‘You can screw it’ – that’s what today’s metrosexual males think of doing DIY

WEEKEND bliss for my late, lamented father-in-law, George, was to escape to his garage-cum-workshop and strip down an engine, replace any tired parts, then completely rebuild it, sound as a bell.

A self-taught engineer and Dunkirk veteran, George was typical of a generation of make-do-and-mend blokes who could perform minor miracles with their hands, while escaping the clutches of ‘er indoors.

Once, in those pre-designer-label, cuisine refinement days – when Moben wasn’t invented and Pedini sounded like a Tuscan cheese – George knocked up a very passable set of kitchen cupboards, with sliding doors and gilt handles, which made the family home the envy of the neighbourhood.

He sawed, planed and painted boxwood in cherry-red gloss, set it up on a pine frame, all carefully mitred, and nailed the lot to the walls. No power drills or electric sanders then – or Rawlplugs – never mind swish, black granite worktops; just good, old Formica.

Way back in the 1950s Sweden hadn’t made flat-pack furniture its contribution to civilisation and a couple of blokes called Richard Block and David Quayle were still mulling over what to call their first builders’ merchants, before they stumbled on the handle, B&Q.

Dads could do things then, scribbling down a design on the back of a cigarette packet and not relying on a print-out of incomprehensible instructions, loosely translated from Serbo-Croat, which invariably meant there were a several bits left over. If you were lucky, that was.

Admittedly, from the 1970s onward, DIY came into its own with the advent of Ikea, though I’m still banjaxed by some of their jargon – Liatorp, Tjenda, Kallax anyone? – and they’ve some items so cunningly fashioned, for the life I can’t work out of me what they’re for.

A DYING BREED: Fellas into DIY are fast fading - but they do get more sex

A DYING BREED: Fellas who are  into DIY are a fast-fading bunch – but university boffins say they get more sex

As it happens, I’ve become pretty ace at assembling Ikea stuff. The trick is to follow the instructions to the letter and not get ahead of yourself by thinking you’ve second-guessed the brainbox who authored the directions.

Just find a large enough space to lay out all the parts, open the little bags of fixing gizmos, check they’re all there and get ready for a couple of hours of headbanging, cussing and twirling Allen keys.

However, it now seems – like George – I’ve become a bit of a dinosaur, because DIY has become so passé and naff today’s generation of metrosexual males avoid it like being seen without facial stubble.

I mean could you imagine the likes of David Beckham, Jude Law, Christiano Ronaldo or Brad Pitt strapping on a tool belt and getting stuck in to putting up a curtail rail. Neither can I (well, maybe Brad would).

This translates into Britain’s DIY retailers taking a financial hammering, the reason for which Homebase – which is closing a quarter of its stores – last week identified as due to ‘a generation less skilled in DIY projects.’

And, though the sector is still worth a whopping £7.3 billion per year in the UK, according to the Daily Telegraph, that’s its lowest annual turnover since 1999. So, if it continues to plummet at its current rate of 13% per annum, DIY will be dead as a self-chiselled dovetail joint by 2040.

METROSEXUAL MAN: But to fellas like him, plucking nasal hair is more important that DIY

METROSEXUAL MAN: But to blokes like him, plucking out errant nasal hair is more important that DIY

Apparently today’s 20-to-30-something fellas are more like their mums, having had their dad’s ‘traditional skills’ lobotomised.

Only five per cent of 18-24s, apparently, would attempt to unblock a sink. So, mention a rubber plunger to them and their minds will immediately jump to the conclusion: ‘Wow…sex toy!

Transfixed by their iPads, smart phones and gizmos that could launch an Apollo moon mission, I suppose it’s only to be expected post-Millennia man has lost touch with being a real geezer, in the old-fashioned meaning.

I’d speculate few own a tool box and fewer still have felt the heady rush of self-satisfaction and testosterone coursing through their veins as they re-hang a door, change the washer on a leaky tap or put together a flat-pack shelf unit.

At the risk of sounding sexist, the right-on, bully-girl, feminist PC lobby is mostly to blame for the emasculation of the masculine species.

No bloke dares be seen ogling at a Page 3 pin-up nowadays, while lads’ mags are full of beauty hints – what’s the best hair fudge or how to perk up your pecks – and snaps of grungy girls you would want to be seen out with on a dark night in Greenland.

Meanwhile, the liberal media are gushing with advice about how fellas should ‘embrace their feminine side’, learn to cook sushi and understand all those strange symbols on clothes labels, so they don’t shrink their Armani T-shirt.

This probably accounts for the number of guys entering TV baking contests and getting into hissy fits when a female competitor nobbles them, by taking their fruit-of-the-forest soufflé out of the oven five minutes before it’s risen.

Only in private can fellas let loose their red-blooded instincts, which accounts for the floodtide of interest in Internet porn. After all, someone has to be gawking at it and it’s not likely to be the ladies of local Women’s Institute, in between jam-making and renditions of Jerusalem (though I wouldn’t put it passed them).

So manual labour is increasingly seen as something to be contracted out to others, he-men, with mitts like shovels, who can tile a bathroom and tell a lump hammer from a lump of lard.

FLAT-PACK IS FAB: Ikea is Sweden's contribution to modern-day civilisation

FLAT-PACK IS FAB: Ikea is Sweden’s contribution to modern-day civilisation

Quirkily, the metrosexual male’s role reversal isn’t necessary what all women want. Because, as they settle into their roles as wives and mums, they desperately want a man about the house, who can wire a plug and fit a laminated floor, not some fop who spends hours in the bathroom mirror plucking out errant nasal hair.

Meanwhile, there’s an upside to being a dab hand at DIY: you get more sex.

A study by sociologists at the University of Washington found that couples who follow traditional gender roles around the house – wives doing the cooking, cleaning and shopping; men doing the DIY and fettling the car – reported greater bouts of boudoir Olympics.

So, not to mince words, if men want to get laid, they should do more screwing…in the DIY meaning of the word, that is.

Anyway, must go. Have to re-fix the pergola roof, because you never know what that can lead to.

 

When evil men abuse their power, do we ignore the rumour mill at our peril?

IT was a huge PR coup in more ways than one. Roly-poly MP, Cyril Smith, was coming to my kids’ primary school speech day, to present prizes and glad-hand the award-winners.

Back in the naïve mid-1980s, the larger-than-life character, with a girth to match, was the Liberals’ darling – a bluff, northern charmer, deflecting the fall-out from the torrid, homosexual scandal that sank Jeremy Thorpe, the party’s former leader.

Yet, I wasn’t overjoyed at the prospect of Big Cyril’s road show coming to school. And, couched in as much tact as I could muster, I said so to a teacher, who, quite reasonably asked what my reservations were.

As a newsman, I was privy to a rumour mill that marked the 30-stone politician as having ‘form’, not that I could divulge, in plain English, to the teacher that what I knew was incendiary: the recurrent buzz that Smith might not be an appropriate adult to have around kids.

PARLIAMENTARY PERV? The public needs to know the truth about roly-poly MP, Cyril Smith's alleged abuse of young boys

PARLIAMENTARY PERV? The public needs to know the truth about roly-poly MP, Sir Cyril Smith’s alleged abuse of young boys

The satirical mag, Private Eye, had alleged in 1979 the Liberal Chief Whip – once Labour mayor of Rochdale – had put youngsters at a boys’ home across his knee, pulled down their pants and spanked them.

Plus, I’d heard from reporters covering Smith’s local patch, political contacts, even coppers of my acquaintance, all of whom whispered the same mantra…investigations into Smith’s ‘extra-curricular activities’ were shelved because of ‘pressure from above.’

Proof and hearsay, however hot, aren’t the same. And, apart from the Eye’s snippet, no journo had dared make public further innuendos, because none fancied a second career as a mini-cab driver.

Besides, it’s not always wise to assume where there’s smoke, fire rages. The Sun made that monumental boob when it accused Liverpool fans of picking the pockets and urinating on the bodies of some of the 96 supporters who died in 1989 Hillsborough Tragedy – which is why, even today, Britain’s best-selling tabloid remains a pariah newspaper on Merseyside.

Smith, though, was far from stupid, as Simon Danczuk, author of the new book, ‘Smile for the Camera: The Double Life of Cyril Smith’, claims.

‘Once you looked beyond the jolly clown…there was a sickening, dark heart,’ insists the writer. ‘This wasn’t just about abuse, it was about power – and a cover-up that reached from Rochdale all the way to the very top of the Establishment.’

Now Labour MP in Smith’s old seat, Danczuk alleges his predecessor – knighted for political services in 1988 – was part of a Westminster-based network of sex abusers, which Lib-Dems, police, even MI5, had been complicit in covering up for decades.

Danczuk says he has affidavits from eight boys abused by Smith at the Cambridge House hostel, in Rochdale, in the 1960s and they make for grim reading.

Smith, who had helped found the home, was seemingly given ‘free rein’ to administer punishments and is said to have taken pleasure in spanking boys ‘for their own good’, while conducting ‘medical examinations’ of the half-naked kids.

Up to a month ago 144 complaints had been lodged against Smith – a friend of serial sex-abuser, Jimmy Savile – some from victims then as young as eight.

And, incredibly, Lord David Steel, the former Liberal leader, admitted last week that when he’d quizzed Smith about the Eye’s report, the fat man agreed it was true.

So why didn’t Steel act?

LIB-DUMBS? Lord David Steel (left) and current leader, Nick Clegg, refuse to hold an enquiry into Smith

LIB-DUMBS? Lord David Steel (left) and current leader, Nick Clegg, refuse to hold an enquiry into Smith

‘These allegations were already very old,’ he insists. ‘They had been investigated by the police, as Private Eye stated, and no action had been taken. So there was nothing more I could do. He wasn’t an MP at the time of these allegations – he wasn’t even a member of my party.’

Meanwhile, while describing the charges against Smith as ‘repugnant’, current leader and Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, said that when all his MPs and peers were asked two years ago whether they’d heard of the abuse claims ‘no-one said they did.’

Given what I’d been told – three decades earlier – from a host of disparate sources, I find it inconceivable the entire parliamentary Lib-Dem mob hadn’t heard a murmur on their antenna, far more attuned to Westminster tittle-tattle than mine.

Political affiliations aside, Danczuk agrees with that assessment.

‘They are a party in denial,’ he asserts. ‘I find it incredible they are claiming that they didn’t hear the rumours about Smith.’

But, apart from what we northerners call ‘cloth-eared’ folly – for the benefit of ignorant southern folk, that’s a meld of selective deafness and a rebuttal of reality – among Smith’s old cronies, Clegg, Steel and Co. should know the law of unintended consequences takes no prisoners.

So, despite investigations being launched by Rochdale Council and Greater Manchester Police, the Lib-Dems’ refusal to hold their own probe into what’s inevitably being dubbed ‘Smithgate’ is a decision they might live to regret.

Child sex abuse – even the mere whiff of it – is no longer dismissed as a trifling deviation to be swept under the carpet, as it once was.

The Savile scandal and its devastating impact on the smug-as-a-mug BBC, again years after the culprit was dead, should concentrate Lib-Dem minds and demand a large dose of proactive humility, not a dead-bat, do-nothing defence.

THUMBS UP: But thumbs down from the jury who found showbiz power-broker Max Clifford guilty of sexually abusing young girls

THUMBS UP: But thumbs down from the jury, who found showbiz power-broker Max Clifford guilty of sexually abusing young girls

Similarly, in a week that’s seen showbiz power-broker, Max Clifford, stripped of his swagger and banged up for eight years for sex offences against young girls, it’s not unreasonable to ask who, in my own trade and close to him, knew what murky secrets lurked behind the slick façade of the man who made Fleet Street rumble.

Like Savile, Smith will never see the inside of a courtroom, but it’s likely his considerable political clout far extended anything the perv DJ or contemptuous Clifford could ever match.

And, though the fat man is – as yet – guilty of nothing more than being the posthumous subject of a swirling welter of allegations that he was a heartless, predatory paedophile, his activities deserve and demand thorough public scrutiny, especially by the Lib-Dems.

Perhaps, too, it’s time we all need a reminder of Edmund Burke’s sage quote: ‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.’

 

 

Smearing Britain as the world’s leader in sexism is the daftest UN verdict yet

NOT that I imagined I was one, but I thought I’d err on the side of caution and check to see if I was a Male Chauvinist Pig.

It transpires I’m not, says my wife, who even gave me the verbal equivalent of the British Kite Mark for possessing a ‘feminist side’, which means the next time I pass a sarong shop I can pop in and buy one (well, it worked for David Beckham).

Despite being personally absolved, apparently the UK is the world’s most sexist country.

That’s the learned opinion of Rashida Manjoo, a Special Rapporteur for the United Nations Humans Rights Council (UNHCR), whose withering verdict is based on a 16-day ‘fact-finding’ mission – including, I’d venture, a chat with The Guardian’s women’s editor, on one of her rare visits to the planet Earth.

And not only is sexism rampant, Ms Manjoo insists a ‘boys’ club culture’ rules Britain, sexual bullying and harassment is ‘routine’ and schools should teach lads manners.

‘Have I seen this level of sexist culture in other countries?’ Ms Manjoo posited, rhetorically. ‘It hasn’t been so in-your-face in other countries. I haven’t seen that so pervasively in other countries. I’m sure it exists (elsewhere), but it wasn’t so much and so pervasive.’

Pardon me for demurring with Ms. Manjoo and I can only presume her travels have been short and few.

But, let me state my criticism of her has nothing to do with my distinctly dim opinion of the UN – which regular readers know I consider a chamber of horrors for Western values – or with the loopy UNHCR, which lauded Libya’s late, unlamented, homicidal maniac, Muammar Gaddafi, as a paragon of ‘human rights’ virtue.

Because, for all her political correct piety, I believe this UN Special Rapporteur on human rights has got it dead wrong by naming and shaming Britain as the world capital of anti-female prejudice.

In her purblindness, she utterly ignores glaringly worse offenders in the Middle East particularly, where often women can’t vote, can’t drive, can’t leave home without a male guardian and, among the many other indignities heaped on them, they’re subject to violent abuse from their menfolk.

Ms Manjoo also overlooks Africa, where female genital mutilation is rife in Somalia and rape is an established tactic in military conflicts – even by blue-cap, UN peacekeepers.

BRIT BASHER: The UN's Rashida Manjoo claims the UK is the worst place in the world for 'pervasive sexism'

BRIT BASHER: The UN’s Rashida Manjoo claims the UK is the worst place in the world for ‘pervasive sexism’

She pointedly avoids her own back yard, too, where South Africa is ranked fourth in the world for sexual violence, averaging 500,000 rape cases a year, according to the UN’s Office on Crimes and Drugs (whom she obviously didn’t bother consulting).

Nor does she mention India or Pakistan, where aborting female foetuses, selling young girls into servitude and arranged marriages are disgustingly all too common.

So, in pointing the finger at Britain, it’s not unreasonable to question Ms Manjoo’s bias, let alone qualifications to even run a stall at a charity bring-and-buy sale.

Of course, it would be absurd to deny sexism doesn’t exist in the UK and, at some time, I‘ve witnessed outrageous evidence of it, especially in the once masculine-dominated newspaper industry, heavy with the stench of testosterone.

But that was 40 years ago, when Carry On films overflowed with sniggering sexist gags and pubs were, indeed, big boys’ clubs.

Today, judging by the number of telly ads that denigrate males as being unable to find their hind quarters with both hands, I’d say Britain has much to teach the world about gender equality, even if it isn’t perfectly PC.

And, as far as the battle of the sexes goes, most fellas threw in the towel yonks ago.

We’re consoled by women telling us we can focus on the big issue – i.e. which team should win the Premiership – while they concentrates on the minutiae…like where and how the family lives, what schools the kids attend, where we go on hols and what colour car we drive.

Speaking personally, I was brought up by an extended family of motivated, principled women and venerated them, which may account for my respect towards females to this day.

Men, indeed, maybe from Mars and women from Venus, but I view neither on different intellectual plateaus – morons aren’t judged by gender.

Plus, having a highly intelligent, resourceful and ambitious daughter has given me a greater appreciation of the obstacles women face and I fully admit equality might be a legal requisite, but it ain’t necessarily reality.

Nonetheless, my girl has managed to fashion a highly successful career, which – in great swathes of the globe – gender would have scuppered her.

Lauren’s view on sexism in Britain, incidentally, is an interesting one: it’s more insidious than overt, she says, and it has too many manifestations to be simply constrained in a single word.

If it is a ‘glass ceiling’ that inhibits women in the workplace, there might be a whole host of converse reasons – like some choosing to be stay-at-home mums – why more females aren’t in parliament or heading FTSE 500 companies.

And, to borrow one of Ms Manjoo’s expression, if it’s the ‘visible presence’ of raunchy mags in newsagents or Page 3 girls – which are tame by comparison to what’s available on the internet – how come E.L. James had such a stonking success with Fifty Shades of Grey, which pandered unashamedly to women’s lust for porn?

Or if it’s that some females take exception to being wolf-whistled at in the street, that’s a worldwide phenomenon and men intend it as a compliment, however coarse.

Ditto predators, who exploit their status to exert sexual power, but nowadays – with the growing advent of the woman boss – this isn’t restricted to only females being victimised.

So I can only but wonder if Ms Manjoo’s smearing of Britain as the world’s worst sexism pariah state echoes her own warped prejudice.

Or is it a reflection on the pre-judgemental, anti-West mindset of the disorganisation employing her, which – conspicuously – has yet to appoint a female Secretary General?

Why Francis, the People’s Pope, has to be my Man of the Year for 2013

ON my first tour of duty as a newsman in Northern Ireland I was sternly counselled to avoid three topics of conversation, however polite: Sport, Politics and Religion.

Back in the early 1970s, when I showed up in Belfast, The Province, Six Counties or Ulster – whatever term an indigenous inhabitant used to describe the region was usually a dead give-away to their ethnic origins – was a pretty wild place. And, though it might not have borne the wanton destruction of downtown Beirut, in parts it was nonetheless a war zone.

So, while I could well comprehend why politics and religion might be off-limits, I couldn’t get my thick head round the injunction to avoid all mention of sport. After all, that was the default topic of most fellas, the glue that joined us together over a pint in a convivial hostelry.

‘Kick sport into touch,’ explained my guide – himself a sportswriter – to the arcane ground rules that applied then. ‘For instance, what soccer team someone supports is usually an indicator of their political and religious affiliations, Proddy or Mick.’

Now, though Ulster/The Province/Six Counties may have been host to an example of extreme sectarianism, it did teach me the salutary lesson of treating certain subjects with kid gloves, however superficially innocent they may have first appeared.

All the same, part of my job is to air views some may find unpalatable – incendiary even – and be prepared to take whatever flak flies in their wake.

So, since it’s that time of year when talking-heads like me are expected to nominate their Man of the Year (MotY), without fear of favour, prejudice or prevarication, my award goes to Pope Francis I.

And, lest there should be any unforeseen misunderstandings, I single him out for non-religious reasons, especially since I’m not a Catholic.

I hasten to add, despite 2013 being an annus horribilis of likely candidates – you might say a veritable biblical famine in this context – the first non-European to wear the fisherman’s ring of St. Peter would have won my MotY vote anyway.

PEOPLE'S POPE: Francis has quickly established himself as a favourite - even with non-Catholics

PEOPLE’S POPE: Francis has quickly established himself as a favourite – even with non-Catholics

He became a smash hit from Day #1 of his papacy, when he ceased to be the anonymous Jesuit, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, and took the name Francis I, after his sainted hero, Francis of Assisi.

Radiating humility and genuine warmth, the 266th Bishop of Rome has swept through the Vatican like a Zonda, the blast of wind that whips off the Andes across the new Pope’s Argentine homeland, bringing welcome rains to the reinvigorate the arid pampas pastureland.

Figuratively, he’s imitating it – ridding the world’s fustiest institution of its cobwebs of conformity and initiating a renaissance of the essence of belief …compassion, understanding and respect for other faiths or others with no religious affiliation at all.

It’s transparent in Francis’s disdain for formality, the trappings of his office and crackdown on the old boy network, one of his first edicts being to abolish the €25,000 annual bonus paid to cardinals serving on the Board of Supervisors for the Vatican bank.

He smiles readily, has a quick wit and enjoys cracking jokes – a far cry from his immediate predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, a stern traditionalist and long-time Curia insider, before becoming only the second pontiff in 600 years to resign.

In stark contrast, Francis chooses to reside in a humble guest house, not the ornate apartments of the Apostolic Palace; he prefers simple vestments – as pointedly demonstrated after his election last March, when he refused to don the ritual red, ermine-trimmed mozzetta, opting instead a simple white cassock; his preferred mode transport is a second-hand Peugeot; and he’s sacked his bodyguards.

To me, then – albeit an outsider – Francis, the soccer and tango fan, is a People’s Pope, hewn from the ‘no frills’ mould of John Paul II, who also favoured modesty over decoration, right down to his Doc Marten boots.

However, unlike the Polish pontiff, the 76-year-old South American, born of Italian immigrant parents fleeing Mussolini’s fascism, seems less straightjacketed by doctrinaire conservatism – which may dismay some of his flock – as he emphasises more the church’s pastoral duty to tend the poor and marginalised.

His calls for world leaders to end Syria’s civil war and his highlighting of the plight of illegal African immigrants stranded on the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa inspired the prestigious magazine, Foreign Policy, to name Francis as ‘the most impressive voice in the international arena.’

These initiatives echo his past in Argentina, when he opened up his cathedral to leaders of the Jewish, Muslim and Orthodox Christian communities and improved inter-faith dialogue.

The one criticism levelled at him then was his lack of vocal opposition to the military junta when thousands disappeared, victims of the armed services’ death squads in Argentina’s so-called ‘Dirty War’ between 1976 and 1983.

Artist and human rights activist, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1980, said, ‘Perhaps he didn’t have the courage of other priests, but he never collaborated with the dictatorship.’

In defence of the man who was to become leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, former judge, Alicia Oliveira, recalled how Bergoglio helped people flee the repression and how he was ‘anguished’ and ‘very critical of the dictatorship.’

TRADITIONALIST: Pope Benedict was a more conservative pontiff, before he stepped down

TRADITIONALIST: Pope Benedict was a more conservative pontiff, before he stepped down

Now as Pope – at least for the time being – Francis hasn’t courted controversy over such thorny issues as contraception, abortion, homosexuality and the remarriage of divorcees. Surely, though, a time will come when he’ll be sorely tested on what many regard as pillars of their faith.

But, as Catholic writer, Cristina Odone, says, ‘It’s too early to predict whether students from Berkeley through Bristol to Brisbane will replace posters of Che Guevara in his beret with the Pope in his white skullcap. Too early to say whether Francis I is at the helm of a “Vatican spring” that will revolutionise the curia.

‘Already, though, I am so grateful to him for making “Catholic” a word that does not automatically conjure up thoughts of homophobia, sexism and paedophilia.’

Clearly, Pope Francis I is someone else’s MotY besides mine.

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.

Have some fun with my Tricky Holiday Quiz – it can drive you Christmas crackers…!

Here’s my Christmas gift to blog fans – a quiz that’s tougher than Aunty Ada’s turkey, harder than an over-baked mince pie and more intoxicating than a crate of Yuletide cava.

I’ve put together 50 teasing questions for you to mull over during the holiday…but beware: in each section there’s one question that’s extra tricky, because none of the multiple-choice, optional answers is correct.

No prizes, except the highest score earns you the title of being the cleverest Tom, Dick or Harriet of your household. However, you’ll have to wait until Wednesday to find out, because that’s when I’ll publish the solution.

Ready, steady, get cracking with a quiz that can drive you Christmas crackers…

2012 HEADLINE HITTERS

HIGH FLYER; Felix Baumgartner - See Question 5

HIGH FLYER…but how high did Felix fly – Q4

1 – WHAT did Barack Obama pledge to give up before he was sworn in as US President a second time – but so far hasn’t managed it? a) Smoking; b) Picking his nose; c) Playing on-line poker

2 – HOW many days did George Entwistle survive as BBC Director General, before quitting over the ‘Savilegate’ Affair? a) 34; b) 44; c) 54

3 – WHICH kids’ comic – Britain’s oldest – printed its last edition earlier this month (though it’ll still be available online)? a) Beano; b) Dandy; c) Eagle

4 – DAREDEVIL Felix Baumgartner parachuted how many miles down from a helium balloon to set up a world skydive record? a) 20; b) 22; c) 24

5 – LAST summer, what did British Prime Minister David Cameron famously leave in a pub? a) His mobile phone; b) Secret government documents; c) The speech he was due to make later that day

6 – NEXT July Mark Carney will be the first foreigner to head the Bank of England, but from which country does he hail? a) USA; b) New Zealand; c) Canada

7 – WHICH farm animals ‘starred’ in the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony? a) Cows; b) Sheep; c) Pigs

NO BIZ LIKE SHOWBIZ

GAY TELLYTUBBY...but which one - See Question 12

GAY TELLYTUBBY…but which one – Q14

8 – FIFTY years ago Doctor No was the first and now Skyfall is the latest 007 movie, but how many James Bond films have there been? a) 21; b) 23; c) 25

9 – WHICH celeb once put her breast implants up for sale on eBay? a) Katie Price; b) Demi Moore; c) Kerry Katona

10 – WHAT does the ‘J’ stand for in Homer J. Simpson’s middle name? a) Jimbo; b) Jeremiah; c) Jo-Jo  

11 – WHAT was the first movie to chronicle the magical adventures of Harry Potter? a) The Chamber of Secrets; b) The Philosopher’s Stone; c) The Prisoner of Azkaban

12 – WHAT telly soap featured a milk float in its opening title credits? a) Coronation Street; b) EastEnders; c) Neighbours 

13 – HOW is sexy songstress Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta better known to pop fans? a) Pink; b) Lady Gaga; c) Madonna

14 – WHICH of the Teletubbies was branded ‘gay’ by US Christian evangelist preacher Jerry Falwell? a) La-la; b) Po; c) Tinky Winky

A SPORTING CHANCE

LOUDEST GRUNT: Is it Serena Williams - See Question XX

WHO GRUNTS LOUDEST? Is it Serena Williams – Q16

15 – WHICH English Premiership side started life as Newton Heath Loco, founded in 1878 by a bunch of soccer-made train drivers? a) Aston Villa; b) Everton; c) Manchester United

16 – WHICH Wimbledon belle has a grunt measuring 101 decibels – as loud as a lion’s roar? a) Maria Sharapova; b) Anna Kournikova; c) Serena Williams

17 – JENSON Button was the last Brit to win motor racing’s Formula 1 world title, but who was the first? a) Stirling Moss; b) Mike Hawthorn; c) Jackie Stewart

18 – APART from winning the 5,000 metres, in which other event did Mo Farah strike Olympic Gold in the 2012 Games? a) High jump; b) Marathon; c) Triple jump 

19 – WHAT kind of wood does a Highland Games tosser traditionally use for his caber? a) Larch; b) Pine; c) Maple

20 – WHAT is troubled golfing legend Tiger Woods real first name? a) Cedric; b) Eldrick; c) Frederick

21 – IN what sport is it possible to score a ‘turkey’? a) Ten-pin bowling; b) Golf; c) Cricket

ALL IN THE PAST

HISTORY BUNK? Did Lenin say it - See Question XX

DE-BUNKING HISTORY? But did Lenin say it – Q22

22 – WHO famously described history as ‘bunk’? a) Adolph Hitler; b) Lenin; c) Napoleon

23 – MEMBERS of which Scottish clan massacred the Macdonalds at Glen Coe in 1692? a) Campbell; b) McGregor; c) Stuart

24 – WHO was Britain’s last Liberal Prime Minister? a) Herbert Asquith; b) David Lloyd-George; c) Winston Churchill

25 – HOW many men have walked on the Moon? a) 10; b) 12; c) 14

26 – WHICH king came to the British throne in 1714, aged 54, and could hardly speak a word of English? a) George I; b) William III; c) Edward VI

27 – WHAT nursery rhyme were the first words recorded by gramophone inventor Thomas Edison? a) Jack & Jill; b) Humpty Dumpty; c) Mary Had A Little Lamb

28 – WHAT was the breathalyser originally called? a) Drunk-o-meter; b) Booze tube; c) Alco-alarm

VIVA ESPANA

ROYAL SISTER...but name Queen Sophia's brother - See Question XX

ROYAL SISTER…but name Sophia’s brother – Q35

29 – WHAT part of Captain Robert Jenkins’ anatomy did the Spanish cut off in 1739 to cause a nine-year war with Britain? a) Nose; b) Testicles; c) Ear

 30 – MATADORS traditionally wear what colour stockings? a) Blue; b) Pink; c) White

31 – IN which year did fascist dictator General Francisco Franco die? a) 1975; b) 1977; c) 1979

32 – OF Spain’s urban areas, where does Palma de Mallorca rank in size? a) 10th; b) 12th; c) 14th

33 – Which Balearic island was once ruled by Britain? a) Minorca; b) Ibiza; c) Formentor

34 – WHICH of the following isn’t one of Spain’s officially-recognised regional languages? a) Basque; b) Galician; c) Occitan

35 – QUEEN Sophia of Spain is the sister of which deposed monarch? a) Ex-King Boris of Bulgaria; b) Ex-King Michael of Rumania; c) Ex-King Constantine of Greece

IT’S NOT ROCKET SCIENCE

WIGGLE RIDDLE: Does Jennifer Lopez have the perfect one - See Question XX

WIGGLE RIDDLE: Does Jennifer have the perfect one – Q42

36 – WHAT metal combines with tin to produce solder? a) Zinc; b) Lead; c) Pewter

37 – IF you have an itchy axilla, what part of your body do you scratch? a) Armpit; b) Groin; c) Backside

38 – AN EU-approved banana must have how many sides? a) Three; b) Four; c) Five

39 – WHAT bean produces the most flatulence? a) Baked bean; b) Soya bean; c) Runner bean 

40 – WHAT did Sir Tim Berners-Lee invent that sent computer sales soaring? a) Computer mouse; b) Google; c) Broadband/ADSL

41 – HALLEY’S Comet appears every how many years? a) 66; b) 76; c) 86

42 – MATHS boffins at Cambridge University calculated which Hollywood belle has the perfect bottom wiggle? a) Jessica Alba; b) Angelina Jolie; c) Jennifer Lopez

WHERE THE HECK ARE WE?

BERLIN WALL FALL: In which year did it come down - See Question 49

BERLIN WALL: In which year did it fall – Q49

43 – IN which far-flung country is the legendary desert outpost city of Timbuktu? a) Sudan; b) Mali; c) Togo

 44 – CARS bearing the international identity plate GBZ come from where? a) Isle of Man; b) Jersey; c) Gibraltar

45 – WHAT colour are the stars on the European Union’s flag? a) Yellow; b) White; c) Red

 46 – SHAKESPEARE’S romantic tragedy Romeo & Juliet is set in which Italian city? a) Verona; b) Padua; c) Siena

47 – WHAT’S the only English county to share a border with only one other shire? a) Norfolk; b) Cumbria; c) Kent 

48 – NOT including Washington, District of Columbia, how many names of US states end in the letter ‘a’? a) 17; b) 19; c) 21

49 – The Berlin Wall came down in 1989, but in what year did it go up?  a) 1951; b) 1961; c) 1971

… AND A FINAL STINKER…

50 – IN 1899, how did Good Friday come to fall on Boxing Day? a) The Vatican decreed it; b) Calendars contained a misprint; c) A lunar eclipse convinced astronomers it was really Easter

PS: No cheating by looking the answers up on the Internet!

Prepare to meet thy doom – but here’s how to save some money while you’re at it…

Got any interesting plans for December 16th? Maybe you’re going to do what you normally would on most Sundays – go for a bracing walk, read the papers, quaff a convivial glass or two over lunch, take the family for a spin in the car.

However, according to some in the know, you won’t be going anywhere, because you and all around will be reduced to a pile of gunge, dust or speck of carbon – if you’re lucky – on the disintegrating fragments of a planet once called Earth that’s just been eviscerated.

So no sense in paying off bills early or promising to help granny put up the fairy lights any time in the week leading up the Christmas. And don’t start reading any long books, like Tolstoy’s 1,000-pager, War & Peace.

In fact, at the risk of lowering the tone of this blog, the only advantage I can visualise is using the possibility of the world’s end as an original chat-up line on, say, Friday the 14th – no point in leaving it until the last minute and that date’s propitious, since it’s not the Friday the 13th – so make a play for whoever takes your fancy.

In a recent opinion poll, incidentally, 63% said they’d prefer to go out with a bang (and I don’t think they were referring to Russian Roulette).

So, as you scratch your heads in puzzlement over what is this lunacy being chronicled, allow me to explain: it’s all to do with a humungous, rogue planet called Nibiru, which doomsayers claim will collide with Earth in a couple of Sundays time, causing a world-ending cataclysm.

Nibiru was ‘discovered’ in 1960 by Zecheria Sitchin, an Azerbaijani-American, historian-cum-astronomer, whose work was considered to be more sci-fi bonkers than bona fide science by contemporaries. Nonetheless, his books have sold millions worldwide and been translated into more than 25 languages.

Despite Sitchin’s doubters, countless Internet sites are now sizzling with oddball fantasies about Nibiru, religious cultist crackpots are digging out bomb shelters in anticipation of the end of time – not that a couple of metres of reinforced concrete will help – and suicide pacts are being drawn up by those a plum pudding short of Yuletide dinner.

WORLD'S END? Don't make any plans for December 21, say the doomsday theorists

ANOTHER BIG BANG? December 21 will signal the end of the world, claim the doomsday theorists

Meanwhile, veteran NASA scientist David Morrison has fended off so many queries on the topic from the worried and weird on his webpage, Ask an Astrobiologist, he’s giving up answering any more – until next year, which offers a clue to his thoughts on the subject.

Now, at the risk of tempting fate, I somehow recall we’ve been here before.

For instance, Bugarach, a picturesque village in south-western France, was invaded by UFO/doomsday believers two years ago, claiming it would be the only place to survive a 2012 Armageddon, though no precise figures exist to say how many remain there, waiting to be proven right (and, on the off chance they are, who’s going to be around to hear them crow, ‘See, told you so!’)

Then there was 16th Century French seer, Nostradamus, whose interpreters believed he prophesied all manner of catastrophes, including the advent of Hitler, the Atomic bomb and probably the demise of our dishwasher the other day.

By the by, if the French have somehow grabbed a patent on doomsday and conspiracy theories, someone really ought to tell the Yanks – they’ll go ballistic over their whacky thunder being stolen.

Meanwhile, the pre-Columbian Mayan calendar has much to answer for, its adherents claiming a giant solar flare or expulsion of gases from the sun in December, 2012, will engulf the Earth, wreaking havoc upon mankind and the planet’s ecosystems.

And just for the record, not a few doomsday fans reckon a dramatic reversal of Earth’s magnetic poles is imminent and it will trigger a reversal of the planet’s rotation, thus hastening catastrophic events.

The only problem is they can’t be specific about the date, nor can those who think the slow decimation of the world’s bee population is a telltale omen of woe to come.

And thereby hangs the fatal flaw and mega let-down about doomsday and conspiracy theories. Not one, single notion I’ve read of has ever proven correct (though, in my circle of friends, the jury’s out on a WW2 bomber crashing on the Moon and Elvis not dying on the loo in 1977, but going on to sell used Harley Davidsons, alive and crooning somewhere in California).

Even Dan Brown shamelessly capitalised on the gullible with his best-seller, The Da Vinci Code, in which a bloodline from Jesus and Mary Magdalene permeated through the ranks of a branch of the French monarchy (see, I warned you about the French – any nation that can get away with charging 12 €uros for half-a-dozen grilled slugs in shells is bound to be a bit je ne sais quoi, dodgy even).

DOOMSAYER: Don't bother paying any bills, he just could be right

DOOMSAYER: Don’t bother paying any bills, he just could be right

Naturally, there are occasional conspiracy theories science hasn’t yet answered – i.e. aircraft vanishing without trace in the Bermuda Triangle – and others that beg honest reappraisal, mainly because the official explanation seemed far too glib.

The most commonly cited of the latter is President Jack Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, which the Warren Commission report pinned squarely on Lee Harvey Oswald, who was conveniently bumped off by a conveniently, terminally-ill Jack Ruby. So go figure, as conspiracy theorists will still surely do.

Personally, after nearly 50 years of conjecture, if JFK had been murdered as part of a cunning plot, I think someone would have blabbed by now.

But I’m not, by nature, a conspiracy theorist.

On the other hand what if those blokes in Regent Street, Broadway, the Champs Elysee and Rome’s Via Veneto wearing sandwich-boards bearing the legend, ‘The End of the World is Nigh’, have a point?

My instinct, though, is they’ll be there come Monday, December the 17th, still be parading up and down, peddling the same old doomsday scenario.

All the same, I won’t be paying off my credit card bills early…you never know – and I wouldn’t want to die broke.