The Flurrying Flutter Of Holiday Catalogs

WHEN I woke up this morning my first thought, surprisingly, was not "Today I will buy me a Wacky Vac, a Tangle Lamp, a Sonic Pest Repeller, and the only super, safe, solid answer to the hot water bottle.""But why ever not?" you may ask. I will tell you: It is because I don't read the mail until after breakfast at this time of year. It's the season, you see, of the mail-order catalogs. They flutter through our letterbox like leaves from the sycamore or birch, filled to the edges with bright, fresh, unheard-of, unlikely "innovations" just waiting to make your day easier, your wife happier, your windows clean in half the time, your rice perfect in minutes, your golf balls named, your car ventilated, and your pocket empty. All unasked they come - if nothing else, at least to answer that nagging and tricky question of what on earth to give Uncle Bob for Christmas. But the hard sell takes thought, I always feel, and novel notions are clamorous, so a good quiet breakfast is advisable before facing bewildering buys from the world of advanced technology and commercial enterprise. Breakfast is, after all, a reflective prelude, a space set aside from the mayhem of modern living, an oasis of tranquillity in the day, an old-world hour, sacrosanct. It's the time when whole-sleep yields but slowly to half-sleep, when soft dreams may linger a little longer, when ... the orange spurts its accurate, acid juice in the eye to protest the invading squeezer. It's the moment of the day when the toaster, after grasping between its teeth slices of bread, chews and swallows them hard, and then, b y pyrotechnic wizardry, transforms them into inaccessible chunks of charcoal. This is that placid, fulfilling time when the egg boiler, try as you will to please it with the precisely correct quantity of water, still produces a sloppy egg; when the coffee machine continues to drip testily on its sizzling hot-plate long after its jug has been removed; when you try once more to form a gentle relationship with the hermetically-sealed bag in the cereal box, made so tough that no human hand has yet been able to tear it open. And this is the time when our TV complains about its early ri sing and once more loses all sound just as the newscaster announces the main headlines of the day. Breakfast, as I say, is a haven. BUT the world must be faced in the end, the mail opened and read. To buy or not to buy, that is the .... Come to think of it, what have we ever bought in the past from these postal vendors that makes them go on taking us for suckers? Oh, yes, there was that battery-operated card-shuffler we gave to Ruth. She did seem pleased. And it was probably from one of these magazines that my wife obtained the instrument for finding joists and struts hidden beneath floors and inside walls. You run its velvety surfac e along the wall or floor, and the green light changes to red when there's a solid piece of wood lurking behind. Then you can bang your nail in, sure of a good hold - and positive it won't go straight into a waterpipe or electric cable. A great idea. Unfortunately it was only reliable sometimes. Then, it's true, there was the ashtray that absorbs the smell and smoke (it's once again a "new innovation" this year). Hmmm, well, maybe. But it didn't exactly draw the wafting fumes out of the air. And it wasn't what you might call a thing of beauty. I wonder, I wonder ... would I really like to be able to plate my trinkets in silver and gold? How badly do I need a miniature violin that actually works? Now a hammock that "makes tidying fun," that sounds possible. A wedge-shaped pillow for reading in bed? Well ... but what about those of us who prefer to read in the bath-tub? Can't you, oh catalog compilers, come up with something that turns the pages for us and keeps the water forever hot? And really? I "Never Need to Buy a Knitting Pattern Again"? Goodness! And "26 Magnetic Screwdrivers in One"? And "30 pure bristle paint brushes only British pounds16.95?" And "Magic Glowstars"? Ah, yes - now that was one we went for, for a niece's bedroom, a year or two ago. Enchanting. You stick the stars to the ceiling and they glow for half an hour after the light's turned off. They really do, too. But then the glue let go and down they fluttered - like autumn leaves, or snow, or ... catalogs. Oh well, perhaps I won't after all be sending for anything this year. But wait! What's that on page 22? A "Compact Desktop Shredder - only British pounds29.95"? Now that is an idea. I wonder if it would be a suitable size for unsolicited mail?

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