Tuesday, October 14, 2008


As they would say on Armstrong and Miller, 'Pru, it's kicking off!'

I can't say I'm particularly surprised that Britain and the USA are on the brink of economic collapse, but it's shocking to see some of the more financially prudent nations experiencing difficulties.

Today's BBC News website reported that Germany is about to enter a recession. That's not good news (remember what they did last time). Even Switzerland is making contingency plans for nationalising its main banks. But the spotlight is on poor old Iceland.

I like Iceland. I went there two years ago and immediately felt a strong affinity with the landscape and its people. I did wonder how a country that had endured centuries of poverty could suddenly become so affluent, but I put it down to cod and Bjork. It never occurred to me that a nation that produced Magnus Magnusson could possibly be responsible for any financial irregularities.

There are many jokes about Iceland and the credit crunch - usually on the theme of freezing assets - but my favourite is this:

Q - What's the capital of Iceland?

A - About £3.50

I hope that Britain and Iceland are able to reach an equitable agreement, as I want to be able to return there without being lynched by angry fishermen and pop stars. Also, it seems quite wrong to make the Icelandic people suffer for the actions of a small minority.

On the plus side, at least the economic downturn is now out in the open. I felt more pessimistic a month ago, when food and fuel prices seemed to be on an upward trajectory. Rice - once the staple element of a cheap, student meal - doubled in price. A couple of cod fillets nudged past the £5 barrier. But the worst offender was the price of chicken:

This isn't an organic chicken. It's not even a free range one (and no, it's not an M&S chicken). It's just a normal chicken which Tesco - anxious to appease the middle classes who watch Hugh Fearnely-Whittingstall on Channel Four - have decided to rebrand with a reassuring photo of a Nazi war criminal. Tim Payne obviously isn't a war criminal, so why is the photo so scary? As for the text, although it has a friendly, non-corporate font, it is quite clear that poor old Tim is living in serfdom. I doubt if he gets a square deal.

However, as much as I hate Tesco, I must give them credit for responding to the financial meltdown with some 'recession-busting' (their phrase) offers. I can now buy an abused chicken for £1.99. Tesco's 'Value' pitta bread is 26p and you also can buy unripe avocados for 50p. In short, the supermarkets have responded to the credit crisis by tiering their prices so that people on low incomes aren't completely buggered. I'd rather support my local shops and farmers' market, but I am completely skint.

Having no money is a little depressing, but on the plus side I am relatively recession-proof. I don't have any credit card debts, my mortgage is fairly modest and I don't even have a job to lose. When you've hit the bottom, the only way (I hope) is up.

I have a plan. I am busy training for a new career and if there are any jobs left next year, I hope that I shall be able to find work that is fulfilling and rewarding. I am studying web design and proof reading, in the hope that it will lead to some sort of web master/editor/designer job. I never want to work in a shop again, even if it sells books.


John Self said...

Well the good news is that food prices are on their way down again, and in real terms, not just through supermarket loss-leader offers. I must admit I'm one of those food shoppers who's careless enough (and lucky enough) to put stuff in the trolley willy-nilly without looking at the price, but Mrs Self tells me that bread and pasta have gone through the roof in the last year. Well recently, wheat prices have fallen by 40%, so look forward to Tesco getting their pitta bread down to 23p sometime in 2010. (Incidentally, why has nobody produced branded pitta bread pockets with the jingle, "You've gotta pitta pocket or two?" Am I missing something or would this be the greatest ad campaign in history? Maybe Lionel Bart won't let them use the song.)

The other point to remember in relation to rising food prices is that, like it or not, we have been enjoying reduced prices in food in real terms for decades now, and it's only just beginning to catch up with us now that greedy people in China and India occasionally want to eat some of their own rice instead of shipping it to us at rock-bottom prices. In the 1960s, the average household spent 26% of its outgoing on food. Now it's 9%. Realistically that means prices could increase by 150% across the board before we're back to what we were historically paying as a proportion of weekly spending.

We've been influenced by Hugh F-W and do buy free range or at least Freedom Food standard when possible. Price-wise, we've discovered two things.

1. Chicken thighs are much much cheaper than breasts and much nicer in casseroles and the like as they're not as dry.

2. Turkey breast steaks make great burgers and are also cheaper than chicken, even when free range.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Are you sure it isn't a joint of Tim Payne in that £1.99 cellophane?

At that price, I'd be suspicious of WHAT was in there! You certainly wouldn't catch me eating it, however broke (and it seems I am on the verge of being made redundant at the mo')

Good to hear you have found a new milieu to carve anyway. Unless you wanted to be the first person in Lewes (possibly Brighton too) to invest in a print-on-demand book machine (down to £16k now I believe) and for which you wouldn't exactly need huge premises - it's probably wise to leave the book trade, sadly. Also I don't know what the restrictions re titles available might be - only what the machines are now down to!

Steerforth said...

I hope it isn't Tim Payne (I shall certainly avoid the coq au vin), but perhaps we shall reach the stage where we have to eat old people, as they don't seem to be dying any more.

I'm not sure about the POD machine. It sounds a bit Minidisc to me (i.e a new technology that will shortly become obsolete). Won't the likes of the Kindle and Sony Reader obviate the demand for this?

John, I agree about the thighs - they're much nicer (although a bit fattier).

26% eh? That's more or less what I spend on food which means I'm either greedy or poor.