a look back at 2015 and how does an Ermine return to the middle class?

It surprised me as a retiree to find a load of bored and squally children and far too many excitable hounds in a nearby rec on Monday, I wondered why at least some of these blighters aren’t back at work. Until UK Bank Holidays set me right, apparently they still had the day off. So it was time to ignore the great outdoors because there were too many people and mutts with cabin fever, and time to look at charts and find out this is the year the old internet died…

I have passed the point of no return and the soft surrender to gravity has begun

Decline and fall of my networth (excludes housing NW and pension savings)

The rot is starting to show, bearing in mind I started in the heady days of 2009. I have not had a good 2015 in the markets – the effect of that on my networth is softened massively because there is over half of cash in this, and I have been lucky that inflation has been low in recent years, because only some of this cash is protected by ILSCs. That is because I have been coasting, and slowly my operating cash is dropping.  As a pensioner rather than retiree I will have a more predictable income than when working, although it is still subject to the vagaries of hyperinflation, financial destruction/repression and the usual force majeure of zombie apocalypse. It’s the loss of income from involuntary redundancy that is no longer a hazard for me, rather than there are no hazards.

The point of no return

The accumulated capital represented by this chart is not enough for me to live on, that much is clear. Many journeys reach a point of no return – originally an aviation term from where a departing aircraft has burned through too much fuel to return to the starting point. Networth is like fuel, it is a stock, not a flow, and interestingly enough the first metaphorical use of the term was in a novel about someone’s career.

There is a psychological symbolism in seeing that, a visceral change very much like the change in note that tells the traveller that the final approach has begun. Were this in fact my entire pension savings I don’t know how that would feel. It’s perfectly rational to expect switchbacks in networth on an equity-exposed pension fund, let’s face it, we are well into a long bull run, indeed soon into next tax year we will be into the second longest bull run in history and already pundits are lining up to tell us that it’s all different this time. If that isn’t a sign that there’s a mahoosive bear market limbering up in the wings then I don’t know what is. One of the things I have learned in 1999 is don’t buy in the endgame of bull markets, and I paid handsomely for that tuition. One of the other useful things I learned since is do buy in bear markets, building a HYP, originally to buffer me across this gap and repair my actuarially reduced pension. What I didn’t realise is that you can only really add to a HYP in bear markets. In bull markets like now people simply charge you too much for earnings. The gains from compounding are paltry enough at the long-run 4-5% average of the market. You won’t live long enough to see the wins if you start paying 33 times the future income stream or more.

The original premise behind the HYP held true

I have added a column in Excel to identify my original HYP shares and it is still yielding over 4%, the variation in numerical dividend year on year is low. Now some pundits are saying that dividends are on the hit list next year. So maybe this time next year is the time for a wobble in the HYP return.

I’ve taken a pasting because you have to look in strange places for bearishness these days – I’ve been bazookad in  Brazil, routed in Russia, mashed in mining, obliterated in oil, modestly eviscerated in emerging markets and gently gutted in gold. Indeed the one thing I seem to be learning in 2015 is that I am a really, really, rotten index investor – with a lot of this I accepted  the limits of my knowledge and went for indexing, but an indexing investor is still not passive investor, as Robert Kirby of the Coffee Can Portfolio told us in 1984. I should stick to HYP stockpicking 😉 But hey, that’s the nature of the markets eh, you gotta buy what’s hated, and boy are these sectors really hated at the moment. They were hated early ths year, they’re hated now. they’ll probably still be hated in a year’s time. People will probably have got over it in 5-10 years’ time. They’ll hate something else instead.

I’m sure there will be some generalised bearishness coming along. Because whatever people say it isn’t all different now. The markets were kind to me when I needed them to be, from when I first started charting a way out of work since 2009, because the steaming bull market acting on my investments stiffened the spine and fought the decline until now, but the decline is there, and it is all down to that Micawber fellow – fundamentally the Ermine lived beyond his means in 2015, and we all know you shouldn’t do that. Of course there is much debate about how long the integration time should be before you decide you are living dangerously. But when the annual lift of an ageing bull run is not enough to end the year better off than at the start then it’s safe to say the red lamp on the dashboard has at least come on.

I can be chilled about the beginning of the end because although it’s taken me six months to get absolutely nowhere with the enterprise, next tax year I can start the engines of a new income stream – first my DC savings to burn up and cast off before my main DB pension, taken at its normal retirement age in five years time. Neither of these depend on the stock market. Of course at the moment these are latent energy – you never really know that the engine opposing the pull towards the earth will fire up until you hear the whump and feel the fall begin to arrest. The way Hargreaves Lansdown and The Firm are dragging it out doesn’t give me a great feeling this will be an instant start, although I only want it to begin next tax year. Whether they will get their act together in three months is unknown. Certainly the takeaway is if you want to move AVCs to a SIPP, start at least 12 months ahead of when you want it to happen!

It’s harder to get a multistage journey to becoming a pensioner right, because it would be perfectly possible to run out of money in one part of the journey though overall you’d be good. My exile from the middle class was twice as long as it needed to be because until Osborne introduced a way for me to turn it into a three-stage plan, burning up my DC cash in front of my main pension drawn at NRA, it was a two stage plan, and the first stage would be cresting now. I would have had to switch my ISA into decumulation mode or drawn the pension early, thus losing some of it.

This dilemma will hold in some form for all early retirees, where early is defined as retiring before the age they can draw pension savings. They will have to balance ISA capital against pension capital. I have been lucky that I did not need to decumulate my ISA – I have never drawn a penny from it.

But while I know that I have reserves before I have to consider the dreaded Work word again, the feeling in the stomach as I watch the aggregate of working cash plus stock crest and the long slow fall has begun is not easy. I can know a thing but not feel it 😉

The symbolism of the turning point

So much written about personal finance is about the how of the finance, but it is also about the why, In this quiet period, I have also had time to think, and perhaps to hark back to the philosophy of M Scott Peck in The Road not Travelled. Although incidental to his main topic, he introduced the concept that living life well inevitably involves coming to terms with loss. We must surrender old forms in order to embrace the opportunities of change. I left the middle class and their consumer ways in 2009 because I had to. It turned out in principle I could earn enough capital to cross the gap from 52 to 55, and as the networth chart shows, this was the case. I had a lot of luck, it sure didn’t look like it was going to pan out that way at the start. Equities looked shot to bits in 2009, and there’s another dog that hasn’t barked yet, which is high levels of inflation. That absence let me stay in so much cash for so long and not be slaughtered. Unlike many, I am happy enough with cash if I find most of it still there when I come back for it. Turning an income on it is a bonus, not an assumed right. I am familiar with the difference between saving and investing, and don’t expect a return on savings. When I have a steady income again, I will run some of that cash down into the ISA.

I made it to the other side. I can entertain restoring some of  those consumer ways, but just like with TV, the seven lean years showed me a truth I hadn’t known, which is that much of the consumption consumed but delivered no value to me. That sort of consumption needs to remain junked. I saw a lot of new forms of it yesterday – zombies watching tiny screens blinking against the sun trying to stay in another world, while their bored kids and hounds yelled and yapped to try and gain some attention from the virtual world into the real world.

Another turning point – consumerism doesn’t always mean handing over money. There are new forms of consumption now, it can also mean handing over headspace.

Consumption is changing as a result of the smartphone – indeed the smartphone itself is in a class of its own as a consumer product, changed every two years as the world changes.

The smartphone itself is close to a universal product for humanity – the first[ref]Funny, I thought it was fire, but what the hell.[/ref] the tech industry has ever had. 

the smartphone is the new sun – Benedict Evans

The battle of advertising is not so much for money as also for attention. I confess that while I had observed the changes I have also been suckered by them too, until I read a couple of seminal pieces. Both are long-form, which is unusual in itself now. They read better in an armchair by the fire on a Kindle using something like Send To Reader (now that the useful part of it is free again 🙂 ) than in glowing letters on a laptop with the screen set the wrong way for reading, or on a sucky smartphone display.

The first one is 2015 is the year the old internet finally died, which is of course a clickbaity sort of title. I’ve never been good at writing decent headlines – pretty much each and every one of mine on here sucks.[ref]The art of writing a headline is the art of an editor, and because I am not a professional writer inasmuch as while I have earned thousands of pounds writing I have never lived off it exclusively. It’s particularly bad with blogging I have to make the headline first; the post too easily ends up drifting into something different. I did try reading a few articles on how to get better at this, but either I inherently have no talent for it or I just can’t get enough distance from the post in a day or so.[/ref]

The article has the usual examples, the slightly off-the-wall thesis, but it also has truth and analysis, and it sold the concept to me. It also gelled with a few experiences I’ve had – I have been on the web in various forms since 1994, and webmaster and forum operator of a few online communities. Much of this fell away in the new millennium, initially with the rise of blogging, oddly enough, to which I came late 😉 Todd did me a big favour when he wrote

The internet has made it clear that the kinds of things that people want to read are sort of an endless collection of what’s cool.

because I realised what started to really piss me off about Facebook as a reader, to the extent that I don’t use it in any big way now other than to receive messages from a few people who only use that medium. I could live with the cat pictures. I can live with the listicles, because I have finally gotten it through my fat head that is a headlines starts with “The 5,10, 7, however many things you need to know about” then I don’t need to know. Ever. Either my general education is that much better than the sort of people/machines that generate listicles or I am just an arrogant sonofabitch and think this is the case. I have saved a lot of three-minute slices of life that I will never live again by getting that straight.

Although I’d vented in Facebook becomes Evil, the rant was about the ways it was evil – the symptoms and the cause, but not the mechanism.  Todd’s sentence sums up the fundamental problem. And while it isn’t as bad in me as in many people, the evil lies within, and the search for novelty and distraction rings in resonance to the tinkling siren song from without.

Todd hat-tipped a deeper article by Hossein Derakhshan, a dude who apparently has done time for what he’s blogged about in an earlier life. One of the things about consumerism is its insidious nature – we don’t often get an opportunity to step outside the stream for a while. As The Atlantic put it

The Stream represents the triumph of reverse-chronology, where importance—above-the-foldness—is based exclusively on nowness.

There are great reasons for why The Stream triumphed. In a world of infinite variety, it’s difficult to categorize or even find, especially before a thing has been linked. So time, newness, began to stand in for many other things. And now the Internet’s media landscape is like a never-ending store, where everything is free. No matter how hard you sprint for the horizon, it keeps receding. There is always something more. 

And you know what? I was shit-for-brains and people had to spell it out for me, because this all happened slowly. Boiling of frogs and all that. The evidence lies all around us in the twisted wreckage of the erstwhile forums and communities that once existed, but are no longer, replaced by Facebook groups and the like of people beating their chests and going Look at Me. No community around a forum that I have been a part of has ever improved by moving to Facebook, because Facebook brings out the narcissist in us all by making all about us. It does so cleverly. After all, you may decide this blog is all about the narcissist in me, let’s face it the first person singular is everywhere, that’s what a blog is, FFS. But if I bore you then you stop reading. I won’t come after you and jam my prognostications in your face in a timeline of “New In –  Read This” In forums and on Usenet you used to be able to killfile/block people whose inanities sucked, and while you’d still see the background radiation of other people’s replies it worked okay. But Facebook is all about you, and each and every you, and it just seems to trash the level of discourse in any topic to become trivia and drivel. Maybe it’s the company I keep 😉 None of my ex-college pals are on Facebook, so the dumb finger of dumbness does sort of point at me. Why do I know so may people who only use Facebook messaging for communication – this is why I still have Facebook, though I use email to receive and send messages.

I guess if you do time in a Tehran jail you get to step outside the Stream for a while, six years until the bird of luck sat on Derakshan’s shoulder and he was freed. Sparked up his laptop, brave fellow, and started to write, and posted to Facebook, and then went WTF – what is this black hole – because in the six years he had been out of the loop an army of social media companies had zombified the hyperlink – what Derakshan  called the currency of the web.

But hyperlinks aren’t just the skeleton of the web: They are its eyes, a path to its soul. And a blind webpage, one without hyperlinks, can’t look or gaze at another webpage — and this has serious consequences for the dynamics of power on the web.

More or less, all theorists have thought of gaze in relation to power, and mostly in a negative sense: the gazer strips the gazed and turns her into a powerless object, devoid of intelligence or agency. But in the world of webpages, gaze functions differently: It is more empowering. […]

On the other hand, the most powerful web pages are those that have many eyes upon them. Just like celebrities who draw a kind of power from the millions of human eyes gazing at them any given time, web pages can capture and distribute their power through hyperlinks.

But apps like Instagram are blind — or almost blind. Their gaze goes nowhere except inwards, reluctant to transfer any of their vast powers to others, leading them into quiet deaths. The consequence is that web pages outside social media are dying.

Now I do appreciate the irony of perhaps being part of the problem, although at least I don’t knowingly force myself into the ticker-tape of the window to your world that is Facebook (or twitter or whatever your virtual poison is). I’m not berating you, anyway. I am berating myself, because 2015 was not just the year the old internet died, but a year where I read too much shit and failed to stop myself. Well, other than stopping Facebook, which was beginning to make me despair of the pedestrian nature of the human condition. We will know when Artificial Intelligence has finally prevailed if Facebook can ever understand the simple instruction

Don’t ever show me another baby picture. While you’re at it, never show me a picture with a mutt in it. And go easy on the cats, particularly if there’s a caption.

A half-decent butler could do that without breaking a sweat. WTF is this so hard for computers – after all they can thrash us at chess and people keep telling us how smart they are getting? Until there’s a great big button on Facebook NO MORE BABY PICTURES, GEDDIT! [ref]I don’t have anything against babies, I was one myself I hear. But in a true wonder of evolutionary development while they are stupendously fascinating to anybody genetically related to them, they get a bit samey in a Facebook feed after a while particularly if you don’t even know the happy parents. What is said/can be said about a baby is very limited in scope, and the supply of  piss-poor smartphone baby pictures is fecund. Whole Facebook galleries of them, sitting in server farms in the frozen wastes of the North with trucks backing up changing out the RAID hard disks that fail under the load of keeping this ready for when the world runs dangerously low on baby pictures. Thank God we invented digital photography when we did, because we would be living in a world devoid of silver if this nascent demand had been addressed with film. As for bodily functions, the Bard probably took it as far as necessary in All the World’s a Stage with mewling and puking. It gets into TMI after that…[/ref] we will know that AI is remains a technology in the still working on it class.

Now it’s entirely possible that this post is simply the bitter and twisted rantings of a misanthropic git after too much post-Christmas cheer. The world has always had change – in former times agitprop, fanzines and underground knowledge were done by mimeographs and spirit duplicators, then we had economical photocopying, then somebody invented the word processor with the glacial and screaming progress of a dot-matrix printer, then somebody invented the laser printer, and in 1992 Berners Lee came up with a practical implementation of hypertext at the same time as modems got faster than the speed you can read, and we have been through all these changes but the nature of human storytelling hasn’t changed much since prehistory. The problem we are generating, however, is that we used to tell stories to, well, tell a story – the message trumped the medium.

The medium and the message are becoming one, at the cost of the message

The noise to signal ratio is rising, and Google is losing the fight. Actually Google may not be losing the fight from their POV but because I block ads I don’t see their success 😉

The Internet has been awesome for all sorts of engineering. In the early part of my career every lab had to have a massive set of integrated circuit databooks that took up half a bench just so you could get to wire the darn things up the right way and know what they could and could not do. Now you just Google the part number and PDF and you’re all set. I have only ever formally learned two computer languages (both as a postgraduate) – Modula-2 and Pascal. Some I learned from books, but nearly all the internetty ones, Perl, PHP, C, C++, Java, Javascript, Visual Basic, c#, various forms of SQL were learned off the internet through search engines and other people’s websites. Sometimes these were confirmed in formal training afterwards.

And yet this is now breaking down, because of the dramatic increase in misinformation. I feel this greatest in electronics – not only do patient folks have to try and do the class assignments of half of Asia’s EE students, where the questions are never couched in the form of “how do I go about this”.

It getting increasingly hard to find authoritative secondary sources on things technical on the net, what with the ranks of eager but uneducated makers[ref]I’m not saying ‘makers’ are dumb – the vast majority of them are sharp enough. The tragedy is that  they are too busy making stuff to write about it, although one who does write cogently and where you can never go wrong with is ladyada[/ref] I had a board which had a common maker chip, an Arduino chip on it along with a radio modem. I wanted to know an easy way to reset the blighter[ref]Every microprocessor since Intel’s 4004 in 1971 has a reset pin. Atmel tell you the reset is pin 1 in the ATmega328 datasheet. However, the Arduino has a bootloader so you can program it using itself. Sometimes things like that mean that you could bugger it up royally if you do something funky with the regular reset pin[/ref] It took a long time to become reasonably convinced that a safe way to do that is ground reset through a capacitor, and I ran into a wall of misinformation about whether the capacitor was necessary, optional or unnecessary. And that’s because the X Files tagline may well be right. The truth is out there. But the indexing function that lets you find it is beginning to fail, because the essential currency of the hyperlink is being subsumed into the currency of the ever flowing stream. As an example, there are links enough from here to Monevator, because in general he is a reliable source and explains stuff clearly. While he is generous with his links, I would imagine there are fewer the other way, which is entirely correct, because not only is he more reliable, he is more focused and more consistent. In that way Google can know the relative worth. At times I might post three times as many articles as Monevator, and the Stream will push them higher. But the Stream will not be right. Google will be, in general, once they have graded out the lowlife trying to game the system.

The Stream did not wane.

I have the advantage of two years of hindsight on The Atlantic, so I know they were wrong when they said.

Because I think it might be why 2013 is seen as the year the stream started to wane.

It became a torrential flood, because it matched the limitations of the smartphone web and fed a new wave of consumerism, vapid electronic gizmos like Fitbit that give people the feeling of control as they are tracked. Don’t get me wrong – I am not inherently against this, indeed one of the things I may do with my new found affluence is camp in some of the more attractive parts of the UK and yomp up some of the more modest hills and go track myself and others on the radio because I can and it is a slight challenge.

But to be tracked everywhere, and heck to be in sold to everywhere? That’s nuts to me, though everyone else seems to think it a great thing. I like the interstitial times, though my perspective is atypical because pretty much all my travelling is elective rather than the commuter grind now.

Ending a sabbatical from the middle class

I am glad I came across this concept of the changes in the Internet in the dog days of 2015, where reflection and observation are easy. Yes, as a retiree I am not bound by the daily grind, but pace of the collective consciousness slows for a little while, it is easier to take on new ideas. In the months to come I will have largely solved the problem of personal finance, and my seven-year sabbatical from the middle class will draw to an end. I could, though don’t have to, rejoin the melee. Hopefully wiser, and less exposed to the temptations. But in a much fainter echo of Derakshan’s exile, I am like the Christians of his story.

Seven years of exile is a long time – a tenth of my lifetime if it is typical, so the unwritten assumptions many people make I will not share because the continuum has been broken. I will also not share many of the values, and in some areas there will be what looks like asceticism, because I have seen that while everybody spends on some things they don’t deliver value for me. I may be in that world I will not be of it. Seven years of living differently changes a fellow. There are some things that people do easily and trivially without thinking that I would find it really hard to do. These range from watching TV to darkening the threshold of a high street chain coffee shop on my own. I made the exception for my mother, but on my own I would struggle to open my wallet at the till. Not because there wouldn’t be enough money in it, but because of the voice in the back of my head hollering “You don’t even like extra milky coffee FFS. Don’t spend money on shit that won’t deliver value for you, even if the sum is trivial”. I struggled to find anything fit to eat in Westfield, Stratford – because it was all overpriced junk, not because I had insufficient cash in my wallet.

Even in everyday areas I am different, I still wash dirty crockery by hand, for instance, which is considered hair-shirt nowadays. In 2009 most people but not everyone I knew had dishwashers. My ex-second-line manager took a double-take that there were such primitive poverty-stricken heathens among his employees. David Cain from Raptitude who live a mindful and ascetic life considered it a rad experiment. This is a fellow who can live on powdered MREs otherwise known as Soylent, FFS. A young couple we know who go everywhere on push-bikes, don’t possess a car for ethical reasons and even use trains to go places in Britain needed a dishwasher enough to tolerate the plumbing as a major trip-hazard on the way to the bog. I like their style, and they got it secondhand for £25.

There are many “essential” accoutrements for gracious affluent living that I just don’t have. I may adopt some of them again. I will get my hi-fi power amplifier repaired, because I have missed that, but not enough to rustle up the hundreds of pounds to get the shorted transformer fixed. At least the magic smoke didn’t escape through the speakers. I will experiment with some different ways of travel, though I will probably still eschew flying unless I can use flexibility to fill return legs on private charter. It is low-cost flying, or more the sort of flyers low cost flying attracts that I want to avoid, and while I could afford business class for the amount of flying I would do, it doesn’t get you far enough from some sorts of botheration. I will also investigate if this is a feature of British low-cost airlines and airports – when I used to travel extensively for business I observed the general standard of behaviour in other European airports was much better than in the UK. But air travel was much dearer than then it is now – a shorthaul flight cost about £400 in today’s terms. I would rather pay £400 each way and not have to share with some of the fellow-travellers on airlines now 😉

I will return to no peer-group, no Joneses to keep up with. Slightly to my shame in my working life I did spend some money on things to keep up appearances where they weren’t things I particularly cared about. I will try to avoid that sort of thing.

Like Derakshan I also return to a different electronic world. The one I left in 2009 was one which hadn’t been balkanised by platforms – you could reach most people by either phone/text or email. Now some people never do email, just Facebook messaging. Some only use whatsapp. Some are SMS mavens. Some use all sorts. I don’t really know what to do with this sort of patchwork. Perhaps I am being overtaken by change, and will always be a stranger in a strange land from now on.

Sometimes I think maybe I’m becoming too strict as I age. Maybe this is all a natural evolution of a technology. But I can’t close my eyes to what’s happening: a loss of intellectual power and diversity.


We fought so hard to free ourselves from the chains of walled gardens like AOL in the 1990s, then 20 years later we embrace the social media walled garden and surrender the open web.

Derakshan writes intelligently about the how and why of what is happening from both a technical standpoint and the softer political balance-of-power standpoint. I guess six years bird gives you time to think things through.

In the past, the web was powerful and serious enough to land me in jail. Today it feels like little more than entertainment. So much that even Iran doesn’t take some – Instagram, for instance – serious enough to block.


While he may feel the decline and fall harder – after all it was a big part of his life and the world is full of actors mourning the closing of the final curtain, he has a point – we are drifting towards the bread and circuses end of the spectrum.

The Stream is a hazard to me, because I don’t understand it, didn’t grow up with it, it is rammed to the gills with advertising payload and manipulative shit to get me to spend money on worthless shit, to create FOMO in me. How do I take on this new world of the Stream? At the moment, having recognised the problem, I am mindful to not take it on at all. It looks one-sided to me – a mechanism to pump more and more incentives to spend on ephemeral consumption, and also to find more and more about how I work. Ad-block plus (and some other plugin) blocks ads on social media – it was a genuine surprise to me when I saw how ad-infested Facebook was. But with apps there is nowhere to hide from ads, though I may be able to block the sources with an access control list on the wifi at home. My motives are increasingly at variance with the values of the Stream.

I write this blog because I find the discourse with and among commenters interesting and it is good to play with ideas with interesting people. I do have ads, but I would hope you are bright enough to use ad-block plus if you find it bothersome. I don’t get hung up on reach or clicks or whatever – interesting discourse is what I get out of it. I don’t know how people find this – I presume by the old currency of the hyperlink. Hopefully I am of some service to you as readers by occasionally making you think, or laugh, or come across something different. It all sounds so terribly old-fashioned compared to the Stream. I don’t have any social media buttons on here. One of the reasons is because it once got me canned for being a CPU resource hog, but when that was resolved I asked myself what’s the point? I am not a social media maven, I don’t give a toss, and I can afford not to give a toss. If the world gets bored with me then so be it, I will have ceased to add value, time to move on.

Some things I can do in 2016:

I can try and live intentionally when it comes to getting and consuming information. I have reached an uneasy truce with facebook (messaging only). I have mastered the termination of the listicle, and I was never that drawn to video or podcasts as information sources because they are linear and the data rate is execrably slow. I want to read and see diagrams to learn how something works, don’t tell me or show me. The world is, however, drifting much more to a video presentation form of that. There is only one thing in the world I have come across that needed video to educate me, and that was the studio over-under method of coiling cables so they don’t end up a tangled mess next time

Everything else is writing done with the wrong medium IMO 😉

I need to work the heck out what the Stream is advertising to me and reduce my exposure, because I am pretty damn sure I am not interested. At the moment ad-block plus blocks a lot of this crap, but there is an arms race beginning between the admen and the blocking. At the moment if a site does say we won’t play unless you turn your ad blocker off I simply go “f*ck you” and am off. I’m not playing that game.

I don’t pay for what I can’t touch.

I am, of course, part of the trouble. The Internet taught me a simple maxim, which I have applied when it comes to information. Don’t pay for something you can’t touch. I don’t buy ebooks, I don’t buy virtual digital media. When I look at my CDs I see I used to buy a lot of media, particularly books and CDs. I used to buy the paper every so often, I never pay for the electronic version. So while I have bitched at length about how vapid the ephemeral Web is now, I was part of the execution squad, and now I look at the mess and wonder if I really got what I wanted. I got the price down, but I seem to have destroyed the value. At least I can say it wasn’t just me, I wasn’t there most of the time and I certainly wasn’t the only one.

Maybe I should favour print again – I include Kindle books in that and library ebooks. I read a few books over the last couple of weeks, shite fiction, but at least there was the beginning, the narrative and the end. It’s now much easier to borrow ebooks from the library. Once I have repaired the amplifier, then perhaps I will buy music again – secondhand CDs  are ridiculously cheap nowadays, and I can download a oddball selection of material as mp3s from the library.

The not paying for what I can’t touch rule saves me from a lot of consumerism. A lot is presented in terms of subscriptions, which I absolutely do not touch at all, with a single exception for the RSPB, so that’s a whole class of consumer fail eliminated. Netflix, Sky TV, Spotify, mobile phone subscriptions, the TV licence.

So I really don’t know what I will do on returning to the disposable income of the middle class. Perhaps the wilderness changed me, and I can never go back. Maybe that is my message for fellow FI seekers. The road is long, and narrow with a bottomless chasm on either side. Once you have spent time in a place like that, you will never be the same when it meets the wide road of consumerism and dissipation again, because you were forced on your own resources and to ask yourself ‘what do you stand for, where are you going, whom do you serve, who do you trust and what do you want’. The soft blandishments of unthinking consumerism just don’t appeal after you have sought the answer to some of those.

But enough of that negativity – what will I be prepared to pay for? Well, decent restaurant meals, though not too often due to hedonic adaptation, perhaps better red wine and eternal security from the ravages of homebrew in all its forms. Decent tools, things I can make stuff with. Replacement walking boots. Parts to experiment with. Time in the outdoors in places interesting creatures may occupy. Sojourns at Congham Hall. Slow travel. Maybe bike rides and tea rooms – chain coffee sucks but afternoon tea in a non-chain is okay. I can get my bike in my camper van – I am not as hard as Mr Z’s 200 miles a month 😉

While some of it is middle class consumerism, I will get better value, because I took that narrow road. I learned that I didn’t miss chain coffee shops, movies, and loads of frippery. That can stay put.

And above all, I’m not going to move an inch until H&L has sorted their crap out. I want to feel the rumble of that second stage finance booster up and running before I open any of this consumerism out. Because nobody, but nobody, got anywhere good in personal  finance ignoring that Micawber fellow.

23 thoughts on “a look back at 2015 and how does an Ermine return to the middle class?”

  1. Ha ha, I hadn’t heard of listicles before but noticed long ago that many writers on the Internet don’t know how to structure a post/article except in list form. This forces me to immediately assume that if the writer is too lazy/stupid to structure their article properly, then there’s a very good chance that the content in their article is rubbish and probably best consumed by other stupid people.

    Listicles so often seem like watching the news – a collection of small snippets of meaningless drivel that allows you to continue to watch it despite a complete a lack of useful information or analysis. Just what today’s society ordered – no thinking required!


  2. Facebook and Google will become irrelevant in 20 years time as AOL and Yahoo are now

    You only have to look at the list of desperate acquisitions they are doing to see their executives know that too


  3. Loved this one, very inspiring. Hope you manage to stay away from the internet in 2016 and get out and spend your money on the things you’ve mentioned in the last few paragraphs. Happy New Year!


  4. @ermine — Thanks for the namecheck in the piece. You seem in a very reflective wintry mood. Unseasonable, given the warmth and floods…hope we get some snow for you soon… 😉

    I am afraid I saw all this Stream stuff coming along a few years ago, but that is undoubtedly because it’s very closely related to my day job (at least the media / publishing aspects of it). I too lament for the Old Web and the vast conduit of useful information sharing it opened up (but I do try to make an effort to notice the positives in the new).

    I’m sure Monevator would have been more successful if I’d launched it in 2005 instead of 2007, even. Who wants to share an article about the tax treatment of Accumulation funds? Who even wants to be seen to admit to reading that in front of a mass of half-faceless friends (one reason I am sure for the lowest common denominator aspect of what works on Facebook is everyone has their passions and niches but they know they’re not so shareable).

    “10 ways to retire early?” — now that will work (and contrary to @InsiderAccountants view I am sure listicles have taken over the Internet world entirely because they *work*, in terms of generating clickthroughs and traffic. They *know* what they are doing. (Or at least the first popularisers did — now you almost need a good reason *not* to do a listicle, to be honest).

    It’s all a bit depressing. The best we can hope is that it’s something of a phase, like everyone talked all week about the National Lottery when it launched, or how all my friends dads had CBs when I was 7 or 8 years old. I don’t expect people to go from Twitter back to Tchaikovsky.

    I love Spotify and Netflix and Amazon Prime. All that great content with none of that ageing useless space-occupying STUFF! Lovely.

    The other thing I really disagree with you about is Podcasts. I think they’re like the blogs of 10 years ago, with some really great voices and a good signal to noise ratio. Listen to one when pottering about the garden or whatnot — the best are brilliant.

    Congrats on making it over your chasm, and have a great 2016! 🙂


  5. I’m not sure how I found your blog but I am happy I did. It’s good to know that decent thought and writing hasn’t disappeared as yet from the Web. I enjoy your posts. Your way of “early retirement” has always been interesting, although a far cry from my own experience.
    I used to think that “old folks” like my mother-in-law were total dinosaurs because of their computer illiteracy. Now I realize that my way of using the Internet – at home, on a big honking desktop with a 24 inch screen – has now labeled me as a dinosaur myself.
    I do post Facebook links so family and friends can keep up with us through reading my blog. I think that’s a good use of my time. Otherwise I stay clear. And I’ll never get on the Web in any way that won’t allow me to block ads.


  6. @ The Investor – I agree with you about podcasts – I’m a huge fan. But I think they are best when you have lots of time doing something else that doesn’t really need brainpower – my day job includes harvesting lots of veg which is my excuse – Radio 4, This American Life, Betty in the Sky with a Suitcase (and just had the Naked Scientist recommended). I’m guessing Mr E doesn’t have so much of this kind of time 🙂 He’ll listen to an audiobook by the fire with me from time to time.

    I too am searching for the right balance of spending and thriftiness. I enjoyed reading my other half’s conclusions here also! I’m very glad to be exploring this with a like minded mustelid…


  7. I think those of us who have traveled at least partway along the Financial Independence path will find themselves relatively unperturbed by the Stream. We already consciously choose, based on what we value, those filters on what we pay attention to. Where others let themselves be hopelessly distracted by the shiny flotsam, we know to look at it, figure out whether we can ignore it, and head upstream when we must to stop the clown dumping motor oil into the waters.


  8. I wonder if society is fragmenting into compartmentalised, segregated character types with accordingly different lifestyles ….intelligence will be a factor in that, but also culture etc., etc.

    As the internet increasingly allowed people to find their own interest groups, (like the FI/RE adherents too for example) it might enable us to live amongst & associate with those more like ourselves – so we feel more comfortable & not disapproved of.

    If this is indeed what comes to pass, I hope it doesn’t make people more intolerant on the whole, as they less often come across others with very different views on all aspects of life.


  9. @MrsErmine — Yes, I’m the same… mainly listen to them when walking/jogging in less aurally attractive parts, or doing various chores! They hugely improve my mood with the latter (if only so many machines weren’t so noisy…)


  10. @NickDunn – Thank you 🙂

    @InsiderAccountant – it’s actually worse than that. Along with not being that good at headline writing, I was dire at listicles. However, there are good reasons why listicles get more clickthrough – this recursive listicle is a good summary 🙂 It is still a fight for me to pull back on the temptation!

    @Neverland – true, but I think the direction of travel isn’t towards a more reflective and insightful web. If indeed there is a web much longer – the internal inadequacies of the smartphone – poor display, no useful keyboard and a low-resolution pointing device – are pushing us towards individual apps for individual data aggregators.

    @TI ah, but the winter solstice is passed, it is the time for reflection!

    I confess I’ve only just jumped to this degradation, and it sounds like the prognosis isn’t good from someone reporting from the inside 😦

    > All that great content with none of that ageing useless space-occupying STUFF! Lovely.

    True. I am a dinosaur, it’s a fair cop. I can’t really bring myself to pay for intangible material. I gotta feel the width. Fortunately the library serves me well with ebooks and music for free. It isn’t just the Millennials for whom the Internet destroyed the concept to paying for content.

    I rip all media to use with a media server. But I wouldn’t buy it virtually. I just can’t bring myself to submit the order. I struggle to pay for apps, too – knowing they have a service life of two years. The only one I paid serious money for was viewranger and even that was a mistake. I should have dropped £350 for the Garmin OS map GPS – because no app survives contact with a major operating system upgrade, whereas my existing hiking GPS is over 10 years old and still serviceable.

    And here’s to a good 2016 – and thanks for the pointers that showed the way in the pathless lands of 2009 😉

    @Ray – true we are the dinosaurs now! I don’t know how people stick with mobile screens poking about like reading a newspaper with a magnifying glass!

    @Mrs Ermine – ah – but those audiobooks tend to be fiction. Somehow the slower pace is okay there. Similarly with some phonography/sound trips where the sound is an inherent part of the message, that’s fine. It’s factual audiobooks where I lose the thread easily, and the inability to back up of skip forward is a drag.

    @Josephbeckenbach – I think you are a lot further down the path of intentional living that I am. This is still very much a fight against some primitive part of mind for me. But I am cheered to hear that it can get easier, and determined that in 2016 I will read less crap and more good stuff.

    @Survivor – that’s an interesting view. It goes along with the general counter-intuitive trend that better communications seems to increase polarisation – be that in work with the winner-takes all effects or ar you described more socially.


  11. GAIAGPS is an app well worth paying for, if you are interested in GPS. The open mapping project maps are rapidly becoming the best maps available, (open cycling maps are the topo versions) and Britain is at the forefront of this trend (also the rest of Northern Europe). You’ll need a decent modern smartphone or tablet to use it properly, of course.And none of the recent Android upgrades have broken it. Way cheaper than that 350 pounds for OS maps only useable on a proprietary system that itself costs money and will break eventually, like all electronics, whereas GAIAGPS runs on any modern smartphone and you will always own a smartphone, from now to the day you die. Only drawback is that smartphones run down the battery quickly, especially with the screen bright so you can read in the sunlight, whereas Garmin GOS units are very power efficient. Carry some external batteries.


    1. That’s interesting, I’ll certainly take a look at that. Definitely with you on the open maps project – I gave my 10 year old Garmin Vista HCx a whole new lease of mapping life changing from the old Garmin maps to Open Mapping all at zero cost as these guys educated me (UK/Europe). Open maps does really well in foot trails in urban areas – I discovered new ways to get through on foot even in my local town!

      Smartphones in the wild still worry me though – they’re very breakable and ridiculously power-hungry. And I did take the piss out of a bunch of teenagers for using smartphone GPS in the hills so it would be a shame to fall victim to the source of my own snark 😉

      Where OS maps do score over OSM, though, is in the UK countryside and for prehistoric stones. Having said that I’ll load Gaiagps and compare OSM and the OS in the field, because from what I’ve just seen it seems to be much more detailed than even last year. Thanks for the heads up. And Viewranger is glacially slow in updating – it’s acceptable on foot but hopeless in a vehicle.


      1. Just so everyone understands, GAIAGPS is intended to be used offline. Download required maps at home, so no mobile network required in the field, though of course GPS satellite reception is required and some smartphones don’t have as high quality GPS reception as modern dedicated GPS receivers (mainly an issue in dense forests or narrow canyon)s.

        MAPS.ME (OSM street maps), Here (Navteq), Sygic (Tom-Tom maps) support offline mapping with GPS location for street maps, and they are all free.


  12. “I have saved a lot of three-minute slices of life that I will never live again by getting that straight.” A good piece of advice I received years ago was “Never read any journalism written in the future tense”.

    If you had a talent for writing headlines, it might have extended to pseudonyms. You’d probably have called yourself not “ermine” but “curmudgeon weasel”. (Yes, thank you, I know the difference between a weasel and a stoat, but “curmudgeon stoat” ain’t poetry.)


    1. Ah, but the ermine is a noble creature, and that I like 🙂 There’s nothing wrong with our smallest carnivore however, a fine if fleeting sight.


  13. I thought until recently that I was uninfluenced by advertising, until I identified a weak spot. I have been vulnerable to a double whammy: one of the wine writers says that Snooks’s 2013 South Australian Shiraz is magic soup, and then Tesco (or whoever) announces “25% off if you buy six bottles”. Off we would go to buy an experimental bottle, with a view to buying a half-dozen if it hit the spot. The trouble with this is that we only drink a couple of bottles a week, so our stock of wine waxed; never did it wane.

    Now we’ve spotted the flaw we’ve immediately corrected it. We buy when Sainsbury’s (or whoever) gives us a coupon: £8 off if you spend £40. So off we trundle, buy £32 of necessities, and an £8 bottle of sauce. Yippee, free wine!

    This gives us a quite disproportionate joy. Moreover our stocks are depleting at last: soon we’ll be drinking the 2001s.


  14. I’m in my forties and have now been FI aka “retired” for 25% longer than I worked. A key thing I’ve gained from this independence is the “headspace” you refer to, key to which is the harnessing the benefits afforded by advanced technology while minimising its “cost”. Namely, attenuating/eradicating the “noise” (adverts and other low SNR garbage) and the “interruption” capabilities that create a miasma, milking your dopamine sacks, and preventing clear thinking.


  15. Ermine, you kindly didn’t mention that my back gave way and that I didn’t finish it 🙂

    Never quite understood the need for a dishwasher, it always just seems to move the unwanted task a bit further away. Suddenly unloading the thing becomes horrendous, rather than washing the dishes themselves. I like a mindless task like dishwashing, hanging out washing or cooking. A time to let the mind wander or listen to a podcast 😉

    –> “Hopefully I am of some service to you as readers by occasionally making you think, or laugh, or come across something different” All time Ermine, all the time. This post especially. Mrs Z is lucky she wasn’t around whilst I was reading this other wise I would have been interrupting her every couple of minutes.

    Bearishness might well be round the corner, the markets certainly appeared to missing a cylinder or two first thing this morning. Headlines were suitably scary – “It’s time to abolish the FTSE 100” for one.

    Must dash – time to grab a load of old Christmas trees for a little project


  16. I truly enjoyed this, it chimed with many of my own (very) long-standing attitudes.

    Maybe those of us who grew up in a pre-online world were the blessed – the last generation that can at least exercise the option of non-participation in this brave new world.

    My own feeling about what you were saying here is that it is about the qualitative nature of various experiences. Some experiences just feel more “real” or more “worthwhile” than others, and a healthy psyche moves towards these rather than the ghost world of the internet. I play guitar (for extra pretention points, flamenco guitar) and when I’m deep into learning a piece, nothing else matters, and when I come out of the trance, I feel refreshed, renewed, enhanced, more “myself”. Ditto hill walking, cycling, talking with friends, drinking tea. Do I feel like this after brainlessly surfing for an hour or two? No, of course not. So the former experiences are unmistakeably of a higher qualitative order, and what one should be doing more of. They make and bind you as an integrated personality, while the internet and all its bastard brothers has this unnerving capacity to unravel you.


  17. Regarding ebooks, if you haven’t already, get yourself one of the free ebook apps — fbReader recommended, but others are available — and you have the entire pantheon of 16th to early 20th century literature available to you, free and courtesy of project Gutenberg, either natively or via manybooks.net or feedbooks.com. A lifetime of reading.

    While you’d think they might be insanely outdated, 19th century works in particular often remain very readable even today. There’s a reason why the ones we see listed today as ‘classic’ are not forgotten, while others published during the same era presumably sank without trace. I’ve found the move from a diet of Iain M Banks and similar across to Tolstoy nothing like as jolting as I expected. Those old Russian authors had a great turn of phrase. Example from Anna Karenina: “Alexey Alexandrovitch smiled his smile, which uncovered his teeth, but revealed nothing more.” Delicious.


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