A man with £3 a week and a man with £1500 a year can feel themselves fellow creatures, which the Duke of Westminster and the sleepers on the Embankment benches cannot.
George Orwell in The Lion and the Unicorn, his essay on the state of Britiain in wartime, published in 1941. His lines occur to me when, most mornings, I walk through the Embankment Gardens and see homeless men (and women too, but mostly men) asleep under the trees or just stirring in the early light. This has always been a place to which London's homeless drift, not least because of the soup kitchen at the nearby church of St Martins-in-the-Fields. Many of them clearly have problems, both physical and mental. They are increasing in number daily, the dispossessed and disenfranchised. But what about us 'fellow creatures', those of us who have a financial stake, however modest, in what we still call society?
In 1980 Chief Executive Officers of companies listed on the London Stock Exchange earned around 15 times the average salary of the workers they employed. Last year this had risen to 183 times. Orwell's belief that there should be a 10:1 ratio - that heads of companies should earn no more than ten times the average workers' salary - remains a pipe dream.
Orwell's writing inspires a forthcoming one-day performance event organised by Henningham Family Press, the name under which the artists David and Ping Henningham collaborate. MAXIMUM WAGE: A Performance Publishing Extravaganza, a free event and open to all, will take place in Stoke Newington, North London, on Saturday March 12th. Eight artists will be taking part and it promises to be an intriguing and subversive interrogation of money culture. Full details here. For an earlier TLS blog on Henningham Family Press click here.
I recently went to a Soho whiskey seller, looking for a bottle of malt whiskey as a gift (and I know nothing at all about whiskey, being a GIN man). I asked for Macallan, having read somewhere that this was a reliable choice. In the cabinet at the back of the shop were a shelf of bottles, the cheapest of which was £19,999. I needed a stiff drink, as my budget was around forty quid. How was it possible, I boggled at the friendly shop manager - wham did this happen? I felt like a Wellsian time traveller fetching up in the unimaginably remote future when a cup of tea costs a king's ransom. He shrugged and said that such high ticket items tended to sell to - well, you've guessed it. Oligarchs and their ilk. Being that rich is a pissing contest - a bottle of scotch that costs more than a car is nothing much to a billionaire (and I reflected glumly that my modest budget represented a larger proportion of my available capital than £20k to the average billionaire). But how does one drink such liquor? I was told that a particular brand of whiskey sells in a double measure at a swank London hotel for £5,000. The mind reels. He also told me that he once observed a chap adding lemonade to his . . .