Who do they think we are?

Regular columnist Gayle Wade casts a wry eye on the latest research on the nation's spending habits.

DO you think the Office of National Statistics might have been hijacked by pranksters?

That was my first reaction on hearing last week's announcement about changes to the list of consumer goods used to measure the impact of inflation on prices.

I could picture these affluent young blades sniggering: "Let's make it look like people buy more surfboards than slippers, and that they are more likely to be buying iPods than chocolate biscuits." What larks!

Even given the undertow of complaints that the iPod Nano is prone to break easily, I would still be surprised if people bought as many of them as they do multi packs of orange juice, for example.

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The ONS uses a `basket' of 650 goods to represent the nation's spending habits, and this year's update reflects an increasingly affluent society. Thirty items are being thrown out, including frozen roasting chickens. We don't buy so many of them any more apparently - except for the nascent entrepreneurs of Alan Sugar's The Apprentice. I gather they ordered in a massive number of chickens for a fast-food pizza operation, allowing one chicken per pizza for the topping!

But their efforts have not been enough to save chicken for the nation's shopping basket. In the same way that the only part of the fish most people eat are the fingers, it seems the bit of a chicken we like best are its nuggets.

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A rather intriguing category which has been given the chop (if you'll pardon the pun) is `home-killed minced lamb'. First, catch your lamb, presumably...

As someone who is more or less left behind in the backwaters of pre-1980s technology, many of the newly included items are way outside the bounds of what I am likely to be buying.

MP3 players have replaced record turntables and cassette decks? Whatever next? Well, a flat screen television and a digital camcorder, among other things.

Whoever drew up this list thinks we are all leading the high life. Imported sparkling wine is out, champagne is in. Money transfer fees and the cost of hiring a nanny are part of the annual spend.

It sounds like Through the Keyhole, played on a national scale. One can imagine Lloyd Grossman's drawling voice with its curiously flattened vowels, asking: "What kind of person lives in this country? A person who used to eat coleslaw, but now likes chicken kiev, who has discarded the CD collection in favour of music downloads, someone who has a 3-litre wine box in the kitchen."

Those of us who have spent years telling teenagers that they will catch their death of cold if they go out dressed like that might as well give up the unequal struggle. Overcoats, for both men and women, are out. The ONS has also thrown out the baseball cap - perhaps prematurely if evidence on the streets is anything to go by - along with children's sandals.

You have to wonder whether the new list will really act as a useful gauge of the effects of price rises on our daily lives or if it merely reflects what, for most of us, is a fantasy lifestyle.

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