Monday, 26 May 2008


I've always thought it a bit of a pity that stocks and shares and other slightly bewildering forms of gambling are doing so well. I'm sure they do something frightfully useful to do with making sure money doesn't fall to pieces and reduce us all to valuing things by number of chickens (or goats, in privileged circles), and I'm very glad they do this. Livestock doesn't fit in my wallet, for one thing, and I've never been very good at lobbing bricks, so I don't think I'd be well-suited to anarchy. However, despite the apparently splendid achievements of these people, they are responsible for some terrible deeds.

You see, economics has really confused all the words to do with markets. By 'markets', I mean the ones with stalls, not the ones with target demographics, graphs and people in pin-striped suits shouting a lot while holding more telephones than should be humanly possible. I have on several occasions met people involved in this seedy underbelly of maths (in my experience, real mathematicians would be aghast by the thought of their secret knowledge being used to make money. In many cases they would also be aghast by the suggestion that they shave, or shower, so perhaps they are not the most useful comparison) who have professed (or confessed, in some cases) to be traders. I, naturally, assumed that they travelled from town to town with a mule and a small wagon laden with potatoes. Apparently, this is not the case.

Equally, the word 'market' makes me think of somewhere I can stock up on carrots and onions, while being bawled at by a vast man in an apron. I imagine that a fourteenth century peasant, upon wandering into one of our markets, after being told he ought to be wearing a tie, would be very disappointed to find that he couldn't buy anything to eat.

Of course, it's also pretty difficult to buy food in a real market. Part of this is the fault of those power-shoppers who think a queue is something to do with snooker. Sometimes I wonder if this is what the harpies were a metaphor for - wooshing down and nabbing the choice cuts before the Argonauts could get a look-in. This particular brand of harpy is closely related to those shifty people who spend all week hanging about by the banana boxes in supermarkets, making sure that nobody else can so much as glance at an unbruised fruit.

But as I say, they are only part of the challenge, for markets are also blighted by imperialism. Admittedly, this isn't the kind of imperialism that sends gunboats to small, distant countries, or that sees a British passport as a sort of licence to oppress (a few steps down and quite a few more bureaucratic than a licence to kill). Instead, it's the kind that simply insists that centimetres and kilogrammes are the product of some combination of fascism, communism and the French. Which isn't such a bad assessment of the history of the EU, as it turns out, but it doesn't make it any easier for me to buy food. These retro measurements are just fiddly. For starters, they all seem to be pinned to the dimensions of the current monarch (who, considering her technical medical status of 'wizened', has massive feet), and for another thing, there's a unit of weight called the pound. I can't understand why anybody who's heard a cry of 'two pounds for a pound' can still take the imperial system seriously.

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