Saturday, May 23, 2009

The perils of Betterware


Originally written for Debunk zine in October 2005

They say that everyone Englishman’s home is his castle. In addition to the little forts I’ve built a few times out of clothes horses and sheets, the siege mentality is sometimes brought on from living in a town.. Admittedly sometimes I’ll leave the front door if someone knocks, the logic being that there’s no point in my expending energy only to get asked who my gas company is, I figure if it’s someone important like the Dominoes delivery guy or someone from environmental health telling me they are evacuating the area then they’ll knock at least twice. The gas thing is getting beyond annoying. I actually tip-toe to my front door when someone demands my attention by knocking at least twice.

We had our knackered old sash windows replaced with nice warm non-leaking plastic jobbies recently. The brain dead oik that brokered the ‘deal’ said he could offer us a nice glass front door. I politely pointed out (using manly one syllable words to ensure penetration through his gelled head) that I could think of nothing worse than bastards with clipboards seeing that I was actually at home when they want to quiz me about who I buy gas from. There’s a lot to be said for crouching furtively behind your good old fashioned (reasonably) solid wooden door trying to peer through the cracks at who/ what is waiting for your time and attention outside. The other reason for not wanting a glass front door is the view. Were our main entrance to be a plastic and fake stained glass masterpiece it would afford us panoramic views of the side of a van that always seems to be parked on the kerb outside our house, well that and a seemly unending stream of arguing track suited yoofs that appear to have nothing better to do than buy Tennents Super and walk up and down my road smoking cheap fags (I can only assume from the smell, that they are filled with sweepings from a donkey abattoir instead of tobacco) and shout at each other. The arguments never seem to resolve, mainly because deep down below the intricate layers of swearing nothing is actually being said. Crouching behind my door trying to figure out if even I know who our gas supplier is I’ve heard good long segments of these arguments. Whilst I applaud the preservation of regional dialects they are useless at solving arguments as no information or opinions are actually exchanged. A typical mid rant volley round my part of Ipswich may sound something like this, “f**k, c**ting f**king didunt, f**king f**k you f**k. I f**king c**ted the f**k, so f**k you c**t.” Admittedly I’ve embellished that sentence a little to drag it from the depths of total meaninglessness.

The fort mentality is enforced by the fact I work from home which means I’m here pretty much all the time. As a daytime castle dweller I join the leagues of house mums, professionally unemployed and drunks that are all perpetually confused by the whole phantom Betterware agent phenomenon. Despite the fact I spend 90% of my life less than four metres from the front door, and can hear mumbling morons pass my front door even when I’ve got loud music on I never seem to hear the people that drop off and attempt to collect these wee catalogues. One day the Betterware catalogue plops through the door, and there it stays until we get fed up of using it as a doormat or one of the cats pisses on it. Usually somewhere in-between the initial landing of this catalogue of modern wonders (and it’s inevitable destruction) little slips of paper start coming through the door telling me that they want the bloody thing back. They normally say something jaunty like ‘we called but you were out’, which frankly is dogshit as I’m always here!

Recently I think they’ve been getting inpatient with our lack of purchasing and the wee notes come quicker and in greater numbers. Fortunately we don’t have a carpet in our hall yet so most nag notes simply drift down between the gaps between the floorboards to befuddle the archaeologists of the future.

I am specifically banned from ever actually reading the Betterware catalogues these days. As far as my wife is concerned it would be the equivalent of sending me to market and having me return with some magic beans. Sometimes I swear I hear the Betterware catalogue taunting and calling to me from its resting place behind the front door. I have to resist the temptation to slide the brightly coloured catalogue from its ill fitting plastic sleeve. I have to resist it because I’m always really impressed by the kitchen gadgets contained therein.
Emma (my wife) is busy upstairs doing something important like deciding how much of the crap I’ve stashed in the loft I actually need to keep so I’ve tip toed to the front door and back hiding the Betterware catalogue up my jumper in a style akin to a teenage boy trying to smuggle a grot mag past his parents and up to the secrecy (and ahem, ‘comfort’) of his bedroom. Flicking through the pages (printed on the thinnest paper known to man) I’ve already spotted some things I want to buy. I wasn’t even put off by the gurning Gloria Hunniford on the front cover, which incidently was hidden by the note from the distributor letting me know when they will be returning to collect said catalogue in less than 48 hours!. I know they won’t knock, and they will never see their catalogue again, in fact I’m also pretty sure they are actually incorporeal in some way. Just like TV detector van, I’ve never seen a Betterware agent, seen a photo of one, or indeed met anyone that knows or is related to one. I’m totally convinced they are some sort of phantom beings wandering the earth with armfuls of kitchen gadget catalogue, cursed with an inability to knock on doors or ring doorbells. Oh, maybe that’s hell? Anyway, back to the catalogue; the first thing that impresses me is the calibre of the free gifts. Spend £15 and you’ll get some needles, some wee discs for labelling your keys (handy for thieves that steal your bag obviously), and some sort of device for keeping a seat belt off your massive boobs. Well at least that’s what I gather from the photo, and boy oh boy does the buxom lass look so happy that her chest is no longer defined by a strap of live saving webbing, never again will a truck driver be able to gawp through her sunroof and see exactly how big her boobs are. Frankly I’d gleefully forfeit all these free gifts if they could promise to never send Gloria Hunniford round to collect the catalogue, frankly the though of Gloria Hunniford being of incorporeal form with powers over printed matter is enough to put me off my supper. Let’s trip the plastic fantastic here, join me (before my wife catches me and punishes me) as I skip gaily through the pages of this Betterware catalogue.Right off the bat we have a fake pebble, now why might you wonder would anyone want a fake pebble? Ah, well flip the pebble over and under a handy bit of plastic emblazoned ‘SLIDE HERE’ and a helpful arrow informing you of the correct direction is a cavity for hiding your front door key. Genius, absolute genius. Consider for a moment that this catalogue has been jammed through every letterbox in a ten mile radius, and barring rabid dogs, local low levels of literacy (and people with better things to do) a whole load of people are going to know that I don’t in fact like to keep an ornamental pebble by my front door, and that I am in fact a moron inviting a burglary that would only require a additional written invitation to be considered by the police as less a crime, more a housewarming with a poor choice of guests. That aside I don’t have a front garden so upon finding a mystery rock on the pavement outside my house the local kids would do much the same as they do when someone lets their dog park it’s breakfast in front of my house, and boot the object down the road with all the style, skill and panache of Bobby Moore. Bobby Moore in his current condition that is.

On the opposite page to the rock of stupidity are some small glow in the dark pebbles. What is it with Betterware and fake stones? The idea of these small wonders is that you put them in the gravel next to your garden path as a guide in the dark. My cats would love this, no more need to stumble around the garden looking for somewhere to shit; these glowing beauties would guide them in like Oprah on a ham.

Next up we have some no doubt fantastically toxic fluid for removing oil stains from your drive. As community minded as I am I’m afraid not giving a shite about leaving drops of oil on the road where I park my car is a small luxury as far as I’m concerned. I recycle pretty much everything that enters my house, conserve electricity and use recycled bog roll so rough that I constantly seem to have a ringpeice like a tail gunner’s thumb; a drop of oil every few months doesn’t have me waking up in a cold sweat. I used to own a really old Land Rover that used to leave so much oil on the road where we parked the road looked like it had been painted to be camouflaged from itself. Although of course I’m certainly not proud of that fact it did discouraged the kids on our street from playing street footy outside our house, a point that I’m sure my windows are eternally grateful for. I think if I was to use this drive cleaner on the road most of the kids down here would go blind. But at least they wouldn’t kick my secret pebble around.

Page 9 tempts me to buy a device with the tagline ‘Move heavy objects easily’. Now as much as I can convince myself I need things from this catalogue I know I don’t need this. My solution doesn’t cost me a penny, it’s a simple system consisting of me having a spinal injury and my friends all being nice people. The fact I’m a bass player and have a huge Trace Elliot stack is starting to scratch the sheen of this plan as far as my band-mates are concerned. But still £4.99 for what essentially looks like the worst skateboard in the world, I’ll pass this time if it’s all the same to you.

Bags seem to be another big thing in this catalogue. Bags for things like bread, so your £4 buys you a bag, wait for it, a bag with the word bread written on it. I’m glad I’m writing this column, and thanks to you all for sitting in on what is rapidly turning into some sort of public intervention to stop me buying shite I don’t need! Actually just for the record I don’t think I ever actually successfully bought anything from Betterware. It would involve leaving some cash in the bag with the catalogue on our front door step, surely that’s a massive floor in the big Betterware plan to dominate the world? We had to cancel our milk as it couldn’t survive for more than 30 minutes on our doorstep without satisfying some insatiable desire to see more of the world and disappear from our lives forever. There’s no way in hell cold hard cash is gonna last at all on our street! I’ve actually run several experiments on just how light fingered the travellers through my neighbourhood are. I should explain at this point that I am positive that it’s none of the residents of my road getting involved in this tea leafing. We removed the patio in our garden once and so hired a skip to depose of the smashed remains. The fact we found another two patios under that first one is a story for another time. Before long the skip was full, and acting as an excellent traffic calming measure on our street. The cars hack down our street so fast it’s nearly as hard to hang onto wing mirrors as it is freshly delivered pints of milk. Atop the pile of rubble I placed an old car stereo that we’d had knocking around in our loft for years. It was so old in fact that it didn’t have FM, and the radio tuner was one of those precarious wobbly needle affairs. For good measure I twatted the stereo hard and square in the middle of the top with a lump hammer. This left a dent in the top of the device large enough to serve as a fairly passable ashtray, as well as bulging the sides of the stereo out and spewing some of the useless innards out of a few gaps in the casing. So all in all it looked a bit like a metallic spring roll that had been stamped on good and hard. Standing back and admiring the positioning of this bait, (just out of reach of anyone under six foot tall) I realised that something was missing; I had to record this experiment in some way. I nipped back indoors to grab our camera. Our house is pretty small and I was only gone no more than ten seconds. I hopped gleefully out of my front door, pausing only to avoid a few dog turds and a strangely familiar rock that my neighbour had left on the pavement only to discover the knackered old car stereo had already gone. Impressed but a little disappointed I glanced up and down the road expecting to see a cackling hunchback in a stripy jumper skipping away on tip-toes furtively looking out from under his black cap. But alas, there was nobody to be seen. I looked around the edges of the skip to see if the stereo bait had simply fallen off, but no it had gone. Maybe it had been chatting to a milk bottle? At that exact moment, and even although I had failed to grab a photographic record of events I was pretty amused at the speed of the outcome. On retrospect I think I’d probably been a been too much of a tease as a few weeks later my car was broken into and my stereo stolen. They wrenched open the driver’s door and so the car was a write-off. The bastards even took a Replacements tape that a friend had just made me. And so ended my enthusiasm for social experimentation.

Page 13 has a plastic cracker storage system, which in my house would be nothing short of cheerfully optimistic.

Page 14 has some sort of device for dispensing cold drinks. Now I know mankind has evolved considerably over the last twenty years. We live in an age of mobile phone, the internet, unisex underwear and more importantly we live in an age of enlightenment that has finally admitted that the femidom was never a good idea. It may have seemed like a good idea (more so to the man), well it may have seemed like a good idea till the time for standing up comes. Have you ever tipped a plastic bag full of water upside-down? I should state at this point I speak from no personal experience whatsoever in a field report type deal with Femidoms. It was my job at a sixth form health fair to demonstrate how to apply/ insert femidoms, ably assisted by a giant transparent plastic pelvis. I was at a formative age, and sticking my fingers inside a plastic vagina for days on end could frankly have sent me one way or the other. I fought for days to avoid the formation of a mental image in my head of what a femidom might look like in situ. Eventually whilst packing away my perspex partner I had what can only be described as a horrible moment of mental clarity, I suddenly put all the jigsaw pieces together and had a realisation of what a fitted femidom would look like. From what I could gather, and bearing in mind I’d been more intimate and inserted more femidoms over the previous few days than more men would in several lifetimes, (and with far less finite satisfaction) here is what I realised the device would look like were I at that age lucky enough to get the chance to use one on a woman with a genital region not comprised entirely of plastic. To help you form this retina burning image in your own minds (and you may not thank me), I’m going to talk you through it step by step. Take one plastic bag, take one large stone (just look for one on your neighbours doorstep). Put said stone in said bag, and set off for your nearest large river. Upon arriving at said river throw bag containing stone into deep mud. Stand back and gaze upon the half submerged plastic bag, and what I can only fear is what femidoms looked like in use. Incidently the applicator ring part of the may have been their biggest downfall. Apparently few men realised that this small rubber ring was only for inserting the femidom prior to getting carnal. Leaving this ring in place tended to lead to a strangulated penis. Far more intelligent men removed the ring, they made fantastic pick holders for your guitar. I actually finally lost my applicator/ pick holder just a few weeks ago and was royally gutted. So there you go, the drink cooler was such a dull product I had to spice it up with talk of experimental contraception! Anyway a device for dispensing cold drinks has been around for years, it’s called a pub.

Page 15, a bag with ‘Potato Bag’ written on it, only £4.99 well my goodness!

Page 20 has a device that I actually think looks pretty cool. It’s a small bin type thing that fits over the middle console in your car. The front actually is a bin, the top has drink holders and a space to put sandwiches or a burger. If I fitted this to my car I wouldn’t be able to use the handbrake, gears or to a certain extent the steering wheel. So if I buy this product the likelihood is I’ll die, but at least I’ll have a full belly and be well hydrated.
Something this catalogue has brought to my attention is a lot of problems I never realised I had in my life. Apparently hearing things slide around in the boot is a real problem in today’s society. Admittedly if my bass amp was sliding around I’d be concerned, with the size and weight it represents it’s likely to go through a window and cause untold devastation to whichever of our nations roads I’m hurtling down at the time. But a few empty drinks bottles and fag packets don’t really concern me. Something even great that this catalogue has taught me is that the solutions to these problems I never knew I had are even more tangible and logical. If I hear stuff sliding around in my car boot in future I won’t do a u-turn on the motorway, and head home to by a Betterware boot caddy, I’ll just turn the music up so I can’t hear said items. I don’t know if I’m just a raging simpleton but a lot of these products simply don’t make a lick of sense to me. A fine example would be the secure pillow storage system (why is everything a system?), now excuse me, but when my pillows aren’t supporting my dribbling unconscious head I’ve never given a thought as to their security. Are there pillow thieves out there akin to the hair thieves that Eddie Izzard warned us about?

‘The quick and easy way to remove pet hairs and lint’ declares the product on page 29. Well thank god for this, I thought there was only the hard method that I’ve been using, well away goes my electron microscope, tweezers and blueprints for a hairless household pet. Yes before you mention it I know there are plenty of hairless pets, but this is my column and you’ll have to tolerate my slightly unusual comedic vehicles while you’re reading it! I’m interested to know if anyone ever challenges these claims. A radical new needle design declares that I’ll never have trouble threading a needle again. I wonder if anyone has ever tumbled through the doors of Betterware HQ pissed out of their mind clutching in one hand a thread of cotton, and one of these marvellous needles in the other hand. Screaming that he feels cheated, try as he can that needle just will not be threaded. At which point the Betterware staff member sent to deal with this intrusion may well point out that said drunkard is in fact holding a puppy and kebab. I think I’m suffering here, as I haven’t dived into one of these catalogues for sometime I think I’m getting over stimulated, hence the puppy and kebab comment, I’ll do what I can to get it back together.

Page 31, arg apparently there are evil looking mites in my pillows, this isn’t helping me come back down to earth. Maybe that’s what the secure storage for pillows is for, to stop these wee buggers from taking over the earth. Just above this product there’s a cheapo burglar alarm that you can stick to your door. To illustrate the point there’s a burglar’s hand creeping round the edge of the door. I’d love to find out whose hand it is; I bet they’ve got my car stereo the bastard!

Page 31. ‘make better use of your bed’. No comment.

Well there are 100 pages to this catalogue so you’ll probably be pleased to know I’ll go no further. I’m starting to fear for my grip on reality, and I think I’m going a little cross-eyed. There’s no moral to this tale, apart from maybe that you should look around you, it’s an amusing place we live if it you look at it from the right angle. Actually scratch that, this tale has no moral at all, other than ‘buy me something nice’.

Thanks to Graham Birks for the lovely photo of me shown above.