The credit crisis has changed our lives and – in some ways – for the better

It’s over…the credit crisis, that is. Happy days are here again – and don’t forget you read it here first.

At the risk of sounding off prematurely, apparently green shoots are positively sprouting everywhere, certainly some through the rustic slabs of my patio.

So, surely like you, I’m over the moon after six years of being as sick as a parrot, to borrow the lingo of soccer stars, most of whom never felt the pinch (unless they attracted a nibble from Liverpool’s Luis Suarez).

Six years ago this month boom turned to bust, contradicting spendthrift Gordon Brown’s silly forecast, and a decade of economic prosperity exploded in our smug, naïve faces.

On August 9, 2007, French bank, BNP Paribas, stopped investors withdrawing their money, then Lehman Brothers went belly up and queues of distraught account-holders formed outside Northern Rock in the first ‘bank run’ in Britain for 150 years.

To spare you from post-traumatic shock, I won’t reprise all the grisly details in the aftermath of ‘the day the world changed’ – as one economist dubbed that Meltdown Thursday – except to say businesses collapsed, currencies plummeted, interests were slashed and jobless stats rocketed, especially across the Eurozone.

SOMETHING TO SMILE ABOUT: Mario Draghi, head of the European Central Bank

SOMETHING TO SMILE ABOUT: Mario Draghi, head of the European Central Bank

But, with dynamic, new Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, imported from Canada to wave a financial magic wand over the GB£ and a Mona Lisa smile creasing the stony countenance of Mario Draghi, the European Central Bank chief, at last the runes seem optimistic.

Still, as the economic data improves, how come I don’t hear bubbly bottles being popped, see bunting festooning streets or listen to the lilt of relieved banter in my local hostelry?

Save the well-shod few, the harsh fact is it still may take years for the ‘trickle-down’ effect to impact on most of us and some of the hardest hit will be doomed to live in penury for decades to come.

And even when (and if) The Crisis eventually fades, life will never be the same, because we’ve learned the lessons of whooping it up in a false utopia and only mugs will make those mistakes again.

We’ve become cannier now, cynical and less believing of our political leaders, not least the banking masters of the universe (a.k.a. robber barons). Most of all we’ve adjusted our lifestyles to cope with the realities of austerity and actually take no small measure of pride in how we well have adapted.

So how have we achieved that?

A snapshot survey of opinions in my neighbourhood is telling…

The weekly shop is done with greater price awareness, luxuries we once lavished on ourselves are rarer and the supermarkets we now patronise aren’t the upmarket emporiums they once were, but rather discount outlets (evidence: see Aldi’s stock-market price and its phenomenal turnover of cheap, quality vinos).

Motor trips, too, are under regular scrutiny – an echo of the old, wartime dictum: ‘Is Your Journey Really Necessary?’ – which signals double delight for the Greens, as fewer noxious gases are emitted and bicycling has flourished.

In other, diverse sectors vacations have morphed into ‘staycations’ and the divorce rate has dropped (by 23% in the UK), because separation is too expensive, thus proving the point that if loves doesn’t conquer all, a financial reality check can.

Plus, there have been some intriguing, if bizarre unintended consequences, as cash-strapped folk invent ways of saving.

A boom in home cooking has seen an upsurge of more exotic fare being tried – when we do eat out, incidentally, puddings are generally off the menu – and sales of racy lingerie are rising (work that one out for yourself, except to hint that man cannot live by telly alone).

Tupperware is now an office-worker’s must-have, since sarnies have replaced the executive lunch, while fruit-platters in boardrooms and free biscuits in meetings have bitten the dust, as have expensive potted plants and leased artwork.

Moving house went out of fashion, DIY came in – even my son (the one who once couldn’t replace a blown fuse in a plug) has installed himself a new shower to minimise the cost of power and the water it takes to soak in a hot bath.

FALLEN ON HARD TIMES: Even hookers are having to cut their charges

HARD TIMES: Even hookers have had to cut their charges

And pity the hard-up ‘ladies of the night’, who’ve had to pare their tariffs by as much as 50% to lure a punter into their boudoirs, according to a report by London’s Westminster Council, which reflects a Europe-wide trend.

So certainly a degree of Puritanism has entered our mindset, if not for religious motives.

However, there are the inevitable downsides…dental hygiene has suffered, because patients fear being landed with astronomic bills, though that’s partially offset by us eschewing the delights of the dessert trolley.

And we can’t get rid of our offspring. Property prices are still ridiculously high compared to earnings, so it’s not unusual for a 35-year-old to still be domiciled with disgruntled parents, who now query the wisdom of having kids in the first place.

In contrast, there is ‘housing consolidation’ – the terminology for converting the loft into a granny pad, flogging their bungalow to offset rising living costs and forestalling the distinct probability it will only get frittered away on expensive care-home fees at some future date.

Pets, too, are feeling the credit crunch, with some owners letting the cat out of the flap, then nailing it up or taking Fido on a one-way trip to the middle of nowhere. Britain’s RSPCA, for example, reports a 65% increase in the number of moggies and pooches being dumped since 2007.

Whatever else, the upshot is most of us have learned to be leaner and meaner, infinitely more discriminating in how, when and why we spend our moolah.

And that make-do-and-mend mentality isn’t going to change, even if the promise of some measure of economic stability is just around the proverbial corner.

Whether it is or not remains to be seen. But if it does, don’t forget who told you first.

When it comes to well being, why can’t men be more like women?

It’s that time of year again when the love of my life and yours truly dig deep into our reservoirs of nerve and submit our bodies to a series of tests, which the GP blithely and metaphorically calls his ‘MoT’.

Pretty much in the same way ageing, 4-wheeled bangers undergo annual, mandatory roadworthiness checks, we voluntarily elect for the probing, blood-sampling and analysis of bodily fluids, as they provide a fairly accurate indicator of how time is ravaging us and what the prognosis is for the future.

Both being 60-ish, we’re pretty sanguine about not living forever, despite the advances in medical science. Quality of life is what we value most, so hopefully we’ll rumble on for a while longer.

Naturally, each of us have developed aches and pains with age – mitigated somewhat by living in a climate as benign as Mallorca – and need propping up with a small, daily cocktail of drugs.

My wife worries about her cholesterol. The condition is likely to be genetic, since her diet is low on dairy products and a pill a day keeps it within the proscribed limits.

For my own part, I’ve been nursing an above-average PSA (prostate sensitive antigens) level since 2006, which can be an indicator of prostate cancer. I have regular check-ups, but it continues to yo-yo, which is worrisome, though my urologist doesn’t seem unduly concerned (mind you, he’s not the patient).

I hope he’s right, since prostate cancer – described as the ‘Cinderella of cancers’, until it attracted attention via the Movember moustache-growing campaign – can by symptomless unless it becomes dangerously aggressive, killing as it does over 10,000 men a year in the UK alone.

Most men contract it, usually in their declining years, but generally its progress is snail’s space and they go on to shrug off their mortal coil for other, more sinister reasons.

And, since genetic conditions are increasingly regarded by the medical fraternity as a guide to what can strike future generations, I’m fortunate, because the disease doesn’t run in my family, though that doesn’t absolve me from a positive diagnosis some day.

My wife and I were also lucky to be post-WW2 baby-boomers. It meant we were fed on home-made, additive-free food, minus preservatives, and I didn’t have my first, US-style hamburger from a fast food chain until about 1958 (it was a Wimpey, by the way).

Meanwhile, 1950s rationing limited us to good, plain, old-fashioned grub – plenty of meat and fresh veg dishes; yucky steamed fish; nutritious, home-made winter soups – which my kids now dub ‘soul food’. We also ate plenty of fruit, either straight out of its skins or cooked as baked and stewed apples, and in various tarts.

Since most families didn’t have cars way back then, we walked lots and cycled. In my early teens, regardless of the weather, I pedalled twelve miles a day to school and back on my prized, Sun Superlight drop-handle-barred racing bike and can still remember every hill.

We also played out almost daily on the local ‘rec’, inventing our own games and filling our lungs with what passed for fresh air in damp, polluted Manchester.

On reflection, it was a gilded childhood and somehow, heathwise, I believe it has stood us in good stead, since we weren’t afflicted by video games, cellphone toys and the plethora of gizmos that tantalise today’s young and keep them housebound and anti-social for hours.

But, to return to the point of this and our choice to be proactive about our health, though it’s fair to say we’re not obsessional about it, just moderately sensible.

The annual medicals have taught us to avoid too much salt, fizzy, cola-style drinks and pre-prepared convenience foods, which are rarities in Mallorca anyway (though I do miss M&S duck a la orange).

However, the doc’s ‘MoT’ can be a contentious issue – and especially among men of my vintage. Maybe they fear what they’ll hear.

But blokes, by nature, are blokish. We’ll happily chew the fat about sport, politics, business/work and dissect the attributes of a pretty girl if one chances by.

DON’T CARRY ON, NURSE: Men shun medical check-ups, maybe because they fear what they’ll hear

But, in our macho world all talk of medical matters is taboo and if one of us suddenly developed a third testicle, it would be a topic of hilarity – envy even – not a health concern.

In fact, too many men I know take an ostrich-eye view of their bodies and say, ‘If something happens, I’ll sort it. But I don’t want to go looking for trouble.’

That was the mindset of two friends until they were required to take medicals for insurance purposes and discovered to their horror they had aggressive prostate cancer. Fortunately, it hadn’t spread to other vital organs and, after treatment, I’m glad to say they’re still kicking.

Contrarily, two female strangers standing at a bus stop will strike up a conversation that’s invariably a prelude to comparing hysterectomies, smears and mammograms.

True, women are far more accustomed to their anatomy being medically invaded; it’s a fact of life they reluctantly accept. But, hence, they have far fewer inhibitions about discussing intimate details.

Generally, they’re also considerably more proactive in looking after their bodies than we Neanderthals.

This leads me to the conclusion – contrary to Professor Higgins song in My Fair Lady, bewailing the fairer sex and demanding ‘Why can’t women be more like men’ – men should be more like women when it comes to treating wellness seriously.

Of course, guys, if you want to continue swilling half-a-dozen litres of San Miguel nightly, chased by tequila shots, existing on a fast-food diet and walking no further than the car, by all means carry on, because I don’t want to bang on like a health nerd.

Sooner or later, though, I’ll probably see you at the cemetery. Hopefully, I’ll be the one with the bunch of flowers and an R.I.P. note.