A quick visit to the country of the middle class at the Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival

I never really gained the understanding of why I spent badly, because I reduced spending to achieve an externalised goal, leaving work early. Doing that projects all the energy into the how, rather than the why, and the how is easy – if you don’t need it, don’t buy it.The symptoms of excess consumerism weren’t terrible in my case either  -I didn’t borrow to buy consumer goods and managed to pay down my mortgage to the last £1000 after 20 years, even while spending like a typical consumer sucka[ref]You can still be a consumer sucka even if you live within your means and in budget. The symptoms are more subtle than mahoosive debt piling up all around you – you simply get to sell a bigger proportion of your life to The Man than you need to by working longer[/ref]. In comparison, for instance, blondeonabudget discovered some quite deep truths about why she was spending on consumer goods in a post about decluttering and another one about changing habits, rather than, say, discharging a decent wodge of consumer debt.

I just fought the symptoms so my experience is that once you’ve broken the habit, it doesn’t reoccur. Or maybe the YMOYL technique of qualifying how much work you have to do to pay for this gewgaw was enough. Certainly I can’t imagine any consumer goods being worth enough to me to consider working again to buy them! But I now have the privilege of standing on the outside looking in, rather than standing on the inside trying to imagine what being outside the consumerism bubble is like.

Food is a good place to investigate hedonic adaptation

OTOH I do want to understand hedonic adaptation and perhaps use it right as I may make more frequent excursions to the country of greater hedonic spending, but this time living more intentionally. And yeah, it is a Rich People’s Problem just like the whole idea of early retirement is 😉

I believe I can derive much more enhancement of quality of life from spending a little bit on a wider range of experiences taking care to repeat infrequently. The trouble is doing that needs time and reflection – parameters I was short of while working, and I suspect a lot of products are sold in order to address a short-term problem without standing back and taking a systems approach – why am I having a problem with this? The regimented rhythm of the wage-slave’s year needs quick fixes now and is not conducive to introspection.

Introspection goes against how many things are marketed – of course company X wants you to consume as much of their stuff as possible, and things like subscriptions, bulk discounts and the like are incentives to do more of that. Food is, in many ways, a classic case – there is the short-term gustatory sensation and a longer-term feedback mechanism that you have had enough. To a first approximation in natural foods these are balanced within the range of human metabolism, but a lot of industrially produced foods are either lacking in parts or actively designed to be moreish[ref]often by the addition of umami flavourings, sugar and/or salt[/ref] so people wolf them down consuming more before the ‘I’ve had enough’ feedback loop kicks in. In Michael Pollan’s book In Defence Of Food[ref]I read Pollan’s book as a dead tree variant borrowed from the library. It’s of slight concern to me that apparently the e-version is Word-Wise enabled to explain the long words to the literately-challenged – it’s a book about food, FFS, not quantum physics or aetiology[/ref] , he boiled the solution of how to get this right into a few key statements –

Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.


  • Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.
  • Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can’t pronounce.
  • Don’t eat anything that won’t eventually rot.

The latter is interesting – it’s quite disturbing how long supermarket tomatoes, bread and milk last now. If you think about it, you are a long tube deriving power from a controlled anaerobic rotting process going on inside you, this does seem to be running against the end use. [ref]Some packaging is there to counter aerobic decomposition – nitrogen purging, vacuum packing and the like which is probably okay.[/ref]

You’d do okay on Pollan’s criteria at the Aldeburgh Food festival 🙂 Now there is a materialist-rationalist counter to this.

Description is important, but no distinction should be sacred. Michael Pollan’s “real foods” are like Sarah Palin’s “real americans”. It’s good to have standards, and tastes, but labels can be problematic. More practically, our old foods can’t really compete today. They are too expensive, inconvenient, and bland for most consumers. If we want people to be healthier we’re going to have to beat fast food at its own game.

The general approach is to establish that it takes about 3kWh to run a human being for a day [ref]at 2,500 kCal daily and converting to kWh – it surprised me that a human being is a greater power drain than a fridge-freezer[/ref] and while we await science delivering us a mechanism whereby we can just plug ourselves into the wall socket to recharge overnight[ref]In fairness to Rhinehart of Soylent fame, he doesn’t really approve of AC current either, alleging the US power grid to be about 25% efficient[/ref], there is a technically decent interim solution called Soylent (hopefully not yet available in green) – from its creator

For its nutrition Soylent 2.0 is perhaps the most ecologically efficient food ever created. You may think me smug but I and many other people have poured their lives into creating something amazing and we have every right to be proud of it.

For all I know in the megacities of the future there will be a highly interconnected system with some equivalent of Soylent piped in the same way as we run water and gas. That’s for future generations to sort out if this is what being human means. The falling resilience of such interconnected systems also worries me, in the same way as if some clever computer virus corrupted the Internet infrastructure I am not sure we would have the communications or skills left to black start it from a sea of disconnected islands.

I’m with Pollan here. I can live with the irrationality of old-fashioned eating for the better ride, although if I were a student I might investigate Soylent as a way to save money and stop flatmates pinching my food from the fridge 😉

Not everything about hedonic adaptation involves spending money. Many commercially grown foods either never had any taste to start with[ref]plants used to work in symbiosis with microbial action in the soil to make nutrients plant-available. As we switched to industrial farming from the 1950s to 1970s this changed, since industrial farming doesn’t bother with that, adding macronutrients as salts to the soil, replacing and indeed impairing the microbial action. Coincidentally the mineral content of our fruit and veg has been falling ever since the 1950s, as shown by the longitudinal food compositions studies of McCance and Widdowson eg this paper [/ref]or the taste fades rapidly down the long supply chains – sweetcorn for instance fades in flavour after half an hour, never mind the two days Tesco think of as fresh. Take strawberries, for instance – they use to taste of something in the 1970s but I don’t bother with them any more because while they look much better now than they used to they taste of very little. However, I could adapt to this by growing them. Growing things helps with the hedonic adaptation along the time axis too – it’s called eating with the seasons.



Snape Maltings on a sunny Suffolk day
Snape Maltings on a sunny Suffolk day

I was reminded of this when  went to the Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival, to take a look around what people are doing, pick up some ideas about how the middle class[ref]there was a fair range of people there, but let’s face it, we are talking middle class in the Daily Telegraph sense of the word rather than the logical US version of the term[/ref] think about food, because I have an interest in an operation that occasionally sells to this demographic, and, what the heck, it was a nice day.I managed to avoid paying the £8 full price too, because I was too tight for that[ref]Mrs Ermine subsidised the ticket in return for the ride there of about 40 mi round-trip, I didn’t jump over the fence[/ref]. We went early on Sunday, and it’s a shame I didn’t get into the groove fast enough to record some of the crowd hubbub, there were certainly a lot of very posh accents early on 🙂


The food looked and smelled good, and it was interesting to observe the wide range of stuff you can grow in a sunny eastern outpost of Britain – and it doesn’t have to all look like fields of ripening grain.

Sutton Hoo chickens
Sutton Hoo chickens – they do taste better than industrial chicken, though they tend to be on the large side for two people

A lot of this was about the story as much as the product. Now in a country where we’ve been eating horsemeat masquerading as beef for long stretches of time this is no bad thing, and indeed the story of a lot of factory farming is rarely told because it’s nasty. But it reminds me that an awful lot of consumerism is about the story – and when you’re dealing with food then the adman’s admonition to “sell the sizzle, not the steak” is particularly stark

Tim Hayward selling the sizzle
Tim Hayward selling the sizzle – he has a book out, but this is a pretty nice example of flambe in action

There’s an interesting observation that the reasons you don’t buy something can be broken down into

People’s objections to a purchase can essentially be narrowed down into 4 main groupings: No need, No time, No money, No trust.

The aim of getting better at personal finance through spending less is to shift the baseline in the no need and no trust axes a long way off most consumers’ settings. I got out of the show without buying anything, though I did consume a few items. But I did enjoy listening to the stories – it is possible to break the link between the story and the action. I went as flâneur – to people-watch, to observe, and yes, to enjoy a few stories. There is entertainment to be had in some retail spaces and trade fairs without having to buy anything 🙂

In fairness I should add that I was treated to a coffee and half of this fine platter from Lane Farm by Mrs Ermine who was doing some networking here.

some of Lane Farm's fine salami
some of Lane Farm’s fine salami

I went along for the ride, and also to go as a tourist to the Land of Middle Class and their fancy ways. Some of them do add to a better experience, and I am considering what I will change when I get hold of my own pension money. I’m not totally averse to some food frippery – I armed myself with some Lane Farms salami earlier this year when I went on a week-long course at a joint where the catering was vegetarian from a lowest-common-denominator angle rather than a moral stance[ref]in contrast some places are vegan from a religious or ethical stance, and it would be rude to abuse their hospitality by consuming meat there – and after all there are taxis and towns with restaurants ;)[/ref]. And I opined that paying £600 on one restaurant meal was perhaps a better thing to do than get a year’s worth of weekly Mickey D’s in the hedonism department.

Fennel - looks gorgeous but tastes dire IMO, and I'm not that keen on the smell, either
Fennel – looks gorgeous but tastes dire IMO, and I’m not that keen on the smell, either.

And here is  a different approach to frugality – you do not have to use a consumer product, service or experience for its intended purpose. One of the joys of retirement is watching other people and learning about new things. I’m not going to use any of the things I learned here – among others I learned that older beef apparently tastes better, that it is possible to put fennel in a dish and not have it taste revolting  – Tim Hayward managed. It’s a funny old world, and sometimes it’s just good to lend an ear to an interesting narrative told by a fellow who can spin a good yarn. Hayward introduced me to the concept of the bum sandwich, another snippet of information I’ll never use but slightly enriched my life.

I was tickled by Tim Hayward’s apparent surprise that there are people from Cambridge who have weekend retreats on the Suffolk coast. The coast gets some of its charm by the very fact that communications start to thin out as the A12 ceases being a dual carriageway after Wickham Market. There’s no big source of real employment for ordinary people, it’s too far from London and Cambridge to commute, so tourism and vacation homes are going to abound. I confess I had my Hayward moment when I spied this stall

Handmade treats for your hound from a canine bakery
Handmade treats for your hound from a truly Artisan bakery, Patisserie and Chocolatier. You read it here first!

It’s good to know that there’s still a lot of money about, though it’s perhaps not so good to know that people’s brains fall out into such a big wet mess on the floor when it comes to anthropomorphising their precious hounds.

Luxury hand made dog treats

It’s just so wrong, in so many ways. When you see a dog eating, it’s utilitarian snarfing, not for nothing is it called wolfing something down. You can get pink “Good Girl” chocolates[ref]There probably needs to be a public health warning here that normal chocolate contains theobromine, which humans can metabolise but dogs can’t, so don’t go slinging your hound a box of Milk Tray to save £11[/ref] or blue “Good Boy” ones at 145g for £10.80. These are marketed to the emotional needs of the owner rather than the nutritional needs of the mutt, because dogs have dichromatic vision with no red-green discrimination, they don’t have the long cultural tradition of pink for she and blue for he, and 145g of stuff ain’t gonna touch the flippin’ sides, guys! But good luck to Barkers, if they can turn such muppetry into a profit.

I enjoyed my package tour to the Land of the Middle Class – travel broadens the mind, and you can travel in many more ways than distance.


30 thoughts on “A quick visit to the country of the middle class at the Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival”

  1. My favourite ‘middle class consumerism watching’ trip is to bag a couple of free tickets to the Ideal Homeshow. Even before arriving I manage to appreciate the irony that many people there will have paid good money for a ticket to a show which is essentially just a large room of people trying to sell crap to you.

    Previously we were free to wander round, dip an occasional hand in the fancy looking hot-tubs or lie back on a self-massaging chairs while knowing we could never fit any of it into our tiny rented flat.

    Now however we have a large and relatively empty house and the GF is keep to go again, no doubt with aspirations to fill our empty house with a pop-sauna or something equally unnecessary. It is a very real concern 😀


  2. Ermine,

    Maybe you observed me! (I blagged some freebie tickets from a friend) ;-). Of course the best way to get in for free is not to jump the gate but sail/row/paddle/swim down the river and hop off straight into the mellay. I did see a young couple walking around in wet suits and bare feet!

    It was disappointing that none of the plentiful local micro brewries exhibited. I wonder whether Adnams/Aspall demanded a monopoly from the organisers or whether the small guys are priced out of it.

    Interesting to note you bartered a ticket for a ride. DO you both keep your finances that separate?


    1. Swimming at this time of year, like it, but, I’m not that hard! Don’t know why microbreweries weren’t there so much. I would make the general observation that there was a lot of old money both in the punters and to be honest on the stalls too.

      I was a little tongue in cheek bartering the ride – Mrs Ermine has a lot more interest in the field and I couldn’t quite jump over paying £8 to get in, whereas £4 diesel for a shared day out and £4 entry was within the groove, ‘cos I’m irrational that way 😉

      We do keep our finances more separate than seems common in the PF universe. Observation shows that’s not uncommon for childfree couples and it’s a bit amplified for those who are not on their first long relationship or for blended families where there are no children in common.

      I’d have struggled greatly to have taken some of the chances I did re both investing and indeed leaving early were this not so. I could accept the downside risk of shelf-stacking at Tesco for myself but not for people I care about. Indeed where I pointed Mrs Ermine at investing it is absolutely bog-standard minimum cost scaredy-cat index investing of the sort that doesn’t really work for me and my prejudices – because sometimes you gotta know you don’t know and not put others in harm’s way.


  3. I’m a firm believer in the simplicity (& pleasure) of cooking your own food, & beyond the regular family meal cooking I also bake my own bread, & of late also brew my own beer. All very much upsides of being down-shifted i suppose: i have much more time to do these things than the average 45+ hrs a week salaryman ;-).

    Michael Pollan is pretty much on the money for my personal philosophy & I eat a very plant-centric diet myself. If you can get it from your library then i’d strongly recommend his “Botany of desire” book too http://michaelpollan.com/books/the-botany-of-desire/ – it’s much more than just a book about food insomuch that is has a lot of history in it too.


    1. Sadly Suffolk Libraries don’t have that one. I was tickled by the concept of Pollan growing cannabis in his garden from the teaser though! And Pollan does tell a good story…


  4. Your quote: “But I now have the privilege of standing on the outside looking in, rather than standing on the inside trying to imagine what being outside the consumerism bubble is like.”

    I’m the same way as regards to health/nutrition. Not bragging, it’s a fact. I see so many go to the gym to get exercise and for most it’s nothing more than an exercise in futility. One can’t eat the standard food that Americans eat and not end up looking/built like most Americans.

    We’re not designed/evolved to eat meat. So the argument goes, what did paleo man eat. Well, they’re all dead aren’t they? And what about the 20 million years before that? Were they eating meat then?

    Look at the elegance of a plant diet: no suffering, no global warming, no destruction of the earth, no obesity, no heart disease. If plant based eating results could be a pill, everyone would be overdosing.


    1. @mike I thought I’d run into this one some time. I respect other people’s dietary choices, all I ask in return is they do the same to mine. When in Rome etc. FWIW I am of the view that industrial animal farming is offensive.

      When my eyes move to the side of my head like those of a cow (better all-round vision against predators, loss of binocular vision) and the human omnivorous dentition becomes more molars and fewer incisors, and we develop rumens or even manage to process grass, then fine, we become obligate herbivores. In the meantime I’ll follow the original thrust of Pollan’s argument.

      > If plant based eating results could be a pill, everyone would be overdosing.

      There are many things one can do to live longer, though not infinitely. Life is a balance. Without alcohol and without meat it would be drab. For me. But then I aim to live well, not for ever 😉


  5. “Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients”

    Hmm, I guess poor old Jamie Oliver might struggle occasionally then 🙂

    That bit about handmade treats for dogs, Jeez, I agree with the muppetry comment. A tenner for something that’ll be gone in what, ten seconds flat, as you say, probably without touching the sides on the way ! “East Ham” as someone in my old office used to say, and sure, good luck to the company if there’s enough punters around to make that work for them.

    I remember a friend of mine telling me this was a dodgy time of year for their dog because of apples falling off the trees in their orchard. No, not because of the possibility of suffering a “Newton” moment or two, but because he used to eat the windfalls in quantity and, er, get a touch drunk as a result.

    CRASH !
    “What the hell was that ?”
    “Don’t worry, dog’s just fallen over again – never learns” 🙂


    1. hehe – a bit of alcohol doesn’t seem to hurt dogs and is probably better value – I’ve been in enough country pubs where the mutt has a little of the cheapest beer in his bowl. Better value IMO too – they seemed to take their time over it!


  6. Is this like The Telegraph insisting anyone who earns £100k a year is “middle class” when earning £100k a year puts them firmly in the top 10% of UK earners?


    1. Definitely Telegraph middle class, not US definition 😉 I wish I had got that recording! Even the teenagers on the entrance and directing people for parking sounded very public-school – though in fairness to them they were efficient and had more command presence than your average teen, which I guess is some of what you pay for in a public school.

      Did feel as if I should be going in via the tradesmen’s entrance in the early part.


  7. @mikefixac – designed/evolved – which is it? you can’t have both. As I have a picture of Darwin and not God on my ten pound note I’m going to take a punt on the latter.

    @ermine – I can’t quite figure out if soylent is some sort of ironic joke or not. I know I would be deeply suspicious of anyone who drank it. I also know for sure that plate of assorted cured meats looks delicious. I would weep if I were limited to what my dear and demented late grandmother considered food and regularly construct sandwiches containing more than 5 ingredients. I’ve also been known to construct a cocktail containing more than 5 ingredients, a cocktail so potent that I am pretty convinced it would never rot, a cocktail that would make a pan-galactic-gargle-blaster look like a birthday present.


      1. @Rhino To be fair to Mike Pollan, I think he meant don’t buy foods > 5 ingredients, else we’d struggle to get to a cheese sandwich since bread has flour, water, salt, fat and yeast. Mind you, those cocktails sound like a case of the MP doctrine in point 😉

        I can think on one good use of soylent and that is hiking, where i would minimise the load and kit you need to carry, sort of like MRE taken all the way, but otherwise i seems a funny way to carry on!


  8. Hi Ermine,

    Firstly thanks for a great read over the last month or so, I have now finally caught up on all of your posts, and most of the comments as well!

    I seriously can’t believe that people were actually buying the handmade doggy treats… really!? I know my parents are a bit mad with their cats (they dont eat prawns or anything cooked in white wine….) but to be fair to them its more that they cook a bit extra and feed the cats that way!

    I’m glad to see that you are really enjoying your freedom time from breaking away from The Man and helps to remind me why I am not spending the way some of my friends do (I may earn more than them, but I am spending far less!).

    London Rob


    1. I love the bit about the doggy treats!!
      People will spend loads on their pet – just look at all those dressed up lapdogs! I saw a dog in a fully fitted jumpsuit so that it wouldn’t get muddy while out on its walk. Madness!!

      I worked with a guy whose parents run a small chocolate business and they make carob chocolates. They were told by someone that if they make some carob chocolates for pets they would make good sales, so they have just started to make samples to test the market…dogs cannot eat chocolate it is toxic but they can eat carob.


  9. @Ermine

    “I couldn’t quite jump over paying £8 to get in, whereas £4 diesel(*) for a shared day out and £4 entry was within the groove, ‘cos I’m irrational that way”

    Hmm, yes, I’ve been pondering that one. It’s funny how people juggle figures around so that they’re now somehow comfortable with doing something they initially didn’t want to do. “It’s not REALLY that bad, not when you look at it like THAT” 🙂

    I’m sure it was a good day out and you undoubtedly got more out of it than you’d convinced yourself you would first thing that morning, but I suspect there was a certain initial desire to baulk at the prospect.

    I have no particular knowledge of the specific ways in which advertising carefully presents things so we end up being “comfortable” with buying something we ordinarily wouldn’t bother with, but it’s interesting to me that we often end up doing it ourselves.

    (*) Oh brother, here we go again – listening to the news this morning and them getting animated about starting off ANOTHER bloody scrappage scheme so we can all go out and buy electric cars instead. This after the one they launched five+ years ago so we could scrap perfectly decent/reparable vehicles for stuff they’re now saying they shouldn’t have lowered the vehicle tax on in the first place. Brilliant ! There’s another suggestion for an article right there, Ermine. I did read an article, can’t remember where now, about how few people actually OWN (have paid off) the car they’re driving these days, because they seem to just re-finance at the time of changing to a new car. Sorry, I don’t fully understand it because I’ve always bought for hard cash.

    Oh, BTW, and I don’t mean to sound self-righteous or anything like that, but I’m pretty sure my ’94 MR2 (which is still in much better condition than many cars half it’s age) doesn’t have a “defeat” device. Where did we go wrong with all this ?


    1. I don’t understand why people borrow for cars either – there’s a car lot a few hundred yards away from home and I’m always gobsmacked at how much you seem to get for about £5-6k these days – never spent more than that on a car in my life and I usually get > 10 years out of them!

      Would be a git to change the engine on my campervan though!


      1. “how much you seem to get for about £5-6k these days”

        Hmm, maybe, but from talking to one of my local (independent) garages not long ago, I wonder how much of all that “fruit”, as Clarkson and co jauntily refer to it, will still be working by the time the car reaches it’s 3rd or 4th owner (assuming it hasn’t been scrapped/recycled by then, of course).

        Some of the parts costs of modern (and by no means exotic) machinery truly scares me these days. I’ve come across people who’ve ended up just flogging the thing for what they can get because of repeated failures on expensive items. One poor sod ended up with a four figure bill merely for a new headlamp unit for God’s sake ! Apparently it was because “you can’t just buy a new bulb” and it had LED driver circuits and Christ knows what else. Yes, I know electronic stuff shouldn’t be that expensive – I can’t explain it, either. The last time I had a headlamp bulb failure it cost £9 and took me half an hour with a screwdriver, job done, thank you Toyota (for some foresight twenty odd years ago when designing the thing anyway) 🙂 Why do you need a set of Christmas tree lights under the headlamps these days anyway ? Seriously, anyone ?

        One little thing I noticed when I had some of the dash trim off my MR2 – the fasteners are far better quality and less likely to break than the cheap plastic things I’ve seen on much younger cars. It all went back nice and neatly. If my car’s anything to go by things were less well equipped/simpler back then, yes, but much better ENGINEERED. It just feels more solid somehow. Same with my old Hotpoint 9935 washer/tumble drier – metal door catches, not brittle plastic ones. I digress.

        The lower the overall sticker price and the more you stuff into the thing (all of which adds to your costs), the lower the quality must surely be to still make a profit, and the more likely it is something in there will cause trouble as a result IMO.

        I’ll stick with my older, far less complicated machine, no air-con (open the sun-roof), no electric this and that. ABS is, I think, a genuinely useful safety feature though I can’t remember ever really needing it. If you’re constantly in need of fancy computers and hydraulics in order to avoid leaving the public roads and expensive visits into the shrubbery you really ought to be locked up ! I strongly suspect when Plod turns up ten minutes later he’ll express pretty much the same view 😉

        It isn’t just cars, to be fair though – I’m pretty much of the same opinion about everything from condensing gas boilers (I read your article http://simple-living-in-suffolk.co.uk/2013/11/energy-efficiency-for-the-poor-is-a-matter-of-taxation-not-arbitrary-levies/ on that too and totally agree) to walking boots these days.

        I’m currently looking for a new pair of tough, durable, comfortable fell walking boots since my old German-made ones are now pretty much at the end of their lives. I don’t know what to buy now since there’s quite a few dissatisfied comments on forums about most of the popular choices I might once have considered, enough to convince me it’s not just one or two buyers with unreasonable expectations.

        I know, some of the above now really belongs in the comments section to one of your other articles (probably http://simple-living-in-suffolk.co.uk/2012/09/where-have-the-decent-middle-ground-consumer-products-gone/) about how it’s impossible to find what you’re (really) looking for these days.

        Sod it, I’m off to turn over the vegetable plot while it’s a fine sunny sunday morning …


      2. hehe – goes along with your earlier theme of repairing old kit raher than replacing with expendable new gear. Retiring is terrible for footwear though – I will also have to change my walking boots and even ordinary shoes get hammered. I haven’t been on any particularly long walks, it is the everyday that seems to add up in wear and tear compared to the working me.

        Every time I hire a car I am amazed at the increasing number of motorised doodads on them, And imagine how that would make me spit bricks if I had to try and fix them. I never found the fuse for the cigarette lighter 12V outlet on my VW Golf after I dropped penny down it even with the Haynes manual and Google – I had to break out another socket off the aux feed. That was late 1990s tech.

        OTOH cars just don’t rust like they used to!


      3. The penny down the cigar(ette) lighter (depends on the “target audience” I think, is it a Skoda or a “Jagwah”, sorry ;-)) – that’s a good one !

        I remember an occasion decades ago (back in the late ’70s I think) when my dad and myself were doing some work up in the loft. We were working at opposite ends of the space up there and he wanted a hacksaw blade that happened to be near me at the time.

        Rather than get up and walk over with it, I chucked it across in his direction. Stone me, the bloody thing lined up perfectly in flight with the gap between two floor boards and disappeared between them probably without hitting the sides (can still see it now all these years later). Couldn’t believe it, then spent another twenty minutes levering up one of the boards to retrieve it ! You could spend months on end trying to repeat it and never do that again. Made us both laugh at the time.

        I agree with you about footwear, but especially walking boots for me. Since I packed in working, I must have racked up several thousand miles walking all Wainwright’s Lake District fells (most of them more than once), and more locally over chunks of the North York Moors. I used to do a four mile walk from home first thing in the morning that was equivalent in height ascended to going up and down Loughrigg Fell near Ambleside. That set the day up rather nicely in terms of attitude, like “right, what to tackle today then ?” 🙂

        Round here, the local newsletter’s just talked about the LDWA (Long Distance Walking Association) organising a 100 mile circular walk over two days (must finish in 48 hours, aside: Lyke Wake Walk’s close by too !) Hmm, bit much for me – best I’ve managed is 26.5 miles in about 7 hours and the boots were slightly too hard on my soles to go much further that day. Pity.

        Like you, I found there’s big areas (of former expenditure) where you simply no longer spend much money, and others where it increases (a bit perhaps, but not excessively).


  10. Hey Ermine, saw this http://www.lifehacker.co.uk/2015/09/30/no-more-coffee-queues-starbucks-mobile-order-and-pay-comes-to-london and thought of you.

    TBH on the occasions that I’ve noticed a coffee shop with a queue out the door on the way to work (City of London) I have wondered how caffeine dependent people must be for queuing for coffee to be time efficient, even if it were free. But I’d (foolishly) thought the answer lay in getting to work earlier and drinking free coffee from a proper cup rather than pre-ordering.


    1. hehe – depends is the queue is production rate-limited, in which case the app won’t help – the queue length is a mechanism to shed peak load or smear it out in time.

      Paper cups are evil with coffee IMO – doesn’t matter what the quality of the coffee is after the added waxy cardboard flavour IMO.


  11. Thanks for these thoughts. I appreciate the clarification comments between @Neverland and @Ermine since–as a US reader–I was a bit puzzled by this post’s labeling of “middle class” a lifestyle that seemed to belong much more to “upper middle-class” or above (in US terms). And, yes, while we love our dog, we wonder about the wisdom of purchasing expensive pastry goods as dog treats since our dog would be much more excited about finding a dropped scrap of ham or bacon on the kitchen floor.

    We enjoy Michael Pollan’s books (and his appearances in food documentaries) quite a bit. We eat a lot of vegetables and fish in our household, but we also consume meats as long as we trust the source. Of course, after having watched Forks over Knives ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forks_Over_Knives ) a few years ago, we do wonder whether we need to curb our omnivorism…


  12. This post was an absolute gem to read, Ermine!

    I’ve always said that the ‘comfortably-off’ who spend such money on things like dog chocolates don’t stay ‘comfortably-off’ for very long. It’s exactly what you say, reasoning with yourself before you make these kinds of purchases and sometimes, it just ain’t worth spending on.

    Seems you had a good time nonetheless though. I’m glad to have found your blog.


    1. Well put. Maybe I have a touch of old-fashioned North Yorkshire “farmer leaning on edge-of-field gate post observing the lunacy of the modern world” about me, but becoming “comfortably-off” isn’t really rocket-science. It is basic maths really: (as Ermine himself observes) spend less than you earn and accumulate the difference, repeat and observe the effects of compounding 🙂

      In the same way, I rather liked the simple lecture given by one Professor Albert Bartlett (sadly no longer around) which argued “The greatest shortcoming of the Human Race is our inability to understand the exponential function” (https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=albert+bartlett+exponential+function). It’s nothing like as hard as that statement might imply.


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