Why shell out when you can stay in? Thriftiness, like making your own sushi, is easier than y ou might imagine – at least in theory, says Oscar Humphries
Until relatively recently I thought Fannie Mae was an American baked-goods company. Freddie Mac sounds like the sort of person you’d buy a car — not a house — from. Things don’t appear to be getting any better. Occasionally I’ll ask one of my friends in finance the sort of question a child asks his parents. Is everything going to be all right? Unlike a parent, these friends deliver the brutal truth. Their eyes sort of glaze over and their mouths tighten. More espresso martinis are ordered. I spent my summer ignoring the downturn, spending like it was 2006. The hotels were a little emptier and the restaurants easier to get into. My St Tropez taxi driver bemoaned the weak dollar and the strong euro. I had to ask. Is everything going to be all right?
I am going to heed the Prime Minister’s advice and tighten my Hermès belt. No more expensive holidays. No more nuts from the minibar. No more sushi. Even my richest friends are talking of economy and it would be extreme folly not to follow suit. Nobu and Cipriani both publish cookbooks. Instead of sweating at the bar while you wait for your tiny table at Cipriani, why not recreate the Cipriani experience at home for your guests? Find the smallest room in your house and invite too many people to dinner so that some of them have to wait to sit down. Pick a couple of Cipriani recipes. You could even invite a couple of Russian hookers and a retail magnate to make the atmosphere more authentic.
Sara and I had a Nobu credit-crunch dinner party the other day. I made the famous Matsuhisa dressing as well as the New Style Sashimi. It’s easier than you think. Le Caprice and The Ivy also have cookbooks. I read an article in an in-flight magazine about how to meet a rich man. It suggests going to an expensive restaurant on your own and, if money is a problem, ordering a small green salad and tap water. It may soon come to that for me but I would rather eat at home than embarrass myself at Scott’s asking for a half portion of the Dover sole.
Last year my Addison Lee bill got way out of hand. An Addison Lee account, like having your bookie on speed dial, is hugely expensive. I have cancelled my account. I also have a no-taxi rule. Starting tomorrow. The problem is that I will begin the day with the best of intentions, clutching my Oyster card and studying the Tube map at the back of my Smythson diary as if it were a sort of coded message. Then something will go wrong. I’ll be late. Or I’ll lose the Oyster. Before I know it my hand is creeping up and next thing I know I’m ensconced in a cab. I wouldn’t have suited the Great Depression; spending money to save money is one of my favourite things to do. It’s like splashing out on a piggy bank so that you can save up for something nice — crazy and stupid but strangely endearing. I bought a bike, thinking no more taxis! I did use this top-of-the-range bike but then had a near miss with a bus and it’s been rusting in the garden ever since.
Air fares are getting more expensive so I will be staying in the UK this autumn. How staying in the most expensive city in the world is going to help I don’t know, but a Caribbean break would be imprudent. Holidaying in the UK is, according to a government website, ‘all the rage’. It needn’t be caravans, beans, and rain. Under The Thatch is a company that rents out cottages in Wales. I was reading about a house in The World of Interiors — the kind of place where a Hobbit with very good taste might live — and noticed that you could rent it. Prices start at £200 per week and given that you couldn’t rent a bicycle in St Tropez for that, it’s very good value. Sara wondered what we’d do all day. Walk. Read. Write. Walk. Cook things from the Cipriani cook book.
Everything in moderation. The mania of spending had to end. The Russians are still spending, as are those from the Middle and Far East. The dollar will rebound and Claridge’s will once again echo with the sound of Americans asking directions to Selfridges. Sara and I are surrounded by silly things I have bought. Cushions. Clothes. Piggy banks. We decided to take a stall at Portobello Market a couple of Sundays ago. You have to turn up early — pay £20 — and you get a trestle table on which to sell last year’s Lanvin dresses. At the start of the day we were asking high prices: £50 for a cashmere jumper, slightly mothed. By the end of the day we were giving the stuff away. By the time I’d paid for the stall, a taxi there and back, and a couple of organic salads, we were even.