Back off, or the cuddly toy gets it

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
There's a little stuffed dog sitting on my computer, making the office nice. It is white. It has an appealing gaze. In a moment I am going to put it on the floor and stamp on it and burst its white cuddly tummy so that its stuffing comes out. Ha ha ha ha ha!

Not that I'm a bastard who hates cuddly toys. Good God no. Look! Here is Urchie! Urchie is a cuddly hedgehog. Show him you love him: bond with him: smell his little head: fnff. Now kiss him: mwah. There. Now here is M'sieu Hompe the frog. Smell his head: fnff. Kiss him: mwah. And Little Ape: fnff, mwah. And Hubert the mole, blind, with a questing snout. Do you love Hubert? How could you not love Hubert? So prove it. Fnff! Mwah! Jolly good.

But Hubert and Urchie and M'sieu Hompe and Little Ape: I choose their companionship, and if I wish to reduce myself to the state of a sentimental and emotionally-labile three-year-old, to do so is my choice as an adult.

The little dog, however, is a different kettle of kapok. The little dog is without honour. He came free for harsh commercial motives just to butter me up. He is a Niceday dog, and if you don't know about Niceday, hist! and I shall tell you.

I first noticed Niceday about a year ago. In the street where I live there are some of the dullest offices imaginable, where Office Work of such inconceivable drudgery is conducted that the people who emerge at lunchtime have become somehow insubstantial, like vapour or holograms. They drift hopelessly about the street, greyish and gloomy, before returning to their flatulent computers and jittery paper-piles, moving among musty caverns of terrible British Stationery, paper-clips and staplers, memo forms and ring-binders, folders and pocket-files, photocopier paper and A4 Laid.

There is such a thing as wonderful stationery. French stationery can enchant and lift the spirits. American stationery is tremendous stuff, rather Fifties-ish, redolent of big suits, fedoras and Venetian-blind shadows on frosted glass doors.

But British Stationery? No. Most of it might as well have been designed by Hubert the Mole. What could be less life-enhancing than the average East-Light lever arch file or Cambridge Economy Loose-Leaf Refill (Ruled Feint And Margin). Like most of my trade, I am a stationery addict, but the very thought of this stuff plunges me into a hopeless melancholy, the mind filling with thoughts of bosses called Mr Wilmshurst, of chitties and requisitions, of one-armed stationery-cupboard custodians, of Mrs Weems in Personnel, of grumpy secretaries with purple acrylic Office Cardigans, of subsidised lunches ("The Salad Bowl looks good today, if that's your cup of tea!") and little running jokes, brave attempts to glamorise the endless routine ("Look out, girls, it's the Three Musketeers!").

This dismal milieu of harmless degradation was until recently served by equally dismal British Stationers. There were stationers' shops, staffed by men who just lacked the charisma to become pharmacists and who never had anything you wanted ("Pens? No, sir. We don't do pens"), and then there were the wholesale firms, like the venerable Dudley ("Moves Stationery Fast"). Just a glimpse of a Dudley van inching through heavy traffic, and, wherever you were, whatever the season, it was instantly November, getting dark around teatime, in Woolwich, and coming on to rain.

And quite right too. This was as it should be. But last year, I started noticing a new and horrible phenomenon: slick white vans with a soppy childish cartoon doggy and "Niceday" painted on the side crawling obsequiously around London, delivering... sad British Stationery. Clearly some terrible executives in a modern office somewhere had rolled up their crisp white shirtsleeves and decided to come up with yet another way to sell farts by labelling the bottle "Violets".

Although I mind that a lot, I don't mind it as much as the implicit infantilisation. "Here are a bunch of sad people," I imagine the smirking executives saying, "who lead sad lives pushing sad stationery around. Let's win them over with a little doggy, and call the sad stationery 'Niceday', and then they'll imagine that they ought to feel warm and cuddly about our Product Lines, and we will get more money! Hooray!"

Well. I don't know about the rest of you, but I wouldn't be seen dead writing in a notebook with "Niceday" on the cover, particularly when I might be having a thoroughly nasty day, and anyone who thinks otherwise should give some thought to the way in which commercial interests are trying to turn us all into children in order to get our money. Think of the stupid patronising cheap plastic toy telephone of the Direct Line insurance advertisements. Think of the sodding Frosties sodding tiger, trying to push baby-food on adults at 11pm. Think of the bullet-headed prole shoving miniature IKEA furniture around the TV screen. Think of those women in car advertisements behaving like stroppy toddlers.

The trouble is, we're not going to get rid of it. The buggers will go on trying to infantilise us and render us weak, foolish, and incapable of judging when we are being conned. Para-doxically, the mature and adult response to this realisation should be not to rail impotently against a fait accompli but to embrace it. How? Easy. Shan't buy their stationery! Won't buy their rotten insurance! Horrid furniture; let's smash it with hammers! Yucky cereal; spit it out!

The moral? Morals are beastly grown-up things and I'm not going to provide one. Shan't, won't, so there. Instead I'm going to take my Niceday doggie- woggie and pull its head off and stamp on it and stamp and stamp and stamp. No I'm not! I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I didn't mean it! Poor little doggie, not his fault, doing his best, I love him! Smell his head! Kiss him! Fnnf! Mwah! !

Comments