Monday, 30 December 2013

Just Wondering About The Re-Evolution....

Re-Evolution 13 : Makeshift 2013

Just Wondering About The Re-Evolution

Thinking about the idea of 'capitalism', it is difficult to imagine that it won't always be around? It is like the telephone, how many would have predicted, other than the most visionary sci-fi writer, that one day we would walk around making calls on cordless cell phones from absolutely anywhere in the world?

I don't know why, but it came as a surprise to me that capitalism has been around for a really long time. The label 'capitalism' emerges around the 1860's, though the word, apparently, was used around 1848 - 1849 but only became currency in the 1860's.

Some believe capitalism per se, as a system, emerged as long as 500 years ago.

Of course, as a system of market exchange and profit making it has evolved, so when we speak about 'capitalism' we are actually referring to a group of 'capitalisms' as it has changed over time.

But that is the important point, it is only a people manufactured system so it can be sculpted, changed and altered as it unravels - yes we are a long way from the stream engine and, interestingly, within touching distance of the cashless society. Mobile phones, for example, are already taking trade from games consoles ( a relatively new technology). Amazing to think, that in some locations, and with technology adjusted mobile phones, you can even buy a cup of coffee without cash or credit card.

This had me thinking that what we are experiencing in the USA and the UK and, in fact, across the globe, is the beginnings of a readjustment and not, the much trumpeted, recovery smug politicians are always telling us about.

Two things immediately strike me.

One : Huge companies once employed giant workforces, now gigantuan businesses by market capitalisation don't always employ giant workforces. Google, for example, is worth $373.64 billion but only employs some 46,000 souls while General Motors (market capitalisation $56.8 billion) who have had such a traumatic times since the recession of 2008, still employs over 170,000 people. Apple, another example, with a market capitalisation $503.93b only employs 80,000, while the Ford motor company still employs some 213,000 but only has a market capitalisation of $60.38 billion. Blackberry had a market capitalisation of around $80 billion back in 2008, as of September 2013 it is now worth $4.3 billion. In September 2013 they laid off 4,500 from 12,700 and once employed 20,000.

Two : The configuration of the labour market in advanced western economies is also changing (re-adjusting). More and more people are working on temporary, freelance, sub-contract, part-time or zero hours agreements and less are now plugged into traditional contracts which covered holidays, sickness and pensions. There is an increasing mantra in these developed societies that continually explain that welfare, healthcare and pensions are no longer affordable. Cutting across this, the traditional job is disappearing and with it the former certainties of millions of middle class workers. New technological advances ( as always), demographics and leverage are all regurgitated by lacklustre governments as the reason for these automatic and very necessary re-alignments.

Both the above, need, of course, to be examined closer to discover if we are really entering a re-evolution, which I think we are. But time is against me as I sit with a primo Americano in Costa Coffee at Central 12, Southport.

The young girl who served me earlier approaches.
"Excuse me sir" she says in a high pitched voice. "Just to let you know because of re-adjustment, from next week a Primo Americano will now cost two hubcaps, but if you paint the front of my house you can have two Lattes and one Ristretto."

"I need me bedroom wallpapered," an old lady to my rights states. "It's worth an Americano Grande and a raspberry and almond slice for you to do it."
"I can fix your car for a couple of Expressos!" A middle-aged man shouts his offer as he jumps to his feet.
"I have three Batman comics from the 1970's, for anyone who will buy me a Cortado!" a young lady with a child in her arms calls out as she clmabers to her feet.
The room falls momentarily silent before people are leaping to their feet and shouting at each other across the room.
"Two Cortados!"

Later the Financial Times made interesting reading. Batman comics of the 1970's had moved up to two Cortados and a Cappuccino, while wallpapering a front room was now worth two Grande Americanos and a raspberry and almond slice...mmmmmm.  Hub caps, unfortunately, had passed their peak and fell by two Lattes....

(Written in Costa Coffee, Central 12 ,Southport, December 30, 2013.  Wishing you all the very best for 2014)

Thursday, 26 December 2013

And So This Is Christmas...

Return Of The Ice Hare : Makeshift 2013

And, so this is Christmas/2014 And All That.....

And, so this is Christmas and what?...war is over? ...People are joining hands and what?...Dancing around a circle as one?... Are united in liberty, fraternity, equality?

John Lennon's words may be visionary but as we move toward 2014 Syria, South Sudan and, of course, Ukraine are all showing unrest. We always hope for these things, war being over and people having resolved their differences but we know even Father Christmas can't bring us that.
Image of a rather large man in white trimmed red suit sitting looking despondent shrugging 'Well I tried, believe me folks I tried'.

Unfortunately, we know in the year to come, people will still go hungry despite there being plenty of food in the world, the homeless will not be provided with shelter despite there being plenty of empty homes and the impoverished will still have to carry the burden of austerity despite the fact that there is plenty of cash sloshing around ( and not only in David Cameron's pockets) bankers will still pick up 30 per cent bonuses and politicians will take their 10 per cent plus cut.

Of course, neither can we blame starvation, homelessness and poverty on people who don't work hard or are, somehow, less intelligent than others.

Last week I reminded you all that huge armies of people in work in the USA have to depend on public assistance. A similar situation also exists in the UK where many people who have jobs still have to depend on welfare to get by.

Next year I plan to do more work on my thesis that the UK, in particular, but the USA as well are both on the road to 'readjustment' and not 'recovery' and in 2014 I want to tell you why.

And, before we mention it people are not hungry, impoverished or
homeless because they are no - smart, unemployment among graduates has never been so high, but really there are number of luck factors involved. Right place, right time sort of thing.

The people who live by Jakarta's grabage dump at Bantar Gebang work on and around the fly-infested rubbish tip from morning to night, seven days a week. They build their homes from materials scavenged from the dump, before the bulldozers arrive, and feed their families and themselves from the meagre daily pickings they get from working out there.

They are not lazy, they can't afford to be, and they will never, ever, have access to proper education so we can't tell if they are smart or no - smart.

Their situation is not something they happily volunteered for pre-birth.

"I want to be born into a family who lives by the rubbish mountain at Bantar Gebang...please!"

From all the possible families they could have been born into - and the possibilities are almost infinite pre-conception - they become the sons and daughters of the people of Bantar Gebang and their infinite possibilities pre-conception become finite post-birth.

So, from any possible combination of parents taken from the billions of people on the planet, at any time, in any period anywhere, they become : 'An Individual Born At A Particular Time In A Particular Period Of History In A Particular Geographical Location' - and probably within a particular religious grouping.

What do you say to that Santa?

"Ughhh? Well, let me think" shrugs shoulders. "Erm...."

Thought so.
 (Written on a train travelling south to Liverpool Boxing Day 2013)

Sunday, 22 December 2013

What If...

Look What Santa Brought : Makeshift 2013


In a funny way, I kind of feel the world can be such an absurd place. Sometimes, I am convinced the way the socio-politico-economic universe glides on and evolves is somewhat surreal. I have never been convinced of the argument that economics is a science but rather, like our global financial system, it is, in fact, an art.

Master that my friends and you - master the universe - thank you Tom Wolfe ( author of Bonfire of the Vanities, fantastic read and recommended if you haven't already worked your way through it.)

I like thinking about these kind of complex features, these really intricate nuances of existence and I like to think sometimes way out beyond the universe to other places, social, political and economic....

So, you sometimes have to think, what if?

What if the world suddenly lost all of its power sources?

Outages are nothing new, of course, but can you imagine if suddenly, in the middle of a blizzard ( let's crank up the tension here) everything failed, but not only failed, but never ever actually return. No more power of any description at all?
The lights on the Christmas tree blink off, the family gathered around the modern shrine of the television utters a collective 'awwww'. 'It is not Christmas without the Christmas lights' you might mumble to yourself. This all happens as we are gathered around that magic box, and then just at our favourite part of our favourite sit-com, when the star prepares to deliver his most famous, belly-laugh catchphrase...'Well bless old'...everything is reduced to absolute blackness.

In that instant, we might have been typing a rather long and rambling email to a distant friend we have not heard from for years...'damn' we'd probably hiss having just lost all that effort.

Pubs everywhere would fall momentarily silent as everyone thought at the same time what's happened? Football (soccer) games would have to be abandoned as floodlights failed.

The whole world goes into meltdown, including the cell and land phone apparatus. Text fingers working at the speed of light to no avail as every battery in every mobile phone is rendered useless. Neither will there be anymore deliveries of petrol...

Cars would become rusting sculptures to what was. Their streamlined features pointing, in muted fashion, to a new, unknown tomorrow.

Without power there will be no more email, text, television. No more brand advertisements, no more sickly sentimental and multi-million pound John Lewis ads at Christmas with bears and hares and sweet little, innocent, tearjerking, children who plead to get what they want with a really schmaltzy twist and it all works, it really does. In fact it is quite brilliant.

The adverts start a stampede. People in their droves rush off to John Lewis as if their frontal lobotomies depend on it and willingly part with their hard earned wonga.

"No, please John Lewis Saleperson, take my cash - I simply love that little animated cartoon of the bear and the hare - I'll have that coffee maker please, just think John that will do Auntie Bessie."

"Look at the price of it woman, £864!" John the husband replies in alarm.
"Oh John! Don't be a grouch, she'll love it! It has come from John Lewis, and you know you can't get better than that, it is written all over their ads. I think the bear and the hare one is my favourite." and then she sings a few bars of Somewhere Only We Know , "Isn't that just wonderful?"

Without power we would be reduced to depend on fire for light and warmth. We would have none of our modern technologies which make our lives so much easier, no white goods like microwaves, washing machines, fridges, or entertainment and communications equipment, music would stop playing unless, of course, it was live.

The coloured lights that flicker across computer screens would black out...the market capitalisation of Google would go from $367.70 billion (£224.97 billion, €268.84) to zero in a split micro-second. Stocks and shares would no longer exist, they would be gone in a flash.

"What was the latest price on Starbucks? Hey buddy, latest price on Starbucks, say what ? You are saying $77.66 (£47.51,€56,78) are you sure... I mean how are we going to check that out?"

Would there be violence? Looters raiding retail outlets for what? Stealing the latest gaming consoles, the Xbox One? Plasma televisions? Don't you think that's just a bit shortsighted, if not weird, even for thieves?

Without power there would be no more leverage, all computerised records would be gone. At last the damn house belongs to us and there is no bank breathing down our necks, there is no longer any record of a mortgage... Who would bother flicking through paper to find out?

Would we need money? If...

In the darkness of your home, you shiver in the cold, pull an extra coat around you, stare out your front room window at the snow falling. In your sleeping bag you fall asleep to wake on Christmas morning and open your presents.

"This one's from Aunt Gillian," You tell your partner.
"What have you got?"
"An? Electric toothbrush..." You groan in the realisation you won't be able to use it....
"Oh that's nice..."
"And you?"
"A DVD..." Your partner frowns, you look at each other.

And say in unison - "Useless"- and throw your presents down and sigh...

Outside, in the snow, two mice shelter from the biting wind near to an empty plant pot.

"What's the drama?" One says to the other. "What are all these humans whinging about?"
"I don't know, all they ever do is moan, so the lights went out so what? You haven't got an Xbox have you Roberto?"
"No senor, never had one..."
"Well then...Merry Christmas Roberto"
"Feliz Navidad, Miguel."

(Can't promise that our philosophical mice will re-appear. Written at home 21/22 December between Christmas shopping.
"Excuse me" I call over the sales assistant, frustrated because I can't find what I am looking for. "Have you got that really expensive perfume with the price pumped up eight-fold because a z-list celebrity puts their name to it?"
The sales assistant thinks for a moment. "Ah, you mean ; 'You Can Fool The Public All The Time'?"
"That's the one!" I clap my hands in delight. "Yes, that's it, my wife loves it." ")


Sunday, 15 December 2013

Christmas Apple, Nike and Starbucks Are Alright Tonight

Sovereighn Entities

What are corporate entities?

Empires, artificial, evolving, organic, creatures, a hybrid of the two? probably, but, in essence, huge monlothic centres of the global economy. Gargantuan, predatory, mammoth-sized beasts that roam the dark, capitalist forest in search of consumers to gobble up - how very Roald Dahl.

They are banks, retailers, manufacturing plants, financial services companies, multi-disciplined units, anything that makes money for its shareholders. In fact the root of the word comes from the Latin corporatus, to form into a body.

We recognise them as logos, slogans, expensive mind-catching ads that drill deep into our psyche and force, often involuntary, movements from wallet to them.

Brands like Apple Inc - with the original sin logo of the bite out of the apple - Nike with the iconic throwaway Swoosh and 'Just Do it' ; Starbucks and their sexy, secutive mermaid and backward linkage to Herman Mellville's Moby Dick classic and their 'Share the warmth' 2013 Christmas campaign - homelessness ends here! Nice thought Mr Schultz.

These are all representative symbols of the corporation's identity that circumscribe corporate personality, character and qualities. They identify with us, rather than the other way around and lock us in to a world which we 'imagine' is the way we would want things to be, the way, indeed, things, accoding to our brand of the moment, should be. It is illusory but extremely potent, hitting us in our memory banks and our vision of what might be or could have been or what should be.

The corporations live with us in our micro-universe, touching our hearts with £7 million ( $11.4, € 8.3 million) persuasive, animated, sentimental bear and hare advertisements. Mini movies that resonate and represent, somehow, a perfect, sickly reality that we (somehow) feel we should all strive for. They always have that Hollywood happy ending!

I must say I have never, ever, experienced a happy Disneyesque Christmas as portrayed on TV, but like everyone, everywhere would love to enjoy one! A Christmas where my working life and the financial realities of just breathing are a million miles from my thoughts ( as if!). Who doesn't count the cost in the New Year?

Happy New Year, hey wait a second, wait a second, just got my Sickly Sweet Happy Bank statement - the bank that always says YES and does all these wonderful things for people, nothing is ever any problems to us Sir, it says on the ads - Anyway I have just received my bank statement, this can't be right...what's this extra charge for? And this one?

Sickly Sweet Bank of Neverland : we will always be there for you

Nevertheless, we are locked into happy fast food, family orientated vignettes that tell us 'We're loving it', where the family drool over exciting foodstuffs and grandpa falls asleep ( which is cute). Smiling-faced kids and their open toothy mouths prepare to bite into large, juicy-looking burgers ( we never actually see them eat the food, or if they do it seems as if they are chewing cotton wool they are enjoying the food so much, mmmm!).

Yet, while we are being fed all this honey-sweet hedonism, large numbers of the 700,000 fast food workers who operate at over 14,000 McDonald's restaurant in America are signing up for the new Service Employees International Union.

In the USA alone the industry employs something like 4 million people so the union has a huge potential catchment, and already claims 2.1 million members.

But before Americans can say 'what's that got to do with me or the price of my burger, man?' - it is worth reminding ourselves that around $7 billion to $8 billion ( £4.3/4.9 billion, €5.1/5.8 billion) of their money was paid into public assistance for fast food worker's and their families between 2007 and 2011. So, the average American citizen is basically, subsidising huge companies like McDonald's who pulled in $1.5 billion (£1 billion, €1.1 billion) in profits in the third quarter of this year and realised overall revenues of $27.5 billion (£16.8 billion, €20 billion) in 2012 ( thank you for your support people of America).

Part of the reason the mad admen of gargantuan corporate entities can pull off such wonderful campaigns - cue music, something to bring a tear Bright Eyes? Walking In The Air? with appropriate animated movie about little furry animals and big soppy bearesque creatures tugging at the wallet...sorry..heart strings...

Did I say wallet? Can't believe I said that!

(Written in Kimbles, St Enoch Centre Glasgow and Starbucks, West Nile Street, Friday 13, 2013. My next act is to contact Howard Schultz and ask him about his Share the Warmth Starbucks campaign.)

Sunday, 8 December 2013

In George Square

People of the Christmas Time : Makeshift Studios

Dateline : December 7, 1.00pm, Glasgow.

While walking across Glasgow's George Square, I came to thinking about how people's lives cut across the global financial system, or - more correctly - the how the global financial system cuts across all our lives.

As I walked toward Queen Street train station, people around me, all of them with their own purpose in mind, seemed to be focused on their own personal microworlds.

"What shall I give Auntie Cora for Chrstmas. I know, hoiw about fingerless mittens. But didn't I get her fingerless mittens last year?"

I wondered what was driving them. Could it be work, travel, Christmas shopping, lunch, drugs? All of which, had one thing in common, money or 'a cost'.

They will have worked out in their own minds how much cash they will need for what they intended to do.

If they were working they might be headed for a meeting somewhere in the city and be heading there on foot, which means their cost will be nil. They might, of course, pick up a newspaper and, perhaps, a snack or coffee on the way over so they might, indeed invest a couple of pounds in the local economy as they shift ground. The guy observed was also linked by discrete earphones to music so, technically, there had been some previous costs related to his existence - perhaps a Christmas present from last year.

Of course, they might have been heading to the rail station to catch a train so they will have either previously purchased a ticket, or intend to pick one up at the station. Depending on where they were headed there might be a significant cost involved, especially if they are travelling some distance, to Aberdeen, Inverness or even beyond.

Christmas shopping, I think we can all agree, is a financailly pressurised period, that has us all cash paranoid and on the point of breakdown. It is a period of the year that turns normally sensible people into jibbering wrecks, normally sedate individuals into rudely, gesturing, eyeball-straining psychos - you get the picture?

Lunch is not free and neither are drugs to purchase on the street.

My point is that all this is happening all around us as we move through the crowds of people walking the streets of our cities.

Here, in George Square, were people from all walks of life going about their everyday business and I wondered what was on their minds.

I could have, as photographer Gillian Wearing once did in a famous series of images, whipped out my camera, stopped people in the street, handed out large placards and asked them to write on the board what was on their minds at that precise point in time.

In this 'confessional' series (Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say ) Wearing's subjects duly obliged. A police officer wrote one word 'Help' on his placard, while a homeless man scribbled 'I signed on and they would not give me nothing'. A middle -class man wrote 'I'm desperate', while a shabbily dressed young man wrote 'Everything is connected in life'.

Which brings me neatly back to our entanglement in this far expanding global financial universe which is all inter-connected to us, individually and collectively.

It fascinates me that a company called Alladin, for example, tends to a Milky Way of 6000 hot computers which, in turn and together, holds the assets for nearly 200 pension funds, banks,insurance companies, asset - management companies and so on. Trillions of dollars of capital.

"Hey what's this plug for...?"
"Aaaaah, Moorcroft don't touch that...!"
"Sorry Angelo, Looks like it's came loose and...fell out of the wall socket... and what's happened to that lovely humming sound of those 6000 computers."

Late into the night Moorcroft and Angelo are sat at a desk with piles of scraps of paper littered around them.

"The United Farmers and Allied Trades of America pension fund" Angelo muses, lifting a scrap of paper and taking a note. "Mmmm let's say that's their five dollars. I'll write that down...five dollars..."
"Okay, but that means the Ancient French and Neopolitan Insurance Company, otherwise known as AFNIC, are down by seven bucks?"
"Let me think here..."

Every possibility that my insurance company or pension fund is being looked after by this internet platform... and every possibility that every one of those people milling around me in George Square will in some way to be connected to that giant cyberspace hive up in Washington State.

Now let me tell you about the Acxiom corporation....
(Written in Glasgow, and Edinburgh. December 7 to December 8)

Thursday, 5 December 2013

There Is A Light That Never Goes Out

There Is A Light That Never Goes Out : Makeshift Studios 2013

In Edinburgh as night falls, and in the soft glow of red, blue and yellow Christmas lights, a man with the aura of Jesus approaches. Tall, bearded, with long flowing hair, his clothes grubby and ragged around the edges, he leads a little dark dog with a maroon coat.

Around us, the capital is alive with the sounds, smells and noise of the festive season. Fairground rides are busy with eager thrillseekers, the big wheel is packed and a queue is already forming for the next spin, the German market is enjoying a trading bonanza and everywhere people seem to be having fun.

'Daddy can I have train set for Christmas?' a youngster pleads with his father.
'You'll have to write to Santa little Johnny,' the man explains to the child.
'But I don't believe in Father Christmas!' The boy says petulantly.
'Then you won't get any toys at all then will you?'

Little Johnny looks horrified and bemused, simultaneously wide-eyed then frowning, as his father leads him by the hand through the crowds.

As he arrives, the man, with deep, dark, dead, pleading eyes offers me the obligatory Starbucks cup. He shakes the few coins and watches me closley.

'Can ye spare any change buddy?' He says quietly.

He is the outsider, the one our financial system was not designed to help, the needs of capitalism are not the same as the needs of people. You can only eat and/or have a roof over your head if you have the cash flow to allow you to do that.

Capitalismo does not fret if you sit at home wondering where you are going to find the money for the rent, your next meal, Christmas. The Royal Bank of Scotland does not lie awake at night if you are hungry and on the street without shelter in the storm. Whatever you may think, It just doesn't work like that.

The people who work for the above organisation (RBS), on the other hand, are obliged by law to increase the profits of the company to benefit their shareholders. That's how it, quite simply, operates, not to feed the hungry or shelter the homeless but to fatten up the wallets of the wealthy.
Think about this.

We know, for example, that the USA alone produces enough food to feed the world seven times over, nevertheless children and adults still starve and wander the streets without a home. Photographer Adrian Markis has taken a poignant series of images of homeless women and their children on the Streets of Buenas Aires, but that is part of the fall out of the global financial system.

Multi-roomed homes often go empty for weeks, months, even years and still the homeless on the streets of the UK and the USA are increasing. Men and women exposed to winter's harshest weather when homes devoid of people lie water and wind tight with nobody home.

It would be foolish to consider capitalismo as everyone's friend, it was not designed and developed to meet the needs of people but simply to continually increase margins at an ever accelerating rate by any means.

In this capitalismo universe the stretch between the fabulously wealthy and the precariat, the marginalised and the dispossessed is measured in light years and it is gravity (debt) that it is built on.

Despite the fact that the world's largest banks are being forced to pay fines for various misdemeanours - the last 12 months has cost the biggest financial brands billions - the average UK banker has enjoyed a 30 per cent raise in salary, while RBS have announced a £500 million pot for its executives bonuses.

I place the coin in the man's cup just as it starts to snow. A cold wind whips across St Andrew's Square, a drunk man singing a Christmas Carol, 'Good King Wenceslas' in a slurred voice staggers toward the St James Centre.

The Jesus figure thanks me and begins to melt into the night, his large shadow moving slowly toward Princes Street, the dog tottering behind his master.

'The energy companies, ye have to admit,' he stops, turns and calls back to me with the afterthought. 'Are not in business to heat hooses or light them up.'

He paused, his dark eyes piercing into mine.

'They're in business to make cash. The fact that they heat hooses and provide light, is really neither here or there. Think about it, there is a subtle difference.'

'Right,' I said absently and watched as he walked off, trying desperately to get my head around what he'd just said.

(Written in Starbucks, West Nile Street, Glasgow and Starbucks, High Street, The Royal Mile, Edinburgh, between December 1 and 5, 2013. I wanted to thank Starbucks for providing so many polystyrene collecting cups to homeless people everywhere.)

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Comfort and Joy

Oh Little Star Of Capitalismo : Makeshift Studios 2013

We travel from Glasgow to Edinburgh, safe in the knowledge that executive bankers earning over £1 million ( $1.6 million, €1.2 million ) have increased their salary by 30 per cent in the last 12 months.

As we arrive, we also notice that the Scottish capital is preparing for Christmas. Crowds of Christmas shoppers on the streets seem determined to hit me with their bags as we push our way through toward Leith Walk, the coffee shops are packed and a big red Santa Claus - complete with beard, red 'Coca-Cola' coloured suit and black boots - rings a big clanging bell to attract consumers to a department store.

We also notice the street lights in the shape of snowflakes and stars that dangle above our heads, a German market with carnival big wheel and fairground rides, a woman with a pop-up kiosk by the steps of Waverley rail station hands out Watchtower leaflets and other Christian literature ( I don't think Jehovah's Witnesses celebrate Christmas, do they?)

Somewhere in the distance we hear the gentle sounds of Christmas carols to brass, as we pass churches complete with nativity scenes in holy green, saintly blue and angelic gold.

We happen to be in Edinburgh for the hit show The Lion King, the tickets cost £63 ($103.7, €75.8) each, we queue, buy the souvineers, buy small tubs of ice cream at a jaw dropping £4 ($6.5, €4.8) a throw, the same price as the obligatory programme. The Playhouse theatre is filled with the echo of children calling to their parents for expensive merchandise and the tills, like tills alll over the Scottish capital are tinkling the festive season - Ker - ching.

By the time we leave the Playhouse theatre, it is dark and Edinburgh has a new look.

We walk back toward the city centre bathed in the beauty of the magnificent architecture around St James Centre, the wonderful pedestrian bridge across Leith Street (some might disagree) and all the beauty and colours of sparking Christmas lights and the winter city at night.

People, of course, are still shopping, maxing out credit cards and spending cash if that will hold back the demons who live in the shadows of all this glitter, consumer ritual and Christianity. The ATM's are in meltdown and have turned their back on the world as they teeter on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Mine comes ( my nervous breakdown) when I can't find my way back to the St James Centre mall from the huge John Lewis store.

Back on Princes Street I notice the silhouettes in the doorways. As I walk I count four spectres huddled against the creeping cold, blankets around them and of the four, three have dogs with them.

They all hold ironic, little, polystyrene Starbucks cups in their frozen hands. I hunker beside the first shadow, a 29 year-old man in a grey hoodie, and gently ask him about his plight. He looks at me with empty eyes and laughs ironically. He had, he told me, been living with his girlfriend in Dalkeith. He was made redundant from his job and try as he might could not face a replacement, though, he did say, he managed to find a temporary post at one point for a few weeks. Unable to find a regular income, the relationship became strained and because he had given up his flat to go and live in his new girlfriend's accommodation, he was forced to leave.

With hindsight, he agrees, it might have been foolish to give up his own flat, but he did add that for a year or so and certainly while he was working, things were going okay. Once they had split up, he had no family and no one to help him, so found himself on the street.

The second homeless man I spoke with, a few years younger than the first, told me a different, though similar story. He admitted to being a habitual heavy drinker and his relationship fell apart around his problems with alcohol. His wife left him and he was so devastated he gave up his work and then found himself unable to pay for his flat and was thrown onto the street.

'You know the ironic thing is' he started as I made to move off ' I don't even drink anymore, I can't afford it.'

As I walked back up Princes Street amid the colour and crowds of impending Christmas I could hear people singing ' Oh tidings of comfort and joy' carried from a department store to the right of me.

Edinburgh, beautiful and pregnant with Christmas which, in these modern times, is more about capital than Christianity. A commercial bonanza that increasingly dances around cash and an illusory and short-lived hedonism.

Later speaking with friends about the meaning of Christmas one remarked that if Jesus were alive today he would be too poor to take part in his own festival.

'Remember', he added 'He was born homeless, no room at the Inn.'

It struck a chord...