Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Crunch-y living

Stock markets are in turmoil all over the world, Wall St crashes and burns, and we all appear to be drowning in a sea of debt. Here in Nappy Valley, the ripples are being felt.


I am queuing up with the Littleboys for our usual – a latte and two apple juice cartons - at one of the local park cafes, when the following scene occurs:


The middle-class looking woman in front of me in the queue is buying breakfast for her brood of children, when suddenly all hell breaks loose. “I’m sorry, but I can’t believe,” she thunders, “that you are charging FIVE POUNDS for scrambled egg and toast. I simply cannot believe it.” She puts down her tray, and storms out, leaving the Italian waiter blinking in astonishment.


Now, my friends and I have often moaned about the extortionate prices charged in this, and other, local cafes – those with a captive audience of mothers with hungry children in pushchairs seem particularly good at it. But NEVER before have I seen anyone actually complain.


Clearly, the tide is turning. Later, in the playground, I meet one of the mums from our erstwhile toddler music class, Rabbit Rhymes (from which we were ‘constructively dismissed’, as I described here) in the playground. The class we attended used to be so popular that it had a waiting list; according to her, it is now so empty that her son has had to be reassigned to another one.


So it got me thinking (apologies if I sound like Carrie Bradshaw here); perhaps we have been living through a rarefied age here in middle-class London, over the last few years, the likes of which we will not see again. An age where people are prepared to pay over £70 a term for crappy half-hour toddler music classes; an age where £500 for a buggy is the norm; where you happily part with a quid for a babycino (a tiny cup of frothy milk with chocolate sprinkles); where parents spend hundreds of pounds on cutesy kiddy clothing that their children will soon grow out of. Where tired parents in need of a little R&R book weekends in boutique country house hotels; where taking several holidays a year is a right, not a privilege; where a bog-standard house in a fairly grotty part of south London can cost over a million pounds.


And I’m not just talking about rich bankers’ families; wealth is infectious, and some of the least rich people I know have spent ludicrous money on luxurious but unnecessary items. We have all been living in a bubble of prosperity, fuelled by City salaries, ridiculous house prices and crazy mortgages. And the backlash begins here; five quid for scrambled egg on toast.


I don’t want to be flippant in any way about the credit crunch (who knows where it will end? and is anyone safe?) but I do wonder this; will we look back at this era in a decade’s time, and think, how mad was that?

15 comments:

Mud in the City said...

In my office canteen (Canary Wharf) they charge £5.50 for a baked potato and cheese.

It can't go on.

The backlash is starting and I for one am bringing my own lunch to work. It is hardly a revolution, but may be the small start of a change!

Mom/Mum said...

Wow that was a great post. So true and good for that mummy for standing up and complaining about the prices. That's a total rip-off. (Americans would always and openly complain if they thought they were being ripped off with their food, credit crunch or no credit crunch!)
Of course, the credit crunch effect shows itself too in my part of Michigan. There are a few more small cars rather than 4x4s, minivans and trucks on the road. The private pre-school where Cheeky went (at a cost of $220 p.m for 2 half days sessions a week) has seen their numbers decrease dramatically as we all migrate into the chaper publich school system. And God forbid, some people have had to switch from grocery shopping at the gourmet markets to pulling down a baseball cap and entering our local version of Lidl/Morrisons.
You're right, Cutbacks come to us all no matter how big the diamond on our finger is.

Potty Mummy said...

Great post VG. Hope you don't mind, but I've linked to it on my most recent rant...

The Dotterel said...

You're so right; we'll look back with disdain just like we did at eighties bankers with their champagne lunches. The only sure thing is that it'll all roll round again, and in another decade there'll be something equally extravagent and unnecessary to dispose of.

Iota said...

I'm not convinced that learning to be less materialistic is a bad thing (I don't mean to sound judgmental here, sorry if I do). Let's face it, the decision as to whether to pay #5.50 for scrambled egg or not is a hugely privileged decision to make, in a world where many don't have enough to eat. I'm sorry - I've gone all moralising.

Kitschen Pink said...

If there are enough people silly enough to pay £5 for an egg on toast - then there'll be someone clever enough to charge it! 'Gift horses' come to mind!
I don't mind paying £5 for a glass of milk and a slice of cake at our favourite tea shop. We go rarely for a treat - the staff are always there and smiling, the shop is warm and cosy, the cake is fresh and made from the best ingredients locally. Economies of scale, for that tea-shop owner, must be a distant dream. That's what I pay for. To keep her in business lest (oh dread!) she is pushed out by some dull chain with processed poly-packed snacks and grumpy, under-paid staff. But it's our treat, it's rare, and it's worth a million to see the joy it brings to my boy's face - something I doubt I would see if I were to do it everyday.... Sometimes you get more if you spend less...t.xx

chris said...

Top blog! I think "The Dotterell" is spot on. Every decade has its excess "sector". In the 80's it was advertising, in the 90's it was dot.com and in the noughties its hedge funds. Who knows, it could be teachers in 2018 with their final salary pensions and index linked salaries!

I quite like the idea of a bunch of primary school teachers larging it up at the Ivy, sending bottles of champagne over to the pretty classroom assistants whilst an out-of-work banker is waits on the tables.

nappy valley girl said...

Go for it, Mud, vive la revolution in Canary Wharf!

Thanks Mom/Mum - you're right, when the Brits start to complain you know things must be bad. Interesting what you say about the States. But good that the 4X4s are starting to disappear- maybe some good can come out of all this.....

PM, thank you - and I don't mind at all. (It was a subject I wasn't sure whether to tackle or not, as it's such a sensitive one, so I am glad that a few people were grateful....)

Thanks Dottorel, and I agree that it's bound to be cyclical. I'm sure when our own children are grown up we'll be scoffing that their extravagance....

Iota, I completely agree - it's not a bad thing at all. And it's lunacy that people here complain about not being able to afford luxuries such organic veg boxes when there are people starving because the price of rice has soared...

Hi Kitschen Pink - absolutely. And I don't particularly blame the cafe - of which I am rather fond - it's just what we have all got used to. Your £5 for cake and milk sounds absolutely justified though - hopefully one good thing that will come out of this is that people will learn to savour luxuries and be more choosy about where they spend their money (perhaps on more good quality, local independent shops as you describe).

Chris - I love your idea of teachers at the Ivy. Public sector workers to the fore!

A Confused Take That Fan said...

Great post. As someone who is having to cut back due to family going from two incomes to one income, I am trying to take the positive view that we are having to think carefully about what we spend our money on. It's about time we were a little less frivolous. I am pleased that lady made a stand over her £5 scrambled eggs on toast - cost to make about 50p (not including labour). I remember in my heady days going to a club in London and being charged £300 for a bottle of vodka at a table and about ten mixers. I was asked to chip in £60, for what amounted to two vodka and tonics, the equivalent those days of a weeks shopping. I was outraged. I hadn't chosen to go there and had gone with friends of friends who were earning big money at the time. Interestingly, the guy who asked us for the cash, sold his property in London in Wandsorth, made a packet, bought a house for half the price up north and is now a postman...

nappy valley girl said...

Thanks CTTF. Outraged but not surprised by your vodka story. Reminds me of the time a cousin of The Doctor's ordered a whisky in a Mayfair bar and was charged £40....

By the way a couple of friends have asked me if indeed I WAS the scrambled egg lady. The answer is no - but I do admire her. And it really did happen.

Grit said...

i think the complaining lady did a very good thing! i am someone who has been poor and mean for a very long time and to keep my kids fed and watered I've carried a rucksack with snacks, lunches and drinks to every venue and ignored the signs that say 'no food but that purchased at the cafe'. but thanks to this revolution i now can claim to be just ahead of the times!

nappy valley girl said...

Grit, you are extremely sensible and not mean at all. In fact I try to do this myself when I am feeling organised - which, sadly, is not often....

rosiero said...

Having gone from a large income to a pension 5 years ago, I certainly notice how prices have risen. I even resent paying out the price of a cappuccino when I know it is largely water, coffee and a dash of frothy milk. I'm afraid I shop in places like Lidl now - no frills but just as good as the big supermarkets with all kinds of delicatessen food that you cannot get elsewhere.

Iota said...

You know, I've been pondering this, and I'm beginning to wonder if we've got it all wrong. Maybe #5.50 isn't all that much for scrambled egg on toast. It seems a lot because we're used to going to Primark and buying an entire wardrobe for our kids for that sum, but somehow we've got all out of kilter with what real value is. There seems a huge difference between 'cost' and 'value'. Things don't cost much, because they're made in huge quantities in China. But somehow I feel very uneasy about it all.

A farmer had to tend that chicken. He needs a living wage. The egg had to be packed in something that would protect it from breaking in transit. Packaging is expensive. Someone had to transport it to the wholesaler or shop. He needs a living wage. The cafe owner has huge overheads, and he needs a living wage. Someone is washing the plate afterwards, and he needs a living wage. (He is he/she of course.) Perhaps it's not the #5.50 for the scrambled egg that is wrong. Perhaps we've got our expectations all skewed.

I don't expect anyone to agree with me, by the way.

nappy valley girl said...

Hi Rosiero. I don't think it's just you that will be shopping in places like Lidl in future! In fact, there is one just down the road from me and I think it's fine.

Iota, I think you do raise an important point. It's quite hard to get one's head around the 'value' of anything at the moment, though.... and if food became really expensive wouldn't that just hit the poor of the world hardest? I don't know - it's a philosophical quagmire....