Christina Patterson: Soup for us, canapés for the fat cats

Was this the moment when we all stopped being relaxed about the filthy rich?
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The Independent Online

I love a crunchy snack. Kettle Chips. Twiglets. Any kind of nut. Any kind of crisp. Which, presumably, is why a boyfriend used to call me Crispina and which, presumably, is why the words "credit crunch" sounded, to me, rather lovely. Credit: nice things built up to draw on. Crunch: nice little snack, with nice glass of wine, to celebrate.

Crash, however, isn't nearly as nice. Alliterative, yes, and alliteration nearly always cheers up a journalist (and a Middle English poet), but the word is ugly. There's no dying fall, no pang of poignancy as you leap over the void, just a micro-moment between tripping up, or swerving off the road, a micro-moment to scream before you fall. And fall you will. You won't fly, or soar, or hover, or float. Crash is unequivocal. It's brutal and it hurts.

In the historic events of the past fortnight, it's been quite hard to work out when crunch turned to crash, and even if it turned to crash. Actually, the whole carnival parade of fat cats processing across our screens has made for such gripping, surreal drama that it's been hard to believe it has any bearing on life at all.

What they lacked in hair, these guys, they made up in what a Labour politician would call cojones. Men (yes, all men, I'm afraid) whose annual bonuses matched the GDP of an African country demanded, in the same imperious tone as they might seek more mustard on their salt beef bagel, multibillion bailouts, and they got them. Governments which had refused to rescue the failed Christmas hamper schemes of their poorest citizens suddenly found bottomless pockets.

The cost so far, in Europe alone, has been more than £2 trillion. I counted up the noughts on the page and counted them again. Tell me the truth about trillions, I asked my boss, but as he talked about million millions and billion billions, my mind floated away and down the stairs to the canteen and thoughts of lunch. Something hot. Something soothing. Soup. Soup kitchens. Are we at soup kitchens? Or canapé kitchens for the fat cats?

Has Gordon Brown just saved the world? Or flushed an awful lot of money down a giant toilet? Has capitalism just died? Or had a migraine? Or, as Bush said, a hangover? Is China going to save us? Or is China going under too? Was this the moment when we all stopped being, in Mandelson's words, "relaxed" about the "filthy rich" and started pelting them with rotten tomatoes? Was this, in fact, the moment when those of us who lurch one from one pay cheque to the next felt a soupçon of Schadenfreude, but maybe also a little pang of pity for those who don't?

I don't know. I really don't know. And the truth is that nobody else does either. All those big, male brains pontificating, day in, day out, year in, year out, didn't predict this. All I know is that life will go on, nations will survive, governments will be elected or fall and an awful lot people will suffer very badly. An awful lot of people will lose their homes. An awful lot of people will lose their jobs. And any one of us might be among them.

That's the bad news. The good news is this. As (failing assassination or mass porky pies from the polled American public) the next president of the United States says, it's time for change. It's an opportunity, in other words, to do things a bit differently.

Every day, I bless the fact that I live in the age of the internet. To wake up every morning with the whole world at your fingertips! Quicker, even, than the three wishes of those childhood fairy tales: blink and it's all there. I bless the fact that I have a job and a home. I bless my friends and I bless my life, but do I bless the food I eat and the coffee I drink? In one sense, yes. Can't get enough of it. Stuffing and glugging it down as a reward for every little paragraph, every little sentence. But in another, important, sense, no. I'll go out for dinner, after a play or a film or a drink, and maybe moan about the pasta, maybe moan about the wine.

When I was a child, a meal out was a once-a-year treat. Chinese, usually, and later (daringly) Thai. Wine was for guests. Lukewarm Liebfraumilch, which my father served in half-glasses. I used to look forward to hot chocolate and a toasted sandwich at John Lewis. The pleasure of consummation was intense and it's hard to match it. Well, you can't, actually, if you do it all the time. "Treat yourself!" say the ads, and we do, we do. But what we're chasing is as elusive as tumbleweed, as substantial as a securitised bundle. What we're chasing is a lie. A treat requires anticipation. Something nice to draw on. You could call it credit.

Last week, I ended another lie. It was the end of an abusive relationship. It was take, take, take and what did I get? Nothing. Guilt. A fiction that haunted me. And when I sent off the email, ending it all, I had a rush of euphoria, a rush, perhaps, of the endorphins that have so far proved dormant. So, Mr Fat Cat Richard Branson, you can take your Virgin Active Gyms and stick them up your space-age rocket. I'm going for a walk in the park. And, with the £45 a month I'll be saving, I might, just might, have a little glass of something and a little bowl of crunchy snacks.