Waking up to reality
I never have a problem waking up, even if actually getting out of bed on a cold winter morning is more of an effort. I have my radio ready tuned to BBC Radio 4 so I wake to calm, level voices, not some unbearably perky jockey telling me what a wonderful day it’s going to be when I can hear the rain splattering on the window already. The early menu starts with the shipping forecast, a daily ritual recitation of coastal zones with bizarre names, and a variety of climatic conditions. Although listening to it over many years I still have no idea where Forties and Cromarty are, it is reassuring to know all is well in the big world outside even if it is a little choppy on the Dogger Bank.
The schedule follows with a short news briefing and a farmer’s programme but somewhere in between a little reflection slips in about what happened on this particular day years before. This list can be quite brief or quite extensive probably depending on who has been given the thankless task of doing the historical research, and rarely is a cause of interest.
But on this particular Monday in January something did make me take notice. It was ten years since the banking crisis of 2009 when the Royal Bank of Scotland announced the biggest corporate losses in British history, and shares in all the other banks fell through a big hole in the floor.
The global crisis had actually started in the USA some months earlier, but the knock on effects spread around the world like falling dominoes as the new year progressed. Propping up the banks with taxpayers money may have prevented the terrible social consequences of deep recession which followed the Wall Street crash of 1929, but it did begin a period of uncertainty in the economy, and perhaps even in politics, that we are having to live with to this day.
What struck me was that while those of us who remember clearly the events have lived through this period, a whole new generation was grown up with virtually no knowledge of the history and an inevitable acceptance that what we live with now is just the norm. They won’t remember a time when the high street was full of shops that sold things.
Not that the banks and the governments are entirely to blame, as along with austerity measures caused by spending all our money, other factors have conspired to bring us where we are today. The popularity of internet shopping is obviously a major culprit, and again those who haven’t watched it develop would scarcely believe there was a time when people were quite reluctant to share their bank details with an anonymous source in an unknown territory, and it wasn’t so long ago, such is the pace of change. When the first ATMs appeared many people, and not just the elderly, were reluctant to use them and still insisted on going into the premises to see a human being they could trust. These days, most of the banks have gone and only the cash points remain in the wall.
The financial circumstances, and changes in retail behaviour have produced a perfect storm for the economy in which we float with some apprehension for the future, especially as within weeks of reading this, we will face another major change in circumstance with consequences apparently unknown even to those who demanded it. It’s the uncertainty that hangs over the next few months that is so worrying, whichever side you take on the “B” issue, but then perhaps we are all adjusting to a time when the unknown is the new normal. After all, when I was at school, admittedly in the last century, my career’s master would have said a job at the bank was a job for life !