“A squirrel is just a tennis ball that can climb trees.”
- Hunzi Bogler, 5 3/4
We’re constantly being told by Conservatives that everyone must work for the good of the country (‘Arbeit macht frei’, as Ian Duncan-Smith might have put it), except obviously for those wealthy enough to support their families by offshoring their business interests, and to Hell with the country; as David Cameron’s late dad, Ian, certainly did.
(Do I recall Ed Miliband’s father being branded a traitor by the Daily Mail? Maybe not.)
Mr Cameron has this evening fessed up that in 2010, when elected to become PM, he made £30k perfectly legally selling his holdings in daddy’s company, Blairmore Holdings Inc., and paid ‘the relevant tax’ on it. Yes, that’s fine, but the taxable earnings consisted of income and dividends earned, presumably, from his father’s non-UK taxed investments. It didn’t come from flipping burgers in McDonalds. And it was never declared in the MPs register of interests.
Avoiding the obvious joke that you’d imagine a Tory leader would have changed the name to Blair-less, and disregarding the amount involved, which is more than I have earned in a year for most of my life but neverless small beer nowadays, Mr Cameron’s admission is evidence that he participated in a family enterprise that the Panama Papers tell us chose to sequester its profits aggressively from the UK Treasury through a deception that the business was not principally conducted in the UK. He can hardly therefore demand, as he so frequently does, that others pay their full share in the national interest.
Furthermore, there is a hint of surprise in the media that his £300,000 inheritance from his late father fell just short of the level at which death duty becomes payable. There can, I feel sure, be no hint of legal avoidance in the news that shortly afterwards, he received transfers of money totalling £200,000 as ‘gifts’ from his mother – sums which would, had they emanated directly from Mr Ian Cameron’s estate, have taken the PM’s inheritance over the duty threshold.
I have previously alluded to his disastrous lack of judgement. To haver and dissemble for five days before coming out with a more definitive statement of his affairs was a pretty bad call, as he has admitted. There may have been sentimental reasons: no-one likes the thought that their parents may have done questionable things. But it smelled of a cover-up. The fact that he paid £76,000 tax over the period is evidence of honesty, we all knew he was rich and no-one is accusing him of dishonesty, but it is not really the point. The question is on what, and how – and in what spirit – did the principal arise?
Now back to work…
I am perfectly capable of working. Large, strong, healthy, intelligent, fiercely independent, with a plethora of unexpected skills and experience, I should still be working but for one thing: my birth certificate, which says I was born in 1949: the year Edwin Land sold his first Polaroid camera. I’m the same age as NATO… the same age as the People’s Republic of China, federal Germany, Indonesia – Jeremy Corbyn.
Oh, and another thing – I keep being made redundant.
It probably explains why I’ve been actively looking for a fulltime job for the past eight years; during which time, despite being registered with a large number of specialised recruitment agencies, answering maybe a hundred want-ads a year (I’m quite picky about who I work for, plus they would have to love my dog), I’ve been granted only four interviews; three of them obtained by my own efforts.
I do have part-time work, that occupies me five weeks of the year on an hourly rate. I do it reliably and well. I pay tax on the very small earnings. Otherwise, I have the State pension and other little bits of income amounting to about £200 a month. I’m taxed on that too. I can afford to live on it, provided I choose not to travel, play golf or acquire a yacht. But I would rather be earning than sitting at home, drinking cheap supermarket wine, writing this stuff.
To qualify for State pension, men born after 1950 now have to go on working until 66, and then in future years on into their 70s. How are they going to do that, if no-one will hire them? There is a limit to the number of minimum-wage shelf-stackers and broom-pushers the groceries sector can usefully employ; while many of us ‘Oldies’ are, in fact, rather better than that.
I have tried to remake myself as a musician; a singer. But I seem to be losing heart: success requires opportunity, as well as talent; luck as well as ambition; and I lack the relentless drive, the boundless self-regard and the organisational skills necessary to build a career in showbusiness. Besides, I have not practised for several months.
In January 2012, age 61, I was declared redundant from my fulltime job as general manager of a dilapidated country house, that I had been made to run singlehandedly as a terrible B&B (I was originally hired – and paid – to be the gardener!), on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week (junior doctors please note). Learning long in advance that the axe would inevitably fall on me after the house became a full-blown hotel, in April 2008 I started looking for another, similar kind of job – and I’m still looking.
My CV does attract a few positive responses, but then something happens. Interviews are cancelled at the last minute, job descriptions changed, agencies suddenly clam-up. It can’t be because they have discovered I have a criminal record – I don’t, not even points on my driving licence. My credit score isn’t great, nor is it entirely damning. I don’t have a Facebook account spattered with embarrassing personal photos. Nor – despite years of experience – am I demanding a fat salary. Surely it can’t be because I went to public school? Or that, in the late 70s, I was followed around for a while by Special Branch as a result of something my wife was involved with, as a journalist.
What then seems to be the problem?
Since October 2010, under broader EU equality legislation, the Age Discrimination Act has made it unlawful to discriminate against anyone on the grounds of age. We are no longer obliged to disclose our age to a prospective employer or recruitment agent, it is improper even to ask.
However, you only have to glance at someone’s CV to see that they’ve done the rounds. It’s not illegal to demand dates for past employments; these would show that you have achieved some seniority, which you could only have done over a sufficient period to indicate your true age. Explanations that you were a boy genius don’t wash; although, naturally, I was.
And in a competitive jobs environment it is incredibly difficult to prove discrimination as the reason for not getting an interview. There is some kind of moral consolation, too, in knowing you’re not going to be a bed-blocker, stopping some younger, more deserving person from getting the job.
I try to get round it by going back 20 years and then becoming vague about what I was doing before, but you have to say something to avoid difficult questions or to indicate enough relevant experience. If, for example, you confess that at one time you were the director or senior manager of a company, it’s natural for a prospective employer to wonder how long it took you to achieve that exalted position; and possibly even to feel threatened by it, or to ask what terrible event happened to suddenly change your career path, what personal failing has led you to sink so far as to apply for a menial domestic role?
It seems unreasonable to assume that, just because someone is 66, they must be broken-down, decrepit and senile; that they might fall asleep or fart embarrassingly in client meetings, take weeks off work for cancer therapy, smell faintly of old pee, discuss the latest models of caravans at the water-cooler, and sport a tweed jacket with leather patches over a Fairisle tank-top, before haemorrhaging messily in the executive washroom. If that were the case, I should probably feel – even without the benefit of polite rejection emails (or more often being ignored altogether) – that the time had perhaps come to settle into one’s armchair and quietly expire, to be discovered years later by social workers, partly gnawed by cats.
Those symptoms of ageing are more probably the result of finding yourself permanently on the scrapheap than of having spent too many years pointing optimistically at a flipchart. Despite remembering how ancient your grandparents seemed when you were a child, sixty-six is no great age these days. It seems equally natural to expect that, over time, a person will have had their failures as well as their successes, and we shouldn’t hold the odd genocide or fraud against them. It’s all good learning-curve. But I do agree, my electronic communication and social networking skills are falling further behind as I type.
So if you can’t employ us, just have us put down.
For the good of the nation, no less.
Plus ça change, moins c’est cher
I’ve just signed another damnable petition from Change dot org.
Yes, I felt sorry for the cleaners at Top Shop stores. Their union reps have just been fired by the Britannia staffing agency, Top Shop’s private contractor, for merely asking on their account that they should be paid the London Minimum Living Wage of £9-something an hour, so as not have to raise hundreds of wide-eyed hungry children on Mr Osborne’s newly introduced Living Wage of £7.20, which is only the old Minimum Wage plus 50p and with a Tory twist, and which goes nowhere in the capital, where average monthly rents are approaching the price I paid to buy my first house.
Only, I get £9.67 an hour for invigilating undergraduate exams twice a year, and I’ve got a degree and my own ballpoint pen. And I’ve been sent want-ads for complicated editorial jobs requiring deep knowledge of languages and technical editing qualifications and several years’ experience, on short-term contract at only £9 an hour. In the last couple of years I’ve turned down an opportunity to work as a freelance photographer (using my own professional equipment) for £8 an hour. I’ve seen ads for KFC workers at £4 an hour, even been passed over for a job as a morning store cleaner myself, on £6.70!
And, while I used to get paid £200 a day as a freelance copywriter in the early 1990s, when last I tried to wrest some business from a prospective client, asking only £12 an hour, he snorted derisively and told me he could get the job done in India for three dollars.
Dear Top Shop cleaners:
Yes, you perform a socially vital service and you deserve to be paid and treated with decency. But the world doesn’t work like that.
We’re all being fucked-over by The Man. It’s not just you.
Now, back to work.
Time to stop playing the game
I’ve long been foaming at the mouth that this annoying old National Treasure is still fronting BBC Radio 4’s flagship Today programme, after about a hundred years of infuriatingly irrelevant and patronising lines of questioning.
When I worked briefly for the BBC there was a compulsory retirement age of 60. If that sounds ageist, well, sorry. It’s not his age I hold against him, I just wish they would use it like a wrecking-bar to prise him away from the microphone. He’s surely served his time.
I’ll tell you why, shall I?
Take this morning.
John Humphrys was ‘interviewing’ a representative of the junior hospital doctors’ union, the BMA. They’ve been staging a series of short strikes over a new contract that will force them to work at any time they are required to, over seven days of the week, with no extra antisocial hours payment or time off in lieu. This, they say, breaches their right to a family life.
They argue that they already do have to work on seven days of the week; that the new contract (which is being compulsorily imposed in June after many months of stalemate) is poorly thought-out; ideologically motivated by a government that has rashly promised to ensure the NHS operates without any downtime risks – a populist position supported only by controversial ‘evidence’ that hospital death rates rise at weekends.
They fear it endangers patient safety by imposing unlimited hours on their working time and is simply a smokescreen to cover the fact that there aren’t enough doctors in the NHS; something the government hotly denies. The new contract, they warn, will push many more doctors into leaving the NHS for a better work-life balance in other countries.
The news story was that, after yesterday’s walkout, and with a further two-day strike planned later this month without the emergency cover the doctors have hitherto been providing, the Health Secretary Mr Hunt has refused to meet with their representatives again.
Humphrys, who has been getting up at four in the morning all of my adult life, immediately launched into one of his more lurid lines of questioning; his usual assault with a pig’s bladder, demanding that the union representative should first of all explain to a hypothetical mother, why her child had to die in hospital when its life could have been saved if only the doctors weren’t on strike.
It’s the infantile way he thinks.
From that point on, whatever the doctor tried to say on the subject – for instance, that emergency cover will actually be provided by the senior consultants and nursing staff – Humphrys continued to hammer home the vital question: what will the doctor say to the mother?
The doctor tried patiently to explain that doctors have to speak to bereaved mothers in hospital pretty much every day of the week, whether they are on strike or not.
But what will he say to the mother? Humphrys harrumphed on and on, warming to his tiresome little theme, oblivious of the time passing during which the listeners might be gaining some more useful information; ignoring the obvious point that this grieving Mary was purely his own sentimental invention.
And so eventually the interview ended. We were no further informed than when it had started.
Mr Humphrys so frequently does this: persistently demanding that interviewees must first join him on his Methodist soapbox and make full contrition, to be properly sanctified before they can safely be allowed to explain their position. But will you apologise, Minister? Will you resign? Do you support terrorism?*
Why should they? If it were me being interviewed, I strongly feel that after the fifth time of demanding that I answer some meretricious question aimed only at flattering Humphrys’ sizeable media-ego, I would just tell the tendentious old humbug to fuck off, and hang up the phone on him, let him filibuster and splutter to fill the dead airtime. It’s about time somebody stuck it to him. We’re much too nice in this country.
I have to say, without being at all racist, because that would be a stupid accusation, would it not?, and with the greatest of tenderness, that after fifteen years of exile in Wales, from where Humphrys hails, I am aware of a certain ‘chapel’ hypocrisy, a tubthumping tendency to try to seize and control the moral high ground, however illogical the position; a preachiness that renders all further argument futile.
I’m also sick of him pretending with an invisible wry shake of his wizened-tortoise head not to understand anything about modern science and technology or pop culture. He may believe sincerely that he is asking the questions the listener would like to ask, but if he thinks I would like to ask the questions he asks, then he must think I’m an idiot, or senile.
Even Time must have an ending. Get him off.