When you live on a restricted income (like many of us) a constant internal dialogue goes on between you and yourself. It features phrases like “wait a bit”, “why not ?”, “just this once …” and “you’re a long time dead.” Anything to do with money in this sense is highly emotional. Your cheap isn’t my cheap, my pricey isn’t yours. You can be good with money and not very good at enjoying yourself. You can have a wonderful sense of living in the moment and never plan for the taxman whose arrival in your life is as inevitable as night follows day.
I remember a campaign to promote selling flowers which featured the phrase “Treat yourself” from which I recoiled. Most of us can remember circumstances in which money was so tight
we couldn’t “treat” ourselves and many of us will equally well recall occasions when we lashed out for a £5 bottle of wine or some reduced daffs, and promptly felt better. I have stood in the darkness of a winter evening wondering if I should really buy whatever it is (I am talking about change of £10 which for long tracts of time was a sizeable amount to me) before deciding yes or no. And of course when you haven’t got it is when you want to spend it most.
It was my mother who taught me about “a Christmas present for yourself.” In her case it was almost always her favourite cologne or her preferred brand of stockings – which tells you how long ago that was ! I have often bought a Christmas present for myself but I never thought of it as a treat. If somebody else gives you a treat, it’s fine – if you do it for yourself, it seems sort of sneaky.
“Treat” has becomes aligned with that old saying “everything you really like is either immoral, illegal or fattening.” Immoral ? An affair with a married person, in the widest interpretation of the term. Illegal ? Unlikely. Fattening ? Don’t very often think about it. My mother’s father brought his children up to eat in a very enlightened way, she passed on to my sister and me and it has certainly served me well. I remember reading in a Nigel Slater cookery book “when you’re eating alone, set the table prettily and light a candle.” My kind of treat. It works. Calories ? Fuel for the machine. No fuel ? No function.
This week I recalled to a friend how a masseur rescued me in the terrible painful months after my marriage broke up. I didn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep and when I got to 70 hours plus without closing my eyes, I grew frightened. I had interviewed this woman. I got in touch with her school and asked if somebody could come to see me. She herself arrived . Slightly stunned, I let her in and she administered the massage of my life, everything, my head through my hair, all the awkward places, with perfect propriety and great skill. I remember fading into the endless billowing gentle waves of heavenly peace, and hearing the front door click shut. I slept 16 hours. When I came to, I rang somewhat embarrassed and she said “There is no charge, Anna. You were in pain.” Now that’s a treat.
What you may discover with a treat that is consumer durable ie a garment, a piece of jewellery, some cherished object, is that more than being a treat, it is a talisman. It tells you something about yourself. And that change takes place as soon as you own it. Maybe it becomes less important because you no longer yearn for it, you have it. Or maybe it just becomes part of your self image.
But a treat you share is different again. Neither Wal nor I have a much of a sweet tooth. He could live on smoked salmon and I am a fruit bat. But offered dessert after the lunch from heaven in Paris recently, we found a pudding made up of pieces of day old kugelhopf turned over in butter, with small green gold plums and cream. We shared a portion. He sent me a picture of it yesterday, asking “Remember ?” I put it with my treasures.