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.
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.
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.