Deprived of Meg Ryan's counterfeit climax and Trevor Howard's stiff upper lip, I took a browse round our local newsagent to explore the lures appended to other publications
Saturday 04 May 1996
Anyway, deprived of Meg Ryan's counterfeit climax and Trevor Howard's stiff upper lip, I took a browse round our local newsagent to explore the profusion of lures currently appended to other publications. These range from the witty (cough lozenges with The Stage) to the practical (a pack of "Free baby's arrival cards" in unisexual purple from Our Baby), from the potentially life-saving (water-purifying tablets in The Great Outdoors) to the reviving (a sample of Boots' grapefruit-flavoured Isotonic with Runner's World). Gifts may be miserly (a sachet of camomile tea with Healthcare) or melodious (an "E" string with Guitar Player).
Some offers were a touch disappointing. free: great breasts! was the startling announcement on the front of Company, but it turned out merely to be "Your intimate health and beauty guide". The wooden pegboard provided by Inspirations For Your Home was lacking two of its three pegs in the example adhering to the only remaining issue. The blusher brush promised by Sugar, similarly reduced to a single copy, was completely missing. Foreseeing such an eventuality, the magazine made the helpful suggestion: "If it isn't here ask your friendly newsie what the 'eck's going on!" Since my poking around the shelves was already prompting suspicious looks from my "friendly newsie", I decided not to follow this advice.
Gardeners are particularly well supplied with free gifts. Courtesy of BBC's Gardening World, Mrs W now sports a fetching pair of gardening gloves while engaged in her ongoing war with south London's snail population. Last year, a similar publication clogged up Britain's newsagents by giving away a large plastic trug with each issue.
Occasionally, however, editorial staff face a problem in giving a name to their giveaway. Last year, one journal aimed at the junior miss provided a plastic toe-spacer to overcome the perennial problem of smudging when lacquering their toenails. (A difficulty, you'll recall, that was circumvented by James Mason, when embellishing Lolita's toenails, by using balls of cotton wool.) But what was the term for this curious object? The elegant solution: a free thingy.
The designers of the pounds 9.5 million Ferris Wheel planned for London's South Bank claim it will be possible on a clear day to see Luton from the top of the 500-foot ride. Quite why anyone should want to do so remains a mystery. Still, even with each rotation lasting for 20 minutes, the time spent at the top will be comparatively limited. In fact, the spectacle that passengers will have the greatest opportunity of viewing is the monolithic tower of Shell Centre, virtually adjacent to the proposed site of the Millennium Wheel.
Since the block is 338 feet high, students of mid-century architectural aesthetics will be able to feast their eyes on every detail - except that there are no details. When the structure was erected in 1963, Kenneth Tynan described it as "a cenotaph with bullet holes". And Pevsner's Buildings of England, which customarily defends modernism, calls it "stodgy" and "disappointingly dull". But it does have one advantage. On days when the metropolis is shrouded in mist, and passengers are denied the distant, glorious vision of Luton, the wheel's 26-storey neighbour will be plainly visible.
Staying up a bit later than my customary bedtime, I caught a TV advertisement for breakfast cereal. Aimed at the young, it suggested that they should try the oh-so-zany experiment of consuming cornflakes for supper. How radical. But the concept has already been tried out and, indeed, taken to its ultimate conclusion. In the Thirties, there was an undergraduate society at Oxford which was devoted to reversing the customary daily gastronomic sequence. On certain days, its members would put on evening dress immediately on rising and consume a large brandy with a whopping cigar. Then they would scoff cheese, trifle, roast beef and soup, in that order and accompanied by the appropriate wines, before having a bracing G and T. Round about 5pm, they would have a light lunch in backwards order and then dress in pyjamas and dressing gown for the evening. Guess what was their last meal of the day?
When recently announcing initiatives by the Better English Campaign, its chairman, Trevor McDonald, cited John F Kennedy as a great defender of language. The late president seems a peculiar choice as a linguistic hero, since he was a notorious gabbler. On one occasion in December 1961, he achieved a record for the highest speed of public speaking by burbling away at an incomprehensible 327 words per minute.
I suppose Trev and his cronies at the Better English Campaign mean well, but I've always been inclined to the opinion that what is being said is more important than how it is said. This view was reinforced by the experience of a friend when attending the 40th birthday party of an ex-girlfriend in a Southwark wine bar the other day.
Since their relationship was concluded well over a decade ago, he knew none of the other guests, who were mainly nobby types from the posher enclaves of Clapham and Wandsworth. After a lonely drink or two, he essayed a remark about the decor of the wine bar to a pleasant-looking woman also standing alone. "Oh, eeh bah goom. Put wood in t' ole. That's reet gradely lad," he was astonished to hear her reply, in a weird pastiche of a Yorkshire accent.
"Why are you talking in that extraordinary way?" he inquired.
"Oh, I'm so sorry," she replied, "I thought you were pretending to come from Yorkshire. I didn't realise..." And then she dashed off.
Though my friend spent his early life in the north, he has lived in London for the past quarter-century. In the normal run of things, no one remarks on his accent from one year to the next. Thinking that his first communicant had perhaps overdone the valpolicella, my pal had a few more solitary slurps, peered at the dado rail, examined an interesting crack in the wall, that sort of thing, before summoning up the courage to address a party of four young women with an innocuous plaisanterie. The same thing happened as before. "Eh opp, there's trouble at t' mill" the girls tittered. "Bah the 'eck. Well, I'll go to t' foot of our stairs."
At this, my chum realised he was on to a complete loser and scarpered for the welcome anonymity of central London. It was obvious that, at least in their social lives, the inane ditzes in the wine bar never, ever, met anyone who talked even slightly differently from themselves. Of course, these noodle-heads all spoke perfect cut-glass English, or "received pronunciation" in the lingo of the linguistics biz. Nevertheless, I think it should be a top priority for Generalissimo McDonald to dispatch a crack battalion from the Better English Campaign down to the faubourgs of SW4
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