Squeezed Middle: I’m a child of the cheap-credit era

Though I try to fight it, at heart, I’m still an obedient little consumer.

New Statesman
Alice O'Keeffe's "Squeezed Middle" column appears weekly in the New Statesman magazine.

I am in the bath reading the Sunday Times Style magazine. This may look like idle, aspirational consumerism but contrary to appearances I am engaged in an Improving Activity. I am training myself not to want things. It’s going quite well. So far, I have discovered that I genuinely don’t want a Linea chandelier (£3,627) or an Istra leather sofa (£1,595). I feel pretty confident that my wardrobe is not short of a knitted teddy bear jumper (£368) and that my kids look cute enough without limited-edition Cath Kidston trainers (£16).

I am still working on not wanting a bespoke countrystyle kitchen in warm wood when Curly enters the bathroom without so much as a knock. “Are you reading that rag again? I thought you hated it.”

Curly and I share a slightly too-small flat, a base sense of humour and parental responsibilities for two small children. We are not married because I have made it very clear that I wouldn’t want to even if he did ask me. Besides, we are hardly in a position to afford a wedding, having barely a brass farthing between us. (If I did have a brass farthing, I would hotfoot it on to Antiques Roadshow– I bet they’re worth a bob or two these days.)

Curly does not understand the intricacies of my relationship with Style. He is under the impression that I like to lust over the pretty dresses – which, as I’ve just explained, could hardly be further from the truth. Curly does not hanker after expensive clothing. He likes buying clothes in charity shops and often manages to find bargains – most recently, a pair of Yves Saint Laurent jeans for £2. Whenever I look in a charity shop, all I find are flowered smocks that smell of old lady.

“I do hate it. That’s why I’m reading it.” He shoots a pitying look in my direction and turns away, unbuttoning his fly. I ponder his broad, solid back as he stands over the toilet bowl.

Curly is a simpler being than me and I mean that as a compliment. It doesn’t bother him that our flat is slightly too small, or that we’re living so far out of town we have to commute to the suburbs, or that 15 years after graduation he still hasn’t paid off his student loan. As long as he has a reliable supply of dark ale and Aston Villa cling on to their place in the Premier League, all is hunky-dory in Curlyworld.

I need to take a leaf out of his book. The problem is my wildly inflated expectations. I came of age in one of the wealthiest cities in the world, at the peak of western capitalist excess. I was weaned on ecstasy, alcopops and cheap credit. Though I try to fight it, at heart, I’m still an obedient little consumer.

Hence the intensive programme of psychological reconditioning. Having failed on the kitchen, I flick to the horoscopes. “During 2013, success is no longer defined by glamour, earnings, possessions or clout . . .” There you have it – this could be my year.