Surviving the recession in style in your fluffy slippers


A National Stress Down Day may be just the tonic after all the bad economic news, writes Ann Marie Hourihane

PERHAPS WE need a National Stress Down Day. They’re going to have a National Stress Down Day in Britain, on Friday, February 6th, and things aren’t as bad there as they are here.

National Stress Down Day is a fundraising event for the British Samaritans. It involves wearing fluffy slippers to the office and bringing scented candles, smoothies and the practice of massage to the workplace, which those of us who are not British would think a stressful enough place without any of those additions. But the alarming part of National Stress Down Day is the introduction on the UK Samaritans website, which declares: “In these troubled times many people have been contacting Samaritans with their work, pay and pension worries.”

First of all you think, that’s an awful lot of worry. That’s an awful lot of people lying awake at night, and sitting at their desks with a lump of anxiety in their chests.

Then you remember someone telling you that Friday – including National Stress Down Day, which falls on a Friday – is the day on which most people get fired.

Even journalists are beginning to wonder whether we can keep this level of anxiety going for very much longer. God knows we love bad news, because it makes our jobs easier – for just as long as we have the jobs, you understand.

Catastrophe, crash, the “I was right all along” columns – these are fun things to write. But we’re going to have to pace ourselves for this one. There is a very real danger that the country might run out of adrenalin altogether, and then where would we be?

Of course the outlook is grim. The emigration parties have started again. The mismanagement was criminal. Worst of all, as a society we have lost our witch doctors, and that is very unsettling.

The experts who were held up to us all as the wise men who understood the whole money thing have been shown to have the prediction abilities of a coven of astrologers on cocaine.

One of the rare laughs of the recession is listening to the business news on the radio and being treated to the opinion of Shameless Murphy of Fleece Them Stockbrokers, who, if he had the scruples of a lapdancer, would be at home counting someone else’s money.

However, adrenalin is a natural resource, and we have to start asking ourselves whether we want to live the next two years in a haze of fear and anger. Fear and anger are very tiring.

Maybe we should stop getting furious and start getting smart. All those cars heading over the Border to supermarkets in Northern Ireland contain people who have reacted to the economic downturn by setting their alarm clocks early on a Saturday morning and being prepared to travel for bargains. They don’t seem that angry. It’s the people who are sitting at home, carrying on as they always have done, who seem angry. It’s the politicians who seem most angry with the cross-Border shoppers, at a change they can’t control.

On Saturday night there was a programme on about the Wall Street Crash. Groucho Marx lost all the money he had in the crash. Apart from this small historic detail, the programme could have been dealing with the events of the last six months. (Although it did not explain why crashes seem to come in the autumn. Why is that?)

It was the same litany of human folly. But the fact that it featured very old people – one interviewee was 104 – and the grandchildren of some of the key players in the crash, showed that, actually, crashes are survivable.

This is cold comfort if you are reading this having lost your job, or have seen your car repossessed or one of your sons take up the grandchildren and head reluctantly for Australia.

However, an awful lot of people are lying awake at night doing the sums to see how they would fare if they lost their job, if they saw the car repossessed or if they had to wave the son off at the airport. The British Samaritans’ statement seems to spell this out pretty clearly. The Samaritans, in Ireland as well as the UK, are currently hearing the secret confessions of people who are frightened for their economic lives.

Commentators call this a lack of consumer confidence but its shorter name is fear, pure and simple.

Even small children realise that there is a recession on and know as much about it as we do – in other words, not very much.

Surely we need a break from this. If only for one 24-hour period, we need to remind ourselves that we are more than the sum of our economic parts. That there is more to life than money, or the lack of it. That, without any smug philosophising from the well got, we are returning to a less materialistic society – that’s another of the rare laughs of the recession. There are other things going on besides financial freefall.

So maybe the Brits are right, and we should bring on the fluffy slippers. Then we can get back to being frightened again.