SBHD: If you’re feeling alone and unloved and WLTM a N/S better half with a GSOH, where can you turn? Look no further than the Kindred Spirits ads in The Sunday Telegraph
I have a confession to make: I seldom look at classified ads in newspapers. Which is why, after years of reading The Sunday Telegraph, I was surprised suddenly to discover it had a lonely hearts section.
Somehow it seemed incongruous, like coming across a lager ad in The Lady. But I suppose it shows how far Telegraph papers have succeeded in broadening their appeal. The one-time house journal of dyspeptic colonels and starchy schoolmarms is today the reading matter of a wider constituency, some of whom are lonely.
Even so, I imagine the readership remains solidly middle class and possibly middle-aged, not the sort of people to advertise for a mate. But I have heard that what goes on behind the net curtains of English suburbia would bring a blush to the cheek of a madam in downtown Shanghai, so perhaps, and not for the first time, I am guilty of naivety.
So it was in a spirit of discovery that I perused the half-page of small ads, delicately labelled Kindred Spirits. For when the more literate members of society communicate one with another, even in the restricted prose necessitated by a cost of Ãº17.63 for just four lines, the result is bound to be instructive.
The first thing to note is that these amateur copywriters wield an infinitely subtler pen than the boys and girls at Saatchi & Saatchi (now renamed Cordiant plc, a neologism compounded by eliding a soft drink with an insect and designed to express “the new spirit within the company characterised by accord and agreed purpose”).
Their efforts on behalf of Club 18-30, which earned a reprimand from the Advertising Standards Authority, spoke with the voice of a jeering, nudging, gap-toothed jack-the-lad. A close-up of bulging boxer shorts with the slogan “Girls. Can we interest you in a package holiday?” shows just how narrow is the distance between the lavatory wall and the creative director’s desktop.
Compare that tackiness with the restrained suggestiveness of “Home Counties gentleman WLTM open-minded, assertive, libidinous lady for loving friendship, company & more.” Of course, we are not comparing like with like. Home Counties gentlemen do not go on Club 18-30 holidays and the women who do might have difficulty with the word “libidinous”. But Saatchi passed up the opportunity to be wittily sexy and instead chose the easy option.
Reading Kindred Spirits is rather like eavesdropping on a private world. Lonely hearts have a language all of their own. Take the money-saving abbreviations. It took me a while to work out WLTM. With lettuce, tomato and mayo? Works for London Transport maintenance? Won’t laugh too much? No, you idiot, it deciphers as would like to meet.
And what about GSOH? Gaberdine socks on hire? Generally sort of hard up? No, it’s good sense of humour.
The ubiquitous N/S caused me some difficulty too. Surely it couldn’t mean No sex? Notoriously shy? Never sober? Sadly, the dreary truth dawned. This essential prerequisite in a soulmate, a companion for life, was an abstinence from tobacco. No matter how comely, libidinous or adventurous, seductive or sardonic, all are rendered as naught by the weed. For me, the letters N/S are a powerful signal of intolerance, small-mindedness, and dull conformity. Steer well clear.
The Telegraph’s lonely hearts, while not unromantic, retain a stern practicality. The word “solvent” is never far from their lips. That a future partner should have a favourable bank balance, and therefore the purest motives, is as important as GSOH, and possibly more so. To spend Ãº17.63 and wind up with a sponger is a bad deal in any currency.
In these columns of tiny print there nestle mysterious jewels. “Man, 47, tall, slim N/S. Romantically bereft since wife fell into a volcano seeks lissom lady for enchanting times.” More enchanting than the previous one enjoyed, one hopes.
As we inky practitioners, long in tooth and memory, know only too well, gremlins stand at the typesetter’s elbow, and when they strike, they can, with a deft stroke, turn reason to madness, as “Sussex Man” discovered.
His plea for a German-speaking girlfriend n/s (is lower-case non-smoking a more subdued form of self denial?) was scotched by what followed. “I’m 38y, 1.72cmt, interested in theatre, cinema, oversea (sic) travel, skiing.”
Being somewhat older than 38, I have never quite come to terms with metrication, but I reckon Sussex Man is about three-quarters of an inch tall, which must disadvantage him on the ski slopes and cause no end of misery in the bedroom.
Perhaps he should get in touch with his neighbour. “West Sussex happy female, 55, artist, WLTM male, forties to fifties, for walking, cinema, theatre, conversation and maybe laugh together.” Whenever she felt in the mood, she could take him out of her handbag and they could giggle at each other.
Late-forties of Southport still has all her own teeth and can’t resist showing off. “Slightly slim, sentimental, sexy stunner seeks solvent, smokeless Samson so soon symptons (sic) show swain and sweetheart simultaneously simply smitten.” Okay, you can put your umbrella down now.
Advertising and modesty being mutually exclusive, kindred spirits are inclined to speak well of themselves. “Youthful, refined, handsome, scholarly man, 24, seeks woman, 25 to 50.” Tongue in cheek, or boastful?
You know where you are with the next fellow, though. He’s just got off the Club 18-30 flight from Benidorm and is looking for a more mature woman. “Do you like Pina Colada, sweet bubbly champagne, making love at midnight and getting caught in the rain? If you’re 40-plus give me a ring.” Bring your own bottle, stopwatch and plastic mac.