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Toby Banks

20 things I don't want to know

Britain's firms are out to boost business by copying the Sun and getting their prices down.' Well, according to the Sun they are, anyway. It puts falling prices down to a 'lesson in Sun-economics' - in this case, the paper's price war with the Mirror. The main casualty so far seems to have been the Sun's sub desk, whose slogans ('You get plenty for your 20', etc) fall well below the usual standard. The sacred front-page headline was simply a giant 20p.

The stunts arranged around the 20p theme are also somewhat tawdry, even compared to 1991's notorious 'Up yours Delors!' rally in Trafalgar Square, which attracted three supporters and one opponent (myself). So we were told that the village of Twenty in Lincoln was 'swamped by excited tourists as the price-busting Sun's 20-mania swept the country'. Punters were buttonholed in high streets up and down the land for on-the-spot endorsements. PC Jeffreys in Bristol declared the Sun to be entertaining and interesting, while his partner PC Huckle claimed 'it tells you everything you need to know'.

The readers' messages of support (dotted about the paper under the logo 'I love my 20p Sun') are more transparently bogus. Most purport to be from Mirror readers who have just read the Sun for the first time and switched loyalties. Some, however, are written in verse and have the authenticity of madness about them. 'Friends in my neighbourhood call me Top Gun/ They know I'm wild when I haven't read my Sun' begins the poem of a sad man called Rob Ahern from Northampton.

It was Mr W Gifford of Gravesend who intrigued me, though. His ode to the price cutting heroes ends with the lines: 'Forget the toffs who con us rotten/ It's the Sun that sticks up for folk at the bottom.' Such polemical talent deserves a regular outlet, I feel. Perhaps I can point Mr Gifford in the direction of a less successful tabloid competitor of the Mirror which may wish to use his doggerel in the service of its ground-breaking catchphrase: 'So-cialist Worker! O-o-nly 40p!'

Opponents of Fergie's short-lived appointment as a UN ambassador objected that she would use her position for self-promotion, and complained that she has been outspoken about atrocities which she has never seen, and subjects which she knows nothing about. I find it surprising that this should be considered a disadvantage. Perhaps she should look for a job in a field where this talent will be better appreciated. I can think of several foreign affairs editors who might be able to help.

It's nice to hear that the 'toffs who con us rotten' aren't having things all their own way. Lady St
Oswold has staged the first aristocratic car boot sale, at which one of her mink coats was touted as a 'loss leader' for £30. The front gate of the Old Vicarage, Granchester, home of the eminent novelist Lord Archer, displays a sign offering a divan and mattress for £50. Most distressing of all, the Queen Mother - no doubt disoriented by the 'brain pills' which Barbara Cartland gives her to 'keep her young' - was seen parting with the best part of a week's pension at the Sandringham Flower Show's white elephant stall. Her purchases included a children's cardigan for £6 and a £3 wastepaper basket.

Yet amid the scrimping and saving, there are, as always, islands of prosperity. Or so Harrods seems to believe. It now sells dark green bin bags stamped with the gold company logo at £3.20 for 10. The attached label reads: 'What does a Harrods rubbish bag say about you?' For once, words fail me.

Leaving aside the political implications of the government's Aids awareness campaigns, I always
wondered what Mr Gummer and the rest made of the high-profile discussions of anal sex, etc. Now a report offers a tantalising glimpse of their trauma.

A DHSS official is quoted as saying that one minister closely involved in the campaign 'had real problems', being 'deeply ignorant' about sexual matters and unable to pronounce the word 'vagina'. A discussion about gays revealed that another minister didn't know what oral sex was. When told, he said: 'They don't, do they?'

Things were apparently even worse for the chief medical officer Sir Donald Acheson, who tried to avoid any discussion of such matters, and had to be cornered on a train from Newcastle by DHSS officials keen to discuss the pros and cons of 'water sports', 'rimming', and so on. As one of them recalls: 'Business people were looking over as they wandered through to the buffet or the lavatory. So it was very difficult to pin him down.' It is not clear whether this refers to a practical demonstration. I would be interested to hear from any photography enthusiasts who 'wandered through' the compartment that day.

A while ago I alerted readers to 'Well Done!', a disagreeable statuette of a cherubic boy on a potty,
manufactured by the reputable Royal Doulton china company. I am dismayed to learn that Royal Doulton is no stranger to such controversy, having received complaints from angry mums about its 'Bunnykins' nursery tea set. When curious toddlers asked what the bunnies depicted on the plate were doing, parents were horrified to discover a pair of rabbits apparently indulging in a practice familiar only to the more broadminded cabinet minister. Although the rabbits' trousers are long since a memory, their jackets clearly indicate that they are both male, and a third (also male) is assisting from behind.

Far from expressing shame or regret, Royal Doulton decided to tough it out, claiming that the rabbits were drawn by a nun in the 1920s (as if that's any comfort). A spokesman offered the usual excuse that the picture had been 'taken out of context', and is a detail from a larger picture of a 'tug-of-war'. Having seen many tug-of-war displays by the finest teams in Britain (ie, Her Majesty's forces) I cannot recall ever witnessing these kinds of antics. I suggest they go tell it to the marines.
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 59, September 1993

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