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

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

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

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

The best-laid plans of mice and men

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

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

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

Fear is the mind-killer

Frank Herbert, Dune

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

So I consider returning to work, to head this off. And within 24 hours the Universe delivers a slap to the chops with a wet fish. Synchronicity in motion.

And bless y’all, I thank commenters on that piece for holding up a mirror. Because to be honest I did not think of returning to work because of a deep-seated urge to do so. I am not Jim at SMHD, and if I did this I would be running from something. Jim was running towards something, and there’s a world of difference.

I don’t have the option, probably

On the Facebook group, the manager, let’s let us call him S, who initiated my journey out of The Firm pipes up. It was mainly to say hello and give some innocuous anecdote. And in a flash I was back in a stuffy office in late February 2009, and I was hearing bullshit about performance management and needs improvement in billable hours because my last project had been grounded by a US division reverse takeover. And I had no good options, and no reserves.

There is a theory that faced with an overwhelming threat we split off parts of our minds to preserve the rest. In physical danger this is the feeling of time extending, which is a common experience. I once was driving a car with three people on a snowy long downhill run near Piddletrenthide and I felt the car begin to slide. The split comes, and time slows. One part of me was trying to control the car, to surrender control slowly. I recall another part of my mind eyeing up the wall by the side, if I could use that in the last resort, and separately trying to drop down to use more engine braking, since this was a rear wheel drive car. We got away with it, drifting down the hill to the river, and halfway down I gained traction.

Similarly when a postprandial piss-head came fishtailing towards me on a Suffolk country road, the time dilation gave me headspace enough to pull right into the nearside and angle in before stopping at a point where his fishtail would be out so it was not a head-on crash. You need time dilation to get that anywhere near right.

In cases like that, where there is an immediate physical hazard, these splits are useful, kicking off elements in parallel to search for solutions.

Where the problem is situational, however, there are some useful aspects of splitting elements of the mind off. But these parts do not recombine.

I was facing my working life being cut by a quarter, being iced in my late forties. And the frozen recording of that time played out again, the recollection what it felt like through the long three following years of living like the celibate monk in a brothel as I salary-sacrificed into AVCs and built my ISA. A split off part searched the solution space, and though I thought all was lost I invested into a stock market. Sometimes you must hold contradictory ideas at the same time, because knowledge is imperfect. Sometimes getting a win in one area compensates a wipe-out in others.

One of those split off parts saw S, and it all started to go grey, I closed the browser window, switched it all off, and learned that I do not have the option of returning to work. It is interesting that I didn’t associate the pain with The Firm, but with that individual and The Firm combined.

The synchronicity of observing S pipe up feels significant. There is a message here, and I am old enough and ugly enough to grab the wheel. These ancient split off elements search lived experience for anything that looks like the original circumstances, and then they break glass and yell out FIRE. Not the retire early sort.

Rob asked the reasonable question “Be sure the problem is with The Man and not Your Man From The Firm”. While this experience would support the latter hypothesis, the thought of anything to do with ‘performance management’  gives a similar chill – just not one I have faced. And I do need to ask myself some tough questions about giving up any of my time for a 100% savings rate. They ain’t making any more of it for me…

what has once been lost can never be regained

In Journey’s End I said

But something snapped within. Although others weren’t happy with being targeted I was unduly susceptible at that time and place. Once the mainspring is broken the dream can never be repaired because it has become a nightmare. I will never work for an organisation with a modern performance management system, and I focused all effort on making sure that I will never be in that weak position again.

These split off elements lie dormant, and it appears these slings and arrows accrete over time. Another is the older archaic fear of hearing that great-grandmother losing everything. Some of the hazard is of course the strange times we are in, perhaps I pick up some of the mental haze of anxiety that is widespread.

Avoid employment and this will stay down

I will never walk free of the psychological injury of the three year grind out of work, with no good options, and within hours of publishing that returning to working post I saw the truth of this as S showed up. It is not as incapacitating as developmental injuries are – after all, all I need to do for that cobra’s head not to rise again is avoid being employed 😉

I think back to some dire office meetings5 where I would look at Gretchen Rubin’s  happiness project website, and remember that there could be another way

Don’t forget to live in the moment, because those moments are precious and they are running out.

Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project

She was also big on

gratitude

Compared to many, my financial position is very good. I have decent health – I weigh less than I have done for 30 years. Some of that is retiring early, and shaking off the stress, and drinking much less because I do not need to ease the pain.

My German great-grandmother did lose her life savings twice, but the modern world is not the same as her experience, it is far less extreme, although Fintan O’Toole does make a fair case that some of the same drumbeats are drifting in the air.

That health is valuable, and it was purchased by retiring early. I saw at The Firm what stress does to people. Health is precious, and I need to file hyperinflation under the red wine part of Serenity, not the coffee end.

Alternatives

The option I probably don’t have is returning to work to earn a useful amount of money.

Moreover, once you leave there is no coming back, and no “side-gigs” exist. It’s all or nothing. That’s specialization for you. Nonetheless, I can’t hide that fact that all work is shit. It’s just slavery by another name.

Don’t mince your words, ZXSpectrum48k. Tell it how it is 😉 I spent enough time saying similar, but it seems time softened the memory. But not the experience, as S’s mug showed up.

Earning lots of money means a certain amount of bullshit in the job6, and because there is no obvious metric7 to a bullshit job performance management makes something up. Something about this offended the Ermine fur.

I can do the creative passive stuff and/or other opportunities, but I’m unlikely to make more than the £1000 HMRC small earnings allowance8. I should file that under recreation, not strategic reserves. It’s not enough to fight the inflation my great-grandmother saw. I would need to double my ISA to shift the needle on the dial, and inflation is an exponential. We have learned earlier this year that fighting an exponential increase is a very tough wicket to bat on.

 

Let’s turn this round. What would  I want of work?
  • Interesting challenge
  • Interesting people
  • novelty
  • It comes to me
  • some money. I have already accepted I will never find scale enough for it to make any clear difference to my long-term.
What do I not want of work
  • An employer. PAYE. NI. BTDT, I have now got all but a part year of NI paid up, thanks to the outstanding value of Class II self-employed contributions.
  • performance management. Shop Class as Soulcraft had it right, as did Carl Jung – “you know an electrician’s work is good when the lights come on, rather than a shower of sparks” and “You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do.” respectively. Indeedably brought this up in Dichotomy. In my earlier days you didn’t need performance management – you could see decent work because it worked. It changed something in the world, hopefully for the better. Performance management is an symptom of a job gone bullshit IMO. Every single piece of work that has come my way since leaving The Firm has been by people seeing what I have done or hearing from other people how I fixed their problems.
  • no hustle – the corollary of it comes to me. I don’t mind getting out there and making a name for myself, but I am not a travelling salesman, and the whole sales thing brings me out in hives. As for the dead eyes of people at networking events who are only hungry for what you can do for them, no. My time is more valuable than that.
  • too much of it so it consumes a lot of time

This doesn’t look like adding up to doubling the value of my ISA, and I would be old indeed before that came to pass.

What is all this hyperinflation stuff, anyhow?

1000 mark note from 1910. You can buy these on Ebay for a couple of pounds. There’s absolutely no shortage – they made wheelbarrow-loads of them 😉

An ancient memory stirs, of my German great grandmother in a care home, in the early 1960s. I recall it as a sunny day, like these days we have been having, and seeing the goldfish in the round pool, they looked huge to me.

I did not speak German, my parents were frightened that having another language present would impair my ability to speak English properly9. My mother and great-grandmother were talking, and I heard my great-grandmother speak of losing her life’s savings. Twice – once in the inflation following the First world war, and then again in the second. While I could not understand the words, I could hear the intonation, and my mother explained, well, as much as you can explain this to a six or seven year old.

The young and impressionable Ermine heard the signal. I did not understand what had happened, but the voice tones told me that some very bad shit went down.10

Leftovercurrency gives us the story of this note:

The ‘Goldmark’, was the national currency of the German Empire from 1871 until 1914. The Mark was part of the ‘golden standard’ monetary system. The value of one mark was fixed to the value of 0.358 grams of gold.

This changed in 1914, with the outbreak of World War I. To pay for the war, and to protect its gold reserves, Germany abandoned the gold standard. From August 1914, Reichsbanknotes were no longer exchangeable for gold.

This history is part of why the Germans really hate the idea of bailing out those feckless Southern Europeans. There is an archaic cultural memory of how that ends.

It runs deep. In the late 1980s I went on holiday to Germany, taking my Access credit card, and a Eurocheque card which was a specialised overseas sort of debit card as backup. Being young and foolish I did not really get just how much of a hit the transaction costs were with the Eurocheque card. Driving across France and Belgium I was able to use the Access card, no doubt at some usurous exchange rate, but no other trouble. As soon as I crossed the border into Germany, they just plain didn’t take credit cards. I had to either get cash out of ATMs using the EC card, or pay with Eurocheques. Germans didn’t trust credit, 70 years after that banknote was printed. I think they have got over it now.

That trauma still stalks the German psyche. I have a suspicion that we may yet have reason to be grateful to Brexiters, not because the UK  will soar like Icarus cut free of the deadweight of the EUSSR, but because this ancient fear will clamp a dead hand on the coronavirus economic reconstruction of the EU and the internal inconsistencies of the Euro may come home to roost. It is an economic union without a common Finanzministerium or even debt mutualisation. Brexit Britain will crash and burn in its own blessed way, but the explosion of the Euro cratering could be bigger. Sometimes you can get the right answer for the wrong reasons 😉

It’s probably hard for those in the current FIRE scene to understand the fear of inflation in people who have seen it. I remember the 1970s – I was still at school then, but inflation was rife, even into my first year at university. 25% inflation is really quite something…

For example had I stayed working at The Firm for eight more years and saved 50% of my salary it would still not be enough to double my ISA estate. That’s not enough to fight five years of 1970s inflation.

Five years of 1970s inflation, according to the Bank of England

Since then it typically takes 15 years to halve your money

which is more tractable. Of course, getting ahead of inflation is precisely why you accept all the pain and volatility of equities rather than sticking it all under your mattress or ILSCs or US TIPs. UK index-linked savings certificates have not been available for almost ten years. You can buy UK index-linked bonds but there’s a lot of hurt associated with them compared to the elegant simplicity of ILSCs because of the variation in bond price. A prudent mustelid bought £15k of ILSCs in 2011 part of an emergency fund against getting hoofed from The Firm before the three years were up. The emergency never came, and NS&I tell me they are worth 19 and a bit k now

which is pretty much exactly what you’d expect when comparing with the Bank of England inflation calculator

This is a year less, and CPI not RPI, and my seven NS&I ILSCs were bought over a couple of years to give me a ladder of income maturities

because unlike inflation linked bonds there is no variation of the underlying market price of the ILSC with inflation expectations  to screw things up. The trouble with TIPs in my view is that the US$ is the de facto world reserve currency. Even in my lifetime I can see some possibility that this may not always be so. What happens then? In 1960 you got 12 Deutschemarks  to the pound. You got 2.7 on Dec 31,1999. The Americans hoofed the British Pound from its reserve currency status after WW2, because they are top dog. For now, but 30 years hence? I know Warren Buffett says never bet against America and it worked for him. So far. I know what you’re thinking. Did he fire six shots or only five… Do you feel lucky?

What caused this problem for me and what can I do about it?

I don’t believe the messages I am getting from my financial capital. You, dear reader, are probably a young whippersnapper relative to me. You may have serious problems at the moment, ones that I don’t have. For that I am grateful for my privilege – this is more a function of age and luck than of inherent cleverness.

But it means that your capital, the value of your future income stream, is a function of what you can do, whereas my capital is financial capital. It is what I have. The signals I am getting from the financial capital are at serious variance with the evidence of my eyes and the state of the world. You probably don’t need to worry about financial capital so much, it is the value of the future stream of income from your human capital that matters. That will be inflation-proof to a first approximation, though it can vary with secular trends – more AI will devalue it, a larger world with shorter supply chains will probably increase its value. Depends on your field.

One problem I have is that my ISA is denominated in £, and we have had a lot of determined muppetry here, starting in 2016, and we ain’t done yet. A moment’s glance at the GBP relative to a basket of currencies that make up IMF SDRs show you that the Brexit vote made me 10-20% poorer at a stroke

Now there’s a perfectly reasonable argument that the people who voted for Brexit mainly hold human capital and no significant financial capital, and if the currency goes down then their jobs might be more secure, so they’re not bovvered in the slightest. Their phones get dearer, but it’s harder to survive without a job than without an iPhone.

I don’t blame them for looking after their interests, but I don’t want to support them, if they are going to shit in my world I owe then ‘owt. I got out of the FTSE100 in March and favoured world equities – VWRL and L&G dev world exUK and some S&P500, though I also have some UK mid cap because the story is so bad, it has to be a recovery play sometime 😉

The numbers I read tell me two things jumbled up. One is how much capital I have. The other is the inverse of how stupid Britain is being, as viewed by foreigners. The chart above shows they aren’t impressed.

I don’t give a shit about foreigners’ view of how we are handling our affairs. I want to get that out of my face. Particularly when I look longitudinally, over years. I want to know if my great-grandmother is right, not the state of the UK. Nor do I care about the state of the US, to be honest.

It’s a bit like the problem with the constant speed of light making everything else relative. I want an objective standard. The £ definitely isn’t it, nor is the $. Much as I like gold, that isn’t it either, because gold is a general fear indicator as well as a long-term store of value. It sure as hell ain’t bitcoin. I am not sure that the € will last the next ten years.

I rather like IMF Special Drawing Rights for this job. Basically because the IMF are cleverer than me and think about how to allocate the balance:

The value of a SDR is based on a basket of key international currencies reviewed by IMF every five years. The weights assigned to each currency in the XDR basket are adjusted to take into account their current prominence in terms of international trade and national foreign exchange reserves.

The current XDR basket is US$ 41.73%, € 30.93%, RMB 10.92%, ¥ 8.33%,£ 8.09%.

Once upon a time the googlefinance function in Google Sheets would give you an answer for GBPXDR, and tell you the exchange rate, but that function seems lost so you have to compute it from the individual forex pairs. This did my head in because it seemed like there were not enough variables to solve the equation but fortunately the IMF tell you how much of each currency to use, and an example calculation.

I have converted this to a Google spreadsheet and get the same answer as XE.com  which is good enough for me. Now all I need to do is scale the £ value of my ISA into XDR which I can bet from the two providers and chart that, rather than see my investments in terms of the unreliable £, which will now doubt enjoy another bout of notoriety when the shifty éminence grise Dominic Cummings fixes a no-deal Brexit for us at the end of the year.

It is time to reorientate my approach to investing

At some point during this bear market I realized — emotionally, not mentally — that I probably shouldn’t keep doing this.

Monevator

I canned a lot of junk in March, and shifted even more to VWRL. There is a chance that I orientate to the US just as the place goes up in flames and Warren Buffett’s claims of American exceptionalism burn out, the classic sucker’s rally.

American exceptionalism, Warren. Wait but what, POTUS appears to be standing in front of a church with boarded-up windows? This is from the White House Twitter feed, which I believe is official although it’s hard to know for sure these days because it’s all like an Adam Curtis documentary where Nothing is True and Everything is Possible

What didn’t go into VWRL etc I shifted into cash and a bit more into gold. The gold I feel OK about, the cash not so much, certainly I don’t want to be holding that over the end of the year, gold is a worthy alternative. I am hoping for the other shoe to drop and the markets go into a tailspin. At the moment everything is going the other way. That’s OK too. It’s what diversification is all about.

And I see that in myself, too. But I decided it was time to get serious about not drifting towards 95%-100% equities every time markets get going again in the blind pursuit of maximum returns, as I have done for nearly 20 years.

Monevator

Monevator’s comment was not available for most of the time I have been writing this, and yet it says how I feel. If he is getting older, there have been far more miles of road gone under the wheels for me. I too want to get off the treadmill. That’s what the gold and the cash are for, as is the simplification into what passes for quality in the stock market these days.

I’m not convinced that Monevator can live with

But it’s not there to deliver return.

any more than I can live with considering returning to work 😉

I want one last punt, it’s only on less than 10% of the ISA. There’s always November 😉 The Orange Man is throwing the kitchen sink at the markets, because if he doesn’t get his base onside he’s looking at a risk of doing time. So the cash and the gold I bought anew (as opposed to the gold I bought before the brexit vote) is up for grabs for one last hurrah if the markets bomb out as they should do IMO. If they don’t, well, I will spend the money over the next few years. It’s not enough to save me from hyperinflation. I don’t need to buy bonds because of my DB pension.

While I’ve retained the HYP, VWRL and Charles Stanley Dev World ex UK throughout, buying anything outside that I have aimed at quality. More VWRL, and a S&P500 fund. I have made some mistakes selling BRWM, and I’ve even managed to turn a loss on selling VUKE in March, though since I bought most of that some time ago I have actually crystallised a decent overall gain. I’m not going to buy the FTSE100 again, even if it goes down in November. Because: ZXSpectrum’s words ring true

The high street was obsolete anyway, airlines should go bust, the petroleum industry needs massive downsizing. The FTSE is not coming back because it full of crap companies with obsolete business models. The S&P and Nasdaq are not.

I was buying too much trash in the last couple of years of the bull run up to Jan 2020, though at least I had deferred a lot of purchases and held a decent lump of cash because of the poor valuations. The market recovery has made my existing shareholdings look better than in March, though I suspect there is only wind beneath these valuations.

My ISA is a lot simpler, and I could start a brand new tracking spreadsheet in Googlefinance, and use XDRs as the displayed value, perhaps even hide the £ column. Then replicate the old Excel spreadsheet I have used up to now, with a snapshot of the value every April. I built the old one in 2009 to try and track my results as I came out of the GFC, but it is getting unwieldy and slow, and it has too much detail and worksheets from all the whatiffery I was doing to work out when to draw my pension. I was far too pessimistic with those simulations, each and every worksheet was overtaken by events and the answer was simply ‘not now’ until last year.

It’s not a bad time to start anew with a snapshot of now, which happens to be higher than in January this year. I will get simplicity. Many of us will choose to live life differently, if we feel the rainfall of another world after the pandemic. Simplicity sounds good.

And with a more reliable scale than the Great British Pound I will see if inflation is burning the ISA up, though there is little I can do about it. I can’t earn enough to do anything about that hazard, and there’s an argument that it would be a misallocation of my healthspan. I thank DIYInvestor for the recommendation of Alan Watts’s book, written before I was born.

The tank of human capital is almost empty, and I would rather enjoy the skills I do have to make a little money, that try and flog a dead horse to shore up an ancient fear I heard many years ago. If hyperinflation comes, then I will go down with it.


  1. My mother twisted his arm to drop that, because she feared every reader would translate that ‘not a team player’. 
  2. I can read tripe easily. I can read Lee Child, because a) the library carries it, and with a bit of craftiness I can munge these ebooks to get ’em onto a Kindle. I wouldn’t pay for that sort of dross, but it’s fun. I was able to read DxGF’s chick-lit and get some insight into a different psyche, although I confess that it did start to drift into sameyness after the first 20 books. I have read some real literature but most of the time I stall. At least Dune makes the grade, and I have read To Kill a Mockingbird, Sherlock Holmes, Animal Farm, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Catch 22 – sort of, The Grapes of Wrath, and the Secret Garden. Oh and The Wind in the Willows, which might have been OK but I detest because it is the source of the British bad attitude towards the noble mustelids the stoat and the weasel, though a long tradition of gamekeeping toffs blowing way grouse also play a walk-on part. Other Europeans have a much better attitude – the Swiss for instance, cherish their mustelids. And do something about it. Nevertheless, nine out of 100 shows the English Literature fail observed the problem accurately. The ermine has no literary sense ;) 
  3. I could hold this blessedly innocent view because I had little early-years injury. I had little data to go on. 
  4. I loathe FB with a vengeance, but it is a necessary evil to connect with some people, particularly now. Used in a single separate browser instance, FBP to can ads 
  5. Back in the day work conferences were telephone audio conferences, not Zoom videoconferencing. You could diddle away unwatched on your computer doing something else, like searching for inspiration to carry on. At least you could use the time for something useful. 
  6. See David Graeber’s original article for the definition of a bullshit job or the longer-form book exposition 
  7. The metric of a bullshit job is the amount of bullshit delivered, perhaps. And that is what performance management is, a piece of creative writing in management speak of how much bullshit has been delviered. It needs to be SMART bullshit, of course, and therein lies the rub. Because nobody needs it, the value of bullshit is inherently subjective, which makes it a bear to actually get it specific and measurable. 
  8. While according to Monevator’s chart £1000 pa is worth roughly £22k of capital, that’s not enough to shift the needle on the dial as far as fighting future inflation in 10,20 years. It’s a modest percentage of the ISA capital I have, and I would need to work every year to keep that up. 
  9. Although this goes against currently accepted knowledge, there is some support for their fears. The school system was not as impaired then as it is now for able pupils, although perhaps it teaches the average better – 1960s schools favoured academic learning and threw everyone else under the bus. To be good at school you therefore needed to hit the ground running, a delay in language learning would slow the early years. I was able to read English before starting school, even now I read much faster than most people. Even if currently accepted knowledge is correct, they were not to know. 
  10. You can get the lowdown in the book When Money Dies 

32 thoughts on “At some point during this bear market I realized that I probably shouldn’t keep doing this”

  1. Well as they say every cloud has a silver lining and one of mine re Covid is your more frequent posts. This Governments response to Covid would be comical if not so sad.
    I was the fool who was watching my DC pot invested in low risk shares steadily diminish daily in March and changed it to cash just at the lowest point, typically they rallied soon after. Schoolgirl error and one I regret, but hey ho, could be worse. I have now decided to work at least a couple of months extra to compensate/ self flagellate. Possibly longer depending on Covid after shocks.
    Though now I am stuck in cash and too fearful to return, yet know eventually I must. Fortunately for me the majority of my income will be from DB pensions. Just as well or I would be penniless.

    I was extremely close to leaving work in July this year, though think I may stay at least a further 6/ 12 months to boost the pot. Must admit working from home suits me. I no longer have the 2 hour commute and use that time to run/ walk. Miss my work colleagues but Zoom, Teams etc video calls have been great. Plus my working conditions are much better at home. Handy also to be able to hang the washing out during my lunch break etc. Think my employer will encourage us to home work for the foreseeable which will greatly affect my decision as to when to leave.

    I have been a voracious reader since my teenage years. Was a regular at the local Library, and read at least a book each week. Like anything, I suppose the sci fi from my youth would be Day Of The Triffids etc.
    Though now have Kobo Clara which is one of my better investments, much prefer it to to my Kindle. Also not a bad selection at my online Council Library and doesn’t matter to me if I have to wait a while to read a best seller.

    Re Facebook. My only use for it is to subscribe to various groups whose subject interest me.
    Excuse my rambling.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I didn’t realise there was a legit way to used overdrive books with a e-reader – thanks for the tip!

      > This Governments response to Covid would be comical if not so sad.

      Ain’t that the way. One should always assume cock-up rather than conspiracy, but I can see how people are led to the dark side, how the hell did we get so much wrong across so many fields?

      I’d guess that working a little bit longer in more congenial circumstances will compensate for the shares. Everyone needs to to that at least once, anyway – good luck with the new working conditions!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Just realised it was a Kobo Libra I bought. Prefer it to my kindle, especially for reading in bed. Good to have an alternative to Amazon products.
        One of the reasons I have new ‘home’ working conditions is because you made me realise we would struggle to get mortgage after retired. Moving to coast near Pine Woods one of best things ever done. Did a 5 mile run this morning along deserted trails. Still feel like we are on our holidays, even with everything going on.

        Like

  2. Great piece and thanks for the name check! I reckon you’re making the right decision but don’t sell yourself short – there’s plenty of human capital left if you need to make a withdrawal later.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “1960s schools favoured academic learning and threw everyone else under the bus”: so I hear tell. But I have a cousin who says her Secondary Modern was the saving of her. Taught her to read, for instance. Not in the sense of read Dickens – just, literally, read.

    By the way you’re right about Dickens – awful stuff. The exception is A Tale of Two Cities.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. > so I hear tell

      I can’t say from personal experience because I was a grammar school kid with an academic leaning, so the grammar school education matched my abilities. But I recall losing the intellectual argument re sink schools thoroughly to DxGF’s parents, who were both teachers 😉

      > Taught her to read, for instance

      Weren’t secondary moderns secondary schools by definition? What on earth was wrong at her primary school?

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      1. “What on earth was wrong at her primary school?” The nuns were – and I quote – ‘cruel bitches’, who were more interested in teaching hatred of Protestants than teaching reading and writing.

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      2. I went to a pretty standard (I assumed) village primary school in the 1980s and I think around 5 of the 30 of us who left in my year were could’t read well (i.e. were still on “Jack and Jill went to the shop” type books). Unless you get very lucky at secondary school it really limits what you could hope to achieve next.

        It’s been front of mind for me recently as my daughter just kind of “saw the light” on reading and suddenly her vocab and fluency is through the roof. It’s one of those things where if you get a good head start you are away, and can carry on from there with very little further support. But if you find it hard and nobody helps you then you are facing such an uphill struggle from there.

        I think in my day our primary school teachers focused on writing and maths, and reading was just left to parents and volunteers who came into read. Very little was done to engage the children who didn’t like reading. I remember my Mum (one of the volunteers) being told off after she got one of the boys who didn’t like reading to bring in a motorbike magazine to read with her instead of the “Jack and Jill” type books (because that’s what he was interested in, and the only thing he had at home). I like to think that wouldn’t happen now.

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      3. @Di Crikey. I went to a primary school in working-class area of London in the 1960s. My mother had taught me to read before going to school, I was bored when they taught reading. However, of the 31 of us who left at 11, there was only one who was functionally illiterate

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  4. Shortly before I retired I went through a bout of severe depression and was convinced that my boss was out to get me – total paranoia. Later I found out he was under a great deal of pressure himself and suffering from anxiety big time. He actually didn’t last in the job much longer than I did but he was involuntarily retired – I got out with my boots on.
    I reached out to him by sending him greetings at Hanukkah and Passover (he is of Jewish persuasion.) We keep in touch now and talk about our grandkids mostly. He is a much nicer person than I originally concluded he was. Not saying that your corporate nemesis was anything but the cobra you make him out to be – but mine was unfairly judged by me.

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  5. Thoughtful, multi-topical dissertation, another lockdown treat for your captive following to ease the cabin-fever :), so much to mull over there. I can never think of Dickens though without an early memory resurfacing, it was when I was callow and not long allowed in a pub. Standing next to a crusty old goat one evening, he heard me reference university, so asked what I had read. (Being of scientific bent, it always seemed strange when asked what you ‘read’ vs all the practicals we did) I explained that I wasn’t knowledgeable on the classics and to be politely safe asked if he liked Dickens. He replied that he wasn’t sure as he’d never been invited to one. So yes, I couldn’t ever forget that, it was like a skit from the fast show and if it weren’t for the twinkle in his eye I might have thought I misheard or misunderstood.

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  6. Ermine you massive tease, and there was me thinking I’d bump into you down the job centre

    Interesting that TI has effectively announced his retirement at the same time you were wobbling the other way, admittedly only for a femto-second.

    I did have a flash of inspiration on your behalf re. work. What do we know about the Ermines skills? a) He can write well, b) he’s a tech genius/mad inventor and c) he’s into gardening/eco-warrior

    So what the world needs is the bastard synthesis of Monty Don and Heinz Wolf, maybe with a touch of Hugh Fearnley ShittingStool thrown in. If you wanted to take it to 11 then add a dash of Colin Furze (he’s my current hero)

    And that bastard is Ermine.

    Crazy hi-tech gardening projects with a bit of danger round the edges.

    I cannot see how if you put that out into the world it wouldn’t be a massive raging success? You’ll be a viral sensation. Let the dollars form an orderly queue?

    I’ll let you have this idea for free, though if you want to employ an agent to handle your media profile/PR, then I’m available at incredibly reasonable rates. Actually get Dave Reset Sawyer to do that and I’ll come in as a sidekick. Robin for your Batman. I can be the one that gets electrocuted every week in the line of duty.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. > Interesting that TI has effectively announced his retirement at the same time you were wobbling the other way, admittedly only for a femto-second.

      I pinched the title from TI when I read his comment although I’d written 90% of this before then. IMO TI ain’t retiring from active investing, in the same way I’m not going back to FTE. He held up a mirror to me by holding it up to himself.

      Perhaps some of the thoughts of potential action in the world runs as an underground current in my psyche, and some of the previous post was that seeking a way out, and the fearful elements stuck a money label on it. Perhaps it should have carried an interesting stuff label instead.

      > though if you want to employ an agent to handle your media profile/PR, then I’m available at incredibly reasonable rates. Actually get Dave Reset Sawyer to do that and I’ll come in as a sidekick. Robin for your Batman. I can be the one that gets electrocuted every week in the line of duty.

      Well, I infer you may have some time on your hands so if you want to shoot the breeze on a joint enterprise that may or may not involve electronics you know how to get in touch 😉 I’m not Quantified Self at all as Dave seems to be. After eight years being retired I don’t have his discipline. But innovation I can still do. Mind you, Andy at Liberate life is much more driven and current in that area.

      Strange time to consider such things. After all, there will be the most stupendous competition as the whole world will be looking to replace the jobs they lost. OTOH perhaps I am responding to a Sheldrakian morphogenetic field of invention – it seems that lockdown is causing a rush of patent filings so not everybody is spending the extra time on Netflix?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Time on my hands! I’m wondering how I ever fitted work in?
        I’ve been tasked with redecorating the house, relandscaping the garden, building a shed, and home-schooling in PE and IT. It is full gas!
        I know it shouldn’t, but the recent ludicrous ‘V’ upsweep in the portfolio has calmed my nerves and mitigated panic to a certain degree (I need to re-read the Hitchikers Guide).
        I did manage to get a bit of money in early april which with hindsight wasn’t too bad.
        I’m back into the black now w.r.t. the early feb highs surprisingly, though it was a mighty plunge into the red in between which tested my stomach for sure.
        God knows whats round the corner though!

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  7. I’d recommend giving Dickens a second chance, especially the doorstoppers from about 1850 on: David Copperfield, Bleak House, Little Dorrit, Our Mutual Friend.

    And, on the main point, to paraphrase a recent Monevator post:

    Do not sell out.

    DO NOT SELL OUT.

    DO NOT FUCKING SELL OUT.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m still sore about missing the chance to buy in in the narrow gap in March – that’s what the 20% in gold and cash is for. Hoping for an opportunity after the Orange One has got what he wants in November, or failed in the attempt…

      In the GFC I had over a year to get in, and the following years weren’t too shabby either. Whereas this was – sell the rubbish, half split it into gold and VWRL, a week later that geezer then said hell is coming and the buying opportunity opened and closed over two weeks when the Fed shot the fox! I only had time to set up a monthly investing plan but nothing got actioned in time. I’ve left it chuntering away, but this is not like previous bear markets at all.

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  8. @Ermine – fascinating post, or at least the bits I understood you were.

    It feels to me like you are a prime candidate for going back to work ‘a bit’, and you are underestimating how useful a relatively small additional income stream could be. You have a decent nest egg which will probably see you out fine. But at that point topping up your nest egg (if you put all earnings into it, rather than your spending pot) or reducing your drawings from it (if you spend your earnings; it amounts to pretty much the same thing, tax notwithstanding) can make a big difference; potentially a small sum can swing you from ‘maybe I run out of money’ into ‘I really won’t run out of money’.

    My hunch is you could do some form of part-time day-rate consulting reasonably easily. Not entirely sure how you find the clients tho but your existing network would be the obvious starting point. Modern day rates may surprise you. Apologies if this is teaching a great grandmother how to suck a pre-inflationary egg!

    Incidentally, your aversion to performance management reminds me of a (similarly smart, but also obstinate and very cantankerous on occasion) telecoms engineer I once worked with . It has boxed him out of some decent professional opportunities and negatively impacted his net worth, I suspect. Though he wouldn’t have it any other way. Ultimately he (like all employees) worked for individual people, not for companies, and the individuals had enough sense to avoid the performance management screwing up the relationship. I suspect you can find such an individual too.

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  9. The most memorable comment btl your previous piece was from ZXSpectrum48k: ‘I can’t hide that fact that all work is shit. It’s just slavery by another name. Don’t go back.’

    Larkin made a similar point ‘Why should I let the toad work / Squat on my life?’

    I guess most of us here are in the fortunate position – or will be – to be able to boot the toad over the pavilion clock. Let Larkin whisper in your ear… draw back the foot… 😉

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    1. On t’other hand: Toads Revisited by Philip Larkin

      Walking around in the park
      Should feel better than work:
      The lake, the sunshine,
      The grass to lie on,

      Blurred playground noises
      Beyond black-stockinged nurses –
      Not a bad place to be.
      Yet it doesn’t suit me.

      Being one of the men
      You meet of an afternoon:
      Palsied old step-takers,
      Hare-eyed clerks with the jitters,

      Waxed-fleshed out-patients
      Still vague from accidents,
      And characters in long coats
      Deep in the litter-baskets –

      All dodging the toad work
      By being stupid or weak.
      Think of being them!
      Hearing the hours chime,

      Watching the bread delivered,
      The sun by clouds covered,
      The children going home;
      Think of being them,

      Turning over their failures
      By some bed of lobelias,
      Nowhere to go but indoors,
      Nor friends but empty chairs –

      No, give me my in-tray,
      My loaf-haired secretary,
      My shall-I-keep-the-call-in-Sir:
      What else can I answer,

      When the lights come on at four
      At the end of another year?
      Give me your arm, old toad;
      Help me down Cemetery Road.

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  10. Interesting post. Asimov, now Herbert’s Dune, which is a great book. Honestly who wants to read Dickens when you’ve got Asimov, Clarke, Herbert etc. It’s making me want to reread this stuff again.

    I do wonder if the research campus you were working at about is the same one I went to at 17 for an interview. Ex RAF base. They were offering uni scholarships/sponsorships. They offered me £2k/annum and in return I had to work for them in the summer holidays. Doing all sorts of research with a quite a varied bunch of scientists, engineers etc. Seemed very good. I was going to take it but then a place in Cheltenham offered me a scholarship at £2.5k/annum for some “govt work” in the summer. Always the mercenary I took that.

    The one advantage of my current job is the complete obsolescence of performance appraisals. When your compensation is 100% defined by a formula, everybody quickly learns not to give a f**k what HR thinks. Good. Performance reviews are nothing more than a corporate sham. Ubiquitous, yet isidious, damaging, and dishonest. Just plain bad management. Designed by HR professionals to provide them a power base they don’t deserve.

    I don’t see why you’d want to inflict work on yourself. The best defence is foreign currency exposure and a diversified portfolio. I’m only still working for the kids’ inheritance but I’ve got a hard stop in a few years and once it’s done I ain’t ever returning.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, that’s the one. The Cheltenham place made me an offer but that was earlier in my career and I wanted to stay in London. Bad move staying there, probably, since I had to get out of the Smoke before I was 30 else I’d still be renting now…

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  11. Cracking couple of recent posts.
    One small point for clarification if you would be so kind:

    > Now there’s a perfectly reasonable argument that the people who voted for Brexit mainly hold human capital and no significant financial capital, and if ….

    This seems to me to be somewhat at odds with the findings of Ashcroft, et al , see
    https://lordashcroftpolls.com/2019/03/a-reminder-of-how-britain-voted-in-the-eu-referendum-and-why/

    Or have I misunderstood your point?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ashcroft’s second summary paragraph is reasonably clear:

      A majority of those working full-time or part-time voted to remain in the EU; most of those not working voted to leave. More than half of those retired on a private pension voted to leave, as did two thirds of those retired on a state pension.

      I can’t really argue with that, my mistake 😉 I think my perception has been skewed because an awful lot of the running since the referendum in particular for the hard brexit we seem to be headed for, and a lot of the recent red wall collapse has been people of working age spitting bricks about how their jobs have been buggered by globalisation. They may perhaps not be allowing for mow much is being hammered by automation and the coring out of the middle, but while I’m not personally convinced it woz the EU wot did it I can’t argue that the lived experience of that sort of job seems ghastly, and it seems to be getting leveraged by the more extreme ends of the Brexit crew pushing the rumble towards a hard/no deal Brexit.

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  12. Reports of my ‘retirement’ — from work or from active investing — are very much exaggerated. Or extrapolated! 😉

    As I’ve since clarified, I am (trying to) retire from ramping up towards 95%+ equities and then relying on being twitchy 24-7 at the first sniff of a downturn. As much as anything else it’s stressful. (It also delivers a TER of 2% year-to-date, with well over 500 individual trades YTD. As we always say, don’t do this unless you want/have/love doing it!)

    You may be right that I won’t even hack this modest goal, however. Since we swapped comments earlier this week my equity exposure has dialled up a tad further, and the cash come down a tad. Albeit some of it into a risky HY corporate debt fund haha.

    Still, I’m far less bearish about the market than you are, as you know. So hopefully I have time to get used to the feeling of lagging it being nailed-on because I’m hauling about a load of fixed income.

    (If anyone is reading this and thinking “Wait, isn’t Monevator the passive investing site?”, well, you’re right, that’s mostly my co-blogger who kindly joined to write about index investing when I went all Colonel Kurtz…)

    As for work, I am certain you could make well over £1,000 a year (as this seems to be your goal, as I understand it) in about 10 days of actual work, absolute maximum, given my understanding of your skill set. Probably five days if you got any good at it.

    The trouble is you’ve left it so incredibly long to get scared and to want to go back in nine years after all your contacts and industry knowledge have gone stale.

    (This is another reason why I advocate keeping a hand in. Perhaps we don’t just need a FU fund for work, but a FU plan B for FIRE? 😉 )

    So you’ll probably have to ‘work’ harder to figure out / test a few things to find out what works. But the reality is smart people are in demand, and making £1,000 if you have skills is easy. (I sadly pay London tradespeople £50-150 more often than I’d like to know what screw to turn or whatnot, from their point of view. And you’re good at practical stuff. But of course the real money / opportunity for you would be in the nous department.)

    Thanks for the links @ermine!

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    1. I think we both saw a little bit of ourselves in each other and missed the point 😉 I understand your aim is to scale down from balls-deep in equities (I expressed it poorly in you retiring from investing 😉 ). And when you enumerated your reasons, I thought hell, that should apply to me in spades, which is why I pinched the title from you. Although I would like to roll the dice one more time with my last ISA allowance into a bear market, should that time come. But I don’t expect to make a life-changing amount of money out of it. Just to be able to be able to say I got into two bear markets on a low. I am now 60% stocks, 26% non-stocks (basically gold) and the rest cash. I feel good at those levels and ready for a bear market. If it doesn’t come, well, the gold will tank and VWRL with continue it’s march into the sky… Quicken tells me my networth is quite significantly up on January, which is ‘king outrageous given what is going on.

      £1000 a year is neither here nor there for me, heck, I have never drawn income from my ISA, although I did use a little bit of it to top up the house purchase, about 7k ISTR. 1k pa would easily be within the most conservative SWR ever, probably even if I were 20. 1K p.a is a convenient break because I do not have to declare as self-employed, it is within the small earnings limit. With a bit of luck I will not have to fill in self-assessment again. I was cured of work thoughts by seeing the nemesis from The Firm, within 24 hours of considering it.

      The fear was of hyperinflation, and I’d need to double the entire ISA capital. The fear is irrational but I heard it at a formative age, and I lived through a smaller version of it in the 1970s. I will never be rich enough to hedge hyperinflation. And that’s OK, but it was a wobble.

      > in about 10 days of actual work, absolute maximum, given my understanding of your skill set. Probably five days if you got any good at it.

      Couple of years ago that 1K was earned in two days 😉 The project was an ideal fit, but those are rare. I have earned very very sporadically post-retirement, but my hourly rate was sky-high – far higher than at The Firm. But these were all short hit-and-run jobs, fix this specific piece of hurt or qualify that issue in a report/recommendations. They weren’t enough to make a living out of.

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      1. “Couple of years ago that 1K was earned in two days 😉 The project was an ideal fit, but those are rare. I have earned very very sporadically post-retirement, but my hourly rate was sky-high – far higher than at The Firm. But these were all short hit-and-run jobs, fix this specific piece of hurt or qualify that issue in a report/recommendations. They weren’t enough to make a living out of.”

        Well, this the sort of rate I would have expected but (a) I didn’t want to presume or set unreachable expectations and (b) it’s been a few years for you now… 😉

        You don’t have to make a living out of it, as you’ve said yourself you’re looking for a small amount of inflation-offset income!

        This just confirms to me that doing a few weeks a year / a day or two a month / whatever, for high gains, would have been ideal in the past and is perhaps still conceivable in the future.

        I understand you were traumatised post-The Firm, and also you see a purity in ‘no work’ versus the muddied waters of ‘a little bit of work’. I still believe the eustress is valuable, as is keeping your hand in, as is the extra income / notional capital equivalent you don’t have to save.

        It’s not too late to build this work up, I’m guessing. You could become the go-to guy for specific kinds of problems. You can specialise in those problems, and keep getting better. You will have kept the appropriate brain cells / ‘CV’ for want of a better word fresh (you should obviously never be using a CV at this point for this kind of thing!), and if the economy does go totally tits up as you fear it might then as you say you’ve prolonged your human capital towards a few more bottles of wine. 🙂

        Well, that’s what I’d do. But you knew that.

        Good luck. It’s always brave and uncomfortable (and impressive) to reconsider one’s priors. 🙂

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  13. So in your last comment you’ve written yourself out of wanting to make £1k a year, but as I’d been thinking about this before you wrote that I figured I’d still post…

    If you want to make £1000 year pin money (for that’s what it amounts to) how about selling assembled devices? Sure it won’t be a big money spinner but it sounds like you enjoy making them, enjoy devising them, and it doesn’t involve “the man” anywhere.

    I have a physics degree. I struggle to wire a light switch. I was “that one” – I’m sure you met a few in your career – who made equipment malfunction by looking at it, got experiments to give the opposite result to the expected, and jinxed others’ work by standing near it.

    Your writing about a compost heap temperature probe made me the most excited I’ve been about smart devices since I borrowed a datalogger and 3 probes aged 17 from college and recorded everything I could find.

    On composting, have you seen the chest freezer composer? I saw it in action and was keen to build ones, but for some reason landlords were never keen to have a dumped freezer in their back garden. Plans here:
    https://archive.org/details/Hot-Composting-in-converted-chest-freezers.

    They moved on to an even bigger one after that with an Archimedean screw through it to move the compost along but can’t find any details online.

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    1. If you’re up for hot composting an easier and more LL friendly way is to use hardware cloth – square hole wire netting. Loop it round about 1m diameter and alternately layer green, wood and nitrogenous stuff in fairly thin layers. The nice thing about that is you can remove the wire mesh, set it up next to the old place and then turn the head easily.

      Raspberry Pi is the poor man’s datalogger these days – the one doing the graph is still the original steam driven Pi model B mk1. I used Ciseco wireless modules, that company went bust but there are many others, eg HopeRF seem to be popular nowadays.

      > selling assembled devices?

      There are EMC compatibility issues that make small-scale gizmos like that tough to do legitimately. Sure, 99% of the time you’d get away with it, let’s face it they still haven’t stopped the Chinese supplying BS1363 mains plugs without fuses 😉

      Like

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