Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Hanging out the laundry

A blog. How personal to be? I’ve resisted the laundry option but somehow a blog needs to be a picture of the whole and the intimate. I shall briefly focus on the intimate.

First, something trite. Technology and I are not bedfellows. This site might look a lot better if I was, and odd things like a picture of a live parrot and a dog with feet of clay might not hover between a headline and copy. But, so be it.

Less trite. I was talking to a friend. I said I felt that my identity was being eroded. In fact, like a well-skied slope I feel almost featureless. Signing on, subjecting myself to the little indignities, the powerlessness, the development of brown-envelope phobia, the gloom, the penny pinching have seriously reduced my sense of being someone. I feel I am no one. No one going nowhere. Shuffling not striding.

Once upon a time I met a man in San Francisco. In the 1960s he had changed his name to Nobody and ran as a candidate in a US presidential election with the slogan: ‘Nobody for President’. He received lots of votes, but not enough. Say what you like about the value of absurdism (which my spell check reckons to be an error) but it can redeem us. The very memory of meeting Nobody has given me a chuckle. And if you can laugh, you know the bastards haven’t quite got you.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Many happy returns

Pick up any newspaper, particularly the well-upholstered weekend ones, and you’re bound to come across a columnist complaining of personal poverty. Rosie Millard, famously overdrawn on her credit cards, started the trend although the subsequent discovery that she owns several pricey properties has stemmed the outpouring of grief. Even so, she continues to earn a few bob whinging about her debts in the Independent every Saturday.

Then there’s India Knight. In her Sunday Times column she observed that ‘One of the mysteries of 21st century life is why people who earn decent salaries are still relatively poor.’ She recounts a sorry tale of holidays in Blighty, clothes from Topshop, and DIY fingernails. But she’s happy that children of the ‘newly impoverished middle classes’ are learning to share bedrooms and expect modest Christmas presents.

No wonder the pips are squeaking. The cost of raising a child from birth to age 21 destined to enjoy the privilege of private schooling is reckoned to be £251,187. Stick your kid in state education, and it’s a steal at £180,137 (saving you £71,050).

Since the price tag is similar, a question is beginning to surface: a mortgage or a child? Which will give better returns?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Just like that

Thousands of women on limited incomes decide on the prudence of saving for Christmas. They join a hamper club. A quaint notion that sits with warm beer and home-made apple pie. Reliable. Unostentatious. Some start saving from January to fund the festive season. These women do this (it’s almost exclusively a female thing) because although they struggle to pay for the extras in life, when it comes to Christmas they want to see the light of delight in the eyes of the children. And, they want to put on a spread that skimps on nothing. Diligently they save.

But, then, several weeks before the women are to crack open their piggy banks, they discover they are empty. Their savings have disappeared. Just like that.

Described by an MP as ‘legalized money laundering from the poor to the rich’, the Farepak Christmas Saving Scheme debacle is a casebook study in corporate cynicism.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Making records

Have you noticed that we appear to be living in a record-making epoch?

By the end of the year, more of us will be declared insolvent than at any other time. Insolvencies are set to exceed the 100,000 annual barrier for the first time ever.

We are the record holders when it comes to borrowing: we are the biggest borrowers in Europe. On average, each of us owes £3,000 in unsecured loans.

There’s a record that we may be on course to beat. And, that’s the one set in 1992 for home repossessions. Currently, our homes are being repossessed at a rate not seen since then (think recession and Black Wednesday).

Wages are falling in real terms and unemployment is rising. Now, where’s my Ian Drury record? ‘Reasons to be cheerful…’

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Little abominations

Why not raise the economic merits of the vacuum flask? I’ve been thinking of doing so for some time, but hesitated. I don’t want this blog to be mimsy and mumsy. But I kept feeling the urge to mention that when (long ago) I was in Japan I observed that in the mornings the lady of the house would fill a vacuum flask with tea, helping herself to a cuppa whenever she fancied. It saves on running water and on powering up the kettle and therefore on grid and personal energy. I’ve been doing the same. And, now, I find that I’m in the company of celebs. Gwyneth, Madonna and Halle have all been photographed with vacuum flasks. The flask is trendy. For a while there I thought I was being un-cool. But, no, I was a leader of the pack.

And, I can highly recommend bringing one (a flask, not a celebrity) with you on rail journeys because not only does it save a whopping £1.50 for a cup of British Rail tea, but the horror of ‘non-dairy milk’, yes, that’s vegetable fat to you and me, which you are expected to add to your tea.
It’s the little abominations that get you.

Thursday, November 02, 2006


Poverty sucks. But poverty must eat. My latest passion is roasted vegetables. This is what I ate the other night. I put thick wedges of red onion, courgette, a field mushroom and pumpkin, plus a few unpeeled garlic cloves into a baking tray. I added sufficient olive oil, gave it some thyme and time, say 30 minutes at 180 degrees. Put couscous in a bowl, added boiling water, covered. Sat down, leafed through a newspaper. I served the colourful veg on its bed of couscous with, on the side, left-over beetroot salad and half a chopped avocado. Cost? Approximately £1.30 per portion. Vitamin intake: maximum.

The following day I roasted the left-over bits of veg plus a couple of tomatoes, put pasta on to boil, sat down, poured a glass of cheap wine. Once cooked, I tossed the lot in a little virgin olive oil combined with grain mustard, lemon or whatever came to hand. Added torn flat-leaf parsley and slivers of parmesan. Delicious.

Today I’ll make a big pot of leek and potato soup, with a difference. I'll include a sweet potato. Eaten with buttery toast, I guarantee your cockles will be warmed as nights sparkle with a forgotten iciness.