View from the Bridge: 58

by John Morrison


58: Niche marketing

It's reassuring, in a cynical world, to find that Princess Diana's memory is being kept alive by a host of souvenirs, each one personally vetted for taste and decorum by an accountant with a pocket calculator. It's a job that certainly needs doing. After all, for every sanctioned 'Di 'n Dodi' fridge magnet or officially-endorsed collonic irrigation kit, there's an awful lot of worthless tat flooding the market.

Those Princess Diana scratchcards, for example... though a spokesman for the Princess Diana Charity Fund remains unrepentant. "Look, I don't see what the fuss is about. All the money goes to charitable causes, such as funding the efforts of cash-strapped debutantes to follow Diana'a sterling example and marry into royalty. The card features three little pictures of the Princess, which you scratch off. If you get three Dodi Al Fayeds you win the jackpot. Three James Hewitts will win 5,000. Even one Will Carling will net you a fiver. What's is so tasteless about that? "

Those Princess Diana dolls, though: tacky or what? "Not all at," he remonstrates, "It's not like they cry real tears or anything". On hearing this statement the Vicar of Milltown - a man who can recognise a heaven-sent publicity opportunity from a thousand paces - drops to his knees in wonderment.

Every Sunday he gazes down from the pulpit at his dwindling congregatation; it's disheartening to realise that the only other time they muster in numbers is in the post office on pension day. The opportunity to celebrate the great days in the church calendar - Easter, Lammastide, the Third Sunday after Ascension - has failed to engage a generation raised on UFOs and the X-Files. And now, just as he's sinking in an ocean of apathy and unbelief, he's being thrown a welcome life-line.

"It's a miracle", he cries, arms raised aloft, his words echoing prophetically around the walls of his empty church, "truly a miracle...".

Within minutes, Milltown's bush telegraph being what it is, an excitable crowd has assembled at the Church of St Diana. The vicar looks on approvingly; the last time the church had been this full was when Linda Lovelace accepted an invitation to preach on 'Oral Sex: Its Place in the Sacrament'. "Form an orderly queue", our vicar entreats, vainly, as a tidal wave of unreconstructed credulity threatens to get out of hand. "Everyone will be able to see it, if you just..." The rest of his words are lost in the headlong rush to the altar rail.

Propped up in a recess occupied, until recently, by an obscure Old Testment prophet, is a Princess Diana doll. Due to a design flaw, with the arm being jointed only at the shoulder, she is either offering benection to the assembled throng or giving a Nazi salute.

From all the various outfits supplied with the doll (that dress, landmine photo-opportunity khaki, suspiciously sweat-free gym leotard, Aids-victim consolation 'smart-but-casual', etc...) our vicar has plumped for the sort of undemonstrative dress the Princess used to wear when addressing one of her favoured charities about the issues that concern those working tirelessly in the voluntary sector. Such as bulimia, living with a dysfunctional family and the problem of being married to a man who talks to trees.

As the people press forward to get a better view, they are struck dumb by the irrefutable evidence of what they can see. As they stare, open-mouthed and wide-eyed, a solitary tear wells from a kohl-rimmed eye, and rolls slowly down that pale porcelain face.

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