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About A Week: See Here, I Shop At Sainsburys

Peter Hinchliffe objects to being turned into a walking advert.

"Check the label," my mother would say, delivering a regular lecture.

These were the days when I was 16 years old, beginning to earn a wage, responsible now for buying my own clothes.

"Always check the label. Make sure it's made of wool. Don't let them palm you off with any old rubbish."

My mother was a big believer in wool. Wool overcoats. Wool jackets. Wool scarves. Particularly, wool vests.

"You need wool next to your skin," she would announce sagely.

I ignored her, of course. I had better things to spend my money on than woollen underwear.

Italian suits, drape jackets and brothel creepers, for instance. Italian suits were THE thing! Narrow black and blue stripes. Snazzy lapels. Cloth-covered buttons. When I got dressed up in my Italian on a Saturday night, with my hair Brylcreemed flat, I looked like one of the supporting cast in The Godfather.

Drape jackets were what you wore when you went bopping. On your bopping feet would be brothel creepers, shoes with wedgy rubber soles of a thickness to make you think you were walking on a trampoline.

My mother clicked her tongue every time she saw me dressed up to go out.

Looking back on it, she had every right to do so. I probably looked as daft as a pork pie in a bow tie. But at least the labels were on the inside of my garments. Today we wear our labels for all to see.

Lacoste, Burberry, Armani, Hugo Boss... Name-branded clothes are in such demand that there is a thriving international counterfeit market. A colleague of mine a Hugo Boss counterfeit T-shirt for a tenth of what an original would cost. There was a problem. The T-shirt should have announced "Styled by Hugo Boss." Unfortunately, the counterfeiter only had the most tentative hold on the English language. It actually announced "Styed by Hugo Boss."

The friend only wore the T-shirt in the darkest of dark discos.

I recently ran a check on the external labels on my own attire to discover, with no small horror, that I am a walking advertising hoarding.

When I go hiking, it's in a Hely-Hansen jacket. The firm's name and logo is right there on the front of it. My walking shoes are Jack Wolfskin. There's a wolf's paw mark on each one of 'em to confirm the fact.

I have three pairs of zip-pocketed leisure trousers. Much more comfortable than jeans, let me tell you. Get them soaked in a downpour while you are out walking, and they dry out within 10 minutes. No matter how heavy that downpour, the brand names will never wash out. They are embroidered into the material. Rohan. Mountain. Craghopper.

When I am caught out by a quick shower, on with the old green cagoule. Naturally, it has a label attached to the front of it. Peter Storm.

This business of turning us into walking adverts is by no means confined to clothing. Go through the supermarket check-out, ask for carrier bags, and what do you get?

Adverts!

Carefully designed adverts, which you are expected to carry around so that everybody will know where you have done your shopping.

Tesco, Sainsburys, Morrisons, Marks And Spencer... They all insist that you announce to the world that you are one of their customers. Some retailers have the cheek to charge you for bags with their name plastered all over them.

How did it happen? How were we lulled into a national sleep which allowed the manufacturers and retailers to sneak up and turn us into perambulating advocates for their products?

Imagine somebody trying to sell you the idea.

"We want you to advertise our jeans. We'd like you to walk around displaying this large leather label saying they were made by us."

"How much?" you would ask.

"Would you mind letting people know about our store?" the supermarket chief would plead. "All we ask is that you carry one of our shopping bags announcing that our food costs less."

"What's in it for me?" you would retort.

We consumers, all the millions of us, ought to get together and state our demands. "All right, I'm prepared to walk around displaying your hard-sell message, but I want 5% knocked off my grocery bill for doing so."

The late Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond books, was once arranging the purchase of a luxury car for a friend, an American millionaire. He suggested painting a good deal of the car's chrome black.

The friend followed his advice, right down to the removal of the maker's insignia from the car. Fleming had told the friend, "When you've paid all that amount why go on giving Rolls Royce free advertisement as well?"

Well said, Mr Fleming.

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