Guilty confession: I’ve made Jeff Bezos richer. I may not be fully, personally responsible for the fact he’s £19 million wealthier since the lockdown, but I’ve played my part. Before social isolation, I tried hard to support independent retailers and use Amazon sparingly. Back in those heady days, I could happily wander round John Lewis in Cambridge once a week, gorging on consumer eye-candy beyond my means. There was sensory pleasure in just touching top quality bed linen, or sprawling on a sofa I could never afford.
Now I’m trapped within four walls, I’ve taken to having a daily wander round Bezos’s Amazon website. There’s a gratifying form of self-soothing involved in reading reviews of fake airpods, or trying to work out if our Maine Coon might take to being walked up and down the street on a cat harness (the answer is no).
I spent a happy hour choosing an electrical adapter for my younger son. This led me down a rabbit hole to the purchase of fairy lights, which I can see some would argue as “non-essential”. But I find nothing quite as hypnotic as Amazon’s beauty section. In normal, unfettered life I’m not a great one for pampering. I’ve never had a manicure, am a stranger to Botox and have visited a spa only once because I was writing about it.
But I’ve often wondered if I’m missing out. Would my face be miraculously transformed if instead of using the same cheap moisturiser, I had “a beauty regime” for my battered 52-year-old skin? For the first time in my life I’ve had the time to experiment – and, crucially, the spare cash. Because although my income has fallen, so has my expenditure. I estimate I have an extra £170 in my pocket each week because there are no train fares to London, no drinks bills, no cinema and no weekends away. So allocating myself pocket money feels defensible. I’d argue we all need small treats to propel us through these dark days.
I trust this adequately explains how I found myself gazing at Amazon’s vast array of microneedling derma rollers. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, these pseudo-Medieval instruments are hand-held rollers covered in hundreds of tiny metal spikes that puncture the face and “stimulate the growth of fresh collagen” - which is what gives your skin elasticity. I know this because in my new world of social isolation, Trinny Woodall is my new bestie. I watch a Trinny video on Youtube that tests the stimulating effects of various spiky rollers. By the end of her master-class, I’ve discovered that the cheapest of her recommendations, the 0.3mm ZGTS, is available on Amazon for £13.99 and it’s in my basket.
But I can’t stop there because all the Amazon reviewers say you need “serum” and even though I haven’t the foggiest what serum is, I’ve suddenly spent £21.99 on one. Having forked out all that cash, it is now my sacred duty to spike, acidize and generally terrorise my face every other day.
It doesn’t stop there. My new, fresher skin clearly needs new lighter make-up, so I was compelled by forces stronger than me (Jeff Bezos) to spend £22.50 on Laura Mercier Secret Brightening Powder. My ultra-frugal husband can’t complain about the regular packages arriving on our doorstep, as his splurging is almost as unfettered: he’s now the proud owner of a deluxe Emile Henry Tagine and a scale model of a WWII battleship The Exeter, a purchase he told me was vital as: “The Exeter’s heroic exploits against the German pocket battleship Graf Spee in the Battle of the River Plate in 1939 is something every schoolboy of my generation knows about,” and once complete he claims it could be used for home-schooling history lessons.
When I asked friends if they were also indulging in rampant cabin fever consumerism the flood of admissions was swift. My old pal Maria had spent a small fortune on an anti-plaque treatment that’s supposed to equal a session with the hygienist. Another had forked out for a massage pad for her chair. An insomniac chum has bought a top of the range weighted blanket, while another opted for a hoola-hoop “as the in-house exercise system of my dreams.”
A more pent-up acquaintance has acquired boxing gloves and a punch-bag on which she has spray-painted “Covid-19”. And a glamorous friend who works for one of the Cambridge colleges admitted to having bought 10 packets of hair dye on the first day of lockdown.
It was fascinating to see how many women’s purchases involved a vision of an improved self. It was also a salutary reminder of how little time most of us have for home-based “maintenance” in the normal, dashing-about way of things.
Male friends’ expenditure was more about ambitious blokey dreams, often on the home front. One had bought a shed (which features in the list of top lockdown purchases) and a barrister had acquired “900 litres of compost,” which he declared, “is now trading at the same price as gold.”
One author I know is now the proud owner of Mickey Mouse desert boots from the Clarks outlet and a distinguished historian has snapped up his very own Plague Doctor Bird Mask (4.5 stars on Amazon).
It’s easy to see this online splurging as pure self-indulgence, but I’d argue we consumers are playing a vital role in stimulating the last functioning parts of the global economy. And a small extravagance can lift you a long way at a time of crisis. During two world wars, lipstick and cigarettes boosted morale. The treats may be different now, but they are no less necessary - cat harness included.
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