— Alberto Giacometti
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We’re a nation of shoppers now - good little consumers who understand the vital role we play in the wealth of all nations, but especially our own. We pay close attention to offers and deals, we know where to go for a discount, and we’re acutely aware of the degree of choice available to us whenever some formerly public utility - water, gas, education, or housing - is carved up, repackaged and set out on the market stall. Of course, to be a consumer is by no means the same thing as being a bargain-hunter - the latter ascription suggests someone who has to make sure every little bit helps, someone who has to pay attention to the income side of the equation before she even considers the outgoings. Such thriftiness is regarded as terribly infra dig by us consumers, while maxims such as “Never a borrower or a lender be” have to us the homespun, decorative air of a pokerwork plaque we might buy for a joke in a gift shop attached to a museum of country life.
I sit of an evening in the inner city being gently goaded by the advertisements on the television. I eat chocolate greedily and slurp my tea. Should I have another square of chocolate, or should I smoke a cigarette in the hope it will suppress my ravening appetite, thereby using one form of consumption to regulate another? In the break between one exhortation to consume and the next I can hear the night time house gently but inexorably consuming - the ticking of electricity and gas meters, the cellular death of food passing its sell-by date in the fridge and pantry, the soft munching of the clothes moths’ mandibles as they consume the family’s woollens, ensuring that come the autumn we will have to buy more. Outside in the street caterwauling drunks tumble home from the pub, consuming carry-outs as they go. Sometimes I fantasise that if I could only concentrate enough, I might be able to hear the faint electronic whine of money pulsing out of my bank account and into the bank account of the bank my account is with - a bank that has itself already consumed a fair amount of my taxes (and yours).