The Coronavirus pandemic is disrupting many facets of daily life.
The speed and frequency with which my sense of “normal” has been upended during recent days left me feeling punch drunk at times. Yet I am also heartened by how adaptable we are proving to be.
This page is a microblog that chronicles what I thought and how I reacted while experiencing these most interesting of times.
I experienced an ethical dilemma yesterday.
This was unusual for me. Normally I just automatically do the “right” thing (as defined by my individual experience, perspective, biases, and values) without giving it any thought.
On this occasion, I felt conflicted.
One of my furloughed staff is bright, enterprising, and has a lot of get-up-and-go. They have worked for me for more than 5 years.
They also have a complicated home life with heavy responsibilities. I don’t envy them that, sometimes life deals people a shitty hand.
Yesterday I checked in on them, making sure they were doing ok and had everything the needed. During the conversation they let it slip they had been working from home. A raised eyebrow from me lead to a confession that they had taken a second job.
The opportunity is a good one, and the pay is fair for what they are doing.
However, the working hours fully overlap with the time they would ordinarily be working for me.
This meant they were being paid for that time twice. Once by the new employer for the work they were actually doing. A second time by me, for the work they were being paid not to do.
I felt strangely conflicted.
Part of me was proud of them for playing the angles and gaming the system.
The rest of me was hurt, feeling like I had been taken advantage of.
Their furloughed wages are being paid out of my own pocket, an arrangement entered into before the government made its announcement to underwrite 80% of qualifying worker’s wages. That scheme commences at the end of April, with no concrete detail yet on who actually qualifies.
They needed the money, and I could afford to help. For a while at least.
Except it turns out they don’t need the money after all. Unlike the common experience during the lockdown, their income has doubled in an arbitrage play.
Which left me strangely disquieted. Like I had been screwed with my pants on.
The DWP published the fortnightly applicant count for Universal Credit yesterday.
950,000. In a fortnight.
9.5x the typical number of applications for the social security safety net.
This with the government promising to underwrite 80% of furloughed worker’s wages.
According to the ONS, before the pandemic there were about 1,350,000 unemployed people in the UK, and just under 33,000,000 employed people.
That means nearly 3% of the UK’s potential workforce applied for benefits. In one fortnight.
And that is just the people organised enough to apply in the first fortnight of the lockdown.
Those figures don’t include those too proud to claim benefits. Yet.
Nor those attempting to ride out the storm by living off their savings.
What do Universal Credit applicants receive? A single person my age would receive £73 per week. A family of four would receive £232 per week.
That is just £8 to £10 per person per day.
To survive on.
Pay all the bills.
Make ends meet.
I went to the grocery store yesterday.
Felt mildly guilty for venturing outside.
Queued for 20 minutes to get in.
More staff than customers prowling the aisles.
Large plastic screens between the checkout operator and the customers.
And yet all these things have come to feel normal. I am still surprised at how quickly we have accepted all this change. We had little choice, the other options weren’t all that palatable.
The noteworthy thing was the full shelves. Almost everything was in stock, even toilet paper and Panadol. Panic buying appears to have abated. For now, the Just-In-Time supply chains outwardly appear to still be working.
I was pleased by this, but also recognised the risk of wishful thinking that this would all be over soon. Lockdowns are being implemented in ever more places, which can only impact the ability of suppliers, wholesalers, and distributors to smoothly carry out their business.
The staff in the supermarket were all temporary new hires, having lost their professional jobs. Grateful to be earning anything, even if it was a zero-hours contract paying minimum wage.
One of the shelf packers described “key workers” like delivery drivers and shelf packers as human shields. Putting themselves, and the families they return to each evening, at risk to ensure the vast ranks of middle managers and office dwellers could remain safely on their conference calls at home.
A troubling thought that. One which hit uncomfortably close to home.
An interesting side effect of the pandemic lockdowns has been the vanishing of interesting content from around the web. There is a firehose of speculation and conjecture about the virus, and to a large extent a vacuum of anything else.
The sounds of crickets emanate from my Feedly, as the sound of pigeons echo from the once bustling landmarks of the world’s great cities.
There is no sport to watch. Celebrity gossip has been reduced to social media postings of home videos showing bored famous people doing boring everyday things. No travel stories. Little in the way of random “life happens” events on the news.
Just all virus all the time. The virus economy. “Flatten the curve”. Social shaming of quarantine violators. Bewildered and exhausted politicians briefing the nation, talking a lot but saying little.
The Personal Finance blogosphere seems to have gone into hibernation. I must confess to being surprised by this, as market volatility, sudden widespread unemployment, and an indefinitely uncertain future are all good reasons for people to need to get their finances in order.
Perhaps the stock posts and listicles promising easy answers are no longer relatable?
More likely the affiliate marketing funnels have dried up.
Curious about this, I looked at the readership statistics for this blog.
It appears the audience has gone wherever all the PF bloggers went. Perhaps the bulk of the audience read it during the daily commute they are no longer undertaking, or while scoffing down sandwiches at the office desk they are no longer sitting at?
Times of uncertainty make for fascinating people watching.
Some folks shut down or withdraw inward.
Others overcompensate, wanting to be everyone’s friend.
A few believe the best form of defence is attack, laying waste to all who surround them. Scorched earth. No quarter given. Take no prisoners. Burn the boats, there is no going back.
There is that rarest of beasts, the sympathetic listener. Hearing without judgement. Offering advice, but only where it is requested.
Change is in the air at my client site.
Rumblings of pending pay cuts.
Rumours of redundancies.
Freelancers and consultants wondering if their invoices will be paid at all, let alone in full or on time.
Knowing it is coming is one thing. Helping to perform the triage analysis is something else entirely. Sometimes these things are euphemistically referred to as a “hair cut” or “belt-tightening”.
This time it is more a question of which limbs to amputate first? What is the bare minimum of “run” required to keep the firm on life support?
On spreadsheets, such analyses are academic numbers exercises. However, in real life each of those numbers has a backstory. Responsibilities. Hopes and dreams. The single mother. The person caring for elderly parents with dementia. The fool with three kids in private school and a massive mortgage.
Sucks to be them today. Looks like it will suck a great deal more in a couple of weeks time.
My elder son showed me a meme a week or so ago that has stayed with me. It read along the lines of “what are ‘they’ up to out there, while we are all locked-down in here?”.
There was an old West Wing episode where they talked about “taking out the trash”, dumping all the bad news story media releases when nobody was watching, for example during a crisis or after the press corps had clocked off for the weekend.
Incoming CEOs invariably use their initial honeymoon period to air all the dirty laundry and reset expectations while the can still get away with blaming the previous occupant of the big chair.
With the whole world obsessed with the pandemic to the exclusion of all else, I wonder who is getting away with what? Normal rules aren’t being enforced, providing a license for bad behaviour.
Commercial tenants shafting their landlords, opportunistically renegotiating more favourable deals?
Media companies doing the same over broadcasting rights for professional sporting codes?
Lobbyists convincing governments to quietly roll back burdensome governance and oversight regimes?
The desire to “track and trace” revoking many of the privacy and data protection established in recent years?
Competition laws set aside, which once prevented dominance or oligopoly market concentration in certain industries?
Foreign takeovers of once protected precious “national” assets?
Property market has seized up. Lockdowns mean no viewings. No viewings mean no purchases. No purchases mean no comparable sales. No comparable sales mean it is difficult to determine a market price.
Many of the big banks have massively reduced their mortgage product range, unable to determine which applicants represent bad risks, given the prevailing high degree of uncertainty.
Looks like I may have timed my run too late for getting that interest-only offset mortgage lined up, positioning myself to do some bargain hunting when the estate sales start in a month or two.
Turns out my brother panic sold all his shares during the recent market crash. Then, confidence shattered and ego bruised, waited too long to re-enter the market and consequently missed the bounce back.
Yesterday he owned up to his wife just how much they had lost. Poor bastard will be sleeping in his shed for quite some time. To cap it off they have both lost their jobs in the last fortnight. His contract not renewed. Her employer deciding to retire now rather than reopen when the pandemic passes.
A week of social distancing has been full of interesting experiences and challenges. The role of a primary school teacher is time-consuming when done well, demanding a lot of interaction and support of the young student. Not really compatible with concurrently working a full-time job.
A constant lament from the teacher’s at my younger son’s school was how few parents spent any time reading with their offspring, practising times tables or learning spelling words.
How long would the lockdown need to be before the children are forced to repeat the year of school?
Many of the kids who due to sit GCSE and A-Level exams next year will be going in undercooked.
I attended a virtual birthday party last night. 40 people dialling in from around the globe to raise a glass and applaud the celebrant having successfully surviving another lap around the sun.
It is interesting how my sense of time is warping. The days are slow, yet the weeks pass quickly. The non-stop firehose of all Coronavirus all the time news and social media coverage distorts perspective, making events of just a few days ago feel like ancient history.
The urban myth about boiling frogs springs to mind as I reflect on how quickly we are becoming accustomed to this new normal. Conditioned to accept the restrictions on our freedoms as being for the greater good in the face of an invisible enemy.
I had to laugh at the irony that Eton Tory Boris has become the most socialist of British leaders. State support for everybody. Will be interesting to see how he is legacy is framed in years to come.
A few interesting announcements yesterday.
Support arrangements for the self-employed, great to see but unavailable until June. How many businesses remain viable after no sales for three months?
Tenants protected from evictions via suspension of the court process required to remove them. Distressed landlords asked to seek assistance from benevolent lenders.
The American unemployment figures were eye-watering, 3,3 million applicants in a week. This is just the beginning!
I read an excellent article in The Atlantic today about some of the systemic factors at play that will determine how the pandemic plays out, and some of the potential lasting legacies it will leave behind.
Then I read an article that provides a pretty good case study illustrating how a lack of personal accountability and a sense of entitlement can be a dangerous combination.
It has been fascinating how the government’s unwillingness to appear dictatorial, using loose language like “should” instead of “must”, gets spun by individuals. The approach depends upon people’s individual judgement. That they are sound, and will ultimately do the right thing.
Except folks are forever thinking the rules don’t apply to them. They are special. In their individual case, an “emergency” is whatever they want it to be. Out of hair dye? Panic!
Spend half a day walking around a dozen pharmacies looking for a do-it-yourself kit.
Never once pausing to ask themselves whether their actions may prolong the need for the lockdown by spreading the virus further. Or worse, may indirectly cost someone their life.
A smoother day in lockdown. Starting to find a routine that works for most of the household, most of the time.
Insufficient bandwidth in the house to do concurrent video calls, particularly upstairs. Need to figure out an alternative to using the old house’s dodgy electrical wiring as an internet conduit. Variable 4G coverage complicates matters.
The lockdown has meant my staff are unable to work. A combination of logistical challenges, family obligations, and wanting to help prevent the spread of the virus. The furloughed workers scheme is not yet available, contacts at HMRC fear the computer systems won’t be ready until the end of April.
Was a glorious spring day in London, our “one daily outing for exercise” was greatly appreciated.
Stress is starting to dissipate. Transitioning into acceptance. We’ve all been going to bed earlier than normal, and waking up a bit later.
Mortgage stress in the US is gathering speed. Airbnb landlords with no bookings have a cashflow problem. So too landlords with now unemployed tenants.
First day of homeschooling yesterday. A tough day at the office for all concerned. Seven year olds need a lot of support and interaction while learning.
The local Marks & Spencers had been restocked, almost back to a normal range of items for sale. Victory dance.
London lockdown starts today. Leaves me feeling strangely uneasy in a manner eerily reminiscent of when I heard the result of the Brexit referendum. A mixture of anger, frustration, resignation, and a recognition that I would need to make my peace with it and learn to live with disappointment.
Trump’s stock market measuring stick dipped below where it had been when he was sworn in. Now he’s talking “restarting the economy” rather than listening to his health advisors.
Is telling watching each country’s morals and values place a value on human life.
My mother finally returned from her holiday. Celebrate the small wins.
A low key Mothers Day yesterday. Took the kids for a bike ride along the river while we still can. Street food market heaving. Playground rammed. Social distancing message falling on deaf ears.
Two men sold black market toilet paper and hand sanitiser at inflated prices from the back of a van.
A housebound workforce is proving toxic at my client site. Those worried about being laid off have already turned it into a never-ending 24×7 working day. Game of Thrones style, killer blows delivered via email rather than at the point of a sword.
Feels like I’m doing two jobs badly, stay at home parent meets professional services consultant. Isn’t sustainable. Is it better to do just one job, but do it well? Something will have to give soon.
The challenge is switching off the stress. Usual vehicles are curtailed or closed.
Early economic rumbling about 30% unemployment rates coming out of the US. Sound crazy, yet is consistent with the anecdotal experience here at school drop off last week.
One of my tenants is an airport baggage handler with a stay at home wife and a tribe of young kids. Stood down on leave without pay. Applying for jobs as a supermarket shelf packer.
Another has “temporarily” moved in with their parents outside London after their workplace shut down. Remote working for now. How long will they pay rent for a flat they aren’t using?
Squatters may be a problem as people run out of money?
Government’s new furloughed worker scheme triggered a wave of retail chain closures yesterday. Scant on detail, but appears they will cover 80% of wages up to ~£575pw. Will need to keep an eye on that for my staff when the time comes.
Watched two huge guys enforcing the Waitrose one pack of toilet rolls per household rationing policy. They looked terrified. Lager louts they could handle, but what can they do to badly behaved little old ladies?
Looks like TFS has become the textbook case study for “sequence of return risk”, undoing his best-laid FIRE plans. Unlucky.
FvL would have been worrying about margin calls recently. Hope he can roll with the punches. Having to sell at these prices would sting a little.
I wonder how Big ERNs naked option writing strategy is weathering the erratic markets? Quite the adventure I would think.
It all shows how random things are, our feeling in control is often an illusion.
My younger son has been cuddly the last couple of days. Last night he rescued a long-forgotten teddy bear out of his cupboard to take to bed.
Explained as best I could what was happening, and how our routines would change over weeks ahead. He decided we will camp out on the dining table together, and help each other with our homework.
Down side is he will witness first hand just how unexciting white collar work really is!
Last day of school. Am I doing the right thing letting my sons attend? Government guidance of “should” rather than “must” is ambiguous. Last chance to play with their mates for potentially a long while.
Government called up 65,000 retired/resigned doctors and nurses. They wouldn’t do that if things were under control. The lockdown hasn’t even started yet!
Lady wife had a virtual girls night, got shitfaced but seems happier for it. Two weeks ago the whole idea would have seemed ridiculous. Already it seems normal.
Chancellor announced underwriting the wages of everybody today. Restaurants and pubs to close tomorrow. Wonder how many will reopen? The speech also announced closing shops, but he walked it back afterwards.
What a baptism of fire he has had. Talk about a hospital pass! Ditto for the new BoE head.
They seem to have forgotten about the self-employed and the folks the IR35 reforms were targeting.
Tax avoidance could prove to be life-threatening. Who would have believed that a month ago?
School’s caretaker hospitalised overnight. All this was abstract before, suddenly seems real when it hits where we live. Hopefully, they can fix him up and send him home.
Grocery shops out of fresh produce, meat, and dairy today. The shelf packer, with nothing to restock with, said folks had begun queueing up from 5:30am based on the rumour of a delivery.
My Mauritian colleagues are now locked down in their homes. The police keeping people inside.
The realisation is dawning that the lockdowns can’t end until a vaccine or drug has been found, tested, and distributed globally. Not the work of just a few months.
Received word from two different sources that the London lockdown is planned to start Friday night. Baseless gossip or early warning? Will only know in hindsight.
Working from home at the same time as my lady wife has been bumpy. Bandwidth struggles when there are concurrent video conferences. Doing it with both kids home will be challenging indeed. Might have to drop back to voice-only calls.
I read a beautifully written Bloomberg article about the past few weeks in Rome. Made me want to cry. We’re less than a fortnight behind what it described. Every NHS worker we know has said things are already bleak, the government is massively understating things.
Starting to feel stressed by it all. Have never seriously wondered how I would provide for my family before. Now wondering whether living in the middle of a city containing 8 million people is wise? But where to go now the flights are mostly grounded? And when?
My stubborn mother is still holidaying abroad.
Have adopted the elderly neighbours. Their carers have stopped coming. Distant family are social distancing or self-isolating. Flashbacks to childhood, running errands and doing chores for old people. Hopefully, with fewer beatings this time around.
UK abandoned its misguided “herd immunity” plan today. How many frail people has that silliness condemned?
Pubs and coffee shops remain full, predictably ignoring Boris. The British population are a bunch of lemmings.
IR35 was deferred for a year. Celebrate the small wins. Hopefully freelancers will be earning enough to continue avoiding tax.
Macron has pledged to underwrite the entire French economy. All jobs. All businesses. Doesn’t that effectively nationalise the whole economy? More troubling, doesn’t that mean the entire economy will require bailing out?
What is the exit strategy from all of this?
Debt forgiveness on an epic scale?
Won’t that cause rampant inflation?
Supermarkets picked over. Felt pretty smug about not participating in the panic buying last week. Regretting that now. These things become self-fulfilling, the psychology of crowds.
Lots of scared folks at work. All desperately trying to be seen to be adding value, while working remotely. Freelancers fearing an extended period on the bench as the economy seizes up.
Borders are closing and flights are drying up. Starting to hear of more people trapped, having left their exit too late, now unable to return home.
Boris told the country they “should” stay home if they can. Not “must”. Good luck with that. Chickened out from closing the schools and shops. Can’t be far away.
Countries across Europe are copying the Italian style lockdown. Meanwhile, the UK government hints that the elderly might be self-isolated for four months.
A friend’s daughter is studying at an American university. The dorms have been closed with little notice, rendering her homeless. The ban on European flights means she can’t easily get home. She and a couple of other foreign students clubbed together to rent a vacant furnished flat nearby to continue their studies.
My elderly mother’s decision to go on a pensioner tour abroad is looking increasingly shortsighted. These entitled old people are stubbornly refusing to return early, playing chicken with border closures and flight cancellations. Hopefully she makes it home ok. Not much I can do about if she leaves her return too late. Silly old woman!
Elder boy stalling on doing homework, questioning whether teachers will ever mark it. He might be right?
Local supermarkets picked over, most of the packaged goods gone. Curiously, there still seems to be plenty of fresh produce, meat, and dairy. Local supply chains still working? Not according to the labels, imported from Kenya, Vietnam, and New Zealand!
Trump is starting to raise the drawbridge, banning flights from Europe. The UK isn’t included. Brexit related?
Dad’s taxi to various children’s sports and activities. Seems to be a lower turnout than normal. Amazon delivery arrived. A bittersweet box of gifts for the Australia trip I had cancelled that morning, and kids art supplies in preparation for a likely stint of homeschooling.
Younger son mentioned one of his classmates had abruptly relocated back home to Ghana with their family, wanting to be able to assist elderly parents through the coming storm.
New Zealand seems to have found a natural-born leader. Decisive action, with follow-through. Lucky them.
Normally there aren’t enough desks at the client site, today that wasn’t a problem. I pitched in to help the overwhelmed service desk kiddies building a bazillion laptops ahead of the inevitable London lockdown.
A rapid tech refresh by stealth, after the C-suite had previously refused to pay for upgrading all the beyond end-of-life Windows 7 desktops in use throughout the organisation.
My Polish staff reported their schools had all closed today.
Chatted with an Iranian guy on the tube home. He was worried for his parents, who don’t get along, but had been locked down together for a couple of weeks. Official statistics report low numbers, yet his family described bodies being buried by the truckload in mass graves.
Scary if true, makes me wonder why our government isn’t taking the impeding threat more seriously?
S&P500 bounced like a raver on ecstasy at the end of the days trading. Coordinated move? Who is doing the buying?
Day trip to Jersey for work. A beautiful place I hadn’t visited before.
Tumbleweeds in the airport. Nervous tourists racing home before rumoured border closures. Travellers in the departure lounge leaving a couple of empty seats between themselves.
Apart from a couple of posters advising people to wash their hands, and empty soap dispensers in the gents, there was nothing unusual about the airport security or travelling experience.
Minicab drivers all complain about the absence of jobs. Worried about how they will feed their kids.
An airline servicing Jersey had gone broke a few days earlier. A sign of things to come?
Somebody started a rumour I was marooned in Jersey after the airport closed. Wasn’t true, but I have never felt so popular as the client’s senior management called to apologise for my inconvenience.
Departure lounge TV showed markets dropping their guts again today. Ouch!