Guest Post: The State of the Nation by Mrs Ermine

Here, for a change, is a view of the state of the nation through the beady eyes of Mrs Ermine 🙂

Mrs Ermine here… a regular lurker on Simple Living in Suffolk, a lurker who enjoys everyone’s wise comments on Mr Ermine’s thoughts.

The other evening, over a home cooked meal of oxtail from a neighbouring farm, accompanied by homegrown salad, the Ermines were pondering their standard of living. The way we live would be ridiculed by most of the iFad generation: an ancient TV that hardly gets watched, no cable/satellite TV subscription, no fancy holidays and none too fashionable clothes.

Now, in the Ermine household, it is normally Mr E who rants about the economy. I rant about other things, to be sure, but on all things economic it is the male mustelid who is the chief voice. But I’ve been getting this uneasy feeling lately as I hoe my beans, kind of like indigestion, only more in the mind than in the guts. Yes, it was the beginnings of an economic, or maybe even a political, rant, a rant that spilled out during that meal of oxtail, to the astonishment of Mr E.

Before living with Mr E, I spent a number of years in France, a move that converted me from vaguely left wing tendencies to confirmed right wing views overnight, without actually changing my political opinions.

I didn't like her!

At the age of nine, I took one look at Margaret Thatcher on the telly and announced, “I don’t like her” to my Dad’s friend who happened to be a right wing local politician 😉 And I didn’t change my opinion as I grew up through the eighties, and entered the world of work during the nineties (OK Thatcher had gone by then, but New Labour was hardly so very “new”).

So it was a bit of a shock to find myself thinking, “perhaps Mrs T had something going for her after all”. You see, France, if you compare it to the UK that I left around the turn of the century, was pretty much a socialist state, and IMHO in a bloody mess economically. Employees seemed more interested in the fantastically detailed and ridiculously restrictive “Code of Work” imposed by TPTB than actually doing any genuinely productive work. The French certainly wanted to redistribute wealth, but as one UK journalist put it so neatly, to distribute wealth you do have to generate it in the first place, and this was the bit that my French pals seemed oblivious to.

Having enthused about the UK’s go-getting, entrepreneurial and dynamic economy to the French, my return to the UK in the mid 2000s was a bit of a shock. I still remember Mr Ermine explaining the latest slang to me: “chav” – loud, self-centred person who doesn’t take personal responsibility for anything much at all. Usually dressed in tasteless, but probably fairly expensive “fashion”, and quite possibly under the impression that they were about to become a minor celebrity. Almost certainly in considerable personal debt. There were plenty of examples about, and I soon got the idea.

But it seemed that the rot had spread far wider in UK society. I listen to a great deal of the BBC’s Radio 4, and there seemed to be a non-stop litany from middle class folk who expected someone else to sort their problems out. Someone had sold them crap insurance with their bank loan? Clearly the government’s fault. Their child was a disruptive bugger in class? Little Quentin surely had some disorder that needed special support, to be funded by the government of course. Indeed these people were usually outraged that the government hadn’t second guessed their minor grievances in advance and set up an organisation to head it off before it even happened.

No-one dared say, “do your research before accepting insurance, you idiot”, or (worse), “if your child is a naughty little so-and-so perhaps you aren’t such a great parent”. In general, I wanted to give them all a bloody good shake and say, “you have to make an effort and do some work if you want to get anything in life”. I was clearly out of sync with the zeitgeist of my home country.

So back to the Ermine household and our standard of living. As middle aged folk, I notice that we live pretty modestly compared with most people we went to university with. No dishwasher, old (though serviceable) furniture, and not a smartphone in sight. Yet why do I feel we are far more financially secure than an awful lot of UK households? For a start, we’re not in debt.

Not only have many people in the UK gotten themselves into intractable debt, most seem to expect to live an extremely comfortable life without actually doing anything genuinely economically productive. But people seem frighteningly reluctant to commit cash to, and to just get on with, concrete projects that do generate actual wealth, ie stuff, or a service that is really, genuinely useful. Want something done? Call a meeting, shoot the breeze and seek sources of “funding”. Discuss, face to face, online or by phone. Fill in forms asking for money, hold “awareness raising” events.

Why? Have we all become infantilised in the last three decades? What happened to the “make it happen” approach of the 1980s? Don’t get me wrong, I hated seeing the miners shafted during the Thatcher strike, and hundreds of homeless appearing in my home town. But it wasn’t all negative, people did get up off of their arses and actually do stuff, created businesses, made dreams happen. IMHO there does need to be a basic safety net that keeps people sheltered, fed and warm, with access to education, healthcare and local libraries. But that is about it. No doubt I’ve missed some basic services off my list, but you get the general idea, and subscription television and holidays including air travel are not, to my mind, a basic right.

I now seem to be a dinosaur from another age. I liquidated my entire wealth, pension and all, and sunk it into a plot of land from which I now make a modest living. Modest, but my ideas seem to capture people’s imagination, and slowly the Ermine household is reaping the benefits. Not only salad, but also hard cash. Not much, but a seemingly recession proof income.

a farm-fresh lettuce grow with real soil not artificial fertiliser- tastes of something compared to the Waitrose variety, apparently...

A visitor to the farm from the City of London, a financial whiz kid, was beside herself when she tried farm grown salad, she’d never tasted anything so good. Sometimes, to make things taste good, to make stuff happen, to change the world just a little bit, you have to stop whinging that someone else should make the changes, stop demanding that you should be protected from your own stupidity, and simply get on with it. And if that means putting your own money into it, then get on, earn some and put some skin in the game. You’ll care about it more, and when push comes to shove you won’t complain that “something should be done”, instead, to paraphrase some corporation somewhere’s marketing, you’ll “JFDI”.