Hermione Eyre: I Ferrari you. Do you Armani me?

The Beckham phone texts read like a flirtation conducted entirely in shop talk
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The Independent Online

Yesterday was a bad day for the nuclear family, as the Sunday papers published another slew of alleged infidelities about the Beckham household. But it was a good day for Sir Alan Ayckbourn, or any one else with an interest in the way modern lovers communicate. For we saw, reprinted in all its inane glory, the text message correspondence of David Beckham and his supposed paramour, the model Sarah Marbeck. It is a conversation characterised by an obsession with consumer branding - an exchange that speaks to voyeurs but also one that is instructive to anyone trying to develop an ear for dialogue:

Yesterday was a bad day for the nuclear family, as the Sunday papers published another slew of alleged infidelities about the Beckham household. But it was a good day for Sir Alan Ayckbourn, or any one else with an interest in the way modern lovers communicate. For we saw, reprinted in all its inane glory, the text message correspondence of David Beckham and his supposed paramour, the model Sarah Marbeck. It is a conversation characterised by an obsession with consumer branding - an exchange that speaks to voyeurs but also one that is instructive to anyone trying to develop an ear for dialogue:

David Beckham: "Baby, I'm going to...[some material that is unprintable, and not for grammatical reasons] I'm driving and I've nearly crashed after that message. X."

Sarah Marbeck: "How fast are you driving and what car is it?"

David Beckham: "Too fast and the Ferrari. X.

Marbeck (later): "It's an Armani spaghetti-strap dress."

Beckham: "Sarah, them straps come off them gorgeous shoulders."

Marbeck: "You can see me strip in front of ya Ferrari."

And the conversation continues, with more consumer brand-related titillation passim. It reads like a flirtation conducted in shop talk, or the sales pitch of a heavy breather on commission. The overall effect is as bizarre as a corporately sponsored first date or a love note written entirely in consumer jargon. What is going on?

It could be that the published account of their exchange was a spoof. It reads like parody; but I would argue that it is indubitably genuine. No one trying to pull off a Hitler diaries-style stunt with David Beckham's text missives would be daring enough to construct it like this. The obsession with the sexiness of the Ferrari is so hyper-real that it must be real. It is real in the same way that Tampaxgate was too obscene to be fabricated, Squidgygate too mawkish (and also, Princess Diana's vowels too Essex) for anyone to have made it up.The insistence on the make of a car or the label of a dress as a source of passion is, to me, convincing.

Marbeck is putting branding to use as a conversational tool in order to establish some common ground. They sound like they barely know each other (although they are, perhaps, well acquainted in one sense). She seems to be trying to impress by using the language of the man who is the face of Adidas, Castrol, Coca Cola, Brylcreem, Police sunglasses ... And so she invokes the words Ferrari and Armani, reaching for the instinctive semaphore that is inculcated into all brand consumers from an early age. It is as if the pair suddenly have a mutual friend to talk about.

"Ferrari" is to them a shorthand for sex, the kind of word glamour models change their surname to by deed poll, the kind that is the same in every language. The name of the car acts as a lightning-conductor for a range of aspirations and psycho-sexual fantasies. It is convenient to use, in conversational terms. But it is as corrosive as it is convenient.

In romance, there has always been a certain amount of recycling of borrowed phrases, a reheating of clichés that are useful both to poets and to tongue-tied courting couples. There have always been universally understood symbols for desire, whether red roses or Clinton greeting cards. The medieval language of courtly love was borrowed from religious sources; the Victorians used a complicated taxonomy of flowers. And now, we use brand-names - you're as sweet as Tate and Lyle; as good for me as Guinness. Our modern way is more commercial than the stock phrases employed by lovers through history, but it's equally unimaginative. Helen of Troy was once the classical brand name for beauty; now it's Elizabeth Arden.

Partners that genuinely communicate have their own unique idiom. They speak in a shorthand that is not commercial - and one so private it wouldn't be much fun to eavesdrop. This is why the Beckham phone texts, with their secondhand points of reference, smack so clearly of a seedy, extramarital fling.

People who don't trust each other, who don't understand each other, who don't even like each other resort to brands. Have you ever overheard young people telling each other what they got their boyfriends or girlfriends for their birthday? "He bought me a Levis mumble mumble and I got him a Versace blah di blah." The brand name is the seal of approval, the tag that makes the gift worth having. Without it, they might be forced to concede that the gift is something they don't want, in a size that doesn't fit. But with the brand name, they are on safe ground. This obsession with brands is something kids grow out of, and only pathetic adults perpetuate.

When Victoria Beckham was growing up, she claimed she wanted to be "as famous as Persil Automatic"; now her would-be successor Sarah Marbeck has chosen to ally herself with some rather more luxury brands. Like David Beckham, himself the greatest superbrand of all.

h.eyre@independent.co.uk

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