Posted by: J M | January 29, 2011

H is for humourless

I was out shopping for a new bed and bedroom furniture today. I didn’t find anything as my tastes and my wallet refuse to meet halfway when it comes to expense, but I *did* see the sign in the picture below. It is what looks like a fairly harmless promotion for Valentine’s Day in the posh furniture shop Heal’s on Tottenham Court Road, featuring a quote from famous author Kingsley Amis.

It's only half a life without a woman? REALLY?

I merely glanced at it as I was leaving the shop, but as my brain processed what I’d actually seen, I found myself going back to it to take it all in. I get that it’s a quote and all that, but what does this actually mean? At the risk of sounding like an over-zealous, militant PC warrior, why does a shop think it’s OK to use this quote, when there are a million more romantic and more ambiguous quotes out there that would do just as well?

The irony is that while I was in the shop, I saw a lot of couples. Around 50% of them were same sex, and, in most cases, 50% of each couple didn’t want to be there, instead being dragged around by an enthusiastic, formidable partner in pursuit of something they probably can’t afford. A shop like Heal’s  –  which surely lives and dies on the strength of the pink pound, so over-priced is its merchandise – seems to have made a bit of a mis-step here.
Is a life without a woman a life half-lived? I suppose without my mother, who is a woman, my life would have been non-lived. Although the quote is old and does have a sentimental feel to it, Im not sure what it is about it that rubs me up the wrong way. There are so many undercurrents here, firstly that it’s men who should be prompted to remember Valentine’s Day which in itself is purely a commercial festival and nothing to do with love or romance. The second is altogether more sinister, that man + woman is the only true representation of a ‘full’ life, a life properly lived. Anyone not fitting into this mould is only getting half of the experience.
I know I sound old and sour and like I’m looking for problems everywhere, but it did irk me. When I posted the image on Facebook, most people laughed at it, especially the girls, who realised it suggested they’d be better off being lesbians. Sometimes I wish I had less of a cold, cynical eye, but I really can’t help myself.


  1. If you complained to the shop, they might say it was aimed at single lesbians…

  2. I decided to test them and sent this to their Enquiries address:

    Dear Sir/Madam,

    On behalf of your very many gay customers, can I say how offensive is your advertising promotion? –

    [Your photo of the advert appeared here.]

    What next – “Heal’s – Furniture for White People”?

    Yours sincerely,

    Paul Brownsey

  3. …And Heal’s have withdrawn the advert:

    Dear Mr Borwnsey
    Thank you for your e-mail concerning the Heal’s Valentine Point of Sale.
    This communication was in no way intended to cause offence. It was one of a number of quotes concerning ‘Love’ that we are using to promote Valentine’s Day. After careful consideration I recognise that this line could cause offence and have therefore asked for it to be removed from the shop floor.
    I hope you appreciate that it has never been our intention to cause offence and that we are an inclusive retailer who values all our customers.
    May I apologise for any distress this has caused you.
    Jocelyn Dowden

  4. Goodness, the power of social media!

  5. Good that Paul got the response he did and Heals took it down – not everyone would do that!

    Great post, and food for thought – a very badly thought out and naive campaign. One can only assume Mary Whitehouse was behind it all.

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