Sterling and the Oxford Street view

'THE ERM? Umm. It's a rock group, isn't it?' ventured Judy, 29, leaning against the bar in a salsa club just off Oxford Street. 'No, that's REM]' blurted Maia, her cocktail-sipping friend, unable to restrain herself. 'The ERM is theee . . . Economic something-or-other . . . the . . . European Extra Mechanism] That's it] Oh, I don't know. I'm just regurgitating what I read. I can't really grasp what's going on.'

The front pages, news pages, editorial pages and even letters pages have been dominated for days by the reporting, dissection and analysis of The Sterling Crisis. But how much has the man and woman on the high street grasped? Can you explain why sterling is in a crisis? Do you know what happens when the pound sinks through the floor of the ERM? Do you know what it means when the pound is devalued?

In a random survey last week, Oxford Street traders and visitors were asked some basic questions. 'Easy' factual questions proved elusive; but sublime resourcefulness emerged on the more puzzling issues. More than half of those interviewed could not say what ERM - Exchange Rate Mechanism - means. Yet many came up with refreshing explanations of the pound's fate.

Bill, 60, a self-employed french polisher, had read all about it. 'The ERM stands for European . . . Monetary . . . ummm . . . I did know, hang on . . . nope. It's gone. Anyway, it's something that's supposed to make everything all right, but hasn't done, has it? When the pound drops through the floor of the ERM, well, that's easy. That's when the shit hits the fan, interest rates go up, the pound goes out and down, and I go down and out.'

Bryan, 35, a tattooed disco manager, took a more streetwise approach: 'Yeah. It means we get frozen out. Stiffed. We become untouchable, no one wants us, like spoiled goods. We just plummet. Yeahhh. Is that right? Do I get a packet of jelly babies?'

So much for the ERM. What about Maastricht and today's referendum in France? Nearly three in four of those approached knew what the French would be voting on, but only one in three could explain - in rudimentary terms - what the Maastricht treaty was actually about.

'No idea really,' confessed James Buckingham, 21, a barman. 'Just heads of state who got together to have a treaty. I haven't really looked into it.'

Violet Oswald, a pensioner, puckered her lips, pondered and commented: 'I should think that 99 per cent of the people in this country know virtually nothing about it. I'm not sure whether it's lack of interest or that we haven't been told.'

The more vexing question, as to why sterling is in a crisis, yields a predictable clutch of xenophobic ('It's the bloody Germans]') responses. Others focused on the part played by speculators and the Government, while some, including Bill the french polisher, claimed to be genuinely mystified. 'If I knew the answer,' he said, 'I'd tell Lamont and Major to get their arses out the way and let me do their job. It's a complete enigma to me.'

It took Len, a retired engineer who was out 'shopping for music', to come up with some high-street horse-sense. 'It's obvious. The goods on sale in this street - the records, the hi-fis, the clothing - are much more expensive than in America or Europe. That tells me one thing - the pound is overvalued. It's been staring us in the face for so long, it makes you wonder how the experts could get it so wrong.'

On to the next question: What does it mean if the pound is devalued?

'I've never been through a devaluation before,' said Ashley Andrew, 26, a flower- seller, 'so I don't know what it's like. But I do know that for these imported roses - selling at pounds 2 a bunch - devaluation means that next week they could cost me pounds 3, pounds 4 or even pounds 5, and that means I've gotta sell them at pounds 8. No one's gonna pay pounds 8 for my roses, so that means I'm out of business. That's devaluation.'

Rupert, a bouncer, broke off from his nail-picking and became philosophic: 'Yeah, the pound's not worth a carrot, is it? So the question is meaningless. Yeah, I like that, meaningless . . .'

Finally, Paul Williams, a 20-year-old student, shopping for a football, said: 'Personally, I believe in God. God controls the money supply. So I'm not really bothered.'

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people
News
A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
News
politicsIs David Cameron trying to prove he's down with the kids?
News
Cumberbatch was speaking on US television when he made the comment (Getty)
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Tradewind are working with this Co-educatio...

Tradewind Recruitment: Textiles

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: We require a teacher of Textiles for this c...

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: We require a teacher of English for this co...

Recruitment Genius: Sales and Service General Administrator

£16000 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea