Apocalypse tomorrow - it's DIY day

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The Independent Online
You might have thought life couldn't get any more savage after six weeks of electioneering but tomorrow, I'm afraid, Britain will confront the apocalypse. Blood will be spilt on carpets, children sent to their rooms, cats kicked and industrial language invoked that makes Reservoir Dogs look like Lassie.

I know this because tomorrow is Bank Holiday Monday - or, as it is now known, do-it-yourself day. The day of leisure on which thousands of us will spend the morning in forlorn contemplation of the products in DIY emporia, and the afternoon questioning the parentage of self-assembly furniture.

History is littered with DIY disasters. For example, a famous European architect once bought a flatpack occasional table and then tried to implement the following instructions: "Use the turnkey to affix wingnut B to hinge bracket A and wheedle the brine counter through 45 degrees to establish a coefficient." So did he end up with an occasional table? No, he created the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Sad to say, industrial language has not moved on much since then. In December 1994, the marketing intelligence group Mintel found that out of 300 survey respondents who had bought flatpacks in the previous 12 months, nearly half said the instructions were too complicated. And a report at around the same time by Userview, a company that tested DIY explanations, drew darker conclusions still: out of 300 people surveyed, nearly 70 per cent said they were put off by poor instructions.

But there does seem to be some gap between what people say and what people do. Verdict Research, the retail analyst, is expecting DIY sales for the first half of 1997 to be up 10 per cent on the same period last year, and a spokesman adds that poorly worded instructions are irrelevant because confusion is a price consumers are willing to pay for cheaper products.

So there we have it - if we pay peanuts, we get monkey nuts. However, help may be at hand because of a wonderful new breakthrough. To explain, the latest gadget on show at Bunhill Acres is a garden hose drum whose assembly instructions refrain from bamboozling us with baffling words because they contain no words at all; just a series of diagrams which helpfully depict nuts, bolts and discs flying off in all directions. The end result does not look much like a garden hose drum, but it makes a lovely occasional table.

SO IT'S a hung sandwich. After the final count in Tesco's culinary election, the results were as follows: Labour (Red Leicester), 25 per cent; Conservatives (Blue Stilton), 23 per cent; Liberals (Double Gloucester), 23 per cent; Green Party (Sage Derby), 17 per cent; Monster Raving Loonies (Cheddar with Fruit Cake), 13 per cent.

Taking power, then, is a cheese coalition - a five-decker sandwich with something for everyone but too many competing tastes to provide a distinctive flavour. That's what you always get, though, with the first-past-the-toast system.

So at the end of this gastronomic political excursion, what comparisons can be drawn between Tesco's electoral rolls and the opinion polls? Well, there's no comparison really. With cheese sandwiches you can add mayonnaise, salad dressing, mustard or pickle. And with opinion polls? Just a tiny pinch of salt.