The Cost of Living: When Inflation Increases Beggar Belief

The other day I was walking through town on my way home after an arduous day’s chairpounding. I had my MP3 player on (an Alba I bought in Netto several years ago, the battery door of which is sellotaped on after one of the hinged broke) and it was blowing a gale as I weaved my way through clusters of ambling clods. I was suddenly aware of a man standing to my left, stepping into my path and waving his hands as one does when trying to flag down a car in an emergency, a half-rolled cigarette in one hand. He spoke, but I couldn’t hear him for my music. I stopped, removed an earphone and begged his pardon, half-expecting him to ask if I had a light.
    ‘Got any spare change?’ he asked.
    ‘I haven’t, sorry,’ I replied.
    ‘How about a pound coin?’ he said, without missing a beat. He indicated the sleeping bag and three rucksacks propped against the wall of the building behind him. I’d clocked these from the off, and had taken him for a backpacker.
    ‘I’m sorry, I haven’t got any change,’ I repeated. A pound coin is still change, albeit moving somewhere beyond the ‘small change’ category.
    ‘Five pound note?’ he pressed.
    I didn’t have a fiver. In fact, having only been to the bank at lunchtime, I had only a solitary twenty pound note on my person. I suppose I could have made him go through the denominations until he got to twenty, before having to admit that I did have a twenty but it wasn’t spare, or asking if he had any change for it, but instead simply told him that I was sorry, but didn’t have any money. I might have added that I didn’t or a light for that fag he was halfway through rolling either, because I’d given up smoking some years ago after it became too expensive for me to sustain even a five a day habit, but thought better of it and went on my way.
    I’ll admit that more than I felt guilty for not having been able to help, I was taken aback by his brazen pushiness. Unshaven, in my scuffed Chelsea boots and second-hand jeans, did I look like I had a fiver to spare? But as I continued home, I pondered the exchange further.
    The news media has made such a big deal about inflation and the sharp increase in both unemployment and the cost of living in recent months. The families of middle England are the hardest hit, apparently, the cost of fuel having rocketed, making the daily commute, the school run and the supermarket shop substantially more expensive, against a backdrop of reduced benefits for families, etc. Yeah, right. From the bottom up, we’re all in trouble.

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