Recession brings back old-fashioned passions

We're all so depressed by recession, apparently, that we're ready for so-called 'simple pleasures' again.

Simple pleasures are back. Here's Vanessa Feltz in the Daily Express, raving about a chicken and leek pie she was given at a wedding: "Nothing, but nothing, is as blissful as a crusty, well-cooked pie. It evokes memories of pies past, ancestral pies and Proustian pies. Everyone wanted seconds... Who wants a fussy arrangement of sea bass when they could have a thwacking great slice of pie?" (I do, but you can't please everyone.)

Meanwhile, in the Daily Mail, Jan Moir was singing the praises of long-forgotten foodstuffs such as Arctic Rolls, Findus Crispy Pancakes, Cadbury's Wispa bars and Wagon Wheels. They're all back in vogue, she says. We're all so depressed by wars, terrorism and the "tanking economy" that we're spending hundreds of millions of pounds indulging in what experts call "recessionary-induced emotional eating".

And in these hard times retro foods and beverages take us back more effectively than anything else to "a childhood of scraped knees, Clarks sandals and afternoons dappled with sunlight".

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In another testament to simple pleasures, Waterstone's and Faber last week published a book called Modern Delight, a collection of essays from the great and the good in which they disclose their hidden passions. What is striking about these passions is not their modernity, but their old-fashionedness.

John Sergeant, the journalist who starred on Strictly Come Dancing, chooses fishing; Tim Rice likes mowing his lawn; John Carey, the literary critic, is fond of beekeeping, while Jeremy Paxman delights in frogspawn; Joan Bakewell likes people-watching at motorway service stations and Gyles Brandreth, the former MP, confesses to enjoying the deaths of people he knows.

He explains: "I am talking about the delight of opening the morning paper and turning to the obituaries and seeing the face of a near-contemporary who has just snuffed it and being able to say to my wife: 'Do you see old so-and-so's gone? Didn't we overlap at Oxford? Got a CBE, it says here. Much good did it do him."

What's common to all these pursuits is how cheap they are. No one seems to share my taste for owning an expensive motor boat that burns up fuel, goes wrong all the time, costs a fortune in berthing fees and is so unstable that in a summer like this one hardly ever makes it to sea.

But back to the subject of simple pleasures: I like Jeremy Clarkson's attitude, as expressed in a recent column in The Sun. "Every day we are told by doctors and dentists and the government that we should eat more healthily, jog to the shops and do press-ups in the pub.

"Naturally, I've listened to all this advice and continued to smoke, stay up late, drink as much as possible and take no exercise whatsoever." This philosophy has never done me any harm, he says. He's "wobbled through life without so much as a twinge. Possibly because I don't have any muscles at all. Just tons and tons of juicy and delicious fat."

Tabloid money... screaming Gordo is the Tories' No. 1 weapon

"Multi-millionaire Tony Blair spends so little time in Britain he is suspected of being a tax exile," says Trevor Kavanagh in The Sun. "Meanwhile, his wife, Cherie, is spending £250,000 on antiques to furnish their 18th-century, £6m mansion in posh Buckinghamshire. It's good to know someone's done well under Labour."

Rumours are swirling round Westminster that the PM's health is "cracking under the strain", says Fraser Nelson in the News of the World. "But David Cameron can relax. I can assure him that Gordo, the Tories' No. 1 weapon", is perfectly well. He is "shouting, screaming, hurling objects around the room, behaving like a maniac" i.e. behaving as he normally does. It may seem crazy "apologising for the way gay computer engineer Alan Turing was treated in 1954 when Gordo was three years old. Our PM was 49 when he sold the nation's gold reserves for $275 an ounce. It passed $1,000 last week. Where's the apology for that?" As for the real insanity: "The national debt was £340bn when Labour came to power. Next year, £970bn... We will NEVER be able to reduce this burden on our families to pre-Brown levels." A trillion-pound debt may be with us forever. What an act of vandalism. "Throwing mobile phones around is the least of it."

We're still being ripped off by our power bills, says Fergus Shanahan in The Sun. Power firms buy their gas in units called therms. Today, a therm costs 34p. This time last year it was £1. But prices haven't fallen in line with this and the suppliers say they don't plan any cuts until next spring. Watchdogs reckon we are overcharged £100 a year for power. "The suppliers, never short of an excuse, say they need big profits to build more power stations."