Posts Tagged 'recession'

Empty Shops & Bank Repos

The night I sleep best is the second one of any given month. The mortgage and utilities are paid and I have 28 days to get the next payments together. Things are bad in our little coastal paradise – half the shops in town are empty, the local school has shrunk and fee non-payments are at an all-time high, many of my friends’ husbands are working all over Africa to send money home.

The sign above says it all. Family Home. Not any more.

Where have all the hippies gone?

Sedgefield, and the Garden Route, has been a hippie haven for decades. Flower painted vans, tie-dyed T-shirts and the smell of patchouli were as common as fishing rods and fynbos.

Any counter culture refugee could move down here, rent a cottage for a pittance, smoke good dope and sell boxes beaded with shells or dream catchers to tourists. It wasn’t limited to hippies, anyone who wanted a simple coastal life could make ends meet without too much trouble.

Then, about eight years ago, property boomed. Slowly, and then not so slowly, the run-down cottages sold for millions and were replaced with Hampton’s style beach houses. These owners didn’t need to rent out their houses for a few thousand bucks a month; they were so rich they didn’t need to rent them out at all.

The hippies moved out of town into the surrounding forested hills and in the short term, things got better for the simple lifers. Wealthy property owners provided work for artisans, garden services and restaurants. People in property made a killing, everyone was flush for a while and life was good.

Just as we all got used to the easy life, the recession pulled the rug. The money dried up as quickly as it had come but things didn’t go back to how they were before. Property prices stayed high and rents never came down.

Since I wrote my small town suicide post a few weeks ago, another financially pressured young father has killed himself. High school kids walking home spotted him hanging from the rafters of his house and called the police. Thankfully his wife and two young children weren’t the ones to find him.

We were having a few drinks at the Beach Bar last night and got chatting to a friend we haven’t seen in a while. He’s deep in hock.  He’s in the building trade and work has just dried up for him. Banks and lawyers hound him and his life has become about dodging creditors.

He told us how debt collectors showed up at his house with a court order to attach his furniture and other possessions. His wife, who was home at the time, objected. After a vigorous argument, the debt collectors left, and returned with the police. She was chucked into the back of a cop van and taken to Knysna police holding cells on a charge of obstructing the cause of justice. He had to bail her out.

We’re okay for now, thanks to a bit of luck and a lot of hard work on Gavin’s part, but a pile of money dwindles very quickly here. We can’t relax, we have to endlessly think of ways and schemes to make money. Living here, with our beautiful garden, our sea views, and our ‘simple’ life costs money. A lot of it.

Recession Porn

imagesI thought I was in the minority with my avid reading of endless articles about foreclosures and credit crunch victims, but it seems the trend is so pervasive that the New York times has coined a phrase to describe it – ‘Recession Porn.’

One of my best friends in Sedgefield has gone from being a knock-out blonde with a sea-view house, who shopped only at Woolworth’s Food for her husband and two cute kids to being a separated single-mother living with her dad. Luckily she’s still a knock-out.

Her husband lost his income when the property market dived, their relationship dissolved under the massive financial stress, they are dealing with the bank’s lawyers trying valiantly to keep their house, and life is bloody awful for her right now.

I take her out for lunch regularly and we joke that her life is a horrible soap opera which I need to have updated. And there is something compelling about watching a drama like this unfold, like not being able to resist looking at a car smash.

I think people, on some primal level, like functioning in an environment of struggle. You  hear  people who lived during the London Blitz describe it as the best time of their lives.

There’s something very appealing about surviving rough times. Something rewarding about an economic crisis that makes growing your own vegetables and jam making  a cool activity. Thriftiness, mending and recycling have ousted conspicuous consumption and people are embracing the zeitgeist.

Of course my friend’s story, while being an extremely unpleasant experience, is relatively benign. She and her kids have a roof over their heads, school fees are covered and, while it may not be organic, they have plenty to eat.

Struggle is only enjoyable if we can overcome it. There is zero thrill for those who have lost everything and are trying to survive the crucifying stress of being outsiders in a world that still functions, unless you are a wilderness survivalist, on having access to money.

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