In his review in The Sunday Times of Londongrad: From Russia with Cash; The Inside Story of the Oligarchs by Mark Hollingsworth and Stewart Lansley, Rod Liddle picked out a particular example to epitomise the "outrageous vulgarity, tastelessness and ruthlessness of people who are wealthy beyond all imagining".
Roman Abramovich, owner of Chelsea Football Club, and arguably London's favourite oligarch (spending pots of money on a local football team and having a pretty girlfriend who spends pots of money on the local arts scene will do that for a man), was in Baku, capital of Azerbaijan, when he fancied some sushi.
"There are many things in Baku, but not, as it happens, sushi," says Liddle. So an aide ordered £1,200 of sushi from Ubon in Canary Wharf, which was driven to Luton airport, then flown by private jet to Azerbaijan. "At an estimated cost of £40,000, it must rank as the most expensive takeaway in history," the writers say.
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I found this story fascinating. It's not the money as such. Tales of excess from the days of the credit boom are ten a penny. And many wealthy individuals have wasted far greater sums on food there are plenty of stories of high-living City bankers spending tens of thousands of pounds on boozy lunches before going off to bankrupt the financial system.
No, it's the logistics that leave me baffled. Think about it. The flight time from Luton to Baku is about five or six hours. The drive from Canary Wharf to Luton Airport alone takes about an hour. I like a decent takeaway as much as the next man, but I can't say I'd be happy to wait for nearly half a day to get it delivered.
It all makes me wonder how much truth there is in such tales of excess. Are there really no decent restaurants in Azerbaijan? I've had perfectly respectable meals in the capitals of Mongolia and even Burkina Faso, so I refuse to believe that any country's cuisine is so devoid of flavour that a man has to go all the way to the wastelands of Canary Wharf to get something appetising.
Perhaps this is simply what happens when you become really rich. You don't order sushi to be flown 3,000 miles at a cost of £40,000 because you really crave raw fish. You do it to prove that you can. In the arms race between the super-wealthy, having a brand new yacht with its own submarine and anti-missile system is nothing special. But being able to click your fingers and get a takeaway from your local delivered halfway across the world? That shows real clout.
Cashing in on swine flu
There have been some grim views on what swine flu could cost the economy, but for now it seems the threat is helping more companies than it hinders. PZ Cussons, maker of Imperial Leather soap, has seen sales of anti-bacterial handwash rocket. And private jet operators early victims of the crunch are said to be profiting as newly flush bankers splash out on private flights to avoid exposing their loved ones to the rest of us cattle-class travellers. Nice to know they're not just wasting it all on takeaways.
Tabloid money... 'a philistine proposal based on envy and spite'
MPs are back at the trough, sighs the Daily Star. Just weeks after the expenses scandal, nearly 40 are jetting off on taxpayer-funded junkets to far-flung, usually warm and sunny destinations. Meanwhile, the rest of us "shiver under leaden skies, wondering how the ongoing recession will hit our families". For sheer shamelessness, it takes some beating. Take the seven flying off to Fiji to discuss climate change. "How does that benefit their constituents?" And "why must they take £3,700 business-class flights"? Of course, they'll argue that the trip provides valuable insight into local problems. "That's baloney". They'll do nothing they couldn't do on the phone. "Except get a suntan."
Bride Suzanne Daniel may have set a new record for credit-crunch frugality after buying a wedding dress off eBay for 99p, reports Metro. The PE teacher from Coniston, in the Lake District, slapped the bid down for the "dream dress", and to her shock, won it. With insurance and postage the total bill for the dress, which was made to measure in China, came to £86.
"Dartmoor is very beautiful at this time of year," writes Ann Widdecombe in the Daily Express. And "there is many a modest dwelling down here with wonderful views".
But such home owners could soon end up paying more council tax. Home owners with views of any kind, or improvements such as patios and conservatories, could face rises in council tax of up to £600 a year, under a proposed system that will put every home in the UK into one of almost 100 'dwelling house codes'. Around 11 million homes have already been assessed for 'desirable features', including sea views.
This is "a philistine proposal based on envy and spite, not a fiscal one based on equity" the government wants to tax "not quantity of income, but quality of life." The next election can't come soon enough. "The best view will be Gordon Brown leaving Downing Street."
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