Lost in London

A look at London and life in general through the eyes of someone who sometimes can't bear to watch.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

When it comes to the crunch

One of the most remarkable things about the latest recession is that nobody actually wants to call it a recession. The term ‘credit crunch’ seems to be the acceptable face of economic decline, falling into everyday usage with great speed. ‘Credit crunch lunch £4.95!’ shrieks an A-board of one of my local pubs.

I love words and finding new ways of describing things, but the term credit crunch sounds like such a desperate PR job on something that isn’t nearly as cute as its terminology suggests. But I guess “Ooh, got to start saving because of the old credit crunch” sounds a bit sexier than “I can’t spend any money because of the recession”, and we must take our fun where we can in these supposedly doom-laden times.

Another word which seems to have been brought back from the dead is the marvellous ‘spiv’. I saw it for the first time in years this week, describing traders at the major banks whose actions have allegedly resulted in just about every major financial institution checking down the back of the sofa for stray 50p pieces.

The word spiv brings to mind for me a petty thief from some kind of ‘50s or ‘60s British movie. He would have a pencil-thin moustache and be wearing along overcoat, deep within which he would have an array of knock-off watches and/ or jewellery.

It is the Daily Mail, champion of the not-so-polite middle-classes that has been among the most vociferous in its condemnation of such ‘spivs’, but as I really couldn’t bring myself to read yet more tales of economic armageddon, I didn’t bother to find out why the traders had acquired this moniker. A lot of these traders, however, live out in Essex, are a bit flash, speak with broad estuary accents and are usually self-made.

Could the word spiv have been brought out of retirement to make it clear to readers that these traders were ‘common’ and ‘not like us’? It's the ultimate 'looking down your nose' word, which is what the Daily Mail does best, after all.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Oui belong together

One thing I kind of half-miss about being a bright young thing is the teenage pretension, the things you're into when you're a teen to show how *different* you are. It's a life stage that I’m starting to recognise in my sister, who is obsessed with sushi because none of her friends eat it.

One of mine was France, and all things associated with it. I stopped short of sporting a beret and draping onions round my neck, but when it came to brie eating, baguette chewing and French onion soup slurping, I couldn’t be beaten. It helped that I was very good at French at school. To me, living in France, speaking French and being called Olivier or Jean Claude was the height of sophistication and just the escapism I needed from my dull, gritty northern upbringing. Having a French first name also helped massively and it would please me no end that when the French teacher went round the room asking us to recite our verb tables, her calling of my name would sound exotic, authentic and romantic, while the poor Daniels, Michaels, Claires and Samanthas just sounded as if the policeman from ‘Allo ‘Allo was saying them in a piss-take accent. You could call Steven ‘Etienne’ all you wanted, Mrs Hodge, but his name was Steven, and nobody with that name was born in the 16th arrondissement- an entirely plausible prospect for someone with a moniker like mine.

Such was my enthusiasm for French that I wasted quite lot of time studying it when I should have been doing subjects that would get me on the career path I actually wanted to be on. It took until I was 20 to realise that perhaps studying French and French only would not really be a good idea unless I wanted to be a French teacher- and therefore subject myself to a lifetime of glamorising the lives of a hundred Stevens with a brightly-trilled ‘Etienne’- or working for a French company in some way, probably in a sales office glued to a phone shouting at a despondent guy called Luc or Pierre in a similar sales office in a corrugated iron nightmare 27 miles outside Paris.

Despite my rampant Francophilia, I have only visited France 3 or 4 times: the first coming at 14 for the school’s French exchange. My excitement soon gave way to disappointment when I realised that Julien, my ‘host’ had the charisma of a mouldy flannel. My only joys during the week I spent in their home were talking in English to his brilliant mother and teaching his impressionable younger brother swear words. I am hoping to go to Paris again for New Year and, if I do, I will live out all my teenage fantasies and wander around marvelling at old buildings, drinking chocolat chaud and pretending I live there. For once in my life I’m disappointed I don’t smoke any more, or I’d almost certainly be taking languorous draws on one of a million Gauloise cigarettes.

Currently feeding my once-dormant Francophilia is the brilliant blog Stuff Parisians Like, a wonderfully wicked insight into how the residents of the capital of romance really think. C’est formidable.