The Grey Cardigan: 1 June 2007

So here we are, all bright and shiny in our new clothes, courtesy of the doyen of red-socked twats the world over, Michael Crozier. I suppose it could have been worse. The cardigan above is rather more corpulent than before, but we’ve kept our initial caps, been spared the dreaded Nancyboy Grotesque and finally have a body font of appropriate substance.

At least you can read the thing now. It always did strike me as strange that a column whose natural constituency is embittered old hacks living in dimly-lit bedsits surrounded by cats and empty half-bottles of Tesco Value Scotch, should be rendered almost invisible by a Helvetica so thin that it was positively skeletal etched on to a grey tint panel.

What on Earth is going on at The Observer? I bought a copy at the weekend and it looked like it had been assembled by a blind man at the Pick ‘n’ Mix counter. As well as all the usual suspects, including two colour magazines, there was the baffling New York Times supplement (Why bother? Since when has American journalism been anything other than pretentious toss?), a riveting eight-page supplement from the Town & Country Planning Association (presumably handsomely paid for) and a 48-page Red Bull Bulletin, which was a tabloidy thing about motor racing.

God only knows what it all cost, but then I don’t suppose that matters when you’re funded by the Scott Trust. But this obscene, almost Thatcherite, conspicuous consumption is beginning to grate, especially among those of us who are forever under the bean-counters’ cosh. Potty-mouthed editor Roger Alton might think it amusing and eclectic; I call it showing off.

Showing off of a different kind on sister paper The Guardian, where a befuddled reader writes: ‘In the past week you have used the following words in your paper: inveigles, soignée, exculpate, communitarian, localism, traduce, trammelling, brio, ontological, hirsutism, self-immolation, parti pris, reductio ad absurdum, tyro, neurotically, iconoclasm, claque, pusillanimous, micturition and opprobrious. I failed to understand any of these words. I failed to even find some of them in a dictionary. Please publish a glossary of terms for next week’s editions, before I start to feel inadequate.”

I have to confess that one or two of those had me reaching for the big book. It’s a common dilemma, particularly in times of falling educational standards: do we try to educate the audience while also informing and entertaining, or is the simplest form of communication always the best? Well, I love words, so I’m not taking sides on this one. Nolle prosequi, as The Guardian might say.

IN THIS world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death, taxes and the fickle mistress of news values conspiring to cock up your latest marketing ploy. The unlucky victim this time was the Daily Mail, which launched its Free: Learn Spanish CD promotion with a page one banner, on the same day as the back bench decided to splash on ‘Millions face holiday chaos”, a tale about a new security regime causing long delays at airports for families heading to… Spain, of course.

It wasn’t even a very good story, having already appeared three days earlier inside both Daily Telegraph and Times travel sections, but you can see why most marketing bods remain convinced that the self-appointed role of the editorial department is to screw up every one of their wizard schemes.

The Mail on Sunday follows up last week’s valedictory address from Liz-fucking-Jones and her car-crash marriage with a centre spread of sympathetic letters and emails. Amid the sisterly sycophancy, one charmingly headed ‘He was a fat parasite bleeding you dry”, my contribution isn’t hard to find: ‘Sort your hair out. The horse’s looks better than yours. Don’t try to kid people that fashion is a proper job. It isn’t. Do not, ever, refer to cats as ‘fur babies’. All over the world there is war, famine and destruction… and here’s you buying human-grade food for vermin…”

Meanwhile, still with marital strife, Rod Liddle whines on in his Sunday Times column about the iniquity of the divorce system: ‘London has now become the deepest pit of financial hell for men who separate from their wives… despite all the successful campaigning to bring about equal rights in the workplace, the biggest transfer of wealth from men to women has come about through that institutionalised prostitution, marriage and its nemesis, divorce.”

No sour grapes there then. Of course, I know nothing of the detail of Mr Liddle’s settlement with his ex-wife, but it can hardly have been in the £48m range if the poor woman is reduced, as she is, to covering holiday relief shifts on a piss-poor local TV news show.

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