Uncharacteristically, snow fell in London last October, for the first time since 1934. It wasn’t the only harbinger of a return to Depression-era doom and gloom as the credit crunch™ began to bite. The Observer ran an article claiming that eco-terrorists were plotting outrages, no doubt the precursor for the passing of yet more draconian laws, essential if even the tree huggers have a fundamentalist wing now. The publication of the BNP membership list also seemed like a quaint reminder of a bygone age (oh, look, Fascists!) and made it much easier to organise a fight by text message, so, quick,
…last one to Cable Street’s a wanker
The halcyon days at the dawn of the new century seemed so far away as the flakes fell, the days when we had money to burn, lighting our cigarettes with rolled up twenties, floating on a tide of vintage champagne and ever more ludicrously distilled premium vodka and above all spend, spend, spending, gorging on STUFF like a WAG let loose in Liverpool’s Cricket boutique with her boyfriend’s plastic, nothing too trivial a frippery for us to splash the cash on.
‘Your more simplified life is in your hands. YSL bag, $1,895.’
Despite the example of bubbles from time immemorial, the South Sea one, the Roaring Twenties, even the Dot Com one of recent living memory, we were confident that this one was going to be different. Doped with the promised end to boom and bust, out of our gourds with the need to consume, high on the guarantee that we were worth it, damn it. House prices were going up and up and up and you were an idiot if you didn’t agree to hand over most of your income in return for the keys to a former crack house in Dalston now an exclusive des res worth just shy of a mill. If forking out that much of your folding each month left you without the necessary pocket money for the other trinkets so essential to your sense of self, well, hey, the banks could help you out there too. Pay it back later, when the house trebled in value and you could borrow more from Peter to pay back Paul. Simple.
The whole economy rested on it, people felt good because of it and they liked Labour because they were claiming responsibility for it. There were no losers.
Lest we get nervous, the party of the workers famously declared itself ‘intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich, as long as they pay their taxes.’ Utilising the Whaaat? communal fag packet, we ran some numbers. If this writer has been paying roughly 300 quid a month to the government over a decade of full time employment that makes £36,000. And if there are 28 million people employed in the UK paying the same, then, gosh, that adds up to £1,008 billion. An unreal number. As are the numbers being bandied around for how much fixing this mess will cost. And still, the sneaking suspicion that, for all the good it has done us, we should have spunked the lot on 500 million YSL handbags.
The Titanic analogy that keeps cropping up in the cartoons and op-eds is a good one. We built the boat, paid our fares, counted the number of lifeboats and sailed off into the icy currents. We knew enough to know what we were getting into. So here we are, with nothing left to do but see who will sink and who will swim. Got savings, low rate credit cards and a job that won’t easily transfer to the sub-Continent? Lucky you. Up to your arse in loans and the rest, needing to remortgage, with a boss that hates you? That water’s going to feel pretty chilly.
What exactly have we achieved since the Thirties?
We are still as in hock to the never-never in the form of credit cards, still dreaming of the big win on the lottery that replaced the pools as a chance to save ourselves from the drudgery, still fearful of showing a spark of anything that might lead to us being given our cards, so we keep our heads down, mind our ps and qs, lest the bosses ship the whole concern out to India or China and leave us back where our grandparents started from.
With a little luck, though, that won’t be you; and as Polly Toynbee, friend to the poor, points out, 3 million could be out of work and 90% of us won’t even notice. It will be unknowable, until some bold social warrior takes the Road to Wigan Pier to report back on the squalor and the shattered dreams while others stand wringing their hands over the failure of somebody, somewhere to do something.
So maybe that somebody should be us. Maybe it is time to recognise that worshipping the market is a collective delusion. To realise that money is as nebulous a concept as God. Let’s wake up to the fact that ignoring the beauty of the world to sit staring at a computer screen all day to pay taxes for the government to hand over to the banks for them to lend back to us (or not) at 7% interest to be spent on yet more consumer goods is a Sisyphean endeavour. We were meant for better than a life of ceaseless toil.
Bill Hicks was right, it is ‘just a ride’ and it only has one outcome, whether you smoke or not, eat your greens or not, go for a run or slob in front of the telly, it is going to end with your death. Market conditions, consumer confidence, the value of your house can go up as well as down, no matter: it is all a figment of your imagination. Recessions present opportunities other than cheap shares for those not too browbeaten to seize them; this one offers the prospect of reimagining and reclaiming our future from the greed heads and lifestyle peddlers, if only we dare. So, ignore the adverts, put down the credit card and get on with it; throw yourself into life, stare into the face of death and laugh.