Catherine Blyth: Hail the new age of shamelessness, a time to reach for your dreams

A liberated writer finds that the credit crunch is helping us shed our inhibitions

Share
Related Topics

Congratulations. You survived January 2009, officially the most miserable month since people with qualifications ending with "-ology" began soothsaying about moods in a scientific fashion. It also marked the return of depression as a noun for economic conditions (meaning: "We're screwed"). Cue extra helpings of melancholy, you might presume.

But if you attend to politicians' waffle, here are two more words you have heard of late: "innovation" and "robust". As one who imbibes too much Radio 4, I find them depressing. They're tokens in a rhetorical game entitled "Brave voters up for a bad new world". The object of this humbug hoopla is clear: replace expectations of financial security with a vision rich in wholesome moral fibre yet vaguely exciting and more palatable than bankruptcy.

It's suave nonsense. Innovation is no more relevant, or rewarded, in bust than boom. The humbug doesn't alter our desperate situation; rather, it directs our gaze to an imaginary tomorrow, when Albion will rise, lean, infused with the spirit of an imaginary yesterday, when everyone was nice, scrimped and saved, brewed their own scrumpy, and went to church.

So why am I not miserable? In fact, I'm chipper. Friends confess similarly buoyant feelings. This makes no sense. Most work in publishing or journalism, and I'm a writer for goodness' sake; few trades are less safe. What's more, when I skip over the tumbleweed and enter shops (me look, no buy) assistants are chatty as never before. Well might they be; they're hardly busy, and keeping a bright front is their business. All the same, when I blew a tenner on a black cab the driver was a veritable cor-blimey charm fiesta. "I was dreading after Christmas," he said. "And it's the best January I've had. In 20 years."

Strange, eh? And that's not all.

Voluntary Service Overseas reports unprecedented applications. Middle-aged, middle-class professionals, not gap-year brats, are queueing to jettison wage slavery and do something worthwhile instead. As if money were no object.

Recently, I too have done hitherto unconscionable things, like re-use teabags and darn socks. I've also pitched unsolicited business to strangers, with success; arranged meetings between strangers, with success; and even attended a party of strangers alone.

This event launched the Stone Club, a new networking forum. Many guests were novices, but were soon extending hands not to shake but to thrust business cards into mine. Perhaps she was mad to start up, now of all times, laughed the organiser, Carole Stone, in her speech, "But we need to talk to each other, now more than ever."

This feeling is spreading. Consultants describe cold-calling clients and not only meeting a warm reception, but being invited in "to rustle up ideas". I saw a blizzard of business cards last week when my publisher shrugged off January blues with a party. Authors and agents swooped on canapés like holy bread. Some fought over wine bottles – to offer round, you understand; the perfect ice-breaker – as the caterer handed out leaflets offering cheap dinner parties. Why cook, everyone agreed, wasting valuable networking time?

Flibbertigibbet media folk, perhaps. What of Woolies? Car workers?

Yes, maybe VSO applicants, Stone and I are not typical, but in denial. Maybe we're in the manic phase of depression. Maybe it's the last kick of that corpse – irrational exuberance – which seduced our banks and ruined us. But something is going on.

If you foam at the mouth that anyone still holds parties, you may enjoy a cynical explanation. Trendwatching.com hails the birth of Generation G. That's G for generosity, not greed, as corporations compete to be affiliated with do-good, feel-good projects. Far from philanthropic, reckons Trendwatching, this is plumage display, with generosity the latest status symbol.

To my mind, however, people are giving each other the time of day for less vampiric ends. We're adapting to environmental change, ditching that conservative trait, embarrassment, in favour of a bold new shamelessness.

While there has never been a better excuse for an idea to flop, there has never been a better time to float one. This is incredibly liberating – less the soaring certainty of "Yes we can" than a question of "And why not?" Why not chase that dream? If 2009 is a write-off, there's no shame in failure. We may as well do what we want. Like take a cab, quit our dull job, or, like inventor Ted Ciamillo, celebrate our 40th birthday by pedalling a home-made submarine across the Atlantic.

Necessity isn't merely the mother of invention. It focuses minds on why we do things, and whether they're worth it. And when options diminish, ingenuity stretches them further. Hard times sharpen wits and redefine polite behaviour.

In the latest New Scientist, the primatologist Frans de Waal asked: "Why do humans blush?" Surely it's because co-operative culture rewards those who respect social boundaries. Yet blushes also indicate flushed excitement, which is desirable when risk-taking will preserve us. Sometimes shedding scruples makes sense.

As Kingsley Amis observed, history is the tale of man, an animal, trying to convince himself he isn't an animal. Emotions remind us of the truth. And embarrassment is the nephew of an ancient monster, fear. In bad cases we long for the earth to open and welcome us back, like the worms we were before life grew so complicated. However, right now, embarrassment can't save us. Some of us bubble with new ideas too, since fear is a form of imagination. It's stimulating.

Whether our ideas are innovative, the market will decide. In the meantime, people with qualifications ending in "-ology" can explain why fear might cheer us, or at least, make us less self-conscious. As interest rates and sterling plummet, British suicide rates are declining. The sharpest drops followed disasters. Dr Emad Salib of Liverpool University attributes this to "greater social cohesion, the Blitz spirit" (good old moral fibre). The most enduring fall came after 9/11, whereas post-7/7, which took place closer to home, the effect was brief. Why? Because 7/7 lacked the lingering spectacle of those towers tumbling, those poor souls leaping off them, replayed and replayed, like obscene graphic wallpaper behind TV headlines.

Taedium vitae palls when you're reminded that life is a brutish, one-stop shop, so you'd better grab what you can before someone else snatches it from you. Few like to admit that witnessing catastrophe is exhilarating in the same, guilty way as watching tragedy in the theatre. We walk away with renewed appreciation of the fact that we, unlike the victims on stage, are now free to go and eat a curry. Or take a cab home.

So can this depression, sorry, recession, make us happier? Well, we'll be talking. And if innovations lead nowhere, so what? Some will be fun.

I couldn't resist a cheeky pamphlet in my local supermarket, "101 Ways to Make Extra Cash in a Recession". It's what Del Boy would produce if Rodney found a nice iMac on a Peckham barrow.

My favourite tip? How to choose between "Breastfeeding consultant", "Porn star", "Sell your hair", "Sell your story" (get blond hair extensions and hang out in nightclubs, intones the sage), and the hilarious, "Become a writer"? I thought I'd found a winner in "Set up a get-rich-quick scheme."

Disappointingly, instead of winning whoppers, it dished up a homily: "Honest graft is the way to make money." It didn't advise publishing a book about making wads when the piggy bank's bust.

Doom, eh? Isn't what it used to be. Still, as that chirpy tragedian Euripides wrote: "To persevere, trusting in what hopes he has, is courage in a man." Forget black dogs. Let's keep buggering on.

Catherine Blyth is the author of 'The Art of Conversation'

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

CRM Data Analyst – Part time – Permanent – Surrey – Circa £28,000 pro rata

£15000 - £16800 Per Annum Plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

Mechanical Design Engineer

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A key client in the East Midlands are re...

Year 5/6 Teacher

£21000 - £31000 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: The JobWe are looking ...

Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: The Job...Due to continued ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The daily catch-up: fathers looking after children, World Cup questions and Nostradamus

John Rentoul
 

Letter from the Political Editor: Phone and data laws to be passed in haste

Andrew Grice
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice