For a few happy weeks, it was possible to forget how broke and scared most of us were feeling. The endlessly cheering spectacle of politicians having to discuss bath-plug expenditure, of them actually trying for the first time to avoid appearing on Newsnight, was such a diverting tragic-comedy that for a while the great recession became a minor item on the finance pages.
Now it is back. A few pie-eyed optimists have, like drenched holiday-makers catching a glimpse of a distant ray of sunshine, argued that all will soon be well. But even before that great sage of our times Vince Cable pronounced upon the matter, that was clearly nonsense. Hard times will be around for a while. They will not only affect jobs and shopping, but the way we think and talk.
Already language is buckling under the pressure and taking new shapes. Last week, the concept of funemployment was revealed. The full-time funemployed are those who have decided to take the recession lying down – on a beach, on surfboard, on a bed. Rather than defeatedly combing job ads, they use their redundancy pay-outs in a commendably irresponsible way.
Then there are the poorgeoisie, rich people who have discovered that conspicuous consumption is out of fashion. The poorgeois lifestyle involves spending a lot of money in order to look poor, thereby avoiding the guilt but without experiencing any discomfort. By contrast, a recessionista manages to look stylish on a cut-price budget.
Other contemporary, recession-led terms and phrases are said to be on their way.
Wagecation. An increasingly popular strategy in industry, that allows staff to help their beleaguered employers by simply taking a well-earned holiday from being paid. The beauty of wagecation is that it allows the rich to appear to be sacrificing more than the poor. BA’s chief executive Willie Walsh will next month sacrifice monthly pay of over £60,000. How can those whose gift to the company will be less than a 20th than that possibly complain?
The Brownturn. Inspired by Gordon Brown’s increasingly desperate attempts to explain how unprecedented government borrowings will not prevent an annual increase in public expenditure, the concept of a Brownturn refers to an economic trend which looks, feels and indeed is a downturn, but which must at all costs be concealed in a fog of jargon and waffle.
Oopsification. Formerly known as “the sorry stratagem”, oopsification is the art of extreme apology. Hazel Blears has recently proved to be adept at this very 21st-century skill. She flips her properties for personal gain; she gets found out; she oopsifies. She resigns from the Cabinet assuming the PM is finished; he is not, leaving her stranded; she oopsifies once more.
Twitosophy. What matters about communication in 2009 is not content, and certainly not subtlety, but convenience and speed. All contemporary argument aspires to the state of Twitter, the microblog which restricts participants to messages of 140 characters. Recently, the editor of The Guardian and a senior Labout backbencher had a twitosophical debate which has been widely published to hilarious effect. The laughter will not last. Soon, if an argument cannot be made in 140 characters, it will be assumed to be a waste of time.
Triple XXXpenses. Members of some professions, notably politics and journalism, have known for some time that submitting trivial expense claims is, like soft porn, more unconvincing and irritating than the real thing. Triple XXXpenses are therefore respectably large – or “hardcore” as they are known by the cognoscenti – expenses claims.
A recipe to restore Delia
In matters of public debate, the great and wise Delia Smith is normally as surefooted as a mountain goat, but she has just slipped up rather badly. On the official Delia Smith website, she has been advising her fans to buy New Zealand lamb for their barbecues, thereby delivering a disastrous double-whammy to British farming and to the environment.
There is, fortunately, a way for her to repair the situation. Many of our dairy farmers are in a desperate plight following the collapse of the co-operative Dairy Farmers of Great Britain, smaller farms in remote regions being particularly badly hit. The disappearance of dairy herds across the country could have a grim effect on the landscape and on the rural economy.
The problem is exacerbated by the extraordinary fact that, while our own dairy farmers are going out of business, much of the milk we buy continues to be imported from abroad. A Delia Smith Buy British Milk campaign, aimed at consumers, the milk companies and supermarkets, would help both the countryside and her own reputation for commonsense.
When it’s right for bloggers to be outed
Cries of anguish have greeted the outing of Night Jack, the police officer whose anonymous blog won this year’s Orwell Prize. In the real world, it turns out, Night Jack is Detective Constable Richard Horton of Lancashire Constabulary. He no longer has an online presence.
Secrecy is said to be what makes blogs an essential contemporary medium; they can for example reveal graft and waste in public life, according to the somewhat self-important champions of the blogosphere. On occasions, that has been true, but anonymous online sneers, complaints and personal attacks contribute significantly to an ugly culture of mass bullying. It is surely a healthy development if the occasional bedroom blogger is forced to come out of hiding and face the world.