Alan's Blog




Great Expectations

Grace and I took our wonderful dog, Kanga, for a walk last evening just as it was getting dark.

I happened to remark to Grace that we can learn a lot from animals, particularly our dog.

I went on to say that all Kanga wanted out of life was to be loved by her family, given a home with food and drink and a couple of walks a day so she could attend to her business. Such a simple life - and no expectations of anything more.

I then continued along this theme by telling Grace how my grandparents also led simple lives with low expectations compared to the life we enjoy today. For instance, none of my grandparents could drive, let alone own a car and yet Grace and I consider it necessary to own and run two cars. In my parents' time owning a car became more common but even then, not all that many men and almost no women could drive a car. A car was a luxury that few working-class people could afford and was certainly not the necessity that we consider it to be nowadays.

If one was privileged enough to own a car it was almost certainly an 'old-banger' that needed constant repair and maintenance to keep it going at all. The man across the road from us spent most of his weekends crawling under and around his car just trying to keep it going for the next week so he could use it to get to work.

Of the car drivers of my father's generation most would have been taught to drive during their military service where it was necessary for them to do their job – usually during World War II. This was where my father learned to drive just about every type of vehicle known to mankind – even what we now call HGVs. He started teaching me to drive on my seventeenth birthday. Without learning to drive it would have been much later in life that I would have had the opportunity to do so as driving lessons were far too expensive for me to pay for when I was an apprentice. Without having that skill, I wouldn't have been able to even apply for the job I took after leaving college in 1972 as being able to drive was a prerequisite to getting the job; one great reason for taking the job being that they gave me a van (Ford Escort Mk. I) I could use for my own trips as well as their work.

I well remember that my father became an inspector for the local water supply company. His area of work covered quite a few miles which he was expected to cover using a bicycle onto which was attached all sorts of heavy tools, such as long valve keys strapped to the crossbar as well as a bag of tools attached behind the saddle. How he covered all those miles was almost miraculous – he must have had legs made from steel as the terrain was very hilly, yet he never complained. He just got on with his job, travelling many miles almost every day. After some years, the company issued him with a motor cycle fitted with panniers to carry the equipment – the long valve keys sticking out of the top by a few feet. As time went by, the motor cycle was taken away and he was given a van – one of the original Minis. Such comfort – and much greater productivity too. Learning to drive has been one of the most useful skills I've ever learned – thanks to my dad!

I use this as an example of just how our lives and our expectations in life have changed over three generations. Before I could own and run a car I would ride my bicycle to anywhere I needed to go, unless the journey was too far and I had to resort to train or bus, and there were a number of times in the years that followed when I simply couldn't afford to buy a car at all, so it was back on the bicycle until I could afford to buy yet another old-banger.

I carried on with my theme by telling Grace that I could live in a van. The only extras I'd need would be my laptop computer (and external HDDs) and my photographic equipment
(refer to URL: In fact, I'd love to just go off and live in this way. As I've said before, I'm a gypsy at heart! Grace said it would cost far too much money, but of course it wouldn't as you could camp in the wild for almost all of the time. There are so many interesting places to visit and beautiful scenes in the landscape that I'd never get bored (unlike my life now!). One has to live somewhere, so why not in a van? Of course, the gypsy life would force me to get rid of most of my possessions, which I'd find extremely hard – especially my books. Sadly, I'll never persuade Grace to become a gypsy and I don't want to go off alone.

Over the years I suggest that people have become more materialistic. I don't really consider that I'm one of them as I'm not always wanting the latest model of everything or always striving to buy something new and yet, when I look around I still have far more possessions than I actually need (although many of these 'things' are many years old) and a lifestyle that is far from simple when compared to previous generations. Our small house is crammed with 'stuff'; indeed, I can hardly find space to sit in my home office as it is so full of 'things'. Whilst I admire the late Steve Jobs, formerly one of the world's richest people, I couldn't live the minimalist lifestyle that he was famous for – hardly any furniture, let alone much of anything else in his home, although, as I've said to JP many times, rich people don't become rich by spending their money – they save it and invest it (carefully!).

Of course, there is a great joy to be had by sharing what you have with others. As it states in the Holy Bible, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35 - King James Version). My late maternal grandmother lived by this axiom as, whenever she came into some money, only ever small amounts, she would share it around the family keeping almost nothing for herself. All my grandparents were generous even though they were very poor and had low expectations in their lives.

JP has been trying to live a more minimalist lifestyle when it comes to stuff in his very small bedroom, although this is more from necessity than choice if the five bicycles in our garage are anything to go by! That said, his room looks far tidier than does my office, so maybe he's got it right.

I think there may be case, especially during these uncertain times brought about by the virus pandemic and, in the UK, the likely confusion brought about by leaving the EU, that we consider our lifestyle and our expectations in life and ask the question "Are our expectations in life too high?" and "Should we live a simpler life?".

For many people, families in particular, the answers will be forced on them by a change in circumstance brought about by unemployment. This includes me and my family as my last contract was completed on 28 March 2019 and this has resulted in a huge reduction in our income. We are not alone in this, of course, just one of millions.

Reducing our expenditure and lowering our expectations is an exercise that us and many others will have to go through and it will be interesting to see the result – particularly for those families who are hugely in debt, as many millions are these days. Will we see, for example, a fall in the cost of homes as they are reclaimed by the money lenders when people fail to pay their mortgages – and the same for cars where more than 85% of cars are purchased on borrowed money?

Maybe there will be a lot more people living in vans in future! I just wish I could join them!


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