A lot of people tell me they like my regular rantings posted here. I like to keep them related to bonsai but this time not. I got very angry recently and as I am weird I just sat down and typed. I guess that’s better than going out and breaking heads. So here’s my cathartic diatribe for those with time on their hands.
Over the years a lot of life has passed me by largely unnoticed. I started life after leaving school on the back foot, largely because I was a prat, not because I had bad parents or anything like that. I just did’t understand how the world worked or how I could ‘work’ the world. Being largely overwhelmed I just got on my motorcycle are rode off into the distance every time I came upon something I couldn’t handle. That went on until I was about nineteen years old when I literally fell into a job by accident. I was raised to be polite, respectful and a hard worker and that got me down the road, but only so far. I have never been a people person, preferring the company of a bike or a bonsai tree. Everything to do with people gets complicated and even today I can’t cope because I simply do not understand and cannot read people and find social situations excruciating. A mail order business was always my dream job and here I am. ‘Lucky me’? Not likely, it took gut busting hard work and constantly risking the shirt on my back and relentless worrying. Over the last fifteen years I have lived my largely sleepless existence in a constant state of muted blind panic. Today the ‘world’ isn’t exactly helping me get any sleep….
Having more years behind me than in front I have seen a lot of change. I am guessing it’s a part of being the age I am that life and the world around us can get frustrating and confusing. It’s that old thing about coppers being kids. I remember a world without mobile phones, the internet, personal computers, a thousand TV channels, catalytic converters and don’t even get me started on ‘smart’ technology. I grew up in a ‘dumb’ world that was largely full of SMART people. Now I live in a smart world largely full of DUMB people. You’ve all seen the videos and heard the stories and sadly seen the devastation and chaos over reliance upon technology has caused so you really don’t need me to go there. Because I come from a simpler time I find this modern age extremely frustrating and very depressing. Life went along just fine in the seventies and eighties when the only reason to have a password was because you were some kind of secret agent or needed to get in to some dodgy underground sex club. Bank fraud was pretty much unheard of on a personal level, if you wanted to get money out of a bank you had to kick the door in but then you ran the risk of getting you head kicked in with no hope of compensation.
In our new world where pretty much anything is possible, predictably, stupid people are ruining it and it will bring about our demise. Back in the eighties i had to get on with the business of living, largely in a small local community of people. If I wanted ‘friends’ on the far side of the world I had to write a letter. Picking up the phone wasn’t easy because if I needed to find an international number I had to call someone to get it or go to the library to get an international directory. Not only that but long distance calls were extremely expensive and we all had less money to burn back then. Visiting a far flung country could easily cost a months wages just for the flight so mostly we stayed home which was actually nice and the environment breathed a sigh of relief. Technology may well have moved on but we people remain the same daft bumbling, stumbling, worrying, fearful farting meat sacks we have always been. Are we really any better off knowing all about everything, ever, everywhere? I think not.
Many folk would suggest that today at least we little folk do have a voice and, being old I have the chance to vent my frustrations to the world, you’re reading it now. That’s great right? We can get our opinions out there into the world and influence the way of things for the better? Join the conversation as they say. So, here I am venting the frustration of middle age upon you who have time to read my drivel and in an ideal world my opinion goes ‘viral’ and somewhere a plotician makes a choice to change things. Trouble is we are ALL looking to our elected leaders to make things better. The mantra of our age is ‘Somebody needs to DO something about this (that, or the other)”. Sadly those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. When did ANYTHING get better because a politician actually did something? These people could fuck up a cup of coffee and they are certainly doing that with pretty much every country in the world just now.
It’s no good expecting the government to do anything for YOU, they are NOT the answer, they ARE the problem. It’s US that have the power of change but sadly we cannot change the world, we can only change ourselves. All of the wars of history have come about because some idiot decided he wanted another idiot to be different or do different. We have absolutely NO influence over the actions and opinions of others, nor should we. Just last week I had to go to my dentist for an MOT. My lovely old guy retired and now there is some new young buck there. I actually used to love going to my old dentist where ever six months we would spend thirty minutes talking shit whilst I got my choppers cleaned. This new dumbass spun me around in ten minutes, spent that entire time preaching to me about interdental ‘devices’ and bollocking me. With his foot up my ass I shot out the door and just to give me a totally fulfilling experience I got charged twenty quid more that I did for a half hour with my old friend. My new plan is to let my fucking teeth all fall out before I go back there. I don’t like being hustled, i’m old, I still believe in respect and in order to get respect you do not need a university degree or letters after your name you need to GIVE respect. If my old dentist said he needed to cut my head off I would have agreed. After ten years we had mutual respect for each other, this new guy can go stick his interdental devices in his own crevices, he’s certainly not sticking them in mine. So, perhaps this new voice I have is good because now I don’t have to go punch my dentist in the mouth for being such a tosser because I have told you, dear reader, all about it and now I feel better.
I have now realised I am a long way from the point I intended to make at the beginning of this diatribe. To recap, being older gives one a sense of perspective and experience that informs a certain degree of wily intelligence in one’s own affairs. Technology has given us all a sense of having a voice and the illusion that that voice matters. Being older my cynicism tells me that voice is actually entirely irrelevant but it can at least offer us a channel for venting our frustrations thus helping us decompress, but actually expecting anything to change or for anyone to actually give a shit is fanciful.
Part of the problem of unrest in the modern first world is what we call the media. In this context I refer to the mainstream news media. In the UK that’s the likes of Sky and the BBC. These organisations have gone WAY beyond their remit of reporting the news and spend the lions share of their time promoting their VIEWS and in today’s noisy world, in order for something to become a ‘fact’ it just needs to be repeated enough times irrespective of wether there is any truth to undergird the point. As an Englishman of some advanced years now I am confident in my opinion that, at least of late, the BBC is the worst of the lot. I understand in the USA, CNN might be the BBC’s equivalent. Social comment is one thing but the agenda of this publicly funded broadcaster has gone way beyond that. On a slow news day the headlines are always populated by stories generated by a “BBC investigation”. Don’t get me wrong, we do need a strong media to defend us from the evil whims and machinations of politicians but when the net outcome is a sustained campaign to change society I question who is in charge. Let’s face it, nobody actually trusts politicians and their empty promises and blatant lies. Their proven track record of treachery over the last couple of hundred years simply drowns out their empty rhetoric. The media however are much more credible and much more intelligent and clever at getting their agenda of social change into motion. Much like my new dentist, politicians are perennially in danger of getting a smack in the mouth but my old dentist could simply wrap me around his little finger.
So, to my point……. recently the BBC were running a story about the demise of cash in British society. Apparently only about 34% of ‘financial transactions’ are now conducted with the folding stuff (a broad, arbitrary number without any detail or clarification). Last week the story was about a hipster bar in Manchester where cash is no longer accepted as a means of payment because everyone is using new technology to stump up. Something called app’s apparently. Other stories are constantly being aired about cash machines being ripped out of walls and drug dealers having duffel bags stuffed with cash. Alternative weeks we hear stories of rogue traders, particularly builders (for some reason) doing work “for cash” and defrauding the VAT man. The net story is that physical cash costs business money and is synonymous with criminal activity. Using modern payment methods makes you a better person, it’s fashionable, convenient and secure and saves business money. These new things also enable you to “manage” your money better, are convenient and save you time because apparently we are ALL SO BUSY! So a cashless society is good for us all right? Particularly now the banks are closing all their branches and have put the management and administration of your account firmly in your court.
This is what might be called ‘fake news’. Where i was raised we call that a ‘lud of ol’ tosh’ or, in modern vernacular, BOLLOCKS. This story is being constantly repeated until it becomes entirely socially acceptable and ultimately a fact in our lives. In case you are not sure go out and try to spend a fifty pound note. In most places you get a look like you handed the assistant a dog turd. If you even own a fifty pound not you ARE a criminal in the estimation of many folk. BBC radio hosted an item recently concerning the story of who is to appear on the back of the new plastic bullseye. The presenter was very smug in stating they had never actually owned a fifty pound note, implying it was like having an embarrassing but well deserved sexually transmitted disease. Surely no upstanding citizen of a whiter than white moralistic society should be caught dead with such a symbol of dubious working class low level criminality.
When I was young the only way scum bags could get into your bank account was by nicking you cheque book, making a cheque out to cash and turning up at your local branch, standing in front of the window and waiting whilst the clerk counted out the money. Trouble was we all had a local bank and you went there every week to put your wages in and transact your business. Some spotty dickhead standing at the window with a hastily scribbled cheque and fake signature scrawled in crayon and covered in sticky sweet stains would raise an eyebrow, the bank manager would then give you a call at home to verify wether this ner-do-well was just that or in fact your legitimate offspring. Bank fraud at a personal level really did not exist back then. Sure it was a pain to have to pop into the bank once a week but in reality it didn’t take long, you had chance for a quick chat, the bank kept a paternal eye on your account and there was a genuine sense of community and safety garnered by the whole affair. If your account got into the red, next time you went in, the bank manager would call you into his office and check how things were going and wether you needed help or advice. They might have only been protecting their position but the net result was somebody cared enough to give you their time and that was nice. A casual word with the bank manager or a cuff around the ear from a copper was largely all that was needed to keep the lid on.
Just this week we had cause to contact our bank because some knucklehead in the USA had tried to make a transaction using the debit card allied to our personal account which Catherine uses to buy groceries. It took most of an hour to sort that out on the telephone. How exactly did that happen? We don’t use that card or account for online transactions in any way and we don’t travel. At least once a year we get issued with new credit cards because of attempted fraudulent transactions. My parents always had a set of encyclopedias on their bookshelf, we have something similar and almost as extensive just for passwords. All the modern ‘convenience’ of managing our account online is absolutely NOT convenient, it takes hours on end. As a business Catherine spends close to a day a week dealing with all this crap. Back in the day our bank did the bulk of this for us and I used to enjoy a trip out to the bank to pay in cheques and have a yarn. They sell this as customer convenience and reducing the administration burden on business
Here is the big issue, something you will NEVER hear the media reporting. The provision of clever and customer convenient payment methods, wether a Visa card, Paypal, debit cards or the plethora of phone apps are being touted as ‘convenient’ for customers, more secure than cash and better for business which is simply not true. It’s certainly not secure as most of us can testify, managing all these things is not at all convenient and it’s certainly NOT quick or convenient at the checkout. We have all been held up by someone struggling to get a card payment processed. Just last week I was out on the road and popped into a drive in to get coffee and sat there for a full five minutes whilst the guy in front tried to pay with a contactless card. For ages he just kept rubbing it on the terminal before after a good four minutes of rubbing he finally put the card in the machine and put in a pin. Turns out he only bought a drink so didn’t spend more than a couple of quid. Bearing in mind he was in a builders van I would assume he would be paying with a crisp fifty pound note fresh from a VAT dodging job, or is that just a media stereotype? Problem? These things are putting someone else in between you and the business you intend to patronise.
The media seem to suggest that all these new fangled payment providers are out there doing this just for us, for our convenience and security. Are folk really that stupid, perhaps we are beyond caring. Just last year our little business Kaizen Bonsai Ltd which we run from our own family home, and employs just four of us, had to pay out over eighteen thousand pounds (£18,000) in what is termed in accounting speak as ‘Bank charges’. In actual fact that was largely the cost of commission from payment providers like Visa and Paypal. Sure there were some minor bank charges for things like foreign exchange payments etc’ but most of it was our customers money being creamed off before we were given what was left (and usually a few days late). I do appreciate we run a largely online business and so security is important and paying for someone to provide that for us obviously has a cost. But we managed to survive for decades without all that expense and many of these new system providers are expensive and don’t even get me started on American Express. Commission on a company Visa card is about 5% of total transaction value. So called customer convenience means I cannot afford to employ the extra pair of hands I need and so Catherine and I have to work three hundred and fifty five days a year and on average about thirteen hours a day. These clever bastards have wedged themselves between us consumers and the businesses we use and are literally drowning in money whilst I, as a business owner suffer and you, as a customer of my business end up paying more because I have to cover that excess overhead and still maintain the need to make a viable profit. Without wishing to brag, seeing as my business account is very healthy wouldn’t you think i am entitled to at least a modicum of interest? Not a bit of it, the more I have in the bank the more they charge me to manage it. I think the phrase “organised crime” has been mis-appropriated and pointed at the wrong business sector don’t you?
We hear a lot about personal debt these days. Part of the trouble is the very easy access to credit. The sole purpose of many financial based businesses is to get us into debt. Without that debt they don’t get paid. I know personal debt can be crippling but for sure a lot of it can be avoided by going without. It’s nice to have nice things, for sure, but if having those things means racking up debt where’s the joy? The media push a lot of opinion on us here about what they call “poverty” and suggest the answer is a higher minimum wage, greater benefit payments, rent controls, minimum hours contracts and the like. Trouble is it’s human nature to push the envelope. We are all raised to believe we are entitled to the good things in life. In reality you are entitled to nothing you did not earn. If you don’t earn enough (I didn’t for years) it might be time to go without, go back to school, retrain, learn something new or take a risk. If there is too much month at the end of your money it’s time to do what businesses do from time to time, rationalise, consolidate, cut costs and retrench. Learn to use a calculator, one of the greatest inventions in human history.
As a parting shot here is another thought. Back when I started work, every Friday afternoon my boss came around and gave us all a little brown envelope stuffed with notes and coins (not many in my case). I always felt good riding home on a Friday afternoon with that little envelope safely zipped up in the breast pocket of my leather jacket. My first job was a paper round I did seven days a week starting at age twelve. For that I got one pound and fifty pence a week (£1.50) paid, of course, in cash on a Saturday morning. I remember one week cycling home feeling flush only to discover I had lost the pound note and only had a fifty pence piece. My dad, being a bit of a hard bastard, didn’t just give me the quid, he let me learn the value of money and to this day I have never, EVER lost a single penny. Once I got married and bought my own house (age 21 and a whole other story) Tina and I would pool our little brown envelopes, bank enough for bills and live off the rest and trust me, every time a single note came out of my envelope it pained my heart. Spending cash is much harder than spending on credit, a card or some stupid app’ that won’t work without battery or signal. The value of cash is much greater than the numbers stamped upon it. Cash creates huge amounts of quality employment, not just call centre jobs, as well as making financial crime less attractive* (who needs to hump tons of cash around in a truck) and prevents faceless organisations creaming off the profits earned by the hard labour of businesses and their customers. Cash was the backbone of a community and it’s benefits to society were far reaching and extremely valuable and we are all the poorer as it disappears from our pockets in so many and immeasurable ways.
*The Great Train Robbery was the robbery of £2.6 million (in cash) from a Royal Mail train in August 1963. At the time one of the largest financial crimes committed. Compare that to “unauthorised financial fraud losses across payment cards, remote banking and cheques totalled £844.8 million in 2018” That’s just the UK retail banking sector. Nick that in cash and you need pallets, a fork lift and a big truck.