Ella, Louis and the ethics of capitalism

I’ll hold my hands up. I’m a grumpy old woman. I’m particularly prone to it-wasn’t-like-that-in-my-day remarks. To be fair, some things really weren’t like that when I was younger. Once upon a time there were no mobile phones for instance. No, really. I can remember that far back. No hands-free kits either. If you saw someone talking to himself in the street, you crossed the road. Sharpish. I can still remember the intense embarrassment of the first time I answered my phone in the street. I got some very funny looks from passers-by.

Nowadays I’d get much funnier looks if I said I didn’t have a mobile phone. It’s become perfectly normal to wash dirty linen in public. At high volume. Without a moment’s thought for anyone who might happen to be listening. Who needs Jeremy Kyle when you can travel on public transport? One memorable bus journey a year or so ago I was forced to listen to a young mother haranguing her boyfriend. All the way from the city centre to Brislington. In a traffic jam. I imagine she was a young, single mother by the time she got off the bus. The rest of us were just very relieved.

I do have a mobile of course. I’d be lost without it. The data package in particular. I’m that irritating woman who updates her Facebook status at every stop on long journeys. Posts pointless aphorisms. Pictures from Hippie Peace Freaks. Updates from political parties. Diatribes against UKIP. Links to her blog … And pleas for donations to her fund raising page for One25.

The trouble is, I’m endlessly fascinated by people. Both online and in the flesh. Not a bad quality in a writer I guess. Yes, I make pretence of grumpiness. In reality I’m an incorrigible optimist. Especially when it comes to the human race. You’d think years of bitter experience would have taught me caution. Not a bit of it. I’m still a glass-half-full-to-cup-runneth-over woman deep down. A big marshmallow a colleague once called me. She was pulling me out from underneath yet another heap of squabbling small girls in the school playground at the time. I’m not sure she meant it as a compliment.

One of the downsides of growing older is it’s more or less impossible to do so without colliding head-on with the darker side of human nature. No matter how hard you try to ignore it. Especially if you choose to live in the heart of a city. The older I get, the more convinced I become that I don’t understand people at all. I’ve seen so many things that sadden. Enrage. The past couple of years I’ve been volunteering in a local community café. Ella and Louis have become regular customers of late. Ella’s no more than 25. She comes to the counter. Orders for both of them. Without looking you in the eye. Louis’s much older. I didn’t get the dynamic at first. I’m a bit slow. I was talking to another customer last week. One with a serious habit to support. I slowly became aware that she was terrified of Louis. The penny dropped. It dropped still further yesterday. Ella came to the counter as usual. She couldn’t keep still. A mass of tics. Twitches. If she’s not working the street already she will be soon. Anybody want to tell me why a man would want to take a beautiful human being and turn her into a drivelling junkie? And then make money out of her? No. I don’t get it either.

But Louis’s just the thinnest end of a very mucky wedge. So thin he’s almost invisible. I’ll admit that the people I find hardest to understand in the equation of addiction and street sex work are the men. But I’m not simply railing against their exploitation of women today. Or against misogyny in general. Tempting though it might be after reading reports of ‘honour killings’ this week (I’m sorry, where exactly is the ‘honour’ in slaughtering your own daughter?) And learning about the epidemic proportions of rape culture in the USA.

As I said, Louis’s the thin end. On a small scale he’s behaving exactly like anyone else out to make a quick buck. He’s exploiting other human beings. In his case it’s just the one. So far as I know. Although I doubt Ella’s the first. Barring a miracle she won’t be the last either. If he wore a sharp suit and carried a few glossy brochures, there’d be little to distinguish him from the salesman in Polly Toynbee’s article about the commodification of vulnerable children. If he’d made his first billion or two he might be operating on a par with the likes of of Coca Cola or Monsanto. I’m at a loss to understand how his particular modus operandi is any more reprehensible than theirs. But as I’ve said before, the older I get, the more convinced I become that I just don’t get the human race at all.




I’m blogging to raise funds for a charity close to my heart. I’ve given up NOT being a writer for 125 days in support of One25’s work with vulnerable women in Bristol. If you’ve enjoyed reading this, you can find out more about what I’m doing by visiting One25’s website at http://www.one25.org.uk/. You can also support them by visiting my fund raising page at http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserProfilePage.action?userUrl=JeanMutch where you can make a donation and suggest an idea for a short story or a post on the blog. Thank you.



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