A Walk to the Shops

Money is integral to what we do and to some extent, who we are. Money determines where we live and how we live. But the psychology of money doesn’t get much attention. I’m going to return to reading the Grundrisse which attempts an explanation of money in great detail.

It feels as if days have been spent from the end of December until now in lazy daydreaming and languid reading. I read some books because I wanted to, rather than feeling that I ought to.

George Dangerfield’s The Strange Death of Liberal England, George Chetwynd Griffith’s The Angel of the Revolution and Pen Pictures of Russia under the “Red Terror”: Reminiscences of a Surreptitious Journey to Russia to Attend the Second Congress of the Third International by John S Clarke. I enjoyed them all a great deal.

It never felt like Christmas. A lot of people said the same. Is it the war in Ukraine? The cost of living crisis? The ongoing Parliamentary crisis, a boil that never heals and yet neither is it lanced?

The world feels deflated, the atmosphere stale, the air tastes of car exhausts and smells of corruption and decay.

I have to walk out into the road because yet another SUV is parked high up on the pavement. The year 2022 was the hottest on record; already in the first few days of 2023 more temperature records are being broken. But as I walk to the sea the conveyor belt of cars is endless. Round and round it goes.

The sea is at the top of the high tide. Rising and swelling with invincible power. The sea will still be here when all the flora and fauna’s dead. Killed by car exhausts and SUV production and nuclear attacks. The immense stupidity in the world can crush the soul and flatten out the heart. Everything becomes of one dimension. Towards a new event horizon. It’s dark there and cold and the atmosphere is metallic. That’s a planet without life.

A man on a bicycle goes past, we exchange words. A man sitting on a bench near the port is rolling up a cigarette. We say hello. A large sheet of plastic floats on the sea and is being rolled and stretched and opened out by the waves.

Flags in the wind. The creeping disorder of flags. Tory reaction but an emptiness of real opposition; for the opposition will fly the same flags. What sort of opposition is that?

I go into a local shop to buy joss sticks. They are made in India and have brightly coloured boxes and slogans, branding, commercial addresses and contact details.

‘Satya Tulsi Incense’
mfs Shrinivas Sugandhalaya (BNG) LLP
1/9th, 8th Cross, Magadi Road, Bengaluru – 560 023 – INDIA
ph: 080 2674891
customer care: 91-70-2200 0111
email: info@satyincense.com
Web: satyaincense.com

Constant revolutions in the means of production, revolutions in the means of communication, the internationalisation of production. With a click it’s possible to visit the company’s website. The global villages are slowly joining up, just as they are also breaking apart. Within capitalism these two forces of joining up production and breaking up production are complementary.

The man in the shop explains that they are under pressure to put the prices up.

‘These are a pound each’, he says, holding up one of the boxes, ‘but the suppliers are increasing their prices and they will go up to one pound fifty. Maybe in the next eight to ten days’.

The woman behind the counter looks at him as he speaks and then looks at me.

‘Everything is going up’, I reply, ‘my gas bill has gone up by three times. According to something I read on the BBC website, the average person is now three hundred pounds a month worse off’.

‘And electricity has gone up, all our costs have gone up’, the woman says.

‘It is also shipping costs’, the man adds, ‘It was three and a half thousand pounds to ship a container from India to Britain – and now it’s ten thousand pounds. And that’s to Felixstowe. We still have to pay from the port to come here’.

‘We need to do something’, I reply.

I’m not sure what comes next. Calls for Revolution might be valid but feel premature. Some sort of big strike? Should we ‘all get together’? But the idea of doing something sounds natural and part of the conversation. And that doesn’t happen everyday so this call to do something in itself has some radical suggestion.

‘Well there’s all these strikes going on’, the man says, and pauses, ‘….on the railways’.

I let silence do it’s work. What will he say next? He may be pro or anti-strike. But he changes the subject.

The shopping bill at the supermarket is nearly sixty pounds and that’s without wine or beer. I bought a box of peppermint creams, some biscuits, scones, a box of cheese straws. These aren’t essentials and added up to about fifteen pounds.

If needs must I can stretch fifteen pounds out for two or three days. But I know there’s money in the bank, I don’t have any debts, the bills and housing costs are being paid each month. If I spend frugally it’s because I want to not through necessity.

But as one has less and less money to spend the cravings for things that are out of reach seem to increase. People crave a little comfort, some sense that they are not just existing all the time, a tiny morsel of what feels like luxury, or escape, or both.

The streets are cold, half wet, a group of drunks in the market square shouting at each other. A despair-like drunkenness of nothing at all.

Engels was born in Barmen in 1820 and describes a visit there in the 1840s. The drunkenness had changed he said. From a rollicking cheerfulness with songs and camaraderie to desperate obliteration.

People on mobility scooters, with crutches, obese, wafer-thin, eating disorders, health problems, psychological pressures and strain. Faces contorted, limbs wasted. The Tory reaction works to shape public opinion against the poor, that they are the problem, they are the cause, they are the makers of their own defeat and destitution.

The last part of the shopping trip is to buy a copy of Private Eye in WH Smith. On a counter there’s a sign and a bell. ‘Please ring the bell for assistance’. The shop assistant is at the other end of the shop. It’s churlish to insist they come over to deal with this.

I confront the automatic machine. It’s loud and garish and suffers in the way that many machines and electronic communications systems suffer within commodity fetishism. There is too much verbal diarrhoea.

‘Scan your item’
‘Do you want a bag?’
‘Place item in baggage area’
‘Would you like a special offer?’

The options are several different types of hand sanitiser

It will be a good way to get rid of a pocket full of change. But I miscalculate.

Two pounds and ninety five pence is slotted in and then I discover I only have three pennies left. This isn’t enough. There is no way to negotiate with the machine that final penny. I yet I feel obliged to put it in. This is a social pressure generated by what exactly?

WH Smith aren’t going to miss that penny. But that’s not how it works. I have never seen anyone in a supermarket being let off a penny, let alone fifty pence or a pound. It’s the same on transport systems. If the fare is marked as two pounds fifty they won’t let you on for two pounds forty nine.

Just think how all those pennies add up. All around the world. A penny or equivalent in the slums of Mumbai and Rio de Janeiro, a penny in the department stores of Berlin and Madrid and Tokyo, a penny missed off the rent in London or New York. Capitalism requires precision, accurate measures, exact exchanges between money and commodity.

I have to put in a five pence piece to cover the four pence that I owe. The machine takes a while. It is erroneous to imagine that the machine is thinking but if it could do such a thing it must be wondering what is going on. Eventually a penny is returned.

‘Please collect your change’.

I almost leave it where it is.

But that’s the difference between us and the capitalists. They are constantly exact with all the money they wish to extract from us and we are generally imprecise. We buy each other drinks, presents and treats; splash out on scones and peppermint creams with no consideration of the costs, hand money out in the streets to the homeless and those who are begging.

We close our eyes when ordering expensive train tickets because to notice this too closely would spoil each and every trip. We calculate that if we buy a book, we’ll off set the cost with fewer bottles of wine.

I’m looking forward to picking up the Grundrisse again. Marx is famous for a great deal but it’s time that he was studied more for what he says about how, and why, we shop.

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