To be printed 24/03/11.
This week, the Office for National Statistics released its inflation shopping basket for 2011. The yearly update is, really, an excellent large-scale version of snooping in other people's trolleys for fun. "Five cans of ready-made gin and tonic, a tube of primula, marigolds and a radish?" you think, picturing said customer comatose in a litter tray, with cheese goo in their hair.
But the difference is that with the nation's shopping basket, every item is a supposed reflection on YOU; not just the weirdos.
First, the good news: fleeces are out! Out of the basket and promptly out of our lives, one can only hope. If ever there was an item that epitomises the inversely proportional relationship between comfort and ugliness inherent in fashion, the fleece is it. Wearing one feels like being gently caressed by a million tiny winged angel sheep, but makes you look like you should be eating piccalilli sandwiches in a bus shelter with someone called Derek. Fleeces be-gone!
Reflecting the ever-expanding leisure pursuits of the nation, both craft kits and massive LCD TVs are in. We can only assume this is so Britain's womenfolk can make scrapbooks of kittens with doily frills round their heads, at the EXACT SAME TIME Kirstie Allsopp is doing it on the telly.
Next, the collective bowel of the nation will be thrilled (or moved?) to hear that dried fruit has been given its own category. As one of the millions of office workers across the country who spends their days woofing fistfuls of raisins and then pondering what would happen if I'd eaten that many grapes, I feel this is a perceptive addition. Potentially they should take it one step further and give 'apparently healthy desk snacks' its own category, including smoothies, rich tea biscuits and anything being sold in the foyer to raise money for charity (generosity negates calories, everyone knows that).
A slightly poignant swap has also taken place this year, as mobile ringtone and wallpaper downloads have been ousted, and replaced by apps. This is probably only poignant for me, as a Blackberry-rather-than-iPhone user, and an app-less one at that. But I will always fondly remember the short period when a musical ringtone was a conscious display of taste and personality, rather than the tinny bleetings of a moron. Back then my ringtone was Brown Eyed Girl and my flatmate had Bad Guys from Bugsy Malone. We were cool, and everybody on every train knew it.
But the basket addition that has pleased me the most is the one that reflects the true cost of romance in 2011: dating website subscriptions. As a proud beneficiary of the phenomenon (at weekends I can be seen at Speakers' Corner waving a flag and shouting "Six months on, he's STILL not robbed me or harvested any of my internal organs!"), I'm glad that the government is recognising its significance.
Currently the standard response when I tell people how I met my boyfriend is a cheery "Great, great. No stigma, no stigma!" but I hope that, with the hypothetical purchase now made on behalf of the whole country, it will also curb the private assumption that we probably both have unsightly boils and dead pets in our beds. We're just nice, average, normal people, using our apps and eating our raisins and crocheting in front of a 32" TV.
But if I discover he owns a fleece, I may have to reconsider his place in the basket.