Old folk at lunch

Sunday, May 1, 2016

I know the poor


Poverty is a shortage of money, right?  It is not.  In our society, poverty is an effect of foolish decisions.  It is a behaviour problem, not a money problem.

I have seen it many times but I saw it most frequently when I was the proprietor of a 22-room boarding house located in a poor area. Many of the residents would buy basic groceries etc from a nearby service station, where the prices were about 50% dearer that at the supermarket.  And there was a branch of a large supermarket chain only ten minutes walk away.

And on "payday" (the day when government welfare money was paid into their accounts) it was a wonder to see the casks of "goon" (Sweet white wine in a cardboard box) coming into the place.  There was always money for alcohol.

And I had to be on the ball on "payday" too.  I had to get my rent before the money was all spent.  I even knew where some of them drank and would go in and collect my money from them at the bar.

And they would often have fights, usually over women.  And that often left me with property damage. I always had a glazier ready on call to fix broken windows.  I could have tried to claim that cost back off them but that would have been in vain. By the end of the week most had nothing left in their pockets.

And the fighting was not limited to my place.  They would also get into fights in bars and elsewhere.  And the loser in a fight generally had his money stolen off him, often on the night of "payday".  So, sometimes, if I had not got his money that day, he would have nothing left by the time I got to him.

But not all welfare clients are like that.  Many are prudent enough to have money left over at the end of the week and accumulate some savings.  One such was a tall black Melanesian man -- named Apu if I remember rightly.  When I approached him for his rent he said:  "I got into a fight last night and lost my money ... so I went to the bank and got some out".  He was the only man ever to say that to me.

So he was not poor. He had money for his needs and could put something aside as well.  He got the same "pay" as everyone else but he was more prudent in his behaviour.

I spent many years endeavouring to provide respectable accommodation for the poor but the poor did not make it easy for me.  Many are their own worst enemies.

And in my younger days I lived on Australia's student dole for a couple of years -- and led a perfectly comfortable life.  The student dole was actually a bit below what the unemployed got.  So I have NEVER been poor.

I sometimes had only a little money but I have always had savings, have always eaten well, have always had comfortable accommodation, have always had sufficient clothing, have always had lots of books (mostly bought very cheaply secondhand), have always had good access to the sort of recorded music that I like,  have always been able to afford the day's newspaper and have rarely been without an attractive girlfriend.

I did not however drink alcohol until I could afford it.  I was teetotal until I was about 28.  And I have never smoked or used illegal drugs.  So I made good choices -- for which I largely thank my fundamentalist Christian background -- and have always been contented

UPDATE

While I am enormously grateful to  my Protestant background for putting my teenage feet onto the right path, there seem to be some genetics involved too.  I say that because my son, who did not have that background, is a lot like me.  He seems to save as  much as he spends and yet has an attractive girlfriend, a job he enjoys and vast amounts of "stuff" - mainly books and computer games.

He does however have an addiction -- as young people these days mostly seem to.  So is he addicted to heroin, cocaine, marijuana  or "Ice"?  Far from it.  He is addicted to flavoured milk. He finds it hard to get past the flavoured milk display at our  local supermarket.  At a time when young people pour all sorts of foul things into themselves, I am overjoyed about that

Milk IS bad for his waistline but he has the self-discipline to  get that under control from time to time too.  I think that both he and I have inherited Puritan genetics.  I am convinced there is such a thing.  It is a great gift.

And let us not forget that Puritans founded America.  So Puritans can be people of considerable personal effectiveness.  And for some people Puritanism feels right.  It did for me.  People exiting restrictive religions tend to be resentful of their times in the religion concerned.  But I revelled in it. And it is still a fond memory of that time in my life

So in the end I have to agree with a great Rabbi:  "The poor ye always have with you". There may not be such a thing as "white privilege" (most of my lodgers were white) but there may be such a thing as an inborn Puritan privilege -- JR


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