Friday, 14 August 2020

St Kirstie of Property Values

It's a mixed morning in Husborne Crawley. The earth still damp from yesterday's storms renders a coolness in the air. From my Archdruidical Study, I look across at the Socially Distanced Garden, where individual 2m square areas of decking enable Beaker Folk to enjoy the scent of wild herbs and garlic in safety. It's not a herb garden as such, but we had Piri Piri last night in the Refectory and it kinda lingers.

I see Burton Dasset on his personal staircase, resplendent in his checked pseudo-silk accountancy systems developer's kimono, enjoying his beans on toast and dishwater-weak tea before the rain returns. Before The Event, at this time he would have been on the train into London from Flitwick, trying to read his phone while some assistant merchandiser at Arcadia had her elbow jammed in his ear. But no more. Burton's employers have noted that he and his colleagues were just as productive at home, and terminated their lease on their office in an iconic office development in Clerkenwell. And Burton is now working from home forever. A situation that suits him, as you can see, even if I live in fear that at many moment a stray gust of wind around the kimono might reveal sights no middle-aged archdruid should see.

St Kirstie Allsop, patron saint of property values, isn't very pleased with Burton's new life. Like the Government, she thinks it's important he gets out and puts himself at risk of Covid 19. Unlike the chancellor, however, this is not because she thinks he needs to eat at 2 for 1 in 'Spoons and keep Pret going, so their employees and profits can be taxed - in lieu of taxing the companies owned by members of the Government and their friends, who so wisely keep they money offshore, but we pass over that for a moment.

No, St Kirstie's tweet (a week or so ago, but I've been busy) is concerned that:

Which instantly puts St Kirstie into the same realm as Telegraph columnists who, safe from their ancestral piles in Norfolk, Somerset or wherever, want to impose something else on the people who traditionally drag themselves out of bed at stupid o'clock, and squash themselves into a tin can to go London.

Old bloke with tea pot and breakfast table
Burton hears accountancy calling

And she's right. The wages in many places abroad are lower.

But do you know what? They were lower before the novel coronavirus, or as people are calling it, "Trump Flu", came along. People already knew that. Burton's employers certainly do. They keep him around for his knowledge of a far-ancient tongue called "COBOL" which no young IT graduate in India apparently wants to learn. And his ability to remember obscure accountancy laws that only apply in Hemel Hempstead which no-one from Bengaluru is likely to be aware of. But all his colleagues have long since gone off to try and eke out their remaining careers as contract project managers, while all the funky jobs in Java and Ubuntu and I don't know what have departede to India, Poland and the Czech Republic. 

If anything, working from home for Burton, in the declining quarter of his career, is an act of mercy. And yes, it's tough on the people in the coffee shops of Islington and Moorgate, and the tenants of pubs in Soho and Dalston. But if you were going to build a working model of a country, would you really make the livelihoods of a million people in service industries dependent on them servicing the needs of another million people who every day travel an hour in each direction in contagious air, crammed against their fellow human beings like members of the Bullingdon Club having a "how many brain cells can we fit in a phone box" competition?

The only salvation I can see really for not sending high-tech and desk-based jobs abroad is Brexit. OK, we may have to live on beans on toast. If we can afford the beans or toaster. But at least, once the sheer horrors of No-Deal or even a "barebones agreement" are faced, the pound should drop so much that we can offshore jobs over here.

But for Burton, for now, he's safe from virus, resplendent in his kimono, ready to do a full day's work, saving a fortune in sandwich shops and Tesco Metro, and soaking wet. Because the rain's kicked in. I wonder what mysterious person locked the Great House door?

* "Burton" is played here by Brian Murphy as seen in Last of the Summer Wine, "Will the Genuine Racer Please Stand Up". BBC.

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