A couple of weeks ago, I celebrated my 41st birthday. When I say "celebrated", I mean it happened but was slightly overshadowed by two household dramas: the first, my daughter was sick from 3am until 5pm; the second was that our fridge broke down. I felt sorry for my daughter, of course, but also for myself. As I was standing in our kitchen, water flooding from the defrosting freezer, and me wailing that I wasn't actually having a very good birthday, my Dad said to me: "Of course, in our house we didn't have a fridge until I was 12."
A few days later, after storing the milk in a pan of water on the doorstep (an amazingly effective method to keep it cold) and my daughter back to full health, our new fridge arrived. It was Thanksgiving Day, and I was beside myself with thankfulness. I never thought I would be so excited over a material thing. And then I thought of my father's parents getting their first fridge in 1955, imagining my grandmother marvelling at the whiteness and coldness and newness in her kitchen, and chided myself for my take-it-all-for-granted materialism.
As if we needed telling, our society in 2014 is dripping with materialism. A list published last week of 50 things that show someone has "made it" is crammed with status symbols from hot tubs to matching bathrobes, a lazy Susan and a television in every room to home gyms and cinemas. There are only a handful of non-consumerist items on the list, including being on first-name terms with your local pub landlord (I wish this was me), and having more than 2,000 followers on Twitter (this is me).
One can be said to have "made it" if you have achieved or own these 50 things by the age of 41. I wonder why 41? Is this because life begins at 40, while 42 is the answer to the meaning of life? Is 41 a golden year of enlightenment when we have all of our ducks in a row in the hot tub? Or is it a sort of middle-age gap year where anyone without a lazy Susan must immediately have a mid-life crisis?
Anyway, as I am now this supposedly landmark age, I compared my "achievements" to this list. Of the 50, I scored seven, or eight if you count having a "small orchard in the garden" the four apple trees, one quince and a mirabelle plum down my allotment (I don't have a garden).
Among the things I don't have are a golfclub membership, pony-riding lessons for my child, or private-school fees. It is a strange mixture of old-money status symbols (horses), international jetset (flying first class) and nouveau riche (home cinema). Did the 2,000 people surveyed for Synseal (makers of conservatory windows) have any of these things or just aspire to them? Were they second-guessing what might make them feel successful or is this actually what people want?
What does this say about the British attitude to social mobility? Is conspicuous consumption, or ostentatious hot-tubbing, really a sign that an individual is climbing the social ladder? If our economic recovery is shakily built on rising household debt, should we really be aspiring to a 55in wide-screen television in every room?
On the other hand, it is easy for the upper classes to be snooty about aspiring to own a holiday home when they've had one in the family for years, or they don't need to "make it" because when they were born they had already arrived.
Take the sneering, mainly by those in the higher echelons and royal circles, at the middle-class aspiration of the Duchess of Cambridge's family. At least Carole and Michael Middleton have worked hard for their children's private education and all those horse-riding lessons. When you've "made it" from birth, like the Queen and her heirs, there is nothing left to strive for. If Carole has a hot tub, she deserves it.
For me, I will only have "made it" when I really do own a small orchard in my back garden. Until then, I have my aspiration – and a new fridge.
I don't agree with Nick
Last week I suggested that Nick Clegg had followed my advice by getting out into the real world during Prime Minister's Questions, because, closer to the election, it would start to look a bit awkward if he just sat quietly next to David Cameron every week. On Wednesday, Clegg was absent for a third PMQs running, proving my point. But this meant he was also missing for the Autumn Statement, which I think risked looking churlish. If the Liberal Democrats are to try to claim credit for the good things the Coalition has done, at least be there for the set-piece moments.
Rowing to victory?
With five months today until polling day, political parties are casting around for ideas for hard-hitting campaign advertisements to grab voters' attention. I hear that the Conservatives are quite taken with their New Zealand counterparts' election ad this autumn which featured a very Osbornian slogan "Keep the team that's working", a team in blue rowing in the same direction while a boat featuring a ragbag of crewmen in red, orange, purple and green are all trying to paddle in different directions.
Not so subtle messaging, but it helped Prime Minister John Key, the leader of the conservative National Party, to secure another term. But on the eve of the election, US rap star Eminem filed a lawsuit against the National Party for ripping off his track "Lose Yourself" for the advert's music. I'm sure that David Cameron's party wouldn't be so careless.
On the stump, with a bump
Congratulations to Rachel Reeves, the shadow work and pensions secretary, who is expecting her second child in June. This means she will be eight months pregnant during the election – which, having puffed and sighed my way through the 2010 campaign at seven months pregnant, I can testify is no picnic.
But at least I didn't have to knock on doors day in, day out. Maybe she can pick up tips from Yvette Cooper, seven months pregnant during the 2001 campaign, Ruth Kelly, nearly full term when Labour won power in 1997, or Harriet Harman, who won a by-election in 1982 while seven months gone. It gives new meaning to women in labour.Reuse content