13 SEPTEMBER 1975, Page 30

A fool and his money

The £8,500 cut-off

Bernard Hollowood

Homer was clearly fed up with our prolonged analysis of the failure of the England batsmen's technique against Lillee, Thomson and Walker and as soon as a chance occurred he changed the subject.

"Any of you guys affected by the £8,500 limit?" he said. He uses the expression guys in preference to chaps, fellow or men, not because he worked with the Yanks during the war, which he did, but because his favourite author is Damon Runyon.

"You mean the cut-off point?" said Tellwright. "The income summit as far as the negotiable £6 a week pay increase is concerned?"

"What else could 1 mean?" said Homer. "It doesn't affect me, though it might if I became head of a comprehensive with 2,000 plus pupils. Assistant masters don't get that kind of money."

"Frankly," said Clowes, "I don't know how I stand. I pay VAT as a free-lance and though 1 average a bare £5,000 there are years when I've notched as much as £9,000. I shall feel fully justified this year in asking my publishers to raise my advance on royalties by £300 per annum."

"It's an odd figure, £8,500," said Homer. "The equivalent, I should imagine, of about £1,000 before the war. Does that make sense?"

"Never," said Tellwright. "Why on £1,000 a year in '39 one could run a car, own a detached villa with a servant, eat out regularly and see all the shows. You can't do that on £8,500 today, not after tax."

"Well, you should know," said Homer. "You must be worth at least £20,000 a year. Right?"

"When you make your money by shrewd speculation it's not easy to say how much one earns," said Tellwright. "But I suppose I average the figure you mentioned and I still consider myself poor," "Then if you make £312 more than average this coming year you'll be in breach of social contract mark II, and I suppose you'll do the decent thing and send the appropriate conscience money to the Treasury?"

"I hadn't planned to do any such thing," said Tellwright. "The White Paper says nothing about speculative earnings: it's concerned solely with wages and salaries. True, it says that dividends should not be increased by more than 10 per cent, but my earnings are profits not dividends."

"This is getting too technical for me," said Myerscough. "What baffles me is why the figure was fixed at £8,500, say £170 a week. I suppose there must have been terrific pressure from the CBI to protect managers and directors earning £8,200. But how's the Government going to check on fringe benefits, new cars, free insurance, help with mortgages and school fees and BUPA and ordinary, common-orgarden expenses?"

"You're forgetting footballers," said Tellwright. lot of First Division players get E200 a week without bonuses. Does the White Paper mean they'll now get nothing for a win or an away draw? The future of soccer may be in the melting pot."

"Well, it won't affect cricketers — that's for sure," said Myerscough.

"I tell you what I think," said Clowes. "Wilson and Healey would have preferred a cut-off point at £5,000. Then they heard that the coal-face worker was thinking in terms of £100 a week or roughly £5,000 a year and they decided that a cut-off at £5,000 would be interpreted as a blow aimed directly at the miner's aspirations."

"Nonsense," said Tellwright. "The miners won't get anything like £100 a week and it would be a scandal if they did."

suppose you'd work in a coalmine for £50 or £60 a week?" said Homer. "If you ask me the miner deserves £5,000 a year. He's got a terrible job, dirty, dangerous and thoroughly unpleasant."

"I've never seen it that way," said Tellwright. "Mining is in many ways an attractive trade or occupation. It's a manly job and down there you're unlikely to have to rub shoulders with .effeminate types, the kind of people I'm always coming up against. I mean, that's worth something today, isn't it? And, as I've said before, miners

opecuttor September 13, 1975

aren't allowed to smoke down there, so they save a lot of money and avoid the health hazards to which the rest of us — whether we smoke ourselves or are smoked at by others — are subject. Moreover, they don't operate in an atmosjihere of diesel and petrol fumes and their work gives them superb physiques."

"Yes, but what about coal dust?" said Homer. "It settles everywhere — in their eyes, up their noses, in their lungs, on their sandwiches..

"Maybe," said Tellwright, "but it's clean dust, stuff that has been locked away from surface pollution for at least a million years. It's germ-free dust and does no harm. And if they eat some of it, well, it's well known that the human digestive tract needs its quota of roughage. I've often thought that a sprinkling of coal dust on my smoked salmon would do my bowels a power of good."

"Talking about health hazards," said Homer, "do you realize what the schoolmaster has to put up with? Chalk dust can be a killer, and the smoke in the staff-room at breaks is absolutely lethal. And you're in contact all day with all manner of diseases, coughs, colds, impetigo . . . you name it. Then again there's hooliganism. Few schoolmasters get through their careers these days without being violently assaulted."

"Which reminds me," said Myerscough, "that Lillee and Thomson bowl at roughly 90 m.p.h. and it's no joke, I can tell you, stopping a hard ball weighing 51/2 oz with your elbow or box," • "I thought we'd finished with cricket," said Homer. • "So we have, so we have," said Clowes. "It's time 1 got back to my desk. I've a 2,000-word article to write before tomorrow morning on the shape• of a Third Social Contract. You haven't been much help, but thanks all the same."

By common agreement it was decided that Homer should stand the last round. He seemed the most likely of those in the bar parlour of The Grapes to win a pay increase of £6 a week.