True Gripes: Freebie-jeebies: When is a paper not a paper?

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The Independent Online
The free newspaper is rather like John Smith. It's not that the late leader of the Labour Party was pushed through letterboxes every week, but that, as with him, you never realise what you are missing until it is taken away.

Or, in the case of the free newspaper, not delivered any more. At one point our little outpost of Southwark, sticking into Lewisham, had two papers a week, from publishers in each borough. We even had a distributor knocking on the door to make sure that his publication was being delivered and not chucked into the recycling centre en route.

Then it stopped. After a while the other one packed it in too. This means that I am out of touch. I have no warning of new traffic humps. Off-licences in my postal district can be burgled without my attention being drawn to the batch number of stolen bottles to watch out for.

I miss the wonderful small ads, mainly for vans the IRA wouldn't use in a roadblock and for colonic irri-gation practitioners shortly to be exposed by a special supplement of the British Medical Journal. I loved looking down my nose at the showbiz notes - Fifties pop star singing Sixties numbers in Seventies shirt - even though that's exactly my kind of music.

Okay, I could buy a local paper. But London locals are not really local. They offer acres of newsprint about new speed-humps and plundered off-licences in the suburbs of far-flung parts of the South Circular.

Can anything take its place? Something already has, in my letterbox but not in my affections.

It is a terrible publication which I shall call the Property Freebie. Every week the headline is the same: 'House Prices Soaring Through the Roof Again. The lead 'story underneath always says hurry, hurry, buy a house now.

Well, I have news for them. I'd write it down and stick it under their office door, every week, if I knew where they hung out. The news is this: I already have a house. It is attached to the door, which is attached to the letterbox through which they shove their unwanted publication. I do not wish to buy another one, not even if they come up with some scheme for buying two and getting one free.

A few slabs of text huddle amid the postage-stamp size pictures of houses for sale. Only a million people trapped by negative equity, an 'article enthused the other week. That's good news.

Also, it went on, a 'housing expert' swears that prices could shoot up by 20 per cent a year. Unless? Well, he concedes it won't happen if the Government has problems with economic growth and unemployment. In other words, it won't happen.

Other artwork consists of photographs of estate agents. Of course,

I won't have any truck with elderly gags about this maligned band of

professionals. Yes I will. What do people shout when they see an estate agent up to his neck in a barrel of S-H-one-T? 'More S-H-one-T]

But I have to reveal what is for me the most depressing aspect of the Property Freebie.

I can foresee my reaction when the housing market really crumbles and the publishers stop pushing the paper through my letterbox. I shall feel deprived, again.