Farewell to hot stone massages and doggie dentists


The boom is over and the purse is empty: it's time to rinse out plastic bags and collect Green Shield Stamps again, writes Orna Mulcahy

PENNY-PINCHING has begun in earnest. The loose change that used to clutter up the dressing table is now being used for lunch, and lunch has been downgraded from something Mediterranean-sounding to an egg sandwich from the canteen. Even that is being pared back, the filling spread thinly as though it were some rare delicacy.

Coppers are being funnelled into the change machines that are popping up in supermarkets. So, they keep 10 per cent, but it's amazing how much you can harvest from under the car mats. As for notes, it's hard to hold on to them past breakfast time. My purse is open for business from 7.15am to 7.30am, for school trips, cake sales, the retreat, phone credit and other random demands.

Those old "because you're worth it" treats are over for the moment. Instead, I'm trying to track down some of the treats I could have had but didn't. Leftovers from the boom you could say. For a while there we were showering each other in gift vouchers for manicures and hot stone massages and lunches for two, most of which were never used, because there was no time. They would come in handy now, as would the clutch of semi-drained Brown Thomas gift cards that used to lie around.

There might be €8.22 there for the taking if one could face the embarrassment of producing it at the till. Dunnes Stores Value Club coupons are not to be sneezed at either. There is even a scratch card somewhere that's worth €4 and I intend to find it. Not to mention the weekend for two at an expensive hotel, won in a charity ball tombola. Admittedly that was six years ago, so it's unlikely they'd have us. That's the beauty of vouchers. Retailers love them because a high percentage are never used. They get thrown away with the Christmas wrapping, or zipped away in pockets of old handbags, or slipped between the pages of books to emerge a week after their expiry date has passed.

Apart from scavenging in handbags and coat pockets, other savings have to be made, so I'm asking around. One friend suggests that people should become more Protestant, like her. She's been washing out her plastic bags and hanging them on the line for years, and selling all her last seasons clothes at car boot sales where she regularly pocketed €300. But car boot sales are over, she says. Too many cars turning up and not enough buyers.

Curly hair is making a comeback as the twice weekly blow dry comes under review and there's a lot of home-colouring going on with predictably dreary results. A woman said that she was cancelling her own dental checkup because her dog needed one too, and she couldn't afford both; another says she doesn't need any more shoes and boots, having bought two and three pairs of anything she liked when times were good.

Another sign of the times: our local interiors shop has closed down. It had battled on bravely through three summers, selling pretty cream things and teapots by Cath Kidston, but I guess it's game over for gewgaws and rickety metal tables designed to make you think of a Provencal terrace on a hot afternoon. Possibly your own Provencal terrace, now causing some anxiety since the rentals aren't going according to plan.

Gyms are taking a hit and people are out walking and swinging their arms instead, but that could just be the nice evenings we've been having. They won't last. Long winter nights lie ahead and how to fill them? Bring back Green Shield Stamps I say.

Remember those little green stamps that you got when you bought almost anything, and which then had to be stuck into a book. When you had a full book you could trade it in for an iron or a rotary whisk. If you shopped relentlessly for about 10 years, or pooled your stamps with the entire town, you could aspire to a sit-on mower. A great outlet for obsessive compulsives, hours could be spent on the venture, not just filling the book, but turning the house upside down looking for the book or tracking down stamps that had drifted to the backs of drawers. Alternatively, there were minstrels to be cut from the bottom of Lyons tea packs in the hope of winning a small red car. My sister complains that she had to do all the sticking and cutting while we sat in the other room watching The Duchess of Duke Street.

Green Shield Stamps were about good things that were coming to you down the tracks, but you had to be patient. That was before we were told that we could have it all.