The Times, 21 December 2010


I imagine it will come as no surprise to you to discover that I am not a natural skier. This is, firstly, because I am quite tall, and therefore tip up easily. It is, secondly, because I have never met anyone who went on a skiing holiday who didn’t come home with a story about how they or their friend broke a wrist in six places on the first morning they hit the slopes, and then spent the rest of the week in a French hospital, drinking equal amounts of hot chocolate and morphine. But mostly it is because I can think of almost literally no-one I would less like to spend my holiday with than people who like skiing.

I had never really let this thought crystallise until last weekend, when I read that one ski manufacturer is selling £30,000 skis, inlaid with gold and diamonds. They will also flog you a leather trunk to keep your skis and poles in. That goes for £40,000 and your signature on a piece of paper that says you have lost all sense of what money is worth and can be legally kicked by any passing pauper until time ends.

One French ski manufacurer made a tart suggestion that the gilded skis were ‘designed to satisfy the whims of Russian billionaires’. Which suggests that the word ‘whim’ has come a long way. I sometimes go to the zoo instead of writing all day, on a whim. I virtually never tank £70,000 on some glittery sticks and a box to keep ‘em in and call that a whim. ‘Whim’ doesn’t really cover that kind of behaviour in my house. We prefer to call it boggle-eyed lunacy.

So, in the spirit of Christmas, I would like to propose we all agree that we will no longer respond to conspicuous consumption with envy or rage, but rather with a caustic teenage-girl-style contempt. When the inevitable bankers’ bonus stories break in the new year, we won’t be enraged by the fact that greedy people who were so bad at their job two years ago that they bankrupted their companies are now lining their pockets with unicorn skin (especially if those ski manufacturers move into tailoring). We won’t mutter about Sodom, Gomorrah, or the end of days, even if we are thinking about them.

We will instead treat the buyers of expensive tat with unadulterated scorn. Diamond-encrusted skis will be the nadir of taste. They will be the kind of things we would expect someone in stonewashed jeans to wear, while sporting a mullet. We will point and laugh behind our hands, like the meanest of mean girls. We will simply abandon the pretence that adding precious stones to non-decorative objects is anything other than pitiable.

At the same time, charity workers will be trained in guerilla tactics. Whenever some monied loon gets their credit card out in a golden-ski shop, the assistant will stall them. The guerillas will then arrive, pin the offender to the floor, Gulliver-style, and divest him of all the baubles he is wearing or carrying (the watch made by Old Father Time, the signet ring formerly owned by King Midas, the pencil carved from a branch of Yggdrasil).

These will be sold on to other suckers, and the money used to pay for a donkey sanctuary. Or, you know, a million donkey sanctuaries. Then we’ll do the same to the sucker who bought the tat from us. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. And it’s about time those charity muggers lived up to their name.

When student protestors shouted, ‘Off with their heads,’ at Charles and Camilla a couple of weeks ago, they can’t have foreseen that monarchic beheading was actually on the cards. But the postal affairs minister (Ed Davey, since you ask. No, I didn’t know we had one, either) has spent the weekend fending off questions about the consequences of a potential Royal Mail sell-off: apparently, there is no obligation for the buyer to carry on using the Queen’s head on stamps. Davey said that any buyer would be ‘stark staring mad’ to ditch her image, but if the diamond ski story has taught us anything, it is that some buyers are certifiable.

And anyway, would it be objectively mad to bin the Queen from stamps? It’s not like royalists buy more because she’s on them. Most of us – and I am generalising from personal experience here – buy stamps when we need to post something. The picture is largely irrelevant. In fact, it is unused advertising space – perhaps Royal Mail could shore up their finances if they replaced the Queen with a picture of someone buying more stamps.

The 2010 Christmas number 1 is, as expected, the single from Matt Cardle, the X-Factor winner. This seems to prove that last year’s successful campaign to derail the Cowell juggernaut with Rage Against The Machine was a one-off. There were attempts to do it again this year, but it wasn’t focussed on a single song.

Surfin’ Bird, a 60s novelty song recently popularised on Family Guy, was in the mix. As was the song which currently sits at No 66 in the charts, whose band name and song title are so filthy that I can tell you nothing more about it without getting fired. But if only we had all pulled together behind Cage Against the Machine – a cover of John Cage’s 4.33. It was a great idea, but in the end four and a half minutes of silence doesn’t make a Christmas No 1, much as we might wish it did when Slade starts playing in the shops for the millionth time.