SOMEWHERE IN your house is a cupboard full of worthless crap. It may contain any of the following:
Dismantled exercise bike.
Out of all these items, the woodlice were probably the best deal. They're useless and free. The other stuff is useless and it cost you money. And those are just the items that you kept. Think what you've thrown away over the years. Think of how much you spent on it. Think of what you would do with that money if you had it today. Buy more worthless crap, probably.
Startlingly ugly footwear.
Game of Mousetrap with no plastic diving board, purchased at charity shop in misguided fit of nostalgia.
Keyboard synthesiser with 27 pre-programmed drum patterns, each one more lamentable than the last.
You know that certain choices are doomed even as you make them, like joining the Young Communists or falling in love with your 14-year-old cousin. But others seemed like good ideas at the time. A phrase that you should have had shaved into the back of that peroxide blond flat-top rockabilly haircut, which your mum still delights in showing to her friends and yours in old photos.
At least with duff barnets and rotten holidays and overpriced, overcooked, underwhelming restaurant meals, the memories fade with passing time and approaching senility. Other things stay to haunt you. Tattoos pledging fealty to long-departed girlfriends or bands you can no longer bear the sound of. Sofas the size, texture, colour and odour of East Anglia's marshlands. The amusing china duck motif on wallpaper that you can't afford to replace. Still, you can be thankful you weren't one of those poor sods who snapped up a bijou one-bedroom studio cupboard in Kensington, on the Monday before Black Wednesday sounded the trumpet blast of recession. You were? Well, you're in luck. After pouring everything you own and more into it, you can now sell it for nearly what you paid and move to Hackney.
There are hundreds of good reasons not to buy things and we ignore all of them. It's only looking back that we understand the depths of our own folly. So here, with hindsight aplenty, are the most ill-advised products, the most futile purchases, the all-round grand-bull-moose winners of the Waste Your Cash award. “Those who cannot remember the past,” observed the philosopher Santayana, “are condemned to repeat it.” Minutes later he bought yet another carpet bowling set.
THE FORD PINTO
Dubbed “The Car Bomb”, this notorious exploding vehicle was the subject of numerous lawsuits in the States. Being relatively lightweight by Yank motor standards, the American model had been touted as the answer to 1974's OPEC fuel crisis. It effectively discouraged petrol consumption by blowing up when struck jacksywards by anything larger than a wheelbarrow.
A variety of canine so bizarrely wild and brutal that only a sprained mind could have conceived of it. Take one part German Shepherd, one part Great Dane and one part Carpathian timber wolf, and you're left with a slavering, uncontrollable creature four-foot high at the shoulder which hates other dogs, recognises no master and treats anything with a limp as lunch - be it a wounded deer or an old lady in the Post Office queue. They're breeding them in Kent.
INDIVIDUAL FRUIT PIES
Quite apart from the fact that they tasted foul and could strip the enamel from your teeth in seconds, these distended wallets of noxious slurry, sold in fast food joints, had the added disincentive of being scaldingly hot on the inside. In the worst cases, the effect was something akin to a napalm attack on the palate by a rampaging guerilla force of red hot cherries, intent on liberating their cheeseburger comrades.
A nursery playroom favourite well into the 20th century. Bastard poisonous in their own right, and frequently hand-painted in smart albeit toxic shades of black, red and white, these figurines really gave junior something to chew on. Quite possibly the single most deadly toy ever devised, except for those teddy bears with their heads on spikes.
Fantastic: a drug that is completely addictive both physically and psychologically, renders the user socially unviable, lasts at best for a matter of minutes, provides diminishing returns with every pipe, bolsters street crime, gang violence and bloody turf wars and - as Dennis Leary pointed out - is named after part of your arse. How could it fail?
BLUE LINES BY MASSIVE ATTACK
A great album, one of the best of this or any other decade. A little unfortunate, then, that it was released on the eve of the Gulf War and the band were obliged to rename themselves Massive, which doesn't have quite the same ring to it. The radio stations which refused to broadcast the words “Massive Attack” or play their records were perhaps a little oversensitive. If the group had been called Bloody Great Explosions On The Road To Basra, they might have had a point.
Of the many humiliations suffered by US President Jimmy Carter, the worst must have been the knock-on celebrity of his yokel redneck sibling Billy. A prototype Homer Simpson, Billy ran a bar with the motto: “Nude women drink free”. He cashed in on his new-found status by launching his own brand of Billy Beer. Then he heaped further indignity on his brother by selling it illegally on a Sunday, and pissing it up a wall in Atlanta airport. Most drinkers agreed Billy Beer tasted as if it had already passed through Billy. The fact that br'er Jimmy was then the least popular President in living memory didn't help shift any cans either. It was discontinued in 1978, and proved to be a lousy collectors' item to boot.
This evil little imp squatted malignantly by your bedside, emitting a sinister ticking that for some reason, in the wee small hours, always brought to mind your own inevitable mortality. Come morning, it rasped and gurgled like a dying moose, then spat out a geyser of fluid that often bore a strong resemblance to boiling mud. As a bonus, an arm flung out in your sleep would upend the gnomish beverage dalek, leaving you with a poached limb, a sodden carpet and a gaily fizzing electrical socket. A bad, bad machine.
Launched in South America amid considerable hoo-ha, the Nova didn't sell as well as Chevrolet had hoped. This may have had something to do with the fact that “Nova” means “Won't Go” in most South American nations. Or maybe it was the paintwork. While we're on the subject, the exploding Pinto wasn't much of a success in Brazil either. Probably because the name translates as “Tiny Penis.”
Less famous than the Hubble Telescope or the heroically erratic European Space Program, Acoustic Kitty was still a magnificent waste of public money. During the chilly depths of the cold war, the US government spunked huge sums on a top-secret CIA project: turning cats into crystal clear bugging devices by fitting microphones into their ears and radio transmitters inside their brains. Finally, they created Acoustic Kitty, the perfect espionage cat, with a price tag of tens of millions at today's prices. They put it out of doors on its debut mission, switched on the monitors and listened with bated breath as Acoustic Kitty scampered straight beneath the hurtling wheels of the nearest yellow taxicab.
A crap classic, and unduly revered due to endless Seventies revivals, the 8-track cassette was the worst sound reproduction system ever devised. At once bulky and flimsy, it changed tracks mid-song with an extended medley of clunks and hissing, then played the tune four numbers along, backwards, underneath the tune you wanted to hear. And if that sounds complicated, it's nothing compared to fiddling with your floor-mounted in car 8-track player while trying to reverse round a corner in your Ford Needledick.
Best explained as a kind of lo-tech Tamagochi. Created in 1975 (of course) by a Californian (of course) advertising executive (of course), one Gary Dahl. Obviously, he didn't invent rocks. He simply came up with the idea of packaging them and flogging them as low-maintenance pets. He sold a million within two months at four bucks a pop, mainly to teenagers who in later life renamed their pet “Skippy” and took it down to the seaside for a brief game of Throw.
Standard wear in the Eighties for Socialist Worker Students (a subsect of the SWP who saw no inherent contradiction in their name), and other left leaning children of well-off families who wished to express their solidarity with the working class. The jackets were worn in bars, at clubs, at meetings, on demos, on dates and on the street while flogging copies of the party's tedious and hectoring rag. Meanwhile the working class, as ever, togged itself up in the best stuff it could afford. The dour, ugly donkey jackets were reserved for the unpleasant business of actually working.
Not as much fun as it sounds. In fact, not any fun at all. It inevitably deflated within minutes - sometimes seconds, as your correspondent discovered when he sat on an air-filled armchair at a party and a female publisher and three of her mates from accounts then sat on him. That wasn't as much fun as it sounds either. The
sole virtue of an inflatable sofa was that once you were left with a crumpled mess of lurid plastic, you didn't have to get your friends to help you carry it downstairs and dump it on the pavement in the hope that somebody would nick it.
Back in the 1930s, Dr Paul Niehans came up with the idea of Live Cell Therapy to promote youthfulness and virility in his ageing clientele. Sounds great; but the reality involved sewing monkey gonads into people's body cavities. This expensive operation made him a packet, so to speak. It didn't do his patients much harm, although the monkeys weren't best pleased. Niehans was inducted into that hotbed of progressive thinking, the Papal Academy of Science, after he performed the op on Pope Pius XII. What did the old goat of a pontiff want with increased sexual potency anyway?
The seventies again, inevitably. Tiny plastic elephant shapes full of ice that floated in your glass, providing a tacit yet deliciously amusing commentary on alcoholism, drink-induced hallucinations, delirium tremens, liver failure and tragically early death. They smelled bad too.
DOWNRIGHT STUPID STUFF
RONCO BOTTLE CHOPPER
From the Shakespeares of the pointless gizmo. A glass cutter that lopped the upper portion off any bottle to create an attractive vase that looked exactly like a bottle with top bit missing. Could also be used to remove the base of bottles in genteel pub fights.
PRISONER OF WAR HOLIDAY CAMPS
A short-lived attempt by a British couple to recreate the Stalag experience on the English coast. It foundered due to a lack of holidaymakers prepared to voluntarily spend a weekend behind barbed wire being shouted at in German and trying to tunnel out beneath the vaulting horse. Plus there were the inevitable jokes about how if you wanted that sort of thing, you'd go to Butlins.
B&W-TO-COLOUR TV CONVERTER
Slightly more effective than pasting a sheet of transparent purple polymer over a black-and-white screen. But only slightly. Basically a pair of 3-D glasses with three colours instead of two, layered horizontally across both lenses in a sky-blue/ flesh-pink/ earth-brown formation designed for watching westerns. Unnerving for the stablest of personalities, and positively hazardous for the mentally fragile or former drug abusers, this device might have been lost to posterity if Victor Lewis Smith and Paul Sparks hadn't chronicled it in their book Buygones.
THE COFFIN CRADLE
Only the morbid Victorians could have come up with this one - a fully lined miniature casket which swung between two posts, the one at the head forming a gravestone cross. This was the low point of a vogue for sepulchral furniture, later repeated in America, where coffins doubled as cupboards, tables, wine racks and sleds. I ask you - would you get buried in a sideboard?
REDDIWIP REDDI BACON
Fancy a bacon sarnie? Haven't got a frying pan? Why the hell not? Everyone has a frying pan, for Christ's sake. But just in case, this pre cooked bacon came wrapped in foil. All you had to do was pop it in the toaster, then sit back and wait for the fat to leak out of the wrapping, shooting gouts of flame up to the kitchen ceiling and detonating the toaster like gelignite packed with breadcrumb shrapnel.
WE'VE ONLY scratched the surface of unsuitable acquisitions here. There are so many other things not to spend money on. Sportswear ad campaigns during major football tournaments, for instance, featuring players who perform miserably, withdraw injured or aren't selected at all. Or the curiously familiar-looking foaming yellow liquid once marketed by Nestea under the name Tea Whiz. And anything at all from a mail-order catalogue. Especially clothes. They only look good on the models because they've been stapled on; and because the models, being models, would look great wearing a biscuit barrel and cowpats on their heads.
If you're reading this at home, you can probably look around the room right now and see half-a-dozen items that you should never have acquired. Even if you're not a burglar. You live and learn. You live, anyway.
FIVE THINGS YOU DEFINITELY SHOULDN'T BUY NOW
Soon to be superseded by DVD, a revamp of the failed videodisc format whose time has come with the personal computer age. DVD will do everything short of giving you handjobs on demand, this being an area where computer buffs are fairly self-reliant.
PRIVATE MEDICAL INSURANCE
Look at the small print. Covers you for any disease unless you get it and all accidents as long as they don't happen to you. You already pay health insurance to the state anyway.
ANYTHING WITH THE UNION JACK ON IT
Guitars, clothing, bags, shoes - flags, even. Will swiftly become as fashionable as wearing a tie printed with a piano keyboard.
The bottom line is, collectors always want paintings and sculptures, and will always be prepared to pay for them as long as they're by somebody famous and dead. The same may not hold true for a table, a couple of melons and a kebab, even if they are all part of the same masterpiece.
SPECIAL EDITION MOTORS
You pay over the odds for extras you could just as easily find on a standard model. Plus you get a preposterous name, like Breeze or Sporti or Montelimar; a hideous zig-zag pattern down the side; and an irreparable dent in the resale value, what with most people not being as stupid as you.
FIVE THINGS YOU DEFINITELY SHOULD BUY NOW
THE APPLE i-MAC
Designed specifically for internet use, with the most bang-up-to-date chip. Highly upgradable and currently selling in the States for less than 650 quid. It also looks like it dropped through the Time Tunnel from just before the next ice age.
Because otherwise only irritating Modern Parent-types will have them, and they're actually a very good idea.
Seems those mad old doctors in the 18th century were right after all. Leeches are proving a boon to medical science, helping to heal infections and repair damaged tissue double-quick. Go and tell the bank that you're putting your money into a different bunch of bloodsuckers.
So you'll have something to take to the party. Or if you fancy moving upmarket from Macedonian Varnish Remover, get something pricey with a date on it, stick on its side in your cellar and wait for it to quadruple in value.
A FLAT IN BRIGHTON
Everybody's going to be wanting one. Some of us have already got one. It's very nice here.
You can't go wrong with a good suit; go for single-breasted whistles in natural fibres and respectable colours. Avoid fancy embellishments and surplus pockets, and assuming you're taller than you are wide, look for a straight, slim cut. A few of those in your wardrobe, zipped up neatly in suit bags, will keep you elegant for years to come. Don't wear them with trainers, unless you want to look like one of The Knack.
FIVE CRAP THINGS
THAT STUCK AROUND
CORNED BEEF TIN KEYS
A superb bit of design, if you happen to be Bruce Lee's villainous opponent from Enter The Dragon with half-a-dozen revolving hand attachments. For the rest of us, a savage, bloody ordeal that is scarcely justified by the contents of the can.
The outside bit of swine. The stuff the Americans make their oddly shaped footballs out of. A foil-packed coronary. Why not simply get a farmer to drop a pig on you?
Not a chair, not a bed, not a cushion. A wretched compromise that serves none of those functions, but gracelessly fails at all three. Anyone with a proper job who owns one should be ashamed of themselves. Go and buy some real furniture.
JEWEL BOX CD CASE
Falls apart quicker than the neurotic ex-girlfriend whose name is imprinted on your forearm next to the Black Flag tattoo. Rickety hinges break at the slightest provocation. The little plastic bits that hold in the CD snap off and rattle around like maracas, so when you open it the disc falls out and lands in your ashtray.
LOW TAR FAGS
You're fooling yourself. You know you just squeeze the filter harder to stop the air getting in at the sides, ensuring a purer flow of carcinogens. Research shows you might as well have been smoking Capstan Full Strength all along for the good it's done you.
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