A man wishing to raise a smile among his companions standing alongside him, shoulder to shoulder, elbows on the pub bar, has at his disposal two surefire gags. He can tell the one about the Indian snake charmer and the lady tourist or he can tap the side of his nose and say: “size matters”.
In many departments of life, some far removed from the subject of male virility, size does indeed matter. It matters to the rulers of Dubai who are currently building the biggest tower in the world; it matters to anglers whose catch is weighed in the balance; it matters to a publican acquaintance of mine who will often pat his paunch and say: “It takes money to get a belly this size”; and it matters to the 21 people who complained to the Advertising Standards Authority about a TV ad for furniture retailer DFS.
Indeed, after knitting their brows, stroking their chins and sucking their teeth, the sages at the ASA agreed that the complainants had a point.
The cause of the anguish was a TV ad featuring people miming, dancing and playing air guitar to the song “Rockstar” by the group Nickleback against a backdrop of the company’s furniture ranges. One can understand how viewers of taste and discernment might find such a spectacle disagreeable, but the complaint was made not on artistic or aesthetic grounds but on the matter of size.
DFS had filmed the actors against a green screen and then superimposed the images onto the background of a room or sofa. The result, said the complainants, was to make the sofas appear larger than they really were. Agreed, said the ASA, the ad was misleading and must not be shown again.
So, justice was done and we must not question that verdict. All the same, it makes you think about sofas and their role in British life. And the fact that size matters.
I may do DFS an injustice, but it seems that it sees its target customer as the kind of aspirational householder who dreams of a cocktail bar with a plush velveteen front and as a centrepiece an imitation plastic pineapple ice bucket. For such a person a sofa is not so much an item of furniture as a way of life. In fact, Britain is divided into two unequal parts. On the one hand there are the doctors, health enthusiasts and sporty types; on the other are the overwhelming and largely overweight types for whom the sofa is a constant support and refuge from the first types.
The sporty ones constantly urge the others to get off their backsides and play volleyball until their pores open up and cry for mercy; the rest constantly raise two chubby digits with one hand and reach for another chocolate digestive with the other. There is no reconciling the two, and not all the Olympic games from here to the crack of doom will bridge the yawning gap.
Then again, the athletes may be misjudging the sofa dwellers. After all, does not the DFS commercial resonate with vitality and action? Even allowing for the convention that holds that all consumers depicted in advertisements must be seen to be in the throes of laughing themselves to death, there is something life-enhancing in people miming, dancing and playing air guitar for no greater reason that they have seen a sofa. Olympic athletes need coaches, sports psychologists and a liberal smattering of drugs before being sufficiently emboldened to spit on their hands, park their chewing gum behind the locker door and give of their best. The sofa enthusiastic needs only the sofa.
And is there not something touching, heart-warming even, in the vanity of human wishes expressed in the simple desire for a big sofa? In the mind’s eye at least the sort of sofa that wells in the imagination like a giant, inflatable pumpkin holds out the tantalising, if unattainable, promise of wild neo-Babylonian orgies aboard its yielding springs.
Big sofas are not for the person who curls up alone with a mug of cocoa and a volume of Wittgenstein’s greatest hits. They are for the dreamer who, gazing along its vast empty length, pictures within reach a drum majorette or two, or, if the dreamer happens to be female, a brace of Chippendales.
Big sofas have a poignancy all their own. They at once symbolise both unfulfilled promise and unquenchable optimism. Long may they continue to do so. And yes, size matters.