The NS guide to self-indulgence - Flowers

Fed up that the summer's refusing to arrive? Worked all through the few sunny days, only to find it rains on your day off? Had to cancel that walk in the country because your in-laws invited themselves for lunch? There is only one way to cheer yourself up: fill a vase with flowers. I used to think you didn't buy flowers for yourself - you had to wait for a dinner party and hope some of the guests would bring flowers instead of chocolates. Or drop endless hints to your partner. But no - buying your own flowers is truly a guilt-free self-indulgence.

Why? Because they really don't cost too much, you don't put on any weight, and you can assure yourself that other people will share in the pleasure. As a mood-enhancer, they beat gin, gyms or Prozac. Even a bundle of daffs, at the right time of year, can wake up the dullest day and the gloomiest room. Flowers make up for mess, bad furniture and a stressful, jangling atmosphere. I love the scent of freesias more than anything in a small and pricey bottle. And when I win the Lottery it's a constant supply of white lilies that I'll be spending my millions on - forget the Porsche and the yacht.

The very best flowers at the moment are English. Ignore those plastic-looking Dutch chrysanths. Go for blue delphiniums, sweet william, good old English stocks, which have a scent to match their vivid colours.

There are so many reasons not to buy flowers. You're in a hurry from work. You should be saving the money for something else. They're a shocking price this year. They won't last. It isn't sensible. And, anyway, it's difficult to carry them with the rest of the shopping.

Enough! To buy flowers is to show that you value the moment, that a little beauty is worth it. To buy them for somebody else is . . . well, you work it out, boys.

This article first appeared in the 17 May 1999 issue of the New Statesman, The NS Essay - A culture of pretence

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.