The feel-good flavour is strawberry

Forget downshifting - moderation can be fatal. Excess means success, says Glenda Cooper
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The Independent Online
A strawberry will cost you 18p at this year's Wimbledon. Rejoice, rejoice. Hand over a pounds 1.80 punnet (5p up on last year) and let me indulge as much as I can, savouring each juicy mouthful to the utmost.

It's time we raised a glass of vintage champagne to conspicuous consumerism. What is the point of searching after the feel-good factor for years if, as soon as it pokes its nose round the corner, Jeremiahs start bleating about the price of fruit?

Strawberries at Wimbledon are a perennial whinge rather like the British weather or trains not running on time, although to hear some people talk you'd think each member of the public is being forced to buy a punnet. But the complaints about the price of a Wimbledon strawberry this year are symptomatic of a noxious plague blowing through the Western Hemisphere - that of simplicity and downshifting. There is no greater enemy to joyful and expensive consumerism than a back-to-basics approach to life.

In the downshifting revolution, exhausted workers are supposed to be pushing for part-time work, throwing out designer outfits for six T-shirts and one pair of trousers and embracing concepts such as Voluntary Simplicity and Beyond Basics. It all sounds wonderful until you realise that only the very rich can afford to downshift, bringing their salaries down from pounds 100,000 to a modest pounds 50,000. The rest of us are frantically hoping to upshift and spending millions on the lottery to do so.

Downshifting only works when you have great contacts to run your management consultancy, relying on the Land Rover alone and ditching the GTI. There hasn't been much call for downshifting to a council estate.

This passion for economising on Gucci wallets and wearing Joseph suits for two seasons is a nonsense. Would-be escapees may be talking of retiring to their country cottages extolling peace and tranquillity. I give them two weekends before they realise the nearest Sainsbury's is 20 miles away, the village pub doesn't have Sky and the village bus only stops twice a week. And remember how hellish half- terms can be? Working at home means every day is half-term, with the children moping about.

What is it about the British and their striking desire to wear hair shirts when they could be having a perfectly lovely time indulging themselves? Surely this wasn't how we got to be Top Nation. Look at Henry VII and Henry VIII as cases in point. Everyone remembers Henry VII as a boring, mean old fart who made his son wear hand-me-downs. Henry VIII (a keen tennis player) wore the loudest doublets in Christendom, bankrupted the Exchequer with pointless gestures like the Field of the Cloth of Gold. He ended up with an Age named after him as the creator of Modern Britain. It's a cautionary tale for anyone who believes in Chic Simple.

Just as Marie Antoinette hoped to boost the patisserie industry, the act of eating strawberries is a philanthropic gesture. The 10 small berries with their dollop of sugar and cream will help keep the 1,400 catering staff employed for the duration of the championship. Maybe not the most regular of jobs but a small kick-start to the economy.

It's not just limited to the strawberries; 170 enterprising locals will rent out their houses to the tennis stars for up to pounds 4,000 a week courtesy of the Tennis London agency, students will earn a wage selling newspapers to waiting punters and the local shops will benefit from Steffi Graf popping in to do a bit of last-minute shopping. All for a bit of consumerism.

But there is still hope that this nation of stoics will cast off its penny-pinching ways. A couple of months ago Britain was declared the gold card capital of Europe - one third of all gold cards are issued here. And it's not the preserve of the affluent Tory knights anymore - not with the right-on Co-op Bank being the largest issuer of cards and helping to launch the Labour Party Affinity Gold Card. Large bottles of beer and credit card debt all round.

Remember, moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess. Oscar Wilde said that 100 years ago and I stand by it today. Pass me a spoon.

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