Igor Toronyi-Lalic

The poetry and poignancy of the Consumer Prices Index

Tufted carpets out, flavoured milk in. Canvas shoes in, take away coffee out. Last year we accepted spreadable butter, dropped round lettuce. In 2006 we let in the chicken kiev and waved goodbye to the baseball cap. Call me a foolish commodity fetishist but I love the Consumer Prices Index (CPI). I could happily curl up in bed reading these lists of goods that have (or haven’t) made it into the national shopping basket that is the CPI that the ONS use to track inflation.

The ebb and flow of consumables (and rejectables) is as evocative and poignant as any literature could be. Reading the 2010 roll call, I almost found myself welling up remembering the things that I and others used to buy and eat. In: garlic bread, cereal bars, still mineral water (small bottle), electrical hair straighteners/tongs, lip gloss, liquid soap. Out: fizzy canned drink, disposable camera, lipstick, hairdryer, pitta bread. Pitta bread! Dumped! How could we! It’s information that tells us exactly who we are. Who we were.

I remember the days when I used to buy pittas. And spookily I’m sure it was, just as the CPI suggests, around 2010 that I stopped. We may find it a little unnerving to see our unique choices second-guessed so easily, so publicly, so accurately. (Was I really only following the herd when I started to eat blueberries in 2013?) And though the Left will fume at this deification of commodity, no one can deny the reliability of what these lists tell us. We are what we buy. Our shopping baskets are our Sutton Hoo.

To know that 1987 was the year that the packet soup became a national staple is to know it all. 1995: leggings. 1987: tinned ravioli. 1974: mortgage interest payments. 1962: refrigerators. 1952: emulsion paint. 1947: brussel sprouts. If a nuclear apocalypse were to befall us, any remaining humans would need little beyond the CPI to reconstruct the past quite faithfully.

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