Comfort in catalogue land

The people are happy, even when asleep (on orthopaedic pillows) or engaged in disgusting hygiene tasks
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The Independent Online
Past Times' Christmas catalogue swished through the letter box last week just in the nick of time. We were running low on short-attention- span reading material and, after all, there are only 57 reading nights left until Christmas. It will take every one of them to think about what I would order, were I the kind of person who orders from catalogues.

Which I am not. I'll bet you aren't either. "I do not buy from them," said one woman. "I read them."

This is a sad statement, but not the whole story. We love catalogues. They make us feel better. They have become to reading what mashed potatoes are to food: comforting.

Take my friend Sarah. She used to be a shopaholic, but now, with three children, she has become one of those women who juggle their lives. She used to write letters; now she makes lists. She also used to read books; then I noticed it became magazines. Now she reads only the backs of cans in supermarkets - and catalogues.

They are everywhere - on the sofa, by the phone, stacked up beside the bed - just in case she needs a little pick-me-up. While we have this discussion, I glance through a few. "It could be worse," she says, handing over one with fantastic Navaho jewellery in it. "I asked one of my friends if she was planning on keeping her catalogues and she said, 'Keep them? I'm going to be buried with them.'"

Do you blame her? I'm sure Catalogue Displacement Syndrome will become officially recognised soon, but until then we can keep on "reading". Catalogue land is such a soothing place to live. No fuss, no moaning, no mess. The people are always happy, even when they sleep (on orthopaedic pillows) or conduct disgusting personal hygiene tasks (such as clipping nose hairs). They are always doing great things - skiing, or boating, or going for walks amid the autumn leaves - and they do them all in clothes that match. In catalogue land, the everyday is special. Address labels are "indispensable", candles are "smartly boxed", wrapping paper is "distinctive". A piece of soap becomes a still life, flanked by fresh flowers.

At no point does reality intrude. "Without a doubt, this is the most stylish large pedal bin on the market." True or not, we are far too busy turning the page to worry. As always, there is a a snob factor. Have you noticed that some people have started to leave catalogues casually around?

If the catalogue has become a lifestyle accessory, then I plan to be the first on my block to have the one from Pet Funeral Services of Uckfield, East Sussex. After all, a hamster coffin that costs pounds 24.50 is more than just a coffin. It is also a conversation piece. And that is comforting to know.

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