Rather than getting angry and radical, we’ve become more culturally conservativeby Hephzibah Anderson / July 19, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
It’s Saturday night and there you both are, lounging on the sofa in your his-and-hers slankets, freshly microwaved fish pies balanced on your laps, and the telly muffling, if not quite drowning out, the sound of your neighbours rowing. Again. Because it’s 2008 and along with eating out, divorce is now just another item on a long list of indulgences that the average Briton can no longer afford. But never mind, the two of you are “dining in”, and for a tenner to boot.
Like other money-saving experiences begot by the credit crunch—glamping, for instance—the reality of “dining-in”, Marks & Spencer’s response to straitened times, lags behind its marketing. Just as queuing for a tepid campsite shower is never going to approximate to a spa experience, so a ready meal remains a ready meal—alright, a sequence of ready meals in the case of those multi-course deals with a bottle of Chateau Grande Recession thrown in. Yet as the scale of the greatest economic calamity in living memory revealed itself, this was a charade in which we became willing participants. After all, staying in was the new going out. And with images of queues snaking around crumbling Northern Rock branches still fresh in our minds, joblessness looming, and high-street giants like Woolworths and Comet teetering, who wouldn’t want to hole up and hope that just a few lifestyle tweaks could set things right? A full decade on, the dining-in deal, that innocuous bundle of foil containers, thrift and denial, epitomises many of the impulses that continue to drive our culture, high and low.
Comfort, that was what most of us initially sought. We weren’t going to get it from the news and we certainly weren’t going to get it from economists, wise after the event, but we could find it in abundance at Aldi and Lidl, where we headed en masse to stock up on cut-price, off-brand staples. In America’s Great Depression, it was cigarettes and cinema tickets that bucked the trend, their sales continuing to rise as nearly everything else plummeted. Here in the UK we reached for sweet, fatty snacks after 2007. Maybe some hardwired evolutionary trait was kicking in, insisting we add a little extra padding for the hard times ahead, easing one belt out a notch as we were compelled to tighten another. Our rediscovered appetite was still raging in pinched 2010, when Mary Berry and co debuted a telly contest that allowed us to mainline sugar and butter with a sprinkling of notions of unity and past glory. It wasn’t just any old bake off, it was The Great British Bake Off.