Alice-Azania Jarvis: 'Watching The X Factor has become a perfectly acceptable night out'

In The Red
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There are several valid reasons for cancelling a dinner date. There's the flu, or any other physical condition that might leave you running to the bathroom. Occasionally, there's work, or something similarly Calvinistic – circumstances under which your cancellee, probably more than a little miffed at having their social schedule disrupted, can seek consolation in the knowledge that karma has taken its course, and you're having less fun than they are. And then, of course, there's The X Factor.

No, I'm kidding. Cancelling plans in order to spend the evening alone in front of low-level reality TV is definitely not the done thing.

Which prompts the question: is it OK to replace the dinner date with an X Factor date? (I'm using the term "dates" here loosely, you understand – I mean social occasions, not necessarily liaisons of the more romantic kind.)

Certainly, in doing, so you'd be killing two birds with one stone. Not only would you get to lap up the lip-glossy lushness of Dannii and Cheryl sparring provocatively with Simon from the comfort of your own sofa – a location that in my flat is within reassuring proximity of the ever-present box of, ahem, "house" wine – but you could also avoid spending, well, anything at all.

If you're really lucky, your guest might bring a bottle, and all you'd need to offer would be a seat and a bowl of Pringles. Or, if you're feeling flash, olives.

At least, this was my line of reasoning last weekend. Realising I didn't have a spare pound to speak of, and that even if I had I wasn't sure I'd want to spend it on a bus ride to central London and a trip to one of Soho's pseudo-trendy tavernas, I suggested that my friend, who was down from Belfast for the weekend, come to mine instead.

To my surprise, she jumped at the offer. Clearly, mine was not the only bank balance dipping towards empty. Quite the opposite, in fact: everyone's is.

Which makes being cheap considerably easier. Those of us who have always counted our pennies have suddenly found ourselves in remarkably good company, as everyone in the country rushes to preserve their withering income.

And so, then, to answer my question: with the stock market in meltdown, the banks in crisis and the housing market nonexistent, X Factor dates have become totally acceptable, especially when accompanied by boxed wine and very un-posh crisps.

It's almost enough to make you think the credit crunch might not be so bad... and then you see your fuel bill.

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