A constant problem for newspaper columnists is the unceasing flow of tempting offers from PR types who are looking for a mention for their clients. As a general rule, I decline the various inducements (holidays, women, luxury meals for two) but make an exception when it comes to the crate of champagne that arrives with a free copy of Dream On!
This relatively little-known magazine describes itself, in a spirit of honesty that is rare in the media, as "the monthly bible of the pathetically aspirational". Its editorial team has worked out that, with so many people pumped up with fake hope like bad athletes on nandrolone, there is cash to be made from providing perfect fantasies of contemporary life which will give its readers - stressed, frustrated but still aspiring - something to dream about as they stare into the future.
Like any other form of fiction, aspirations change year by year. Recently, Dream On! has taken to producing a special supplement, not unlike those updates on the country's 50 richest people, in which the dreams of the moment are listed in order of popularity. The top five of the Dream On! Fantasy List 2005 includes one or two surprises among old favourites.
1. You decide to make a break with boring, stifling old Britain and buy the most amazing stone farmhouse in Tuscany/Lot-et-Garonne/the Pyrenees with its own olive grove - which was astonishingly cheap by the way - and now, as the sun shines down and swallows dart over the swimming pool, you are getting back in touch with what's really important - food, wine and falling asleep over a copy of a three-day old copy of the Sunday Express.
The new-life-abroad fantasy has been at or near the top of the list ever since Peter Mayle keyed into it all those years ago. Last year it dipped in popularity - the theory was that people had actually visited those who lived the dream and discovered they had been pickled in their own sun-tan lotion as they droned on about how ghastly Britain had become - but lifestyle programmes have restored it to its rightful place.
2. You go out with a semi-famous man, make a sexy video in the bedroom, and the next thing you know is it's on the internet and you are a national celebrity.
Ever since Rowland Rivron made a career in TV, people have dreamed of becoming famous while doing nothing in particular. The astonishing success of Paris Hilton and Abi Titmuss has opened a new and highly profitable route to fame, the accidental porn video.
3. Your rosy-cheeked children are helping you in the kitchen as you prepare a risotto and a salad of fruit you all collected as a family this afternoon from the orchard in your country garden. After a delicious meal in the kitchen, you will all curl up in front of the inglenook fire and Dad will read the new Harry Potter to you and the kids.
An idyllic version of family life is now relentlessly plugged, usually by metropolitan journalists who are trying to show what great parents they are. Its conflation of cooking, property and the countryside makes idealised domesticity almost as potent as an erotic fantasy, although the two are rarely found together.
4. Basically you were just writing this novel for yourself when the kids went to bed and you had a few moments to yourself. So when an agent wanted to read it, and a few weeks later then rang to say you were a millionaire, you were totally gobsmacked.
The writing-a-bestseller fantasy works at several levels. Apart from the obvious attractions of overnight wealth and the chance to meet Lord Bragg, it suggests that within you is a magnificent garden of invention.
5. You had been doing online poker ever since the Government's support of casinos convinced you that gambling was no longer an activity for losers. To your delight, a system you have worked out landed you a very respectable £4.5m.
The lottery fantasy has been tarnished over the past year by the behaviour of lottery louts but gambling is still a highly acceptable dream. There are signs that, for the pathetically aspirational, this will be the must-have fantasy for 2006.
Miles Kington is awayReuse content