Getting and spending

2010-02-12 00:00

“GETTING and spending, we lay waste our powers” warned Wordsworth. I’d enjoy some spending now and again — I’m not worried about wasting my powers (I have none) — it’s the “getting” part I find tricky.

The other day I overheard someone talking about the traffic on the North Coast highway. “Completely traffic-bound for nearly an hour,” they said. The North Coast? “Surely not,” I said, with memories of leisurely drives through miles of sugar cane fields to arrive at the Oyster Box for a Saturday night dinner­ dance. “Oh, yes,” I was assured. “Solid gridlock, all the way through to Ballito.”

When did this happen? In my day we went via Verulam and Natal Estates to Umdloti where we spent the day swimming in that marvellous natural pool, and sunbathing on the deserted beach. (We called it “grabbing a tan” then, and covered ourselves with cooking oil to ensure the desired degree of baked brown. Vitalis was another tan enhancer but if you’re under 55 you won’t know what that is, either.) Now the North Coast is practically a suburb of New York, with condos and restaurants as thick as flying ants on a summer’s night. What happened to my beloved beaches and why didn’t I notice?

It would be comforting to believe that my mind is usually engaged­ with higher things — how many angels can dance on the point of a pin, whether Bafana Bafana will shape in the Soccer­ World Cup — but a more honest answer would be that I seldom notice anything outside the cover of a book unless it jumps up and bites me. Nor do I possess the smallest smidgen of financial suss. I can’t understand this. I don’t enjoy, or want, an extravagant lifestyle, I budget carefully, I even manage to save a bit occasionally, so why aren’t I rich? Everyone else seems to be. I can only think it’s a genetic mishap. A kind of fiscal dyslexia, perhaps? I can’t explain it any other way.

“Building a shopping centre in Victoria Road?” I exclaimed a few years back, “Why on earth would anyone want to shop in Victoria Road?” Been to Pick ’n Pay lately?

Then there was our euphonious Midlands Mall. “A mall!” I fell about laughing. “The developers must be crazy. No one is going to shop there.” Last year I popped in to Woolworths’ sale. There must have been five thousand cars in the parking lot and that was 10 o’clock on a Monday morning.

A decade ago a million rand was serious money; these days it barely covers the small change for your summer holiday. When did that happen? And just last year the United States was the most powerful country in the world. Now, suddenly, it’s China. Bet you didn’t notice that on the horizon.

I’ve bought shares twice in my life. Once in the early sixties and once in the eighties. I wasn’t foolish, I sought reliable advice and bought mining shares. Both times the markets crashed overnight. They didn’t allow even 24 hours of pleasant anticipation. And the crash wasn’t just a dip, it was a haemorrhage. “Hold on,” I was advised, “the markets will recover.” Well, I held on — and on — and on. Eventually, those shares were de-listed. In fact, I don’t believe pick was ever­ put to soil.

But I believe I’m beginning to get the hang of this investment deal. While I accept that shares and the markets probably aren’t for me, I do see a small window in property development. It seems all one has to do is find a large, vacant piece of ground in a place nobody ever visits, and build a shopping mall.

I think I’ll call the company “Lose it Here”.

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