Money Matters

Money was in the news a lot last week.  On Wednesday a bottle of whisky was sold at auction in Edinburgh for £848,000.  The Macallan Valerio Adami, 1926.  What on earth would you do with an £848,000 bottle of whisky?  Drink it?  Let’s see… what would be the cost of a dram?  I seem to recall that a “nip” is a fifth of a gill.  Can you remember what a gill is?  Hang on while I look it up…

Chambers – gill jil, n. a small measure, having various values; in recent times = ¼ pint. – gill’-house (obs.) a dram shop.  (O.Fr. gelle.)

How much booze in a bottle of whisky?  700 mls, I think.  How many nips in a bottle?  We need to know how many pints are in a litre.  Hang on while I Google it…

It says that 1 litre = 1.75975399 imperial pints.  So 700 mls contains 1.2318277 pints.  (You can tell I’m using a calculator.)  One fifth of a gill is a twentieth of a pint.  So a bottle of whisky holds 24.636554 nips.  Round this up to 25.  After all, a nip is such a parsimonious measure that I feel sure the barman would err on the side of profit.  This means that a nip of whisky will cost you £33,920.

I go through this rather laborious calculation to exemplify to you just how utterly bananas is the world of the super-rich.

Then a painting, “Girl with Balloon” by Banksy, went up for sale at auction and was sold at a price of £1.04 million.  Immediately after the gavel went down the painting self-destructed through a shredder.  The auctioneers said, “We’ve been Banksied.”  Just how much they, and the purchaser, were in on the stunt I don’t know, but I was intrigued to hear that one opinion noised abroad is that the shredded remains might turn out to be more valuable than the original.  As I said, how utterly bananas is the world of the super-rich?  It occurs to me that there’s a nice contrast between Banksy’s Girl with Balloon and Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Glasgow School of Art.  One is constructed to be reduced deliberately to fragments.  The other is accidentally destroyed, to be lovingly restored (word on the street has it) fragment by fragment.  Not everybody is happy with that decision.  Shouldn’t we spend all that money on Glasgow’s deprived East End?  I wonder what Charles Rennie Mackintosh would have said?  I hazard a guess: raze the burned-out shell to the ground; then hold a competition for the design of a new building, and I’ll go in for it.

I listened, on Saturday evening, to a programme on Radio 4, largely centred round ex-Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s handling of the 2008 financial crash.    Well, the programme was full of drama. “We were running out of time.”  “The banks were running on empty.”  I was rather hoping to find out why all of a sudden, and out of the blue, the banks ran out of money.  I can’t say I’m any the wiser.  The crash seemed to be entirely a consequence of human folly.  It wasn’t as if some natural catastrophe had resulted in a widespread famine that left us all destitute and starving.

Then on Sunday, from my Zacchaeus vantage point at the back of Dunblane Cathedral, I heard a sermon preached on forgiveness, with a text drawn from the New Testament lesson – Matthew 18: 23 – 35, a parable concerning a servant who owes his master a vast amount of money.  He begs for time to repay it all, and his master takes pity on him and wipes the debt; whereupon the servant goes to a man who owes him a paltry sum, and casts him into prison.  Needless to say, when the master hears about it, he gets angry and gives his man short shrift.  This provides a context for the Lord’s Prayer’s “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive out debtors.”  I happened to be sharing a pew with a bank manager who whispered to me, “I wonder if forgiveness should be extended to the bankers.”  His own view was that nothing had been learned from the financial crash, and it might well all happen again.  Forgiveness is all well and good. What about atonement?

During his decade as Chancellor, Gordon Brown, a son of the manse, frequently talked up financial prudence.  Funnily enough, Our Lord didn’t seem that fussed.  In a rather erotically charged episode in John chapter 12, Martha’s sister Mary poured a generous supply of costly spikenard over his feet and wiped it in with her hair.  Didn’t Judas have a point when he said the nard should have been sold and the money given to the poor?  The author adds that this wasn’t what Judas had in mind at all – he wanted to hive off the cash into his own purse.  Just how the author figured that out I’m not quite sure.

On Sunday, the Cathedral held a fire drill.  I gave them top marks.  It took place at the close of the service, so that we were able to evacuate the building, and not return.  The session clerk explained exactly what would happen.  We would sing the closing hymn (Love divine, all loves excelling, to the tune Blaenwern), the minister would give the benediction, the choir would sing the amen, and the organist would lead the congregation in a repetition of the first verse of Love divine, during which the alarm would sound.  The elders would open all the cathedral doors, and we were instructed to evacuate expeditiously by the nearest exit.  It went like clockwork.  Inevitably I heard somebody say, “It’s health and safety gone mad!”  I have a notion that that very expression might have been used while the Titanic was being built and somebody suggested there should be sufficient life boats to accommodate all passengers and crew.  “It’s health and safety gone mad!  This ship is unsinkable.  Moving on to the arrangement of the deck chairs…”

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