This week I’ve had Milo Minderbinder on my mind. Minderbinder is Joseph Heller’s magnificent creation – an entrepreneurial genius of a mess officer who bought fresh eggs in Sicily for one cent, sold them to Malta for four and a half cents, bought them back for seven cents, and finally sold them on for five cents, somehow making a profit as he did so.
Enterprising he may have been, but Minderbinder has nothing on the people who organise our school Christmas Fair. It’s that time of year again. For the next three weeks or so, the guilt and the extortion will be ramped up and up as the committee-minded try to get the rest of us excited about the prospect of raffles, cake bakes, tombolas, hand-decorated toiletries, Santa grottos and knit your own Christmas presents.
My daughter, as she has done for the previous two years, has come home with a plastic pint pot. I have instructions to fill it full of lovely trinkets that other small girls will like – hair slides, mini lego figures, packets of Haribo, green plastic puppies in small pink tins. That sort of thing. I then have to pop this pot into a gift bag or cover it in wrapping paper (so everything inside remains a surprise) and take it back to school. It will be sold at the Christmas Fair for a couple of quid, as a sort of colourful lucky dip.
It’s a good idea. Fifty or sixty of these garishly-decorated pots piled up on a table makes a surprisingly appealing display. The fact that you can’t see what’s inside is a masterly touch. The duff one that’s full of custard creams and a scratched Matchbox car with no windscreen gets sold along with the rest.
But the economics of it is, well, mind-binding. It costs me, I dunno, about a fiver to fill and decorate the pot, which is then sold for two pounds. Not only that, but I will inevitably have to spend another two quid to buy one of the pots myself. So I end up spending seven pounds on horrible plastic tat that no-one in the house actually likes.
Once the fun of opening the pot and discovering the hidden treasures is done, my girl won’t want much of it. She doesn’t even like Haribo – apart from the love hearts. And the school makes two pounds on each pot. I should just give them the seven quid and be done with it. It’s more profit for the school plus I would hold back – if only for an instant – the ever-rising tide of non-recyclable pink plastic tat in my cupboards.
But, I suppose, where’s the fun in that?