Eternity’s not what it used to be

Dammit. Day Three and the Olympic Torch has died. But don’t worry – even though the Eternal Flame expired twenty miles into its nationwide tour, a handy back-up lighter came to the rescue and changed our perception of eternity for the second time in minutes.

And that’s every adman’s dream: an elastic definition. If eternity is now a stop-start process – the ultimate in re-launches – any claim can be justified. Pass on the torch!

For example, take an offer based on not-quite-eternity: the Lifetime Guarantee. So, what if a customer’s Acme Trouser Press conks out after a month?  How does the poor advertiser get out of that one? Try this: “I’m afraid it’s come to the end of its life, sir.  We guaranteed it while it was alive. Can’t do anything now.”

And how about  ‘Satisfaction or your money back’?  Here’s the flexible-definition answer: “We’re terribly sorry you’re not satisfied, Madame.  We’d love to recompense you but you didn’t send us any actual notes or coins. The only thing we can return is real, you know, money.”

Then there’s ‘Two for the price of one’.  Let’s stretch that definition.  “Yes, Madame –  two packets of fish fingers for the price of one jar of Beluga caviar.”

‘Delivery in seven to ten days’ ?  “Yes, we did promise that, sir.  But we didn’t say which seven to ten days. It’s seven to ten Thursdays, in fact.  Two to three months, I’d say.”

‘New and improved.’ “What do you mean, it’s no better? It’s more expensive, isn’t it? We think that’s better.”

‘Home made.’  “Well, our workers do practically live in the factory.”

Liberating, isn’t it? I feel a campaign coming on.

We’re building on tradition here, of course. Adland’s history is replete with early versions of the elastic definition.  ‘Sale must end tomorrow’ comes swiftly to mind. (“Oh, you mean that sale? No, this one is this sale.”) I’ll bet that’s where they got the Eternal Flame idea in the first place.

‘As seen on TV’. “What – you weren’t watching at 3 am last Tuesday?”

‘Nobody does it better.’ “OK – our competitors do exactly the same as us.”

Sometimes the definition changes though the product itself doesn’t.  I was once briefed to write an ad for a snazzy diver’s watch.  As I read through the spec I couldn’t find any mention of ‘waterproof’. I rang the client with my discovery, ready to admit defeat.  “That’s OK,” he said.  “Call it a sportsman’s watch.” Elasticity in action, Olympic gymnast-style.

Until this week I’ve never I been able to come to terms with the concept of time everlasting.  But thanks to Coe & Co I’ve got it now. Eternity is a lot of temporalities strung together. Think of a chain smoker lighting up a new fag with the embers of the previous one.  It’s a new kind of relay event.

Now hand over that torch.  I’ve got an ad to write.





Top image composed using shots  © Annfoto | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos 
and © Redbaron| Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos
Coins shot © Miszaqq| Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos
Diver shot © Fotol| Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos



Fitted carpets along Piccadilly! Thank you, Olympics!

London is preparing for the Olympics as if it’s expecting a visit from one of P.G. Wodehouse’s more intimidating aunts.

She’s on her way!

Normally, you can put up with, say, a missing lightbulb in the hall, or the cistern not working properly in the downstairs cloakroom, or a funny smell in the kitchen that’s getting worse. They become part of your life. You navigate around them with increasing familiarity.

Even when you’re due a visit from the ultimate authority the countdown seems comfortably long. But inevitably, the frightening truth dawns: it’s really going to happen – soon.  And you’ve got to do something. You have to make the place habitable to someone other than yourselves.

Thus, one morning Lord Coe, Boris and Transport for London got up and realised the sink was still blocked – or whatever the London-streets equivalent is – just as the Olympic visitors were approaching the door.

Cue frenzy. Hundreds of cleaners-up in high-vis tabards appeared out of nowhere. Orange cones colonised thoroughfares. Striped barriers took over pavements. Mini traffic lights popped up in unexpected places.

Result? Buses in London have become mainly stationary objects you might want to sit in, like a summerhouse or a beach hut, rather than a means of transport. So, recently, I was able to watch the activity for twenty minutes from my elevated position on the Number 11.

NIce and tidy

Some high-vis people were ripping up the road while, 20 yards behind them, other high-vis people were putting it back. Something may have been going on in between but I couldn’t see it. I did notice a chap wielding a stiff broom, so I guessed he was sweeping dust from the pavement into the newly-prepared hole while his colleagues covered it up.

On another occasion, walking near Victoria, I got lost in an orange-and-white striped maze of pedestrian barriers. I didn’t notice that the pavement had somehow become the road until I collided with the radiator of a revving black cab. The driver’s gestures were over-dramatic, to my mind, but I couldn’t hear what he was shouting at me because of a pneumatic drill nearby. Naturally the traffic wasn’t moving, so I survived.

The bloke with the drill, incidentally, was wearing ear protectors. The five thousand passers-by-a-minute weren’t. Is this why everyone talks so loudly in restaurants now?

The other day I set off from St Pancras to Oxford Street. It’s just over a mile. You could walk it in twenty minutes. But I was hurrying to a meeting, so, as is my habit these days, I jumped on a bus.

The trip took forty minutes. We were held up for aeons by men cutting paving stones into curves and others drawing shaky yellow lines around manhole covers.

Why didn’t I get off and walk? Because you never quite know when the lanes are about to open up and allow the driver to put his foot down. If you opt for hitting the pavement, that’ll be the moment the bus zooms off towards your destination. So I stayed in my seat, urging the driver on as if he were a horse I’d backed.

Eventually he and I were the only people aboard and it was a toss-up which of us would give in first. He took pity on me and persevered till my stop, then he got out and took the tube.

I reached my meeting tense and breathless. No-one else made it.

So, Lord Coe and Tfl, who are you trying to impress? The French? Have you seen the streets in Paris? They divert water into grids with off-cuts of coconut matting. The Germans? They keep the traffic flowing by fining pedestrians if they cross the road. The Italians?  They ride their Vespas on the pavement. The Ethiopians? The Cubans? The Greeks? Well, what about the man on the Clapham omnibus? (The 137, I think.) It’s just possible that he’s not consumed with passion at the prospect of international weightlifting or trampolining. But he’d like to get to the office.

At least when Bertie Wooster suffered the trauma of an aunt’s visit he nursed the hope of an inheritance. So what can Londoners expect when it’s all over? Using traditional journalistic skills I hacked into the mayoral emails and found the answer. And it’s wonderful!

It’s going to be great!

Pavements will be cushioned in slipper material and will move on rollers. Piccadilly and Oxford Street will have fitted carpets in tasteful designs. Every bus stop will be furnished with a chaise longue.

There will be cocktails and waitress service at pedestrian crossings. The push-button displays will show the next chapter of the Kindle book you’re reading. Kerbstones will deliver weather forecasts in popular regional accents. Road signs will have telescopic arms to lift drivers into the right lane. Traffic lights will flash subliminal jokes.

So that’s what it’s all leading to. Thank you, Olympics. It’s a fantastic legacy, and it makes it all worthwhile. All we have to do now is wait and see.