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  1. Wealth
February 24, 2009updated 25 Apr 2016 1:59pm

Death by a Thousand Cutlets

By Alessandro Tome

There is such a thing as a free lunch but you probably wouldn’t want to eat it and it’s certainly no way to beat the credit crunch, says Alessandro Tome

There is such a thing as a free lunch — but you probably wouldn’t want to eat it and it’s certainly no way to beat the credit crunch, says Alessandro Tome

As I was sharing some of my early recessionary experiences with my editor William Cash over lunch at the posh Marcus Wareing, in the full knowledge that most of it would probably end up either on his blog or splashed across the pages of one of the many newspapers he contributes to (which it inevitably did), I remember thinking of the irony in discussing the undeniable, if until recently unbeknown to me, advantages of an Oyster Card whilst sipping an oyster and caviar cappuccino.

Firstly I was wondering why would anyone call a glorified bus pass Oyster, unless it was thought to be aspirational, or even more perversely that it would make people feel the world is their oyster when they travelled in a London bus.

I can see some resemblance there with an oyster but only of the kind I would definitely not want to ingest: smelly, dirty and usually arriving past its sell by date. It just must be one of the worst choices ever.

Even Lobster Card would have been better, still aspirational but at least attainable, as most passengers go red when riled to boiling point and also ensuring endless mediocre marketing material of the ‘Red Hot Ride’ type.

More importantly, I remembered that the main reason we were sipping oyster cappuccino whilst debating which one of us had been more affected by the downturn was that William had been invited to try their ‘cheap’ fixed price lunch menu on the house.

And whilst I didn’t want to do the slightly dated concept of how-to-beat-the-recession-and-eat-for-free-for-a-month or the like (watch this idea being picked up by some other publication), I was intrigued to see what the life of a CPP (cocktail party pro) was like.

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Perhaps being The Discriminator wasn’t such a good thing in a recession, perhaps I should try my hand at being The Freeloader?

To the initial delight of my Angel Wife, I started by accepting shooting weekend invitations without first vetting the guest lists, attempting to influence bedroom selection, seating plans or even menus.

I was a little anxious at first at such unabashed laissez-faire on my part, but I had hedged – sorry bad choice of word currently – I had played my hand somewhat safely in the fact that only people that know me well and are slight masochists would invite me to stay a whole weekend.

We had a wonderful time and my fear of the un-fully-controlled was replaced by a delight at the un-fully-planned. So far so good and still free but I realised sterner tests were needed.

I chose to accept an inordinately high amount of drinks and dinner party invitations, once again with no questions asked. I even told my Angel Wife that she should accept invitations to shop openings and the like.

She pointed out that the only likely such invitations would be for preview sales at best or closing down sales in most cases, but certainly very few openings. Shop-relocation-to-shady-parts-of-town-on-the-third-floor-parties seem to be the rage.

Even restaurants were now on the verge of combining opening and closing down parties to cut costs. And finally she drew the line at an invitation from our dental practice for a sampling of a new hard-wearing toothbrush and DIY meat-flavoured cavity filling kit, to help beat the recession.

As with so much else, there was the Good, but mainly the Bad and the Plain Ugly. A tide of bad food, worse wine and undistinguishable, uninformed, uninteresting, unrepeatable, unrequited babble of the most insipid kind that made me wish for my Lobster bus.

It all seemed to melt into one big goo of similar faces, similar places, just plain similarity I guess. And yes it was all for free, but it showed. No, being The Freeloader definitely wasn’t for me.

The good news might be that it also felt like the end of a breed is nigh: the will-go-to-the-opening-of-an-envelope people just aren’t going to be getting enough envelopes anymore.

And thank goodness for that. For who hasn’t found it inebriating at some point to go to all these events, or travel the world for the party of someone you barely know, or go to the opening of a hotel that can sleep more people than live in the town where you were born, built on a man-made island that may sink, in a country that espouses numerous social and religious habits one may find otherwise too conflicting with our own beliefs?

Who said no to that extra handbag, dress or suit?

And in the inebriation, fuelled by ever rising markets and asset values only sustained by ever laxer lending standards, abhorrent levels of remuneration, themselves underwritten by unethically if not dishonestly or even fraudulently produced profits, our society has lost touch with basic human value systems.

So perhaps one should welcome the recession, for it is already showing itself to be a real chance at redemption, an opportunity to reflect and regroup in the things that are really important to us all. It is helping us shed the baby-fat of excess we have accumulated over the past decade or more, get rid of the superfluous and concentrate on the fundamentals of our lives such as our family, our health and our most intimate friendships.

It is helping us communicate with each other with honesty and transparency, not clouded in smoke and mirrors of perceived social adequacy. It is giving us more time to think, share, feel, love and be loved. It means less ‘noise’ to distract us, less to choose from and so possibly wiser choices.

It is giving us the chance to re-engage with everything and everyone that is dear to us, be it a book we never had the chance to read or a letter we never got around to writing. Of course we run the risk, as we always do, to overcompensate, to look for scapegoats where there aren’t any, to play the blame and shame game but then we become our own version of Fundamentalists.

I would rather hope that it may just bring out the Discriminator in us all, in the sense of helping us all choose wisely how and with whom we spend the valuable time we have been allocated down here.

Like being able to think about all this while stuck on my Lobster Bus because of some unnecessary, ugly, utopian buildings that already look from another era before they are even completed: planned by dream-peddling and appropriately named Candy&Candy, financed by sugar daddies that have run out of sugar, sold like candy to children that can’t pay anymore.

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