December 4, 2009
I pick up the latest piece of macerated tree and decide to leaf through it. Usually, its path from forest to fire is only slightly delayed through the transport, mashing and mixing, plying and printing and jaded postal service. I use it to crouch beneath the oak we burn each evening, joined in spirit at least, with its noble cousin.
But today I take a look. Christmas is looming and we live in a village some distance from centres of consumerism. I need to start ordering if I am to look smug while everyone else fights their way towards the last of the Lindt, and runs out of wrapping paper.
I rip open the plastic and not one, but five items tumble out. They all vie for my attention with large red letters and underlining. One is covered with thumbnail photos of things I do not need with -50%! stamped on each one.
Another more official-looking letter states:
“Madame, You have been officially selected!”
YOUR SITUATION: (It shouts)
- Already a Client
- Loyalty Excellent (unlike the copy on this flyer)
- Earnestly chosen by our team (?)
I then see that this is not just a one-page description of my good fortune but it actually unfolds to tell me that thanks to my once having ordered some clothes pegs, I have earned a 7-piece gift set ABSOLUTELY FREE!
An extravagant printing process (which may cost someone his job) urges me to make a decision.
A grey sticker stamped with bold unfriendly font says “Non! I do not want your FREE GIFT”.
Next to it, a cheery yellow sticker says “OUI! I desire to receive my FREE gift!”
I carefully peel off the NON! feeling strangely reticent. As if I am doing something slightly churlish and antisocial. I am greeted by a blank grey square. It has unwritten words on it but I am not at liberty to write them here.
I look at the happy sticker and notice that it is in a box surrounded by dotted lines. Am I supposed to cut this out? I feel unsettled. I am back in an exam room and the instructions are unclear. The square says,
“I the Undersigned, Madame Grier, confirm that I would like to receive
A SEVEN PIECE APPLE GOURMANDISE SET
as a FREE gift.
This takes me back to my days in court.
“I present to you, your Honour, a contract signed by the defendant. You will notice that the defendant did indeed unpeel the required sticker and…”
I read the miniscule instructions to see what I am supposed to do next to receive my apple thingummy. Oh, I see. I have to take the happy sticker and stick it on my order form.
The Gourmande Apple set comprises of 4 cupboard-cluttering plastic plates with pictures of apple tart on them, a plastic knife for cutting said tart, an apple slicer (what is wrong with a knife for Pete’s sake) and a particularly useless looking pie dish with holes in it. I decide I can live without them but they have sown the seed of interest and I open the catalogue.
Perhaps this is the ploy. They show you something utterly useless so that you will be driven to look for at least one thing that you can’t live without.
I flick through the pages with hope in my heart. It is dashed on each page. I look at the young women modeling and imagine their excitement when the long-awaited call comes.
“Maman! I have been chosen! A real photo shoot!”, and then the disappointment when she is asked to don a headscarf, or a fleece blanket with sleeves and a serene expression. Another young woman smiles tentatively with a headband declaring her name to be “Sarah”. I can think of other applications for this item – at last you would be able to say,
“What? Do I have ‘stupid’ written across my forehead?” and indeed, for 4.99 you could.
A coy looking woman dons a v-neck cardigan with a lacy camisole peeking through the “v”.
“Ha!” I have been fooled. Silly me. So she does not have to waste precious time putting on a whole cami, all she has to do is clip the half-moons onto her bra so it looks like she is wearing a top under her cardigan. Sneaky. I only hope she remembers though, if she starts to feel a little warm.
As I continue to flip page after page this seam is well mined. You can buy a collared version, a turtleneck version or a fleece. Pure genius!
You can also buy a book on how to knit a scarf (7 euros), some knitting needles to go with it (4.99) and the requisite wool (2.50 X 2). This rounds it up to a mere 12 euros more than you would pay at the market.
There are more kittens and puppies housed within these pages than a sizable animal shelter. They crouch as door-stops, leer out from printed blankets in nightmarish proportions and brave the rain on umbrellas. In France they don’t even use the expression “It’s raining cats and dogs”.
A dejected owl is my favourite. It sits on the mantelpiece and changes colour according to the weather. Some sort of barometer gizmo. “Blue means fine weather!” Pink means cloudy. Purple – expect thunderstorms. This also comes in the Virgin Mary format but “Attention!” This is a limited edition one. Blushworthy indeed.
The more I read, the more I realise that this is all about artifice. Look thinner! Look younger! Make your dog look like a (ridiculous) miniature human/friend. Crowd your home with useless objects so that one day you may have cause to invite people over to admire your porcelain cheese signs. Buy one of those behind-the radiator cleaners so that you will have a legitimate way to while away some time.
Come on people. Please. Follow your hearts. Do something that makes you glow. Do not throw away your talent and time on printing, reading, imagining or having anything to do with all this monumental WASTE. Spend yourself, not your money. Have one knife that will cut and apple and a piece of pie! Be busy. Invite people over and point at the cheese and tell them what it is and where you bought it. Talk to the person who sold it to you. We don’t need this stuff. We need each other.