Cheer up they said – things could be worse. So I cheered up and sure enough – things got worse
I must confess to being somewhat confused these days when I hear any mention of standards of living or quality of life in the UK.
OK, much of it stems from the prattle of minor politicians who use such terms to castigate the current government and its policies in an effort to whip up a few votes.
For such people time is running out as they attempt to capitalise on a belief the good ol’ general public has already forgotten about the pigs ear they made of the national economy a few years ago. There are many defects in the economic strategies of the current coalition government but at least the country is reasonably solvent and leading other European countries in the escape from recession.
What is this thing called a standard of living? To believe the experts it all depends on how much ‘disposable income’ you happen to have, a term which approximates to how much dosh you have left after the vital bills are paid. Until comparatively recently with notable exceptions, the working population of the UK not only had enough to get by on, with a surplus for holidays, luxury goods, a bit of quality living and so on; but that has to a degree changed and many belts have been tightened up a few more notches. In simple terms, more of us have found a need to live within our means.
I am maybe a lot more fortunate than many others in that my needs are fairly simple. My nicotine and alcohol budget stands at nil, I grow a useful amount of my own food, spend frugally on the rest, and try to avoid expensive processed foods for health reasons. Fair enough, I sometimes yield to temptation and indulge myself with a fish supper from Tony’s Tower, or a Chinese takeaway, but mainly I stick to the basic stuff.
Anyone observing The Pilgrim on his vague wanderings will soon realise that he is not a snappy dresser, so although I am not at the charity shop clothing level (nothing would fit me), I do away just fine in workaday kit. I do have a weakness for footwear which stems back to past times when getting stuff that fitted my large and oddly shaped plates of meat was a constant battle.
To get a proper handle on this quality of living lark, I think I should take a look at how it was in my early years – this was in the latter days of food rationing, less than 10 years after the war, and at times subject to the period of austerity that always accompanies a Labour government foul-up.
Wages were low, so there was little or no disposable income for us. There was no television, but radio was good and with a choice of excellent programmes, including soap operas such as The Archers, Mrs Dale’s Diary and so on. As kids we had school dinners at a reasonable price, although I suspect that sometimes we would have qualified for freebies, a prospect my Mum would have viewed with complete horror.
Dad did not own a motorcar until he was in his late fifties and after a few years of scary motoring he was happy to go back to his bike. I have two vehicles, one an economical wee van for daily running about, and I keep an ancient Land Rover as a hobby vehicle, something I have done for the last 35 years. I did have a home converted housetruck until last year, but that had to go mainly for money reasons, and I suspect that soon my cherished Fergie tractor will take the same exit route. Now that is not hardship, merely an adjustment to my means, and to a certain extent my physical ability to keep them going.
I do not follow the current obsession with electronics for everything, or the constant chase to upgrade what I have in order to satisfy modern trends. The computer on which this piece is written is dead slow, erratic and more than a little obsolete. It will eventually need to be replaced. More damned expense!
As kids we did not take holidays other than an occasional day trip to the seaside. We did not have the hassle of planning our air travel. If a summer Saturday was a nice day, the trip was on and we caught the bus to the seaside at Deal from the front gate.
Now my housetruck is gone I tend not to go anywhere much, although the prospect of day trips to Beadnell or similar places might well be the case for 2014. So that is one part of my living style that has more or less turned full circle.
I hope I have sensibly sketched out my view of living standards, I appreciate mine are obviously a lot better than some folks in some ways but not in others, but there is one small point on which I wish to conclude. It is still considered essential to peg standards of living solely to money, and to do that is to lose out on a lot.
In the fifties of my childhood, we did not have a lot but what we didn’t have we didn’t miss, but were grateful when improvements came along. Above all we found contentment more valuable than wealth or possessions. A little of that nowadays would do no harm.