Charles Nevin: Keep your hand on your halfpenny, son

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The Independent Online

Useful, I think, as the nation enjoys a holiday amid the delights of coast, patio or park, green or retail, to examine current movements. Volatile markets, pension reform, slackening spending, rising green concern, the Enron guilty verdicts and high-profile divorce settlements prompting much discussion of greed and worth: I sense a new mood coming.

Thrift is about to become fashionable again. Yes, I know, I saw those figures about gambling, too, but don't worry, the Government's heavily involved, so it's bound to go pear (or one cherry) shaped, bet on it.

Or not. Thrift, you know, has a spare elegance you just don't get with excess; a style that scorns the comfort of purchased approval. I thought of this when I read about Sir John Ellerman, the richest businessman ever to live in this country, worth in 1929 something like £9bn at today's prices in liquid assets alone. Sir John, it seems, used to take afternoon tea with Lady Ellerman at the Anglesey Arms Hotel in Menai Bridge, where he would order "a pot of tea for one, please, with two cups". Marvellous.

For proof of the thrift drift, ignore the stuff in Gordon Brown's recent interview about the Arctic Monkeys on the iPod; concentrate instead on the kitchen and living room that haven't been decorated since Lady Thatcher and Mrs Major did their respective Formica and frilly furnishings there while the Blairs have been going absolutely Linda Barker next door. Prudence has not left the building.

David Cameron is, of course, on to it. The tielessness is not a casual thing; no. He's only got one, and occasionally it has to be in soak on account of the soup stains. (His role model, Benny Hill, was famously "careful", too.)

Tips? Two types have made careful husbandry art: entrepreneurs like Ellerman, and comedians like Hill. First, tip tips. Many business people, including Bill Gates, have been known not to indulge, but there are more elegant ways. Keynes, for our purposes a man of business, refused to tip because he didn't want to be a "party to debasing the currency". And Tommy Cooper would present cabbies with a teabag, advising them to "have a drink on me" (actually, that could be at least six drinks, depending on your skill with a bulldog clip or manual trouser press).

George Weston, Canadian business legend, is said to have died from pneumonia because he refused to take a taxi and walked several miles through a blizzard. JP Getty washed his own underwear every night, and had a pay telephone installed for guests at Sutton Place. When he owned The Times, Roy Thomson insisted on sharing his copy with his son.

Areas to concentrate on: toothpaste tubes (see teabags), straws, and hosiery: did you know that soaking in salt toughens tights? Also, my wife's aunt always clips socks together before washing and hasn't lost one for 40 years. Sharing a candle is warmer, and friendlier (but be careful if you're wearing newspaper for insulation). Not only is thrift green, it's fun.

Especially socially, where I'm sure you also enjoy the remarkable variations in eagerness to put hand in pocket or purse. Here, again, the famous inspire: Max Miller was noted for it despite his life-and-soul bonhomie. One night he was regaling the pub after a show with how many houses he owned in Brighton when Ted Ray asked, in vain, "Why don't you sell one and buy us a drink?".

Splendid: Ladies, gentlemen, throw in that hand, cash those chips, let's thrift again!

Nice to see the Met out in force

Reluctant to criticise the Metropolitan Police for their enthusiastic commitment to the curtailment of freedom of speech, in case they come round, I was nevertheless shocked that it took 78 of them to remove some of Mr Brian Haw's anti-war placards from Parliament Square, above. What's wrong with Pickfords?

Still, given this clear over-capacity, I thought I might suggest some alternative uses for 78 police officers. 1. With 12 on the bottom row, they could form the world's highest human police pyramid. 2. Lying down side by side, they would measure 277.5 feet, which is the world motorcycle jump record. You're number 78, by the way, Sir Ian. 3. One to change a lightbulb, 10 to do the paperwork, 15 to come in the back, 30 to tell passers by to move on, and 22 to say, "Lightbulbs never change."

Good luck in court tomorrow, by the way, Mr Haw.

* Even I, meanwhile, detect a certain unease about our present state. Complaints about the absence of rudders and paddles bob on a seething sea of familiar metaphor involving dubious creeks, brewery social events and shellfish stall management. Not even the news that the Prime Minister is on holiday and the Deputy Prime Minister is spending most of his time playing croquet seems to have helped.

Away from the headlines, I'm almost afraid to report, it's worrying, too. In Wallington, circus clowns have been warned to stop throwing water because of a drought order. In Blackpool, strong woman Sylvia Brumbach is running out of telephone books. In Kirk Sandalls, near Doncaster, 30 litter bins have disappeared, while up in Malham someone has planted a sophisticated listening device in the village hall. In Basildon, a hanging basket has been stolen in broad daylight. Time, I should have said, to cue Corporal Jones.