I went shopping for an elderly couple this morning, but this is week 12 of this lockdown routine and so I could write their shopping list for them – very little varies from week to week. Their cat eats the same every day and so do they, well, almost. So when I got to the till and another queue, dull witted with boredom and in quite a bit of pain, for the first time in about ten years and on a whim, I picked up a magazine, paid for it, brought it home. I’ve just flicked through it.
Now I remember why I haven’t picked up a magazine for ten years.
Listen to what this one copy promises: A renaissance of kindness, mood boosters to lift the spirits, the key to happiness, and in another article joy. There’s a whole spread about how to fear less and live more (one of the ways to do this, apparently, is to laugh more) And oh! Look – on page 40 there’s even more ways to find joy, ‘new ways’ this time. Next comes a list of 50 podcasts I NEED, and then a few suggestions to give me a good life in July, and then an article about beauty that works (as opposed to beauty that doesn’t?) In these pages I can learn how to ‘boost my wellness’, and how to do something wonderful to my immune system, keep my feet in good shape, fight ageing, ‘eat better, get fitter and feel happier with Joe Wicks’ (he’ll have to shave that stupid beard off first) and then there’s some stuff about sex getting better with age (try not to roll your eyes). If you want to create ‘a sea of calm’ in your home, knock a wall down, obviously. There are instructions on how to sleep better, enjoy my garden, make fabulous food (mint and pea ice cream apparently) and there are many many recommendations for skin care, reflexology, anti-wrinkling, bronzing products, probiotic creams (make up a word and wear a white coat and we’ll buy anything). There’s an amazing article on how good posture is an anti-ageing trick and a load of stuff about how to wear clothes. So much for so little!
The cover promises 233 moments of JOY and that ‘simple pleasure starts right here’.
By the time I’d flicked to page 198 and read ‘Island hop in the untouched Hebrides’ I was a gibbering wreck, shouting to the universe “This magazine is crap” and my granddaughter yelled back from her bedroom “I knew you’d say that.”
Page 198 just about sums the whole magazine for me – it’s an ad for a cruise to the Hebrides, on a ship with a passenger capacity of hundreds, so a crew of goodness knows how many, a gross tonnage of over 7,000, and 8 decks high, towering over the waves. Those ‘untouched’ Hebrides won’t stay untouched for long. But there’s a little pic of a puffin with its beak full of fish, and a beautiful sunset above an untroubled sea, so that’s OK. Promise the plainly impossible and you’ll get away with it.
And that ad sums up the whole damn magazine industry, our culture, our dreams and hopes. They promise eternal youth, alluring beauty, deep contentment, perfect joy. Find it by crowding onto an uncrowded island, or by fighting the ageing process with 8.000mg of hydrolysed marine peptide collagen (only £1.92 a day), or by disguising your nail fungus (so much better than treating it!) so your feet are beauoooootiful again, or indulge yourself in the Caribbean, or…..
Flip me. That blinkin’ magazine has properly amused, enraged, surprised and depressed me. Are we so shallow? Are we so easily persuaded? I don’t think we are. So who keeps these publications going? It can’t be fools like me who splash out once a decade.
And anyway, what’s wrong with growing old? What’s so bloody wrong with growing old? I have wrinkles, I have a saggy chin, I have the tributary of the River Nile etched carefully on my upper chest…. my hair is grey, my spine locks out of place whenever it feels like it (usually at the till in Tesco), my shoulders ache like billy-oh…. I fall over occasionally (it’s a sort of hobby)… and no amount of cream or spray or backward-dog, yoga, running, dieting or or cosmetics or trickery will stop me growing old and one day dying.
AND I LIKE IT THAT WAY!
I have friends of all shapes and sizes and persuasions, cultures, politics and beliefs. I have family I love. I have dogs I love. Why on earth did I think a magazine, written by flighty clever-dicks in a glossy glassy office block might give my one brain cell something to chew on?
There is more joy and wisdom and interest to be found in one verse of the Bible than in a hundred self-help articles, or a million ads, or a billion bright new 21st Century ways to find happiness.
‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.’ MATTHEW 6