A continuing tale of life in the boonies

No. 207

Capitalismís tangled web

Since moving to town, I have become a stout believer in the peopleís right to bear arms, hunt the forests, fish the lakes and rivers, and yell at annual town meeting. An avid supporter of state parks, county rest homes for the elderly and liquor stores dedicated to funding public education, you can mark me down as a convert to good old Granite State Socialism.

But before I am carried shoulder high around the town quare by Farmington Association of Rabid Trotskyites, let me also confide that I own stock in a British company. Yep! Iím a closet capitalist! Only for its entertainment value, though.

In Scotland, my grandfather was a net and cobble fisherman on the River Tweed and owned a small part of Berwick Salmon Fisheries, a local company financed by those with an interest in fishing. After he died, I inherited 84 shares worth almost $300.

My first company report reached Farmington in 1986 with hopeful news. Salmon catching, a loss-making enterprise of late, had a bright side, it seemed. Us shareholders were to purchase a slice of Universal Wines and Spirits, a highflying group selling burgundy to airlines. Here was our foot in the door of a rich smoked salmon market.

Then by magic, my 84 shares became 1,680 shares (but now worth $112) and I qualified for a 15 percent discount on all the smoked salmon I bought from the company. Hmmm! With air freight and stuff, salmon was still cheaper at Shop Ďn Save, but never mind. Big dividend checks were obviously just around the corner, for hadnít a new wave of optimistic directors swept onto the board?

Future historians will call 1987 the year of the power struggle. By 1988, the fresh faces at the company tiller had been replaced by faces even fresher. Vigorous protest from some troublemaking shareholders had failed to stop the sale of our wild salmon netting rights for around $400,000, and we advanced, cash in corporate fist, away from the fishing business to invest in shopping developments in England and a 50-bed luxury hotel in sunny Spain. Oh, we also got rid of the company selling that dreadful wine in nasty little plastic bottles to airline companies. And lost money again, so no dividend yet. But things looked rosy, that yearís chairman told us.

Come March 1989, and I learned, via another annual report, that more directors had resigned and others had strode manfully (no women in sight) forward to fill the gaps. The year was "rather disappointing" said helmsman H.S. Winton, adding his assurance that the company would soon "enjoy a profitable and exciting future." By now we had sold off the shopping developments, bought into Surrey Racing and acquired two indoor cricket centers. In other 1989 news, the cricket centers lost $38,000 right off the bat, and from the $500,000 we got for selling our quayside property and the fishing rights we threw 30 unemployed old fisherfolk a $50,000 bone to divide between them. Ha! Ha! Ha! Donít you just love asset-stripping capitalism.

That marvelous year, although we didnít turn a profit or get a dividend, we owned offshoot companies in Spain, Gibraltar, England and Liechtenstein. Yet, call me an old grump if you like, I didnít feel completely satisfied.

"My dear Winton," I wrote on Oct. 17, 1989, "One could make more money yodeling in the London subway with a two-stringed ukulele. The antics of this company, as it stumbles and gropes for success, are like those of some blind fool trying to pin a tail on a donkey."

Deriding the indoor cricket venture as folly (the equivalent of baseball in a gymnasium), I asked if we should pray for unceasing rain.

In 1990, stung by my letter, Winton resigned and the indoor cricket enterprise was sold. The company underwent yet another name change (to the Surrey Group) and fresh directors swarmed aboard. There were also references in that yearís annual report, Appendix III, 11 (a) to a "North American Person." Something about not being allowed to buy more shares. Very confusing. Did the board think I wanted to organize a takeover?

This year was further remarkable for its record losses, the raising of vast new funds by floating more shares, a debt of just under $8 million and by the revelation that we owned 64 betting shops. The latest company directors made their obligatory prophesy of a crock of gold just around the bend.

In 1991ís extra glossy report (gloss seemed directly related to loss), we shareholders were informed that the luxury Spanish hotel just wouldnít sell, despite "advantageous road development." Some local senor, I surmised, must have been hired to hack a path to it through 20 miles of thorn and thicket, all to no avail. The indoor cricket centers had been liquidated, which still affected us, apparently, because we held the freehold. But on the plus side we now operated 88 betting shops.

More losses were sweetened by the comforting news that the new chairman, one Bob Green, was "president of Greenwood Racing Inc. in the U.S.A.," and that director and major shareholder, 43-year-old Rafique Fatah, had "over 20 years experience in the travel industry." I immediately banished the unworthy thought this really meant he was an inveterate jet setter who had bumped into Green at a Massachusetts dog track.

At last, early in 1992, came the letter I was waiting for, the one containing my very first shareholderís dividend check in six years. I flew to Farmington National Bank, grabbed an anticipatory deposit slip, ripped open the envelope and extracted a payment from the Surrey Group PLC for $1.26. Grrrrr! It was going to cost more than that to convert it from pounds into dollars.

Then, in March, the problem took care of itself, as the company moved comfortingly back into the red, and debt piled traditionally higher. In May, it was restructuring time again. Raise more loot or go down the drain with the unemployed salmon fishermen and the indoor cricketers. Well, would you believe it! Good old Fatah, Mr. R.J.P. Fatah, Esq., the man with 13 million shares (as opposed to my 1,680), came to the rescue, and, according to the report of Nov. 30, 1992, had snapped up another 26,113,860 of the little devils.

Then, in early December, came a thunderbolt! The proposed disposal of the Scottish Betting Shops and Interim Results. Of course the interim results were no surprise. A fine, heart-warming record loss of $1.1 million meant I would have no impeding worries about cashing dividend checks at Farmington Bank. But, the 26 Scottish Betting Shops being sold! Nostalgia welled up in my breast, and I dug my heels in.

My 1,680 votes (now valued at $38) have been firmly cast to keep all 26 betting shops. Let them sell their English counterpart shops if they thirst quick cash. Or raffle off the Spanish hotel. Or bring in new directors Ė that has always worked in the past.

I know in my heart, though, that the Scottish Betting Shops are doomed. The date of the crucial vote was Dec. 16, and those conniving sons of London guns didnít send me a voting form until a few days beforehand Ė insufficient time for it to arrive back in England suitably checked off.

Illegal perhaps, but who cares in London? Despite a Scottish birth certificate, and a British passport, I guess Iím just dismissed as "a North American person." Well, that calls for a letter to the Puddledock Press! As John Lennon might have said, "A Farmington Socialist is something to be."

Christmas Lights I

Following the exclusive interview in this column with a teacher who saw a spaceship on New Durham Ridge, a local man has rushed us a series of astonishing and unretouched pictures of alien craft beaming lights down onto Farmington. The photographer, who wishes to remain anonymous, was hesitant to come forward when he first took the shots, but became emboldened by reading the Spaceship Special Edition. Any other U.F.O. sighters? Step forward, recount your experience on a postcard, and feel so much better. Farmington Corner will award a $3 prize for the best sighting. Anonymity respected if requested. The observance of sacred and other images in tree knots also welcome. Send entries to UFOs, c/o Farmington Corner, Rochester Courier, PO Box 1600, Rochester, NH 03867.

Christmas Lights II

Jean Davenhall of the Farmington Business Association has announced the results of the Christmas Decorating Contest, one of the closest run ever. The first four places went as follows: 1. Mike & Marcia Rouillard of South Main Street, 98.86 points; 2. Kathy & (Indoor?) Cricket Cardinal of Paulsen Road, 97.86 points; 3. Gail Lapointe of Chestnut Hill Road, 77.14 points; 4. Brad Bowden of River Road, 64.43 points.

December 31 1992

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