Superfluous maybe, but very highly specified

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The Independent Online
Last Sunday the Innovations mail-order catalogue dropped out of the surrounding newspaper and on to the floor, with a pleasant and inviting thwock. So I threw the paper away (who wants to read yet another bloody cult-trailing article about This Life anyway), and read the catalogue. Soon I was lost in another, better world; a world in which any problem - no matter how small - could be solved.

"A breakthrough in home treatment of spots and cold sores?" I read. In the accompanying picture is something long and knobbly, with a red bit at the end; something looking remarkably like ET's healing finger. So tell us, catalogue, what does it do, exactly? Well, it "employs the bio- stimulating effects of low-intensity narrow-band light at a wavelength of precisely 660 nanometres in order to stimulate fibreplast proliferation and mediators of wound repair and inflammatory process healing". Sorry?

"In layman's terms it is designed to have a beneficial effect on facial spots." And it only costs pounds 29.95. Which is an amazing bargain for something that is probably done in hospitals with a machine costing two million quid.

What's next? "The height of glove technology". Ye-es, now I can see why the Explorer currently bumbling about on Mars is the height of space technology. But what is meant by "glove technology"? Well, these particular gloves are made out of special substances, cunningly bonded together. There is Taslan (as worn in CS Lewis books, presumably), a "layer of PORELLE", and - finally - a stratum of "Thinsulate - the advanced thermal insulator". Put them together, and you have something equally handy whether dog-sledding in Greenland or putting out the rubbish on a cold day.

Which brings us on to "Maximum performance outdoor headwear", a slightly nerdy looking object which is "technically specified for seriously chilly polar conditions" (thus distinguishing itself from caps that function only in frivolous chilliness), and is constructed out of "Tactel fabric, coated with Rainlife 2000 and proofed with Teflon water repellent". It is, in short, the height of cap technology. Just the thing for the garden.

In which, alas, if you are forgetful, you may be forced to stay. But no. "Never get locked out again," it says. Aha, what's this? A key fob that - should you accidentally leave it inside the house, and find yourself on the outside (safely protected by layers of Thinsulate and Tactel) - will respond to a whistle by climbing out of the letterbox and returning itself to you? Nope. It is an outdoor thermometer which, when you push the top, slides open to reveal a compartment within which your spare keys are hidden. Simple!

But hold on a moment. This catalogue is only seen by about five squillion people, some of whom are likely to be burglars, or to know burglars. Pretty soon the information that thermometers are being used as handy places for hiding the keys to houses stuffed full of jewellery, videos and tempting catalogue products, will be common knowledge in the prisons and borstals. Giving up their hunt under bricks, stones and gnomes, Britain's housebreakers will zero in on thermometers.

The resulting mercury-busting crimewave would piss almost everybody off: those who already hide their keys in their thermometers, those who have thermometers with no keys in them, and those who buy thermometers especially to put their keys in.

Which is why the manufacturers have fitted the key compartment with a three-digit combination lock. And all those very absent-minded folk - who habitually shut themselves out of their houses - have to do is to remember the three digits. Or - if they should forget - to hide a slip of paper, with the numbers written on, somewhere near the door. In a thermometer, perhaps.

Meanwhile I hope others will enjoy the "use anywhere Mini Backstretcher" (just lie down with this carefully crafted beechwood appliance in the bus, tube, cinema or aeroplane), will benefit from the "efficient and hygienic blackhead removal" gadget, take comfort from the Denpak NightGuard which fits into your mouth and stops you grinding your teeth at night, and will economise by getting the most out of their tubes of toothpaste with the "Squeezit".

And, before you ask, yes, I have bought stuff from this catalogue myself before. It's just that my purchases were more sensible and practical than many of the items that I have mentioned. My partner agrees that she has benefited enormously from the "one-eye-at-a-time" make-up glasses, with their independently hinged, flip-up lenses. Which "fold away like normal specs when not in use".

Miles Kington is on holiday