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Laterally SpeakingHumphrey Walwyn 11/11

Humphrey Walwyn 11/11

We need a larger letterbox at home. November is the merry month of mail order mayhem—the time of year when every supermarket, weekend newspaper, toy retailer and garden store produces its list of special Christmas offers. Tons of glossy paper flooding over our door mats and gigabytes of colourful data glowing in our email boxes, and they’re all trying to sell us stuff for Christmas that we don’t actually want, let alone need. And if I don’t want it, why on earth are they supposing that my relations or friends might want it instead? Would my youngest niece really benefit from a swaying upright plastic cobra with flashing eyes for Christmas (‘Fun For All The Family’)? Who do they take me for… a snake fetish charmer? Perhaps both my sons are longing for that battery operated tea and coffee maker complete with LED alarm clock and portable humidifier (‘You Never Thought It Could Be SO Useful’)! No, indeed I would never have thought so…
Would my aged aunt appreciate receiving a luminous loo seat cover so she can find her way there in the dark (‘Never Get Caught Again’)? Actually she might, but I don’t think it’s very tactful of me to present it as a Christmas gift to joyously remind her of her slight problem in front of all the family. However, owing to the success of the Vampire Diaries and current teen movie culture, I could be tempted to buy three sets of sharp vampire teeth for my nephews in the vein hope that they might all bite each other to oblivion.
Where do they get this stuff from? Presumably there’s a large factory in South Korea or downtown Shanghai with a long production line containing an endless supply of edible underpants, heat sensitive cufflinks, mini TV remote controls disguised as 9 inch long pink cockroaches and other exotic junk. Can you imagine their weekly new product marketing meetings:
“Ok, everyone, settle down. What’s new?”
“Well sir, I’ve got an idea for a rubber camel that lays peanuts and olives out of its bottom…”
“Great! I shall call it the “Perfect Party Pooper”! Lets make 3 million of them—delivery by Tuesday. Next…”
“How about the Electronic Pepper Mill with Built-in Spanish Phrase Book and Barbeque Firelighter…”
“Great idea—“Learn And Burn!” Let’s do 2 million of them in fluorescent green and another 2 million in silver plastic to be sold as the Deluxe Version—both for the UK market. Brits will buy anything that combines cookery and holidays and they can always Buy One and Get One Free! Batteries not included of course…”
You see? We’re already known for being a soft touch for most types of useless gadget. Why anyone should want a single one of these items—let alone two of them—is hard to fathom. Of course they’re trying to sell you more of the same festive flotsam that they’ve still got stored away from last year. Most of it’s only been repackaged and re-stickered for 2011 (‘New For The Family This Christmas’ etc) in a desperate attempt to shift redundant stock, but you can only sell so many pepper mills (with or without extra language learning capabilities).
Then there’s the item on page 60 of a particular brochure advertising an “I.E.D.”  I kid you not… I thought this particularly explosive item was fortunately only available in faraway places like Afghanistan or Iraq, but I see here that it can be found in a UK Christmas catalogue. Luckily, in this case, I.E.D. stands for Inflatable Electric Dolphin. Phew! So, that’s OK then…
Another thing… have you noticed how many of these items can only be written about with Initial Capital Letters? They have to leap out at you off the page to be noticed. A battery operated owl noise doorbell sounds sort of boring and ordinary. However, an “Electronic Digital Owl Hoot Horror (‘Amuse All Your Friends’—‘Be The Life And Soul of Any Party!’) is perhaps more sellable. I say ‘perhaps’ but personally I might have preferred the 20,000 Volt Electric Death-Ray Doorbell to blast unwelcome visitors to a crisp. Party pooper? Moi?
And there are some products that probably started off as a popular joke and sold so well that someone somewhere decided to go completely over the top with them. Last year it was Sudoku, but the chief culprit for gift overkill for 2011 must be the Cuddly Meerkat. Formerly known as a nice little animal from the Kalahari Desert that stands on its hind legs and looks kinda cute, this small mammal has captured the imagination of an entire nation from its appearance in a series of TV adverts. You can get candles, car stickers, books, DVDs, kitchen cutlery, door stops, IPhone cases and cuddly toys all in meerkat flavour. None of them look remotely natural—more like grizzled rats with ear to ear sickly grins.
Who thinks up such entirely awful products as the nodding 3 foot Meerkat with a lopsided wide plastic smile for your garden (‘Cute and Adorable Lawn Pets’)? Are they kidding? And there’s not just one of the wretched things—you can buy a whole Meerkat Adams family of them leering at you from beside the hedge. Is this supposed to be a restful rural addition to your rose bed or a terrifying invasion of leering alien life forms? Simple? You bet… Yes, I can feel an attack of the Scrooges coming on. Bah Humbug! After all, ‘tis the season to be shoddy…

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