Duty-Free Liquor Prices


I’m in Armenia, the land of fine brandy.  At the supermarket today I saw a half-litre bottle of Grant’s whisky for the equivalent of US$9.38.  That’s US$14.07 for a standard 750ml bottle.  The Armenian Government whacks on import duty (10%), excise tax (30%) and VAT (20%) and I suspect that the supermarket still manages to make a profit.  But that fully-taxed retail price beats the typical price in any airport duty-free shop that I know of.

It does not come as a surprise that duty-free shops make mega-super-profits, but can anyone tell me where they go?  Are governments creaming off a tax under another name?  How much goes to the airport owners?  Is the whole duty-free racket a way to give backdoor subsidies to the civil aviation industry?  This would be consistent with the airlines’ exemption from tax on the fuel they burn and the tickets they sell.

Can anyone enlighten me?

Foreign Exchange Spreads


I’m so sorry.  I came to Armenia on a job two weeks ago and nothing here has made me stroppy yet.  Oh, wait a moment, there is just one thing…

I received a Moneygram transfer in US dollars, which I was paid over the counter in US currency.  I went to change it into Armenian drams and was pleasantly surprised to see the buying and selling rates displayed behind the counter: buying US$ at 475 drams, selling at 481.  That’s a spread of 1.25%.

Now, I ask myself, if an Armenian businessperson can rent and staff a small booth, provide security and make a profit with a 1.25% spread, what’s wrong with Travelex and its ilk?  What’s wrong with my bank, which adds transaction fees to its already healthy spread and has no associated costs whatsoever except a minute amount of electricity to drive a few bytes of data through a cable?

I look forward to a spirited riposte from someone in the banking industry, or the CEO of named-and-shamed Travelex.  I can think of no explanation for the outrageous charges for simple currency transactions that can be described without resort to such words as ‘extortion’, ‘monopoly’, ‘collusion’, ‘profiteering’ and ‘greed’.





I am happy to welcome rhinofitnessonline to my blog.  I have not written anything fitness-related as yet, except my layman’s guide to dieting, but I am a regular visitor to my local gym and I do try to keep in shape.

My big enemy is boredom.  I can handle the pain of pumping iron and the like, but I get bored easily.  I know this is a problem for other people too, so I will share with the world my own tricks for overcoming it.

  • First, I role-play.  When I’m lifting weights I become Rocky Balboa.  When I’m on the rowing machine I’m in the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race.  On the cross-trainer I’m walking uphill through the snow to rescue a tipsy St Bernard.
  • Second, I have targets and personal records to beat.  This applies mainly to the rowing machine.  My target is to row 500m within 2 minutes 20 seconds; my record is 2 minutes 9 seconds.
  • Third, I vary my routine.  Every so often I drop one of my regular exercises and try something new.
  • Fourth, I have something specific to think about while I’m exercising.  I’m writing a book at the moment* so I use my gym-time to work out the next twist in the plot.

I also made a rule that I eat chocolate only on gym-days.  That helps if I’m tempted to skip a day.


*  Actually a trilogy, of which the first book is called ‘Eeks’. It will be published as an e-book very soon.

Seeds of Evil


All the Abrahamic faiths contain seeds of evil as well as seeds of good.  At the moment the evil seeds of Islam seem to be the most numerous, or the most virulent.  The murder of Charlie Hebdo staff in Paris is the latest manifestation to hit the global headlines, but atrocities are committed daily by Al Qaeda, Al-Shabab, Boko Haram and other extremist groups and individuals.

The common thread linking the Abrahamic faiths is the belief that there is only one god, and that he writes books.  It’s a bizarre notion in my opinion, but that may be the subject of another post.  If a god writes a book, and does not occasionally send a prophet to revise it in the light of changing circumstances, his dictates remain frozen in time.  This is not a big problem if the dictates are general in nature – “Love one another” is a good example – but it is a very big problem if the god has provided a detailed manual for everyday living.  This, I think, is at the heart of the problem confronting Moslems today.

I say “confronting Moslems” because the vast majority are decent, reasonable people who want the same things for themselves and their children as everyone else does.  I say this confidently having lived and worked with Moslems for much of my adult life, starting with my volunteer service in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).  But a decent, reasonable Moslem family may produce a child who adopts extremist ideology and commits terrible crimes.  In almost all cases other family members are as mystified and horrified as their non-Moslem neighbours.

I would liken Islamist extremism to a parasite inhabiting a host, much as a the malaria parasite inhabits the mosquito population.  We target the innocent mosquitoes because they bring the parasite to us.  Non-Moslems must avoid targeting the whole Islamic community because it harbours the parasite of extremism.  The war against extremism must be waged together.


Serious Questions


The other day I said to Mrs SG, “There’s no moisturiser in the bathroom.”

“Yes, there is,” she replied, “in the usual place.”

I looked again and updated her: “No, that spot is now occupied by a 225g pot of Avocado Olive & Basil Skin Nourishing Body Butter.”

“That,” she said patiently, “is moisturiser.”

I used it – sparingly because it looked expensive – and two questions formed in my mind:

1.  When something has a name that is universally recognised and understood, why would anyone want to invent a new one for it?

2.  Why do women think it’s good to rub fruit and vegetables into their skin and hair?

In case the 2nd question seems a bit sexist, I offer 2 alternatives:

2a.  If one eats fruit and vegetables they are processed by intestinal microbes, releasing nutrients that enter the blood stream and are carried around the body to where they are needed.  How does nourishment occur if the microbes are bypassed?

2b.  If rubbing fruit and vegetables into the skin and hair is a good thing to do, why don’t men do it?

If you know the answer to any or all of these questions, please do tell me.




Have you heard of the International Commission on Stratigraphy, ICS to its friends?  Neither had I until I read an article by Ian Sample in the Guardian Weekly.  The ICS decides the names and dates of the geological eras, periods, epochs and ages, most of whose names we are aware of without necessarily knowing when they started and finished, or even what they mean.  We know there were dinosaurs during the Jurassic period.  We are now in the Cenozoic era, the Quaternary period and the Holocene epoch.  You hadn’t noticed?  Tch tch.

Apparently there’s a great debate going on about the word ‘Anthropocene’, coined by Dutch chemist and Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen in 2000.  This has now entered the language, referring to the period during which human activity is the dominant shaper of the planet.

The ICS has not officially endorsed it.  But I think the horse (which appeared in the Tertiary period) has bolted.  Dragging it back into the stable would be like trying to persuade people that ‘data’ is plural.



It being a new year, I have resolved to bare my soul to my readers.  Within reason anyway.  When I’m at home and alone, and if it’s not too cold, I do without clothes. This sometimes leads to mild embarrassment, as when I went out to the clothes line and met my neighbour walking near the invisible boundary between our properties.  We smiled in silent greeting.  I had never seen her before and I never saw her again.

On another occasion I was baking an apple crumble (my favourite food) and I heard a bell ring.  I quickly pulled on shorts and a tee-shirt and opened the door.  No-one there.  As you’ve probably guessed, it was the oven timer.

“Hold on,” I hear you say, “This is not the kind of serious stuff we expect from StroppyGit!”  You’re right.  It is just a clumsy introduction to commenting on a nuance in the English language.  Is there any difference between ‘naked’ and ‘nude’?  Almost all European languages make no distinction, but I think English does.  ‘Naked’ implies vulnerability, shame, helplessness.  ‘Nude’ is proud, self-confident, empowered.

Or am I talking bunkum?  How do you use the words?