Walking home slightly tipsy one evening I was pick-pocketed by a woman who appeared to be a foreign tourist in need of directions but was, in fact, feinting. She managed to steal a couple of notes from my pocket while I was leaning in to understand what she was saying. I am prudent when I go out, taking with me only a limited amount of cash, so its loss was easier to dismiss than the sense of foolishness I felt at having fallen for the trick. To salve my pride I waxed philosophical: this was an enterprising method of wealth re-distribution, executed with an admirable degree of skill and bravado. But I might not have been so forgiving of a straightforward mugging.
I had been drinking earlier with a friend who, being a whole generation younger than I am, is about to become a father for the first time. (We had arranged this evening out because we both knew it would be our last opportunity for about 18 years.) The baby will be a boy and the parents have already decided on his name and his nursery wallpaper - both of which I interpret as indicators of their actual and aspirational social standing. I hope it all works out as planned, although my week subsequently seemed to be full of un-promising signs for those about to be born.
I've been following a TV drama called Utopia which is about a secretive attempt to sterilise the human race in order to avert over-population. The plot is overblown but is redeemed by quirky characters, wacky humour and colourful filming. Behind these techniques, however, lies the serious issue of population growth and the strain it will put on our resources. “What do you think will happen when water becomes scarce?” asks the protagonist.
“We'll tear each other to pieces,” comes the reply.
Then I went to an evening lecture on domestic architecture and house building - a subject which is unhealthily entwined with politics. The effect of prevailing economic policies on the quality, quantity and location of housing has resulted in a stock which is not necessarily appropriate to society's present needs. The speaker argued in favour of prefabricated buildings and a trailer-park approach to relieving shortages, enabling affordability and the location of housing where it is demanded. We have an unsustainable economic model where housing has become 'financialised': a dwelling is more often seen as an investment, or even as a substitute for retirement savings, rather than a functioning habitation. If people don't save there will be less money for investment; and low investment levels spell trouble in the future. The obstacles to rectifying the situation are numerous and complex, but a good place to start might be the de-coupling of the mortgage and house-building industries, along with adjustments to planning regulations so that prefabricated homes may be situated temporarily on brownfield sites.
So, not only does my friend’s son face the prospect of swelling populations fighting for resources, he may also have to spend most of his own resources on finding a decent place to live. And that’s before we factor in the difficulties of being able to afford education and healthcare in what may well be by then a completely profit-driven system. A vestige of optimism returned after watching Richard Linklater's film Boyhood. I came away with the feeling that boys have a degree of inherited resilience to the vicissitudes of life and that my friend's son may have a reasonable chance of surviving his future after all.
At the end of the week I spent an evening with a friend of my own generation and, walking home slightly tipsy (avoiding eye contact with anyone who looked in the least bit foreign), I reflected on how fortunate we have been and what a poor hand we have passed on.