Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Buddy, can you spare a dime

Hard times: what to do?

I walked along Birmingham's New Street this afternoon. On a pitch usually occupied by a small steel band stood, or rather stomped, a six-piece gypsy orchestra – a guitarist, a drummer, a base-player, two accordianists, and a manic violinist.

They were good. You can see and hear far less accomplished, joyous and energetic performances in many an overpriced pince in down-town Pest. I stood and listened for nearly twenty minutes. They had been in full flood as I approached and they were still hard at it, unflagging and without a break, as I walked away. The gave forth a non-stop stream of Ferenc Liszt, Kalinka, Ochi cherniye and many other interwoven refrains that I half-recognised and half did not, all junbled together in a glorious, pacey evocation of Central/Eastern Europe.

They were not making a fortune for their pains, so far from home (they were from Romania), but they were getting through to the Brums – consistently having one-pound coins tossed in the proffered guitar-case, a larger denomination in greater numbers that street performers seem generally to attract within the dour Midland part of this realm.

A salutary reminder that there are parts and peoples of Europe where even in the boom times things are far harder than we have it in the UK, even on this day that marks our domestic economic crisis.

Crisis, what crisis?

Today I have kept my promise to myself, and kept away from the radio. After all, I have already heard about 'the cuts' ad nauseam, I had become altogether fed up with them before they even happened – precisely, I am sure, what the Government ha wanted all along.

I do know that an awful lot of public-sector workers will find themselves out of a job in the foreseeable future and that a lot of people on welfare will also be a lot poorer. The Government, though, is not withdrawing my free bus-pass or my winter fuel allowance (we pensioners are a force to be reckoned with when elecions come).

There will be significantly fewer people working in the police, prison and probation services, but I do not experience this as a threat since I have never hseen reason to draw causal relationship between the size of this workforce and the crime rate (not at least in the direction so commonly stated).

Etc., etc...

It will take us days, weeks, months even, to realise the effects of today's Spending Review. As one of the aged unwaged I hope that I can afford to take this stage of things slowly, as it comes. There is just too much happening at once to get one's head around it all. To be honest, I just do not know yet what to think

Those thinly dressed, smiling Romanians, however, prancing their energetic stuff in a chill street in Birmingham, lent unexpected perspective to the day. They had (figuratively speaking) got on their bikes, and were flogging their talents for all they could to scratch a living. It was hard to avoide the harsh and horrid notion that people laid off by our public services, soon no longer providing and managing for the common good, should be able to turn a hand to something. OK, they might not play an instrument but there are surely be other important things to be done towards rebuilding our economy.

After all, so many of the newly unemployed will be educated and qualified. If the official position of the role of education in our economic prosperity has validity, what a shot in the arm for the economy this will be!

I am glad that it is not me but... life has to go on.

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