How do we end this pesky inflationary spiral? 

If you believe the British government, you end the inflation by making sure people’s pay doesn’t go up. Rising profits, though? They’re not a problem. 

That helps explain why so much of Britain has been on strike lately. The headline-grabbing issue is that pay’s fallen behind inflation, and sometimes it’s been doing that for years, but look past the headlines and you’ll find working conditions and the government giving so little money to schools and the health service that they’re falling apart–sometimes figuratively and sometimes literally. 

Between June and December of 2022 (sorry–that’s the most recent set of numbers I could find), 2,472 million working days were lost to strikes. It’s probably enough to know we’re dealing with a large number.

Why didn’t the Office for National Statistics roll over from millions to billions? Interesting tale and we’ll get to it in a minute. But first, since most of the strikers are in roles linked to government funding, the government’s been trying a tough-guy response, swearing they can’t afford more money and that even if they could–didn’t they already tell us it would be inflationary to raise pay? They have our best interests at heart.

And it’s a this point that the Bank of England’s chief economist, Huw Pill, waded into the conversation, advising us all that British households and businesses “need to accept” that they’re poorer. Stop trying to get pay increases, he says. All they do is push prices higher. 

“We’re all worse off,” he says, “and we all have to take our share.”

Our share? How much, then, does Mr. Pill get paid? Um, for his first five months and 24 days, he made £88,000, which would put his yearly salary at £180,000. Compare that to Britain’s median pay in 2022 of £33,000. If (as April Munday points out in a comment–thanks, April) they work 40 hours a week and 52 weeks a year, but most people on minimum wage are on zero hours contracts, so they have no guarantee of a full week and no idea what they’ll bring home at the end of the week.  

Median? That’s the version of average that means half the people country earned more and the other half earned less.    

How much do you make if you’re working for minimum wage? We’ll be reckless and take the highest minimum wage, because it’s okay to pay younger people and apprentices less since, um, don’t worry about it, it just is. On that higher minimum wage, you’re making £21,673.60 per year. (Lord Google failed me and I had to do my own math there, so the numbers may be off a bit, but if we’re not within spitting distance of the right answer, we’re at least close enough to throw an eraser.)

With those numbers in our pockets, I’ll offer a bit of advice for public figures, who (as should be obvious by now) hang on my every word: if inflation means you had to cut back on smoked salmon, you’d be wise not to give advice to people who had to cut back on heating and food. Do it in public and it’s embarrassing. Do it at close quarters and you’re likely to get hurt. 


So what’s that business about a billion?

The world–messy place that it is–has two ideas of what a billion means

The word was introduced in the sixteenth century and it equaled a million to the second power, or a million millions–or as we’d say in the mathematical circles I’m at home in, a shitload of whatever you’re counting. 

A trillion and a quadrillion were a million to the third and fourth powers, which equals a superbig shitload.

Then at some point French arithmeticians (hands up anyone who knew arithmeticians existed) changed the meaning of a billion to a thousand millions, because it’s a long walk from a million to a million millions and a person might like to stop someplace along the way and have a drink. 

The US latched onto the new standard. Britain, however–following its habit of being sniffy about anything French–didn’t. What the rest of the world did I’m not sure. I’m dealing with numbers here. That means the ground’s unstable and I’m hesitant to go any deeper into the bog. 

Then, starting in 1951, Britain began to follow the US usage, but because Britain loves complicated measuring systems,both definitions of a billion are still in use.

Meanwhile, in 1948 the French reverted to the earlier, higher meaning of a billion. What I learned to call a billion, they call a milliard. You have to add three extra zeroes before you get a billion. Add three more and you get a billiard, which is not a game with colored balls and cue sticks but a very large number.

You’re welcome, and if you’re thoroughly confused now, my job is done and I’ll move on.



Research in Glasgow (and elsewhere, but I’m looking for a British connection) has shown that pet parrots felt less isolated when they could make video calls to other parrots. They were more likely to preen, sing, and play. 

How did they make calls? They were given tablets and a bell, or at least their humans were. They’d ring the bell, their person would turn on the tablet and pictures of other parrots would appear. They’d select a parrot to visit with and the human would make the call for them.

No, I didn’t make any of that up. 

Some birds would sing together, try to groom each other, or sleep next to each other. Parrots are sociable creatures who live in flocks. They’re not meant to live on their own.

Some of them have been asking for a blue tick.



The Royal Horticultural Society is asking British gardeners to look for rare giant willow aphids and send photos if they find them. Scientists are hoping to learn more about their lifecycle and what plants (other than willows) they like.

How do you spot them? They’re 6 mm long–something like a quarter of an inch–and have shark-like fins. Or fin: one each. 

Can most of us see a shark-like fin on a 6 mm insect? Mmm, maybe not. But colonies were recently found on quince trees, causing great excitement among a fairly rarified set of people. 

Sorry. I shouldn’t make fun of other people’s interests. This could be important. It could save the world. Something needs to. 

If you spot one, they’d love you to send a photo. 


A bit more about invertebrates

Researchers have found that worms soaked in cannabinoids get the munchies, just like people who’ve soaked themselves in cannabis. The study has all sorts of important implications but it’s more fun if we don’t go into them and leave it sounding like they researched this on a whim.

The researchers are not reported to have enjoyed their experiments, but I like to think they did anyway.


How to steal 2 million dimes

If you ever thought you had a bad day at work, a group of guys broke into a truck in Philadelphia, thinking they’d get something useful like–oh, I don’t know, TVs, maybe, or alcohol, or toilet paper–and ended up with four and a half tons of dimes.

A dime? That’s a US coin worth ten cents–a tenth of a dollar. It’s from a Latin word for a tenth, decimus, and made its way to the US from the French disme, introduced in the 1500s, when France first thought of dividing money into tenths.

A belated thanks to the good folk who came up with that idea. Ten is one of the few numbers I can reliably multiply and divide by. One also works. And two isn’t bad.

But back to our story: The problem isn’t that dimes aren’t money. The problem is that you need a lot of them before you can buy anything these days. It’s not like it was in 1776, when I was a kid and having a dime meant you could buy the big candy bar instead of the small one.

Four and a half tons of dimes is worth $750,000. Or maybe it’s worth the $200,000 the thieves got away with, because they had to leave a lot of the loot behind. The article I’m working from is ambiguous on that ever-so-important point and I don’t have enough on hand to weigh. Sorry. There are limits to how much research I’ll do for this blog.

They ended up scattering dimes all over the parking lot and the cleanup took hours. Which says not many people were around to help out by pocketing a handful or three. The truck was broken into overnight and the theft was discovered at 6 a.m.

It’s standard practice for truck drivers to pick up a load and park someplace overnight so they can get some sleep before they start their run. Even truck drivers need to sleep. It’s also become standard practice to break into parked trucks and see what’s available. 

How are the thieves going to spend 2 million dimes when half the city will be watching for people with wheelbarrows full of shiny coins? It’s a problem. Plug a lot of parking meters?


How to incubate a rock

A bald eagle called Murphy, who lives in a Missouri bird sanctuary, made it into the news because he got broody and was trying to incubate a rock. He built a nest. He sat on the nest. He waited.

The rock didn’t hatch, but when an eagle’s nest blew down in a storm and only one chick survived, the keepers introduced it to Murphy, who accepted it and before long was shredding up food and feeding it. 

Accepted it? Murphy was smitten. And they all lived happily ever after and are grateful not to be in Florida, where Ron DeSantis would have had them separated for challenging traditional sex roles. Not eagle sex roles–both sexes feed the young, and i think both brood the eggs–but it might confuse the human young so it would need to be edited out of the official story.

44 thoughts on “How do we end this pesky inflationary spiral? 

  1. Last summer, at O’Hare international airport, I tried to buy some snacks to use up the loose change (“shrapnel”). It was all counted out into piles, about $10 altogether. But the vendors refused to accept it. Why? They didn’t have time to check it. Goodness knows how the thieves are going to dispose of their loot. I’d advise that they avoid O’Hare.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fortunately for them, O’Hare’s a long way from Philly, but I wonder how common that is now. In Britain, I’ve noticed that parking meters–sorry, that’s a US word, isn’t it?–have been spitting out my 5 p coins. Presumably they don’t have time to count them either. In the spirit of sheer perversity, I keep trying them. And keep getting them spat back at me.

      Semi-relevantly, I was surprised when I moved to the UK how fast my coins added up to actual money. The US has dollar coins but at least when I lived there they weren’t used much, so you had to weigh yourself down quite a bit more before you had much money in your pocket.

      Liked by 1 person

        • When you’re not familiar with another countries coins, it’s a lot easier to do that. I’ve seen visitors in this country pay by opening their hands and letting whoever’s at the cash register pick coins out.

          I didn’t think to say earlier that it would take a lot of dimes to get from Philly to O’Hare just for the privilege of getting told you can’t pay with coins.


  2. I contest your annual salary for people on minimum wage. Most of them are on zero hours contracts, so they tend not to work what we would regard a full week, often it’s less than half a week, and their pay is unpredictable.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I despise this government and I’m sad for the lonely parrots. I keep all my loose change in a big piggy bank (which happens to be a tiger I think, well it’s orange and stripy anyway) and when it’s full take it to Asda where you can tip it out into a machine that counts it all up and gives you it all back in notes. A good tip for your dime thieves.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I seem to remember a time when coins were worth enough that parking meters were getting burgled. Or decapitated. Or–well, the details have fled my head by now. I was going to say that a lesser weight was worth more but I’m pretty sure they ended up with the head of the meter, so it would’ve been pretty heavy indeed. And wouldn’t have fit in a pocket.

      I despise this government too, and they keep giving me new reasons to feel that way. And I’d like to free all the lonely parrots.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is hilarious and educative, Ellen. Your blog is becoming my main source of the most important news items about my own country (and much more interesting history than I ever got blugeoned with at school). I keep sitting through the 6 o’clock BBC offering, first the national and international news, mostly about foreign wars, our domestic descent into bankruptcy, and – presumably in the idiotic attempt to cheer us all up again – football, then the local news, which is mostly about local fallout of foreign wars, local examples of destitution, and – presumably to cheer us all up again – people raising money for charity by running, and football.

    But not here. Here we getsane political commentary, important parrot mental health information, the latest fads in the delinquent worm population, deluded eagles (maybe it was stoned from eating too many worms), and almost comprehensible mathematics. Well done!

    Regarding the confused eagle, I think I can see where he was going wrong: “He built a nest. He sat on the next. He waited. The rock didn’t hatch…”
    How are you going to hatch a rock if you sit on the wrong nest?


    • Oops. I must’ve had it confused with the Mad Hatter’s tea party–no room, no room, move down, move down. I’ll go back and fix it, because I don’t think the eagle was confused. I think he was communicating perfectly.

      I used to do a better job of proofreading my posts but–I don’t know, my mind seems to have wandered off somewhere. Thanks for letting me know.


  5. Most parking meters in Minneapolis now take credit cards only. Some accept quarters but many don’t. Or won’t. They have screens and the glare is impossible to see if there’s any sun. I jab my credit card in, usually the wrong way 2 or 3 times, and then randomly punch a button. You get a little slip telling you how much time you paid for and slide it under the windshield. Once I paid $3.50 to manage a 15-minute errand. Other times, .50 for hours. I’m sure it evens out and since there are so few cops in Minneapolis, I’ve never gotten a ticket.

    My mother used to get in screaming matches with the meter maids because she never put enough quarters in. The family fortune was depleted by fines but it created a certain amount of drama on the main street of Duluth.

    Great column today!

    Liked by 2 people

    • It did set off a good conversation. I love when that happens.

      Here a lot of the parking lots (car parks, which sounds like they’re places where the cars go to play on the swings) are private and set up so that they get to fine you because you screwed up in one preprogrammed way or another. They’re monitored by video cameras, so no human labor’s involved.

      Lucky us.

      I love the story about your mother, but there’d be no one here for her to fight with. The fines magically appear in the mail.


  6. “The Bank of England’s Chief Economist Huw Pill…”??
    Where is Monty Python now that we need him/them ??? “Some of this stuff just writes itself…” doesn’t it ?

    Don’t even attempt to Google what a googol is.

    Are the Giant Willow Aphids a danger to the willows or to the quince trees ? And what do Blue Ticks feed on ? Only blue bloods if I may hazard a guess.

    At least (speaking of Monty Python) there were no Dead Parrots in the study.

    Great column.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I should’ve said that the article about the aphids did say they pose no threat to the trees–in spite of their shark fins. And yes, it does almost write itself. The trick seems to be avoiding the more depressing absurdities.


  7. Some school friends of my sister’s broke into the local video game parlor to reclaim all the money they’d put into the machines. They were 16 or 17 years old and hadn’t thought things through. In less than a week they were busted for buying all of their junkfood, videos, etc., with quarters.

    The last thing I remember buying with a dime was what the British would call iced lollies. The official school word for what a local company delivered on order, and what most of us ate at afternoon break, was ice cream–but more than half of each day’s sales were Popsicles, sweetened ice with no cream or milk. Anyway every “frozen confection” cost a dime.

    Later than that, I remember seeing gumball and trinket machines that took dimes.

    And in the early years of the current century there used to be a dollar-type store that sold individual knives, forks, and spoons for a dime, which was nice for those who wanted to buy a salad for lunch, but they soon started bundling them and selling ten for a dollar again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The dollar stores really backed themselves into a corner when they chose their name, didn’t they? I still remember the five-and-tens–stores where originally everything cost a nickel or a dime. Or I guess it did, but by the time I remember them inflation had outrun them. You could still get things for five or ten cents, but that wasn’t the ceiling anymore. We went right on calling them five-and-tens, though. Or five-and-dimes.


  8. I think if a US government official told citizens to just accept that they’re poorer there’d be riots. Don’t those economists have tricks and trips to try to reverse that? What was all their education for?

    The husband once chaperoned a dive trip with a guy who had a pet parrot. The guy had to Facetime his parrot every day (it was at home with the guy’s wife) or else the parrot got stressed out and started to pull out its feathers. And this is not a quirk of this particular parrot – they’re all like that, as I understand it. Parrots can live 50 years. That’s quite a commitment to such a needy creature. Beautiful, but needy.

    The small family company that makes our travel trailers has a series of Youtube videos out that show their various models and interiors. Sometimes individual owners of their models make showcase videos, too. Once such customer had a video that showed their custom-made interior, which included a special notch in the wall where they hang the cage for their exotic bird (not sure if it’s a parrot or not). They travel with the bird, presumably for the same reason.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. The government is telling people they need to just accept that they are poorer? Are you sure you’re not writing about the US? They keep telling us how awful it is that people are getting raises. (They’re only getting raises because no one would work for the horribly low previous wages.) Somehow, inflation is the fault of the workers, not the companies making obscene profits.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. There’s a billboard put up by Derry University Group at “Free Derry Corner” which states (amongst other things) that average income per head in Derry is a tiny £15K. In Belfast it’s twice that. I don’t know how people are surviving here. I get sick of seeing prices in the shops double or the packet size shrink for the same price.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. And another thing, the fact that Mr Pill is so well paid makes his remarks even nore galling. It’s not wage increases that are driving inflation but the excessive profits made by energy companies and Bloody Brexit.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Some years ago a member of the German central bank (“Bundesbank”) strictly pedantic proved that a person living from dole (“Stütze”) could “live excellently” with a little discipline. The lousy bastard made more than hundredthousand a year.
    He never understood why people spat in front of his feet.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. A very fascinating and entertaining article, Ellen. We use dimes here in Canada. Over a half a century ago a dime made a local call in a pay phone. Then they went up to a quarter (25 cents). Then it jumped to a dollar coin (what we in Canada call a loonie). Though you are very hard pressed to find a pay phone these days. $200,000 worth of domes that the thieves got is a lot of dimes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I do remember the ten-cent phone call. When I was a kid, I often put a dime in my shoe in case I had to call my parents. I don’t remember that it made walking uncomfortable, although it should’ve.

      Phone booths are disappearing here in Britain too. Or have disappeared–those iconic red boxes. A few have been turned into little lending libraries or second-hand bookstores, and I saw one in London that was part of a streetside coffee stand. I’m nostalgic for all of them, but not so much so that I’ve forgotten this: An awful lot of the phones didn’t work.


Talk to me

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.