Friday, June 22, 2012

On the Blue Slug, and poverty

A bit of a scare last night coming back from dancing when the blue slug (our ute / truck / bakkie - depending on where you live) developed a whole new noise. In our fragile financial world that's terrifying.

It's odd. We don't per se, consider ourselves poor. Poverty is relative, I suppose, and coming from South Africa, and having traveled to places like Mozambique (where poor gets a whole new meaning, makes poor South Africans look rich) Poor to me is no food and no roof to sleep under, or at least approaching both of those very closely. I read John Scalzi's post on poverty and realized poverty was very different things to different people. To some it's what I regard as 'poor', to others not being able to buy a new x-box or the latest trainers is 'poor'. There is the poverty of starvation and lack of shelter, the poverty of just having enough for very poor standards of both, there's the poverty of social insecurity (which the young and those lacking in self confidence probably find really hard), and there is the poverty of envy. All of them upset and are real to those who feel they're poor (but some are less serious, let's face it).

I feel so very lucky and blessed just to be here, in Australia, on Flinders and so lucky in my partner, and in my boys (and my daughter-in-law, and future one), my dogs and cats got here, my friends... envy is right off my list. Hell, I'd say most of the very rich should envy me. I'm neither young nor lacking in self-confidence. We live in a lovely house - yes, it's in the whoop-whoop, no there isn't a jacuzzi. It's old. But there is a fireplace, a wood-burning heater, it is, after some work, pretty waterproof, windproof, safe. It's not ours which gnaws at the security somewhat, but we're a damn sight better off than most. Food... we give a lot of food away. Yes, we don't eat out of season fruit or veg, unless it is given to us. And, um, people do give us stuff. They're always terribly worried we'll be offended by being given their cast offs. That it would embarrass us - especially clothes. Blink. I think Op shops (the Salvation Army and various other charities second hand 'opportunity shops') are the best thing that I have found in Oz. Why, if I have no objection to strangers cast offs, once they're washed, would I object to the clothes of decent people I know - that I know do not have bugs or nasty diseases :-)? I'm going to wash those clothes too. I suspect it's probably about appearances. Yes, well... I wear clothes to keep warm, keep off the sun, to keep from being scratched. I might after those criteria are satisfied choose something because it's blue or Gordon hunting tartan (green, dark blue, checks) - because I like those colors not because I care about what I look like in them. I am not exactly an actor to care about appearances, and as for fashion, labels.... what? you're kidding right? I couldn't name more than two, and that's because I asked for a book. I cringe at the very thought of arriving at a checkout till and not having enough money. I utterly HATE asking prices (If it is unmarked I just won't buy it. I CAN'T bargain.) But something you don't need/want and I do? sheesh. It's a win both ways. We've been given store cupboard empty-outs by folk leaving the island, and for us that is such an adventure... stuff we just would never buy (processed food, just add xyz, cake mixes, tins of fruit, and that's been fun. Exotic for us, just as the abalone we had for our tea (bog standard) or home baked bread, preserves, or the roo-tail stew for tomorrow are exotic to others.

Poor people have to live in rat/roach infested one room apartments or don't have a roof at all. If they're lucky there is some kind of state support. In most of the world it's the church or the kindness of their fellows - who can be just as poor. But there is no doubt that we qualify as 'poor' in Australia by what we manage to earn (No we don't collect any kind of state support... oddly I regard that as for people who are in real need. And that would worry my pride I guess. Not stop me if it were dire. But it would need be DIRE.). When you add the fact that my various publishers are months late (5K) again and the accounting means I'm out of pocket (at a coarse guess by somewhere between 6-7K... which is just not worth fighting them over. I still have to work with them. Eventually I may try.) Yet, thanks to the place we live, and with Barbs working we're actually gaining ground, despite the move, and moving the animals basically making us start again. It's not a fast process, but slowly we gather the difference between being poor and being, to us anyway, well off. That difference is security. Something we could live in if we had to leave here. Things with which to gather, keep and deal with food. A rifle (which is 60 years old) and collection of old wetsuits and gear just make a hunter-gatherer life easier, more effective. Yes most of it, like the boat, is very old, many'th hand. It works, and makes life easier and better. A trickle of money is coming in, and not going straight out on rent and essentials. Yes we still need petrol and soap and internet and phones, but Barbs mostly earns enough for that, and coffee, chai and chocky too, so my money can mostly go into the kitty for car services, dentist and accumulation. We're a lot better off than the first few months when bread and cups of coffee had to be watched. Now we don't even think of stuff like that. And we have the money to make choices that save money: we can buy in bulk raw ingredients. We're not the guys scrabbling to find the money to buy a Macdonald's happy meal to split. That bought us a pack of seeds, enough rice for 10 meals, and the sea and land do the rest. And knowledge of course. We're not the guys huddling in front of the gas oven because the power has not been paid and we're freezing. We could afford a chainsaw, and there is more than enough wood available.

In the last while I've started getting a trickle in from e-books sold on Amazon, and from the referals (people who click on the Amazon links I put up and go through that - not only do I get a percentage for that, but also of everything else they buy.) It's been the first money for a long time I decided could just be spent on things that weren't absolutely necessary, but that just might make life nicer.

But that can go south really, really fast if we 1)have major vehicle expenses 2)have to travel off island, especially back to Africa. We probably have to for James and Alana's wedding - to Zim at least. I'm hoping SOME of the money I am owed will come in in time for the latter 3)major vet bills (they will come in time. we hope not soon)4)Major dental bills (thank heavens medicine is state subsidized here, and very good on the island.)

So a noise from the Ute, that I didn't know what was causing, was enough to make my blood run cold. We only have one vehicle. We live a LONG way out. There is no other public transport. Barbs took it in this morning - because better fixed than wrecked totally.

To my vast relief, it is the air-conditioning - which uses extra fuel, so we never ever use. Took the belt off and the noise stops. I know... the blue slug is 13-14 years old, and has done far too many km. It will die. It uses a fair bit of oil. But every day, every week we can put that off, the better.

And we go on. We've come a long way. A fair bit to go, but we're still battling onward. Smiling about that. Had an extra square of chocky tonight to be really prodigal :-)


  1. Wow...yesterday a fellow I listen to on the radio, Dave Ramsey, asked the following question to his listeners. "Instead of asking what it means to be poor...what does it mean to be rich?"

    Dave's a Christian financial counselor. Unlike other talk shows his is always full of optimism. He's really the only talker I listen to, I hate the dreary doom and gloom. The first responses on twitter and via phone set standards of wealth accumulation. $500,000...$1M..and so on. But as he questioned their rationale people began to state other qualifiers.

    In fact, by the end of the show people were saying very much what you are. When you put it in perspective anything beyond having a roof,your family, some food, power and clothes is building wealth. When you build wealth you are not poor.

    1. Quilly, I think so much of financial stress comes down - not on the edges where it about food or shelter - but in the rest of people, to worrying what people will think of you. I worry too what people will think of me... but I decided long ago that I care deeply what people I know, like and respect think of me. I don't give a tu'penny damn what strangers, or people I don't like and respect think of me. And the ones I know and like - and I hope like me judge me by my actions and not my smart car or new shoes (grin, because if they do, I'm stuffed).

  2. That post on poverty, and Scalzi's recent rant on what a privileged white dweeb he is, and the rest of us should join him in feeling guilty, without actually doing anything substantive, are why I've stopped reading his Mangina Monologues.

    1. Hello Mike, I meant to getting around to posting a comment on the last Scalzi rant on your blog, but I needed a password and by the time I got one, real life had intervened. It had more holes than Swiss cheese and some are bigger than Kimberly's one (the TOWN). What I was using that reference for was to say that 'poverty' was relative to the context and the user. I am sure the guy using his food stamps to buy soda and being sneered at feels uncomfortable. But it's not at the level of the gnawing hunger and no place to sleep dry and warm that million will have tonight. On the other hand there were two good points made in that article: 1)the choices available to those with some spare money are much wider. 2)it's actually more expensive to be poor than better off. Two simple examples - I got a puny little Amazon check - it cost me $25 to make it into money in my account - 20% of the value goes to the bank. If I had $1 000 check - it would still cost me $25 - 2.5% of the value goes to the bank. We use bottled gas. I have enough money to pay the deposit on a large gas cylinder - lasts us more than a year. That means my gas costs 1/3 of the price for the same volume as pay as you go little cylinders, which last 2 months. If we just didn't have that deposit... we'd have to pay the higher price. Part of making yourself better off is spotting these differences (takes thought, and knowledge), and, if possible, getting the best out of it.

      The only other thing I'd like to say is that it often only take a little _carefully placed_ help to change someone's situation. Sometimes that's not money. I like to think we do a bit, and I certainly have friends who have made one hell of a difference to us. I have a buddy shifting a few loads of stuff over here for his holiday house. He always gives me a call and offers to slot some bulk food into his loads. So my flour costs me half what it could. If I shipped it over... because I can't afford a ton, and wouldn't be able to use it anyway, the shipping would make it more expensive. But 50kg doesn't alter his costs, and helps a lot.