Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Random Acts of Kindness On A Glasgow Street (1.6 Million Nights at a Marriot Hotel)

The metaphor seemed a good one.

The economic crisis of 2008 was the greenback landscape for a great, modern, holy war between the high priests and priestesses of Wall Street, The City of London, the global economy and the tented heretics of reform. The great cathedrals of finance were under attack. The houses of the Archbishops of Goldman Sachs,UBS, J.P.Morgan Stanley, Lloyds TSB, Lehman Brothers, HBOS, Northern Rock, HSBC and RBS.

Tribes clashing on the 'warfield' of monetary righteousness, their banners euro blue, cash green and saintly gold flapping in the breeze. Each calling the other infidel, locked in the first financial crusade of the 21st century.

Capitalismo : Makeshift Studios 2013
The train was heading for Central Station, Glasgow, returning north from Southampton. I spent four happy years at the University of Glasgow, hanging around the local bookshops and bars on Byers Road, it would be good to be back home.

I was pouring over research, notes and interview quotes for a piece I was writing on Occupy.

I highlight 'Henry Waxman' in pale blue marker pen, the colour of Manchester City football tops, and then type onto my laptop.

Head of Lehman Brothers, Dick Fuld, had his salary and bonuses questioned by Henry Waxman, Republican, 30th district of California, at a House of Representatives' Committee On Oversight and Government Reform, October 6, 2008.

"Your company is now bankrupt, our economy is in crisis, but you get to keep $480million (£276million)?" Waxman said perplexed.

At Glasgow Central station I cross the concourse and take the side entrance out onto Union Street.

Waiting for a break in the traffic I walk toward Gordon Street, where I approach a woman and ask for directions to The Tinderbox Cafe on Ingram Street.

The woman looks up at me and nods thoughtfully.

"Aye, ah ken where ye mean, Merchant City, aye" She stares ahead. "C'moan, I'll show you."

I follow, we exchange pleasantries, speak about how bitterly cold it is for this time of year, and I remember what a beautiful city this is.

"I have a meeting and I am late," I hurriedly explain. "This is really good of you."
"It's no far," she reassures me. "Near tae a Tesco...Tesco Express ah think it is."

As we cross Buchanan Street to Royal Exchange Square, the woman halts by a homeless man, his red, frozen hands wrapped around an empty, paper Starbucks cup ( I always find it ironic that the receptacle of choice is always a Starbucks cup! It kind of symbolises a surreal world).

I move to walk on, but notice that the woman has stopped, and is stooping toward the man, placing two pound coins in his cup and talking to him.

"God bless ye darling," He says, and I pick out the features of his well-defined face. Thin, angular, mid-twentyish, the tortured lines of an extremly difficult life already etched around his eyes and across his brow.

"You look frozen," She frowns.
"I've been oot aw night," the young man replies.
"Couldn't you get into a hostel?" I offer feebly.
"They're all full," He looks up at me and shrugs, "There is a recession on."
'Yes, but this is 2013', I catch myself thinking.

It's then the woman removes her gloves, pulls them off determinedly and gives them to the homeless man.

"Aw naw missus" the young man protests.
"Ah've goat children," she says simply. "It could be anyone of us, besides, ah've goat plenty mair pairs at home".

The gloves look tight, but the man manages to force his frozen hands into them.

"Aw, that's really good of you. I am on the hoosing list, bit that could take weeks, months..." he adds preoccupied with the gloves.
"That's a lot of cold nights in the open." The woman confides as we start to walk again. "Ah would have given him mair but ah lost ma job in April and, well, things are tight."

We parted by The Tinderbox Cafe, I thanked her, she turned and walked back the way she came.

Later, working on my laptop, I realised I didn't have the woman's name. I sighed, googled the Marriot Hotel on Westminster Road Bridge, London, and discovered that a room for one night will cost £166.

Dick Fuld's $480 million (£276 million), I roughly calculate, would have bought the homeless man 4,500 years at the Marriot Hotel, or 1.6 million nights. At a nice little bed and breakfast just south of Fort William, the frozen man would have had a roof over his head for 30,000 years...

With Dick Fuld's salary and bonus, our friend could have bought 35 million copies of Ryu Murakami's novel Audition, or 138, 693, 467 McDonald's Happy Meals.

I could imagine the young homeless man, bleary-eyed, his hair sticky and shining, mulling over the menu above the head of the gaily coloured server, his baseball cap adorned with three shiny stars.

"Erm...right, can I have 138 million, 693 thousand, and 467 Happy Meals please"
"Coming right up sir!" The server would smile his teeth whiter than white and sparkling.

The homeless man would rub his gloved hands together and think 'I'm really lovin' it'.

Arms full of Happy Meals, he might have had the afterthought, 'With Fuld's cash I could have bought 1.5 million prints of Philip Jacques de Loutherbourg's painting Battle Between Richard 1 Lionheart 1157-99 and Saladin 1137-93.'

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