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Donkin's World: Patched-up Prince

"The prince is not only comfortable in his own skin, he's comfortable in his old clothes. I admire that in anyone,'' writes Richard Donkin, commenting on the news that Prince Charles wore a suit which had been patched.

Members of the royal family occupy a unique platform for communicating to a mass audience. Everything they say, everything they do and everything they wear in public is subjected to a forensic scrutiny in the media. So it was no surprise to see a newspaper homing in on a visible patch that had been applied to one of Prince Charles’s suits.


Here is our future monarch with enough money to line his palaces with Savile Row suits, venturing out in a favourite two-piece that’s been repaired. It’s not often I want to applaud any member of the Firm but flaunting a patched-up garment so visibly is sending out a powerful statement to our consumer-obsessed world. It’s saying that imperfection is OK. A bit of wear and tear is fine. The prince is not only comfortable in his own skin, he's comfortable in his old clothes. I admire that in anyone.

It’s the antithesis to the glossy magazine, the concept of haute couture and concerns for perfection that dominate our buying, spending and living habits. In my first book, The History of Work, I banged on about the need not just to tolerate, but to celebrate imperfection in future.

I wrote: “Fashion has brought total quality, six-sigma lifestyles into the domestic arena. It’s time to say ‘enough.’ So one of your dinner plates has a chip on the rim. Let’s hear it for the chip.” This was all part of an approach to development that I called “the economics of enough.”

The idea behind this is to stimulate sustainable progress. For example, instead of building HS2, the proposed £43bn high-speed rail line between London and Birmingham, why not invest in projects that give something back to the planet?

The Government has demonstrated some environmental thinking of its own. Simon Burns, the rail minister, has promised to replace all the ancient woodland that will be destroyed in the route’s path with trees planted on new sites. They just don’t get it, do they? They need to be planting more woodland, not digging up what's already there and replacing it somewhere else.

Instead of building a high-speed rail link, the Government could approve a woodland cycle path, accompanied, perhaps, by a footpath. This would enable people to get from Birmingham to London more slowly. What’s the point of that? Well think of the health dividend and the leisure-spending dividend. This is not about bums on seats but bums on saddles and muscles working as they should work, not wasting away, sitting in front of computer screens.

John Maynard Keynes wouldn't have even bothered to justify such a project. He once argued that paying people to dig holes and then fill them in was a worthwhile economic stimulus. I suppose the earth would get turned over just as earth will be shifted in HS2. But it's not good economics, not now, here on a planet that's in a lot worse shape today than it was when Keynes was alive.

Incidentally, what Keynes actually wrote in his General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, was: "If the Treasury were to fill old bottles with banknotes, bury them at suitable depths in disused coalmines which are then filled up to the surface with town rubbish, and leave it to private enterprise on well-tried principles of laissez-faire to dig the notes up again (the right to do so being obtained, of course, by tendering for leases of the note-bearing territory), there need be no more unemployment and, with the help of the repercussions, the real income of the community, and its capital wealth also, would probably become a good deal greater than it actually is. It would, indeed, be more sensible to build houses and the like; but if there are political and practical difficulties in the way of this, the above would be better than nothing."

Such ideas might have held good once. Today they are alarming, not just because of their make-work element, but because they still carry weight in the politics behind projects such as HS2.

We don’t need to speed up our lives but to slow them down so that we can enjoy what we have, instead of always looking to the next thing. You shouldn’t rush a good book, skipping the pages. Of course, you can get the gist that way. But is that all we want – to get the gist of something? It often seems that way in so much of what we do as we skim the Internet like hover flies, settling only fleetingly on any page.

We’ve forgotten how to live. We snack on everything – words, images, conversations, friendships. When did you last sit down with someone and really chew the fat, not just putting the world to rights, but covering a whole spectrum of experiences and ideas? When did you last do nothing at all without feeling guilty?

I’m sure a lot of people will have noticed the Prince’s patch. Even now fashion designers will be at their drawing boards, working on “fashion patches” for their spring collections. They don’t get it. The patch isn't a fashion statement but a royal endorsement of the values of make-do-and-mend. I wonder if the Duchess darns his socks?



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