Criticising Marks & Spencer is like taking a whip to the Queen Mother: a ghastly and unthinkable assault on a venerable and much-loved British institution. But will mere sanctity be enough to protect St Michael from the wrath of the World Health Organisation, the Health Education Authority, the Department of Health, the British Medical Association and the League of Wowsers, to which all of the aforementioned are affiliated?
As the world now knows, for months M&S has been secretly working at the frontier of knicker elastic technology. Last week its team of gusset engineers stepped modestly from the shadows and announced a breakthrough akin to splitting the atom. Using an ingenious blend of knitted Euro-microfibre (a substance originally devised for straightening and harmonising bananas) and elastane, a stretch fabric more often used in swimwear, the boffins have created a pair of knickers that slims the wearer’s waist by two inches.
On women’s pages throughout the land the news was greeted with ecstatic wonderment. In the towns, prayers were said and in the country, small animals were offered up in sacrificial thanksgiving. At a stroke, portly womanhood found deliverance from the sweaty hell of aerobic buttock clenching and the torment of breakfasting, lunching and dining on sticks of celery.
No more agonising dread of squeezing a Junoesque figure into a dress made for a water nymph with an eating disorder. No more anxious peering over folds of flesh at the unforgiving dial of the bathroom scales. Yours is the waist around which an admirer’s arm will long to slip. And all for nothing more effortful than stepping into a pair of reinforced knickers. Oh joy! Oh indulgence unbridled!
So far, not a word from the vinegary visaged and purse-lipped League of Wowsers. But you may be sure that in this invention they see the work of the devil. Can they stand idly by and allow generations of women as yet unborn to tread the road to perdition trussed in Euro-microfibre? Does not M&S, canonised, lauded and practically perfect in ever possible way, know that we as a nation are in the grip of an obesity crisis? Daily the fat count doubles. Hourly the siren call of cream bun and the hypnotic glow of round-the-clock telly claim more victims. We are sinking beneath a tide of blubber. Has the news not reached Marble Arch?
There are times when even the most fervent wowser must look upon his work and reflect that we are not put on Earth for pleasure alone. Where is the satisfaction in castigating the fatties and urging them, in tones shaking with doom, to lay down their knives and forks and seek the only road to salvation in rigorous diet, lung-cracking exercise and self-loathing when good old reliable Marks & Sparks is all the while pioneering the self-basting knicker? It’s enough to make you reach for a cream eclair and a non-diet Coke.
It will be a brave wowser who takes on M&S. A store that sells a million pairs of knickers a week, and probably as many chickens, has a special place in the nation’s affections. How could it be otherwise? Despite rising crime, we remain an honest people at heart, and we would be untrue to ourselves were we not to repay in terms of gratitude the debt owed to a monument that both fills our bellies and cossets our loins.
Do not, however, underestimate the wowser. There are more ways to cook a chicken than even M&S has devised. Rather than take on the Colossus of the high street direct and risk the opprobrium of the masses, the legions of the mealy mouthed and killers of joy will seek insidiously to discredit the wonder knicker. After all, any body of lobbyists that can stoop so low as to invent the entirely bogus threat of passive smoking will not blanch at attributing carcinogenic properties to a new strain of knicker elastic.
The wowser trades on fear. Women, he intones, in a voice calculated to chill the blood, cannot drink as much as men. Two small glasses of wine a day are sufficient to reduce the female liver to the size and texture of a kookaburra’s wodger. Similarly, whereas the male midriff might endure encasement in a five-inch band of stretch lace with only moderate ill effects, such are the size and arrangement of female internal organs that circumferential two-inch compression carries an abnormally high risk of hypertensive dropsy. So forget the wonderpants, girls. It’s back to the dumb-bells.
Who wins this battle is anyone’s guess. When female vanity, ageless and enduring, is pitted against the late 20th century obsession with health, fitness and immortality, only a brave man would take bets. My guess, for what it is worth, is that the M&S Gardenia-style Waist Sculpt wrought in high tensile Euro-superthread interwoven with quickstretch magi-lastic will see the wowsers off.
At a planned price of ten nickers a knicker, a garment that lets you curl up in front of Richard and Judy with a box of Milk Tray and a bottle of asti and still look as if you’d put in an hour on the Multigym has got to be a winner. All gain and no pain.