x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Cheap or expensive?

Object of desire Just because it is cheap doesn't mean it is 'cheap' and just because it's expensive doesn't mean it's worth it.

This simple barbecue is inexpensive but perfectly suited for its intended use, making it not exactly 'cheap'.
This simple barbecue is inexpensive but perfectly suited for its intended use, making it not exactly 'cheap'.

Those of you who have been following this column for a while will surely have noticed my aversion to cheap - as in cheap and nasty, cheap and pretentious, cheap bad knock-off. Even a recession doesn't justify that; to my mind it's better to do without - instead, waiting until you can afford something good, which will last a long time and provide real satisfaction, rather than buying poorly designed and badly made junk "because it's affordable". (A false economy and a dampener of the spirit if ever there was.)

You may also have noticed that my choice of objects is never driven by a famous brand or an high price tag. Rather, it is based on intrinsic value, in the form of provenance, beauty, a "story", quality of material and manufacture, great design, a rightness for purpose - and, ideally, a combination of all those things. Sometimes, inevitably, this means that the objects cost rather a lot. So what, you may wonder, is this most cheap and basic of metal barbecues - to be found in any souk for about Dh25 - doing here?

To my mind, cheap (that is to say, inexpensive) can be a wonderful thing indeed - when it is allied to a product that fulfils its function perfectly, with no frills or fuss and not the slightest interest in fad or fashion. That is what this barbecue represents. On it you can grill food perfectly. There is no need for anything more elaborate. Its compact size makes it the most easily portable (and thus camping- or beach-friendly) barbecue around. Its unadorned metal looks (and seems to work) better with age and use. And it's robust enough to take an awful lot of use.

And so, cheap is not precisely the same as inexpensive. Just as something that costs a lot may not, in fact, be expensive. Price, I fervently believe, should be nothing but a by-product of value - and values. One of the saddest things about the advertising-driven, pre-crash consumer bulimia is that, in the minds of many, price became allied to a brand's fame and a high price was supposed to mean that a product was inherently good. Others - who saw only the number on a price tag and did not understand how to recognise the presence or absence of any intrinsic value or quality that price might represent - developed a knee-jerk antipathy to anything high-priced.

Let us hope that the economic storms of the past year mean a return to seeking and understanding value. Through my choice of objects in 2010 I will continue striving to express what that really means.