To The Manor Born
Imagine, if you will, that there is a well-to-do household somewhere in the countryside which consists of a Mother, who is the primary breadwinner, and 6 other family members. They live in a huge house with large grounds and their two lovely Bentleys. The Mother’s job is not high-profile, but is one of those sort of jobs which commands extremely high pay packets.
So that’s the premise.
Now the six other family members might be in quite different circumstances. One might have a low-paid job in a local shop. Another might not have a job at all. But they are unlikely to ever feel, or appear, “poor”. Sure, the Son might resent having to ask to borrow the spare Bentley instead of being able to buy his own. The daughter might need to ask for the occasional “loan” which she knows her Mother probably won’t expect her to ever repay. But they’ll always have plenty of food. They’ll always be warm. They’ll always have more choices and options available to them than somebody who doesn’t live in a house with a well-paid benefactor like their Mother.
Okay, so in our story the Mother decides to take out some loans. She’s not short of cash at all, but the old house is huge and expensive to upkeep and she thinks it needs a lot of work. The roof needs an expensive repair, the ornate fountain on the front lawn hasn’t worked properly for years and let’s face it – it all needs a complete redecoration. Plus, they could do with another couple of cars. The Bentley is awesome, of course, but it’s not really ideal for quick trips around town.
Lenders fall over themselves to lend the Mother money. Of course they do, she’s the best risk ever. She has a great job with a solid income, she’s stable and reliable and has never had any kind of bad debt. And she has that enormous house and those beautiful cars as collateral to back up the debt.
Mother borrows a vast amount of money. But there is a secret and the secret is this – Mother has quit her job. Quietly, carefully, she has decided that she has spent long enough in the Rat Race. She wants to spend more time with her family. She wants to enjoy life a little. She wants to work less and play more. So she’s handed in her notice.
Over the next couple of years nothing changes at all. The family still go on expensive Summer holidays. They still swan about town in luxurious vehicles. They still wear designer clothes. Nobody suspects a thing. But a closer look might reveal some telling points. The fountain still isn’t working. The garden is somewhat overgrown. The roof is now leaking into several of the rooms upstairs, which have been temporarily closed off. Temporarily, in this case, apparently meaning Until Further Notice. Still, it’s fair to say that the other six members of the family haven’t changed their lifestyle at all. They don’t even know that Mother isn’t working, since she keeps up an elaborate charade. Their individual circumstances continue to vary, but they still have the security and safety they have come to rely on behind them. Or they think they do, at least.
At some point Mother notices the money she borrowed is dwindling. So she goes to the Lenders again and asks for more. She has never missed a payment, because she has used the borrowed money, in part, to make those payments. She still has the big house and the flash cars and she still looks like a good credit risk in that respect. But, some of the Lenders notice that her income has changed, that the house value has changed due to its gradual disrepair and that she really does have quite a lot of debt now. They agree to lend her more money – but they increase their rates and they decrease the size of the loans she can have. Mother is really put out by this. How dare they? Don’t they know who she is? But she has no choice but to accept. Choices, for her, are beginning to look limited.
For another Eighteen months not much changes. Still the neighbourhood see the Family as wealthy and well-to-do. Though there is now some gossip relating to the deterioration of the property, most just think it is because Mother is “tight” and prefers to hoard her money. The Family Members still have almost no clue as to what is going on. Though Aunt Hilda is becoming increasingly concerned by the fact that so much of the house is sealed off due leaks, that there is such aggressive damp on the back walls and that the fountain is now buried entirely beneath a mass of weeds and wild flowers. One of the Bentleys is now stored in the garage. It’s not working and nobody seems in a rush to get it repaired. The whole family are now sharing one car, but they aren’t likely to get any pity. After all, telling somebody you have to get by on “just one Bentley” doesn’t exactly pull on the old heart strings.
Where does this story end? Perhaps Mother can spin her debt out a third time and grant them a few more years? Perhaps some miracle of luck will save them – oil found beneath the paddock, or a rare and valuable painting in the attic. Though even those things will simply buy more time, unless Mother and the rest of the family make different choices in future.
The fact is, sooner or later, the Family will not be able to borrow anymore. The debt will be unserviceable and the Lenders will close their doors. The bailiffs will begin to pay regular visits and they will take the grand furniture, the suit of armour, the portraits of long dead queens, the rare book collection. Eventually there will be almost nothing left. This will make some of the family very angry. These things belong to The Family! How dare outsiders remove them and claim them? Debt? Pah. Mother should just refuse to let them in and the debt be damned! But the cries will fall on deaf ears because the Family have still not understood that due to the vast debts involved, Mother is not pulling the strings anymore. Mother doesn’t have a say in it.
At this point the family member’s different lifestyles and personal choices will be thrown into stark relief. Once their rich benefactor is revealed as debt-ridden and bankrupt they will have to pay for their own food. Their own warmth. Their own shelter. Their own everything. Some of them will be better placed than others to handle this. But all of them will be faced with a surprising and chilling dose of reality.
For a while they will blame Mother. And they will be right in some respects, because Mother did make some unwise choices. Suddenly forced into rented accommodation, different jobs (in some cases their first job ever.) Eating less caviar and steak, more sausages and mash. Having to pay their own bills and their own way, they could be forgiven for thinking that their living standards have dramatically reduced through no fault of their own. It is Mother’s fault. Right?
But slowly, gradually, surely, if they are honest the Family may come to see that they are not resolved of fault themselves. Why was it Mother’s job to provide for them all? Couldn’t they see that the lifestyle that had come to think was “normal” and even begun to consider an Entitlement was a fantasy? Didn’t they have some responsibility to understand the family finances and contribute where necessary? The situation was built, first of all, by reliance on Mother to always be there and always be able to work on their behalf. And secondly, on Mother having to borrow until she was bankrupt to maintain the illusion of wealth.
At some point the Family members may consider that their new standard of living is not the aberration they think. It was the wealth that was the aberration, because it was not based on any real wealth-creation. What has happened is that the Lies and Falsehoods have crumbled away to reveal the true state of play. It’s not pretty. It’s not going to be fun. But at least, now, the truth is clear and once that is realised the Family can work towards a genuine, sustainable and tangible recovery that will benefit them all. Or they can stick their heads in the sand and demand entitlements until the end of time. But that’s entirely up to them.