Do you know why the British economy is struggling? Let me tell you a story to illustrate. On Saturday I went to a village fête in Somerset. Picture the scene: a coconut shy, quoits, an egg-throwing contest, bric-à-brac and an ice-cream van, in a pretty field next to a country church. Toddlers as far as the eye can see; women in striped aprons and men in Birkenstocks. Feeling hungry, I stop by a cake stall, where I buy a home-made chocolate brownie for – get this – 15p. Fifteen pence! By the close of business, I doubt whether the cook-cum-stallholder even made back the cost of her ingredients, let alone turned a profit. And that's what's wrong with the British attitude to enterprise.
OK, I'm just kidding. I did actually go to the Great Wrington village fête (and very nice the 15p brownie was, too), but my preposterous neo-con outrage is borrowed from Chicago Sun-Times columnist and US TV economist Terry Savage, who set Twitter aflame this week with her diatribe against three young children who were naïve enough to offer her free lemonade from a stall they had set up on a street corner. Savage – whose website carries the tag line "Financial Expertise that Comes from Experience" – writes that she lectured the girls that they should be charging for their drinks.
"That's the whole point of a lemonade stand. You figure out your costs – how much the lemonade costs, and the cups – and then you charge a little more than what it costs you, so you can make money. Then you can buy more stuff, and make more lemonade, and sell it and make more money." She concludes that "no wonder America is getting it all wrong when it comes to government, and taxes, and policy. We all act as if the 'lemonade' or benefits we're 'giving away' is free."
Her argument has momentarily turned her into a symbol of selfish and stupid conservative America. But what really upset readers was the manner in which Savage thrust her economic ideology (basically, there's no such thing as a free lunch) into a place where it simply isn't welcome. There is elucidation of the way money works, and then there's being an utter killjoy. Yes, even the most innumerate among us have to try to engage with the issues surrounding cuts and crises and capital gains tax. But there remain parts of life which aren't illuminated by market economics. And the simple pleasures of a child's lemonade stand or a cake stall are two of them.
A crèche course in how not to do childcare
After 50 years of campaigning, in September the House of Commons crèche will finally open. It cost £600,000 of public money to build the nursery in the site of Bellamy's Bar, which had been refurbished just two years ago at a cost of £480,000. Last year it was announced that the nursery, a pet project of Speaker John Bercow, would be at the disposal of all staff in Parliament, including secretaries, civil servants, canteen staff and policemen. This week, however, an addendum has been circulated around the House; Members' children will get priority for places. There are 650 MPs and just 40 crèche places. Not all the MPs are footloose confirmed bachelors – so will there be space in the nursery for non-MPs?
Give me an old jacket over a new bag any day
Looking forward to shopping for a new bikini at the weekend? How out of step with the times you are. Women, according to fashion commentators this week, are now either dressing themselves in clothes that cost "next to nothing", or planning the few purchases they do make with a fiscal responsibility that Mervyn King would admire, investing in classic "wardrobe builders" (ie black trousers; yawn) that can be worn well into the next parliament. So, out with the well-made and interesting. In with the flimsy and dull.
Does anybody really call themselves a "recessionista"? Is it true that a third of women now own an item of clothing that costs less than 50p, as claimed in a widely reported survey by a lingerie company? I suspect fashion lovers have always fallen into two camps. There are those who can't keep out of Topshop (or Balenciaga, depending on the funds at their disposal), who feel naked without something less than a month old hanging from their frames. Then there are the hoarders, like me, for whom the thrill of the shiny new carrier bag pales beside the discovery of a long-forgotten jacket at the back of my wardrobe. (The Queen agrees with me, too – this week she wore a "recycled" dress to a Toronto banquet.)
I like clothes that have a history, that remind me of a holiday or a party where I disgraced myself, rather than items that make me feel guilty. And it's not true that one must stick to buying boring clothes in the hope they don't look dated in two, or even five years' time; very outlandish fashion, if it's well designed, also holds its value.
Terry Savage would probably say my approach doesn't make sense. But she's a woman who's only ever photographed in dreadful burgundy-coloured jackets and pearl ear-rings.