Tag Archives: credit crunch

The art of flushonomics

The problem with the credit crunch is that it either takes away your ability to savour the finer things in the life, or makes you feel guilty about enjoying them when you are savouring them. Whether the object of your affection is a rich and decadent chocolate cake or a sleek and sophisticated flat screen TV, it seems that even the vaguest suggestion of pleasure has to be consigned to the scrapheap these days for fear of what the neighbours will say.

Actually, while we’re on the subject, can I just complain about the phrase ‘credit crunch’? Rarely can one meaningless phrase have been repeated on so many occasions in such a short period of time. Indeed, I put you all on notice that if I hear that saying one more time, I may have to stick your liquidity crisis where the sun don’t shine.

Anyway, as I was saying, ostentation is out, and poverty is the new black. Or pink. Or whatever colour it is that’s apparently ‘in’ these days. We are quite literally in a race to the bottom, with people finding new ways to out-poor each other. In Manhattan, that means only having six eggs for breakfast – I know, the inhumane cruelty of this financial downturn.

But wherever you look, shops are having sales, restaurants are offering bargain menus, and people are taking more public transport than ever before. If this need to be seen to scrimp and save gets any worse, you can almost see city bosses considering a name change to Nearly New York.

There is one area, however, that New Yorkers – and indeed Americans in general – do not need to save any further. An item that has already been value-engineered down to the minimum possible level, and which would be rendered (even more) useless for its purpose by any further cost savings.

Because, to be honest, toilet paper in this country is – and please do excuse the pun – really crap. I had no idea that paper could be created as thin as toilet roll seems to be in this country – I probably used thicker tracing paper at school. It almost makes me nostalgic for the days of that scratchy shiny toilet paper that your grandmother used to put in outside loos; it may have removed six layers of skin every time you used it, but at least you didn’t get any embarrassing tear-related incidents on a regular basis.

It is easier to thread a super-sized McDonalds consumer through the eye of a needle than to find double-ply toilet roll in your local store. And rather than acting as a saving device, I’m convinced that American loo roll effectively costs you more, given that you have to fold it over at least thirteen times before you can create some kind of barrier that might give your hand a fighting chance of coming out unscathed.

I’m writing to the UN anyway. They’ve been looking for better ways of identifying how countries are developing, and I can see no better benchmark than the average thickness of a state’s toilet paper. You can have all the healthy water and trade surpluses you like, but if you can’t relieve yourself without fear of the consequences, you’re still in the third world as far as I’m concerned.

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Incredibly, it seems that I’ve reached my 300th post. How fitting that it was about a load of s**t. If you haven’t already – do add A Brit Out Of Water to your RSS feeds, follow me on Twitter, or just send me an email to say hello. If you read regularly and want to be added to the blogroll at the side, then drop me a line – the email address is in the (otherwise non-existent) ‘about section’.

But most of all, thank you for reading and (particularly) for commenting over the last eighteen months or so – it’s more appreciated than I can ever begin to tell you. Or more indeed than I ever would tell you. After all, I am British. You don’t expect me to express emotion, do you?

Will humankind ever learn?

I’ve always been a little bit superstitious, for some reason. To be fair, I’d like to think that I’m just easily suggestible, and that the people around me have lured me into their shadowy lair of hocus pocus claptrap done in the name of good luck. Nevertheless, my lack of backbone leads to me doing all manner of silly things in an attempt to ensure that good fortune shines on me.

When I was a kid, my grandmother always insisted that I say ‘white rabbits’ on the first day of the month, if I was to have good luck for the next four weeks. If ‘white rabbits’ wasn’t the first thing I said that day, then a quick chant of ‘white rabbits, white rabbits, white rabbits, white rabbits, white rabbits, white rabbits’ was apparently a manual override of the bad luck that would ensue. Good fortune’s version of being given lines at school, I guess.

Whenever I go to Manchester to see eleven men in red kick a football around, The Best Man always insists that we walk up the furthest staircase of four to our Old Trafford seats, for fear that United will lose if we don’t stick with tradition. I have seen them win, lose and draw when following this policy, yet despite knowing that it doesn’t work, I still stick to it even if The Best Man isn’t with me.

And I always put my left sock on before my right one, after meeting a wise old man in India who insisted that I would have a long and prosperous life if I maintained this early morning devotion. OK, that’s a lie – I’ve never even been to India, let alone developed a sock donning habit – but I reckon I’d be susceptible if anybody came up with even a half-compelling story about why I should do it.

The strange thing is, I don’t believe in much of the made-up nonsensestuff that many people avidly follow. I don’t read my horoscopes, I don’t think that tarot cards or tea leaves are a harbinger to my future, and I’m certainly not a church-goer. Hell, I don’t even believe in the stupid superstitions I have, but I still do them just in case my life turns to one giant pile of mush if for some reason I stop.

On this basis, I think I have discovered the root of America’s current economic woes. As every British child knows, it is absolutely imperative that all evidence of Christmas decorations be removed from your house by the evening of the 5th of January (or Twelfth Night, as it is more commonly known). I know it’s linked to Candlemas or Epiphany or some other such blah blah blah, but all I know is that if there’s a single trace of tinsel hanging up after the 5th, then a plague descends on your house, and all your worldly possessions turn into celery. Or beetroot. Definitely one or the other.

It’s a rule we stuck to rigidly when I was a kid, and my life has been pretty damn good so far. Indeed, such has my commitment been to the Twelfth Night principle, that in the last years of living alone, I didn’t even put decorations up for fear that I would somehow forget the 5th and I’d come home to find that my TV had been transformed into a root vegetable.

Here in the US, they don’t care. We’re now in early February, and most nights as I walk home I see a Christmas tree or two sitting forlornly in the gutter having finally had its two month stay in some household or other brutally terminated. Is it any wonder that the economy has gone to hell in a handcart given this slovenly approach to the fundamental traditions that make this world tick?

They can talk about subprime mortgages until they’re blue in the face, but herein lies the root of the financial crisis. If you walk past the old offices of Lehman Brothers, Washington Mutual or Bear Stearns, I bet you’ll see a Christmas tree in their lobby. Sure, its lights may be blinking merrily, but that’s just the tree sending a message to the other trees around it.

“Sit tight lads,” it’s saying. “Seems like they’ve forgotten the Twelfth Night rule. We’ll be running this place before you know it.”

Never mind the show, let’s watch the adverts

It’s the biggest day of America’s televisual year tomorrow – a day so big that retailers such as Best Buy are ramping up their marketing to capture the trade of all those people tempted to upgrade their televisions in preparation. Food is being readied, beer being bought, and corner shopsbodegas are running out of ice across the country. And all because millions of people want to watch a few advertscommercials.

Unfortunately the most eagerly anticipated ads of the year are interspersed with short breaks featuring the Superbowl,  the most overhyped sports game of the year. Apart from this year, of course, where the match-up between the Arizona Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Steelers has all the allure of a game between Derby County and Fulham on a wet Monday night in November.

Never mind, there’s still the ads to look forward to. The Superbowl offers one of the few opportunities left for advertisers to reach a mass audience in one go, with last year’s clash between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots attracting an audience of around 97 million. As a result, brands are falling over themselves to get into the breaks, with each attempting to outdo each other with big budgets, Hollywood production values, and a healthy dose of humour thrown in for good measure.

To be fair, many of them are pretty amusing or impressive. Certainly impressive enough to get featured in shows such as The Greatest Superbowl Commercials Ever, at least. There’s no getting around the fact that, during the live broadcast of the ads, you have to watch some overpaid men try to move a ball ten yards forward, but you can’t have everything.

The strange thing is that the UK doesn’t have an equivalent ad-fest, despite the attempts of broadcasters to create one. Nobody puts a particularly special effort into their FA Cup Final ads, for instance, or fight amongst each other to get into the Christmas special of Heartbeat. Personally I’d like to see the World Darts Championship final declared the focus of UK marketing efforts, if for no other reason than it will take your mind off how big Raymond van Barneveld’s gut is these days.

Incidentally, the Superbowl broadcaster NBC today announced that it is currently in talks to sell the last two of the 67 spots for the game, the rest of which have already been sold for between $2. 4 million and $3 million per 30-second slot. And that’s before the advertisers have even thought about the cost of creating the commercial itself.

Economic crisis? What economic crisis?

London’s dirty secret

I think it’s probably fair to say that there’s a common perception among the global community that Americans are pretty direct. And that’s no bad thing. For example, I’d say that most Americans are pretty intolerant of poor service, and aren’t afraid to make their dissatisfaction known. As a sweeping generalisation, Americans aren’t known for delivering bad news with a spoonful of sugar, either. It’s the kind of directness that allows utility companies to tell you that there’s going to be a ten day wait for your gas/electricity/phone to be restored, and then remind you in the same breath that prices are rising by 25% next week.

The British are more of a nation of shrinking violets. Clearly, the natives of India wouldn’t necessarily have agreed during the years of colonial expansionism, but the British are essentially more reserved. Or “emotionally retarded,” as some more unkind American commentators would probably describe it.

As I’ve detailed in entries before, most Americans would need an ever-present translator to understand the difference between what a Brit says and what he or she actually means. “It’s fine” generally means “I hate it but I don’t want to cause a scene”. “We should do this again” translates as “It’ll be a cold night in hell before I agree to go for dinner with you again.” And “it’s a really interesting color” is roughly equivalent to “who in the love of all that is righteous and holy would have a urine yellow sofa?”

However, one area in which Britain isn’t shy and retiring is its approach to communicating issues of public safety in and around the transport system. Having taken the train to London on Monday, I was confronted outside the station by an advertising campaign to warn people of the dangers of ignoring the barriers at level crossings. Let’s just say that this thing doesn’t pull its punches. Unsurprisingly, having read an advert demonstrating the eight points on the line where they found the person who jumped a barrier, I wasn’t quite so in the mood for my morning bacon buttysandwich.

Over the next three days, my tube journeys to and from meetings were delayed three times by “passenger action” somewhere in the London Underground system. “Passenger action” is the oft-heard euphemism for somebody jumping into the path of a fast moving train in an attempt to kill themselves.

Except transport bosses have decided that this phrase is not – excuse the pun – hard hitting enough, as they now consistently say that there are delays on the system due to “a person under a train” at a particular station. Talk about not pulling punches. At least with “passenger action” you can naively convince yourself that it’s a result of a teenager pulling the emergency cord, but with “person under a train” all you see are the flailing arms of the ‘victim’ and the horror of the helpless driver. And with three ‘jumpers’ in three days, clearly the credit crunch is taking its toll in London.

In New York, subway suicides are almost never ever mentioned, swept under the carpet like those bits of fluff and cat hair that you can’t be bothered to vacuum. In many ways it’s the public transport equivalent of putting your fingers in your ears and saying “La la la la la la” when you don’t want to hear something.

Strangely though, it seems like New York probably has the right approach. With 1.5 billion users of the subway system every year, there were only 26 subway suicides last year; London has a third less commuters every year, and twice as many suicides. If you ever needed a macabre demonstration of the power of advertising, you just found it.