Sunday, 14 December 2008
It’s not even the depth of winter, but this December has already felt particularly bleak. It’s not surprising given the news we deluged with daily. On the economic front things seem to go from bad to worse. High streets deserted, jobs going left, right and centre, house repossessions, falling house prices and slow, slow sales. It’s enough to make you want to hibernate. Every retailers’ shop front desperately tries to attract your attention and cash with unbeatable, unbelievable offers. It is very bleak Christmas fare that’s being laid before us this year. It’s not made any better by the exhortations of the Prime Minister and his Chancellor of the Exchequer to continue to spend. Such extravaganza seems inappropriate at a time when many of us are worried about making ends meet. It makes for a very dreary spirit of Christmas; with little cheer and considerable fear for what the New Year might bring.
For many this worsening turn of events is completely new. For many it is a bewildering change: the switch from abundant credit to no credit, from carefree spending to not knowing if the job will still be there next week is unexplainable. For many it seems so unfair. Why should their life style change so suddenly? What have they done wrong? Nothing, they’ve done what everyone else was doing - taking advantage of what was on offer? Yet it’s stopped and instead of blue skies and limitless horizons, they face uncertainty, debt and no line of credit with which to finance it.
Others have taken the austerity in their stride; welcoming the opportunity to shop around for bargains; rekindling the half forgotten home making skills. Some people have always felt uneasy with the increasing wealth of the past years; the unbridled consumerism. Like flagellates they welcome the opportunity to atone for their misdeeds and embrace the new climate, the new “cool”.
“Flaunting it” is no longer cool. And how quickly the new mood has taken hold – extravagance is now so vulgar. You notice it when you see younger people falling out of smart shops having hammered their credit cards and loaded down with “unnecessary” consumption. They haven’t yet learnt the new argot; but look at the faces of the onlookers and it’s clear that the vulgar kids are well and truly out of step.
Many older people don’t seem to notice the change. Why should they – they’ve seen it before. In the ‘70’s and ‘80’s and ‘90’s – boom and bust. And in any case for many the boom passed them by. They’ve always been bust or near broke so it’s no change.
You wonder what the current situation does for our self image. All those years telling ourselves that we had one of the most vibrant economies; that we’d weathered the recessions in the late ‘90’s and early 20’s; that we had a resilient economy. And now all that seems to have not been so true. We were able to tell the rest of the world how to be successful; now the rest of the world seems to be tut tutting. The glow of “Team GB”’s success at the Beijing Olympics has faded and now we’re starting to wonder whether hosting the 2012 Games is not a poisoned chalice. “Small is beautiful”, will have to be the watch word if the funding continues to dry up.
Yep, it a bleak deep mid winter and that’s for sure. But today we’re sitting round a real coal fire, the wreath of holly has been hung on the front door and the Christmas lights are so pretty. And I think back to earlier Christmases when money was tight, the days dark and the future forbidding and I hear the caroles of my childhood and remember the thrill of it all. The magic works again despite myself.