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There was nothing groovy about renting stuff when I was growing up


Maybe it shouldn’t come as such a huge surprise that Generation Rent… rents. John Lewis has unveiled a furniture rental service, starting at £17 a month for a desk or chair for 12 months. Similarly, Ikea announced last year that it was looking into furniture rentals and a system of environmentally friendly customer returns, embracing the circular economy.

Maybe, like me, you’re thinking: “Eh?” The rent-everything revolution has passed me by, though it’s fashionable big business. It’s not just about homes and furniture, it’s cars, technology, clothes, music, vacuum cleaners, blenders… anything! Unsurprisingly, as much as this is ideological it’s rooted in economics: home ownership is at a record low among 25- to 34-year-olds. In the UK and the US, more people are renting homes than at any point in the past 50 years, with tenants moving regularly. People either can’t afford or don’t desire Forever Furniture. Conceptually, the idea of home has morphed from ownership to flexibility and turning impermanence into a positive.

All of which is intriguing for someone like me, who remembers their parents renting their television from Rumbelows, back when people simply couldn’t afford to buy a set. Obviously, all this was to change. Indeed, my bemused reaction to the idea of renting food mixers just shows me up for the ageing, pathetic, rigid Generation X-er I am. And I’m someone who, in my youth, squatted, lived in housing co-ops, dressed exclusively from charity shops and “liberated” furniture from skips. You’d have hoped I’d be more open minded, but here I am, all these years later, swooning at the idea of people renting sofas. Please give me a moment to come to terms with what I’ve become: someone whose existential crisis has arrived via the medium of soft furnishings.

Fresh as the rent-everything mindset is, there are negatives. Those charges/subscriptions will mount up. Even if, as with the John Lewis scheme, you eventually have the option of keeping items at full price, isn’t that just glorified hire-purchase? And not all renters are groovy city-hopping hipsters. Just as with homes, most homeware rentals would be done out of pure financial necessity. Anyone who has been forced to move into grim “furnished” accommodation would doubtless roll their eyes at the thought of being part of an exciting lifestyle development.

Moreover, I am increasingly disturbed by the idea of Generation Rent never expecting to own their own homes. Because it’s not really about ownership and permanence, it’s about security. This generation has been shafted quite enough without being lured to sleepwalk yet deeper into the murk of rental insecurity, whether it’s homes, cars, desks or toasters. Stuff really is just stuff; we all realise that in the end. However, let’s not be duped by any economic system that tries to make it seem “cool” that a generation has been priced out of owning their own sofas.

Dominic Cummings, the meddling Zelig of politics, is everywhere

Dominic Cummings



‘It doesn’t seem to matter what’s going on – Cummings is bound to appear.’ Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA

What will rid us of the infestation of Dominic Cummings? He’s spreading, seemingly unchecked, throughout the highest echelons of British politics.

There are concerns about his involvement in the defence and foreign policy review; there are reports that he’s setting up a separate control centre for Boris Johnson in Whitehall. It almost seems quaint how shocking it was when Cummings sat in on Sage meetings.

Cummings clearly wants to be perceived as a political polymath, but he’s coming across as jack of all trades, master of… only Johnson. He’s everywhere – the Zelig of British politics – but he wasn’t elected to even one of these positions. Nor is Cummings the most inspiring of figures, unless you count the recent study that revealed “the Cummings effect” inspired people to distrust the government and to feel that they too could break lockdown.

A shrewder man would be less obvious. Cummings appears unable to conceive of a situation where his presence isn’t required, any question where he isn’t the answer. It doesn’t seem to matter what’s going on – Cummings is bound to appear, materialising like a phantasm at a Victorian seance table. “Can you feel that?” people will mutter. “It’s suddenly gone very cold.” Yes, that would be the chill of the abnormal becoming increasingly normalised.

Squalid staycationers, please don’t go wild in the country

Dartmoor.



Dartmoor: wild camping is now banned in some areas. Photograph: Andrew Turner/Getty Images

Note to dirty staycationers: stay at home if you can’t be trusted to be civilised. New-style lockdown staycationers who go wild camping are leaving horrible messes in countryside and coastal locations, endangering rare habitats and wildlife and causing fires everywhere from Surrey to the Peak District to the New Forest. They’re leaving piles of litter and “huge quantities of excrement”, as well as dumping equipment, including barbecues.

Nature wardens welcome staycationers, but are concerned that some behave as if they’re at festivals. I’d say even worse, if the brazen shitting on the ground and the fires are anything to go by. Not even the lowlifes in the overpriced corporate yurts behaved like that at Glastonbury.

Dartmoor has banned wild camping in some areas in August, which is understandable. Obviously, seasoned campers aren’t behaving like this. It’s the lockdown newbies who can’t even bear to call it camping. It has to be wild camping.

Never mind that much of the camping is illegal, it’s also dangerous. Last weekend, a fire on Chobham Common destroyed 140 acres of heathland. The Dartmoor ban happened after 50 fire pits were dug in one night. Elsewhere, people are discarding nitrous oxide canisters and pulling up wildflowers. The Norfolk coast has had birds disturbed and a resting seal pup thrown into the water. One set of campers dismantled an important wildlife habitat feature in order to make a tepee.

Of course, not everyone has studied the Countryside Code, but this behaviour is beyond that. It shows a blatant disregard for the wildlife, workers and locals. One appreciates that lockdown has driven everyone stir-crazy, but that’s no excuse. The dirty staycationers need to clean their act up or stay at home.

Barbara Ellen is an Observer columnist



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