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A few years ago1, a young-adult daughter of some friends posted on Facebook about one of the delights of her office routine that made the experience of work bearable – “Look at all these yummy treats in my Grazebox, oh my,” with obligatory pic of the contents. I remember thinking at the time that this was wrong on so many levels, starting with the fact that sedentary office workers don’t really need to ‘reimagine snacking’.

“Imagine having taste experts on hand to select snacks for you! With a graze subscription you’ll do exactly that, all you had to do is tell us what you like and we’ll tailor the flavours of each box to suit you.” It’s a packed lunch, FFS. Just say no to mindless shopping and consumption. If you want office snacks, go get em, but make the effort

You sign up with Graze, they mail you snack-sized boxes weekly at £4 a box, so you are paying £20 a week for your packs of mixed nuts. Tesco will sell you a 250g bag of mixed nuts for £1.50. Estimating your graze box is about 100g, you’re paying £17 a week for the privilege of not having to think about the office snacks aspects of your shopping That’s about £900 a year, a sizable chunk of a typical starter wage.

The Grauniad tells me that this is a special case of subscription shopping – a new up-and-coming trend

Welcome to the shopless shop, where customers pay for decisions to be taken out of their hands. Since 2014 the number of visitors to subscription shopping websites has grown by 800%. Customers receive a “curated box” of items of beauty products, clothes for work, even toys for their pets.

This sort of thing should really come with a whacking great link to MSE’s Demotivator tool, to help you compute just how many extra hours you are working to save yourself the effort of thinking about what you’re about to shovel into your piehole on a workday. It’s getting on for 4% of your take-home pay if you are on the average UK full-time wage of ~£27k. Let’s hear it from the Demotivator2

At least with the latte factor 3652days took us to task for being miserable gits you can’t forget it at home, with the graze box you still get to brown-bag your lunch.

We do not need more mindless consumption

I did my fair share of mindless consumption, the purchase of this that and the other that would make me better at something.

For guys it’s often gear of some sort – take photography and cameras – a better camera makes better pictures, natch. The reality rarely meets with the hype, although you do need a minimum standard of camera somewhat north of a smartphone but nothing too special to take really good pictures3.

Silbury Hill, Wiltshire. I didn’t get here that often when working at The Firm, although it so happens I was on a video shoot when I took this.

The tragedy is that once you have got that far, the trick is to get out there in front of interesting things, people and situations to take pictures of, with an added bonus for getting out there is decent light – if you are missing your dinner you are probably doing something right with the latter

There’s a general principle here – to become a better [insert skill here] you don’t normally need better gear. You need to practice, to learn from masters. Easier for a retiree with the time and mid-level kit than my working self tooled up with the best but with no time to become proficient.

My mindless spending wasn’t as mindless as subscription shopping, although it lacked critical thinking along the lines of WTF am I actually trying to achieve here? Subscription shopping isn’t actually new, although historically it improved your mind a bit more – we used to have book clubs and record clubs, and then there’s the long history of the Franklin Mint producing oxymoronic ‘mass produced collectables’. I have to admire the new focus on consumables like food and fashion, there was presumably a limit to the number of books and records people could accommodate in their houses.

Shopping should always have some friction in it for the sake of your wallet

One of the simple things I used to reduce my mindless shopping was the simple addition fo a wait loop. Identify the desired item and supplier, but wait at least 24 hours from then to buy it. It’s surprising how many must-haves aren’t must-haves when the ad and novelty buzzes have died down. If it was over £100 I used to wait a week, but to be honest most of the win is in the first 24 hours.

Advertisers and vendors know this, so they always try and jolly you along a bit with time limited offers and pretending there’s an impending shortage. Subscription shopping is another way they try and reduce friction, and RIT introduced me to another one with his delightfully curmudgeonly post on the Amazon dash button. This seems to be an overcomplicated attempt to match an old analogue technology known as the paper shopping list under a fridge magnet.

There’s an aspect to subscription shopping that worried me that capitalism is eating itself, however. It’s given away in the Graunad’s throwaway line

The companies’ success (in the US they’re booming) lies in the surprise.

Their customers seem desperately short of meaning or novelty in their lives if they are paying several times over for a little everyday workday surprise selected by a robot. I take 3652 days point about the latte factor, but any distance you can put between yourself and automated spending is A Good Thing in my book. It’s savings you want to automate, not spending

  1. Graze.com’s press kit tells me they launched in 2007 and I was an office droid idly dreaming about freedom sometime in 2018 when I read her post. How time flies in the office, eh? 
  2. The Demotivator was a bit aggressive as it nailed the entire £4 a working day cost of your Grazebox nuts as gratuitous spending. Tesco would charge you about £100 for the mixed nuts, but the Demotivator si a blunt instrument 
  3. some people can take decent pictures with smartphones, but it helps if you are in California where there’s loads of light, and you need to ace composition in camera. Retiring is a way to take better pictures, because you have more time to go to places worth taking pictures of. 
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Poor old Ben Broadbent, second in command to the suave Canadian fellow Mark Carney at the Bank of England. Mark’s a chap who can fall out of a boat without making waves, unlike his deputy.  In the hoopla about Ben’s  perhaps unwise choice of words – did you know climacteric1 was a thing? his message got lost. but it’s pretty straight between the eyes. In an article for the Torygraph in the guise of Edgar Allen Poe’s Raven, the harbinger of doom.

compared the current slowdown in growth and wages to a lull at the end of the 19th century, when the height of the steam era was over but the age of electricity was yet to begin.

Today’s economy could be experiencing a similar trough as it passes the boom of the digital era and awaits the next big breakthrough, possibly with artificial intelligence.

Ben Broadbent to British economy – you’re over the hill, every which way is down from here for at least a generation

Oy vey. And among other things it’s good to know that the ermine is doing his bit2 for this incoming doom:

something similar happened in the late Victorian era. Towards the end of the 19th century, British productivity “slowed pretty much to a halt” after peaking, as it entered what he labelled a “climacteric” period.

The word “climacteric” is, according to Mr Broadbent, a term that economists have borrowed from biology and means “you’ve passed your productive peak”. It has the same Latin roots as “climax” and means “menopausal but it applies to both genders”, he said.

Mr Broadbent added: “I once got an economist to explain the origins of the word ‘climacteric’. As soon as he started talking to all these middle-aged men – about [how] it means you’re past your peak and you’re no longer so potent – they all said: ‘We understand’.”

Hehe. I understand that climacteric bit, after all I am no longer a productive member of society. For those lucky enough to have the choice, it comes from the age-old arc of a human life, poetically summed up by Carl Jung thusly:

It seems to me that the basic facts of the psyche undergo a very marked alteration in the course of life, so much so that we could almost speak of a psychology of life’s morning and a psychology of its afternoon. As a rule, the life of a young person is characterized by  a general expansion and a striving towards concrete ends; and his neurosis seems mainly to rest on his hesitation or shrinking back from this necessity. But the life of an older person is characterized by a contraction of forces, by the affirmation of what has been achieved, and by the curtailment of further growth. His neurosis comes mainly from his clinging to a youthful attitude which is now out of season….

Carl Jung, 1929, CW 16, ¶75

You gotta live this to know it3, and worse still, we have both a youth-focused culture and a materialist-rationalist one. Both of these do the first half of life in spades. Youth is expansionist towards concrete ends, all the stuff that we measure by GDP. I’ve used that quote a lot on here because I find it is a key to retiring well – after all, a retiree does surrender some of that expansion, giving up work is a pretty big step in that direction. Too many people find work was much of their meaning of life in their 50s, their kids may have left home, they haven’t yet had the opportunity to find meaning in their grandchildren, there’s nothing reflected back from the rest of the world, particularly if most of the latter is still at work and they aren’t. Carl carries on

The very frequent neurotic disturbances of adult years have this in common, that they betray the attempt to carry the psychic dispositions of youth beyond the threshold of the so-called years of discretion. Who does not know those touching old gentlemen who must always warm up the dish of their student days, who can fan the flames of life only by reminiscences of their heroic youth—and who for the rest, are stuck in a hopelessly wooden philistinism?

[…]

We wholly overlook the essential fact that the achievements which society rewards are won at the cost of a diminution of personality. Many—far too many—aspects of life which should also have been experienced lie in the lumber-room among dusty memories. Sometimes, even, they are glowing coals under grey ashes.

Jung gets odd support, for instance from the likes of Steve Pavlina – someone so driven that I can’t ever imagine living under that sort of funless regime. HuffPo has a nice piece on this too by a female writer.

Now being less expansionist all very well for a person, but there are too many of these layabouts in the economy for Mr Broadbent. The Ermine has been a totally unproductive bastard wandering about taking a look at things like this

Ring of Brodgar, Orkney

and this

which is a total deadweight from the point of view of the economy. Perhaps not in the first case but definitely in the second, and I did my bit for the balance of payments deficit.

Britain is ageing, and more and more of us are past the climacteric in economic terms. Young people like that Monevator fellow just don’t get why these old boys want to check out of the economy, because they have yet to rattle across the second half of life bit, and that’s just fine, we need people going great guns keeping the engine of capitalism oiled and running. Not everybody gets to the retire part of financial independence/retire early – there are some that stay working till they drop, electively. There’s nothing wrong in that at all, each to their own, and yet from observation I would say that staying outward focused4 in the second half of life can come at the cost of some spiritual5 self-development.

While I left work for negative reasons about six years ago, I suspect by now even if that hadn’t happened, I would be starting to ask myself what the hell is the point of going to work to earn money that I probably don’t need, while it blocks out my days getting in the way of more congenial things I could do with my time. I do appreciate that I am fortunate in that this choice is a possibility for me. But it’s part of the Turning Inwards than Jung spoke of, and while that call starts softly in the background it becomes more compelling with time. If you hear the call and don’t heed it, then often like many things in the human psyche that are suppressed, they back up and transform into the neuroses Jung talked about. As these inner needs try and force themselves up into the light of consciousness, the effort needed to suppress them tends to increase with time.

What Ben meant to say, before we got all distracted

Enough with this metaphysical shite. What did our Ben actually have to say, after he extracted his hoof from his gob? I actually subscribed6 to the Torygraph to get the inside skinny, ‘cos I felt sorry for poor fellow, and also because if the ravens are threatening to leave the Tower of London yelling curses then I want to know, even if their language isn’t exactly #MeToo.

Incoming from all points

Ben said there be deep shit, incoming

“The result of a long period in which productivity growth is weak is not so much that I get more employment than I otherwise would have done, it’s that I get less output growth and less income growth,”

That less income growth is a bad signal for a lot of social goods. I experienced a three times increase7 in real earnings over my thirty-year working life. Not all of that increase was my own work – while the grizzled old ermine was more accomplished at many things and handled people a lot less badly8 than his younger self, some of it was improvements in technology and general accumulated collective knowledge. I started work with green-screen VT100 terminals connected to a VAX cluster, when I left people had a similar computing power to that in their back pockets, networked at 4G rather than 9600 baud. Sadly they used much fo it for Facetweeting, perhaps Ben should see if switching that off would improve British  productivity

And that’s drying up, now, according to Ben. Think, for a moment, what that means. I grossly overspent on my first house in youthful exuberance, but as the tide lifted all boats, I was eventually able to buy my way out of that hole and accumulated inflation plus my increased real earning power diminished the capital part of my mortgage. That won’t necessarily happen for today’s mortgage holders; in real terms they may need to pay back more of their borrowings than I did.

Inequality will increase. Think back to other times when  growth was slow, pretty much any time before the Industrial Revolution. Under such circumstances capital accumulates much faster than increases in earnings as that fellow Piketty said, ancestral capital matters much more. Be a King or the nobility rather than a serf, preferably starting many generations back. Wealth inequality increases – there’s an argument that the massive increase in productivity post WW2 helped the poor and blue collar workers and the middle classes more relative to the rich – in previous generations I would have been far too poor to go to university because I have no inheritied finacial weatlh, and those times will come again I would imagine.

It’s not a pretty prognosis, particularly if you have most of your working life ahead of you, unless you already have a decent about of capital. YoungFIguy will probably thrive in that environment, because he is young (so has much compounding ahead of him) and has capital behind him. A young ermine starting out now would be stuffed.

A stuffed Ermine

I don’t have any clever ideas of what to do about it, although the usual shibboleths of personal finace apply – carry less debt, because your real wages won’t increase enough to outrun it. Probably have fewer children if you aren’t rich and really get behind those you do have, and look forward to having the daily pleasure of their company sharing your gaff until their 30s.

There are a lot of things that will get harder if this secular stagnation is true, and Ben is that raven bill rapping on the window in threes, telling us the good times have gone and will not be back for a couple of generations…

-The Three Degrees- -When will I see you again- - YouTube

About those good times, Ben? When will we see them again?

Nevermore, quoth the Raven

The Torygraph happens to be a major Brexit booster, and I’m kinda tickled by some of their professed puzzlement, viz:

Modern societies expect to become more efficient and hence better off as their economies grow. But in recent years the amount of output being produced per working hour has levelled off. The economy continues to grow but mostly because the population is getting larger.

Lots of theories have been posited for this so-called “productivity puzzle”, which is particularly pronounced in the UK.

Now I do wonder why this pestilence afflicts the UK in particular. Maybe because we told a lot of productive members of the population to f*** right off and go back to where they came from a little while ago? Surely not, at least nary a word was whispered about that possible cause in the Torygraph

  1. Me neither – it is noun: Physiology. a period of decrease of reproductive capacity in men and women. 
  2. I was having fun dragging this into the productivity problem. Although other people opine that the impending retirement of the baby boomers will damage the economy, in fairness to him Ben didn’t actually lay this charge, despite his unfortunate choice of phrasing putting half of this cohort and GenX’s nose out of joint. 
  3. Carl Jung didn’t have to live it to know it, I guess he observed it though his patients. He wrote that in 1929, so he was 54 at the time. Climacteric, according to Broadbent, but not totally over the hill. Jung died in 1961 
  4. Balance in all things, turn inwards exclusively and you’ll disappear up your own backside. Stay interested in the world, keep learning, interact with others, for sure. But focus too much on extrinsic things and fail to tend the garden of your inner being, then it will become parched and desertify, these are the old guys Jung talked about that always hark back to their student days, or the time they were in the military, because the intensity of their earlier experiences is never matched in their experience as lived since. It always disturbs me when I hear someone say their childhood was the best time of their life, not because I had a terrible childhood, far from it, but I find life lived with adult agency surpasses the limited life of a dependent child. 
  5. before I get yelled at by militant atheists, I mean spiritual in the wider meaning of what it is to be human and doing that well, which I find is not purely about material stuff and the experiences you have. I don’t think you have to have any belief in God or a discarnate higher power to do that, the world of human experience is very wide. But I do think that if you stick to the material then perhaps it’s best to stay with the foci attended to in the first half of life, at the possible expense of some self-development nad inner peace. But each to their own, it’s your life, live it by your own lights as long as you extend that grace to others. 
  6. Obviously I subscribed as a freebie, and ain’t Private Browsing and throwaway email accounts wondrous things for getting ermine#1-10, one doesn’t want to give the rapacious British rightwing press any financial support for the bilous blatherings that makes up a lot of the rest of their output Private Browsing ain’t just for onanists, y’know. It fights the Barclay Brothers too 
  7. the increase is tough to determine accurately because it’s sensitive to the original datum. I tossed out the crap jobs I had as a kitchen porter, which was paid a lot worse in real terms than the current national minimum wage 
  8. my primary school headmaster wrote a valedictory letter in which was generally positive on a Ermine’s capabilities as evidenced in tests before I entered grammar school. However, he did observe..
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It must have been so simple when he was a nipper. You buy a house with a mortgage, and you got to pay back a shedload of interest and a teensy bit of the capital. 25 long years later and this happens

how a traditional mortgage builds equity

as the dynamic balance between interest and capital repaid shifts in your favour. The downside, of course, is that you have to pay off the capital. You pay roughly twice as much1 for your house if you buy it with a mortgage than with cash, due to paying interest for 25 years. Which is why some bright spark dreamed up the interest-only mortage.

Although we now think of them as ways to enable the BTL brigade to shaft everyone younger than themselves, the IO mortgage was originally dreamed up to make houses more affordable by halving the mortgage payments. Easy peasy. What actually happened for a while was house prices went up2, because every time you make the existing price more affordable the price adjusts so it becomes only-just-about-affordable, because that’s where premium scarce goods reach equilibrium in a market economy. It’s only the punters that can’t afford the prices and fall out of the market that puts a brake on house prices, but UK governments have never acted on this because most voters want high house prices. Governments will change that when the increasing age people buy their first proerty means there are as many non homeowners as there are homeowners of voting age.

Enter stage left, an accountant, age 77, mithering about his IO mortgage being called in

who didn’t realise you had a pay off an interest-only mortgage in this lifetime, rather than the next. Len, this post is for you. There’s pathos in this story on so many levels, I mean, FFS, this dude worked as an accountant for a living. It’s fair enough for the interest-only mortgage to catch out young whippersnappers like Joe and Josephine in the hands of Mr big Bad Wolf, but grizzled greybeards of 77 who have only just wised up to the fact that they have aught to pay off the capital have no excuse. These guys had the temerity to complain to the Financial Ombudsman and then when they got the finger from the FOS because of the pickle they got themselves into through overspending in retirement, bleat to their local MP. The MP spins this as a tale of dreadful ageism by Santander. No, they’d just like to get their fricking money back before you die. I’ve done this story too many times before, WTF is it with the British and housing?

I know it’s impolite to mention the Grim reaper but it’s a fact that every 24 hours you live you get a day closer to death. I am nearly three decades closer to death than when I took out that mortgage, which is why I paid the bugger down, and that’s even without the benefit of a life of accounting to see the problem rushing up to meet me. The MP puts this spin on it

Lloyd called on Santander to either increase its age limit for mortgage borrowers or abolish it, and said: “Without such a move, Mr and Mrs  Fitzgerald will lose their home. Is that really what the bank wants to see happen? I will also be raising this vital issue in parliament. I am sure there are tens of thousands of other families potentially facing the same, desperate situation in the coming years, which is unacceptable.”

No. It’s a situation that has been developing over decades, and they can’t say they weren’t warned. The Fitzgeralds chose to stick their heads firmly in the sand, and that’s why they are in the shit. It also shows the folly of another innovation in mortgage finance, the short-term fix. These guys remortgaged in 2007 for 8 years. It’s fair enough, when the 8 years are up, you need to ask again if you can stay in that house if you don’t have the money to redeem it.

You have the option to borrow from someone else I guess, but nearing 80 you just aren’t a good prospect, because you have zero human capital left. If you financial capital isn’t enough to keep you in your house, then you don’t get to stay in that house, and you can’t earn any more financial capital. You are stuffed. The moral of the story is pay your bloody mortage off in your early retirement, or be prepared to move or rent.

This is not a sob story of somebody who was taken out by events beyond their control. This was wilful overspending on a big scale for decades. I could have had many fine holidays with the money I used to pay down my mortgage. The fact this guy plied his trade as an accountant takes the biscuit.

The Way We Were, B.M.T[^2]

[^2] Before Margaret Thatcher, who became prime minister in 1979. The youthful Ermine voted for her party – if you lived through Britain in the 1970s when it was run by the unions you would understand the attraction. Never voted for her again, but she did do a lot of good ,and a lot of bad

This used to be absolutely dandy in the good old days when head honchos of the nation’s building societies gathered in smoke-filled rooms to have a chinwag with the government along the lines of “how much lending should we have in the market this year, dear boy?” 3

That worked fine for a long time and building societies had 80% of the home loan market at the time. It was stuffy, Dad had to put on a suit4 and go for an interview to be able to get a mortgage, and show some evidence of financial probity and proof of earnings, all things that we discovered were totally unnecessary to qualifying borrowers in the intervening years.

Then Thatcher rocked up, you can pretty much trace anything that is wrong with UK housing to Thatcher, later governments tinkered on the side but never put the fire out because people thought they were rich when their house was dearer than what they paid for it.

She decided that all this stuffiness Just Will Not Do, so let’s lift all these stuffy restrictions, and then later on bring  banks in on the home loans act too. Lenders gonna lend like haters gonna hate, , and it’s an ineluctable law of economics that when you have more money chasing a limited resource, the nominal price of the resource goes up.

UK house prices since 1952. I took the sucker punch in ’89. Nerds will grouse this should be on a log scale vertical axis but I pinched it from economicshelp

Which is how my Dad got to pay £500 for his London starter family home in 1960-something, and a young Ermine got to pay about 100 times that much at the same stage of life on a crappy two-up two down in a provincial town, in a fit of Torschlußpanik folly. The Bank of England inflation calculator tells me that Dad’s £500 whould have been worth £4600 when I perpetrated the most monumental PF mistake of my whole life, so 90% of the difference in price is the result of a buggered up housing market. It’s only buggered up for new entrants, everyone in the system has an interest in ever higher house prices. Once, in a drunken stupor I did suggest to the somewhat addled host that the reason they were whingeing that their kids couldn’t afford to buy a house  was because they kept governments in fear of seeing them fall.

I’m not going to go all David Willetts and Resolution Foundation on y’all. Another reason is that better communications have concentrated jobs shockingly since the days when every village had a butcher, baker and candlestick-maker. There was once a time in the mid 1960s when people thought that London was going to die out as the population fell, but now if you want a well-paid graduate job it seems you have to start in London.

Britain has always had trouble with housing, in the old system you could afford a mortgage but often struggled to get one because of credit controls. Now you can get a mortgage easy, but can’t afford it because all the money sloshing about has forced the price up.

  1. at a typical 25 year term and interest rates typical over the last 20-30 years, the long-term average interest rate in the UK is about 6% 
  2. Until it all went titsup and we called it the credit crunch, then the Global Finacial Crisis as the roosters came in to roost 
  3. Joint Advisory Committee to agree savings and lending rates at regular meetings between lenders and government, according the Christine Whitehead, which I discovered in this Swedish report, presumably the Swedes are looking fondly at our history and wondering how to screw their own lending market up as well as Mrs Thatcher did. You need deep talent and an insight into how to leverage human greed to be able to shit on people two generations not yet born from beyond the grave, a ordinary MBA just will not cut it. 
  4. He was a fitter, so overalls was work attire, not a suit 
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Mrs Ermine went to the Great Wen to wrangle some business there, and returned to the provinces with culture shock. London is at the leading edge of many changes in the way we do things, and the general prniciple of these changes to to take something simple and complicate the hell out of it.

That’s part of the way capitalism works, of course – there’s money to be made in the gap between action and comprehension. Never more, it seems, than in the simple act of getting a drink of water hydrated. The Coca-Cola corporation has been in this biz for donkey’s years, selling us sugar water, plus endless variants on sugar water without the sugar. Hell, they even tried to sell Londoners filtered tap water, which they filtered in some high-tech way that added bromate into to the Eau de Sidcup that Thames Water had competently filtered for them.

There’s a massive hoopla about plastic waste on now, and Mrs Ermine observed this piece of equipment in Hammersmith bus station

The Mayor of London’s water dispensing gear, along with the sign showing you it dispenses water over the floor

How did our forefathers tackle the vexed problem of drinking water hydration?

The Doulton water fountain in Clevedon, Somerset. Restored in 1992 – visually, but they were still too much pussies to make the water work…

All around our towns and cities are these sad memorials to the time before Margaret Thatcher told us that there was no such thing as society. These municipal fountains used to work when I was a child and indeed through to the late 1980s, where presumably ‘elf’n’safety decided these were Broad Street pumps in waiting to spread pestilence throughout the land.

They’re no such thing – you can still see serviceable water fountains in great European cities and smaller villages alike. I have a fondness for the styling of the Roman Nasoni but these previous generations of engineers delivered us a system that didn’t need electricity, and didn’t need you to buy £2 bottles. You drank the water either by cupping your hands and taking a slurp or getting your mouth into the stream.

Americans probably think nothing of buying filtered tap water. When I was in California for a road trip I understood their point, and bought Arrowhead water, which I understood at the time (early 1990s) to be filtered tap water. Looks like Nestle has bought the brand and upgraded it to spring water. I bought it for a reason, because the water in the sleazy sort of motel rooms I used for that trip tasted pretty bad. Southern California is basically a desert, and presumably the header tanks were skanky1. In Northern Europe we filter our water properly and because it’s generally cold storage tanks don’t get gungy as a rule2.

However, Europeans don’t generally buy filtered tap water and consider it taking the piss, although I note Aldi’s cheapest range is just that3.

London stinks of decadence

The reason people feel poor in London is because you’re surrounded by people spending shitloads of money. I felt poor in London when I did some work there, because people were chugging expensive coffees and grabbing food to go. The reason I felt poor is because even people poorer than I were at it! Let me introduce a 27-year old Guardian journalist. This cool cat lives in London, and spends £150 a month on eating out, £190 on clothes and £200 on holidays. Now the same thing holds for her as held for me 30 years ago, we were both too poor to live in London though we were earning a decent wage. I took the logical course of action to that. But while the young Ermine did spend far too much money on beer, curry and records and hi-fi, I didn’t spend half as much as my rent on it. For sure, thirty years ago everyone in Britain was poorer, so these things were probably cheaper. I didn’t have her airs and graces with accommodation, either – when I was in London I was house-sharing – at 27 with four other guys, before then with at least two or three. I did get pissed off with that after a while, because you often end up moving due to other people’s life changes, so I went to a bedsit at the end when I was 28. It dawned on me PDQ that I was too poor to live in London, so I got the hell out.

Tim Gurner was an absolute cock for saying that millennials could get to buy a house by passing on the lattes and smashed avocado, because it’s not true. Your working life is 30-40 years, and if house prices to earnings ratios are 14 in London then she is SOL. For starters tax and NI means a third of gross pay is lost, upping those 14 years to 21 years, she just can’t get from here to there. To fix that we need to shut down BTL landlords, we need to restart council housing and we need to stop the influx of foreign money. The market is so pathological that only a serious catastrophe would make it possible for our Guardianista to own in London. The problem is metastasizing into an almighty SNAFU that nobody is powerful enough to oppose

Britain is so over-centralised, and the road to success in almost every field of endeavour leads through the capital; because the UK is run by people who have made massive tax-free gains from the boom and have a mindset that the merest blip is a catastrophe […]

There are also strange sub-phenomena now taking place, designed to keep the mad times rolling. Parents are sinking their profits back into the market to help their children into the game.

Yes, the odds are stacked against Elle, as they are to all young folk in London unless they are working in finance or IT. But the sheer wastefulness of her lifestyle staggers me. The incidental £181 haircut. Heck, the £100 Taylor Swift ticket. The latter grates for a reason peculiar to me. In general, your older self wouldn’t usually go back to your younger self and tell them to go spend more money. When I was 22 I considered going to America to see a concert by my favourite singer, who was at the height of her career. I had the roughly £6004 saved, but it was too early after I had been unemployed for six months after graduated, I had been working for less than a year. I could not bring myself to spend that on going to that concert and touring the US a little, because  this was still the teeth of Thatcher’s first recession and I was too fearful. My present self would go to my younger self and say

“Look, younger self, this is her swansong, and the lady will never tour again in her prime because she will have a child in a couple of years which will crater her career, and take it from me, her style is already being overtaken by wider musical trends. I authorise you to spend this money, on the condition you take a piece of advice from this grizzled version of yourself in seven years’ time.

You will be tempted to buy a house at the peak of the market., because you are inexperienced and have no awareness of the cyclical nature of markets. You will only have seen a rising economy across those seven years. Whatever you do, resist that temptation. The money you will not piss down the toilet of negative equity will allow you to fly to the US first class, and say in four-star hotels. Knock yourself out, but take heed of my warning.”

Sadly three decades of research has brought me no nearer to that time machine. Not everything one’s younger self wants to overspend electively on is automatically wrong, and I’m all for Elle’s Taylor Swift tickets. It’s the unthinking nature of this cool cat’s day to day spending that is borderline offensive. There’s a great big fricking steering wheel in front of you, Elle. Go grab a hold of that sucker and steer your life in a direction that makes sense for you, and that means thinking about your spending. As Martin Lewis said

The problem with being 26 years old is that the years creep away from you, Maybe the best thing to come out of this article is that you sit there, take a hard look at yourself and work out where you want to be. If you want that house, you say: ‘You know what? Screw it. I’m going to have to change my ways.’ You’re not a kid any more..

I do love the punchline – Elle has talent for dynamic tension of her narrative

Reader, I bought a cafetiere.

Mrs Ermine is of the opinion this article is clickbait. What the hell, I had fun with it.

Martin Lewis is dead right. The years do get away from you, in two ways. Saving is a marathon, not a sprint. And yet the Ermine has had the experience of saving, with my back against the wall, to break out of the rat-race. It was absolutely no fun at all, it’s actually tougher to live like a student after you have been earning and spending more.

But the years get away from you in another way, as you get older the blazing volcano of ambition gets tired of the rat race, and you hanker for more of the good life outside work. On a music forum where people were talking about audio gear I read a piece of profound truth

The most valuable component in a stereo is FREE TIME

Elle doesn’t need to worry about tiring of the rat race, she is half a lifetime away from the fading of the fire. But the gormless, unthinking spending is nuts, and seems to be all too common in London. Before you earn the right to whinge about not being able to afford a house in London/travel the world/go to the US for a concert, you need to sit down and honestly ask yourself

  1. How much does this matter to me?
  2. Is there something I could do to get closer to it?
  3. Is there something I am doing that takes me further away, and if so, is the view worth the climb?

I did that when I left London. It was tough, and it was instigated by a dire session in the Broadcasting House bar when I heard all sorts of tosspots talking about how much they had made on their houses or how much the value had gone up, dahlink, and I was sinking pint after pint of Fuller’s E.S.B. to dull the pain of hearing about this world I would never enter. After about eight pints I got on the tube back to my ground floor bedsit with salt round the edges to keep the slugs away, put 50p in the meter and decided that there had to be a better way of living life.

  1. I have the highest regard for American plumbing for non-potable water – every single shower on that trip had a decent pressure and flow rate and the toilets flushed with only a slight pressure; Americans used valve pressure systems rather than the antiquated syphon tech originated by Thomas Crapper than it took the UK 20 years to start phasing out. But their drinking water was often foul to my effete European tastes. 
  2. Unless you have a dead squirrel in the tank, I do know a fellow who discovered his squiffy guts over a few months were due to tincture of green and decomposing squirrel in the cold water tank. Modern practice in the UK is to have mains pressure water systems and no roofspace tanks, even at the time of the squirrel incident building regulations specified a close-fitting lid on the damn tanks and ~1mm mesh gauze on the air vents. 
  3. I guess my lawyer would suggest for the record I clarify that Aldi sells filtered tap water rather than piss. But that’s still taking the piss even at their prices. 
  4. That’s about £2000 now; it was an estimate because I had no experience of air travel at the time, booking the flight and getting the tickets would have been much harder than it is now because there was no Internet in those days. Perhaps it would have been more in reality. 
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The Fonnereau Way has been used since the mid-1800s, although it’s been the subject of a fight when a incoming resident at the Westerfield end tried to block it up and have it stopped on several occasions. Network Rail has also had it in for the pedestrian level crossing but have also failed to have it struck off.

The path is slated to become a feature in the new Ipswich Garden Suburb development and the level crossing will be replaced with a bridge according to this document.

The Fonnereau Way is the mainly vertical line to the left, with a bridge to put ‘elf’n’safety at Network Rail out of its misery

Becoming a housing estate will clearly change this part of the Fonnereau Way, so I walked this to capture some pictures and soon to be historical sounds from the route. The farmland is intensively farmed and heavily sprayed as I’ve observed a few times, it’s quite possible that being turned into a housing estate may actually increase the biodiversity. Although the birds will be persecuted by hundreds of domestic cats and the gardens will no doubt be tiny, the farmland doesn’t support that many birds at the moment.

The Fonnereau Way starts from Christchurch Park, but I started where the changes will be made, where it crosses Valley Road. In the local plan all vehicle access will be from Henley Road rather than Valley Road.

the nondescript entrance to the Fonnereau Way from Valley Road http://www.richardmudhar.com/ear/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/170620_0053_fonnereau_start.mp3

and it’s a noisy place. It gets better quickly as the old path threads its way past some sports facilities and the playing fields

before reaching farmland

The path starts to cross farmland

There are a few birds in the farmland, but to be honest the urban Brunswick Road Rec has more diversity to my ears, the birds are few and far between

http://www.richardmudhar.com/ear/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/170620_0061_fon_point14.mp3

A chiffchaff makes itself known.


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