For the past few years, another seasonal story has joined the traditional tales of woe about this mysterious, random thing called Winter causing chaos – always at the same time of year, it seems – on the railways of this fair land and of roadworks unexpectedly coinciding with the peak time for people taking long car journeys to visit loved ones (and even their families) thereby adding misery to the mistletoe on motorways across the country.
This new glitch concerns a nation of Tiny Tims and Tiny Tears going without the Christmas gifts intended for them simply because the theoretical givers ordered them online rather than go to the bother of fetching them on their own two feet. ‘FAMILIES FACE THE HEARTACHE OF MISSING OUT ON CHRISTMAS PRESENTS BECAUSE OF A NATIONAL SHORTAGE OF DELIVERY DRIVERS!’ thundered the Daily Mail, while the Advertising Standards Authority considered launching an inquiry into whether Amazon is leading customers of its pricey priority service astray by calling it Prime rather Prime Chumps, paying as they do £79 a year for guaranteed next-day delivery which apparently often loses a day and wakes up with its underwear on inside out. Delivery, in many cases, to the same address in which both the thwarted giver and sad receiver live. Making it even odder that the buyer who failed to beware Greeks called Hermes Delivery claiming to bear gifts couldn’t just toddle off into town and bring home the the bacon-flavoured bath-bombs themselves before pressing them into the paws of the giddy getter.
The Case Of The Absent Presents – created solely by people blithely ignoring the fact that are these things called shops which are open every day of the week except the day the giving gets done on – is part of the modern folly of progress for the sake of progress which actually makes things worse. My husband has neatly dubbed such phenomena Unnovations and there’s a regular smorgasbord of such souped-up stupidity to choose from.
The hi-tech cars which are easier to break into than old jalopies – over the past few years, tens of thousands of expensive keyless cars have been nicked, including one belonging to Kathy Lette who for once didn’t crack a wretched pun on hearing that her BMW was AWOL. ‘No one told me that keyless cars were vulnerable,’ she bleated rather pitiably. But this story at least has a happy ending, for lovers of literature if not Lette herself – amongst the items in the car which are lost and gone forever, one was the only draft of her next novel.
Scammers also love the obvious folly of online banking, in which the banks save money by shutting down branches and sacking staff by the simple action of putting your humble stash at the disposal of every crook in Christendom, all the while pretending that it’s some groovy futuristic improvement. On the level of cultural thievery which leads us out of the light and into the dark for for the sheer thrill of not standing still, there is the trend for the demonic deconstruction of perfect pop songs, most notably the dastardly Will.I.Am on that television coffee advert making a right dog’s breakfast out of one of the most unimpeachable records ever, Otis Redding’s (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay. MAKE THE ORDINARY EXTRAORDINARY! the voiceover has the sheer molten nerve to announce over a bunch of inane noodlings by Mr I.Am which perform the impressive task of transforming a classic song into aural pap. You hear a lot about cultural appropriation in music but to my mind the only musical appropriation worth bitching about is that of cloth-eared cretins getting their sticky fingerprints over three-minute works of art by geniuses too dead to complain.
Of course, lots of Unnovations are trivial. Luxury quilted toilet paper too thick to be flushed. Those door-free toilets often found in expensive hotel rooms (never in cheap ones, interestingly) which means that lovers must kinkily perform their private functions in front of each other – not a problem for the exhibitionists amongst us, but a matter of genuine alarm to our more modest brethren. Renewing one’s wedding vows – usually a sign of a relationship high and dry on the rocks of marital rancour, and a waste of good money that could be better invested in good divorce lawyers rather than paying for forty of your closest friends to be flown to the Maldives.
But Unnovations can also be fatal. Figures were released last month showing that more deaths have been recorded in the recently introduced 20mph zones in Somerset than in the equivalent period before the speed limits were lowered. Bath and North East Somerset Council said that it could ‘not afford’ to reverse the speed change; ignoring the fact, as the retired civil servant and caller-to-account Simon Marshall has said, that ‘All they have to do is remove the 20mph signs’ which would surely not cost the £800,000 which the council claims such a reversal would take. The American academic Douglas McKee advanced the theory of the Lemming Gene: ‘The human brain has developed the ability to make incredibly wise choices but we allow the stupidest part of our brain to make them instead.’ Those behind every Unnovation from unflushable toilet paper to killer speed-reducing zones probably think of themselves as acting from the best of intentions – but we all know what the road to Hell is paved with.