London is a different country – they do things differently there

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

The Mayor of London’s water dispensing gear, along with the sign showing you it dispenses water over the floor

How did our forefathers tackle the vexed problem of drinking water hydration?

The Doulton water fountain in Clevedon, Somerset. Restored in 1992 – visually, but they were still too much pussies to make the water work…

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

  1. How much does this matter to me?
  2. Is there something I could do to get closer to it?
  3. 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.

  1. 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. 
  2. 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. 
  3. 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. 
  4. 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. 

43 thoughts on “London is a different country – they do things differently there”

    1. No 😉 Not that I have anything against DP. I was particularly reminded of that incident when Martin Lewis talked about the “opportunity cost” because I was too fearful in those days of the Thatcher Recession #1 to believe that the spectre of unemployment wouldn’t visit again. I don’t know if it would have damaged my long-term finances to have gone YOLO on that – after all, I actually had the cash in the bank, but looking at Elle, once the YOLO attitude sets in you are hosed.


  1. Yes indeed the article is indeed clickbait, but I was baited and clicked too and read it on the bus, and it made for a fine topic of conversation when I returned to the cosy warmth of Ermine Towers once back from London.

    It wound me up good and proper. I had decently paid jobs when I was the same age as that young lady, but I took a somewhat different approach to my spending patterns and now, while I’m not FI like Mr Ermine (I am ten years younger than my handsome & charming mustelid spouse), I _have_ paid my half of the house off,_ and_ I know how to live on not very much and be happy with it. I always have done.

    Let us take this extract, “After rent, heating, electricity, groceries, internet, mobile phone and public transport costs, I am left with a bit over £1,000 each month. Of that, I save about £100 every month. The rest goes on, mostly, coffee, food, alcohol and travel.”

    In Ermine Towers “food” is a subset of “groceries”, as I am sure it is in many of your homes – I assume that by food she means “eating out”. Eating out is firmly in the “optional spending” category IMHO.

    So she is spending £1000 on “necessities”. No doubt these could be trimmed, but that might be tough in London. She is also spending £900 a month on “mostly, coffee, food, alcohol and travel”, and saving £100. That is effing ridiculous. Suggestions from Mrs Ermine if she really does _really_ want to get a house:

    1) Get out of London and/or get some less spendy friends. Your environment is clearly brainwashing into believing that your only pleasures in life cost money. Housing also costs too much in London, far too much. Yes, you might earn less, but I’d lay a bet you’d have a better chance of being able to afford a house if you make an effort.
    2) Get a couple of decent quality metal thermos flasks and take coffee with you. It tastes better than out of those horrible paper cups. You’re being seduced by the “lifestyle” aspect of your coffee. You can get a stove top espresso maker which makes excellent coffee, and a saucepans heat milk very effectively. My stovetop coffee maker has been of fine service for years (you need to change the seals every decade or so). Aldi cheap coffee is fine, or if you are fussy get a coffee grinder and buy mail order beans from a catering supplier, as you seem to get through as much coffee as I do 😉
    3) Invest in a really nice lunch box and then make packed lunches. You could even make nice lunches and still save a fortune. In my most desperate efforts to escape the corporate hell I used to made lentil, lemon juice and parsley pate and used that in my sandwiches. It was ok but not great, but it was incredibly cheap. A plate of chips from the works canteen was an occasional treat.
    4) Take up cooking using basic ingredients. You’ll be healthier and you’ll save a fortune. Your fancy London friends will appreciate your efforts, and you are a journalist so you can write about it.
    5) Stop watching/looking at ads. Your head will feel less cluttered and you’ll learn to appreciate simple things more. Again, easier outside of London. I always feel inadequate and under groomed in London, but I feel fine in Somerset. £181 is far too much to spend on a hairdo BTW. You don’t have to go as far as I do (I haven’t darkened the door of a hairdresser in over a decade, though I did invest in a decent pair of hairdressing scissors) but there must be cheaper ways of doing this. You’re in your twenties, you’ll look great almost regardless of what you do. Enjoy it (easier said than done, I know, especially with all those ads).
    6) Join a local library, go to free art galleries & museums (you are in _London_!) and somehow learn how to enjoy things that don’t cost money. Take up walking meditation in a local park (London has loads of them) it’ll help clear your head of all the ads. Make enjoying living cheaply it into an art form, you’re a journalist so you could write about it.
    7) Ditch the gym membership and walk more. Maybe get an allotment, ok, tricky in London maybe, but did I maybe suggest you move? Your hobby will provide exercise, be fulfilling, calming, satisfying and will save you a shit load of money. And you’ll eat better. You’re a journalist so you’ll be able to write about it.
    8) Go on fewer and cheaper holidays.
    9) Never, _ever_ buy a disposable plastic bottle of water.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. @ Mrs Ermine – are you sure you’re not a Yorkshire woman:-)
      While I’m not suggesting the 27 year old lives like Hannah Hauxwell, she is old enough to know what extravagance is . Actually, I think its fake – no 27 year old can be that feckless even if you live in London! :-0

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It is actually pretty easy to spend £900 a month in London (or anywhere else really for that matter) without being all that extravagant IMO.
        The twenty somethings at my office eat out for lunch every day and spend I’d guess between £5 and £10/day, so let’s call that already an average of £7.50 x 20 working days = £150/month. That’s just on lunch! And these guys are IT bods like me who you would have thought are in general more sensible and less susceptible to ads and spending urges than your average journalist?
        Throw a few big nights out and some meals out in the evenings and a few other consumer items and it quickly adds up.

        In my twenties, I used to go on nights out with people that would blow hundreds in one night. Incomprehensible to me but they managed it somehow, and somehow I managed to not let it affect my spending enough to damage my chances of actually saving something at least.

        This is not to defend the girls spending in any way, just sayin’ – there is absolutely no way that has to be fake. I bet they could have found hundreds of people who are spending exactly the same as she is if not worse.

        I actually enjoyed the piece. I’ve kinda come full circle on stuff like this, it used to infuriate me like it did to you Mrs Ermine but now I just find it quite amusing or at worst just think, well some people cannot be helped but good luck to them anyway. I feel more sorry for the real people on the breadline in London who actually genuinely spend all of their income on needs and not wants.


  2. But, but, but, if you work hard & long enough & resiliently follow your dreams, anyone can do anything, the world can be the shellfish of their choice – after brexit, everyone will have their own unicorn…..

    I read the snowflake article too & thought ”Wow, do the young still have those expectations after a decade of force-fed austerity via the Tories’ ambitious plan to have the entire population waddling around helplessly on the electoral pate de fou gras conveyor belt”

    Your experience brought back uncomfortable memories, having headed there at about her age, full of dreams – what followed was a long slow puncture of hope, kicking off in my own sh*tty bedsit in pre-gentrified Shepherd’s Bush. Ultimately, it culminated in me leaving London when it was announced the Olympics were coming – my main inescapable bills [like utilities] had escalated insanely for about 3 years in a row& I thought ”Ah, this is how it’s going to be funded”.

    Being employed in a socially useful role working in a large NHS hospital, I knew I’d be running on the spot forever trying to make ends meet because baseline costs were so high for ordinary people. Their standard of living had to be significantly lower than if they lived in another city that wasn’t run in the best interests of bankers, like Bath or Bristol, which are very nice.

    On more recent trips, the stark injustice is just so visible in every detail, that it feels worse than back in my youf & I can’t decide if its just that my older eyes have now shed their scales of those hopes ‘n dreams…..


  3. hi @Survivor – I’m so sorry you had that experience, that is rough. I feel very angry at the housing situation, though I worked hard and spent very little to get to where I am, I’m also well aware that the system is stacked against people who are younger than me. FWIW it looked like the system was becoming stacked against me too compared to Mr Ermine’s generation when I was in my 20s but it has become far worse. I was lucky. IMHO something dramatic will happen to sort the housing crisis out sooner or later.

    My comments above were on the woman’s suposed efforts to save money. She says she wants to save money. She is fortunate in actually being in a position to do so, even if trying to buy a London home at current prices is unrealistic for her, saving money may open doors in the future and/or outside of London. I spent one summer working in London after graduating, at Goldman Sachs, as a general student general grunt, I suspect to see if I was made of the right stuff. I never even asked whether or not I _was_ made of the right stuff as I came to the conclusion that I would go mad if I continued living there, so I got a less lucrative job further out.


    1. > compared to Mr Ermine’s generation

      My particular five year segment of that generation got smoked good and proper by that instrument of wealth destruction called housing. The papers at the time said that three million ‘homeowners’ were in negative equity in the early 1990s, and these were also hit by underperforming endowment policies – they are the first wave the FCA is warning about now as these capital sums fall due at the end of term.

      It was people who bought in the high inflation days of the Sixites and Seventies that made bank with housing, followed by the people who were in their mid-late twenties in the early 1990s.

      I was too old and you were a little bit too young to make hay in that second golden slot, although I had a peculiar talent for execrable timing. The return on any investment held for the long term is critically dependent on valuations at purchase, there was a long golden period between 1992 and about 1999 when people could do well if they bought their first houses then, there were many distressed sellers and interest rates had come off their peak.


      1. oopps – sorry Mr Ermine (re the house price thing). Good point.

        You lot did get paid more though, got regular pay rises, more stable job contracts etc (and you didn’t encoutner gender discrimintation which I most definitely did). Both housing and work have got far worse since though. xxx


      2. > The return on any investment held for the long term is critically dependent on valuations at purchase

        That is what makes this era so tough. Costs have been so high for so long, eventual time choice is taken away, because humans aren’t living longer (and if anything will have their working lives shortened by automation and algorithms). There just aren’t enough years of income available to be able to put it off indefinitely.

        I’m about 40 and every city I’ve lived and worked in for 20 years in three countries has had housing in the 5-15x income range. Optimistically, I probably have 10-15 years of work remaining until ageism does me in. As mad as it (definitely) is to take on a half million dollar mortgage today with prices in the stratosphere.. there is no longer much choice in the matter.

        More and more often, people hope half-seriously for “something dramatic” to set things right. After 20 years of anticipation, I’m not holding my breath any more.


  4. @ Ermines, when you have the naivete of youth, rose tinted spectacles come as standard, so back in the day, I simply didn’t see a lot of the bleakness of reality, so didn’t know the odds were stacked against normal people to the extent that all the wealth inevitably slid down into the bankers’ pockets. [given the severity of the gradient on that playing field] Because of that though, I had some fun too, but there was a limit to how much I could waste even if I were so inclined, because I simply didn’t have it – I was paying off student debt & pulling in my siblings to try & give them a better life.

    A friend I made at work at the time had parents who could help out, so bought a 2-bed flat around the millenium mark & was astounded that ownership made more money than his salary every day in capital gains at the time. We worked out that he could have made more money than working by just lying about his income to get that mortgage, then sleeping on his couch all day …..sadly I actually even saw the opportunity at the time, but still couldn’t exploit it due to lack of resources. [my parents were poor at the time, my mother was an NHS midwife & my father also also in a relatively badly paid, socially-useful occupation]

    I think the insidious effects overall were to instill the impression that honest/good works were stupid & would lead to a life not worth living & perhaps explain the malaise nationally today, in that slowly but surely we turned our professions to more rentier/predatorial/parasitical types to survive. My youngest sister having had the most time to adapt after we ‘read the runes’ is an IT consultant for soulless socially damaging entities such as lawfirms, digital media entertainers, banks etc. The message of the neoliberal takeover globally, was if you want to maintain a decent standard of living, you almost always have to be a monetary mercenary in your professional life. Realistically, it’s only if you still have the luxury of significant private time, that you can choose to do something for good – for me, that’s why FI/RE is the holy grail, it’s the freedom to reclaim your soul.


    1. I’m most surprised stoats turn into ermine as far south as the Cotswolds. I guess the altitude makes it colder. I’ve only seen a real life ermine once, at Titchwell in Norfolk when there was snow on the ground, surprised me there but it was seriously cold that year. Good to see the BBC doing what it does well. I need to be careful not to stray onto the iPlayer these days, but the lovely ermine highlight was on their general website 😉


  5. Last time I was in California (northern California admittedly) the public water fountains were free and plentiful. I’m sure if they can do it, we could do too.

    When it comes to ever increasing house prices, I feel this is closely correlated to the decrease in interest rates over the last 40 years. At some point this will probably reverse, but the shock to the system could be hard for the losers from this situation to deal with.


  6. Why did the town councils close all the water fountains? Why did the town councils sell off so many school sports grounds? It’s all very well going into autorant about Thatcher but she didn’t sell a single football pitch.

    And if you really, really want to cock up housing, just introduce rent control and more council housing.


    1. The councils were starved of cash from Thatcher’s era on and the proceeds of the pernicious Right to Buy went to the Treasury to reduce taxation rather than to build more council houses. Thus capital was shifted from local government to central government, as well as screwing up the housing market for others. The starving of cash continues, which is why Northampton is almost bust and other councils are in trouble.

      Thatcher did a fair amount of work that did need doing in the early Eighties, but the rampant individualism at the expense of the common weal which was expressed in RTB was vile. There was a perfectly good alternative to council housing if you wanted to own a house, and that was the open market. Council housing was for people too poor to buy a house, so by giving these tenants free money to buy their house which they couldn’t afford on the open market the generations after RTB got shafted, first by the reduced amount of social housing, and then in a double whammy a generation later by nearly half these houses being bought up by the BTL brigade.

      Forty per cent of ex-council flats sold through right to buy are being rented out more expensively by private landlords, the Commons communities and local government select committee has found.


      1. “The councils were starved of cash from Thatcher’s era”: Christ, they always say that. It’s their all-purpose excuse for mountains of incompetence, extravagance, and graft.


      2. Some facts supporting your claims – for those willing to risk actually thinking for themselves a bit – – a current documentary by the BBC detailing how over the era since thatcher & her apologists started ravaging the land, 10% of the UK’s communal wealth has been laundered into the pockets of the ruling kleptocracy. This Guardian article dovetails its conclusions: ….. illustrating a socio-economic, national heist on a scale we in our arrogance only assume could happen in banana republics – because hey that couldn’t happen here as we’re civilised.


      1. In what way would those policies cock up housing?

        Council housing was a capital asset bought with taxpayers’ money, either ratepayers or central gov or a mix of both. The government of the day disposed of that at below cost, gifting some of this money to council tenants. These tenants were council tenants because they were too poor to buy housing on the open market, to enable them to be able to buy they were given free money in the form of a discount.

        Leaving aside the personal animus I had to this because no bugger was going to gift me money to buy my dive, what then happened was there was less social housing available, since the stock was not replenished. Councils largely stopped building, because the proceeds of these sales went to central government.

        This joy for ex-council tenants poleaxed housing construction. Councils were relatively benign landlords compared to the BTL brigade which eventually bought nearly half the ex-council houses, poor people have less social housing and UK housing has never really recovered from RTB.


      2. Thanks for that reply Ermine, i was more wondering what Dearieme meant by “And if you really, really want to cock up housing, just introduce rent control and more council housing.”

        Or is that sarcasm?

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I can’t speak for dearieme, although I agree with him that rent controls are not needed. Decent council housing would place the floor well enough 😉


  7. Having just read that article about Northamptonshire Council being almost bust, I couldn’t help noticing that they just spent £53m on a brand new headquarters. Seeing as austerity has been with us since 2010 and they knew they were facing a cut in revenue and rising costs, perhaps that wasn’t the most financially astute decision!


  8. So, Ermine, I’m guessing Kate Bush…

    I think that the impression people get when they visit London is skewed by the fact that they generally stay in the centre and the places they visit and pass through do not reflect the life of the average Londoner. The people they see (or, at least, the ones that they notice) are probably not representative of the average Londoner either. Many of them will be from other countries and will be living temporarily in London. We are not all immaculately groomed and smelling of money (more’s the pity) and there are lots of us normal folk living and thriving here. Just saying 😉

    Right to buy has certainly messed up the social housing landscape here in London. I can remember the start of the right to buy, when I lived in east London. Lots of council tenants bought their homes and then, rather than selling them (which they could not do for five years without paying back the discount pro-rata), they rented them out and then rented something much cheaper a bit further out to live in. Then they sold them as soon as the pre-emption period had finished so they could keep the whole of the discount. Nothing really changes…

    I’m an accidental landlord (landlady?), letting out a flat that I originally bought back in the late noughties for my mother to live in. She has since died and I now let it at what I consider to be a reasonable market rent to a good tenant. I keep everything in very good decorative order and repair, and it provides me with a nice bit of income which is welcome now that I have retired. I get a bit fed up when people demonise private sector London landlords, because a lot of us are decent ordinary people and are not Rachman.

    The housing problem for young Londoners is very difficult to overcome and I don’t see any practical way of getting round that. They are in competition for scarce private rented housing with everyone else who wants to live in London – and social housing is just not an option any more because there isn’t remotely enough of it left, and the selection criteria do not give any weighting to being born and raised in the area.

    My daughter and s.i.l. have been able to buy, but it’s not been easy for them and they are super-thrifty in their lifestyle. The avocado toast is still possible, though, courtesy of Morrison’s ‘Wonky’ avocados! They have noticed a real difference between the financial approach adopted by their friends who have somehow managed to buy their homes with or without family help (mostly very thrifty) and those who are stuck with renting (mostly much more spendy). If you’ve no real prospect of being able to save enough to pull together a deposit it must be very tempting to just say sod it and buy another bottle of Prosecco.

    Moving out of London is ok if you can work remotely and can get the same sort of employment elsewhere, but otherwise you end up spending a massive percentage of income on train fares which can make even a smaller mortgage unaffordable.

    Jane in London

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was that spendy renter in London all those years ago, I had a great time. But it couldn’t last… The lady wasn’t KB either, though I’d have loved to have heard her live. I’ve going to keep schtum on that from now on though, in case people come close, she’s my guilty secret, even after 30 years 😉

      And I’m sorry about demonising landlords – my experience was dreadful, but I was chasing the bottom end of the market. I read books like Colin Wilson’s or others from the ’60s and ’70s and you had the classic young cad renting a room from a landlady and it worked well for both parties, this probably still exists in some areas. I never found it. I was shafted by one subletter, I walked off some to get the deposits back, too many hung on to them just because.

      Half the people in my grammar school last year were kids of parents who lived in council houses, many of them had better jobs than my Dad who was a fitter, but it was fine – even managerial sorts then sometimes lived in council houses. RTB was the classic tragedy of the commons, writ large.


  9. I recall spending a year in a South Kensington bedsit earning 800/month in 1993 – I don’t recall any hardships at all. Possibly one of the best times I ever had. I imagine the prices for a night out have skyrocketed or did we just know where the best value places were? There was a club in Cromwell road, Brats, which sold drinks @ £8 but we would blag our way in, having discretely secured flasks, and by a token drink 😉

    Maybe getting something for nothing was a badge of honour back then rather than splashing cash to show off?


  10. @Ermine — I know you’re an old leftie at heart but please reconsider using the Thatcher/society line! I think if you read her wider quote in context you’ll see she and you were on the same page with this at least. 🙂


    1. Yeah, I know it’s unfair in the original context, but in the specific case of Right to Buy the extracted version fits her mentality on that so well it’s apposite IMO.

      And let’s face it, at the end of the sentence she says “and people look to themselves first” which is otherwise known as “I’m all right Jack and may the devil take the hindmost”. That’s what has led from RTB to buy to let – people looking to themselves first without any regulation until recently.


  11. See, I’m really pro London if you have the right circumstances and mindset. London can be a frugal paradise to make the most of, so many free events, museums and world class culture. But you have to put in the work to earn big, and keep manoeuvring to maintain your earning potential.

    Nowadays I just tut (silently, I want to at least pass) when I see people who earn fifth of what I do spending, spending, spending on frivolous stuff. There is temptation all around for those that value consumerism. I’ve worked in Mayfair, where ridiculous amounts of wealth were on display, supercars parked all around and dealerships abound and even a £15 loaf of bread was selling out.


  12. I used to fly Glasgow to London and back every week, staying three nights in the capital. It was culture shock leaving the banks of the Thames with people sitting in the sun sipping pints or lattes to fly into Glasgow, past the high rise council flats with the rain usually sleeting horizontally in from the Atlantic. Then out the terminal into the carpark where all the cars seemed to be tiny Nissans and Skodas as opposed to the fleets of Mercs and Beamers everywhere in the south. I was always glad to leave London, but I always looked forward to going back too. Haven’t been for a while now, and I do miss it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That must’ve been a hell of a contrast!

      It’s good to sample it every so often, if only to check out how the other half lives. Some of these guys must get through more in a year than I’ll have pass through my hands in a lifetime. I’m not absolutely sure it gives them joy from looking at their frenetic lifestyles, but good luck to them if it does.


  13. I’m not sure London is expensive. Groceries, utilities, transport (vs owning a car) are all roughly what you’d spend in the regions. The ‘only’ cost that is significantly higher is housing. Granted this is a significant % of spending, but the London rental market is huge, diverse and fast moving allowing for significant discretion. And even though it is more expensive I’d suggest it’s a price worth paying for what you get.

    Firstly, the soft value in the experience of living in London. Living in a global city leads to richer experiences, a wider outlook and greater opportunities. If you consider that contentious then just replace the superlatives with ‘different’. I think you get to the same positive outcome. [Anecdote alert] I have friends who’ve never left where I grew up. I’m surprised at just how different our outlooks have become given we started from relatively the same base.

    Secondly, the hard value in current and future salary uplift. If you take the Guardian journalist, even if they chose to move to the regions (or internationally) later, they will attract a premium in recognition of the unique experiences they got working for a national paper in London. An average Guardian journalist in London is potentially a top-10%-of-their-peer-group editor in the Midlands. In that case the extra housing cost is an investment in the traditional sense.

    I’m a 20-something working for an investment bank in London [boo hiss] so have to recognise my view will be warped (as much as I try for it not to be). Incidentally, my peers think the odds are just as much stacked against them as for anyone else. The reality perhaps doesn’t matter when you live through perception.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Blimey, I must be doing something very wrong when I enter London. Basically I either bring food with me or don’t eat there at all, not particularly because I can’t afford to splash out once in a blue moon, but because I refuse to eat junk food and the feeling of overpaying double just hurts too much 😉 And as for drinking there, sheesh…

      I’m not saying there’s nothing good about London, and it’s a fantastic city to be young in, provided you earn enough. The jobs issues you mention are a large part of why, in the torygraph’s apt headline, London has become a workhouse for the young.

      It probably is a good investment for you, because you are in the right industry. But it’s a tough mince grinder for those that struggle, and I’d guess that’s more than half. Some of the positives for you are along the lines of Philp Greenspun’s where to live article with the delightfully non PC

      “Intelligent, well-educated people are much more interesting than people with low IQs who haven’t read or studied too much. Unfortunately for those who are retired on a fixed income, smart people tend to find clever ways to make money and this drives up the cost of housing in areas where they congregate.”

      That matters much more to the young because: the mating game, plus they are also building social networks.

      30 years ago London was more edgy than surrounding places, but still in Britain. That has been amplified by increased communications and the general increase in wealth and a trend to winner-takes-all. It is a different country, now. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for your reply and I understand your points, particularly London being a different country.

        Eating and drinking out is discretionary and you get to know the good value places when you live here. I still think housing cost is the only major increased cost.

        I might be in the right industry but that’s still a pretty tough mince grinder. It’s just for reasons of lifestyle than money (as for law and any other professions where you sign your Faustian pact). In some ways working in a different industry is the easier option and you still get the benefit of long-term salary uplift…


  14. I agree with Mr & Mrs Ermine’s points, but there’s a bigger problem… I remember arriving in London on an early morning train for a business meeting (probably 15 years ago or so): I was shocked by the number of rough sleepers in so many shop doorways.

    Now, they’re a common sight in every city and major town. That wasn’t always the case.


  15. Having recently renovated a bungalow we installed a combi boiler system and ditched the cold & hot water storage tanks and central heating header tank. It’s the best thing we ever did and should greatly reduce the marinated squirrel possibilities.

    ( Knowing ermine from our youthful university days I can probably guess at the singer in question but, like Vegas, what happens at university stays there 🙂 )


    1. The tinfoil hat version of me quite likes having a decent auto-refreshed store of drinkable water, but it’s quite the anachronism nowadays where mains water pressure is maintained by pumps. Back in the day when they used static head from water towers I think byelaws said you had to feed the toilet cistern and bath taps from the cold-water tank rather than the rising main to spread out the demand, but nowadays it only seems to provide pressured head for the hot water tank.

      Byelaw 30 specifies the construction of header tanks and screens to keep insects out, I got one of these tanks + accessories as a kit when I raised the cold water tank in the old place to increase the gravity fed shower head to get more pressure. ISTR my Dad used a piece of plywood over the tank in the 1970s for a simpler solution.

      For a bungalow direct on-demand heating works well, but where the bathroom is upstairs and the boiler downstairs, there seems an unconscionable delay in getting hot water through. One fellow I know keeps a bucket to collect the standing cold water until he gets hot water in the bathroom and uses that to flush #1s in the toilet. This is not what I call gracious living, though I admire his frugality chops.

      Yes, t’was her indeed 😉


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