I wasn't one of those who bought a house near the top of the market with a hundred-percent mortgage and then extended the loan six months later to buy a bloody great big shiny new TV, so the recession (if not the Christchurch earthquake) has so far passed me by.
The worst effect of both is that austerity is still fashionable, even amongst those who aren't feeling the pinch. I had hope it would be a passing fad I could easily ignore, much as I ignore most passing fads. Not having a bloody great big shiny new TV I don't usually find out what the passing fads are until they've passed by, reached their destination, gone to the pub, and are having a lonely drink to drown their sorrows having been deserted by their followers.
Regarding the TV thing, I should add that I don't have anything against shiny expensive gadgets – Note to Santa: I quite like shiny expensive gadgets – it's just that I don't want a top notch telly when the programmes are so crap. Shite in high-definition is still shite.
The worst aspect of austerity-as-fashion-accessory is that it has invaded that stronghold of glorious consumption, Christmas. I know there are supposed to be religious reasons for Christmas – Jesus or Sol Invictus or something – but as far as I'm aware no verse in the Bible mentions the real highlight of Christmas, a fat bloke dressed as a Coke can.
This year once again our family has decided to cut back. That is, one person in our family has decided to cut back and told everyone else to comply. I certainly wasn't part of this daft decision, being merely a hanger-on by marriage. (And I only find out about this stuff after the fact. Mrs Darnton does all the present buying and associated carry-on at our place.) I don't think any of us is in financial trouble. I suspect the dig-for-England mentality is just a bit of vaguely Puritan middle-class guilt. A bit like when your mother told you to eat your dinner because people were starving in Ethiopia. Which makes as much sense as putting your coat on because it's cold at the North Pole.
We are now subject to strict present buying rules, which have been laid down by the central authority. Each participant is to buy one present, addressed to a designated recipient, up to a legislated maximum value. Excruciating Christmas morning horrors await.
The primary failure of the centrally-planned Christmas is that not everyone knows the plan. The Christmas Control Authority has been too polite to tell some people that the trimmings have been trimmed. Those without inside knowledge of how the systems works will arrive arms laden and expecting full festivities. Their generosity will be cruelly punished.
The Christmas Control Authority has also become the clearing house for problematic gift-buying decisions. Those who've been assigned a difficult relative or someone they don't know well seem to believe that a bureaucracy clever enough to make up all these rules also knows exactly what everyone wants. No. Expect resources to be misapplied to the novelty sock and amusing coffee mug industries. I'm almost praying for scorched almonds.
On the upside, the atheists are going to have a good time regardless. While the churchgoers are going to church (if they can find one here in Christchurch their God didn’t turn to rubble) the atheists will get in a two- or three-bottle head start to make the proceedings bearable, perhaps even entertaining. Without an explicit liquor ban, this will be the festive outlet of choice.
The question for next year is: will the failed experiment result in a return to laissez-faire or yet another round of regulation to correct the problems caused by the first lot. I wish you a raucous and regulation-free Christmas and hope that Santa hasn't been turned back from your place for the crime of overloading his sleigh.