Friday, February 15, 2008

Battle of the bags

Much ink has been spilled and many trees have died over the past few years in the cause of political correctness and non-sexist writing.

It is no longer acceptable, we are told, to use terms such as "manhole", "fireman" or "housewife", as they reinforce gender stereotyping and reflect outdated and paternalistic attitudes to today's social dynamic.

Instead, we must find new terms that embrace and celebrate cultural diversity.

So the next time BT comes round to play cat's cradle under your street, they'll be gaining access via the staff ingress portals.

If there's a fire, it'll be the conflagration operatives who come to put it out.

And if you leave your dirty washing all over the floor, don't expect the Laundry Fairy to sort it out for you; pick it up and put it in the basket, or suffer the consequences.

Because just as dark grey is the new black, you are the new Laundry Fairy.

Latterly, though, a new and more insidious form of thought control has extended its tendrils deep into the fabric of our society.

Now that we're all well on the way to being politically correct, the newest cultural shibboleth is the carrier bag.

Carrier bag correctness is sweeping the high streets and malls of Britain in heaving waves of oatmeal-coloured hessian, and shoppers must beware.

Because if you get caught out with a plastic carrier these days, you're as good as confessing that you're a four-wheel-driver with a carbon footprint as big as Bigfoot's when he's trodden in some charcoal.

Men are most frequently the targets of this new form of social dirigism.

Picture the scene: you head out to the shops, empty-handed, hoping in your innocence to pick up a few necessities.

As you open the door, a voice calls you back: "Have you got a bag?"

Why would you need a bag? You're not carrying anything yet.

But take one you must, because to bring home your purchases in a fresh plastic carrier is tantamount to declaring war on whales, glaciers and the ozone layer all wrapped up into one. These days, the only good bag is a re-usable one.

Politely and with grace, you accept that this is a lost battle. But now there is the choice of bags.

Do you take the flowery one which encourages its readers (and yes, people do read bags, or else they wouldn't have writing on them) to eat five raw vegetables a day and then return the peelings to the council?

Would you perhaps prefer to tout that souvenir of last summer's cross-Channel jolly, covered in French marketing-speak which probably says something like "Look at me, I'm green"?

Or you could be like Tinky Winky, and get a special bag, one which makes a statement about your personality.

A quotation from John Stuart Mill, for example, will mark you out as a shopper who is not be trifled with.

"The liberty of the individual must be thus far limited; he must not make himself a nuisance to other people." This sort of stuff quite often gets printed on the bags you get in bookshops: it works well at keeping pavement cyclists at bay.

Whichever you take, you have to put it somewhere on your way to the shops.

And that means cramming it into a pocket and suffering the ultimate indignity: wrongly bulging trouserage.

(Although some of us, it must be confessed, are already martyrs to that particular complaint.)

Ho for the shops, where you find that your simple list of requirements has been mysteriously added to, probably by a relative of the Laundry Fairy.

For man cannot live by beer and pork scratchings alone; he must also bring home tomato puree, unsalted butter and the right sort of pasta.

And even your trusty cotton bag isn't big enough to carry all of that lot.

So that means the acquisition of yet another plastic number, which in turn will probably end up as most bags do: as the wrapping for this week's recycling.

Sometimes you just can't win.

This column was first published in The Bath Chronicle on January 31 2008. Copyright Bath News & Media 2008.

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