Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Portrait: London, UK

All over the place companies are going bust and closing down, or letting go staff, sometimes very suddenly. It all feels shocking, but truthfully it isn't so. Many saw this coming from far away, and even the ones who aren't astrologers have felt the rumblings building up to this the past few years.

Nonetheless, knowing that doesn't mean things aren't upsetting and although the situation in the UK is by no means desperate, almost everyone is feeling the pinch.

On the other hand, the English national mentality thrives on adversity (just look at how treasured Charles Dickens is, with his mean Victorians and ragged orphans and hard times). "Mustn't grumble" is something which is often uttered in the face of both fiscal ups and downs. The English just batten down and carry on, and in a way it seems easier because nothing makes an Englishman more mistrustful than the notion of things which appear to be going too well. The English are on the whole a modest nation of modest requirements, able to extract pleasure from circumstances that would wither the soul of many a European (their national ability to determindely sit on inhospitable beaches on windy days is a testament to this, as is their passion for bird-watching and conservation and trekking around the countryside; even the uninspiring biscuits speak of a people who fully delight in small pleasures, and generally disturst anything which appears to be too sumptous).

There are other things which make our circumstances significantly easier. The healtcare is still free, and not having to worry about what we'll do if one of us gets ill significantly improves my quality of sleep.

True, the economy is bad. Money is tight. As it is I can't remember the last time our bank accounts were in credit at the end of the month even though we have significantly reduced our spending (no shopping except for the baby, only going out once a month etc.)

My husband and I are not English. We have lived in worse economies. I can remember winters where we only had electricity for a few hours a day - trying to bring water to boil over a candleflame, sitting wrapped in blankets around a radio powered by generators. When money was worthless and at the end of the month companies paid people with items to trade (cigarettes, shampoo, tampons). I remember the sense of irony and despair my mother felt when all she could purchase with my father's life insurance payout was two kinder eggs.

And whenever I begin to feel oppressed by all the things i cannot do or buy or enjoy, I remind myself that I am not my possessions and the idea of ecnomic security is illusory as everyone who trusted in Madoff can attest to. My family is alive, healthy, loved. Without that everything else is worthless. With that, we can make the rest work somehow.

Our way of life, our governments and our worldviews may not survive the coming decades but we will.

London, Uk