Jan. 14th, 2013 11:33 am
liv: cast iron sign showing etiolated couple drinking tea together (argument)
[personal profile] liv
Yesterday I bought a £100 pair of trainers. I didn't actually spend quite that much, they (or at least last year's equivalent) were reduced to £60 in the January sale, but still. It's hard to think of myself as the sort of person who makes that kind of purchase, partly because really, I can get perfectly adequate trainers for £10, what could possibly be worth an order of magnitude more? And partly because I am actually spending serious money on, of all things, running, which rather belies my self-image as a couch-potato.

If it hadn't been for my friends convincing me that getting a gait analysis done before choosing shoes is worthwhile, I would have been absolutely certain that it's a scam. I mean, it's a perfect marketing technique, making the customer go through a big palaver so that they're emotionally committed to the purchase and there is social pressure not to waste the salesman's time. And claiming to offer an individualized good which, although mass-produced, is in some sense supposed to be matched to the customer's personal needs. And lots of technobabble about the amazing features of the shoe that are supposed to magically enhance your running ability. It's practically a textbook example of how to get your mark to fork over ten times what the product is worth!

If I think of it as 50 books, I feel like a fool; how can trainers come even close to giving me that much pleasure for my money? If I think of it as a couple of months' gym membership, well, ok, that starts to feel a bit more like a proportionate investment. And if I think of it as the price of a return ticket to London, well, I spend that kind of money several times a month without really thinking about it, because that's the best way available to me of having a social life in addition to a full-time job.

I was particularly reminded of this because coming home on the train, I was woken from a doze by an argument between the ticket inspector and the guy sitting opposite me. The passenger had an Advance ticket and was trying to travel on a different train from the one his ticket was valid for. The ticket inspector insisted that the passenger pay a full single fare from London to Manchester, with no discount for his student railcard. That is a really swingeing amount of money, over £75. When the inspector absolutely wouldn't budge for arguments or pleas, the student offered his debit card and paid up, but he was visibly really upset, and spent the whole rest of the journey fighting back tears.

I seriously considered offering to swap tickets so that he could use my open ticket and I'd buy a single instead. But half-awake, I couldn't really think of a way to propose this that would satisfy the draconian inspector and also not embarrass the young man. The thing is, I remember very well being a student with £80 a month to live on after accommodation. I know viscerally how that feels, when one mistake with travel plans means nothing to pay for social life or pleasure for the rest of the term. And in lots of ways I was lucky to have that £80 a month (and somewhere, deep-down, the knowledge that my parents wouldn't let me actually starve if I really screwed up the budgeting.) I didn't have to borrow to attend university, my parents covered my rent during term and allowed me to stay in their home during the vacations. Plus my university and my city provided plenty of social and cultural opportunities that didn't cost money, making the tight budget a lot more bearable. In fact I never really felt short of money during that phase, I just had to plan carefully.

Student poverty is totally different from actual poverty. (Except when it isn't, of course; plenty of students genuinely are poor and don't have a parental safety net.) It seems like a lot of right-leaning chattering classes are confused about the difference, though. They remember living on a tight budget as students or perhaps as new graduates or newly arrived in London, and they are full of excellent money-saving tips and don't understand why actual long-term poor people can't just make money (such as state benefits) stretch in the way they did when they experienced a related, but actually totally different situation.

In some ways, if I'd been awake enough to think quickly and help out the student, it would have been a pointless gesture, a show of empathy for someone who is (I assume, though you can't always tell by appearances) basically like me, someone who probably won't suffer any worse consequences than a sad few weeks for the sake of that £75. If I'm going to distribute that sort of money on a passing humanitarian impulse, it would have been more useful to give it to one of the homeless people I passed between the running shop and the station, or indeed to a charity that addresses real poverty.

I still feel a little weird that in the decade since I graduated I have become so rich that I can in fact just blow £60 on a pair of shoes without making much of a dent in my lifestyle. Or indeed on a train ticket, but really the problem is that train tickets are absurdly overpriced. There are so many tricks and tiny T&C small print details set up to trap passengers into paying the "walk-on" fare, which is almost always utterly exorbitant. For the customer, if the train is late or cancelled or rerouted or whatever, at very best they might get a refund of half the fare if they jump through a lot of hoops and accept their compensation in the form of vouchers which, guess what, can only be used for overpriced walk-on fares purchased at the station and not for any sort of only-available-online special deal which might bring the journey into the vaguely reasonable price zone. But if the customer changes their plans in any way for any reason, or even misses a connection through no fault of their own, they suddenly have to pay a swingeing fine of a full-price single ticket in addition to the reduced price ticket they've already bought.

My brother the poet expresses this much better: If you suspect it, report it. That's a video with his performance of his poetry as the audio track, and works well as a whole piece beyond just the words of the poem. I'm happy to transcribe it if you can't watch videos, but I don't want to put the transcription right here, because he has a book out and I don't want to hurt his sales, that wouldn't be very sisterly of me!
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Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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