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It’s summertime.... and the living is easy….Joe Coten proffers his usual excellent financial advice from the Gironde where he is now domiciled.

Personal Finance W

Joe Coten

is a member of the Personal Finance Society.

He may be reached on 0207 588 9626.

ith the brouhaha of the Olympics fast becoming a hazy memory, life has returned to damp normality in London. Meanwhile here in the Gironde a more serious version of summer is under way. Temperatures only rarely seem to drop below 25 degrees and only yesterday it reached a fairly typical 27. This was at 11 in the evening however (during the day it had reached 36) and with the humidity it felt like we’d gone back in time a year and were back in Mumbai.


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Above all else summer here is the time for festivals large and small. Each village takes its turn to be “en fête” for the weekend and during the week there are evening markets. The stallholders sell local produce and long trestle tables are set out in the square or perhaps on the canal bank. Duck in its various forms is almost compulsory but there is also beef (the celebrated and very flavoursome boeuf de Bazas), lampreys in red wine sauce and also snails in a tomato and garlic sauce, a firm favourite with our one-year old daughter. The latter slid down effortlessly – the snails, that is! The conviviality of proceedings is typically lubricated by local wines as the strains of accordion music waft through the evening air.

in the City Held at

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On a somewhat larger scale we enjoyed a visit to the Bordeaux wine festival, Bordeaux fête le vin. In exchange for 18 euros you receive a voucher booklet and a tasting glass in a handy carrier. Since its renovation the Bordeaux riverfront is hugely impressive, restored to its 18th century glory. If you imagine a wedding cake several kilometres long, you’ll not be far off the mark. It is now listed as a UNESCO world heritage site and we encourage our visitors to spend at least a day in town to take in the atmosphere. Whilst very pleasant the festival is not really meant for connoisseurs. Wandering up and down the tasting pavilions on the quais with the sun beating down and the effect of a dozen or so different wines means that tasting notes are not taken religiously, if at all. On Bastille night we made our way to the village hall in Sauternes for the dinner and dance to celebrate the end of the Ancien Regime. The mayor donned a pair of scarlet trousers, whether a political or a fashion statement we never discovered. Being a tall handsome chap, he carried it off either way. When we go to these local dos, we are always impressed with how friendly the French are to us rosbifs. There is always a hearty welcome on tap and in Sauternes we were told to make sure not to miss the next bash at the end of the harvest. No need to ask twice!

September sees the European Elvis Sumer Festival pitch up not more than 15 minutes from our front door. Given Nina has been an Elvis fan since the age of 9, and its proximity, our attendance is non-negotiable. The blessing is that we will be spared 24 hour exposure to the Elvis lookalikes as we are in daily commuting distance over the festival weekend.


I only hope the King of Rock and Roll in his various forms is mindful of the French attitude to all things monarchical! But life sadly is not only about long hot summers, festivals and gastronomic wonder. The financial world remains highly troubled with one financial scandal following another. One of the major selling points of London as a financial centre is its probity: in other words its squeaky clean corporate governance. We now find that the term “fixed rates” has had a different meaning when it comes to borrowing from banks. Bearing in mind how important financial services are to the City it is essential this mess be cleared up as thoroughly and as quickly as can be managed.

Whilst on the subject of banks, unless I’ve missed something, we’re not much nearer to seeing the long-trumpeted separation of casino and retail banking. This surely has to be a priority if the public is to have its faith restored in High Street banks. With interest rates continuing to bump along the bottom, the problem of where to invest cash remains the knottiest. For the past few articles I have been saying that high-yielding UK blue chip equities is a good place to explore, as such shares seem particularly good value. These companies tend to have solid underlying businesses both in the UK and abroad, and in the last 12 months many shares in this sector have done well in terms of capital growth and dividends. For larger amounts it is worth taking the advice of a suitably qualified wealth manager and to allow him or her to buy a number of substantial stakes in good quality companies. Bank stocks may be best avoided for the time being, it goes without saying. To offset the equity risk a spread of government bonds can shield against the possible downside from equity investment. For all the doom and gloom there doesn’t appear to be any serious risk of the UK or the US not being able to meet their obligations, despite it no longer being possible to take anything for granted. For smaller amounts, where it is not practical to build a portfolio of individual stocks this may not be possible. Collective funds however are available and these represent a good solution. Administration is all done for you and you get a version (lite) of the individualised approach described above but without the minimum entry barrier being a problem. As ever, do read the small print to check if such financial products are for you, as we are all different in terms of the amount of investment risk we are willing to bear. Looking on the bright side, at least the

chaos that we were told to expect during the Olympics failed to materialise. We were in London throughout and if anything London was quieter than usual. We were promised traffic jams, pickpockets, prostitutes and worse but I didn’t come across any of these. Here in France of course things are quieter still but with so many Elvises about to descend on us, who knows how long that is likely to last?

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