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

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
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.

SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

    £37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

    Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

    £25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

    Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

    £16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

    £25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

    Day In a Page

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones