Tales from beyond the Wellypad
Tuesday 06 August 1996
Of course I know that I ought to tick the little boxes which would spare me the exciting "thlup" of cellophane on the hall mat. But I don't, and the catalogues and offers from eager mail-order companies arrive regularly to fascinate and tempt me. Innovations straps me to the cutting edge of electronic gadgetry, Oxfam will save whole Peruvian mountain cultures for the price of an alpaca throw-rug, Past Times would permit me to place a replica 50s Bakelite radio (with ultra-modern CD capacity) alongside my Isle of Lewis chessmen. There must be houses in the English Home Counties that resemble curio stalls inside.
Not mine, however. For most of my adult life I have browsed, but refused to buy. A flirtation in the early Eighties with a tooth-buffer (after one buff it seized up - due, I think, to the unfortunate presence of saliva in my mouth), and another with a contraption for getting painted-over screws out of walls, left me too well aware of the gap between the happy photos of an attractive model buffing pearly teeth, and the nasty, rubbery, stuttering reality.
And then my mother - my parsimonious, careful, why-do-people-pay-money- to drink-water-out-of-bottles mother - succumbed in a big way. She started with bric-a-brac for Christmas time: foot-warmers from Nepal, candle-holders from Gujarat, glow-stars for the kids' bedrooms. But the habit grew. Last year she bought a revolutionary new type of vacuum cleaner, with no dust- bags. Secretly I questioned her sanity and worried about the future - if her vacuum cleaner was anything like my tooth-buffer we'd end up having to call in some industrial cleaning company, charged with removing embedded particles of dirt and furniture (and, possibly, mother) from walls and ceilings.
I made the mistake of telling her of my fears. So when her vacuum won a string of major design awards and its inventor became lionised as the most brilliant designer/entrepreneur since Sir Clive Sinclair's early days, I was forced to eat my words. And - as a result - I began to look at the junk-mail with a new respect. Perhaps things had changed? So last month I had the cordless kettle. And the mini-turntable. As I opened the brown cardboard packaging it was as though I were a child again, and it was my birthday. Except, of course, that I'd bought all the presents myself.
Anyway, this morning the latest catalogue arrived, and I spent the train journey to work lusting for, or puzzling over, its contents. I certainly desire the Smart-lamp, which turns itself on when it senses your presence. I like things which sense my presence and turn themselves on - such as CD players, televisions and young women. I am tempted (following installation of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors) by the hammer for breaking car windows and the rope ladders for the upstairs bedrooms. You cannot be too careful. The Wellypad, which scrapes the mud off your wellies, helps you take them off, and then parks them in sanitary isolation on a green mat could be a boon.
Some items have no obvious purpose. I was slightly concerned by the machine that logs all calls, showing the originating number, whether or not the caller leaves a message on the answer-phone. What could this be for? A way of detecting nuisance-callers who aren't actually a nuisance?
Then there are the unexpected combinations, such as "the only alarm clock with storm-warnings" and the pen that allows you to record "20 seconds of spoken notes" (about the time it takes to read the preceding paragraph out loud).
In a few years time I may need the Wonder Trimmer, for unwanted nose and ear hair. But I am still too nervous of such a gadget running amok when inserted into the relevant orifice. One wonders how many hapless purchasers are to be found in casualty departments, a nasty buzzing noise emerging from places where unwanted hair doth grow.
So I have plumped for the Chin Gym, which invites you to hang weights from your mouth, so strengthening a group of heretofore undiscovered muscles. And since it "can be highly effective used with the complementary Facial Flex", a gob-inserted spring which "does for your face what workouts do for your body", I'll have that as well. The "roll-on for ageing tile grout" sounds handy too, for those days ahead when tile grout will doubtless afflict me. Even if it does look horribly like that rubbery tooth-buffer of yore.
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