Monday, 16 February 2009


As I squeezed through the door of my local Woolworths, its dilapidated interior chocked with lunchtime shoppers anxious to carry off a last scrap from the dying carcass, I was reminded of a sonnet by Shelley. It’s verses tell of a traveller wandering through the desert who comes across a shattered statue of an ancient pharaoh. The inscription reads ‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’, Now his grandiose monument and the civilisation he had ruled lay in ruins, a monument to the transitory nature of humanity and all it works. In my youth the Woolies sign with its gleaming red and white lettering had seemed to bestow a sense of grandeur and permanence. The store had once been the queen of the high street, it’s pix-a-mix section and bargain video box had tempted me in on many occasions, my fingers had pawed through the aisles in search of bargains. Now, in the chaotic violence of the closing down sale, those same pix-a-mix baskets were being ruthlessly pillaged. The DVD section had been ransacked down to the last copy of ‘I Robot’; its shelves would never be filled again in anger. Nothing remained of the CD aisle besides a few shattered fragments of a Leona Lewis single. As I pondered this scene of desolation I felt the sudden pang of sadness one feels when witnessing the passing of an era; then I remembered Woolworths was always a bit shit, the security guard was rude and the floor was always suspiciously sticky. On reflection, good riddance.

Before this economic turmoil erupted there was much talk abroad that many of the more traditional humanities were outdated and superfluous. The young men and women of the information age, it was felt, should not be wasting their lives in a futile grapple with the niceties of History, Latin and Philosophy. Instead they should be doing ‘proper’ subjects such as Accounting, Management, Law and Business studies; In contrast to the narrow-minded bookish student of yesteryear, these bright eyed graduates would march forth into the workplace and go on to become future captains of industry. Of course the much maligned history student, casting a cynical eye back into the past, can easily identify this as mere hubristic hogwash. In much the same way, as the venerable Bede sat working at his desk on his ‘Ecclesiastical History of the English People’ in the 8th century AD, he was waylaid by his more short sighted contemporises. “Bede”, they would say, “why are you wasting your time on all this science, history and theology?”. “Don’t you realise it’s the dark ages!”. “The ‘it’ subjects now are raping, pillaging, serf management and putting people’s heads on spikes; that is where the growth industries are right now”. “Just this year for example, by headhunting some Saxon mercenaries and launching a few armed expeditions I have managed to increase my fiefdom’s turnover dramatically, this ‘classical learning’ of yours will never take off”. Stuck in the past he might have been, but this state of affairs isn’t necessarily a disadvantage; in fact you can generally see which mistakes are likely to be committed again. Today’s sure thing is tomorrow’s squalid failure.

Before the economy began its meteoric slide into depression, Lloyds bank was in the habit of giving me a hard time for my rather modest overdraft. A wise man once said ‘why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye but pay no attention to the log in your own eye?’, or in this case why do you persecute your customers for minor indiscretions but take no heed of the 10 billion debt you just incurred with your reckless and morally insane corporate dealings?. Pardon me if I decline to accept your offer to have me visit your branch for a personal finance review; particularly when your sordid institution has demonstrated the kind of financial incompetence not seen since the Scots managed to bankrupt their entire country by starting a colony in the middle of a malaria ridden swamp; at least they demonstrated ‘out the box’ thinking.