I remember the death of Princess Diana. Who can't? A nation entirely took leave of its senses. It was like waking up to find you'd been inculcated into a cult you never knew existed, all that showy grief and those crocodile tears. It was also an excuse for the very canny to exploit. My favourite story is of a pub owner in the North East, who, in the days after Diana's death, put a sign up in the window. It read: 'Due to the tragic death of Princess Diana, and as a mark of respect, Happy Hour will be cancelled this week.'
I see something similar now in these austere times. After years of living it up, we are being told to cut our cloth according to our means. I never really had that much cloth, even in the good times, which is why I walked around financially stark naked, but it's sound advice I suppose. I also have a bit of a problem with all those people urging the banks and the Government to do more for the responsible folk who saved their money. The hard-working savers, and hard-working families. But what about the feckless spenders? Don't we have rights too? We propped up this economy for years, and now we've been dumped, shoddily, callously, like a Gingrich spouse.
What irks me is that some people I know are enjoying this austerity thing a bit too much. The ones who slipped away from the pub before it was their round, or somehow seemed to be in the gents. They bragged about the bargains they found and we all turned our noses up. Look, a Saville Row suit that someone died in for £50!! How we laughed at their parsimony as they wiped the bloodstains from the soiled jacket sleeves. Now everybody's buying second hand clothes, and telling everyone else about it while they're at it, or that they're brewing their own beer at home, or cooking pots of soup and stew at the start of the week and making it last until Thursday. Let's just be clear: any home brew tastes absolutely disgusting, soup is not a meal, it's medicine, and leftover food is awful, unless its curry and only, and I mean ONLY, when eaten for breakfast with a hangover.
Everyone is talking about their budget. Even my sister, a lawyer, (and therefore hardly on the verge of the workhouse - just mentioning her, even without naming her, cost me £200) and a shopaholic who has so many shoes she makes Imelda Marcos look like Gandhi, told me at Christmas that 2012 would see her live within her means. No more than £150 on a single purchase. She'll probably just go and buy the left one the next day.
But there is a serious issue here. Namely, the businesses who will hide behind austerity to cut jobs rather than make a bit less money; and more insidiously, the Governments, like our very own coalition, who will hide behind austerity to slash any number of budgets and benefits that ordinary people rely on to live and survive, in the name of austerity when really the motive is ideological. Only this week the reprehensible lot who run the UK were caught trousers down trying to sneak through welfare cuts, or increase charges, that will only affect the poorest. Single mothers trying to track down errant fathers to pay towards the cost of bringing up their children will be charged for doing so by the Child Support Agency, while the social fund, basically a one-off payment to the truly desperate, usually to tide them over until some administrative hiccup is solved, or until a much needed cheque is paid to them, is to be abolished. Meanwhile, guess what? Huge bonuses are still paid in the city, the rich still manage to avoid paying their fair share of tax (this might have some resonance in the States, eh my old mate Mitt?) and the diabolical Mayor of London, who has spent four years coasting on public cash, still manages to go on two skiing holidays in one month.
So, Happy Hour is officially over. Unless you're rich.