7 APRIL 1990, Page 49


Housewives' choice

Wendy Cope

Switching on a little early for the Sun- day lunchtime news, I chanced on the end of Country File (BBC 1, 12.30 p.m.). The reporter (John Craven, according to the Radio Times), was talking about an en- dangered species, the stink-toad. There is now only one of these creatures, ... female, left in the British Isles, he said.

`For goodness sake,' I muttered. 'How do they know there's only one stink-toad? And who cares anyway?'

Of course, the reporter continued, we are concerned about any endangered spe- cies but this one could be especially useful. Scientists have discovered that it absorbs minerals from the sewage it eats, and environmentalists and industrialists are considering ways of farming it. Luckily, there's a male stink-toad in Germany. . . . By this time the penny had dropped. A nice little 1 April item.

A friend tells me there was an April Fool's Day item on That's Life (BBC 1, 9.10 p.m., Sunday), concerning the unfor- tunate side-effects of a new face cream made with rhino's saliva. They got Edwina Currie to come along and warn the con- sumer, and they showed some film of rhinos, with terrific spitting noises on the sound-track. I'm sorry to have missed it.

The Sunday evening programme I shall certainly be watching for a few weeks to come is Washes Whiter (BBC 2, 8.05 p.m.), the series about television advertising. Old commercials are so fascinating that they could just string them together without comment and I'd be happy to watch. The first programme — She's Not a Moron, She's Your Wife — was rather well put together, and the commentary, spoken by William Franklyn, underlined some of the absurdities with deadpan humour: 'Despite Dad's incompetence, she could trust the toilet-cleaner to keep the family safe.'

The advertisement I most enjoyed dated from 1955 and featured a poem, written in an unusual and interesting form. 'On the day Jan was wed,' it begins, 'A doubt crept into her fair head.' The unconventional scansion of these rhyming tetrameters pre- pares the listener for the daring experiment that follows. At this point in the poem the author abandons traditional techniques and moves into free verse: 'Her baking! Would it be a success/Or a flop?' Here the rhythm invites us to pause, as if in appalled silence, contemplating the mental image of an unrisen cake. And then the poet skilful- ly changes the mood, cheering us up with a brisk and metrically faultless final couplet: `Never fear/Cookeen is here!' Enter the Cookeen fairy, granting every housewife's dearest wish.

A housewife from Mereworth in Kent made an impressive debut as a television reporter last week. Mrs Joan Waters had written to her local paper, asking someone to explain how the poll tax is fair. A television company invited her to conduct an investigation into the views of friends, neighbours and experts in a programme aptly entitled A Polite Enquiry (Channel 4). Mrs Waters's quiet manner was a refreshing change from the aggressively self-righteous tone so often adopted by professional reporters. Interviewing her local Tory MP, she smiled, nodded and murmured 'Well done!', behaving as a kindly schoolmistress might towards a boastful child. Though she may not have meant to, she made him look a twerp.

Wendy Cope will be reading her poems in the National Portrait Gallery at 3 p.m. on Saturday, 7 April.