|FEBRUARY 2014 Editorial:
Feb 21st: Last post for this month- Got to start assembling March edition shortly.
Had an eye test today - seems I am seeing double. In fact the optician says I may have always seen double. The fact that I drive around 20,000 miles a year and spend months of every year squinting at my computer with one eye- she found it amazing that I could do any of it.
I wonder just how it was possible not one optician ever picked this up before. Funny -ish. I think I need to lie down. Thing like that kind of makes a lot of sense now. Like discovering you have two heads and everyone was too polite to mention it to your faces.
*Meanwhile the February edition of Hackwriters provides rich pickings. Check it out and spread the word.
Feb 11th A gazumping we shall go.... Last weekend we were planning to see around ten flats with our publisher Kit - who is desperate to find somewhere to live in Surrey or Berkshire to improve her commute. We eventually saw five - the only unsold flats in the south it seems. What a sorry tale it is to be in the bottom end of the market (under £150,000). Flat One was in Aldershot. If you have never been there - don't bother. Truly abysmal and the shopping mall is completly empty! Every single shop gone. If you want to shoot a zombie movie on the fly this is the place to go. I am not kidding. The flat itself was damp and skew - facing north.
Basingstoke was the next call and things looked up with a nice flat above a sandwhich shop. Until I saw the wooden windows were rotten and floor kind of dipped. Suspicious new bathroom and kitchen and carpets covering some other horrors no doubt. Roof was leaking - add complicated walks under dark underpasses to get to station and it's not ideal.
Next stop Newbury were the river was on the verge of overflowing and we stood in a pub watching
the water climb every higher up the wall and all the nervous drinkers wondering when to bolt.
The first flat was in an old building above a shop where you could actually put your arm through a crack in a wall and the windows were so rotten the glass was in danger of falling out. Walls dripping wet inside! Outside you could see the gutters were missing. They expected to sell this for the full price that day.
We saw another flat later where you had to walk up a slippery fire escape
to a rather nice space with tall windows - as yet not rotted, but on their way. The conversion was so shoddy they had boxed in the grand staircase that would have run up the centre of the house and the washing machine was hidden under a pile of garbage. Add electric heating and you just know it would be a nightmare to own. Soaking wet we trudged to see the last place expecting the worst - since it was next to a makeshift mosque and derelict warehouse. However once inside we could see it was dry, welcoming and a kitty leapt over the wall to say hello. The kitty had a splayed foot, so jumping was hard for it, but it was beautiful and Kit was sold on the place immediately. Funny - nothing to look at outside but it had a sunny courtyard and at the end of the day - a place to sit outside and watch tomatoes grow was exactly what she was looking for I discovered. We made the offer and it was accepted. Panic flew across Kit's face as she realised she would have to raise the money now and be in debt for the rest of her life.
We drove home through floods and major potholes and reflected on the fact that in a few months there will probably be quite a few river front home bargains on sale in Berkshire and Surrey. But you'd never be able to get insurance for them. I feel sorry for all those people living along the upper reaches of the Thames. But even if you aren't near a river the land is sodden and everything is flooded as we discovered trying to walk across the golf course the next day. Perhaps we need to build new houses on stilts in the UK. Either that or the PR for the upcoming NOAH movie is very realistic!
It's a very scary world right now trying to buy anything in England - especially if you need a mortgage. Sellers don't like to wait for mortgage companies to come and value as they will now pretty much always undervalue as prices are well out of line with historic values - so that means you have to find the funds to overbid from somewhere else. Add the uncertainty of climate change, owning a home might be quite a risk going forward. Meanwhile unless you have cash - you might homeless it seems. Welcome to modern England- have cash and wellington boots ready.
*Oh yes and congrats to regular contributor John M Edwards in New York who won 5 NATJA awards for articles in Hackwriters in 2013. One Silver and one Bronze. Time to break out John and sell to the big boys!
The headline in the paper last week says girls born in the UK today will live to 107 (in the South) and boys 67 (in the north). In fact it seems the further north you go in the UK the shorter the lifespan for men. Scotland being the worst. (Deep fried Mars bars no doubt to blame).
Diet, social conditions, macho drinking, drugs, all take their (average) toll. There are no reasons men and women can’t live to a great old age anymore – excepting the sheer carelessness that many young people live their lives. Check out the Bigg Market on a Saturday night in Newcastle and you will wonder how anyone lives past 21 let alone 67. Aside from the girls dressed in practically nothing in sub-zero weather - they are all smashed out of their gourds as they go from pub to club to have a great night out. It was like this when I was younger and has only grown worse with the extension of drinking hours and almost total abandonment of responsibility. With guilt and shame removed the checks and balances are missing. At the other end of the scale the movie 'The Wolf of Wall Street' demonstrates just how quickly access to easy money can corrupt so completely. A quick read of Charles Dickens and you will realise that actually nothing much has changed I guess. The squalor is mostly hidden - the corruption in banks, law,local councils, parliament is more blatant than ever. Perhaps Mrs Thatcher was right - there is no such thing as society - we're all out for what we can get.
If we accept that in the south at least people will live longer they ought to have something to do with their time. In my book The Repercussions of Tomas D which supposes the UK lost the last war, the victors had a very sweeping 'solution' for the old – it's the first thing my heroine Gabriella notices - the complete absence of them. Back in 1950, for example, sixty used to be considered ‘old’ and statistically most working men who retired at 65 only lived on for a few years more. No one envisioned a pension system where people lived longer than the years they had actually worked or contributed. (Traditionally 36 years). Now living ‘forever’ is practically the norm.
A case in point, my mother reached 94 last week. She retired from the stage and life thirty years ago. She might go on for many more years yet, despite being totally bed bound and unable to feed or clean herself. (It’s horrible for her and us – I don’t recommend being a carer of your own parent - it's a tough job). The secret of her longevity? Servitude. The ability to get her family to cater for her every whim and never ever be grateful. Millions of people are now trapped in a similar situation and since it costs around £40,000 ($65000) a year to put someone in a care home - it's not an easy choice for most people. There are state homes if you have no money and headlines often scream about nurses beating up dementia patients or murdering the frail. Locally I have seen the inmates all sitting drugged, drooling, the often obese 'carers' playing cards ignoring the overpowering smell of wee. There's a choice you have to make. The convenience of getting rid of a difficult parent (out of sight - out of mind) or taking on the responsibility and protecting capital. My Ma enjoyed all the flowers she got for her birthay though. It's important to feel remembered even if everyone of your contemporaries are long dead.
My neighbour’s mother is mid-eighties – my other neighbour a spry 75. Writing as someone who does not want to be old, or infirm, or even be around old people – I am surrounded and of course, soon enough will be a dribbling boomer wishing I’d had the courage to kill myself ten years earlier. (In fact my best pal Kit has agreed to push me off a cliff when the time comes. I’ve chosen the Chapman Peak cliff overlooking Hout Bay in South Africa to be sure of a good splash. I hope she doesn’t back out or enjoy it too much.)
It’s quite a thing to start considering your mortality. Given my age and average death rates for men in the UK, I’ll be lucky to get more than 25 years. Here’s a test to see if you will live more than five years. It’s called the sitting and standing test and apparently is a great way to discover your mortality. With my swollen tendon I’d doubt I’d do well – so 25 years is a tad optimistic. In fact I got a ‘poo’ tester in the mail today from the NHS. They sent it out to all men over 50 to check for bowel cancer. Yes it means scooping out your excrement and posting it back to them. If you were ever thinking of becoming a mailman – you might want to remember this. So there’s something else to worry about. Add the dangers of the prostate, my tendency to fall out of trees (see last months editorial) and come to think of it, the time I had to jump down from the garage last year ‘cause the ladder blew down, not to mention the car crash that left me in a brief coma twenty- five years ago - I suspect that day on the cliff is a lot closer than I care to consider. I'd better book us air tickets.
Still, this ageing plague might burn itself out. It’s predicated on life continuing as it has done in the last fifty years as much manual work has been automated and health care expanded to all (in the UK at least). Of course the obesity problem in developed countries (possibly linked to GM food and sugar) is going to cut down millions and bankrupt most national health systems. It assumes the food supply is secure in a world where the population is growing towards nine billion by 2035 and that ‘climate change’ won’t materially affect either our crops or our habitat. I’m betting the other way that the weather will cause catastrophic changes in how and where we live with increased desertification in some parts of Africa, Spain, South America and Asia (in part caused by population growth stripping away the vegetation and forest regions) and in part by rising floodwaters from the Antarctic and Artic melt. Read The Windup Girl for that particular future scenario.
The UK has a foretaste of this at the moment with endless rain swelling rivers and making areas where new towns and developments have been built untenable and even old cities vulnerable to flood. They say the UK is heading towards a population of 70 million but it might not get there if the weather turns against us in a big way. Or we shall all be investing in barges. I sort of like that idea that we shall all be tethered together floating on a mass of poo. Waterworld may yet come true. Time to work on your bad acting chops.
© Sam Hawksmoor Feb 2014