Tufted carpets out, flavoured milk in. Canvas shoes in, take away coffee out. Last year we accepted spreadable butter, dropped round lettuce. In 2006 we let in the chicken kiev and waved goodbye to the baseball cap. Call me a foolish commodity fetishist but I love the Consumer Prices Index (CPI). I could happily curl up in bed reading these lists of goods that have (or haven’t) made it into the national shopping basket that is the CPI that the ONS use to track inflation.
The ebb and flow of consumables (and rejectables) is as evocative and poignant as any literature could be. Reading the 2010 roll call, I almost found myself welling up remembering the things that I and others used to buy and eat. In: garlic bread, cereal bars, still mineral water (small bottle), electrical hair straighteners/tongs, lip gloss, liquid soap. Out: fizzy canned drink, disposable camera, lipstick, hairdryer, pitta bread. Pitta bread! Dumped! How could we! It’s information that tells us exactly who we are. Who we were.
I remember the days when I used to buy pittas. And spookily I’m sure it was, just as the CPI suggests, around 2010 that I stopped. We may find it a little unnerving to see our unique choices second-guessed so easily, so publicly, so accurately. (Was I really only following the herd when I started to eat blueberries in 2013?) And though the Left will fume at this deification of commodity, no one can deny the reliability of what these lists tell us. We are what we buy. Our shopping baskets are our Sutton Hoo.
To know that 1987 was the year that the packet soup became a national staple is to know it all. 1995: leggings. 1987: tinned ravioli. 1974: mortgage interest payments. 1962: refrigerators. 1952: emulsion paint. 1947: brussel sprouts. If a nuclear apocalypse were to befall us, any remaining humans would need little beyond the CPI to reconstruct the past quite faithfully.
And this is not even to mention the poetry (and desolation) in some of these hymns to fleeting tastes. In 2010 dating agency fees replaced rosebushes. In 2011 the high-heeled party shoe exited to make way for three sizes of flat-screen TV. In 2012 the casserole dish was ditched for chicken and chip takeaways. Every now and again the records take a surreal turn, as when it was announced that ‘home killed minced lamb’ would be dropped in 2006. That was overdue. Or what about this juxtaposition from 2010: allergy tablets in; squash court hire out.
To be honest, the information needn’t even be interesting to be interesting. An inventory of past comestibles can in itself be a joy, reminiscent of Walt Whitman in full flow. So here it is, the CPI ode:
Flavoured milk, Fresh fruit snacking pot, Honey, Mixer drink, Men’s clothing hire, Canvas fashion shoe/trainer, Tufted carpet (100 per cent manmade fibres), Tufted carpet (minimum 80 per cent wool), Car wash, manual or automatic, Interchangeable lens digital camera, Plant food, Wild bird seed, DVD rental/video on demand subscription services, Fashion necklace
Wallpaper paste, Hardwood flooring, Tufted carpet, Gardeners’ fees, Automatic drive-through car wash, DVD recorder, DVD rental internet subscription, Take-away coffee, After school club charges
Continental deli type meat, Spreadable butter, Block butter, Blueberries, Vegetable stir fry, Hot chocolate drink, Rum (white), Men’s T shirt Kitchen wall unit, Daily disposable soft lenses (pack, 30 pairs), Digital television recorder/receiver, Electronic educational toy, Charcoal BBQ, not disposable, eBooks, Pub – roll/sandwich, hot or cold
Butter (imported), Butter (home produced), Round lettuce, Pair of basin taps, Gas service charge, Contact lens (soft, per pair), Freeview box, Computer game with accessory, Gas BBQ, Pub cold filled roll/sandwich, Bottle of champagne, Staff restaurant dessert/pudding
Hot oat cereal, Soft continental cheese, Pineapple, Bag of branded chocolate sweets, Bag of sweets not chocolate, Stout 4 cans, Walking/hiking boot, Vehicle excise duty, Bundled communication services, Tablet computers, Television licence, Book (teenage fiction), Chicken and chips (takeaway), Baby wipes, Trade union and professional organisation subscriptions
Candy coated chocolate, Bag of boiled/jellied sweets, Outdoor adventure boot, Glass ovenware casserole dish, Step ladder, Annual leisure centre membership, Develop & print 135/24 colour film, subscription to cable TV
Oven-ready joint, Dried fruit, Sparkling wine, Men’s casual shirt (long/short sleeve)(replacing Men’s casual shirt long-sleeved), Women’s blouse/shirt, Girl’s jacket, Woman’s high-heeled shoes, Medium density fibreboard (MDF), Spectacle frames with single vision lens, Mobile phone applications, Smart phone handsets, Flat panel TV 14″ – 22″, Flat panel TV 23” – 32”, Flat panel TV 33”+ , Craft kit, Hardback book (fiction), Provincial newspaper, Hair conditioner, Dating agency fees
Pork shoulder, Lager 4 cans, Vending machine cigarettes, Men’s casual shirt (long sleeved), Women’s casual outer jacket (e.g fleece), Women’s premium branded dress, Girls’s summer jacket, Girl’s winter jacket, Women’s high-heeled sensible shoes, Women’s high heeled party shoe, Hardboard, Spectacle frames (without lenses), Mobile phone downloads, Flat panel TV 14″ – 25″, Flat panel TV 26″ – 42″, Rosebush, Vet fees for spaying a kitten, Morning provincial newspaper, Evening provincial newspaper
Garlic Bread, Cereal Bars, Frozen fish in breadcrumbs/batter, Powdered Baby Formula, Fruit drink (bottle), Still mineral water (small bottle), Allergy tablets, Blu-ray disc players, Computer games with accessory, Electrical hair straighteners/tongs, Lip gloss, Liquid soap, Household services maintenance policy
Pitta bread, Baby food, Fruit drink carton, Fizzy canned drink, Men’s training show-casual footwear, Gas call out charge, Gas service charge, Eyesight test charge, Disposable camera, Squash court hire, Lipstick, Individual bar of toilet soap, Hairdryer
Frozen chicken breasts, Chicken Kiev, Bottle of champagne 70-75cl, Wine box (3 litres), 20 Mentholated cigarettes, Men’s 3/4 length casual coat, Women’s 3/4 length casual, Coat, Girl’s trousers, Woodscrews (steel/zinc plated), Home office desk, Nanny fees, Cold/flu drink powder (packet of 10 sachets), Exhaust fitting in fast fit auto centre, Brake fitting in fast fit auto centre, Personal MP3 player, Flat panel television, Digital camcorder, Music downloads, Water sports equipment, Child’s swing, Child’s trike for under 5’s, In store cafeteria meal, Bottle of lager in nightclub, Liquid foundation, After school club charges, Fees for international money transfer
Small brown sliced loaf, Muesli, Chocolate coated biscuits, Frozen cake / gateau, Home killed minced lamb, Frozen roasting chicken, per kg, Frozen boneless chicken thighs, per kg, Salami (sliced), Flavoured milk, Coleslaw, Hot milk drink, Multipack of pure orange, Juice, Imported sparkling wine (75cl bottle), Long/short sleeved men’s casual shirt, Men’s 3/4 length coat, Women’s overcoat, Girl’s dress, Baseball cap, Adult’s slippers, Child’s sandals, Bedside cabinet, Dining room table, Grass/edge strummer, Dishcloths, Contact lens solution, Personal CD player, Flea drops, Television licence fee, Child’s car seat
Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.