Thomas Sutcliffe Column

For a brief moment the hole in your life takes the precise shape of a purchasable item

It used to be said that every home in America possessed at least two books - the Bible and the Sears-Roebuck catalogue. While the former offered poor homesteaders the consolations of the life hereafter, the latter beguiled them with the prospect of paradise on earth. Sears-Roebuck was an early version of virtual reality, in which that damp little soddie on the plains could be imaginatively transformed into a palace of late- Victorian technology - crammed with Galvanized Ice-boxes and Patented No-Snag mangles. Not much of the pioneer spirit is detectable in my North London house but we appear to share that passion for the consolation of catalogues. The magazine rack groans beneath a 2ft pile of the things - offering everything from stacks of spotless white linen (dream on - the other day our three-year-old told us to change the sheets) to sun- dappled lake-side cottages on Lake Winnipesaukee ("use of owner's boat by arrangement"). My wife is the heaviest user of these items (she is confident that she would cruise Mastermind if permitted the 1996 Ikea Catalogue as her specialist category) and chief provoker of their almost daily arrival. But I'm not immune to their charms myself. My personal vice is a catalogue for professional chefs, which allows me to dream about the someday possession of a pounds 107 stainless steel mandolin or 90 yards of catering muslin.

It seems that magazine publishers have now become alert to this free competition for their readers' time - at least in the male section of the market, which has always recognised the allure of expensive commodities. Two new magazines - T3 and the bluntly named Stuff - have dumped all those time-wasting interviews, fashion spreads, reviews and reports in favour of unabashed cargo culture; page after page of desirable knick-knacks and gadgets, a masturbatory feast of consumer arousal. Sears-Roebuck was once called the "Rosetta Stone of popular culture", the notion being you could decipher through its pages an entire lifestyle. And something similar would be true of most modern catalogues - even though most of them target their audience more narrowly than a Hunt Ball committee. It is also true of these magazines, which evoke their ideal reader with a Dickensian richness of detail.

The unacknowledged ancestor of both magazines (rather more embarrassing than the man-about-town of Esquire or GQ) is the Innovations catalogue, but there's no doubt that they have come up in the world. Look closely at the Innovations booklet and you sense an ideal reader hoping to rescue his world from imminent collapse, rather than someone fantasising about an enlarged life. Hobbling along in their orthopaedic stretch footwear, aching joints encased in Copper Comfort support bandages, they fret about unwanted nasal hair, leaking pipes and unsightly brown stains in their lavatory pan. Their wardrobes are damp (Coat rail dehumidifiers), their chairs scratched (Furniture retouching crayons) and they can't get even get the vacuum nozzle under the sideboard (Ten-piece nozzle extension kit) to clear the drifts of dog-hair. But buried in this dismal evocation of a life under repair there are hints of larger aspirations, something grander than preventing skin from forming on your gravy. Does the arthritic pensioner live a secret life after hours, clipping his walking stick to the handy table-top Cane Holder before disappearing into the dark with the night vision goggles and satellite navigation device?

Both those objects also feature prominently in T3, a technophiliac publication intended for the devoted acronym-spotter (the title itself is a compressed acronym for Tomorrow's Technology Today). Despite its defensive references to "geeks" and a certain convivial matiness in the small print captions, T3 is clearly aimed at the sort of man for whom a great day out would begin and end on Tottenham Court Road. When you turn this magazine sideways to scan a double-page spread you find yourself examining the sleek curves of a pounds 30,000 pair of speakers. And the objects here are not means to an end, whether it's peer-group respect or bodily sensation or sex. They are the end itself: "What terrible experience is traumatic enough to take away any man's love for his black boxes," the editors ask a reader who has written to complain about his relapse into technolust. Women feature only as things that might appear on a screen - in digitally enhanced definition (a porn video is used to test a new Toshiba VCR) or in 3D ("Impress your mates with girls leaping out of your telly," reads the caption, firmly establishing T3's gender priorities).

Stuff is altogether more practical about its desires - and considerably more fun. A sort of Which Behaving Badly, it incorporates many of the cutting edge gizmos included in T3 but adds consumer tests which imply that its readers might actually step outside now and then. A new "fumble- free" condom is given a bed-test and there is a jokey comparison table for top-shelf magazines, including a "Pay then Scarper" index to measure the embarrassment-quotient of each publication.

Both Stuff and T3, though, testify to the unique consolation of unfulfilled desire - the momentary delusion (which all catalogues permit) that the hole in your life isn't shapeless and shifting but bears the precise dimensions of some purchasable item - the world's smallest camcorder, say, or the world's most advanced mobile phone. This is, of course, a delusion that would never survive actual possession but in most cases, fortunately, that moment is unlikely ever to be reached. Browse through the catalogues or Stuff or T3 (if you don't get out much) and you can warm yourself on your wishes for ever

News
people
News
A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
News
Dominique Alderweireld, also known as Dodo de Saumure, is the owner of a string of brothels in Belgium
newsPhilip Sweeney gets the inside track on France's trial of the year
News
Cumberbatch was speaking on US television when he made the comment (Getty)
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge, Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus of Blink-182 pictured in 2011.
musicBassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker say Tom Delonge is 'disrespectful and ungrateful'
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'
tvBroadchurch series 2, episode 4, review - contains spoilers
Sport
cyclingDisgraced cycling star says people will soon forgive his actions
News
Britain's Prince Philip attends a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in London
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran will play three sell-out gigs at Wembley Stadium in July
music
News
i100
News
Lena Dunham posing for an official portrait at Sundance 2015
people
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Automotive Parts Manager

    £27300 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a leading...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Customer Service Advisor

    £22000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading boiler ...

    Recruitment Genius: International Customer Service Administrators

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join an awa...

    Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operations & Logistics Manager

    £38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's best performing...

    Day In a Page

    Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

    Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

    Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea