Saturday, 5 May 2012

Bare essentials

These days it seems you cannot move without bumping into a cupcake, bunting or something with polka dots--or all three at once.  Young women are taking up their ruffled aprons and baking--the very same aprons their mothers burned with their bras.  Edinburgh even has a club--the Edinburgh Cake Ladies--who follow the entirely enviable, if time-consuming, pursuit of eating cake, talking about cake, baking cakes, photographing cake, blogging about cakes (and no doubt keeping all those lovely cakes in those jolly Cath Kidston polka dot tins I keep seeing people carrying carefully onto the bus).  As far as I can see, in these times of economic woe cake has become the new opiate of the masses, bakeries our new churches and macaroons our new communion wafers.   There are pop-up tea parties at secret locations where followers meet in praise of cake rather like some proscribed sect, spreading the gospel according to Flour, Butter, Sugar and Eggs.  

One can't help but wonder if Karl Marx wasn't sitting in front of a lovely piece of Sachertorte when he wrote "Die Religion ... ist das Opium des Volkes".  Interestingly enough, the Marquis de Sade also referred to "this opium you feed your people"--presumably he had his Sachertorte with whipped cream.

Home baking is all part of the new austerity; a return to the ethics of  'make do and mend'.  Speaking as the last woman in Scotland to turn the collars and cuffs on a Marks and Spencer shirt, I cannot help but be a little bit cynical when the 'Lifestyle' pages of The Guardian has an article on how to make your own knickers, by 'up cycling old t-shirts or fabric'.  I wonder how many Guardian readers rushed out to John Lewis to buy a new £300 sewing machine with which to make new pants out of their old Prada?  And in case we find the retail habit too painful to give up, we can feel better about our backsliding consumerism--St Michael is urging us to mitigate our sins by 'schwopping'--taking an old item of clothing to donate to charity so we can feel better about buying new things.   We can stimulate the economy and clear our conscience at the same time.  Turning those collars would be positively unpatriotic now...

Nevertheless there is something comforting about the return to knitted cosies and street parties, Union Jacks and bulldogs in fancy dress.  In times of trouble it is tempting to look to the past, when happiness did not come in shiny carrier bags; when Britain was a nation built on an enduring (and endearing) combination of tradition and eccentricity that is still with us, a fine example of which was widely reported last weekend.

The Scottish Outdoor Club on Inchmurrin Island in Loch Lomond is Scotland's oldest naturist resort and has been on the go since the 1940s.  (To be honest, I did not realise Scotland had any naturist resorts, but evidently there are three).  In order to avoid closure, they are desperately trying to recruit new members by having a series of open days.  The club secretary was quoted in 'The Sunday Times' as saying that, in addition to tea and scones on arrival, potential new recruits will be treated to a barbecue and "indoor entertainment with darts and table tennis."

Naked barbecues and darts:  that's the sort of risk-taking that built an Empire.  

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