Walking to the Other Travelodge

We knew we were taking a hideous risk when we went to D 23 – the Disney fan convention in the Anaheim Convention centre. The risk was not hiring a car. My logic was that Bill, my son, and I were only going to be there for three days, we were only going to the Anaheim convention centre and we had no intention of going anywhere else.
So some time in April, I got a friend to book a room at the Travelodge which was nearest the convention centre, a mere ten minutes walk away. It was confirmed etc yadda yadda.
We arrived off the plane, went to the convention centre to get our passes and then toddled along with our trundle suitcases to the Travelodge 10 minutes walk away. It wasn’t what I’d call a pleasant walk, since it was along Harbor Boulevard which is enormous and full of ferocious cars, but hey, it was only ten minutes.
I can tell you I felt pretty smug as we rolled into reception to get booked in.
They didn’t have our reservations and they were fully booked. Wearily, the plump girl at the desk rang the Other Travelodge at Ball Road, which I had never heard of. Oh, fancy that. The Other Travelodge had our reservations, in the name of Sinney, but never mind.I had specified one Travelodge, I got a different one.
Oh it’s only half an hour’s walk away,said the weary plump girl. So we walked a bit and then took a taxi.
The taxi went north on Harbor Boulevard, left on Ball Road, crossed a gigantic interstate by motorway bridge twice, and there was the Other Travelodge, tucked in next to a gas station and two random railway cars which looked like they had been some kind of dwelling but were now abandoned.
Now the Other Travelodge was perfectly adequate. The room was like a million other Travelodge rooms, the beds were clean, there was even a pool. But it was a long weary schlep from there to the D23 Convention centre. It was also a long ugly schlep, huge ugly roads stinking of petrol with inconvenient crossings. The crossings were a whole other kind of ugly. They basically seem to be designed to make mere pedestrians feel like insects as they scurry across the road under the psychological lash of the crossing lights. They play like this: two crossing signals. One a white light of a person, walking. The other a handshape in red. The white person lasts 4 seconds. The red hand gives you 30 seconds of countdown before the traffic will be permitted to crush you again. You can tell they want to, as well,as they vroom and honk you.
You really know you’re at the bottom of the social pile as a shameful pedestrian. What’s wrong with you? Why don’t you even have a car? Are you poor? Don’t you even have a motorbike? Just two feet? What are you, Mexican or something?
Nearly three miles of gigantic roads, impatient cars, macho trucks and constantly scuttling across inconveniently placed crossing places every morning for three days is enough to understand why Americans would rather give up their house than their car and why so many of them are consequently living in them. Also why they’re so fat, so many of them wearily hauling vast amounts of blubber around with them. They don’t walk because it’s such a nasty and dangerous thing to do. They drive everywhere, including the gym, because there’s no pavement between them and it and they’d die.
Plenty of people have remarked on this. We got our Other Travelodge room probably because of bait and switch – they bait with a cheaper room (not cheap, trust me, not in Anaheim in the summer) and a convenient walk to the convention centre or Disneyland and then switch for a different room much further away on the assumption you’ll have a car and won’t care. They bet you’ll moan and complain but you’ll take it because there isn’t anywhere else – and you do.
Other Travelodge wasn’t all bad. At least we were getting some healthful(ish) exercise walking three miles every morning and night, unlike the human hippos around us.
And we were really close to the Disneyland firework display so we could enjoy it every night at a quarter to ten.

Hi tax people! This is why you can’t put it all online!

The computer said no. It didn’t like my 14KATA. It was meh. We tried again. Meh meh again, said the computer, in incredibly convoluted Hungarian.

While I did my world-famous imitation of a very cowardly jellyfish having a nervous breakdown, Dora tried to find out why. Ah, she said. It’s the name.

So here am I at 9.10 on Monday morning, back in the horribly crowded waiting room of Erd tax office (or NAV which means Nemzeti Ado es Vam hivatal which means National Tax and Customs. I told Dora about HMRC which means Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and Dora thought that was very sweet.) We’re settling in for the long haul because there are at least 20 people already grimly waiting, many of them, guess what, with 14KATA forms which can only be filed online.

I’m here because somebody spelled my middle name wrong. By one letter. Where there should be an R, there isn’t. Deirdre became Deidre at some point in the form’s journey. They did it, not me. I filled in the form correctly and have the copy to prove it.

This is what has sodded up my attempts to be a good citizen and file my 14KATA form because the names don’t match.

Personally I don’t care that a Magyar, bewildered by a legendary Irish name, left out an R. Think what might have happened if I’d been called Siobhean, for instance? The personal tax number, the KATA tax number all match up, it’s just that pesky R. But the computer cares deeply about the R and won’t have it not matching.

So I’m waiting to replace the stray R.

**

We wait an hour and a half and then we go into the inner sanctum and a very nice young woman has me sign several forms, agrees the tax card is wrong (by an R) as well and says it’s now sorted. You can go home and file on line, she adds, it’s all working fine now.

Dora is too smart for that malarkey. No, she says, surely we can file it here now. We’ve brought the printed out form (with the R).

So we did. And I just got an email (in convoluted Hungarian) which agrees that I did that thing. It’s filed. Thank god.

And that, tax people, is why you can’t put everything online and then fire everybody except the chief executive and his minions. Humans are messy. Rs go wandering. Life happens. You still need humans – and enough of them.

When we left the waiting room was even more crowded.

Hello Taxpeople! Here’s a nice idea for you.

Very few things make me anxious – but two of them are anything new involving computers and anything at all to do with tax.
So you can imagine how delighted I was when the Hungarian tax people told me I had to fill in my Hungarian tax statement for 2014 online. It was only available online. There was no way of doing it offline, on paper for instance. No. Shiny stylish computers only.
We logged onto the general tax site which took a lot of doing because the tax people had sent me an email with a link in it and I’d parked the email in my keeper file and forgotten about it. Why? Well it was in very very complicated Hungarian bureaucratese which made my brain go numb at the first word, so I missed the sentence in the middle of it all which said it was only valid for five days.
So we got to the right page to change the password and made obeisance to the computer gods and got another link and put in a password which the computer didn’t like because not enough numbers and we did it again and finally got into the bloody system.
Now we needed the 14KATA form. Hokay.
We typed 14KATA into the search box and hit enter.
Computer had never heard of it. Variations? Nope. Look through the dozens of menus and submenus. Nope.
As I write this, there are small business people all over Hungary, searching desperately for this form because they can’t afford an accountant and, like me, they have suddenly realised they only have a week to the deadline for filing the thing. All over Hungary, people are peering at computer screens and wishing and wishing they could find the 14KATA form, somehow, somewhere. Some of them are probably in tears.
Yes, we rang them. After the usual rigmarole with the computerised switchboard, we got through to a human. It’s on the .gov website not the tax website. Of course. Why would it be on the tax website when it’s a tax form? How silly of us!
My friend has now sent me out of her office because she can’t cope with bureaucratese and the computer as well as having me sitting there vibrating and dry handwashing over the bloody form. When I left she had found 14KATA through three different submenus, though she had to install a specially wonderful automatic formfiller first.
Ladies and gentlemen of tax authorities everywhere. I have some wise words for any of you who bother to read this. So pay attention.
You need to make tax paying very EASY and SIMPLE. Why? So people will do it and you will get their money. Just because you have a PhD in Informatics, Taxation Obfuscation & Complexification, doesn’t mean they do.
EASY and SIMPLE.
So, for instance, when you can predict that lots of people, without a PhD in the above, will be wanting to file their tax statement, you make the form available under the search box as 14KATA. No, you can’t have fun playing with nesting submenus. Every search box anywhere in the system needs to be able to lead to the 14KATA page. That’s all.
Nice boring little link: searchbox – 14KATA – form.
That’s just to start with. I haven’t even got to the form itself yet.
Luckily my friend Dora is not only fluent in English but is a very good administrator and extremely patient. I don’t know where she’s got to on the actual form. I’m afraid to ask.
That’s all for the moment, tax people. Just think about it. We have to pay tax if we want to live in a civilized society because it costs money to supply one. One of the reasons why Americans live in a less civilized society than most of Europe is because they mostly believe that only suckers pay tax. One of the reasons why Scandinavians live in a more civilized society than most of Europe is because they seem to accept the need to pay tax.
But get this, taxpeople. It may be news to you, but nobody actually likes paying tax. And most people regard the time they spend dealing with tax forms, stupid government websites and madly complex bureaucratese in any language as an additional and very unwelcome tax on their time, on top of the tax they pay in money.
So make it SIMPLE and EASY.
Unless of course you’re relying on the fines for late filing to pay the wages of the taxpeople.
But that would be silly. Wouldn’t it?

Why I love \”A Girl Called Jack\”!

A girl called Jack – Jack Monroe. She proudly calls herself a leftie liberal lezzer. She\’s a poverty campaigner, thanks to her own experience of the real thing. Richard Littlejohn of the Daily Mail takes a nasty underhand swing at her and she fights back, point by point, and wins loads more followers in the process.

She takes the piss out of him for NOT knowing she\’s a lesbian and failing to attack her on that point, which was at least true, as opposed to all the other points he did attack her on, which weren\’t.

She is doing her best to manage her fame in a responsible and honest way, and seems to be making a better fist of it, so far, than Jamie Oliver. I have to say that I\’ve never successfully cooked a Jamie Oliver recipe, although I\’ve cooked many from Nigella and even Gordon Ramsay. The fault is almost certainly mine because he expects you to be as skillful as he is. This may make me prejudiced.

Normally I\’m also prejudiced against leftie liberals because I grew up in the 70s in a school (grammar, selective, single sex and in a very expensive part of London) that was absolutely infested with ardent Socialist Workers Party girlies and painfully sincere Trotskyites. The only possible option was to become a staunch Tory. Eighteen years of Tory rule then turned me into a dangerous leftie, such that I even voted Labour for the first time ever in 1996, helping to inflict Blair on the lot of us. (I\’m sorry. I really am. Please forgive me.) I have now officially joined, and am the first member of, the APOBYH party (a plague on both your houses).

Her account of her experience of Really Not Having Any Money At All \”Hunger Hurts\” has apparently had 20 million hits and deserves it. It\’s powerful writing that reminds me uncomfortably of some bad times in my own life, though I was luckily never in as much trouble as she was.

And she makes the point well: yes, it\’s a middle class point, but so what? We\’re all middle class, really. The point is that in the UK in 2014, it is UNNECESSARY for anyone to go through what she did. With her, as it is for many thousands of people, it was the punitive, disorganised and stupid meanness of the benefits system. With other people it\’s crushing debt or the loss of their house or mental illness or whatever. In my case it was because if you\’re married to a self-employed barrister who\’s ill, and you\’re self-employed yourself, you can\’t get any kind of benefits until they\’ve finally diagnosed the lung cancer (which took about five months during which time I ran a family of five on my autistic middle son\’s Disabled Living Allowance until a charity stepped in).  Thank God, so far, despite Cameron\’s efforts, medical bills aren\’t in that list – as they so often are in the USA.

Despite the recession (six years and counting), despite the dangerous widening gap between the super-rich and the rest of us, Britain is still a wealthy country. Much of the hunger in this country is an artificial creation by bureaucracy. This annoys me not just because it\’s wrong, but because it\’s monumentally stupid even from the point of view of the people causing it. Children who grow up watching their parents not eat supper because they\’re giving it to their kids do not forget. Do you think that any of them will vote Conservative? Ever?

Jack Monroe has also written an excellent recipe book on feeding two people on £10 per week, full of useful stuff and great ideas, which I meant to review here but got carried away. My only quarrel with her is that the laws of supply and demand will mean that baked beans will go up in price (who\’d a thunk that you could wash off that nasty orange stuff and just use them as, well, beans) and so will tinned mandarin slices.

Trying to be fair to Mr Kwik Fit.

Further to the saga of the brakes on my Ford Galaxy. Yes, I got them fixed for just over £200. Yes, the other garage wanted to change the discs too (I\’ll get back to how worn they were later) and the price included the discs which we couldn\’t get somewhere cheaper because, after Kwik Fit\’s nonsense, I needed to get them done on a Saturday evening so I could visit my mum on the Sunday before going back to Cornwall.

***

Nobody saw any problem with the rear tyres.

***

Back in Cornwall, I showed the discs and pads to my petrolhead friend Alex Small (who was heroically sorting out something else that\’s gone wrong with the car since then). He wasn\’t impressed at how worn they were and said he\’d have put some more pads on but didn\’t really think the discs were that bad.

***

Clearly the definition of \”worn discs\” is different in London than it is in Cornwall. Never mind, I\’m perfectly happy to go with the London standard.

***

I\’ve now sold the Galaxy as I don\’t need a car that size and I\’m now taking over the ownership of my Mum\’s lovely little Yaris (needs MOT this month – guess where I won\’t be going?)

***

What is the point of this story? Well, I haven\’t read all the comments yet, perhaps there\’ll be some vociferous defence of Kwik Fit from someone who doesn\’t work for their publicity department. Perhaps not.

***

The point is this: if their quote hadn\’t been so outrageous, if they hadn\’t refused to break down their charges as any other garage would do and if they hadn\’t tried to frighten me with the terrible state of my perfectly adequate rear tyres to milk even more money out of me, I would probably have paid them to fix my brakes. They themselves rang the alarm bells in my mind with their greed.

***

That\’s why they were silly silly people.

 

 

Why Kwik Fit on the Finchley Road in N. London are such silly silly people.

So there I was, getting stuff out of storage when I heard an ugly scrape-scrape sound every time I put my foot on the brakes of my big, somewhat battered, but faithful old Ford Galaxy people mover.

Hardly swearing at all, I contacted my favourite petrolhead, Alex Small, for advice on where to go in London – I go to a fantastic place in Penryn when I\’m in Cornwall, called Tristan Garage, but that was 300 miles away. Try Kwik Fit, suggested Alex, I trust them.

***

OK. So I found the nearest Kwik Fit and carefully drove my car there. The man was very helpful. \”Oh yes, madam, we can strip down the wheels for you today and give you a price this afternoon.\”

***

Nothing happened for two hours so I rang the garage. \”Oh yes, madam, I tried earlier but your phone was engaged.\” Was it? I had been working on my emails, not on my phone, but never mind.

***

\”Yes, I have a very excellent price for you. We have stripped down the wheels for you. The discs are badly worn, they are scored and rusty so we will have to replace the discs and the pads and we can do all that for only £348. Also your rear tyres are very worn, very bad, we can replace them as well for only £580 including VAT which is £85 off!\”

***

I\’m afraid I laughed at him. Poor Mr Kwik Fit\’s garage is in a very posh wealthy area and he had clearly mistaken me for one of the rich ladies who live there. The state of my car and my total lack of fashion sense should have tipped him off, but perhaps my RP English bamboozled him.

***

\”Oh I don\’t have that kind of money,\” I said. \”I hope you can do me a better price.\” Mr Kwik Fit made noises about doing just that, so I decided to leave the car there.

***

I needed to come and get some things out of my car so I traipsed back up the road from Costa\’s, and got them out before the garage shut for the evening. One of the other gentlemen there let the car down from the ceiling. I checked the rear tyres and they didn\’t look too terrible and had more than 2 millimetres of tread on them, nor could I see any of the cracks that Mr Kwik Fit was telling me about. The hubcaps had definitely been taken off the wheels, that was certain. Perhaps that was what \”stripping down the wheels\” meant? Mr Kwik Fit said he could definitely get the work done by 1.00pm the next day.

***

I\’d already contacted Alex to find out what he thought. He was appalled and very chivalrously said he could get the train with his toolbag and replace the pads for me for two thirds of what Mr Kwik Fit was quoting, including the trainfare.

***

Then I talked to a chap I know who drives for a living. He was deeply disapproving too. It\’s a really simple job, he said, just like Alex had.

***

Back I went in the morning, a process involving two bus rides as I didn\’t have the car. I sat in Mr Kwik Fit\’s reception and asked him how much the parts would cost.

***

\”Oh no, I can\’t tell you that, we can only give a price for the job.\”

***

I made a note of that. \”OK. So how much do you charge for labour and how long do you think it would take?\”

***

\”I can\’t do that, I can only give a price for the job.\”

***

So I rang lovely Tristan Garage who told me a lot of interesting things about the discs which they\’d MOT\’d two months previously – and would definitely have told me about if they had been that badly worn, and how a lot of garages used to fail cars on the brake discs being worn so they could charge for replacing them and how the rules had been tightened up a lot and how they didn\’t reckon it would take more than an hour to fit the pads, which would cost around £40. The whole job, including the discs they didn\’t think I needed, would cost around £150. I allowed for them being in Cornwall and still I was being overcharged by a LOT (not mentioning the tyres which Mr Kwik Fit seemed to have wisely abandoned).

***

So I tried for a compromise. Could Mr Kwik Fit perhaps just fit the pads and I\’d get the discs checked later.

***

\”Oh no, we\’re not allowed to put new pads on worn discs. We wouldn\’t be doing 100% job.\” I have to admit that his face while he said this looked truly noble.

***

I phoned and asked Alex about that and he said a rude word.

***

Mr Kwik Fit was perhaps getting tired of me discussing all this in a loud voice in his reception area and laughing a lot in a cynical way. Rude of me, I know. He then came up with his trump card. \”You can always take the car away, madam.\”

***

I beamed at him. \”Good idea,\” I said, \”I\’ll do that.\”

***

So a lad came out and tightened the wheel nuts, front and back – though the front ones looked remarkably untouched for wheels that had been \”stripped down\” – and put back the hubcaps. Another chap manoevred the car off the ramp and I drove it carefully back home feeling quite sorry for Mr Kwik Fit.

***

Because he\’d been very very silly. What had he achieved by all his flimflam and black-box prices which he couldn\’t break down into a proper estimate for me? He\’d quoted me a price that I suspect was based on his assessment of my social status which unfortunately doesn\’t correspond with my bank balance because I\’m a writer. And that price was remarkably high. When I challenged him on it, he didn\’t clasp his forehead and say \”Tut tut, madam, I got completely confused, we should only have quoted £250 for the job, all in.\” I would probably have gone for that, just to get the damned things fixed. But no. He knew I was talking to people who know an awful lot more about cars than I ever will. Did he say, \”Just for you, I\’ll sort out the discs?\” OK, maybe Kwik Fit have a lot of very silly rules about that, in which case it\’s Kwik Fit who are a very silly company and I apologise to Mr Kwik Fit.

***

There I was, commercial gold. A walk-in customer. A new customer. Mr Kwik Fit\’s job was to turn me into a satisfied customer, a regular customer who would tell other people how great Kwik Fit were.

***

Instead he amazed me with the amount he was charging for a very basic job, tried to sell me new tyres I didn\’t really need, told me the discs were terribly worn when they may not have been and got me asking around for somewhere less expensive and inflexible. And of course I was asking people who were into cars who will probably gossip about it, because that\’s what human beings do.

***

How on earth did any of that make any commercial sense at all? Just because Kwik Fit get away with charging the rich people of TempleFortune a fortune for their car-witchdoctoring, doesn\’t mean they always will, even with some mere ignorant female like me.

***

Now I\’ve written this blog too. I think I\’ve found somewhere else to get the brake pads done. I\’ve wasted a lot of time on a simple job that should take an hour and cost, at a reasonable maximum estimate, £200 including VAT. Not £348 or God forbid, £580 for the tyres as well.

***

Will I go back to Kwik Fit? Nope. Ever? Nope.

 

Gob-smacking stupidity in Cyprus

As Cyprus sinks slowly under its debts, the eurocrats in the rescue helicopter are insisting that all of the people there take a haircut, weave the strands together and contribute to the rescue winch… Only it\’s worse than that. Cue scenes of banking shutdown, outraged protesting savers and financial experts everywhere holding their heads and moaning.

***

Now I realise that the people who did the deal live in the same comfy brain-sapping rich-bubble inhabited by our politicians and bankers. So this blog is for them.

***

Here\’s a little story for you. Years ago my husband and I were trying to encourage our autistic son, then aged about 10, to become a saver. And so I took him to the bank with his birthday cash and cheque from granny and opened an account for him. He handed over the cheque quite happily, but balked at the madness of giving his two crisp precious tenners to a woman he\’d never met before.

***

\”She\’ll spend it!\” he roared, hanging onto them desperately.

***

So I told him the bank legend. Inside the bank, I said, were lots of boxes and one of them now had his name on it. The nice lady would put his money in the box and the only person who could take it out was him. The nice bank lady would absolutely not steal his money. In fact she would GIVE him a few pounds every year to say thank you for letting her look after it for him.

***

Some weeks later he urgently needed a new Thomas the Tank Engine video and got some of his money out. He was appalled by what he found and came to me in tears. \”They stole it!\” he roared, \”They did, they stole my money!\”

***

I was bewildered. \”But you\’ve got it in your hand…\”

***

He gave me the universal mum-you\’re-a-moron child\’s look and said \”The numbers are different.\”

***

Naturally he\’d memorised the serial numbers and got the bank bang-to-rights on that. I gave him the next lesson on the interchangeability of cash and he calmed down, though he still prefers money boxes.

***

Meanwhile, the fact is that most of us grownups still privately think in terms of boxes in banks with our money in them and our names on the top. We know intellectually that banks actually use our savings to lend to other people (or put on red in the gigantic Derivatives Casino). We know that government can stick its sticky fist in and take some of our money and does so regularly when it taxes the interest, but we prefer not to think about that. Emotionally, we prefer to trust them.

***

So what\’s happening in Cyprus? Well the new government has said that EU bureaucrats can bust into the banks, crowbar everybody\’s boxes and steal some money – just like that. No warning, no ifs or buts (though they\’re frantically renegotiating as I write this). And there\’s now apparently a plane-load of cash going out to Cyprus to make sure UK servicemen\’s families don\’t run out of money.

***

Obviously, once the word got out that ordinary allegedly insured savers would suddenly be losing 6.75 euros for every 100 euros they had saved, all the cashpoints were immediately emptied as everyone desperately tried to remove their money. The Cypriot authorities have had to keep the banks closed until Thursday to stop a total run which would make Northern Rock look like the politely restrained affair it was.

***

I don\’t really care why they did it – scared of Russian oligarchs with Kalashnikov- wielding financial advisors? Nor do I care about the desperate fudge they\’re trying to come up with to stop the rot.

***

The damage has been done. All over the Eurozone people now know that, no matter what they tell you, the banks will hand over the keys to our moneyboxes to any Eurocrat who asks. Canny peasants are buying large socks. Millionaires are looking for the financial paper equivalent.

***

It\’s about the principle. The fundamental necessary lie of banking is that it\’s safe to give your birthday tenners to the strange lady behind the desk. That lie is busted.

***

It\’s always been true that there really is no such thing as a safe place to store wealth (see that under-rated economist Jesus ben Joseph of Nazareth for further details). However our entire civilization rests on the fiction that there is. We believe the fiction because it\’s convenient and it means we can have good food supplies, safe houses and lots of stuff. It\’s only our irrational collective belief that keeps the whole credit merry-go-round spinning.

***

I\’m a very strange kind of historian. I think it\’s fun to look for turning points as they happen, rather than with hindsight.

***

So for what it\’s worth, I think that this is the break-point for the Euro – which I used to support, by the way. Not because of what will happen in Cyprus at the end of the week (major deposit flight, bank run, hyperinflation…nothing?).

***

It\’s because the countries struggling to stay in the Euro will wonder if the mad prescriptions of the eurocracy are really less bad than sovereign bankruptcy.

***

Sooner or later one brave big nation (Italy? Spain? France?) will try it. That will be interesting.

On being sold financial products by the financially clueless

It makes you want to cry, it really does. Not only have banks learned nothing about blatantly paying themselves gazillions after buggering up the world\’s financial system, they have learned nothing about anything else, particularly about the importance of training their retail staff.
OK, so, Santander charged me £32 for telling me my account was (briefly) overdrawn. Naturally I closed the account. Then they \”forgot\” to tell me that the lovely ISA I opened a few years ago with Abbey National was now paying a spectacular 0.1% interest per year. So I\’ve just closed that. No, I did not want to transfer the money to another one of their accounts, thank you very much.
I\’m looking for a place to put my money so I can hand it to the taxman if necessary. That\’s all. Nothing fancy. I only ask that the interest roughly keeps pace with inflation and the bank not go bankrupt. I have another small savings account known as the Christmas Fund which I started doing a couple of years ago when it dawned on me that Christmas often seemed to turn up annually around the same time and therefore needn\’t be such a surprise.
I made an appointment to speak with a Financial Advisor of a Well-Known High Street Bank (oh all right, it was Barclays) and arrived to find a pretty child aged about 12 in a business suit.
She took me into their interview room, made the computer give her details of my little Christmas fund and was obviously on a mission to get me to open the super spiffy new ISA they have at 3.25%. Only it isn\’t, of course. That 3.25% includes a 1% bonus which disappears after the first year, taking it down to a spiffier (for Barclays) 2.25%, or a little over half the inflation rate.
I said something ironic about this and Bob Diamond\’s £8.5 million bonus and the child wrinkled her pure brow and said, \”Oh but, Barclays are a making a loss on this.\”
\”Eh?\” I said.
\”Yes, look, they\’re paying out 3.25% and the base rate is 0.5% so they\’re making a loss.\”
For just a second, I honestly didn\’t know what to say. I restrained my immediate impulse which was to roar \”You bloody idiot, what do you think you\’re talking about?\” There\’s no need to bully children, even if they clearly are utterly clueless in every way about the job they\’re supposed to do. Instead (and I\’m proud of this) I asked her why she thought that. She repeated herself as if it was self-evident.
\”Do you,\” I asked, catching my breath at the enormity of her ignorance, \”actually know what it is that bankers do?\”
Well no, she didn\’t as she finally admitted. She was supposed, I presume, to sell the investment products, not understand them. Whatever training she\’d had must have gone straight over her head and nobody had bothered to check if she knew what a bank was. All she needed to be was pretty and obedient, which she was. She certainly didn\’t need to know anything. And indeed, it really wasn\’t her fault. Her ignorance was so profound that she didn\’t know she didn\’t know (pace Donald Rumsfeld) which is the second most dangerous kind of ignorance.
So the rest of the meeting turned into an impromptu tutorial by me, complete with diagrams, about how banks (unwillingly) lend money to businesses at 12% and then borrow money from people like me at 3.25% and then take the bit in the middle to pay out bonuses to Bob Diamond of £8.5 million or bang the whole lot down on Red in the giant casino of the financial markets. And possibly even pay her, though I bet she\’s on commission, poor lass.
Then I left, advising her to read a splendid book called \”Pillaged\” by David Craig (Gibson Square, 2011) which lays out all the cunning thieveries of modern retail finance with horrible clarity. You should read it too.