21 MARCH 1987, Page 40

Ideal Home Exhibition

National glory-hole

Kenneth Robinson

Iwas scooping out my waffle-cone sun- dae at the Ideal Home Exhibition, when who should come along but Her Royal Highness, Princess Margaret. I knew her instantly because of the posse of fully- grown men flanking her, at breakneck speed, in postures of subservience, devo- tion and fear of terrorism. 'It's a perfect way,' the Princess told a Daily Mail repor- ter, `to spend a day.' Not so much a day as 40 minutes, to be precise. But Princess Margaret was clearly trying to beat earlier royal records for this annual window- shopping sprint.

Her mother, I remember, once had a much more leisurely tour of the exhibition. `It's a real treat,' said the Queen Mum at the time. Her tribute was promptly immor- talised in a front-page headline — again in the Daily Mail, which always takes a frenzied delight in royals behaving like human beings. It was a Mail man, too, who told us excitedly that 'Prince Philip paused, like any other father, to sniff at the turkey croquettes.'

The Mail is also, of course, the organiser of the Ideal Home Exhibition, and its editor must be very chuffed by its uncanny hold on royalty. I suppose this has some- thing to do. with the exhibition's early slogan, devised by George V, which is still brought out and displayed every year. 'The Foundations of Our National Glory,' said King George, 'are to be found in the Homes of Our People.'

Few other royals have shown such an interest in this exhibition's alarming mix- ture of pseudo-period furniture and neo- classical housing, though the Queen herself once interviewed an ideal-home designer enthusiastically, and their conversation ab- out a wardrobe was fully reported in the Mail. 'Is that British oak?' said the Queen. `Yes."Good. Did a British firm make that?' Yes."Good.'

It's always nice to see evidence of patriotism in a monarch. But I wonder what royalty might think of such confusing products as the 'Niagara' massage-chair from North Wales; the `Mitsusuki' kimono from Fulham; the 'Mandalay' tea-trolley from Cricklewood, and the `Meubles- Francais' dining-table from Brighton.

Not that Princess Margaret would have seen those on her hasty, censored tour. After only a brief look at Wimpey's 'Presti- gious Executive-Style Four-Bedroom Tudor Manor House', she was dumped at the Chinese Trade Council stands for a propaganda visit. I do think the Queen's sister should have been permitted a glimp- se of the All-Purpose Vice (though I didn't like to ask what it was) and the Magnetic Window Cleaner. (We used to have one of those, but I think he went to prison.) And why, I wonder, was she kept away from `the hot tub for two, where swirling jets provoke happy laughter, playful splashing and quiet conversation'? I found myself pondering on all this as I relaxed with a helping of Glitter-ice Slush (`the drink of the future') in a Kafkaesque sitting-area. The dear old Ideal Home Exhibition, I realised — as I reached for a Churrus with Mucha Cream (a crispy doughnut) — is really something of a miracle in its drawing-power. Though not, as the organisers claim, because 'the royal visitors always show they are in touch with the people.'

I, myself, am not in touch with the people at all. I don't know anyone, for instance, who leaps up and down each morning on a bedside trampoline; tucks up the children at night in bunks that look like Formula One racing cars, or allows his wife to push a wheeled shopping basket with a built-in seat. 'This seat', we were told, 'will support a woman weighing 20 stone, and could well revolutionise shopping.' It could indeed. You can just imagine a shopping precinct littered with 20-stone seated figures like a tragic group by Henry Moore. But that's the sort of thing one tries not to think about. Which is what I said to the saleswoman who told me there were 7,000 nerve endings in each of my feet. 'How do you feel about a quick massage?' she said, and I made my excuses and limped away feeling this was all a far cry from Coronation Street.

I mention Coronation Street only be- cause Robert Maxwell's London Daily News has accused its rival newspaper's Ideal Home Exhibition of being as out- dated as the world of Hilda Ogden. I think Mr Maxwell ought to know that before leaving the exhibition (with a free copy of Lord Rothermere's Evening News), I was able to bring my own house more up to date with a sophisticated device for open- ing tinned cat-food automatically, at pre- arranged times, and another for thrusting wine corks back into unfinished bottles. (I wonder why they'd be unfinished.) By this time I felt so far removed from Coronation Street that I washed down my New York Blueberry Seltzer with choco- late mint coffee, and took home a ceramic door panel, inscribed in Latin, for the bathroom door. 'This Way', it says, 'To The Necessarium.' I can't think of a nicer piece of one-upmanship. If your friends haven't had a classical education, they won't know what it means. And if they have had one, they'll find it dreadfully non-U, but won't like to tell you so.

Anyway, it is not, after all, Coronation Street time at the Ideal Home Exhibition. In fact, I think George V was right, and I thoroughly recommend, for all,the wrong reasons, the 64th presentation of Britain's very own National Glory-Hole.