This won’t be over by Christmas in Brexitland

Ah, bless. Remember July, when we were all camping and heating up the barbie and it was all going to be over by Christmas?

Hostage to fortune, mate, and you lot can’t plan your way out of a paper bag, it’s been firefighting all the way. Do or do not, do not try.The usual wingnuts from the torygraph and unHerd are fulminating, they may as well hold their breath.

We have long argued that the country needs to live with this virus. […]

The alternative is to protect the vulnerable while letting normal life continue for most people. Older people who do not wish to be locked away can make their own choices knowing the risks.

Don’t sweat it, guys, it’s what’s going to happen anyway. After Cominic Dummings’ little escapade because he is such a sociopathic Billy No Mates he couldn’t find anyone to do his childcare in London, you can’t tell any bugger what to do.  We’ll be battle testing herd immunity by default. We got there in the end, 40 years after I played this track at university.

Weed out the weaklings…

And WTF is it with all the over-acting emphasis Bozza? Don’t they have decent drama school and elocution in Eton? Less of the lunging into the damn camera, and perhaps engage brain before opening trap? Nah, it’ll never catch on, and anyway, we’ve had enough of experts. Funny how Boz is so uniquely unsuited to wrangling something with the potential to kill people. I’m not convinced that it’s the end of the beginning yet. Boz really did need to pay attention at drama school. This, dear boy, is how you deliver that sort of news:

BoJo’s emphasis is all wrong and his cadence sucks, he’s trying too hard. If you want to know who to take people with you, listen to Donald Trump – he gets that right. He can talk absolute bullshit but make it sound right.

Socrates called out the problem of the unwilling leader being better qualified than those who really, really want the job, though he didn’t crack the implementation problem. Bozza is proof positive, he’s a good-time guy who wanted to get Brexit done, not fight bugs. Be careful what you wish for…

Capitalism gears up to ream the poor at Christmas

Anyway, it was clearly bollocks that it’ll be over by Christmas. What’s more, capitalism red in tooth and claw is tooling up to ream the poor, and the recently unemployed anyone else.

Beware the plastic

The Bank of England fondly believed that shitting on savers would give borrowers a break.While they did shit on savers they gifted ‘investors1‘ a doozy, which is how after a near death experience in Spring your equity portfolio is worth more, though about 10% of the UK economy has been burned.

Dunno what the heck they are smoking in Threadneedle Street, but it is strong. For starters lending money to people who have just lost their jobs is a risky biz in the first place, it’s about return of capital as well as the return on capital. Personally I’d also charge people more around Christmas anyway, because parents who are unable to tell their kids that Christmas is cancelled this year are unlikely to have the fortitude to do what it takes to pay this borrowing back under adverse conditions. Ten years ago in the midst of the GFC I suggested Charlotte tell her precious ankle-biter that Christmas is off, and the problem remains the same. Different perps, different kids, but Christmas is an elective spend, and it’s likely to be a tough time this year. Elect not to spend, rent and power before pressies. Tragically, there will be many who won’t have the option of either. If you have no assets, there is an argument to hit the old CC hard and fast, knowing you will never pay it off, but the IVA/bankruptcy option does rob you of some options in future. Given this hit is hopefully a one-off, then it’s a hard call. Going IVA/bankrupt may make it harder to rent a place or get some jobs…

Same old shit, different decade

Maybe we should have a guest appearance from Shona Sibary, she of the too many kids and the unawareness2 that you’re actually supposed to pay off a mortgage, plus if you use a string of fixes to borrow more than you can afford you make yourself a hostage to fortune in market crashes.

Lenders gonna lend, and you have to make money. They’re more Chuck Colson than FDR on this,

“If you’ve got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow”.

If the Bank of England was really that troubled about hard-working families getting a dreary Christmas then they could always lob money out of helicopters themselves, rather than getting credit card companies to do the dirty work for them. I guess Rishi might disapprove, but hey, whatever works, my friend.

As living proof of this incipient reaming of the newly unemployed, I received the following mealy-mouthed missive from a bank:

We want to help you manage your borrowing and ensure your overdraft limit is right for you. As you haven’t used your overdraft for a while, we’re planning to reduce this from £3,150 to £1,300 on 27 November 2020. Your new overdraft limit is still above the most you have used on your account in the last six months.

Well, thanks a bunch. I’ll have you know that I haven’t used my overdraft for the last fricking ten years, I can’t remember ever using it and it will have been cock-up anyway. However, you cynical punks are clearly expecting me to lose my job by Christmas and don’t want to be left holding the baby, eh? Well, you can f*ck right off and stick your overdraft where the sun don’t shine, busters.

Help me manage my borrowing? WTAF?

We’re in the chest-beating and mutual hollering abuse stage on Brexit

It was always going to get to this. Personally I’m of the view that too many Tories want a no-deal Brexit and there’s another four years to spin it as all t’other side’s fault. But perhaps all the chest-beating is just a phase we are going to have to go through.

In this crossfire, the Ermine needs to work out to preserve capital across the Brexit interregnum. I grouped together the bits from shorting earlier this year, reserves and I have enough for next year’s ISA before becoming a net decumulator.

I have ‘invested3‘ in SGLP, I will tolerate some cash in NS&I ILSCs, and some more in premium bonds. Now that does expose me a bit to Government cash grabs in the troubled fiscal future, as well as the lessening of the greatness of British Pounds to buy stuff, but the combined amount is less than the FSCS limit. Not that that pertains to NS&I anyway. I need to work out what I am going to hold the value of next year’s ISA contribution in. Gold via SGLP is one option, but I start getting seriously exposed to the gold price.

There’s still time before Brexit once October is gone, with it’s nasty tendency to downside violence in the markets, and perhaps if we know whether Trump will finish the job of Making America Great Again. Although my shares ISA is rammed, I could start to deploy the next year’s allowance into a trading account, and then bed and ISA the shares into the ISA after March. I am unlikely to be hammered for capital gains on £20k worth of say VWRL, although I suppose it depends on how well Bojo and his mates respond to the FXmarket singing ‘how low can you go’ about the GBP in the background.

There aren’t any good options here. Just less bad ones…


  1. That’s you and me trying to make sense of what will hold value into the storm. assuming you have capital. God knows, but I suspect valuations are not representative of value. This too will pass. That’s better for you if you have 30 years of investment horizon rather than two, but hey ho, I have had a good run since the GFC. If I buy VWRL, I am not under the impression I an ‘investing’ in productive assets at good value these days. More I am disinvesting in great British pounds. It’s a race to the bottom. 
  2. Some of it is she’s having a larf and needs column-inches, her story about running away from Devon and how to fix the First World problem of puppies turning into dogs were designed to get a rise, along with the power of phenergan elixir to quieten your rugrats on flights ;) 
  3. Ah, the i-word again. Nobody invests in gold – it’s noted for not adding value, unlike farms and companies. It’s a pure fear play, trying to hold value against a storm. 

Strong in these padawan, recency bias is

Thus quoth ZXSpectrum48k, over on Monevator. From a fellow who does this as a day job, looking at the legions of wannabe escapees from the office


Socrates was the counterfactual, though he defined the Dunning-Kruger problem in his first sentence.

for he knows nothing, and thinks that he knows. I neither know nor think that I know

Or Plato talking about Socrates.
whatever, there still be truth in it

It is part of the way of the world – the young fellow must be ignorant to his faults to make his way in the world and try and put his ding in the universe. ZX was also talking of the younger ermine, and probably even of me now, after all, how would I know 😉

You don’t often get away with thinking that you know, when you don’t. Particularly in the markets. Somehow TA’s article showed that in a harsh light. Let us look at the thrust of his article Should you use cash to bridge the gap between your ISAs and your pension?

In it, TA postulates saving ten years worth of cash, to bridge your spending over 10 years between retiring early (the RE part of FIRE), and reaching 57, the earliest point the Agglomerator, hero of his journey, gets to access their tax-privileged pension savings (SIPP). I confess I haven’t studied his derivation of that requirement, but I was only a little bit older than his putative future Millennial when I packed in work, I was very early fifties whereas Agglomerator wants to clear the workforce at 46.

Let’s just zoom out a little and put that into perspective, the Agglomerator enters the workforce at 21 on leaving university, and clears it at 46, so he works for 25 years. In that 25 years, somehow he saves 10 years of spending as cash and about twice that much in tax-privileged accounts to see him out. That looks like a massive ask to me, saving effectively 30 years of essential spend1 along with buying a house outright and establishing himself.

Today’s FIRE community is very different from that 10 years ago

For a start, fat FIRE is a much bigger thing than it was in the past. When I started it was about frugality first

UK Personal Finance Blogosphere, Source:

there are only 5/13 left standing (I haven’t counted those that haven’t been updated for over a year). It shows how different the world is now that it was just over ten years ago when I started down the FI/RE track. It was about saving and frugality.

Why was this – it was just after the GFC, people didn’t really believe the stock market would come good. Apart from Monevator, who sounded the clarion call into the low-water mark – git your ass into this market- NOW. However, valuations were such that you could get a decent return on shovelling money into that market. Although you were never going to retire early making minimum wage, you didn’t need the fancy City finance pay packet.

Today’s FIRE community is much, much richer than that of ten years ago. Some of that reflects these high valuations – if you want to accumulate enough to retire early now it’s a much tougher job. A safe withdrawal rate of 5% was conceivable in 2009, it’s much lower now, simply because valuations are higher. You need to be working in finance to get enough. There’s much more emphasis on fat FIRE now – starting off with a lot more, and spending at much higher levels. The frugalistas have been run out of town.

If you’re starting out, that’s not so bad, I have the suspicion that valuations will become more reasonable2 in the not too distant future, you need to keep buying into it. You have three decades.

But if you need to make it all happen in five years starting yesterday, then it’s going to be tough sledding. And I would imagine that a lot of getting-on-for-fifty-somethings are going to find themselves heading towards early retirement this year and next.

Talking of padawan, bless my younger self’s cotton socks, I thought I would have edge in sectors. Then I chased the HYP, is some ways because after a GFC yield was easy to find. Dunning and Kruger would be proud of me. I did do well. But not for the reasons I believed. I have no particular edge is stockpicking. But I was next to an open goal. Truth be told it didn’t really matter what you bought at that time. Valuations were in the dumps. My big win was to buy anything. I would probably have done better buying VWRL, except it didn’t exist in 2009 and before the RDR there were all sorts of dodgy practices to do with funds and backhanders. I was weak on the US market, which has been on a tear for most of that time. But I bought in at a low, and while I would have been better off buying a broad index, getting the timing right trumped sector allocation.

It’s not what I bought, it was when I bought – at low valuations. The rest of the journey was slowly coming to the conclusion that I am still a padawan, though not hopelessly so. I did OK, such that now, marked to market at high valuations (now) I have more capital than market to market at low valuations (the GFC) despite living off investment return over the last 8 years.

TA’s article says I was nuts. I agree, if I were starting now being balls-deep in equities other than three years’ essential spend would be crazy. It was less nuts starting from low valuations, because it is the truth that passivistas never allow to be heard – valuation matters, and the other name for that is market timing  😉 . But Dunning-Kruger probably would have the last laugh, because if TA went back in time to the younger Ermine and said ‘my crystal ball tells me you have to have enough cash to carry you for the next 8 years, what do you know that I don’t?‘ I am not sure that the younger ermine would have puffed up his furry chest and say ‘traveller from the future, valuations are historically low now, so the risk is much lower than it will be in your time.‘ TA wasn’t there, though Monevator said pretty much that at the time in his if not now, when?

A tale of desperation against logic

We are all, of course, the hero of our own narrative. Using the flight  analogy from a few weeks ago, I ready myself for the eight lean years in a flimsy craft, refuelling and seeing fire streaking across the runway behind. I am faced with the choice of wealth or health, and choose health. TA would not have cleared me for take-off, I did not have eight years cash saved, I did not have enough to bridge the gap. But enough to be prepared to take the chance. Against the backdrop of the GFC, the increasing value of the shareholdings stiffened the spine enough that I felt I could make it, though I did have to experience the lean years, particularly at the beginning. But in the years after the GFC, many people were skint. The ask is much, much higher now.

The Ermine cast a cynical eye at the Bank of England’s UK’s implied inflation forward curve (H/T Monevator’s should you use cash to bridge gap between your ISA and pension) and thought to myself flipping ‘eck, you lot must think we are born yesterday.

Look at the sedate trajectory On the one hand they’re expecting to write lots of letters to the Chancellor on how they cocked up bringing inflation down to 2%, indeed this will be a regular event for the rest of my lifetime. The Bank of England has a lot of finance bods much smarter than me, and I am sure that they will say well, hey, this is what is implied by the yield curves, it’s not our opinion. Sort of like a variant on guns don’t kill people, people do. Nothing to do with us, guv, it’s wot the market numbers say.

All over the decadent demise of the Western world there is this refusal to take responsibility for the consequences of our actions in favour of magical thinking. I’m all for magical thinking, but in that case let’s have some magic back, eh, rather than pretending we’re all materialist rationalists. Smells and bells, please. At least some of the ride will be more fun. Meanwhile

You’re having a larf, guys

In an exceptionally paranoid moment the ermine looked at what I expect coronavirus to do to the economy, followed by a quick one-two of Brexit, and figured that I see inflation in my future. In the BofE’s favour, if we take a look at the UK inflation rate history

UK historical inflation (CPI) Macrotrends

it looks not so different from the B of E’s prognostications, if we stick to the last 40 years. We have to go back nearly 30 years to the last time it was over 5%. Case proven, m’lud. Along with history, inflation has ended. Obviously you need some inflation, else capital will sit back on its lardy butt rather than get out into the world making good stuff happen in theory, but we’re sorted as far as inflation taking off. Hmm. In other news

We seem to be suffering a general competence deficit

We seem to be suffering a major competence deficit these days. In the battle between ability and craftiness, everyone seems to be losing their grip. The malefic Dominic Cummings seems to losing his mojo – starry-eyed for Big Data, his feet of clay show when it comes to hiring people to do anything with it. Obviously you ask your mates first, because, well, corrupt bastards are like that. He’s of the view that leadership in politics requires a science degree, but his own ancient and modern history degree from Oxford clearly failed him in his/our hour of need. He’s unable to find competence in handling data.

If the answer to your data processing job is Excel, the question is wrong

Back in the day, the Ermine was chatting to the guy at the next desk, who was tasked with keeping records of set-top boxes. Now I had an electronics, not software background, but he was planning on keeping this in Microsoft Excel. “Your problem there,” opined the Ermine, “is that you can’t do ‘owt with the data. What you need is a database”. This guy was going to try and search for repeating faults and that sort of jazz. Now you can do that is Excel, but it’s a bit like Samuel Johnson’s quip about a dog waking on its hind legs, it’s not so much that it’s done well, it is that it’s possible at all. It grinds to ever slower after about a thousand records – I discovered this the hard way when running the records of a club that had about 1500 members at its high water point. I switched to Access3 after about 500 members.

The trouble is everybody can understand Excel, whereas getting your data into a database is a different level of abstraction. Even in DOS days, dBaseIV had the edge on Lotus 123, though wrangling the forms to make it work was a nightmare.

Excel just isn’t designed to handle huge amounts of data – wrong tool, wrong job. This fellow might have had a hundred thousand set-top box ids, and Excel was only good for 65535 rows back then. You don’t use Excel for massive lots of data. I’d get off that wagon at more than 5000 data points, so you don’t use Excel for tracking your set-top boxes. Or your coronavirus victims

Now in fairness to our Dom, he’s busy getting his mates to do his data munging, falling for the old saw of anonymised data. The trouble with AI and Big Data in particular is that the aim is to de-anonymise everything.  AI looks intelligent because it cross-correlates everything, at scale. The public data Dom’s giving his buddies may well be anonymised on its own, but when combined with other data the keys to the kingdom often show up.

Now is the winter of our discontent[…]
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,
By drunken prophecies, libels and dreams,

This lot seem to have skipped a few lines of Richard III, and gone straight on to the doing evil. The thing that’s saving the rest of us is the competence deficit – in driving out Brexit non-believers, they seem to also have driven out anybody who can spot a bad idea miles away. Or indeed anybody who’s got a clue. Funny old thing, that… Correlation is not causation, eh, Dom?

Brexit zealotry doesn’t seem to correlate with competence

Perhaps driving out those who had a clue was the point – disaster capitalism unfolding before our eyes. Never let a good crisis go to waste and all that. Perhaps it has to be the way- you need moronic slavishness to the Brexit Ideal to Get Brexit Done, and perhaps afterwards we can engage people who understand the art of compromise. A little bit of that on t’other side wouldn’t go amiss, either, but we have to stick with what we can change…

I’m sure we will trade with other people after Brexit. But let’s get some people who can talk in a civilised manner to others, eh, rather than yelling we have the sovereign right to do exactly as we damn well please, and thanks for all the fish. That’s an awful long way towards the Juche doctrine of North Korea, and I suggest Brits are a little bit too soft and used to their creature comforts to want to pay that sort of price for absolute sovereignty, regardless of what Jacob Rees-Mogg and his disaster capitalism compadres in the European Research Group have to say about vassal states.

I am old enough to just remember 1973. Britain was a lot more self-sufficient in many things then, like food and cars for instance, than it is now. We weren’t that good at a lot of this, which was roughly why we signed up to the Common Market as it was then  – we were the sick man of Europe, economically speaking. However, the issues raised by James Goldsmith of the Referendum Party weren’t ever addressed with Maastricht. Brexit will definitely fix those. A little bit like burning the house down fixes bad wallpaper, but some non-ERG eyes can probably make Brexit work right after a few years. Britain’s economy did sort of work before 1973, and hopefully we have all learned something in the intervening 47 years. Just for God’s sake keep the British Eton-educated whazzocks away from leadership of our companies, particularly any that make cars, it took foreign management to make Britain’s car factories make cars that were worth buying…

work is not the route out of poverty for the ability-challenged or those with more children than skill

I confess I will struggle to drum up sympathy for the Red Wall if they find they are vassals to British plutocrats rather than EU technocrats. True, they weren’t to know of the coronavirus pandemic, but the deep compassion for those who fall on hard times of the crew that they voted in to Get Brexit Done has been hidden in plain sight for a very long time.

I still remember the relatively benign version of that looking for my first job nearly 40 years ago, it scared the hell enough out of me to never take any time between jobs until I packed work in for the last time. The experience of being unemployed in Britain doesn’t seem to have improved between Margaret Thatcher and the punitive and nasty Universal Credit.

Let’s take a look at the latest tweets by the bell-ends at the DWP about Job Entry Targeted Support.

Translated: People on the scheme which get a personal DWP goon on minimum wage who is incentivised to make your life a misery and get you to apply for endless jobs for which your skills and personal circumstances don’t fit you

Personalised, like the red dot from a rifle. The personal adviser will be targeted to make your life miserable. If you want to cop a feel of the quality of the personalised advice, knock yourself out on the careers advice beta to gauge the accuracy.In the case of the Ermine, that’ll be

ORLY? The last time I had anything to do with sports was the very last time i packed my PE kit away at school, in the late 1970s…

Because there is a fundamental truth here. Britain is a rich, First World country. That means the cost of living is higher here than in many other places.

Sadly, Brits are not, on average, cleverer than other people. We’re average. Quelle surprise, eh? As a result, the sort of jobs available in the UK that pay enough to live on need to demand a higher level of skill than the global average, and the bar is increasing all the time4. Because: globalisation. If you thought Brexit is going to fix globalisation, then you should have been more careful about the people you gave the keys to.

Elementary logic shows that the result of increasing skill requirements is that fewer and fewer people will be able to earn enough for the average cost of living. Some of them won’t be bright enough. Some of them will have had children too early in life, or split up with the other party involved. That means you won’t have enough time to get a full-time job. As a society while we mouth platitudes about wanting to make up the difference, by our actions we clearly don’t care that much to be prepared to carry your choices for years and years.

We have hidden this in the past by increasing the number of shit jobs in the economy, things that should have been done by machine or not done at all, and priced these at minimum wage. It is one of the reasons why productivity has gone down the toilet in the UK since the credit crunch. For contrast, I started work when this was about 55 on that scale, and left when it was about 95. Britain got better off while I was at work – not due to me I hasten to add. You need an increase in productivity to address poverty. There has to be more shit to go around per head for the country as a whole to get better off – it is a necessary but not sufficient condition.

UK per capita productivity, it’s less than it was in 2016, and pretty flat since the GFC. Source: ONS

There’s only so far this can go. Another way we are hiding this is to create a punitive DWP system for the un(der)employed called Universal Credit, employ young graduates who can read and write to be mean to people who perhaps have literacy issues or generally can’t stand filling in forms. We incentivise the graduates to disenfrachise as many of their ‘clients’ as possible so that they keep their sort-of middle-class jobs, while making it all look like the clients’ fault that they don’t have the natural ability to get/hold a job that pays enough to live on.

Let’s not even start on what we do to the physically and mentally ill, eh? We just don’t care. Oh and then we wring our hands about the amount of homelessness.

Now I’m not saying I am clever enough to know the solution to this problem, but I have learned over several decades is that whistling a tune and repeating inappropriate platitudes like ‘work is the route out of poverty’ isn’t the way to fix the problem. It would be more honest simply to tell some of the people with insufficient skills or chaotic lifestyle choices that there is nothing we are prepared to do for you. Work is not the route out of poverty, for the simple reason that the cost of living is too high in Britain to keep a roof over your head on anything less than the full-time minimum wage, and there are too many people in the UK who don’t have enough aptitude to add enough value to something to even justify the minimum wage.

Some people are seriously short of basic life skills, like recognising food 😉

Ceci n’est pas food

Microsoft offered me this picture of a field of Halloween pumpkins in some American field. It’s a little bit weird, a tad Magritte, IMO. How do I know it’s American – there are no trees, hedgerows, we don’t have one-armed pylons unless there’s a really good reason and we don’t run our railway tracks with no guarding, and I don’t think I’ve seen boxcars like that.

However, it’s in keeping – Halloween never used to be a retail-fest or even A Big Thing until about 30 years ago, and it’s been pushed like hell, imported from Over There. It’s still rather disturbing that a significant proportion of British parents were presumably raised by wolves themselves in being unaware that you can eat what’s inside pumpkins5. Although I had no idea how they grew, I was aware of this by the time I left home, though it wasn’t particularly useful information as Halloween wasn’t a big thing, and I am child-free anyway 😉

However, I am with hubbub – eat your damn pumpkins FFS 😉 Tossing 90% of the pumpkins we grow is just plain rude. Mrs Ermine grows these smaller ones which look the part but taste better. We don’t need to carve them, but with cucurbits size does not correlate with flavour IMO.

It’s not so much that the big supermarket ones will taste horrible, the main failure mode is to taste of nothing much at all. Think marrows as opposed to courgettes. Having said that, if it tastes bitter, then toss it out. Pretty much a rule of everything to do with eating really, but according the the RHS bitter squash can give you bellyache if it doesn’t breed true. So don’t seed save curcubits unless you know what you are doing.

Last year I was in Morrissons and they actually labelled their Halloween pumpkins as ‘not for human consumption’, which makes me wonder what the hell they spray the buggers with. And quite frankly, parents, maybe you want to ask yourselves, if you buy this sort of contaminated shit for your kids, then what sort of world you are encouraging capitalism to build for them?

  1. I know, he doesn’t keep it all in cash and gets some return on his money. But the maths works out at enough for 30 years essential spend, even if it isn’t deployed in that way. 
  2. Valuations becoming more reasonable is otherwise known as a bear market 
  3. Before all the DBAs take the piss, Microsoft Access was the right solution for a club database, easy enough to a tyro to make it work. If it didn’t, the result was going to be embarrassment rather than death. I’m not saying PHE should have used Access ;) 
  4. I took my O levels in the mid 1970s. The typical class sizes of my grammar school was 31, but after the O levels class sizes were about half, because half the kids had gone into the world of work. They were fixing cars, helping in businesses, all without A levels or a degree. I saw far more people as a child building the Goldsmith’s College halls of residence than I saw on the entire Olympic Athlete’s Village building site in 2012. You wouldn’t need to be able to read and write as a hod carrier in the 1970s, I saw nobody carrying bricks onto the scaffolding up a ladder in 2012, there were mechanacal aids t do that. 
  5. While I despise Halloween for being a jumped up capitalist consumerism-fest, rather than an honourable celebration of the turning of the seasons/harvest festival/thinning of the veil, the truth is that parents who eat their pumpkins with their kids and then carve jack o’lanterns out of them use more of the fruit than I do. Upcycling writ large and they should be applauded! 

winter is coming

It is August, California has recorded the hottest temperature on Earth at the aptly-named Furnace Creek. I just can’t imagine 54 degrees. I went there in 1993, and overheated my rental Grand Am in the 1500 meter lift up from Zabriskie Point through Daylight Pass, with the heater flat out and all the windows open. In July…

Nevertheless, in Blighty there is the hint of Autumn in the air in the changes of the natural world. Birdsong has changed from the frenzy of the breeding season, perhaps most clearly and commonly with the Robin, which sings a song that sounds in a minor key to me, which we associate with mournfulness, though of course this is pure anthropomorphising. The retired Ermine is more physically active than the working Ermine. Earlier this year in lockdown there was an edict from the government that you were permitted to spend an hour walking. I stayed with some of this, while I don’t do it every day I cover about three miles. Walking is good for reflection and rumination – in the heat of summer I started earlier, and there is some reward to doing it before wrangling anything that needs an Internet connection to happen.

I get to know the small area better, and living in a small town it is easier to get out into the countryside by shanks’ pony. The transition between town and country is sharp, I cross the liminal space in about fifty yards. Earlier in the year I got to know the territory of some of the blackbirds and robins by their individual song. Now these ranges are more fluid, and I hear the lovely sound of flocks of goldfinches who have swelled their ranks in the breeding season, feasting on the seed-heads. Although the swifts have gone some time ago, the swallows are still swooping over the fields with their chattering sound.

Swallows chattering hawking insects over the fields as I come to the main road

The bold song of the chaffinch has been replaced with the double finch-finch sound of their alert call, and the lovely arrow-like white tail feathers flicker in the morning light as they make their swooping flight away from the paths into the trees. I have seen herons courting and the odd egret drifting lazily on the summer breeze.

Egret, another type of heron. Probably a Great White, this was big and the wildlife trusts say they are in the area

I have learned that the sound of the wind in the oak is not the same as the wind in the ash or the willow. In some ways it is reminiscent of the almost animistic approach of my primary-school self, where I knew a very small area intimately. I cover more ground, and there is far more natural variation in the natural world of the Levels than there was in the urban landscape of New Cross. When I checked the size of my childhood world on Google Maps the size of my patch was amazingly small. Continue reading “winter is coming”

holidays in the sun are not a human right, people

Funny old game, really. One of the really big issues in the UK causing much bellyaching is the recently imposed quarantine requirements for returning from Spain, along with the usual gormless whinging about will I get paid. Err – no. Like when volcanic ash stopped flights a while back, you don’t get paid for the extra time you took to get back home, nor the extra hotel and transport bills. Unless you had decent travel insurance, and even then it was the insurer’s job, not your employer’s.

Earth to Great British Public – your holiday is not a human right. There’s no fairness fairy. There’s a global pandemic on. If you decide to take the risk of going for your two weeks in the sun, you also get to suck up the added risk of getting stuck out there and the concomitant costs (if they lockdown) and/or the risk of ending up with a domestic holiday bolted on (if we quaratine your destination).

Your right to two weeks in the sun doesn’t trump the public health. In the same way as we have other limitations on yer yuman rights to do what the bloody hell you like and have others eat the consequences. You can’t drive your Maserati at 100mph down an urban street, though I’m sure as hell it’d be great fun.

Greetings, sky unscarred by Ryanair, BA and Easyjet Remember them not so long ago? The risk of a quarantined destination is not your greatest tail risk, sunseekers

The Ermine is not overflowing with the milk of human kindness on the subject, because it is pretty obvious to anybody with a brain cell rattling about in their cranium that unexpected delays are a much higher risk this year. Earlier we have had the evidence of a country-wide shutdown and serious impairment to international travel, enough to clear our skies of contrails and shut down the endless rumble of jet noise so you get to hear the birdsong better.

It’s clear that humanity hasn’t really got ahead of coronavirus and hasn’t really solved the issue of the highly communicable nature of the disease plus its long incubation period making the whole thing really tough to manage from a public health standpoint.

So you’re taking several elevated risks on going on a cheap flight to somewhere sunny. I don’t know if you can insure against the potential loss of earnings, though to be honest why not self-insure? Save two weeks of earnings before you go on holiday, then if they do quarantine your destination you get a couple extra weeks to catch up with some DIY on unpaid leave.

If they don’t, well, stick the money towards next year’s holiday and celebrate your good fortune. Not only were you able to afford a holiday, but you saved the money, and if you think your employer should have paid for the risk then you actually still have a job, which is a stroke of great luck compared to an awful lot of Britons come August; one in ten will lose their job by the end of the year. Faced with this level of hazard, ending up with the loss of two weeks earnings pales into insignificance – if you would find that devastating then you can’t afford to go on holiday even if you currently do have a job. You’re not meant to say it, but if I were an employer struggling to keep afloat then if somebody had the brass neck to ask me to fund the tail risks of their ten days in the sun then they will go higher up in the queue when push comes to shove.

A holiday is for your benefit and enjoyment. Why the hell should your employer pay you if you aren’t back at work as originally planned. particularly as business conditions are tough this year?

Damn well prepare for foreseeable risks yourself, insure against them yourself, or just don’t take the risk in the first place. What the heck is so hard about that?

Back home, staycations seems to be making us into chavs all round

The Hawk Stone, Oxfordshire
The Hawk Stone, Oxfordshire

Last month I took a gander at this standing stone in Oxfordshire, and I was surprised at the amount of trash in laybys. Since there’s a theme of whining whingeing here, I will join in; this seems to be a wider problem that we’ve all become a lot more slobtastic.

The Ermine has a campervan, but I can honestly say that I am not the problem these guys are talking about. I have never shat in the great British outdoors in my entire life. I don’t dump camping gear in the outdoors, for two reasons – one is I don’t buy rubbish in the first place, and try and service it properly. But if it does break up, then I throw it away in … a bin? One of the great things about the supermarket plastic bag was you could use it to collect your sundry trash if rough camping and then ditch it in a litter bin. These days you have to buy a roll of swing bin liners, but I haven’t got through my first roll yet. Don’t be a slob. Fair enough, I don’t do tent camping and don’t hike to campsites so maybe this is easier for me, but what the hell is up with us now?

Continue reading “holidays in the sun are not a human right, people”

fancy fintech’s fishy fun

When is a bank not a bank? When it’s a fintech startup pretending to be a bank. For example let’s hear it for Revolut, strapline “get more for your money”.

I like a lot of their offering. You can hold cash in all sorts of different currencies. Most of the time that’s only useful to globetrotters and people buying goods over international borders, and even that can be handled by a decent credit card in many cases.

Way back when, sometime last year, I had the fond idea of saving cash in a bunch of currencies. I don’t ask much of cash, I don’t even expect to come back in a year and find it worth as much as it was before. However: Brexit. I don’t believe in it, and I don’t think it’s going to be good for me.

Revolut seems to match the requirement of being able to diversify that cash holding across currencies, with very low transaction costs.

Retirees need a bigger emergency fund that their employed selves

Anyone living off investment income but without an income stream against which you can borrow money has to hold a fair amount of cash, typically one to three years’ spending, to avoid becoming a forced seller into a down market.

For people with investment income only, a market crash is an emergency writ large, because realising income from bombed out stocks hammers your capital. You need to sell of a larger part of your capital to get the same income, and a cash buffer puts that off. Unlike emergencies when you’re working, the emergency lasts a while, and there’s nothing you can do to swerve it. A bear market can last a couple of years.

Unlike your normal emergency fund of three to six months, that’s more exposed to losses simply by being larger.

Emergency fund counterfactual – if you’re working, you don’t need a year-long cash buffer

I had come across people who didn’t subscribe to the working life  emergency fund of three to six months expenses approach, early on. I read Early Retirement Extreme who was characteristically straight between the eyes on the subject.

I don’t have a disaster fund or an emergency fund. For emergencies, I use a credit card.
If I use a credit card, I will have a 20 day grace period during which I do not pay interest. This gives me sufficient time to move money from my savings account or my broker account into the checking account from where I can pay off the credit card. This way I am not losing money from money gathering dust in a checking account.

Hmm. The first this to say here is that ERE was young and employed, so perhaps more resilient. We tend to get more fiscally conservative as we get older, which is the way of the world – the future income stream from work is less because there are fewer years of income. But I recently read a similar iconoclastic attitude at EarlyRetirementNow, who is much further down the line than ERE was. He takes the same line. So does MedFi. Let’s take a look at ERN’s answer to an emergency

  1. Credit card float (=interest free loan from the credit card company between the transaction and the credit card payment due date)
  2. Papa ERN’s paychecks
  3. The $100,000 HELOC (home equity line of credit) on our condo
  4. Finally, a large sum in several brokerage accounts, more than half our liquid asset net worth

The Ermine is short items 2 and 3 – although there’s an argument that my pension is some variant of 2. A HELOC is probably what I understand as an offset mortgage. ERM is/was a banker, and is much more comfortable with leverage than I am. I don’t ever want another mortgage in my life – I spent 20 years trying to ground the last one. I do accept that’s an opportunity cost, Monevator tells you why. Some things are just a gut feeling, in the same way that so many people violate the personal-finance principle “never take financial responsibility for something that eats” for lifestyle reasons. Britons tend to regard property=money tree, but I do not regard property as a finacial store of value. I value it for the usufruct. This is because I have had the experience of the capital value of a property falling by a third, and about a half in real terms. Bricks and mortar is not a store of value in my book.

It is possible that living for several years with no capacity to borrow money  has skewed my perspective. All lenders want to see an income, paradoxically the financially independent are zeros in the eyes of lenders, because they are atypical. Your average wage-slave wants to borrow money because they want to spend more than they earn, and lenders are used to that. Sometimes that is reasonable – few people save up for a house to buy it cash, because it is easier to live in it and service the debt than to pay rent on top of saving for 20 years to avoid paying the mortgage interest.  OTOH if it is for weddings, holidays, cars or other wasting assets then it’s barmy. But lenders gonna lend, and unlike bank managers of yore they want to do it at scale, so they don’t really put any effort into analysing edge cases.

If you’re FI and not working, you need an emergency fund. You are your banker of last resort

We want to be financially independent, and for many of us that’s independent of The Man. But there is another side to financial independence. You look damned odd to the system, and in practice that means the non-working financially independent are independent of finance too. They are pariahs. You’re not going to be borrowing money from anybody unless you can show income. In practice that means your non-working self needs a larger emergency fund than your working self. Continue reading “fancy fintech’s fishy fun”

Priapic solstice perambulations in pursuit of weed

I know what you’re thinking, but we are country mice, so we are after seaweed, not yer metropolitan weed.

Seaweed drying on the washing line

Mrs Ermine had bought a snorkel, and was going to search the deep for seaweed. You can fry it and it makes pretty good crisps, as well as drying it and pulverising it in a food processor. She’s of the opinion that it’s good for you, well, as far as anything fried is ever good for anybody 😉

The snorkel was totally superfluous to requirements, because when the sea sounds like this

and looks like this

what you need is a RIB and an outboard motor. However, what the sea also does is uproot the seaweed from the sea floor and dumps it on the beach, which seems a much better win than getting wet to do this. Why keep a dog if you have to bark yourself…

I always look a bit askance at things from the sea, not only do fish f*ck in it, but you get diesel oil, heavy metals and tons of sewage, bunker fuel etc. It’s basically the dustbin of the world. Hopefully the seaweed filters this out, in the same way as your spuds filter out the muck they spray on the fields. It tasted fine. There were fewer people about this time than last time, and they seemed to be having fun.

These things were a git to get off the ground…
but looked like fun once you had done

We went back and had a coffee stop in the viewpoint of the Cerne Abbas Giant in honour of the summer solstice just gone past. He seems to have been newly cleared and was in gleaming priapic splendour

Cerne Abbas Giant

Normally we’d stop off at the little tea shop in the High Street, but as that sort of thing isn’t open yet it was coffee from Thermos flasks in the full view of His Horniness. It’s one of the delights of England that you get mad things like this plastered on the hillside for hundreds of years, outlasting Cerne Abbey.

The seaweed shrinks massively as it dries out

You don’t get left with much – it has been chopped up

and it has a deep and existential affinity to water. To the extent that if you dry it in the day and leave it on the plate overnight it sucks some water straight out of the air!

The trick seems to be to get it inside an airtight jar ASAP, which turns Nikon’s glass into a funky lomography lens

It’s odd stuff – varying in colour

Seems there is a tradition of eating seaweed that I was unaware of. The Danes call it sea vegetable not weed and it is industrially extracted in Scotland. The seaweed crisps are divine, sort of natural and far less bad for you than anything made of spuds, but their inherent nature of wanting to suck the water out of anything is preserved. They give you a stonking thirst, so do not consume anywhere which has a proximity to beer… The salt is probably bad for you whatever the Danes say.

No fighting please, we’re British?

This was written early in the week. There’s no need for hot-headed argy-bargy. Some London lads went to Bournemouth and ended up in a knife fight and a few people left their shit in a box. Just…go for a dump before you leave the house?

One of the advantages of being an island is that Britain has a hell of a lot of coastline, you don’t all have to head out to where everyone else goes…

ermine egging on the economy

Monday 15th June was allocated to opening non-essential shopping in England, and it seems to have gone down a storm. Boris would like a word with y’all

Boris, me old buddy, the prospect of 10% unemployment1 is heading towards these punters you’re exhorting to shop with confidence. Isn’t it better to shop with confidence you will have a job to pay for your consumerism first? Not sure I’d start with Westfield either, I don’t have fond memories of my last visit to Westfield – a food desert of overpriced junk.

Nevertheless, we decided to go egg on the economy the Ermine way, so we headed off to the South Coast. Mrs Ermine wanted to swim in the sea. She was much taken with it – on the south coast you can see some depth into the water, which is a step up from doing that in the North Sea, which is pretty murky.

Personally I can’t understand the attraction – you get salt in your hair and sand everywhere. I am a weak swimmer, however, and when I hear this sort of thing then I just don’t fancy my chances at all.

Indeed Mrs Ermine started talking of rampant consumerism – she is thinking of getting a snorkel and fins. I was picturing this sort of thing and wondered if that’s really a kindness on a public beach. Suppose it’s one way of encouraging social distancing


Apparently she means flippers. That’s future consumerism. We had more immediate requirements for consumerism, and dropped £60 on this,

a whole lobster in halves

and mighty fine it was too. We got to eat it on a table, but we had to provide that and the eating irons ourselves – we had it in our camper van in the National Trust car park. Call me timid, but I think trying to wrangle half a lobster on one’s knees using a blunt wooden fork could easily end up a tragic waste of fine seafood.

Although we were doing our bit for Britain, personally I think that hospitality is toast. This sort of thing is all very well in midsummer, but it’s going to suck bricks in winter

physically distanced queue to get chow is OK in summer…

plus there’s still rent and maintenance on the buildings that you can’t turn a profit on. Sure, you need the kitchens, but there’s a lot of wasted space on the eatery. Perhaps they will have got that sorted by Autumn, because al fresco dining in the rain isn’t the cheeriest prospect in the world. Margins seem razor-thin in the restaurant trade. Second-hand catering equipment and premises will probably be very cheap next year, perhaps it is down to a new generation of restaurateurs to build the new world out of the ashes of the old. Continue reading “ermine egging on the economy”

a walk on the wild side

Disclaimer: I won this round. I’m still not sure of the balance between skill and luck, I favour luck. I’m not sure I could do it again, so don’t extrapolate…

Monevator has a lovely little summary of advice for people who opened a share account during lockdown. The recommendation is go invest passively, but that’s dull as ditchwater. Everyone sees themselves as the Wolf of Wall Street

You opened your new trading account for excitement, not something that’s just as dull to do as it sounds – even if it is more profitable.

The markets had a near-death experience earlier this year. Passive investors had an easy life.  Do Not Sell

We only have to do one thing.

Do not sell.

That was posted three days after I did sell a lot of stuff. March 10th. There was a fellow called Peter Comley who wrote a book about sheeple like me that buy high and sell lower.

If you’re going to sell into a market suckout, do it, do it decisively in the shortest time possible, and if at all possible do it early. Well, I got two out of the three right. A bit before then I also started to short a lot of what I had1 . In a couple of cases I shorted more of the stock than I had in the ISA.

I had been chasing income into the ageing bull market, so I ended up with more FTSE100 and investment trusts than I should really have had. And then I sold into a low, though nowhere near the true low-water mark. I did not sell VWRL, gold, or my HYP from way back when. I didn’t sell any of my index holdings in Charles Stanley, and indeed pumped LGITI up. Among what I saw as crap I sold BWRM which was a  mistake in hindsight. You don’t have to hit zero bum notes, just more high ones than bum ones.

I bought a shedload of gold to add to my existing stash bought before the Brexit vote in 2016, and a few shares, and some VWRL. I was selective about what I sold – mainly UK based stuff and also income investment trusts, though only the excess I had bought in 2019, I have a core holding of ITs that I have had for years. At least TI seems to approve of the selectivity, just about.

9. Invest for the long-term: run your winners, and cut losers

though he doesn’t actually say short the losers

So I am one of those suckers that passive aficionados take the piss out of, I got slaughtered in the bear market, when stocks return to their rightful owners, yes?

Not so fast, passivistas

You’ve had a good war. You did not sell, and you are now sitting on a tidy profit. All around you the smoke is rising from people’s business hopes and dreams, but you stayed passive, and you did not F*ing sell, you kept the faith, and you are up on the year? I don’t want to take that away, well done you.

VWRL. Passive folks are within spitting distance of where you were this January. Sure, it’s been a hairy six months, by as long as you did not F*cking sell you’re sitting dandy

I did F*king sell.  Investing FAIL. Had I done n’owt I would probably be back where I was in Jan at a guess. Oddly enough when I look at my ISA now compared to January it’s not epic fail, but still FAIL. Advantage passive.

Oranges are not the only fruit

Not so flipping fast. I was way too heavy in shares, which arguably is not where I should have been. As Monevator reflected in his comment that I pinched the title of at some point during this bear market I realized that I probably shouldn’t keep doing this I was over-exposed2 to equities at a market high, and I didn’t want to really be so highly exposed. I’ve been grousing about valuations for long enough on here.

Continue reading “a walk on the wild side”

At some point during this bear market I realized that I probably shouldn’t keep doing this

We get to learn something new about ourselves in these unusual times. Some are new and interesting – I am a lifelong introvert – heck my primary school headmaster wrote1 ‘this mustelid is a lone wolf’ in the valedictory report. I am not as much an island as I thought I was. I spent too long reading science fiction in my youth – everybody told me this is tripe2, but it’s probably as far as I am able to go towards fiction, I tended to borrow more non-fiction from the library than fiction. I am weak on things like 100 books to read before you die because of this bias. I couldn’t make it through Heart of Darkness, and pretty much anything by Charles Dickens does my nut in – I am a fast reader but couldn’t get anywhere with Great Expectations which is part of why I failed Eng Lit O level.

Last time I considered work, and in a trivial event that happened less than 24 hours after that I learned something humbling about myself. I knew it four years ago, but I have become complacent.

I was fortunate in my upbringing, I had parents who loved each other, and stayed together till death did them part. Although we were poor, by modern standards, I was loved and knew it. And so I came to believe that Time healed all psychological injury3. As I grew older I came to see this is not true for all people, sometimes issues from childhood drag people back to early hurts, and it takes effort for them to regain equilibrium.  Philip Larkin had something to say about this. I saw a little echo, a resonance of the pathology in myself more recently. Time does not always erase.

The best-laid plans of mice and men

The Firm, whose research campus I worked at for over 20 years was a fantastic place to work for a long time. There is a Facebook4 group Friends of the site recently established, and some ex-colleagues invited me. Despite the fact that the campus had a pretty clear no photography rule for a long time, it was good to see some bygone days, and reminiscences of some of the earlier projects. Even the barmy ones, like trying to splice optical fibres with a box that was a controlled spark gap, which needed careful positioning – on the roadside while there was snow on the ground.

Another project where two of us were working in Portugal, and as we drove off from a border crossing checkpoint from Spain the hatch of our rental car opened and dumped some very expensive HP kit on the highway. Amazingly it was still serviceable after we gathered it up.

Some things were entertaining – the 1980s hair. The impression that there were women on site – yes, technically there were, but they or their partners must have taken all the photos, because science and engineering joints like that were virtual monasteries. Dear xGF came from Lancashire, not Suffolk 😉 For Ipswich’s women who were so inclined, the odds were good, but the goods were odd. One of the high schools near the site has a much higher prevalence of autism than is typical in the county. They get decent grades, but the second-generation goods are probably still odd.

Fear is the mind-killer

Frank Herbert, Dune

I looked at the signals coming from the markets, and they blithely ignore the massive economic shock there is now. Yes, Donald Trump threw a shedload of money at the markets, but it doesn’t explain it all. The compass spins and knows no north. I look at the numbers in my ISA and I don’t believe them. My ISA has a lot less crap in it and it has a fair amount of gold, but even so. It keys an atavistic memory from long ago, of my great-grandmother describing losing her life’s savings. Twice.

So I consider returning to work, to head this off. And within 24 hours the Universe delivers a slap to the chops with a wet fish. Synchronicity in motion. Continue reading “At some point during this bear market I realized that I probably shouldn’t keep doing this”

The Ermine considers returning to work

I heard the sound of a thunder, it roared out a warnin’
Heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world
Heard one hundred drummers whose hands were a-blazin’

Bob Dylan, 1960-something

I retired eight years ago. There are many people who retire and return to work because they find their lives have no meaning without the 9 to 5, or they miss other aspects of work. I’m not one of them.

If we didn’t have coronavirus in the world I wouldn’t give the idea the time of day. I am old, and compared to the young mustelid that graduated in the early 1980s I have no human capital left. I look at some of the jobs that come through LinkedIn and I have have neither the desire nor really the capability. Imagine the job interview

“Yes Mr Ermine, tell me about how you tackled blah blah blah”

“Well, nine years ago I….”

Nope. Not gonna wash. Plus after a few years out of the workplace I dress like Dominic Cummings, so I am on a sticky wicket from the start. Or maybe not, I quite fancy being untouchable in the workplace. 1

So why even consider it. Everybody wants you to be passionate about work, and I’m not.

Financially I am OK. I have a DB pension that pays my needs and wants, particularly at the moment when some of my wants can’t be had anyway. I have a couple of S&S ISAs which are probably about half the value backing my DB pension, and I don’t need to touch them. In less than 10 years I will draw a State pension. But –

A hard rain’s gonna fall

We have taken a massive economic shock, but on its own we could probably overcome it. The trouble is the background  – the Western Empire is falling, and this shock could accelerate the decline, because predators always prey on the weaknesses.

Most likely I will pass another couple of decades, cash in my chips and then the state of the world will be other people’s problem. But I have already had the experience once of blithely carrying on as if nothing will change while there’s fire burning underground, and then playing catch up to deal with the outbreak – getting out of the workplace in three years rather than a decade.

I need to also qualify what I am trying to fight, because some things are unfightable. I am at the coffee end of the spectrum. Social collapse, zombie apocalypse – wine is for that. If the answer is guns, beans and ammo, the question is wrong.

Let’s scope the enemy

Monevator is the cheerleader for never stopping work, and part of the problem is summarised in it takes a lot of money to replace a salary. But this is not relevant to me, after all, I am unlikely to get sacked from my pension, so in some ways my income is more secure than my salary was. The bar to getting it is to keep on breathing. Compared to the misery of mendacious metrics that’s a low bar 😉

But there’s an enemy in town. That enemy is inflation. It moves slowly, but irresistibly. My pension will keep up until it gets to 5%, and every year inflation overtops 5% I get poorer by the difference for the rest of my life.

Monevator has a depressing table of the value of capital in terms of income.

This is not quite so bad for me. For starters I began a few years back, so I have gotten myself a fair way down the chart already. While inflation will erode my pension it is unlikely to destroy it, unless we have a Germany situation. In which case nothing will help me, other than wine.

Inflation is good for people in work, as long as they stay in work. It’s even better for people who stay in work and take out big mortgages. One reason2 my Dad paid off his mortgage on a blue collar wage earlier in his life than I did on a white collar wage and without kids was inflation – his wages rose in numerical terms quickly but the value of the debt was frozen in time at the nominal value when he took it out.

Inflation is bad for people on fixed incomes. There will be enough people going inflation – schminflation. The hazard is deflation. At the moment you can make the case:

Petrol at less than £1/l in May 2020 (diesel was £1.04). The short shutter speed on a sunny day meant it didn’t catch all of the information on the sign due to strobing.

Compared to this picture, taken over ten years ago

This photo was a year old in 2010

and in the short term that is probably true. But we have borrowed a shitload of money, and the easiest way of making that cost less is to devalue the currency. The pound in your pocket stays the same, you just get less Stuff for it.

Change offers opportunity as well as hazard

So what are the possibilities for me? I could look at the electronics/IT industry, there is a lot of aerospace around Bristol. Main pros here are the money. Cons are everything else:

  • Employers
  • performance management crap
  • Commuting
  • The Man
  • I am out of date

Probably the biggest con is a serious mismatch – I don’t need to earn a huge amount, and my time is more valuable to me. I could see if part-time work were available, but the engineering industry, being male-dominated, despises part-timers.

I am more after a side hustle, but without the main job it’s a side to.

Big downside: hustle. I am neither entrepreneurial and nor do I hustle. I lose interest in people very quickly when I detect they are trying to network/sell something to me, and I could not do that convincingly to other people. It seems a very big part of the contracting/self-employed world, and I have been an employee all my working life. I despise hustle, and this may be a show-stopper. Also I am going to be in an environment full of people trying to hustle once the furlough scheme stops.

Passive income

Ah, remember the halcyon days of five or six years ago when every FIRE dude and their dog were after passive income? I actually have some from ten years ago, because I sold pictures and recordings to stock agencies. This seems to be reliable, it has been static for about ten years. I did a lot of that in the early fearful days of setting my exit plan, and it pays off. Unlike when I was writing for a content mill, which was, in all fairness, quite successful to the tune of thousands of pounds until it wasn’t, when Google deprecated their stuff and the business case went titsup overnight.

I could look at this again. I am less desperate and perhaps more creative now. There is some network effect, the more you do the more your other stuff sells.

A big disadvantage I have is that I don’t play computer games, which is what a lot of field recordings are used in. So I don’t really know my customer, what does well and what doesn’t is purely a matter of luck.

Other vaunted wheezes for passive income in the FIRE community were –

Matched betting . It’s too much like work to me, and bullshit work at that. Plus I have zero interest in sports.

Chuntering out Kindle ebooks. Sort of like writing for a content mill but a little more control. There was a fellow called Huw who was big on this a few years ago. I presume the business model went titsup, which I am grateful for as a Kindle reader, because there is a lot less shit to wade through on Amazon these days. Presumably Amazon deprecate the results of that sort of desperation.

Non-passive income.

I have made a slight name for myself in some electronics/recording areas by writing a couple of rants deconstructing why some sensors sound crap as typically misused. There is perhaps a product in there. The hazard with selling electronic products are

  • lead-free solder- just hurt for hand soldering
  • regulation – I’d have to wing it with CE marking
  • it’s Stuff, and there’s a lot of hurt in selling Stuff
  • The large country full of copycats who can work at scale for little that is China

Some of these are tractable, you can get things made cheaply now. The maker community has solved a lot of these problems. For instance I recently bought an AudioMoth to scout recording locations.Sure, I could have got the boards made and done the work myself, but CBA.

I could leverage that reputation, perhaps, and also it would save me having to answer some questions from wannabe makers that make me totally despair about the current state of training3 of electronics engineering courses. Some of the things being asked I knew before leaving primary school, FFS… But it’s Stuff. I don’t like selling Stuff, because some things about it don’t scale. Like going to the post office.

Oddball coronavirus opportunities

One thing that has happened is everybody is spending much more time online, and videoconferencing is a much bigger thing these days. I have occasionally helped some performers locally and shot some movie clips for them. I’m fiercely aware that this is an area where there are huge numbers of young media studies4 folk in prime competition.

And yet being in basic control of sound and vision seems ill-taught, along the general lines of “take that f*cking thing off auto, you muppet” as well as educating people that if your microphone is where your camera is then either your sound is shit or you subject will have the most enormous conk and teeth like a horse.

However, for every 100 muppets there are a few of these media studies people that are really good, particularly when it comes to NLE editing. I stopped working as a studio engineer at BBC TV Centre in the late 1980s, so vision mixing was still done in real time although shots were of course assembled in nonlinear time with VT5. Nowadays most of what was done in real time vision mixing is done in non-real time on computers with a NLE editor. There are great similarities between the old method of working and mixing/producing a live presentation with multiple sources. You can do all that on a computer, you don’t need hundreds of thousands of pounds of Grass Valley‘s finest hardware.

However, with the increase in the use of Zoom and live conferencing and presentation, there are opportunities for live vision mixing but with software. And I may have some relevant skills there, both from a background in videoconferencing, and also being able to  set up scenes and vision mix live. There’s nothing in there that a half-competent YouTuber won’t know, but many people only seem to know the boundaries of their phone…

Whether it will amount to ‘owt remains to be seen, after all I have to both add value and find people who will pay. But I was surprised that a couple of opportunities along those lines have opened up here.

many of us have learned new things about ourselves in the last couple of months

There are lots of problems, but some interesting possibilities. I don’t have to make enough to live on, and indeed I have just signed off being self-employed, so I wouldn’t expect to make more than the £1000 tax-free earnings allowance. It would kind of make me sore to pay 20% tax on the output of any such sideshow. I may hate it. And I will have no lifestyle benefit, though through this coronavirus lockdown I have discovered that while an introvert, I am not as much an island as I thought I had been. So perhaps helping other people do interesting shit will have some intangible value, even if I bank all the income against the troubled times to come.

There there is the question of whether such frivolity will hold in hyperinflation. After all, knowing how to make knives out of vehicle leaf springs, or use car batteries and scavenged solar panels off roofs to make light and comms work in a grid down situation are more relevant skills for that sort of world. But – red wine is for that scenario, you have to be 20-something to have a chance of making a good life in that sort of hazard.

So I don’t really know what I fear, other than financial capital draining through my fingers as the underlying assumptions of western capitalism begin to fail. There are too many of us, and we don’t create the amount of value that we consume, and somehow things that can’t go on for ever don’t.

But none of what I am looking at needs a huge investment of capital, so I may end up losing money I can afford, as well as some time and effort, in finding out I am still unsuited to working. And that’s OK. But it may turn out differently, and that’s OK too, and it may give me some resilience in the troubled world to come.

Even in this post I see that most of what I think about working is negative, and I need to overcome this, because otherwise I will hamstring anything I try to do. And the impetus is more a degree of fear than the deep search for meaning and purpose many seem to attach to working. Perhaps I will get over it. Perhaps the stock market is right and we will have a V-shaped snap-back recession.

Our beautiful blue skies are increasingly scarred by aircraft trails, supporting the snap-back theory

and this will be an oddball post that never went anywhere.  But at the moment – nah. The stock market6 is still bloody mad, and snap-back ain’t gonna happen. There’ll be hell to pay, and I can’t work out who is going to pay it.

  1. Correlation is not causation – Dom isn’t in charge because he doesn’t dress like a gigolo, he can dress like a slob because he’s in charge 
  2. The other reason he got there quicker was absolutely terrible market timing in my part into the residential property asset class. Unlike buying shares, which is always elective, you get to the stage of wanting to buy a house roughly as a function of the date you were born. So while there was financial muppetry there, some was forced. Buying that house is still the #1 personal finance mistake in my life. 
  3. In analogue electronics. Although it is a much, much smaller part of the electronics world now than when I started work, typically only where sensors meet the real world, sensors are finicky oddball elements which usually don’t tolerate sloppy analogue design well. 
  4. Why on earth is meeja studies so popular? It strikes me as a serious misallocation of capital. There used to be money in it, like journalism, but the film and TV industries in the UK are a place for rich kids with decent connections and the ability to live in London while doing unpaid internships. And my second gripe is why do these courses chunter out people who can sort of control their equipment, kind of string a story but abjectly can’t handle people. I am an introvert and not great at it, but I was at least able to see that I had to get better at directing the talent in front of the camera to get better results. You can learn to get decent results from equipment in reasonably short order, but getting decent results out of people, now that is a lifelong learning curve 
  5. Professional video tape recorders were shockingly expensive in the mid Eighties, and a bitch to maintain and keep lined up within spec. They were also mechanically noisy as hell, a dire chainsawing noise you had to keep well away from any open microphone. As a result in Television Centre VT was in the basement, where they have about 10 recorders servicing a 8-studio production centre. Nowadays you can run and record all the cameras and do all the mixing in post on a NLE, but then you could only really afford to record one signal, so you had to mix the cameras in real-time and record the output of the vision mixer. 
  6. The stock market is absolutely freaking outrageous. I have just had a look at my ISAs and the total value is shamelessly more than it was in January. WTAF? There is absolutely no earthly reason, hundreds of thousands of firms will go bust, output is dramatically down and a lot of consumers will not just be skint, they will be destitute. Even the mid-cap index is in the bloody money. The only explanation that makes any sense to me is that the Great British Pound is worth a lot less now than it was in January. The gold price lends that some credence, £1150 on Jan 1 and £1400 now, so the £ has fallen 20%