When did it become OK to lie and cheat and steal? When did it become OK to deceive people? When did our collective moral consciousness change so that people who get money by deception, misrepresentation or in underhand ways are no longer treated as pariahs?
Or… A blog about my naivety.
So, I’m really skint this month. Yes, most of it is my own doing: high living beyond my modest means (I went out with my mate a couple of Saturdays ago). But usually I could’ve afforded this quite easily, so what’s the difference? Well, the past few months have been quite a drain on my finances. There was a short break (very short as it turns out), there was my car going in for an MOT and never coming out the other end, and there was a trip to a second hand car dealer. All these were, in one way or another, firsts for me. Each one made me walk away significantly lighter in the pocket and with the feeling that someone somewhere was not my BFF. The former and the latter also made me question when it became OK to lie to people in order to get money.
Firstly, during February half-term, we decided a little break was in order. We decided to miss the place we normally go, a beautiful apartment in a converted farmhouse in Swaledale, and head over to the Lake District for a couple of nights. Some nice food, some good walks and some great scenery were just the tonic we needed after our both having hectic times at work. But, what we needed most was a bit of rest in the middle of nowhere and to get away from it all. Unfortunately, we chose to stay at Hawkrigg Guest House in Bowness. If you want to know the full story, you can click on the previous link.
The owner’s mum, who helped with breakfast, was apologetic. She was shocked that “someone from the village” had left their dogs locked in the garden in freezing conditions. She promised to get to the bottom of it (yet didn’t need the number I’d been calling at 3 in the morning). She offered us a bacon sarnie and a bottle of cava. We declined. She said she’d spoken to the owner and we were promised – we were promised – our deposit back. So, tired and grumpy, we left, feeling far worse than we did when we’d arrived.
After a few days, I got in touch with booking.com, through whom we’d booked, asking where our refund was. They told me to call Hawkrigg – but Hawkrigg, it appears, no longer answer the phone. They said they’d look into it. They called me back to say that they couldn’t get through as no-one was answering the phone. A week later, we got an email. The owner was now saying she never promised us a refund: our refusal to pay was now her generous gesture of compensation. Unhappy, I contacted them again; the same reply. Again and again and again I went to booking.com who went to Hawkrigg who said I was lying. Finally, we got an email about 5 or 6 weeks after our disastrous stay: she would’ve refunded the deposit but we’d smoked in the room and the £50 was to cover ‘fumigation’ costs. I stopped emailing then. Not because I was guilty (yes, we smoke, but in non-smoking establishments we go outside, just like we do at friends’ houses and just as we do at home, choosing to not smoke in our own house), but because I was taken aback: how could someone lie like that? How can you reason with someone, how can you hold someone to account, how can you appeal to the better nature of someone who is willing to lie to get out of repaying money owed? It made me wonder: when did it become OK to lie, and when did it become OK to steal?
- 8 – Thou shalt not steal
- 9 – Thou shalt not bear false witness
You see, this blog is really about my naivety. Someone promised to return money and they lied and then they made up more lies. And I was shocked. I’m even invoking religion, which is pretty clear on this issue. That’s pretty naive. The last refuge of the desperate man. However, religions’ laws are simply natural laws (in my opinion) which are needed to move out of anarchy and into civilisation, and that’s why people made them up / gods gave them unto us. We’ve got to live by these rules or a small number of people get all the wealth, power and success and everyone else picks up crumbs with iron boots hanging above them like swords of Damocles, but which drop at the whim of the powerful few and not the powerful masses. By not giving me my money, by lying about our stay, by cheating us, Hawkrigg shocked me because the lies were so blatant, so in-your-face, so exasperatingly deceptive; it wasn’t a bending of the truth or something I could brush off as a misunderstanding: it was a lie. A lie created solely to deprive me of money. I know people behave like that, but I expect it from people who are on the breadline or on heroin. When a guesthouse owner behaves like a smack-head, something, surely, is wrong, isn’t it?
A few weeks back, my car failed its MoT. It couldn’t have failed more if it’d exploded and spread weaponised smallpox across the garage during the emissions test. It was gone, defunct, an ex-car. I had occasion to, for the first time in my life, go second hand car shopping. Now you’ll see why this blog is really a window into my naivety.
The first place we went, I took out a car for a test drive. After ½ a mile it overheated, ordered me to stop and wouldn’t go more than 300m without boiling. We ended up ditching it and walking back to the forecourt. We left.
The second place we went was Hillside Motorhouse near Wilsden. The bloke seemed great, seemed trustworthy and – oh my God, this is really how naive I am – when he said that he had a ‘great runner’, I believed him. The car was old but appeared to have been loved and taken care of, just as I’d been promised. I liked it; I bought it.
I filled it with petrol, drove it home and was pretty pleased with my first car (my last was a hand-me-down). The next morning, I set off for work. After 20 miles, it broke down. Badly.
The RAC man said that a poor repair job to the cooling system and a major oil leak, coupled with the disconnection of the oil and temperature lights, had ‘cooked the head’ (whatever that means). A tow to the garage later, with promises that it would all be sorted, a courtesy car whilst a replacement car for me could be sought, and satisfaction guaranteed.
I paid £25 changing the insurance; I paid £50 filling the first car; I paid £50 getting the tow to the garage; I paid £60 getting insurance for the courtesy (?) car.
A few days later, he’d found me a car. I drove it, it seemed fine but I was wary. However, I needed a car. It was better than other: a bit newer, in better nick and, I was promised – promised – a much more reliable car than the one that broke after 20 miles. Over a barrel, I said I’d take it. We went to do the paper work. He tried to charge me an extra £400. I refused. He got annoyed because he’d put a lot of time into finding me this car.
Grudgingly, he offered me my money back… for the car alone. The petrol, the insurance, the tow were nothing to do with him and I should stand that cost. I remonstrated with him but he became upset: I should feel sorry for him, it appeared, because he’d lost out on that first car.
This is how naive I am: a second hand car dealer who seemed genuinely nice was, in fact, just bothered about money and was happy to sell lemons as long as he made money off them. As I write this, I feel stupid. But what a horrible thing to feel sorry for. I feel sorry and ashamed and silly and foolish and stupid… because I trusted someone, because I believed someone, because I believed that I would and could be treated fairly.
Naive or not, there’s something wrong when I feel stupid for trusting someone, isn’t there?
And that’s the crux of the problem: it’s now OK to rip people off. I should feel stupid for trusting someone because, increasingly it seems to me, we live in a world where it’s OK to cheat and lie and steal, we live in a place where greed is good and everyone looks out for number 1. I feel stupid right now because I didn’t play by the rules: I expected someone to be better than thoroughly selfish. I feel stupid and naive because I expected decency and honesty; I am stupid and naive because I expect decency and honesty.
Has life always been like this? Has it always been the case that you simply can’t trust people? Do I dream of a Golden Age which has never truly existed and could never really exist?
Maybe I am, but I’m not so sure that it’s ever been OK, morally, legally or otherwise, to lie and cheat and steal so blatantly. I was a child of the 80s, so I didn’t understand Mrs T’s ‘greed is good’ era. Today, I read of cheats and liars and people doing anything for profit all the time: Craft buys Cadburys and closes factories; Vodaphone, Boots and many more set up tiny HQs in tax havens to avoid literally £billions in tax; government advisers sign royalties over to spouses to avoid tax or are paid through companies to avoid National Insurance; Walkers crisps is owned in Luxembourg and HP Sauce is made in Holland. All this, to me, is deception. Is Barclays’ tax avoidance (which may now be classed as evasion) by fiddling the books anything other than theft? Is Walkers crisps’ recipe being held abroad for tax purposes, so that every time a crisp in Leicester is made the majority of the profit is spirited away, anything other than lying?
So, if the little people are doing it and the big people are doing it, why aren’t I? I am stupid, naive and foolish because I expect to pay a fair price for a fair product and for the government to take a fair share of any transaction in order to look after me should I fall sick, fall victim to a crime or fall out of a job. I am stupid, foolish and naive because I expect more than the most base from others. I am foolish, naive and stupid because I expect to be treated with dignity, honesty and respect.
So, I left without more than a verbal promise of monies owed; I was sold a lemon by a second hand car dealer; I try to avoid British products from British companies which do more for the governments of Ireland, Holland, Luxembourg, the Cayman Islands or a thousand other places:… do you think me stupid? foolish? naive? Probably. But, on reflection, I’m happy with that. You see, I expect more of people and try my best to live up to my own expectations, rather than down to theirs. If you meet me, I hope you’ll find me honest, if stupid; trustworthy, if naive; and unselfish, if foolish. And I expect the same of you. Please, please, don’t let me down.