Mrs Ermine went to the Great Wen to wrangle some business there, and returned to the provinces with culture shock. London is at the leading edge of many changes in the way we do things, and the general principle of these changes is to take something simple and complicate the hell out of it.
That’s part of the way capitalism works, of course – there’s money to be made in the gap between action and comprehension. Never more, it seems, than in the simple act of getting a
drink of water hydrated. The Coca-Cola corporation has been in this biz for donkey’s years, selling us sugar water, plus endless variants on sugar water without the sugar. Hell, they even tried to sell Londoners filtered tap water, which they filtered in some high-tech way that added bromate into to the Eau de Sidcup that Thames Water had competently filtered for them.
There’s a massive hoopla about plastic waste on now, and Mrs Ermine observed this piece of equipment in Hammersmith bus station
How did our forefathers tackle the vexed problem of
drinking water hydration?
All around our towns and cities are these sad memorials to the time before Margaret Thatcher told us that there was no such thing as society. These municipal fountains used to work when I was a child and indeed through to the late 1980s, where presumably ‘elf’n’safety decided these were Broad Street pumps in waiting to spread pestilence throughout the land. Or as decreed, society was made not to happen and the money saved from providing for the common weal fuelled tax cuts and council house sell-offs and all the late 1980s feel-good illusion. It also provided the opportunity for Coca-Cola to hydrate us, make us all fat bastards from the sugar used to make it taste better than water, and then the lying sacks of shit told us we could exercise the sugar off.
They’re no such thing – you can still see serviceable water fountains in great European cities and smaller villages alike. I have a fondness for the styling of the Roman Nasoni but these previous generations of engineers delivered us a system that didn’t need electricity, and didn’t need you to buy £2 bottles. You drank the water either by cupping your hands and taking a slurp or getting your mouth into the stream.
Americans probably think nothing of buying filtered tap water. When I was in California for a road trip I understood their point, and bought Arrowhead water, which I understood at the time (early 1990s) to be filtered tap water. Looks like Nestle has bought the brand and upgraded it to spring water. I bought it for a reason, because the water in the sleazy sort of motel rooms I used for that trip tasted pretty bad. Southern California is basically a desert, and presumably the header tanks were skanky1. In Northern Europe we filter our water properly and because it’s generally cold, storage tanks don’t get gungy2.
However, Europeans don’t buy filtered tap water as a rule and consider it taking the piss, although I note Aldi’s cheapest range is just that3.
London stinks of decadence
The reason people feel poor in London is because you’re surrounded by people spending shitloads of money. I felt poor in London when I did some work there, because people were chugging expensive coffees and grabbing food to go. The reason I felt poor is because even people poorer than I were at it! Let me introduce a 27-year old Guardian journalist. This cool cat lives in London, and spends £150 a month on eating out, £190 on clothes and £200 on holidays. Now the same thing holds for her as held for me 30 years ago, we were both too poor to live in London though we were earning a decent wage. I took the logical course of action to that. But while the young Ermine did spend far too much money on beer, curry and records and hi-fi, I didn’t spend half as much as my rent on it. For sure, thirty years ago everyone in Britain was poorer, so these things were probably cheaper. I didn’t have her airs and graces with accommodation, either – when I was in London I was house-sharing – at 27 with four other guys, before then with at least two or three. I did get pissed off with that after a while, because you often end up moving due to other people’s life changes, so I went to a bedsit at the end when I was 28. It dawned on me PDQ that I was too poor to live in London, so I got the hell out.
Tim Gurner was an absolute cock for saying that millennials could get to buy a house by passing on the lattes and smashed avocado, because it’s not true. Your working life is 30-40 years, and if house prices to earnings ratios are 14 in London then she is SOL. For starters tax and NI means a third of gross pay is lost, upping those 14 years to 21 years, she just can’t get from here to there. To fix that we need to shut down BTL landlords, we need to restart council housing and we need to stop the influx of foreign money. The market is so pathological that only a serious catastrophe would make it possible for our Guardianista to own in London. The problem is metastasizing into an almighty SNAFU that nobody is powerful enough to oppose
Britain is so over-centralised, and the road to success in almost every field of endeavour leads through the capital; because the UK is run by people who have made massive tax-free gains from the boom and have a mindset that the merest blip is a catastrophe […]
There are also strange sub-phenomena now taking place, designed to keep the mad times rolling. Parents are sinking their profits back into the market to help their children into the game.
Yes, the odds are stacked against Elle, as they are to all young folk in London unless they are working in finance or IT. But the sheer wastefulness of her lifestyle staggers me. The incidental £181 haircut. Heck, the £100 Taylor Swift ticket. The latter grates for a reason peculiar to me. In general, your older self wouldn’t usually go back to your younger self and tell them to go spend more money. When I was 22 I considered going to America to see a concert by my favourite singer, who was at the height of her career. I had the roughly £6004 saved, but it was too early after I had been unemployed for six months after graduated, I had been working for less than a year. I could not bring myself to spend that on going to that concert and touring the US a little, because this was still the teeth of Thatcher’s first recession and I was too fearful. My present self would go to my younger self and say
“Look, younger self, this is her swansong, and the lady will never tour again in her prime because she will have a child in a couple of years which will crater her career, and take it from me, her style is already being overtaken by wider musical trends. I authorise you to spend this money, on the condition you take a piece of advice from this grizzled version of yourself in seven years’ time.
You will be tempted to buy a house at the peak of the market., because you are inexperienced and have no awareness of the cyclical nature of markets. You will only have seen a rising economy across those seven years. Whatever you do, resist that temptation. The money you will not piss down the toilet of negative equity will allow you to fly to the US first class, and say in four-star hotels. Knock yourself out, but take heed of my warning.”
Sadly three decades of research has brought me no nearer to that time machine. Not everything one’s younger self wants to overspend electively on is automatically wrong, and I’m all for Elle’s Taylor Swift tickets. It’s the unthinking nature of this cool cat’s day to day spending that is borderline offensive. There’s a great big fricking steering wheel in front of you, Elle. Go grab a hold of that sucker and steer your life in a direction that makes sense for you, and that means thinking about your spending. As Martin Lewis said
The problem with being 26 years old is that the years creep away from you, Maybe the best thing to come out of this article is that you sit there, take a hard look at yourself and work out where you want to be. If you want that house, you say: ‘You know what? Screw it. I’m going to have to change my ways.’ You’re not a kid any more..
I do love the punchline – Elle has talent for dynamic tension of her narrative
Reader, I bought a cafetiere.
Mrs Ermine is of the opinion this article is clickbait. What the hell, I had fun with it.
Martin Lewis is dead right. The years do get away from you, in two ways. Saving is a marathon, not a sprint. And yet the Ermine has had the experience of saving, with my back against the wall, to break out of the rat-race. It was absolutely no fun at all, it’s actually tougher to live like a student after you have been earning and spending more.
But the years get away from you in another way, as you get older the blazing volcano of ambition gets tired of the rat race, and you hanker for more of the good life outside work. On a music forum where people were talking about audio gear I read a piece of profound truth
The most valuable component in a stereo is FREE TIME
Elle doesn’t need to worry about tiring of the rat race, she is half a lifetime away from the fading of the fire. But the gormless, unthinking spending is nuts, and seems to be all too common in London. Before you earn the right to whinge about not being able to afford a house in London/travel the world/go to the US for a concert, you need to sit down and honestly ask yourself
- How much does this matter to me?
- Is there something I could do to get closer to it?
- Is there something I am doing that takes me further away, and if so, is the view worth the climb?
I did that when I left London. It was tough, and it was instigated by a dire session in the Broadcasting House bar when I heard all sorts of tosspots talking about how much they had made on their houses or how much the value had gone up, dahlink, and I was sinking pint after pint of Fuller’s E.S.B. to dull the pain of hearing about this world I would never enter. After about eight pints I got on the tube back to my ground floor bedsit with salt round the edges to keep the slugs away, put 50p in the meter and decided that there had to be a better way of living life.
- I have the highest regard for American plumbing for non-potable water – every single shower on that trip had a decent pressure and flow rate and the toilets flushed with only a slight pressure; Americans used valve pressure systems rather than the antiquated syphon tech originated by Thomas Crapper than it took the UK 20 years to start phasing out. But their drinking water was often foul to my effete European tastes. ↩
- Unless you have a dead squirrel in the tank, I do know a fellow who discovered his squiffy guts over a few months were due to tincture of green and decomposing squirrel in the cold water tank. Modern practice in the UK is to have mains pressure water systems and no roofspace tanks, even at the time of the squirrel incident building regulations specified a close-fitting lid on the damn tanks and ~1mm mesh gauze on the air vents. ↩
- I guess my lawyer would suggest for the record I clarify that Aldi sells filtered tap water rather than piss. But that’s still taking the piss even at their prices. ↩
- That’s about £2000 now; it was an estimate because I had no experience of air travel at the time, booking the flight and getting the tickets would have been much harder than it is now because there was no Internet in those days. Perhaps it would have been more in reality. ↩