secret-hawaii-vault-world-bank-whistleblower/

[27] http://www.numismaticnews.net/article/Gold_all_there_when_Ft_Knox_opened_doors

[28] http://www.thenewamerican.com/economy/economics/item/21212-has-the-federal-reserve-sold-the-gold-at-fort-knox

[29] http://www.newsmax.com/finance/Ed-Moy/Fort-Knox-gold-bar-audit/2014/06/06/id/575519/

[30] https://www.treasury.gov/about/education/Pages/fort-knox.aspx

[31] http://www.marketoracle.co.uk/Article14996.html

[32] http://www.angelfire.com/pa/ImperialRussian/news/179news.html

[33] http://zeenews.india.com/news/india/tirumala-temple-has-4-5-tonnes-gold-report_1643780.html

[34] http://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic.php?t=99928

[35] http://www.nytimes.com/1995/08/06/books/they-couldn-t-take-it-with-them.html

[36] https://socioecohistory.wordpress.com/2016/02/04/jim-willie-death-of-petrodollar-and-return-to-gold-standard/

[37] http://mindbodypolitic.com/2015/04/23/how-rothschild-looted-tsar-nicholas-romanov/

[38] http://www.renegadetribune.com/tsars-gold/

[39] http://disc.yourwebapps.com/discussion.cgi?disc=234999;article=2369;

[40] http://demonocracy.info/infographics/world/gold/gold.html

[41] http://goldminershq.com/vlad.htm

[42] http://siberiantimes.com/other/others/features/where-in-siberia-is-the-last-tsar-of-russias-missing-gold/

[43] http://www.readingthisbook.com/2012/05/sean-mcmeekin-historys-greatest-heist.html

[44] https://www.goldbroker.com/news/above-ground-gold-stock-how-much-is-there-why-does-matter-546

[45] http://www.mining.com/from-russia-with-gold-54907/

[46] https://www.bullionstar.com/blogs/koos-jansen/how-much-gold-is-china-importing-and-does-it-still-correlates-to-sge-withdrawals/

[47] http://barbarousrelic.net/

[48] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/business/india-business/Households-hold-950bn-gold-in-India/articleshow/10987660.cms





Human Engineering

4 Jan

male-and-female-relationship-signThis is a little off topic based on what I usually blog about, but as it falls under one of my areas of interest, here goes:

We each have three main senses with which we engage the world: our eyes, our ears and our physical touch/feeling. In psychology terms, these senses are referred to as: visual, auditory and kinesthetic.  Most of us don’t rely too much on our sense of taste or smell, although there are exceptions, such as those who taste wine or cook for a living. For the purposes of this blog post, I’m lumping taste and smell in with physical feeling. The majority of us use one of the three main senses as their primary sense and one of the other two senses as their backup sense. The third sense is not commonly used. In the world in which I grew up (1960s/70s), most men were physical/visual and most women were auditory/visual. Notice that most men didn’t use their ears. Equally, most women didn’t engage with the world physically, at least not in the sporty way that men did.

ruck-1-smallClearly this is a generalisation, as we’re all capable of using all of our senses. It’s just that when we’re not paying 100% attention, we tend to habituate on a single, favourite sense. There are a few remarkable people who you’ll meet once in a while, who use all three senses the whole of the time. You don’t meet a lot of them, but when you do you’ll know about it because they’ll run rings around you! The differing use of senses I’ve described led to the following oft-cited comparison: men are from Mars, women are from Venus. This isn’t too surprising, as the primary sense that each sex uses to engage with the world is different. In my formative years men were always fighting each other, while women were always bashing each other with words. The one thing that both sexes could agree on was what looks right – i.e. they both had a shared secondary sense.

bill-sargent-photo-webHaving generalised, let’s examine the oddballs. Musicians tend to be auditory/physical or physical/auditory, which makes sense. The ears give appreciation of sounds, the physical awareness provides the timing. Evey once in a while (to borrow a slang term from back home) one runs into a ‘geezer-bird’ – a lady who is physical/visual, and hence more at home drinking and watching sports with a gang of guys. For my part, I’m auditory/visual, so I tend to get on better with women than men.

You get the idea.

Over the last 40 years something strange has happened, observable in the Millennials and the end of Gen-Y. Men & women and boys & girls have become sort of androgynous, as in they get on far better together than my generation ever did. I’m convinced that the reason for this is the massive upsurge in visual entertainment. All that TV and film has reengineered humans so that both sexes now use their visual sense as their primary sense, causing an entire generation to experience the world in the same way. When I was growing up we had a black and white TV, four channels only and no video recorder. My dad would use a reel to reel tape recorder to record Capt Scarlet or Thunderbirds which my brother and I would then listen to later, filling in the pictures in our heads. I’m sure this the reason that my senses work the way they do. That and a horrible accident when I was about 6, which caused me to switch off my feelings, to avoid getting physically hurt again.

goggle_twitter_picIf I was one of those conspiracy chaps, I’d now claim that Hollywood, run by the CIA, has been involved in a clandestine operation for the last 50 years to change the way that humans are wired, forcing both sexes to use their eyes as their primary sense, and forgetting about their ears and their feelings.  As I’m not that way inclined, I think it was an accident, although the result is the same: people get on far better than they used to. The downside is that now everyone uses their eyes first and foremost, the world has become a very uniform place.

Or perhaps I’m just getting old.

What say you?




Shovels for Sale

21 Dec

snow-woveI’m busy learning how to market e-books, having done very little research into the subject prior to publishing my first novel. I have a very curious nature, so reading and learning new things is not something I run away from – rather I run towards the opportunity. Having spent around ten days investigating how the e-book / online publishing business works, I’m reminded of something that Mark Twain once said:

During the gold rush it’s a good time to be in the pick and shovel business.

Although the odd person struck it rich during the California gold rush of the 1840s & 50s, those who made a ton of money were the people selling the tools with which to locate, extract and refine gold. I’m guessing approx 1:10,000 struck it rich, whereas all 10,000 required a shovel.

The prospecting business model can be applied to many areas of life. Back in the early days of the Internet, there was a rush for dot.com domain names. Everyone was busy registering everything in sight, in the hope of striking it lucky and selling their domain name on to a big company that was slow off the mark, thus pocketing $million$. There were one or two notable sales made before the rules were changed to make domain squatting an offense, but when the dust cleared the folks that made a mint out of the domain name gold rush were the registrars not the squatters.

What I’ve discovered in my foray into online publishing is that there are a heck of a lot of peeps out there in internet land flogging shovels of every shape and size. Naturally, they’re not called shovels, but that’s definitely what they are. For instance:

  • A WordPress blog is free. However, if I want a snazzy domain name rather than domain.wordpress, that’s $20 a year please.
  • If I want to make any mods to the standard WordPress code, I have to move to a dedicated server (for security reasons). That’s about $5 a month. I’m thinking of doing this anyway, as WordPress won’t allow me to host a shop.
  • The mods in question are PHP code extensions such as email address sign-up. WordPress does the sign-up basics for free, but it’s not possible to push the option at the casual reader. Whilst I can get a basic slab of pop-up code for free, I can’t install it. If I move the website, then the pop-up will contain ads from the creator. In order to get rid of these and have full control over page placement that’s more $$$ please. The full service from a reputable email list provider BTW is $10+ a month, depending on numbers, so the free option is attractive cost wise, it just looks a bit cheap.
  • salesfunnelWhy do I want to create an email list? Well… according to research, most people visit a website once and don’t go back. Getting their email address is a means to continually poke them remotely with super offers until they cave in. Get my other novel for free. Get the first book in the trilogy for free. Blah, blah. An email list is your list of valued customers, and as an author it’s your most valuable asset next to your published works(s). I’ve visited the blogs of other authors to see what they’re doing, and indeed the successful ones are prompting visitors to sign-on to the mailing list. In sales terms, this is known as the ‘Sales Funnel’ and it’s the modern equivalent of making sure you get a prospective customer’s phone number before they leave the shop. After that, it’s simply a case of hassling them in the nicest possible way until they eventually surrender to your charms.
  • Next we get onto likes and reviews.  Just like with Twitter followers, I can go to a dodgy site and buy tranches of likes for a Facebook page. Personally, I think that’s cheating. The Ferret Files Facebook page has quite a few likes, which were accrued via Facebook paid advertising. It’s working out at $15 per 1,000 likes, but the likes are real not made up. Reviews are more tricky. I can buy 100+ 5***** reviews on Amazon fairly cheaply. Or, I can go for free reviews which take an age to get back and in truth could be only ** or ***. Again, I think that buying reviews is cheating, although it’s very tempting. Certainly better than no reviews. As you probably realise by now, it’s impossible to trust Twitter followers, Facebook likes and Amazon reviews, but customers do (including me).
  • There are a multitude of self-help books that detail what I’ve described above and how to do it. Everything I’ve written about can be discovered for free, but that takes time and time is $$$. Buying someone else’s experiences is yet more $$$ please.

nice-shovelI haven’t even covered  the shovels that are for sale prior to writing a novel. You can buy advice on: better writing, better structure, how to develop characters, killer beginnings, killer endings, pace, etc. In fact, it looks to me like there are vastly more people out there selling shovels for writing and publishing than there are authors successfully selling golden novels. Perhaps that what I should do next: create another shovel.  It’ll have to be a very pretty shovel that no one else has yet made, full of fantastic new ideas on how to do all of the above at very little expense.

What do you think? Does the world of online publishing need more shovels, or is there not enough gold out there to warrant it?





A strange few weeks

16 Dec

davinci_ferretIt’s been a strange few weeks.  Due to a series of cock-ups, The Ferret Files was launched on Amazon and then on Apple way before the press campaign was ready. In fact, the people who are organising the release still haven’t got their act together after five weeks worth of messing about. Given it’s Christmas, this is kind of understandable but at the same time unacceptable. Hence I had to just get on with it.

I’ve discovered that this requires two different hats: the writer’s cap and the author’s fedora. I wore the writer’s cap for months on end, staring out the window when plotting story lines, and using it to scoop cold water onto my keyboard when the keys were sizzling from an obsessive dump of ideas. I’m done with the cap for now. It’s onto the fedora, which means I get to talking about the novel and the characters in it, rather than the process of writing.

What I’ve found is that I have the weirdest feelings when it comes to Ferret and friends. Now they’re in the public domain, they’re no longer exclusively my characters: suddenly, they belong to the readers as well. Everyone who meets Ferret will have a slightly different take on who he is. The same applies to Cyrano, Marcus and Tristan, Damien and Eric, Flamen and Sir Edward, and Marianne and Juliet. In a way it’s liberating to set the cast free, but it also places a lot of responsibility on my shoulders. Their stories are not yet finished: we’ve still got a way to go to find out what happens to them all. I’ve plotted a trilogy of books with the same core cast. I know roughly where we’re headed, but not the fine detail. There are also three short stories which take place between books two and three. Bob will play a greater part in these tales. The characters whose arcs I’m really looking forwardxmas-ferret to developing are the hard-done-to juniors: Eric, Rajesh and Xara. And of course the centurion. Boy, are we all in for a surprise with him.

It took me a long time to get Ferret to a degree of polished that I can live with. I’ve downloaded quite a few cheap e-books and the level of finish is not something I’d be happy with.  But then I have a history of producing quality output. If I lend my name to something, it will be good. Anyone who buys into The Ferret Files is buying into a world full of crazy people and cracked ideas. Once you read it, you’ll get that. For a long time I wondered about writing under a pseudonym. Outside of my life as a writer and author, I have an IT consultancy to run. In the end I felt that writing under a different name was the wrong thing to do. I wrote Ferret. I’m proud of my achievement. And it’s too late to back out now. It’s a done deal.

If there’s anything you’d like to know about Ferret and friends, drop me an email at: Phillip@detectingconsultant.com. I’ll answer the best questions in a future blog post.

Meanwhile, have a great Christmas y’all…


Purchase Ferret




It’s Just a Bean

23 Sep

coffee-beansI have a pretty strict morning ritual that I like to follow, which starts with fruit tea, then breakfast and finally a shot of espresso. If I’m on the road for any reason, then between hotel breakfast and my place of work I’ll drop into a coffee shop. Nowadays, I stop at one espresso. Previously, I used to drink three or four, until I had an unpleasant episode and my doctor got involved.  I gave up coffee for nine months after that, until temptation finally got the better of me. We were in Italy – the home of espresso – when after a particularly enjoyable meal the waiter asked if we wanted coffee. I’d been there three days and said ‘no’ to espresso every time, but this time I cracked. It was seven o’clock in the evening when I drank that little cup of joy. Seven o’clock the next morning, I finally got to sleep.

The first time I had the coffee ‘swirl’ was back in my coding days. I’d been drinking coffee black without sugar for a number of years, primarily because one customer I used to visit always had a mug of coffee ready before I’d even taken my coat off. It came white, with a ton of creamer that tasted like stale plastic. So I switched to black. As I later discovered, the coffee machines of the 1980s dispersed a truly disgusting brew. Black no sugar came with a suspicious froth on top and tasted like the River Humber. After much persistence, my pals and I got permission to install a filter coffee machine underneath a desk and started brewing our own. Pretty soon, we had a lot of friends. There was a particular deadline for a drop of code and the only way to hit it was to keep on working through the night. I did a forty hour shift, kept awake by coffee. By four in the morning I was seeing colours and nothing around me would stay still. To this day, that experience remains my yardstick of too much caffeine.

An Espresso Shot YesterdayCoffee is one of those things that I’m passionate about to point of excess, along with real ale (aka microbrewery beer) and chillies. While I don’t have an espresso machine, I do have a ‘Presso’, which delivers hand-pulled shots. On the bean side of things, I grind my own using a burr grinder. I started out working my way through the widely available over-the-counter beans but no matter what I did, with the Presso machine it’s impossible to get a crema on top of an espresso shot. Hence I was forced to switch to an internet-based supplier of artisan beans. The coffee that comes out now looks like a miniature Guinness, which is precisely how a great shot should look. And it tastes divine. Heaven in a cup!

In the name of science, I did once try to recreate the original coca cola recipe using bags of mate de coca that a friend had brought back from Peru, along witcocaine2h ground up kola nuts obtained from a herbalist (a source of very strong caffeine). The result was lift-off, followed by a mid-air explosion. FYI: mate de coca or coca tea, which is made from coca leaves – the source of cocaine – isn’t available outside of South America. If you insist on typing ‘mate de coca buy’ into Google and following your nose, that’s entirely your business.

We now have a coffee shop on every corner in London, which is a massive step forward from the 1980s. The missus can’t understand what all the fuss is about. She’s happy with instant coffee from a tin and avoids Americano or Latte like the plague. Meanwhile, I’m busy browsing beans on my phones, winding myself up.

“It’s just a bean,” she says, shaking her head. “I don’t understand what you’re getting so excited about…”








The Petrollica Affair (iii)

25 Mar

The Golden Carrot

Taking a swig of beer, Bleep slammed the empty glass down and switched his voice, imitating Reg’s well perfected sales purr, a vocal trick I’d heard him perform many times before, but previously only so accurately with Sean Connery and Roger Moore:

“Look, Babyface, I’m not taking ‘no’ for an answer, you’re the best developer we have.  You breezed 4, 8 and 16, so 24 is easily within your grasp.  I know you have the skill and determination, so what’s the problem?”

“Speed,” replied Bleep, switching his posture and deftly answering his own question in Babyface’s pre-pubescent tones.

“Very good!” said I.  “You’re quite the wicked impersonator when you get going.”

“You wait til later, when you appear!” winked my pal, returning to his act.

“Speed,” reiterated Babyface.  “It’s all to do with speed.”

“You told Ronnie you’d given that up,” swerved Reg.

“I mean there isn’t a server fast enough to keep up,” snapped Babyface irately. “I’ve done all the calculations.”

“Let’s use 3 servers then.”

“That was a one off.”

“What about 5?” asked Reg, undeterred. “Or 10? Name your configuration and we’ll do it.”

“Reg, it’s not a hardware issue, this is all about the software – it simply isn’t up to it.  We’ve got patches on our patches as it is.  We need a complete rewrite to stand a chance, and that’ll take months.”

“A month you say? Get to it then.  As I’m such a brilliant boss, let’s call it a round 25 days.”

“You have to be kidding!  I’m not doing any more bodges or half arsed splatches.  Enough is enough, my foot is down.”

“Right, that’s it.  I’m cutting your pay by a grand for insolence.”

“You can’t do that.”

“Now it’s two grand, for insolence AND wasting my time.”

“I quit.”

“Make that three grand, for insolence, time wasting and cowardice.”

“You can’t do that.  I just quit.”

“A three grand pay cut, to be restored as a three grand raise when you deliver Petrollica.  And as a special bonus, I’ll give you the photographs plus negatives from the company trip to Amsterdam.  You must remember your entwining encounter with the masked python woman of Tripoli?  Ah.  I can see from your face that you forgot.”

“You wouldn’t.”

“I’m sure you’ll enjoy the rediscovery.  Along with your fiancé.”

“Now you’re bluffing.”

“Clubbus Eroticus.  Babyface meets the porno rhino.  Oh, I see, you forgot about that too.  Make Petrollica work, or the photos go to the Sunday Sport.  The editor is a personal friend of mine.  I can see the headline now, ‘son of a…’”

“…You can’t fool me.  I don’t believe you’d do that, not for a second.”

“You better.  An empty threat is like a bald hedgehog – laughable and quite, quite pointless.”

Bleep opened his wallet and produced a folded page from the Sunday Sport, showing a topless bloke on all fours twisted into a rather revealing pose with an uninhibited snake goddess, replete with erotic back tattoos, a black rectangle obscuring his face.  Despite the attempted black-out, the curl of unruly hair poking out above the black gave the identity of its owner away in an instant.  For once, Reg was telling the truth.

Bleep shook his head. “Babyface’s family and fiancé were threatened with total embarrassment unless he did the business.”

“What did he do?”

“What could he do?”

The baby-faced one set to like the grizzled old pro he’d become, patching patches on patches, bodging bodges on bodges and frigging the frigs that had historically been applied to a load of other frigs.  By the time he’d finished, the product stunk like the outhouses at a French glue factory and what came out of development at the end of that stint was most unsavoury.  It might have worked well enough to the untrained eye, and splitting the input queues over 6 servers and the output queues over another 6 solved the throughput problem, but it wasn’t the twenty four seven solution the client was expecting.  Babyface didn’t care by this point, he was mentally wasted from all the late nights and early mornings; all he wanted was his photos and once they were in his shaky little mitts, he was planning to be off to the Far East in a cloud of dust, for a nice long Thai-stick induced relax in the sun.

“Did he get them?”

“Hell, no.  Reg had never seen Babyface so motivated and on it.  He wasn’t about to surrender his newly discovered golden carrot, not without properly wearing it out first.”

The Sunshine Award

22 Mar

Wow!  I’m feeling rather humbled today.

As a recipient of the prestigious Sunshine Award.  Given to me by Lynn Bauman-Milner, whose blog I’ve been keeping up with for a good few months now and always gives me a good chuckle first thing in the morning.

This is the description of the award:

The Sunshine Award is an award given by bloggers to other bloggers. The recipients of the Sunshine Award are “bloggers who positively and creatively inspire others in the blogosphere.” The way the award works is this: thank the person who gave you the award, and link back to them. Then answer questions about yourself. Finally, select up to 10 of your favorite bloggers, link their blogs to your post, and let them know they have been awarded the Sunshine Award!

I also feel like Mutley in Catch the Pigeon – now I’ve got a medal, I want more!

Mutley gets a medal

What inspired you to start blogging?

I started my first blog back in 1998 when the Internet was relatively new and technology like WordPress didn’t exist.  It was a lot harder to edit HTML back then, but being a tech geek, I took up the challenge of learning a new language.

How did you come up with the name of your blog?

It’s the title of the novel I’m writing and I originally intended the blog to be a showcase for my work.  Then it became a showcase for my frustrations, and finally I started writing about stuff that happens during the creative process.

What is your favorite blog that you like to read?

The blog that I read the most is The Outlaw.  I like the inquisitive style – it’s like going on a journey with the author and discovering stuff at the same time he does. Curiosity killed the soapbox.

Tell about your dream job.

I like technology and I like business.  So a job that combines the two, makes a difference to the way the world works – then I get to write about it afterwards!

Is your glass half full or half empty?

Half full.  Since I took up NLP, I am unable to view it any other way.

If you could go anywhere for a week’s vacation, where would you go?

Iceland.  I’m a big Game of Thrones fan and the scenes from the beyond the wall are simply amazing. I’d love to see the landscape for myself.

Me on walnuts & cream

What food can you absolutely not eat?

Walnuts and cream.  That’s singly – together they would cause a stomach apocalypse and I’d end up looking like Violet Beauregarde in Charlie & the Chocolate factory after she chews that piece of experimental gum!

Dark chocolate or milk chocolate?

Dark wins every time.

How much time do you spend blogging?

I try to blog once a week, unless the inspiration hits me inbetween times, in which case I’m there.

Do you watch TV – if so, what are some of your favorite shows?

1. Game of Thrones – superb writing & production.

2. The Big Bang Theory – tight scripts, never a wasted line.

3. The Walking Dead – brutal survivalism.

4. Dual Survival – Cody & Dave are like an old married couple!

5. Masterchef – I like to see people work hard and prosper against the odds.

And now those bloggers who inspire me:

The Outlaw

3 Chic Geeks

Thought Scratchings – Craig Stone

Piece of Mindful

How easy it is to make people believe a lie, and how hard it is to undo that work again! (Mark Twain)


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