TELEVISION REVIEW / Rushdie's right to offend, and other bargains

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The Independent Culture
NOT MANY people know this, but if you wash clingfilm and dry it on a washing-line it gets its clinginess back. I know this because I know somebody who did wash clingfilm, until mocked out of the habit by worried relatives. There must be others out there, though, striking a tiny blow against the giant clingfilm corporations and preserving the planet for a few more micro-seconds. Scrimpers (C4), one of the funnier programmes currently on television, is aimed squarely at them - people we would once have called miserly or eccentric but who have since been rehabilitated by ecological distaste for waste.

The programme, fittingly enough, is slightly cobbled together itself - as if sticky tape and old yoghurt pots had been involved in its construction. A combination of thrifty tips and scripted 'conversations' between the two presenters, it does the job well enough but it couldn't be said to have much style. That's part of the point, too; style costs money and if you're prepared to forgo it, you will find that lavatory rolls and Sellotape make a perfectly acceptable way of adapting an unsuitable armchair.

Not all of these simple economies are available to the ordinary viewer. The man who declared that he was going to repair the wheel of his vacuum cleaner had at his disposal a workshop full of lathes and milling machines and the expertise to use them. In terms of energy consumed, it would probably have been greener to write off to the manufacturer with enclosed postal order. At other times you wonder who could possibly think them economic in the first place, either of money or time. The ingenious smiley ballcock which pulled the plug out of the bath to prevent overflows and then hammered on the pipework to attract your attention is made instantly redundant by the simple device of remembering to turn the taps off in the first place. Clearly the inventive talent of the man who designed this object had to go somewhere, but it seemed a pity that it was just down the plughole.

There are less comical applications of the scrimper's resistance to parting with money. The man running an alternative technology charity, for instance, could rightly take pride in the fact that two or three minutes with some cardboard and a Stanley knife had saved him from splashing out on a factory-made paper- holder. His meanness was in the service of generosity.

There are those who think that protecting Salman Rushdie is an expense we could do without - they tend to be the same people who moan loudly about how impossible they found it to get through The Satanic Verses - the only answer to which is that it's usually helpful to open the book first. In Face to Face (BBC 2), Rushdie pointed out, yet again, that the merit of his case isn't dependent on whether you like his writing or, indeed, him. If he was an unemployed welder the moral logic would be the same - though he would have been less likely to come to the Ayatollah's attention in the first place and might have less vocal supporters now.

Rushdie also took on another group of modern fundamentalists - those who believe that it is an inalienable human right not to be offended or, having been offended, that it is an inalienable human right to sulk and whine about it for days. 'It is all right to offend people,' he said bluntly. This needs saying these days but it is easier to say it if you already have nothing to lose. Those who grumble about the cost of Rushdie's protection should think about the fact that he's talking about political as well as religious correctness here - that way they might recognise that they're actually getting good value for money.

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