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Signs of the Times: Jam sandwiches and getting rid of the Rolls

(Reuters) - The global recession manifests itself in big and small ways, most gloomy, some quirky and often reflecting the inventive human spirit. Here is a look at some signs of the times.

* The British sandwich market is noted for an exotic mix of fillings, but retailer Marks and Spencer, responding to frugal times, has gone back to basics with a strawberry jam sandwich. For 75 pence (about a dollar) you get two slices of buttered white bread and a filling of strawberry jam. “For those who haven’t eaten one for years, one bite takes you straight back to your childhood,” the retailer gushed, calling the jam sandwich “one of the greatest simple pleasures of life” for harried and nostalgic office workers.

* South Korea’s leading home shopping TV networks are offering customers the chance to win daily necessities like instant noodles, canned meat or toilet paper rather than luxury goods to try to get them to make purchases. “We started the new campaign early this year in a bid to attract customers who are tightening their purse strings due to the economic downturn,” said Won Ji-hye of CJ Home Shopping. “Customers, of course, responded positively.”

* Manhattan real estate agent Sharon Baum wants to get rid of her Rolls-Royce, but not because she can no longer afford the monthly lease of over $3,000. “I want to adjust to the times,” she told The New York Times. “With the recession, it’s not an appropriate time...” But she may have to pay dearly to get out of the lease, which does not expire until 2010. “It looks like luxuries have so lost their value, even some people who can afford them are willing to pay to unload them,” said the Times.

* For people with a strong fantasy streak or those living their lives backward like Benjamin Button, there are still books available from the 1990s on Amazon.com predicting massive gains in the Dow Jones stock index. Among the titles out there are “Dow 30,000 by 2008” and even “Dow 100,000: Fact or Fiction.” Gushed one early customer review of “Dow 30,000 by 2008”: “This is the best book on the market and investing I have ever read. A must read for newcomers and veterans.” The Dow is now below 7,000 -- around the level it was in 1997.

* American Express, battered by credit card losses, is offering $300 to a limited number of U.S. card holders to pay off their balances and close their accounts. Selected card holders must close their accounts in March or April to qualify to receive a $300 prepaid Amex card. Often seen as catering to relatively the wealthy, American Express tried recently to attract a wider range of clients but the strategy backfired. The company’s tumbled late last year as credit losses jumped and debt-burdened consumers slashed spending.

* Responses to economic stress vary. An unidentified Turkish man held a gun to his own head in front of the strongly guarded Prime Minister’s office in Ankara and declared: “I’m in economic crisis, I can not get out of this.” He then surrendered to guards and handed over a letter, but details of his particular plight were not made known.

* Iceland, reeling from the collapse of its banking system and currency, is selling its ambassadorial residence in Washington. The 10-bedroom, five-bath mansion built in 1928, has been the residence for the Icelandic ambassador since 1965 and has a swimming pool and a heated garage. The Wall Street Journal said residences in New York, London and Oslo were also for sale.

* American Society of Newspaper Editors canceled its annual convention and the president said “it became increasingly clear in recent weeks that our attendance would be low because editors need to be in their own newsrooms during this difficult time.” A string of newspapers are facing bankruptcy and possible closure because of falling advertising revenue and readership. The society’s announcement coincided with the closing of the Rocky Mountain News in Denver.

* Service Corp International, a U.S. funeral home operator, has reported a 94 percent fall in profits. “The negative consumer sentiment which impacted pre-need cemetery sales coupled with the extraordinary decline in the financial markets had a significant negative effect on our cemetery operating results,” said Chief Executive Tom Ryan. “Pre-need cemetery sales” refers to burial plots and other services bought before a person dies.

Compiled by David Storey; edited by Chris Wilson. Reporting by Juan Lagorio in New York; Tim Gaynor in Phoenix; Kim Junghyun in Seoul; Jason Webb in Madrid; Sara Ledwith, Eric Auchard, Stephen Addison and Julie Mollins in London; Zerin Elci in Ankara; Jackie Frank in Washington; Robert MacMillan and Michele Gershberg in New York and Poojya Trivedi in Bangalore

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