Category Archives: money

Shorthand and (Stereo)typing

In the old days everything was simple.  Your social status was immediately obvious because your clothes, your accent, your demeanour, everything about you – all spoke of your position in society.  Though there was some level of social mobility, it would have been almost impossible to ‘pass’ as someone of a different social class, else there would have been no ‘Pygmalion’  – and even no ‘Educating Rita.’

The advantage of this (if you want to see it so) was that it operated as a kind of shorthand.  You could tell at a glance who someone was and how you should treat them.  They could tell at a glance how to behave towards you; whether with deference or brusqueness, whether to give an order or hail you as a fellow.  It made life easier and more straightforward.  It also made it terrible.  It put people in strait-jackets; it consigned individuals to oblivion or slavery before they were born.

Even when I was growing up in the ‘sixties, three distinct social classes were still in operation.  It would not have been remotely funny for two Ronnies Corbett and one John Cleese to do the famous ‘I look up to him/I look down on him’ sketch if it had not expressed a visible truth.  (Women didn’t even figure in this scenario because they derived their social status from the men in their lives; any unmarried working women were either definitely working-class or else practically classless.)

But now we have thrown all this out in the name of equality.  I’m more than thankful for that, don’t get me wrong: the class system perpetuates privilege and injustice and ought to be abolished (insofar as it actually has been.)  But there’s a problem.  Because now that we have no shorthand telling us how to treat people, some of us are resorting to typing.  Stereotyping, that is.*  If you rely on appearances to judge the person in front of you, that’s called prejudice.  We seem as a society to be particularly bad at taking people as we find them.  We seem to need a kind of shorthand to help us with short-term encounters or first meetings.

*see what I did there?

Nowadays men know that they shouldn’t patronise women; white people are better-informed about how to treat ethnic minorities and I hope we are all much better at talking to people with disabilities.  This is not to say that prejudice doesn’t exist; of course it does, but we’re more clued up about it.  We have strategies – and in some contexts, laws – to deal with it.

The problem is that the progress towards equality has taken place – in this country at least – within the context of individualistic captalism.  We may all be equal, but we are all in competition with each other.  We live in a ‘me too!’ society where everyone wants to be at the top; and we deal with this by means of competitions.  Everything’s a competition now – just look at the TV schedules.

There must be a better way to do this.  I just don’t know what it is yet.

Kirk out

PS  Oh, and while I’m mentioning ‘Educating Rita’ I must recall a brief sojourn into the limelight by a friend.  He phoned into Dermot o’Leary’s show on radio 2 to protest at the amount of rap music he played, and was invited to come on the programme and choose one word to describe a song they had just played.  Words such as ‘bilge’, ‘offal’ and ‘dross’ received an outing: the item was called ‘Educating Peter’.








Filed under money, philosophy, politics

How Does Your Garden Vote?

What with my time being divided between canvassing and gardening at the moment, it was inevitable I should eventually get round to thinking of the election in terms of gardening.

The other day we were having a discussion with someone on Facebook about manifestos: OH had opined that the Conservative one seemed devoid of content and asked for opinions from Tory voters, to which one friend replied that the point of Conservatism is precisely not to have ideas but to allow the economy to function on its own: to, as it were, find its own level.  The phrase ‘find its own level’ is reminiscent of water, but my mind turned to gardens.

So, imagine if you will, our nation as a garden.  When you start out, there seem to be two ways to go.  You can try to control everything: you can spray every weed, get everything out of your lawn that is not grass, have neat rows of flowers and veg and not a single weed.  This looks scarily controlled, and leaves no space for spontaneity or creativity.  In political terms, this represents total state control as practised by the Soviet Union and others (I won’t call it communism because it wasn’t).

Alternatively, you can practise the opposite policy of unfettered capitalism, and leave the garden to regulate itself.  Initially, this allows for plenty of spontaneity; but after a while the weeds take over and you end up with a garden full of the strongest, most invasive weeds – brambles, horsetail, nettles, dandelions and poison ivy.  Nothing else is allowed to flourish, and useful flowers and veg are throttled.  And so it is that capitalism swallows everything: public services, health, even democracy itself if we let it.

What we need, I suggest, is a mixture of the two: we need judicious pruning and weeding for beneficial plants to flourish; we need a zero-tolerance policy towards brambles, ivy and of course horsetail; and for other, somewhat beneficial weeds such as dandelions and nettles, we allow them to grow in moderation and in the right place.  This represents a mixed economy and in my view, allows the best of both approaches.

We need a mixed economy in order to flourish.  Capitalism has its place: innovation and creativity often flourish here.  We need creative people like Dyson, to name one person off the top of my head.  And public ownership has its place: some industries are natural monopolies, and essential services ought to be run in the public interest.

So, to summarise: if profit is allowed to permeate everything you get corruption.  If the state controls everything you can get stagnation.  Some things ought to be nationalised, most industries should stay privately run, and that way everything in the garden will grow in a balanced environment.

It’s not perfect, but what is?  A mixed economy is like democracy: it’s the worst system apart from all the rest.

Kirk out



Filed under council and other tax, money, politics

Tallow Tales

I don’t really know why, but unlike many vegetarians and vegans I can’t really get too worked up about the tallow in the new fiver.  The first time I got one of these was in the village of Grosmont at the local shop (a local shop for local people) – in fact the place seemed to be awash with them; but it wasn’t until I got back to civilisation that I heard about the tallow.  If I’m honest, my reaction was a shrug of the shoulders.  What’s the big deal?  There are bigger things to worry about, in my opinion.  After all, I’m veggie not vegan; I wear leather and suede and use things with animal products in.  I don’t mind handling meat on the odd occasion (though I guess it depends what type of meat and what I’m doing with it) and to me, vegetarianism is about what I put in my body not what I hold in my hand.

I first embraced vegetarianism when I was living in a yoga ashram.  The plant-based diet was considered to be a peaceful one; first, because it didn’t involve the slaughter of other living things, and second, because the consumption of meat was thought to raise levels of aggression-inducing hormones.  There are also of course health reasons for not eating meat: it’s better for your digestion and the diet tends to be lower in fat and cholesterol.

That was twenty-five years ago, and I’ve never looked back.  Though initially I missed things like corned beef and tuna, the very thought of what I’m actually eating is enough to put me off should I get the urge to order, say, a bacon sandwich (bacon is one of the hardest things to give up).  Not everyone was supportive at first; my family didn’t understand it and when I said I had a craving for bacon, urged me to ‘just have some!’  Not helpful.  But I’ve never regretted it.  My digestion functions much better and I think I probably am less aggressive, though it’s hard to say as other life-changes went along with a change of diet.

Yet I can’t bring myself to care about tallow in five pound notes.  Maybe I should – maybe I would if I gave it more thought, but I don’t.  And I get a little pissed off when people say there’s no point in being just vegetarian: that you might as well go the whole hog and become vegan.  I don’t want to be vegan.  Vegan is too extreme for me.  There are many reasons for being vegetarian and they should all be respected.

I would be interested in hearing your thoughts…

Kirk out


Filed under culcha, friends and family, money

Caveat Vendor

I hate haggling.  I really, really do.  What I like is to walk into a shop and look at the price of something and then buy it.  If I don’t like the price I can walk out.  But I’m uneasy if the prices aren’t displayed, because then I’ll have to ask someone and if it’s too expensive I’ll have to invent a reason why I’m not going to buy the thing.  I simply cannot bring myself to say ‘that’s too much’ or ‘I can get it cheaper elsewhere.’  And let’s face it, a lot of shopkeepers take offence at that sort of talk: I had one shout at me once because I said no thanks after he’d told me the price of something (I think it was fruit).  ‘You can get a load of crap for a pound at the market!’ he yelled at my retreating back.  Oh, the shame…

The thing is, I’m just too embarrassed.  I don’t mind asking the price of things if I’m just browsing, but if I’ve come into the shop wanting just that one thing and I consider that the price they’re asking is just extortionate, I have to invent some reason for not buying it.  ‘Oh, I’ll just have to go to the cash point,’ I say lamely, or ‘I’ll be back in a moment,’ or ‘oh, thanks, I was just asking for a friend.’  It’s ridiculous.

But when it comes to haggling you have a whole nother layer of embarrassment.  Now, surprisingly, when I went to Morocco and then to India, I got quite good at it – though I still considered haggling to be an unwarranted intrusion into what would otherwise be a perfectly straightforward transaction.  And I didn’t feel awkward at all, because everyone was doing it.  But what really does my head in is when you have a private sale, when the buyer comes round and you talk face-to-face.  For instance; I just sold an old bike of mine on Facebook.  I wanted to get rid, plus it had a puncture, so I was only asking £20.  A woman came to buy it, having agreed the price, but then when she couldn’t get any air into the tyre (I had told her there was a puncture) she tried to haggle me down to £15.  I was completely thrown.  I felt as if some unwritten rule had been challenged.  I felt at once both very awkward and slightly miffed.  The buyer was from the States, which I think makes a difference: Americans seem able to be your best mate whilst simultaneously haggling you down to rock bottom.  It wasn’t as though it was terribly unfair; nor did I end up losing much money once I’d haggled her up again – but what stuck with me was the sheer awkwardness I felt in doing it in the first place.

Why is this?  Do other readers feel like this?  If so, why?

I think we should be told…

Kirk out


Filed under friends and family, money

Blimey blimey blimey

I have never seen anything like it.  We have never seen anything like it.  Leicester has never seen anything like it either.  From the city centre to the stadium, from Town Hall Square to Vicky Park, from the Cathedral to the station, everywhere was a sea of blue.  People were chanting, smiling, jumping, waving, flagging, hooting, tooting, fruiting (not looting), hanging out and enjoying the sunshine and just, gosh-darn-it, jolly-well celebrating.  As well they might.  Only trouble is, it’s just started chucking it down and the match is due to kick off in an hour.  Oh well, I guess it’s not tennis.  They laugh in the face of thunderstorms at the King Power Stadium.

I’ve been talking to a number of people who, like me, are not footie fans but who have been caught up in the celebrations.  And we were trying to decide why it is that not only fans but people like us as well as the world’s media – and supporters of other teams – who have engaged with this.  Basically we’ve come up with three reasons:

  1.  It’s an against-the-odds story, a 5,000 – 1 chance which came off
  2. It shows you can do it without buying your way to victory, purchasing the top players, and so on
  3. Leicester is a small, unregarded yellow sun – I mean a small, unregarded blue city – which has hitherto been overshadowed by Nottingham to the north and Birmingham to the West, but which against all odds has in the past two years found a buried king and won the Premier League – and those two events coming so close together have made an irresistible story.  As the Guardian reporter who interviewed me said, ‘Leicester is really on the map now.’  And so it is.

So I, and non-footie fans like me, will continue to enjoy the celebrations and to feel vindicated in so doing – because it’s great to feel a part of something so big.

Kirk out

Leave a comment

Filed under friends and family, money

It Takes a Month to Walk a Mile

Before you judge someone they say you should walk a mile in their shoes, right?  So I thought, OK – before I judge the billionaire banker I should walk a mile in his shoes.  (Or hers – except it’s much more likely to be a him.)  Shouldn’t take long, I thought – since I walk a mile or two every day and six on Saturdays.

It took a month.  This guy never walks anywhere!  He takes a few steps from his car to the lift; then, since the lift opens right into his office, he walks from the lift to his desk.  He never has to fetch coffee or walk to the photocopier so the furthest he goes in any day is from his desk to the private toilet in the corner of the room.  If he has meetings elsewhere he gets back in the lift, up to the helipad and away to another building where a similar lift takes him into the conference room: that’s if the whole thing isn’t done on skype in the first place.  Then in the evening a car takes him to a restaurant and on to a club before returning him to the penthouse suite and practically throwing him into bed.  That adds up to about a hundred yards a day!

Now, I know what you’re thinking – someone with that sort of lifestyle will visit the gym once in a while.  And so he does; but he does weights!  No paltry little weights for this guy, either: he doesn’t get out of bed for less than a thousand pounds.  A hundred bicep curls and already his wallet is rock-hard and bulging.

So there you have it – a month to walk a mile.

Kirk out


1 Comment

Filed under culcha, money

Yes, But is it a Catholic Miracle or a Protestant Miracle?

So, let us consider more about miracles.  Yesterday I defined a miracle as something that, according to the laws of nature or society, ought not to be possible.  I also think that a miracle is something which comes just when you need it.

Now, I’m not going to give away any confidences (in fact I couldn’t if I wanted to) but recently we have been in dire need of some money – and then it came, largely in the form of anonymous donations.  It came at precisely the moment when we needed it and as much as we needed.  That is definitely a personal miracle.

As regards miracles in general, I differ from many Catholics: I’m not one for weeping statues or bleeding icons.  I don’t really see what they achieve: we know there is – or used to be – fraud in the production of relics and miracles, but even supposing a statue could genuinely ‘weep’ at certain times (probably a phenomenon due to seeping water or a leak in the roof) – what is the point of it?  The point seems to be to increase the faith of believers, or else to make money for the church.  Give me a practical miracle any day.  Something that actually helps, something that changes lives.  Jesus didn’t go in for weeping statues, he did practical stuff.  Healed people.  Saved them from stoning.  Told them stories and helped them not to worry.  That’s a real faith – living from day to day and believing that things will work out.  And you don’t have to be a Christian – or even to believe specifically in God – to practise it.

Kirk out




Leave a comment

Filed under friends and family, God-bothering, money, philosophy