Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Leicester, a tale of modern times...

I met a man today in a jeweller's shop in Leicester. His father had been banished from Uganda by Idi Amin in the early seventies.

He told me his family settled in Leicester because Leicester City Council placed an advert in their national paper in Uganda telling Indians they were not welcome in Leicester, and that there was nothing for them there.

The jeweller told me that was why so many Indians expelled from Uganda decided to settle in Leicester. The city must have something worth hiding if the council were so keen to take out an advert in a foreign newspaper actively discouraging them.

"Is that true?" I asked, incredulously.

"Yes!" he laughed.

The jeweller's father, who gave his son his trade, arrived in Britain in 1972 with nothing but £50 in his pocket. He asked his wife to give him all the jewellery she owned so he could start a business. 

By the time he retired he had three jewellery shops on Leicester's so-called Golden Mile. The senior jeweller gave two of the shops to his brothers and the remaining shop to his son. The shop I was in had £600,000 worth of stock on display. They melt down gold in the tatty back office. The senior jeweller is still alive, as is his wife. She drives a Bentley. 

The jeweller's son told me how the trade has changed in recent years. When Leicester had a hosiery industry, the Indian factory girls would come in at the end of the week and buy tiny amounts of gold to wear (and as an investment) for £20 or £30 pounds a time. The owners of corner shops, usually frugal people, would occasionally give their daughters £2000 in the run up to Diwali and tell them to buy some jewellery for themselves.

The hosiery factories are long since closed, and the supermarkets have taken over the corner shops, sucking money out of the community.

The jeweller still sells, but is also often buying scrap gold, melting it down and trading it by the gramme. Since the recession began, the rising gold price has outstripped the stock market and the housing market to become more valuable than ever.

As a result most jewellers on the Golden Mile operate in shops protected by airlock doors, security cameras, smoke cannisters, bullet-proof glass, guard dogs and panic buttons. 

A couple of years ago gangs of masked robbers would regularly travel up (mainly from Birmingham) to attack the shops on the Golden Mile, charging in with axes and sledgehammers to break the glass cabinets.

"People are desperate" said the jeweller.

There haven't been any armed robberies so far this year. The police now regularly patrol the Golden Mile, the shop owners meet regularly to discuss security and the expensive new defences put in place appear to be holding.

"The police and council are taking an interest in our situation because we're the only businesses left round here paying any tax!" he jokes

He is a smartly-dressed man, and, as you might expect, wears a fair bit of gold on his fingers. 

When we part, he turns to deal with something in his shop, and I see how frayed the back of his suit is.


Monday, 10 June 2013

Internet privacy and the government

There is no such thing as a private email. There never was. I don't understand how people see it any other way.

It's the same as writing a letter. Letters were always the formal expression of our thoughts, and because, when I was growing up, they repeatedly appeared in newspapers, books, court evidence and history I saw them as matters of public record.

You put your innermost feelings (or controversial opinions) down on paper and handed it over to someone else. You have just given it to the world.

Email speeded up the process. To me "send" has always meant "publish".

That's not to say there aren't many hundreds of emails I've sent that I would rather were only read by the initial recipient, but always at the back of my mind has been the knowledge that what I have written takes seconds to forward, or even upload.

It's the same with phone calls. Phone tapping has been around longer than I've been alive. Why do you think your conversation is secure? If it's that interesting, it might not be.

The real debate should be how we, as a society, deal with it, not whether it should be happening. The genie is out of the bottle. We are entering an age where privacy, as we know it, is dead. The rise of CCTV and social media takes this way beyond electronic communications.

You should assume that everything you are doing outside your own house is being watched and stored, as are the people you call up, and the websites you browse. You'd be stupid not to.