Think of yourself as a bit of a "gastro thrill seeker"? Then I have good news for you. A group called Flash Sushi are bringing nyotaimori ("the traditional Japanese art of eating sushi off a naked female body") to London. Those who attend the group's pop-up dinners (different locations every time) will join 12 to 24 other guests for a champagne reception before taking their seats at a communal table around some "stunning Hakada models".
They will then get a ten course Japanese meal prepared by "master chef Saito", which will be arranged on and then eaten from the woman's body. I'm not 100% sure this isn't a joke, but assuming it's not, it all seems rather disgusting: personally I'd go well out of my way not to eat rice off someone else's bottom. Still, a check on the website (Flash-sushi.com, if you must) shows that's just me: most of the dinners are sold out.
The organisers of the Flash Sushi ogling sessions claim to be having them in a spirit of "gastro egalitarianism". But as ever, some will be more equal than others. If you aren't the member of the party shivering under a pile of cold fish, a ticket will cost you £250.
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So here's the question: exactly who is it that is even now eagerly awaiting the text that will tell them where the next dinner will be held? Perhaps it will be one of the many bankers still getting whopping great salaries and undeserved bonuses due to the way the state has bailed out their employers. Goldmans has earmarked $11bn for bonuses. Or maybe it will be a couple of senior civil servants or NHS managers out on a jolly.
After all, according to David Craig and Matthew Elliott in their new book, Fleeced! How We've Been Betrayed by the Politicians, Bureaucrats and Bankers, and How Much They've Cost Us, Britain's top ten "quangocrats" are all on more than £700,000 while the number of civil servants in Whitehall's top pay band went up 14% in 2007-2008. Meanwhile, the average salary of an NHS CEO has doubled in the last ten or so years to nearly £160,000.
Otherwise a ticket could be easily paid for by a manager or two at one of the many private firms that have made fortunes out of PFI over the last decade. Or perhaps by one of the Phoenix Four, who set about ransacking Rover and diverting money into their personal accounts with a single-mindedness The Times refers to as "breathtaking". Over a five-year period they appear to have got away with going on for £9m each, money you'd imagine they'd want to spend in the kind of "absolute privacy" that Flash Sushi offers.
Either way, the one thing we can be pretty sure of is that in some way or other, most of the guests at most of the dinners will have been recent recipients of taxpayer largesse. With unemployment still rising fast and the private sector floundering, the rest of us are unlikely to be able to afford them.
Merryn Somerset Webb started her career in Tokyo at public broadcaster NHK before becoming a Japanese equity broker at what was then Warburgs. She went on to work at SBC and UBS without moving from her desk in Kamiyacho (it was the age of mergers).
After five years in Japan she returned to work in the UK at Paribas. This soon became BNP Paribas. Again, no desk move was required. On leaving the City, Merryn helped The Week magazine with its City pages before becoming the launch editor of MoneyWeek in 2000 and taking on columns first in the Sunday Times and then in 2009 in the Financial Times
Twenty years on, MoneyWeek is the best-selling financial magazine in the UK. Merryn was its Editor in Chief until 2022. She is now a senior columnist at Bloomberg and host of the Merryn Talks Money podcast - but still writes for Moneyweek monthly.
Merryn is also is a non executive director of two investment trusts – BlackRock Throgmorton, and the Murray Income Investment Trust.
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