True Tales from an Austere Kingdom - Inflation
I hailed a cab to take me to my club.
"That'll be a penny guvnor, up front if you don't mind."
"I do mind, actually," I said. "I am used to being trusted to pay on delivery, I am not some feckless vagabond."
"Sorry guvnor, just the ways of the world today. Very few has the money in their pocket, what with the new taxes and all."
"That's all very well, but I've been making this journey for nigh on ten years, and the price has been half a penny for every one of those days. A penny fare is taking a liberty."
"Liberty or not that's wot it costs now, the journey takes twice as long and the horse and myself still only have 24 hours in the day still."
"Twice as long? Why, are you taking detour?"
"No, it's all the dead bodies in the road."
"Yes I've noticed that, the poor really are a nuisance, you'd think they'd make the effort to die somewhere more convenient instead of littering the streets. But there's no need to slow us down going round them, just drive over them."
"That's wot slows us guvnor, they act like speed bumps, just as you get a bit of lick on Nancy here, boom, there's another corpse."
There were indeed a lot of bangs and bumps en route, all at twice the cost, a fine indicator of the times.
I wouldn't begrudge the extra cost in normal times, but my finances were at an all time low. The recension had meant that I'd had to evict nearly all of my tenants for non-payment. Normally that is no hardship, just the cost of hiring some thuggish lowlife to empty the properties before renting them out again, but now ... nobody wants to rent. I could half the cost and still nobody would pay. Instead they inhabit the gutters and the cemeteries, free of charge to them, meaning I have houses and hovels sitting empty.
When I finally arrived at my club I was so late I'd missed my normal lunch hour and I had to bride the kitchen to bring me a special meal. And when I say meal.
"Look at the state of this," I said to Tomkins, one of my regular co-diners. "Mutton and potato, gristly mutton at that. Come to think of it the potato's gristly too."
"It's the war," said Tomkins. "We're almost completely cut off from all food of any quality. It was foolish of the government to launch a war against all of Europe at the same time."
"Don't remind me. Normally when we fight the French and lose access to their fines wines, we can make do with Portugese port or if we fight Portugese we can at least access some vile Spanish wine. But look at this, the only alcohol available apparently, Scrumpy cider. It takes like alcoholic vinegar, though not as pleasant. Still, at least it is disgracefully strong, hopefully I'll get so drunk I'll have no memory of the recent culinary assault."
At that moment Gervais entered with the afternoon papers.
"Good news at last?" I said, pointing to the headline. 'Relief Fund Launched'. "Are the government offering much-needed relief to landlords."
"I'm afraid not, old boy," he said. "It's not relief for the likes of us, it's a new fund towards a yacht for Her Majesty."
"The Queen?" I said. "Is her majesty impoverished?"
"Compared to the Chancellor, yes. It's quite shaming to have a common MP with five times the wealth of the monarch. The PM is keen to give her half the wealth in the kingdom."
"All very well, but what about us?"
"Don't be too critical of the government," Gervais said. "They've taken every step possible to make the poor work harder, yet instead of working harder they just die en masse. We should send the army in."
"I don't think shooting them's going to stop them dying," I said.
There was a glum silence.
"Gervais is right," Tomkins said eventually. "The government has taken every measure you could ask of it. A new tax on work, a tax on rental, a tax on borrowing, new rights for landlords to seize the children of faulting tenants and sell them into slavery, yet we're none of us any better off. It's almost as if the poor have been squeezed so hard they've nothing left to give us."
"What are you saying Tomkins?" I said. This was not the sort of talk you usually heard at the club.
"I'm saying that if the poor keep dying at this rate then we're not going to get their rents, we're not going to profit from their labour, we're not going to get their taxes. At this rate we're going to have to go out and work ourselves."
Gervais and I gaped at him in horror.
And the worst of it was we both knew he was right.