In which the credit crunch is still a novel topic...

Printed on 25/09/08.

I’ve been finding it hard to get worked up about the credit crunch. Largely, I believe, because it just doesn’t sound scary enough. The Wall Street Crash, that was effective terminology – ‘crash’ is scary, it conjures up appropriate images of destruction and flying debris and people screaming, as all the money in the world suddenly drops through the floor and we have to scrabble around looking for it. Credit Crunch, meanwhile, sounds like a novelty breakfast cereal. Which your mum then takes back out of the trolley, and buys All Bran instead.

Even ‘recession’, with its overtone of general doom, doesn’t quite have me reaching for the economy shampoo. For one thing, the word has the false promise of a retro revival, as though we’ll just slip back a few years and start using massive mobile phones again, and typewriters and Betamax tapes to record old episodes of To The Manor Born.

It’s also got the middle classes excited, as they tend to, about the pastoral possibilities of everyone being skint. It’ll unite the masses again! We’ll sing jolly songs about hardship and brew our own ale! We’ll use powdered egg and draw stocking seams up our legs with eyeliner! The whole exercise will just be an extension of the middle class’s already-existing need to feign rusticness – it’s the same reason they buy Agas, wear wellies and name their kids Poppy and Matilda after Victorian parlour maids*.

Of course, it started this summer with everyone pretending they really wanted to go camping in Skegness instead of renting villas in Tuscany, because it’s conveniently fashionable to slum it and prove you can still be a fabulously interesting person whilst wearing a cagoule. Now the credit crunch is in full swing, apparently everyone’s boycotting Waitrose in favour of cheap and cheerful un-organic alternatives. They’ve all invaded my Morrisons and now I can’t swing a trolley without bashing into a Sloane checking the gluten content in a packet of smokey bacon Supernoodles.

But other than the occasional handbag fight over the last half-price asparagus tips (Hermés vs Help the Aged), I’m finding it difficult to care. When you’re already counting out coppers to buy yourself a Greg’s entrail pasty, it’s hard to faff about everybody else getting a bit poorer. It’s like Jordan caring that Mensa are raising their entry requirements. “Mortgage? Not this week for me ta, I splashed out on name-brand ketchup”.

Though while we’re all financially bereft, we are getting richer in moaning material. The state of the economy finally hit home for me this week, two days before pay day, hungry in Notting Hill with exactly 30p in my purse. “I’ll just pop into a newsagents and buy a choccie bar,” thinks I. “Just a Twix or a Double Decker, nothing fancy.” Half an hour of shop-hopping later, I’m doubly hungry and sans chocolate sustenance, because it turns out all chocolate bars in the world are now 59p.

59p! WHEN DID THIS HAPPEN? Where have I been? Filed in my brain, admittedly dating back to 1997 at the height of my pocket money boon, is the information that a standard choccie bar is 27p, 29p, or 31p for the extra special ones like Yorkies. You could fund one with a quick scrounge under sofa cushions. And now, now, a poxy Time Out is going to eat up the best bit of a pound? What is this madness? Even the humble Freddo, the modest treat for the kid whose mother is more vigilant than most with the sofa maintenance, has gone up to 15p. It’s an outrage.

Reading back over this page, I’ve just realised that my entire approach to discussing the economic doom of the Western world is to talk about food. Cereal, supernoodles, choocie bars. This could be because my artistic sensibility finds no creative stimulation in a topic as cold and harsh as money, and needs to supplement it with the stuff of baser human experience, like eating. Or maybe it’s because it’s lunchtime and all I have in my cupboard is half a bag of dried lentils. Excuse me while I do 59p’s worth of sofa scavenging.

*I’m talking, naturally, about the middle-and-upper middle classes. Which I can do with cheerful derision, because my family have a Mondeo, a nest of tables in our lounge, and regularly say ‘toilet’. Which makes us lower middle class, and the sort of people who went to Butlins before it was ironic.