The Bank of England says it expects inflation to rise to “around 11%” this year. I reckon you’re a bit behind the curve there, chaps. My Planet Normal co-pilot, the economist Liam Halligan, has been saying for several months that inflation is already well into double digits. Who knows, if the complaisant bankers (“It’s transitory, old boy, transitory”) were to lift their bespectacled gaze from their mathematical models and pop down the corner shop to buy a loaf of bread and a few other bits they might see what everyone who lives in the real world sees. Prices are rising at a scary rate.
UK inflation is bad, but thank your lucky stars you don’t live in Turkey, where I was last week. According to official figures, consumer prices in the country soared by 70% in April. Unofficially, inflation is nudging 74%. Wherever I went in the charming seaside village on the Turquoise Coast, I found a defiant gallows humour as the locals did their best to cope with this terrifying death spiral.
“Hurry up, please, Allison, and eat your sea bass!,” urged a Turkish friend. The cost of dinner, she said with a mirthless laugh, would probably have tripled by the time we got to pudding.
Surprisingly, this turns out to be terrific news for tourists. Yes, the cost of a cab from our hotel to town had doubled since last year from 25 Turkish lira to 50. But the exchange rate is so bad (or good, according to which end of the bargain you’re on) that the driver gets a measly £2.50. The largest amount I could take out from the cash dispenser by the harbour was 1,000 TL; once a substantial sum, today it’s barely fifty quid. Clutching the fistfuls of notes I needed to pay for a boat trip, I felt like Pools winner Viv “spend, spend, spend” Nicholson.
Suddenly, I had a flashback to my O-level history textbook and hyperinflation in the Weimar Republic of 1923. A photograph of German children building a tower out of bricks of worthless Deutschmarks. An amusing scene at first glance; then, deeply chilling. Inflation was about to murder the middle class and create the conditions for Nazism.
During the boat trip, I discussed the parlous state of the Turkish economy with the wry, gentle sea captain I have known for over a decade. People working in tourist areas were still doing OK, he said. But things had reached crisis point in the cities. The state pension was no longer enough to live on; retirees were scrabbling to find a job. “Even doctors can’t pay their life,” he shrugged helplessly, “How you say in English?”
“Doctors are on the breadline?”
Did he think there would be riots and strikes?
He nodded. “Already started.”
A mass exodus of medical workers is underway. Turkish physicians are among the best in the world. A beleaguered NHS should snap them up (admittedly, it will have to train them to stop seeing patients in person).
Swimming in the silky turquoise waters, gazing at the baked hillside dotted with Roman ruins, a scene of eternal beauty, it was hard to believe that a vast human catastrophe was unfolding nearby. “Inflation is as violent as a mugger, as frightening as an armed robber and as deadly as a hit man,” said Ronald Reagan.
Returning to this mismanaged island of ours, I prayed what I’d seen wasn’t a preview of what might happen here. Surely, not? All those highly-paid experts at the Bank of England insisted inflation was “transitory". Funny, that’s what Turkey’s finance minister said.
Emma Thompson isn't the only one looking for a Leo Grande
For women of a certain age looking for a girls’ night out, Good Luck To You, Leo Grande certainly fits the bill. Emma Thompson plays Nancy, a retired RE teacher, who had an arid sex life with her late husband. Not so much “a furnace of passion” as “the bottom drawer of the Aga”. Having only ever slept with one man, Nancy has decided to pay for the services of Leo, a young gigolo (Daryl McCormack), to catch up on topics she never encountered on the traditional curriculum.
Nancy craves erotic adventure while clinging on tight to her tasteful nightie. “I don’t like anything going into places where things are meant to come out,” she explains to an amused Leo.
Touching moments and an anxious honesty lift this film above the standard, wink-wink British sex comedy fare. Admitting that she’s disappointed in her adult children (a bigger taboo than sex with a male prostitute to be honest), Emma Thompson is a mistress at conveying those tiny currents of sadness and regret which swirl beneath a placid, practical surface. By the end, Nancy is able to stand naked in front of a full-length mirror and gaze with acceptance, even affection, at her 63-year-old body with its puckered stomach and non-Love-Island-implant breasts.
Still, the set-up is totally unbelievable. Leo is not only gloriously handsome, adorable, funny and sensitive, he uses delightfully long words with his clever tongue. A cunning linguist in both senses. “Some sort of sex saint… a Master of the Menopause,” his satisfied customer marvels. When Nancy asks, “Are you real?” the audience feels like shouting, “Don’t be ridiculous. ‘Course he’s not!”
The reality would surely be sleazy, spotty and reeking of Doritos, I said to a friend. She smiled enigmatically and shook her head. She told me about the appointments she has with a charming, discreet, divinely handsome man in London who gives a great massage and, er, tickles her fancy.
“You’re not serious?”
"Perfectly serious. And his waiting room is full of women like us."
"WAITING ROOM? Excuse me, your gigolo has a waiting room!”.
"Yup, with bottles of San Pellegrino and copies of The Spectator."
OK, cancel everything I said. Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is a striking work of documentary realism. Recommended for any weary woman who fancies moving from Aga simmering plate to roasting oven. Ladies, just use a baking tray to prevent burning, that’s all I ask.