Category Archives: recession

Books: Review – Meltdown by Ben Elton

Satire is a difficult thing to get right. As simple as it looks on panel shows like Mock The Week or Have I Got News For You, behind the laughter lies teams of people trawling the news and random goings on of the world to fuel the comedy fire.

Meltdown, by Ben Elton, who’s comedy pedigree involves writing Blackadder series 2-4 with Richard Curtis and The Thin Blue Line, is one example of how when a number of satirical topics gel together well, you know you’ve got something special.

As the cover (above) implies, the book’s plot focuses around the recession and the fallout created after the collapse of Northern Rock, re-named in true Elton fashion as ‘Caledonian Granite’.

The recession? That’s old news?!” I hear you cry (from very far off…quietly), well, keeping things right up to date – an impressive feat considering Elton spends much of his time in far-off Australia – the book touches on the likes of MP’s expenses and cash for honours.

Elton, who has written 13 novels to date, has been criticised for his writing because his books often end unhappily, but really the important thing to note is that they always end as they would in the context of modern Britain. This is where Elton’s satire gains its power; these are believable stories which could happen, and despite exaggerating at points, mostly they just follow a worrying aspect of UK culture through to a conclusion and see what happens.

The protagonist (you know, the main guy) this time around is Jimmy, a banker was ousted from his job when phrases like ‘sub-prime’ and ‘negative equity’ began to creep in to the media. Despite living up to the reputation of his stereotype to a degree – he is (or was) a high-flying, arrogant executive who doesn’t know the value of money or the meaning of hard work – but Meltdown takes us on a light-hearted tour of what his life has become and how in many ways the fact that his ideal world has crumbled around him is for the best.

Jimmy belongs to an exclusive group representing the various aspects of high society: from Lizzie, the hard-working business woman with a world-famous catering business, David, an architect designing a building to bridge countries together, and Henry, a junior MP making his way up the ranks of the Commons.

The book is delivers what we’ve come to expect from Elton, though pointedly without any overly-graphic moments seen in earlier works, and Jimmy is one of the easiest of his characters to connect with, which helps draw in the reader every step of the way, from highs to lows; flashbacks to the present day.

For those who break into a grin at the thought of an MP pondering whether using his wife’s hair-dryer occasionally qualifies it to be claimed on expenses is just the kind of person who will love Meltdown. For those who think Qi and Celebrity Big Brother are on the same cultural wavelength…I’m sure there’s something exciting waiting for you on PriceDrop TV…

Verdict: 9/10

Surpassed only by earlier works like Chart Throb and Dead Famous, this is fun for the whole family – especially if you’re a banker.

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You’re so last summer: How times have changed for the better since 2008

It’s been a while since you heard from me, sorry about that, but now I’d like you to try and cast your mind back to this time last year, what were you doing? What has changed? Is life better or worse?

Personally this time last year I was just getting my teeth into the last year of university with a mixture of trepidation and excitement. Now I find myself on the other side the grass is greener, but too short to graze on just yet.

2008 was a negative year for many people, though strangely it was the international year of the potato…I’ve no idea why ask Wiki, but amid all of the job losses, wars and natural disasters there are a few things to be positive about.

The Olympics for one, we got 19 gold medals, NINETEEN, it’s pretty impressive non? Unfortunately it does mean we’ve got to work extra hard to do even better when we get to host the event to avoid colossal worldwide embarrassment…could be a tall order.

House prices fell dramatically, Andy Murray succeeds at getting everyone’s hopes up only to fail Wimbledon and Carol Vorderman leaves Countdown after 26 years and most exciting of all the Hadron Collider’s proton beam is switched on only for nothing to happen.

On the upside Obama was elected as the 44th president and we gained an extra leap second on the end of the year, a small reward for colossal global financial meltdown you might say, and with over 5million jobs lost in the UK and 7million in the US you’d be right.

The sadness does not end there, the year robbing us of acting legend and humanitarian Paul Newman, though arguably 2009 hit back by relieving us of reality TV ‘star’ Jade Goody, amid a flurry of tasteless publicity.

Speaking of tasteless, Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross get a firm slap on the wrist from the BBC in October after harassing ex-Fawltey Towers star Andrew Sachs about his daughter, but the two hang onto their jobs at least, which is more than can be said for the Radio 2 Chief Lesly Douglas.

The interest rate was slashed from 4.5% to 3% to try to stimulate the economy, as well as slicing 2.5% of VAT, but now that seems minor compared to the 0.5% interest rate reached in March 2009.

So really, there are some reasons to feel happier today. The economy is finally starting to turn around and technically speaking we may already be out of recession. The jobs market is in its best state in 17 months and England have actually started winning sporting events…surely this means Armageddon?

The simple truth is that things always look bad in the moment, but when we look back on this summer in years to come we’ll see the oft mentioned ‘green shoots’ of recovery and the hint of opportunity.

For me it’s been a hard summer of job applications and economic woes, but even in my world, where headlines proclaim: “Worst year to graduate, like, ever!” everywhere you turn, I’m starting to feel a little better about my place in the universe, not least because of the new friends I’ve made along the way. It might not be perfect, surely nothing ever is, but there’s still potential for me to achieve something before the end of the year.

So, with the first decade of the new Millennium almost as an end, what have you accomplished? Have a good think about it, it will probably be more than you think.

So it’s the great noughties depression is it?

With the news that the country is in ‘official’ recession, it’s time to address the issue once and for all.

Rule of thumb states a country must go through two consecutive quarters of consecutive negative growth to be ‘in recession‘. Finally, this has been confirmed in Britain, but does that really matter now?

Some economists claim the country has being going down the tubes since April last year, while many countless thousands have lost their jobs while the country fidgeted uneasily in limbo, unsure whether reality was as horrificly dim as it seemed.

“There is no fear, but fear itself”: an easy thing to say, but much harder to do, personally I prefer my own version: “The only real way to overcome fear, is to face it”.

Currently, people who were once in the most secure of jobs are tugging at their collars nervously, but the foundation of the problem (as far as I can make out) is the general public’s fear of losing everything.

Of course it’s easy for students to remain unaffected; they either had no money in the first place (those un-subsidised by parents or Government) or are striving on blindly regardless (the rest). Businesses themselves are obviously the most affected area, as I reported only a few weeks ago, but individual’s savings up to £50,000 are guaranteed by law, so by rights the long winding queues of Northern Rock’s demise are, or should be, a thing of the past.

Sadly, children’s lives aren’t necessarily so blessed, with house repossessions rising to one per seven (SEVEN!) minutes according to the ONS.

I’ve come up with a simple solution: stop going on about it.

Fair enough, it might take a year or two before things are running smoothly again, but nothing is going to move forward while people are still worrying and paralysed by indecision on whether they should go on that holiday to Tuscany.

To that end, I’m going to do my part for my ‘master plan’ to fight the forces of shock-and-awe journalism and not mention the financial crisis, the credit crunch, the downturn, the recession, the collapse of the high street or sub-prime mortgages anymore.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate there’s a problem, I just attribute a lot of it down to the typical mass hysteria and scaremongering from the venomous tabloids, though in contrast some papers got the right idea.

At the end of day history takes it’s course, insert whatever generic saying you like, but this is something British people can actually affect, perhaps it’s time to be a little more selfish and worry about our own future first before we paw with futility at the next biggest buzz-kill: the environment.