There is a story of Beatrix Potter walking along a road near her farm when she met a tramp who was passing the other way. Beatrix Potter was wearing a sack over her head as protection against the rain, and the tramp assumed her to be a traveller like himself, calling out to her, “It’s gay weather for the likes of thee and me”.
The story fits well with Beatrix Potter’s disregard for social convention and fashion – practical and useful were of much greater importance; a hessian sack would have provided far greater protection against Lakeland rain than that afforded by a lady’s hat.
Perhaps Beatrix Potter might have written a guidebook on surviving a recession: making the most of what is to hand and not getting caught up with the inessential. Perhaps we need a set of ‘Potter principals’ that we could learn and apply to economic life.
Potter’s obliviousness to what anyone might think of how she dressed or the way she lived would be reflected in Ireland amongst some of the ‘old money’; those who do not to worry what anyone might think because it matters not in the slightest what anyone thinks; the opinion of others can affect them neither for good nor for ill. Battered old cars that have not been cleaned since they were bought; jackets with threadbare elbows; sweaters with frayed cuffs; there are unmistakable trade marks of those who have learned how to pass money from generation to generation.
The old money did not rise much in the boom years and is unlikely to fall much in the boom years: so what are the secrets for their survival?
Perhaps it begins with an ‘innate’ meanness, but their endurance means that their philosophy is one that brings success in the long run.
Watch for those who check each item on the bill when paying at the restaurant; watch for those who calculate carefully how much they should pay and how much they should leave as a tip: money was never held onto by flashing it around.
Watch for those who buy things that last: quality may cost more at the outset, but can end up cheaper in the long run.
Watch for those who buy things that will be passed on to future generations. A man, now perusing the shelves of heavenly libraries, who drove around in a battered old Ford van, would talk with care and delight of the antique books on his shelves. He had money to buy anything in the car showroom, but money was meant for passing on.
Watch for those who are unobtrusive in public, those who are unmoved by displays of ostentation and obvious desires to impress. Serious money does not need to impress, and certainly does not want to attract attention to itself.
Old money allows itself to be eccentric and to be ignorant of fashion and so-called ‘must haves’.
Weathering the recession will be much easier with a little eccentricity. Don’t worry what others think; be happy.
The recession may even give license for much greater eccentricity, those of us who never had money can use it as an excuse. I may hold onto my work jacket, which cost €5 in the parish fete, for years to come, and my old car should be good for another six years at least.
What will the old money do in the recession?
Just be themselves.
We need to learn from them.