Blair’s Brits lowering the tone?

It doesn’t do for marketers to upset Mr Blair’s middle classes, especially as we have his word that they will soon comprise the entire population.

Unhappily, this advice comes too late for Mr Robert Rishworth, marketing manager of a Merseyside company that makes a “light and inoffensive wine” called Lambrini. Bob, as he is known to his friends, of whom, I am sure, he has many, made the not uncommon error of speaking of his customers with candour. They were, he said, “lower class women”.

Strictly speaking, he had a point, since research shows that Lambrini drinkers are drawn in the main from the female components of the socio-economic categories C1, C2, and D. But strict speaking is seldom wise, and there are those who believe that Bob, though in truth as light and inoffensive as the product he markets, will pay dearly for his comment.

Had he said “working class”, he might have got away with it; for despite Mr Blair’s best efforts, there are still pockets of resistance around the country and still misguided people who wear the old class labels with pride. But “lower class” is judgmental and that, quite simply, is not allowed.

You may make the kind of wine that removes stubborn limescale deposits from bath taps in a twinkle and brings brass ornaments to a high shine, and you may sell it by the case to women who wear their hair in curlers and favour fluffy carpet slippers, but you must not for a moment suggest in word or deed that they are inferior to people who buy vintage claret. They are different, and that is as far as you may go.

Even in Mr Blair’s Britain, however, there is a limit to this kind of neutral relativism. It is all very well to drink sparkling white wine made from pears on the banks of the Mersey and retailed at 31.39 a bottle and to be free from censure for doing so, it is quite another matter to buy your weekly supply of Lambrini dressed in nothing more than a transparent plastic pinnie.

The decision by Tesco to give serious consideration to an application by naturists to shop naked after normal trading hours in its Hastings store has given rise to much comment and some curious speculation. Where, for example, do nudists keep their money and conceal their Clubcards?

There are a number of issues at stake, and Tesco has sought to address them. Its staff working in the store will remain fully clothed and be paid at time-and-a-half rates, and black polythene sheeting will be attached to the supermarket’s plate glass windows. These are wise and sensible measures. As many as eight or nine people out of every ten look absolutely hideous in the nude and, since it may safely be assumed that naturists are not immune from this law of nature, it is only right that Tesco’s staff should be compensated (and possibly counselled too) for seeing the naturists and that innocent passers-by should be protected.

Tesco is also concerned about the nudists coming into contact with fruit and vegetable displays and with items on the serve-yourself cheese counter. “We are considering plastic pinnies – transparent of course – for the naked customers to wear as they pass through these vulnerable areas,” says a spokesman.

This again is a sensible precaution. Now that fruit and vegetables are subject to genetic engineering and treated with organo-phosphates and suchlike, it is obviously hazardous to allow them to come into contact with naked human reproductive organs. The first male privy member to be cross-mutated with a spanish tomato would instantly be granted iconic status, not to mention a Charter Mark, and, like Dolly the sheep, it would all be too boring for words.

There is nothing whatever to be said for shopping in the nude, save perhaps that one might cast around for the odd visual aide memoire. “Miss Mapplethorpe, how nice to meet you in the flesh, which reminds me I must buy a couple of cantaloupe melons.”

“Charmed, I am sure, Mr Smith. Oh my! – I almost forgot my vegetable marrow till you passed by. And seeing Mr Brown over there by the cool cabinet reminds me – I have promised myself a small green chilli.”

And no prizes for the first bold female member of Tesco’s staff to exclaim, “What’s a nice Jewish boy like you doing at a bacon counter like this?”

No, it’s all a ghastly mistake and one that, as with the unfortunate Mr Rishworth, Tesco will come to regret. The truth is that naturists are barely, so to speak, this side of barmy. Under the Hastings experiment, they would arrive at the store fully clothed, strip in-store, do their shopping and then dress again before wheeling their trolleys to their cars. What possible purpose is served by this? And whatever next?

Will banks and building societies follow Tesco’s example? What about petrol stations, restaurants, hairdressers, doctor’s surgeries, snooker halls? Do naturists visiting massage parlours insist on being fully dressed?

Tolerance, forbearance, a willingness to see the point of view of the other person, these are fine and noble things, but, ever since the Fall of man, nudism has not been natural, and these naturists should be sent packing, preferably by a horde of Lambrini-crazed women of indeterminate class.

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