Hello again to all (three) of my readers. Like asking a horse about its face, the question I’ve been asked at least twice is ‘why so long?’ I’ve just has a lot of other stuff to be getting on with to be frank with you. And in the words of Forrest Gump, that’s all I have to say about that. You might be surprised to know that I haven’t been doing nothing at all though. Instead of drinking brandy and Vimto at the Airdrie Working Mans Club, while playing snooker against One Armed Archie, I landed a plum role as the stenographer (https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/stenographer if you are an idiot) at a very private gentleman’s club.
Yes, I am now the chief note taker at the global committee meetings of Claret Club. ‘What is Claret Club?’ you ask. It is an ancient private club that only those people who own (or owned) ships meet at on Friday lunchtimes. Club legend has it that the first chairman was a fisherman from Israel who made his money fixing Galilee round voyages. The Club typically meets in secret dining rooms worldwide, with chapels in pretty much every country, just like a gang of ageing grey-haired tax-avoiding Hells Angels. Some chapels are more active than others of course. For example the Bolivian shipowners branch that usually meets in a Costa Coffee in the arrivals lounge of Jorge Wilstermann Airport in Cochabamba sent its attendance list to Claret Club group admin last Friday. It listed ‘Pablo from the paper shop’ and ‘Capt. Marcos Arispe of the Bolivian navy’ as the quorum. Still, it seems that the meeting went well because they sent in their expenses report of two kilos of coca leaves, three chai lattes and a rooibos grande.
Hopefully you get the idea now, the idea that shipowners all over the world meet in little secret places, often with guest speakers, like Kris Akabusi, Cheryl Cole or members of the Illuminati. The community has a real ‘self help’ element to it, where members can bring forward questions, issues or amusing anecdotes and read them out to the other members that are present at the time. These speeches are recorded in the minutes of the meetings and, along with any comments or helpful advice/answers given at the time, are then circulated to global members through ‘carrier herons’ (a bit like carrier pigeons, but with longer legs). Email was banned by one of the founder members, John Angelicoussis, who said that in no way, shape or form could it be considered as private – and he really likes to bang on about being private right?
I am actually in quite a privileged position within Claret Club though. I used to own some ships (did I mention that before?), so I qualify as a junior member. I can never be a full member again until I buy another ship though, but the boys seem to like having me around as I can write fast and I’ve got a Stringfellows Platinum Card (I got it off Brian Tilsley in the ’80s). I think I am also trusted by everyone because I frequently went bankrupt and ran away from all my debts. This is the type of thing that makes shipowners realise they are talking to one of their own.
Anyway, the global Claret Club committee needed a note taker and as a minor former owner I was asked if I would step up. I didn’t need to be asked twice and headed off to my first meeting in my new role a few weeks ago, which was held in a lavish velvet-lined underground room that can only be accessed from a door behind the belts display at New Look in Streatham High Street. I’m probably not supposed to share all of this information, but none of the shipowners in global HQ own a computer, so I should be safe. The role of the global committee is to rule on global issues like ‘When should red trousers be warn safely?’, ‘What is the optimum timing when roasting owl?’ and ‘What is an acceptable level of tax to pay?’. Also, members with very specific requirements for advice or help who have a shit load of ships or money, can approach the global committee by invitation. Alternatively, members can ask a committee member to read out their questions to the group for consideration.
For example, in my first meeting a question was read out on behalf of a member by Victor Restis. ‘I am trying to sell a massive over-priced luxury apartment in New York, but there are no takers at all. I really need the cash right now due to a change in personal circumstances that most definitely does not involve the tax man. What would you recommend I do to make it more attractive to sell, while not dropping the massive price?’ It was signed by W. Peacock, Grozny.
The advice I wrote down was then sent to all members. Firstly, ‘gorgeous’ George Economou suggested that ‘W’ should split it up into square inches and flog it to members of the public inch by inch at an inflated price. Then he should remove all of the plumbing, award himself the maintenance contract and send all the shareholders a massive bill for putting the sinks, baths and toilets back in. He should then buy a garden shed from Homebase, no need to unpack it or build it, but sell it to the new flat owners at 50 times the value, add it to the maintenance contract and start releasing figures showing how badly the whole thing was doing. Then get everything remortgaged, lend it some of the original equity raise back again as debt, including a clause that ‘W’s debt gets paid out first, then tell the shareholders that he could save them from their nightmare by buying the whole thing back for 2 cents in the dollar and ‘hey presto!’
Other advice included sending any prospective buyers a copy of your family tree and a packet of biscuit (John Michael Radziwill), painting all the windows black and boarding up the doors to make it more private (Angelicoussis), claim that RBS has stolen the keys so the door couldn’t be opened, but really it is worth a billion quid (Nobu Su), tell prospective buyers that it is actually worth much more when the property market crashes (Jens Ismar – who publicly always says he isn’t an owner, but seemingly is) and making weekly public appearances at conferences declaring that there will be a massive squeeze on property worldwide because Mrs Hedges from Old Compton Street is looking for a flat for her son to live when he finishes his Domestic Science course at the local Tech (Stamatis Tsantanis).
I carefully noted all of these down for ‘W’ and had the task of getting the text into the leg pouches of more than 100 herons. Needless to say, I got the shit pecked out of me the first time round I did this. It turns out that herons are very quick, have sharp beaks and are exceptionally moody when let out of a tea chest having been stuck in the dark for the best part of a week. That’s a decent life lesson I’d say.
Anyway, rather than ramble on any more I wanted to tell you the reason I am back. As I now have access to the greatest minds in shipping today I am going to offer you a tremendous chance to access this pool of experience and power. What I am proposing is this: you can send me your questions/problems/requests for advice. I will then cross out your name from the top and replace it with the name of a member. Lastly, I will slip it into the pile of requests that are read out by the chairman of Claret Club for committee members to discuss and advise. I will then transcribe both the question and the answer for you here on Mr Prospector’s lovely shipping resource page.
I must confess that I have already done this for an old pal (from a previous blog) with the following question:
“I have worked in shipping for nearly 30 years now and consider myself experienced although with some caveats. The main issue I have is that it takes me quite a long time to catch onto what is going on around me. I have taken all sorts of tests and the conclusion seems to be that, medically speaking, I’m an idiot (although this has not held me back from numerous senior posts within global shipping companies). My main problem is that somebody who has genuinely been successful in life and made a lot of money has given me a huge pile of his cash and said ‘make me some money in shipping’. I have stalled doing anything for quite a while now by just repeating the word ‘unicorn’ and ‘private’ and hoping that’s the end of it. But now is the time that I actually have to do something that makes money (for investors I mean, as I have done pretty well myself over the years) and I haven’t got the foggiest idea of where to start. Can you help me please?”
I’ve crossed out the real name and replaced it with “Mick Roundabout, Bromley”, so nobody will know who’s asking. I will put this question to the committee this coming Friday (I’ll slip it into Fredriksen’s pile as he’s always very busy once the starters arrive). In the meantime, if you have your own questions for the committee, be it careers advice, investment inspiration, tax consultancy, romance or life hacks, please send them over to me (via the comments section) and I will do my best to get them answered. Sounds like a deal? Great!
Oh, and by the way. Claret Club isn’t exactly Fight Club. You can talk about it. But one thing that one cannot do is reveal who is the chairman to anybody who is not a member. Even regional chapels have no idea who the top man is (I was going to say ‘or woman’, but then you would immediately know that it could only be the nice Navios lady, Mrs Franklin or whatever). Very few people know, and I am certainly not going to be the one to risk excommunication by even hinting at it.