A Short Story from the February 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard
This is the true story of Albert, who after many years of patient and steady work bought a motorcar. How happy they were the day it arrived home. There it was outside the door, the magic carpet to happiness.
Nor more queuing at dirty, noisy railway stations, let die conductor bawl “No standing inside!” as loudly as he liked. Albert's wife and two daughters were so excited they could hardly eat, so the car was saving money already, just like the salesman said.
Not only that; it was there at the door advertising Albert’s prosperity and success. Let ’em all take a good look, especially that stinking little snob of an insurance agent opposite! Ha! ha! he still did his rounds on a push-bike, dm poor twerp!
Albert was no gilded parasite. He'd started at the bottom and come up the hard way! A boy in a fruit warehouse at twelve bob a week and his tea. That was twenty-six years ago. Only had two jobs all his life. As solid as a rock. In twenty-six years he’d risen from errand-boy to chief salesman, earning twelve pounds a week, not twelve shillings, and bonuses of anything up to £150 a year on sales.
What had those Socialist cranks been saying round Lincoln’s Inn? Two classes in society or something! One lot who did all the work because they had nothing; and the others who had it all and therefore did nothing!
What tripe! Look at him, got where he was by hard work, hadn't he? Hadn’t done him any harm, had it? Buying a house, and now his OWN car. How could they say that workers don’t own anything?
He could have had a car before the war if he'd liked, when they were cheaper, but a man who has spent his whole working life almost, in one job, is cautious and very careful. And so our Albert, “quite rightly, when all’s said and done ” lived strictly within his means and refused to be tempted.
Now, it was a piece of cake. He was still very careful. It was only a second-hand car and not a very big one. Just an ordinary comfortable reliable family saloon. It was reliable enough. It broke down most reliably nearly every time Albert essayed the pleasures of the open road. Small things, at first, only details, but every time it came back some new fault developed till major complications set in. Garage bills came thick and fast, like Good King Wenceslas’ snow “deep and crisp and even.”
At last Albert was in it, his small bank account was swallowed up, he was at his wits' end.
What would the neighbours say? To keep up with the car, Albert fiddled the books. For six whole days he reigned, until the auditors caught up with him.
He had embezzled (Oh! Albert!) nine pounds. At Bow-Street Albert took his place on the seat worn smooth by an endless line of sinners, to plead guilty to three charges.
“Magistrate was quite nice about it” “Are you sure that this has not been going on for more than six days?” he asked the detective.
“Quite sure, Sir,” was the reply.
“ Has he lost his job?” “ Yes Sir.”
“People who betray their trust usually go to prison,” said his worship. “ Your good character stands you in good stead, there will be a fine of £5 on each of the three charges.”
Albert asked for time to pay. Perhaps he could sell the car, although this was not so easy now, to pay the fines.
He has managed to get another job. Lucky to get it, really. After all, as his new guv’nor said, he couldn’t expect very much more under the circumstances, starting at the bottom again, at forty-six.
Of course, he’d have to sell up the house. Couldn't keep up mortgage repayments on those wages, apart from the fact that the Building Society had turned nasty. Houses weren't fetching quite so much now, either.
This is almost the end of our story.
Today, standing in the bus queue Albert no doubt muses betimes upon the perplexities and paradoxes of our modern age.
His brief, though disastrous, incursions into the realm of property ownership have taught him nothing more than a greater respect for auditors.