Alice Bachini has been out shopping, for her aunties:
What I can afford is Marks and Spencer room spray, or Woolworths scented cushions for putting in your wardrobe. But it seems to me that if aunties wanted that kind of thing, they would buy it for themselves already.
If they wanted a normal sort of thing, they’d buy it themselves.
Because so many people can now afford to get normal things, there are now special places called gift shops, and special mail order catalogues called gift catalogues, to enable you to buy abnormal things to give to people at Christmas. This is a recently encountered abnormal thing selling operation, the dead-tree catalogue for which came with the Sunday Times of about a fortnight ago. My favourite abnormality here is the hat you put on to catch incoming ping pong balls.
Rich people used to love this kind of nonsense, when they were the only ones who could afford it. But now they are above such stuff, and live in places which are ostentatiously full of empty space. This change in social mores is hammered home in one of my favourite recent movies, The Family Man, starring Nicholas Cage. In this movie, a magical rearrangement of reality of the sort beloved of Hollywood movie makers looking to catch the Christmas market ordains that The Man (Cage) shall be transformed from The Man (who works for a hotshot money-processing enterprise in Manhattan) shall instead become The Family Man, with a dead-end job, a lovely wife (the girl he nearly married when he was Younger Man, but didn’t), two fascinating children, and … that’s right, a house full of junk. He’s poor you see. He has stuff. Rich people don’t do that. Rich people have empty rooms painted black with one picture on the wall, and one designer coffee table.
Rich people used to collect junk like crazy. That’s how they proved they were rich. My gandparents (Sir Ronald and Lady Bosanquet, my mother’s parents – Granny Bosanquet was the scariest woman I have ever known) had a mini-stately home. This huge house has always been delightfully full of junk, and now that my cousin lives there it still contains many objects of great interest and antiquity. On the top floor there used to be room after room containing enough strange things to keep a visiting grandson happy for hours. Furniture of every imaginable kind. Telescopes. Rocking horses. Stuffed animals in glass cases. A butterfly collection. Weirdly obscure books. Pre-computer-age games equipment of all sorts, such as croquet mallets, tennis rackets, cricket bats, ping pong equipment. Standard lamps of every sort you can think of. Ancient cameras. Toy train sets. In the lower floors there were other official rich people items, like ancestral oil paintings of people we were actually descended from, nice furniture and official literature-type books in a special library.
There was a snooker room. (This was where, according to family legend, cousin B. J. T. Bosanquet invented a special type of cricket bowling manoevre – the “googly, or “Bosie” as they still call it in Australia in his honour. BJT briefly captained the England cricket team, until opposing batsmen learned to play the googly. The leading exponent of the googly these days is the Australian, Shane Warne, now doing awful things to England’s cricketers in Australia. My grandfather also played cricket, and captained his local team. But this was because he owned the pitch.)
There was even, and Samizdata readers will love this, a “gun room”. That’s right, an entire room set aside for guns for attacking animals with.
Not surprisingly, this house was seldom – in fact never – plundered by the lower orders, despite containing numerous objects of great value, in among all the fun junk that I preferred.
Gift shops are the democratisation of my grandparents’ upstairs rooms. Now that everyone can afford to have lots of stuff, rich people now prove that they’re superior not by accumulating lots of stuff and showing it off, but by showing off how good they are at resisting the urge to accumulate, unlike those ghastly poor people. Thus Nicholas Cage’s empty Rich Man appartment in The Family Man.
A related fact is that Indian movie stars have got thinner. It used to be that Indian movie stars would prove their desirability by flaunting the fact that they could afford to be constantly eating, which made them special. Thin Indian film stars prove that millions of people in India now eat well enough for getting fat to be a mass problem rather than a minority luxury. Desirable men used to be rich enough to be able to indulge their appetites. Now, desirable men are men who can control their appetites.
Make of this what you will. Samizdata. You never know what stuff you’re going to come across next. We’re the blogging equivalent of my grandparents’ top floor.