Now it can be told. the UK’s economic miracle – high employment, low inflation, stable growth, an end to boom and bust – was a chimera, a delusion. Though it seemed real at the time, it was a castle built on a cloud and now, with a sound rather like gas leaking gently from a pipe, it has disappeared. We rub our eyes and wonder, did we imagine it all?Not quite. What we imagined was that a huge asset bubble – the miraculous inflation of house prices – had made us rich, so rich that we could pile debt on debt and reckon not of the morrow. Chez Nous, Mon Repos, Dunroamin, bless them all, bricks and mortar by some alchemy turned cash cows. Of course, it was wonderful for marketing, fabulous for retailing and seventh heaven for banking. What we saw, we wanted, and what we wanted we bought, and if we couldn’t really afford it, well, fiddle-de-dee.
But today, as we sit among our once gleaming acquisitions – the plasma telly, the fitted kitchen, the digital camera, the designer wardrobe creaking at its chipboard seams with designer clothing – and wistfully recall the holidays in Martinique and that place where the locals wore funny clothes, we scratch our heads and flap a despairing hand at another bill, another chicken come home to roost.
How did it come to this? How could a people who once strode forth and built the biggest empire known to man, a nation moreover that tipped its cornucopia and freely poured out to the world the jet engine, football, cheddar cheese and Cliff Richard, how could we be so silly?The answer, alas, is that we have within us an abundance of self-delusion which, when released, gushes forth with the exuberance of an ornamental fountain. And during those glorious moments when the spume flies high and the falling droplets glisten in the sunshine, we think ourselves immortal.
Proof of our propensity when the mood seizes us to defy all reason, spit in the eye of logic and declare the laws of nature invalid, comes in a survey conducted by a national insurance company. The eagerness of these organisations to sell policies being matched, and indeed surpassed, only by their unwillingness to settle claims, they are for ever on the qui vive for new business, and the survey is as good a marketing tool as any.
At any rate, this particular insurer decided that accidents in the home, or the fear of such, presented a promising opportunity to flog a few cover notes and to that end commissioned research into kitchen mishaps. The results proved more gratifying than the researchers could possibly have imagined. It transpires that a great many people – some 6 million, in fact – are so bewitched by the power of television and so overcome by self-delusion that they attempt to recreate a dish in “real time” along with the chef.
That the TV is in one room and the cooking takes place in another is not seen as a hindrance. “Consequently,” says the report, “a quarter of amateur cooks admit to leaving their kitchens unattended while they run into the lounge to catch the next step on television and a worrying 86% admit they have carelessly left something cooking on the hob while doing so. One in ten home cooks have even been injured when running from kitchen to lounge in order to copy recipes from the TV – in fact, 34% of those admitted to having slipped on peelings and spilt liquids in the process.’
This real-life slapstick, for which a paying audience would happily cough up, has, like all comedy, a serious counterpoint. The report says: “Despite 73% of people describing themselves ‘amateur’, ‘novice’ or even ‘useless’ chefs, a worrying 75% would still attempt a complex culinary technique, not only risking injury to themselves and others but also racking up more than £5bn worth of damage to UK homes.”
Almost 30% of those surveyed admitted to attempting to prepare crème brûlés and roasted peppers using a DIY large-scale blow-torch after watching TV chefs use a smaller culinary version. Result: another job for the local fire brigade, another admission to accident and emergency, another case of self-delusion.
We try to fly and discover we are not Peter Pan, we are Icarus. But the discovery is not instant. For a glorious moment we really do believe we are flying, and not because we have slipped on a potato skin betwixt sitting room and kitchen. We really thought we could spend like Posh and Becks only to find we have merely their vapidity and none of their wealth.