antisocial media

One early episode of The Simpsons – maybe even the very first – showed Homer attempt to throw away the family television on the advice of Marvin Monroe. Crudely drawn and not particularly funny, the episode is also ludicrously unrealistic. Homer would no more give up TV than Duff or hotdogs.

Rather than giving up the idiot box, it has given up me. Or given up on me: my eleven year old TV/DVD combo finally stopped working earlier this month. Visiting my house recently has been a course in regression therapy; no television, no internet access. I would be a perfect candidate for David Mitchell’s “The Bubble”, although I would not be able to watch the final result. It could be edited to suggest I wasn’t there at all; or contributed nothing to the programme other than staring with desperate eyes at Victoria Coren (oh come on, she’s bound to me on, it’s a panel show).

Not having television only began to become quite annoying after the general election campaign, proof that being within the election process puts a person off the whole thing for life. It’s not just missing the football (or even cricket) that has started the process of growing tetchy at the empty box in the corner of the room. Rather than flipping open the laptop to discuss the provisional England team or the new Foals album, or whatever it was I used to do after work, (I’ll hear nothing about spending hours playing Runescape. It just didn’t….Well, okay, once. More than once. Shut up, I’ve lost my train of thought….)

….Football, yes, that’s it. I spent an hour or so putting up with Mark Bright on Radio 5 Live making the case for Glen Johnson, followed by a man whose voice I couldn’t place arguing that Phil Jagielka could still be an outside bet for South Africa. Unlike the talking heads on Sky Sports News (usually a couple of Chelsea players who last put on the shirt in 1987 and are even too Z-list for Question of Sport), I had no other option but to keep on listening. Unless it’s late enough to switch to Radio 4, channel hopping isn’t an option. It’s an analogue radio, for one, complete with competing frequencies bleeding into whatever I’m listening to; it’s like listening to the radio on acid, presenters voices turning into knife-sharp Dalek noises.

(All that said, is there still an outside chance for Villa’s Agbonlahor? Okay, okay, I know he has “Walcott Disorder”, combining a sprinter’s pace with all the shot of accuracy of a NATO bomber over Serbia, I’m a traditionalist with forwards….)

Listening to recent events on the radio only adds a certain atmospheric flavour. Athens and Bangkok going up in flames has all description and atmosphere of a radio play. I fall asleep to Radio 4, waking up to the final broadcasts of the World Service before the Shipping Forecast. In short, I’m going slowly insane. One more night where dreams are infected by the commentary of South Asian farming communities or interviews with Bulgaria’s most high-profile opposition backbencher, and I may very well go on a rampage.

It’s not that I ignore the bigger pictures here – Britain has far too many low- and middle- income earners who cannot afford digital television or access to broadband internet, and the previous Labour Government failed to do anything about our lobsided telecommunications industry stifling the introduction of superfast broadband – it’s just after a month of not having even the chance to slump in front of Come Dine With Me has finally taken its toll. I am going to start taking brisk walks around town or cleaning up more often or something else equally out of character.

All things being well – and my financial state means, this could be a lofty boast – I should be purchasing a new netbook in two weeks time. Until then, no iPlayer, no messageboards, no late night MSN sessions sharing 80s theme tunes with my mates (what do you mean, ‘how old am I?’). From a distance, maybe it seems like a good thing, not having any access to the world outside bar the crackle and hiss of an analogue radio. Thing is, I know what not to be romantic about, and this sure ain’t a situation I want to fall in love with.

champagne and chips

“Mature, and depressing” was how I summed it up. Like the day you decide not to stay up late to masturbate over the Television X “ten minute preview”.

My decision was the big black line drawn through the one word question; “Laptop ?”. My April “budget” now reads like a list of actions rather than objects; nights out, at least two Burscough home matches, and payment of bills. I daren’t deal with percentages: over half my monthly wage is gone before the sun rises on pay day weekend…

Not having a laptop (and therefore regular internet access) is my biggest personal problem at the moment. Well, that and not bringing socks in from the washing line in time to avoid a passing storm. Oh, and eating most of an Easter Egg for breakfast this morning, that weighs pretty heavily, too. But let me focus on internet access for the time being. It’s not that I am the archetypal geek who misses live-tweeting Question Time and updating Wikipedia at 2 in the morning – as much as that truly is missed – it’s the very fact of being ‘locked away’ from a world I have grown accustomed to over ten years of dial-up and broadband access. Yes, okay, I have wandered into the 4chans and meme factories of the ‘net as much as anyone; I am with the Finns on this, Internet access is a human right, as important to business leaders as the child in a high-rise aspiring to be the best they can be in the world outside their flat.

It may sound somewhat like a sulk, and perhaps after nearly a year without access at home, my mild annoyance at having nothing to do when the television lets me down is close to developing into something less admirable.

I will land on one side of the argument, though. By deciding against buying a laptop this month, I have freed up spends and been awfully sensible about the use of my wage over a 5-week month. And that’s far more sensible than I have been recently.

This week Alistair Darling is set to read out Gordon Brown’s election budget, much like the Queen is forced to read Labour’s manifesto at least once a year. Oh for either Darling or Liz to bring their own script to Parliament.

In the case of Darling, he knows Brown cannot wait to get rid of him, which makes the cowardice over the Budget details all the more depressing. If it was me – and Good Lord, can you imagine that! – I wouldn’t let the Prime Minister within stapler-throwing distance of the Budget Speech until it was too late to change so much as the break in the first paragraph. Brown, responsible for the longest and deepest recession in British history, taking low income earners to 20p tax rate, and every other economic shit-storm since 1997, may well fail to impress this week in any case, given UNITE’s attempt to ensure every last detail of 1979 is recreated in colour prior to the election on May 6.

Darling does not want a “give away budget”, exactly the opposite to Brown, who would prefer to plunge into the bottomless pit [as he sees it] of debt to ensure more votes are bought for Labour in seven weeks time. Darling would be best to outline exactly how he intends to deal with the deficit and growing numbers of “invisible unemployed”, signing Brown up to a deal he cannot escape. Clearly in my current state I would prefer a £1,000 “citizens payment” straight into the bank accounts of everybody through some form of the fabled Robin Hood Tax. That personal moment aside, I am a Liberal Democrat, where fairness in the tax system has been at the centre of our policies for longer than Brown has been plotting to parachute Ed Balls into Number 11. And that’s a long time, readers.

I would have used this blog to vent spleen on the latest tabloid target – the legal high “MCat” or “drone”. However, given how well it is written, I leave you in the sensible hands on this subject to Charlie Brooker

cabbages and kings

This is how it must feel for Gibraltar’s young new athletics hope, having saved up his own money for the trip to Beijing, only to finish last in the only qualifying heat in which he was to take part. It would take self flagellation on a Catholic scale not to feel some sense of achievement.

So, anyhoo, knowing that self-praise is no praise at all, I am happy to report nonetheless that people at work are giving me that kind of congratulations-mixed-with-bemusement on news that, somehow, I have stretched £13.48 across the four weeks of November. By a muddling together of colleagues’ generous donations, late night perusal of reduced-to-clear shelves, and walking the 5 miles to work (and back), in addition to a 40-day “dry spell” without any booze, the money has made it all the way to pay day week with 45p to my name.

As I made clear in the other posts on my temporary financial flux (see below), throughout this period I have not wanted to appear as some “poverty tourist”. At times this period from mid-October to this week has been very humbling, difficult, tiring, but not once did I feel as though mine was the worst lot of all. That I could walk three streets from my front door to people whose financial situations are far deeper and far more permanent than mine impressed upon me just how lucky I am that, in time, my situation would be resolved.

In my experience, the talk-show cliché “you think it would never happen to you: and then it does”, has had its truth shown in the weeks where so many previous months of easy spending and impulse buying seemed to have no consequence at all. I cannot claim to be immune from future foul-ups, although I dare say I will never again fall into such deep problems. However I wonder how many people are out there, possibly on no more significant take home pay than me, who assume the national economic mess is of no consequence or significance to them?

This weekend, my temporary struggle against budgetary constraints will come to a close. Just in time for Christmas, too, well done Fate, good timing. I have the proof that my bank took three days before taking out the one final big spend from October, the catalyst for all this mess. I will take a lot of lessons from this. I don’t know quite what will happen after not having any booze for 40 days: maybe my next series of posts will focus on the scientific proof that one pint can knock a grown man sideways…

Previous posts on this subject –
*no money, no excuses
*Climbing out of recession

Climbing out of recession

Previous posts – No Money, No Excuses Pennywise

Like Earl Hickey, I have made a list. Topping the list is my usual November pay-day wage, a four-figure sum. From there is subtracted the final installment of the Inland Revenue’s required payment, various bank charges, rent, and utility bills. As currently calculated my budget for the remainder of this month is around £50.

As described in the earlier posts on this subject, I am acutely aware of how this financial situation, tough as it may be, is a temporary measure. That it involves such an extreme drop from one figure to the other is unusual but not unique.

It is one resulting from earlier errors now rectified and learned from.

There are people possibly no further from my house than two streets away whose financial state is far deeper and harder than mine. However if something has really come to the centre of my mind these past few weeks it has been just how easy it can be for a person to remain at the foot of a steep financial mountain despite their best efforts. I am more aware than I was last month, on a three-week budget of seven pounds, of how best to make the money last; and I cannot ignore the words from my boss who reminded me how her generation often had to make very little go a very long way.

What has angered me more than usual during this period is the continued availability of ‘easy money’, even with the recession so deep and long-lasting, and the nation’s banks under such scrutiny. Plans to tighten up credit card terms are to be broadly welcomed although any forced increase in minimum payments must, surely, take into consideration the ‘death spiral’ into which people fall when forced to pay more than they can afford. Again, I have to make clear that the depth into which people fall is largely their own fault – “guns don’t kill people, people do” – however it does not take long to see how the banks and credit card companies encouraged quick loans and easy credit when times were good with little regard to the long term consequences.

One particular consequence from banks having to almost stop the availability of loans and easy credit is the continuation of loan companies advertising and door-knocking to entice the already vulnerable into contracts they cannot possibly afford. This really gets to me now that I can appreciate just how easy it can be to fall from a complacent attitude to spending into a very tight and tough financial hardship.

One company I caught advertising during a daytime cookery show yesterday – I won’t name them – used a plain looking model pretending to be a housewife talking in glowing terms about getting same day “top ups” to her wages, in easy to afford amounts for paying back at her convenience. The terms and conditions printed in very small text along the bottom of the screen confirmed nothing more strenuous than a valid e-mail address would suffice for identity. Its APR – the rate of repayment, a good indication of the relationship between the end amount you pay with the amount originally loaned – was quoted as 2,356%. Two thousand, three hundred, and fifty-six percent.

I am confident that my attitude to money and spending will be all the better from my experiences last month and this. I remain, however, concerned and indeed marked by this period as a time when I could see far clearer than before how much must be done by government, banks, and financial institutions, to stop the culture of cheap money and spending without consequence. The financial meltdown will not end at the behest of bored journalists looking for a new scandal to type up: people who remain at the bottom of the pile because of our deep, dark recession may be suffering for decades to come, leaving that as the real legacy of our elected representatives’ drive to “end the era of boom and bust”.


Thatcher’s children turned 18 with the country on an economic high and confidence soaring. Blair’s children turn 18 at a time of deepening recession and unemployment touching 3 million. Such are the circles of history and the echoes which come from whoever is writing the great story of life.

Okay, yes, I know that things are not so simple, but try arguing with ultra-loyal Labour supporters about the real reasons behind the current economic problems faced here and world-wide. They deny that £800bn debt (and climbing) is of any real concern. Gordon Brown was looking somewhere else, doing something different, it was the Bank of England really, nothing to do with anyone on the Government benches. It is such cowardice from Labour and their more vociferous supporters which makes their certain defeat in 2010 all the better to look forward to.

As I wrote some weeks ago this month has turned out to be the complete opposite of what I was expecting. To have only around £7 to stretch out across three weeks is entirely my own doing. How I have lived, and what I have experienced, puts the national politics and economic headlines to one side. I do not want to come across as enjoying these past few weeks, acting like some kind of “poverty tourist” doing it for show.

It has been rather humbling, if nothing else. My 9o’clock or 10o’clock jaunts to the “reduced to clear” aisles as Tesco reminded me how much food waste there must be in this country, and how many people must live without the spare cash available to impulse buy or stock up on expensive treats. “Invisible poverty”, the reality of life behind closed doors, is something which affects thousands of people across the country. Thousands of pensioners who have to choose between heating and eating; a growing number of millions who cannot find a place back on the job ladder.

The first week following the discovery of my less-than-a-tenner situation has been something of a struggle. Entirely my own doing, I have to stress how much I realise this. I have become quite the fan of cut-price hotdogs and sell-by-date skimmed milk. Walking to work – five miles each way – is still hard to master. At Bamber Bridge I start something resembling a hurried trot: I must resemble a sit-com bridegroom late for the wedding after a list of “hilarious misunderstandings” and “you couldn’t make it up” situations.

I had to bite my tongue whenever a beggar asks “Do you have any spare change?”, as strictly speaking I actually don’t, which is different to the times I shake my head and mumble something indistinct about having ‘nothing to give’, whatever that means. As I type this – free Internet!, such things now become welcomed with open arms, thank you, thank you Lancashire County Council! – my bank balance is around £2.70. This should be fine, though, I’ve stacked up on Aldi Shredded Wheat and cup-a-soups. People from work are being quite generous with left overs and unwanteds.

But it’s not a situation I want to repeat. This is a window into another world; of actual poverty, of real life for thousands in this country and millions around the world. Unlike my temporary inconvenience, a lack of money and no guaranteed access to food is the reality for those in developing countries and so-called developed Western superpowers. It’s a bit much, I admit, taking one man’s overspending into the context of starvation in the poorest countries on Earth, but it takes a little of “you don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone” to put things into context.

However – and it’s a big “however” – having said all this, and with two weeks of struggle and lack of food still to go, this pay day weekend will be marked by a night of spending money with some abandon. It is surely my right to acknowledge the achievement of living this way by having one or two swift ales and the best darn foodstuffs So! Noodles has to offer of an evening…

…isn’t it…?

no money, no excuses

“You have insufficient funds in your account”

Not the blog I was expecting to write today. In times past I have suffered the same display message as above and crumbled like a character in sci-fi kneeling at the feet of a robotic overload. Now I reacted with the heavy sigh/simple nodding combination popular amongst reality-television stars fired or danced off or eliminated or however disposed.

The truth, then. From today, 11 October, to pay day on Friday, 30 October, the total amount of income available to me is £6. Six. I will spell it like the BBC “Final Score” vidiprinter. Although I will be checking my bank statement when it arrives, the financial final score is highly unlikely to be the result of identity theft (although I will hold out a little hope for this.)

In times past my reaction has been over-theatrical, almost hysterical. I have run to my savings accounts to keep me in milkshakes and bus-fares. This weekend has been completely different. Through my own actions I have suffered a rather unfortunate and difficult penalty.

Each wave of consequence to this hit me like being at Victory Park watching goals go in at the wrong end. Not being able to visit the (usually belting) Continental beer festival, not being able to replace my broken digital camera, and perhaps with a bit more vital importance about it, not being able to guarantee eating something every day for 21 days.

The change in my reaction is one-bit maturity, one-bit pride, a lot of helping of lack of alternatives. So walking to and from work every day – 2hrs each – should be a pain in the lower legs while doing a little better work on the beer belly. And I will not fall into the trap of starving myself for the sake of it: even with something around 20p per day (technically) I will find ways to keep hunger at bay….

I cannot feel sorry for myself too much. Okay so maybe the water rates should not have been paid in one chunk; maybe I should found alternative (cheaper!) means to travel to Horden, maybe the white-with-tartan hoodie was a purchase too far. The consequences will flicker on until payday; my luck is having a moment of relative “poverty” – and I really do use that for want of a better word – which is temporary. Unlike so many in society my lack of cash is not permanent. There are lessons to be learned – and indeed, yes, having been here before, those lessons should have already been revised somewhat! – starting with a lot of chores to be carried out with no connection to saving spends.

So this is the truth, then. Six pounds to last three weeks. A consequence of personal financial cock-hoopery. Here’s to payday, when I think (even with all things considered) I deserve spending quite a bit on celebrating.

What?…..Oh wait, I see…..