Melissa Kite

Real Life | 13 September 2008

Don’t be fooled

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Don’t be fooled

At last, I’m starting to enjoy the downturn. The key was realising that by buying less of everything I’m annoying people in positions of power and calling a lot of very rich people’s bluff. This is most satisfying.

For example, I used to scoff at an advert by the French energy firm EDF which promised that if I used less gas and electricity they would be delighted to reduce my bills. I tended to think that the correct response was to laugh my head off at the silly Frenchies with their statement of the blindingly obvious, based on an eye-watering lie that they would be happy if I used less of their product and they took less money from me. But then I thought, let’s not dismiss this out of hand. Maybe I should take them up on their offer.

The idea is that every time I go to switch on a light I stop myself and say: ‘No! They’re not getting it! It’s my money!’ and back I creep down the corridor to spark up a Géodésis candle and luxuriate in the balsam fir-scented gloom.

After three months of this activity I can report that my electricity bill has halved, although my spending on designer candles has gone through the roof. But I’m happy for Parfums d’Intérieur to have the money instead of EDF. They don’t send me letters ‘as a valued candle customer’ informing me they are putting up their prices due to problems in the world wax market.

Anyway, it got me thinking about all the other propositions based on lies that annoy me and how it might be fun to call all of their bluffs. It took a while to work out who to go for because the world is full of people urging me to do things that they secretly depend on me absolutely not doing.

Let’s face it, my dentist doesn’t want me to floss. If I flossed as she begged me to she would never again be showered in cash for the privilege of shredding my facial nerves.

The Government doesn’t want me to stop smoking. It needs the dip in tax revenue like I need tar on the lungs. Councils don’t want me to park properly, Transport for London doesn’t want me to remember to pay the congestion charge — if it did they would remind me to pay, not wait 24 hours until it was obvious I had forgotten then send me a reminder to pay a fine.

M&S doesn’t want me to think of it as ‘my M&S’. If I did I would just walk in, help myself to a couple of pairs of pants and a ready-made lasagne and walk out again.

Sainsbury’s doesn’t want me to try something new today. If they did they would take down all the patronising billboards showing rosy-faced kiddies scoffing spaghetti through cheeky grins and put up a big notice in the car park saying, ‘Try something new today — visit your nearest Lidl where you will find everything much cheaper.’

I have resolved therefore to do exactly as the billboards tell me, safe in the knowledge that as I do it they are getting mightily pissed off. I fantasise that somewhere in Paris there is an EDF executive pulling out his hair and shouting ‘Zut alors! She’s only gone and halved her bill just like we told her to!’

A few battle tactics are essential, however. I have had to build up my corporate defences. I refuse to listen to the propaganda telling me they are doing something good with my money. It’s rot, this corporate social responsibility lark.

Barclays, British Gas, Thames Water, Tesco, British Airways — they can plant as many trees in Guatemala as they like, it doesn’t change the fact that they are taking me for a ride.

They may have special outreach schemes which do wonders for the indigenous peoples of Brazil but they treat me with such cruelty the mere sound of an envelope bearing their logo hitting my mat is enough to give me shooting pains down my arms.

They can donate 0.0001% of their monthly profits towards providing the people of Malawi with goats, but they can’t make me forget that all they ever did for me was offer me two-for-one on something I only wanted one of, fairly priced.

So, I refuse to put the heating on. I have pared my use of electricity down to a bare minimum. I don’t watch TV. I sit in the dark, not smoking. I don’t cook, there’s a restaurant in Chelsea that serves food cheaper than you could ever make it yourself (if you don’t know its name I’m not telling you. It’s full to bursting already).

Oh, and I’ve started flossing.

Melissa Kite is deputy political editor of the Sunday Telegraph