Victoria Coren Mitchell - Writer, Broadcaster & Poker Player

That’s Annoying

Monday, 31 August 2009

I wrote this column for The Observer, about how people should stop inventing gadgets which help us skip processes that are actually important… like the two products that were in the paper last week: a “fat burning” lip gloss and a “happiness-inducing” room spray scented with cut grass - which are stupid because things like diet & exercise, or mowing the lawn, actually bring a level of satisfaction and discipline that you miss completely if you cut them out and replace them with ersatz versions of the final result.

  But I couldn’t think of any other examples. I wracked my brains. I stared at the screen. I couldn’t think of ANYTHING else that had been invented which operated as short cut, removing a process of effort that was quite important in itself. Couldn’t think of anything. And I was in a hurry to get to the airport for a wedding in France (not mine) so I quickly invented some of my own, just a list of nonsense, and hurried out.

  It was lucky I left when I did, because the journey to Paddington for the Heathrow Express took ages. The minicab went all down the main roads, sitting in traffic, no clever side routes, no jam avoidance. Why? Because the driver was using a satnav. And he’d clearly been using a satnav for so long that he’d never learned the best way to get anywhere. Doh. Meanwhile I’ve got a column full of TV remote controls that give blood.

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daniel maris at 1:27 am on August 31st, 2009

Come on! You sexy logophile!!

“To your right, a family of plump, skittish deer is grazing on an alpine meadow.”
“Is”?  Is??

No. You are talking about a group of individual animals without a corporate identity in this context.
It’s got to be “are”.

Sorry - it was all going so well up till then! LOL !!!

(Actually scent fascism as promoted by the egregious SC Johnson is a serious problem.)

nonimus at 1:43 am on August 31st, 2009

A remote control that gives blood, was that on Tomorrow’s World?!

Platypus at 2:16 am on August 31st, 2009

Hi Vicky,
I bet Dr Nick Lavidis isn’t even a real doctor. Or if he is, he’s a paid mouthpiece for the company that sells that cr*p.
Seems kind of obvious that smells trigger memories. Most people experience that. But isn’t it also obvious that if you smell something every day then it ceases to work like that. Eventually you don’t even notice it. And that would be an awful thing to happen with fresh-cut-grass.
Bl**dy stupid sinister marketing b*stards…
Don’t get me started :)

PS. Treadmills?  They don’t even take the effort out of a good walk in the fresh air. They just take out the good fresh air..

Peter at 3:39 am on August 31st, 2009

Just played poker for 6 hours with my housemates in Cambridge and someone brought up the funeral crashing concept. Looked it up, found the Sir William Ormerod article, got linked to your website and now feel like I have completed a full circle of poker/death/poker. Interesting blog - electric knives and dishwasher have always annoyed me as terrible inventions, esp. the latter, I wash dishes in the sink and rinse things before putting them in. A utterly pointless process.

Dave P at 6:04 am on August 31st, 2009

Long before Dr Nick Lavidis and incredibly low-tech: Readers’ Digest Condensed Books.  Helpfully removing the process of actually reading the book you wanted to read !

Phil at 11:55 am on August 31st, 2009

By a similar token I find the sight of pre-prepared food in supermarkets faintly depressing. The simple act of preparing food is being progressively subjugated by these fiends, not to mention the fact that it is spawning a generation of folk who are literally unable to boil an egg.

It seems that much of technological advancement is geared towards companies creating products which remove our need to do anything so we can just spend more time purchasing their latest piece of tat.Perhaps these companies should place more of an emphasis on enrichment and heightening experiences rather then trying to recreate them in a jam jar and flog them off. Though where would be the margin in that?

Oh just more thing; you don’t really watch Hollyoaks do you?

Victoria Coren at 12:09 pm on August 31st, 2009

Funnily enough, no. I saw the first ever episode of Hollyoaks and haven’t seen one since. Britain never does that kind of thing to my satisfaction - Beverley Hills 90210 I find gripping.
Daniel… Naturally I take your allegation of grammatical incorrectness EXTREMELY SERIOUSLY but I refute it thus: the “is” refers to the “family”. Singular noun, singular verb. A family is grazing, the rest is detail - a family (of deer) is grazing, a family (of plump, skittish deer) is grazing.”
  I’m fairly confident the singular is correct here.

nonimus at 12:36 pm on August 31st, 2009

12:32pm> I wouldn’t watch hollyoaks if it was the only thing on tv.  x

Robert Duboff at 1:51 pm on August 31st, 2009

Hey Vicky,  thanks a lot for your recommendation of the Matusow books a few weeks ago.  I just finished it and really enjoyed reading it.  I tend to only read books on recommendation… do you know any other books, which are similar that I can read?

Also in regards to your article for the observer.  Since I have been at cook school, the chefs always go on about stupid inventions which take away vital parts of the cooking process.  I am sure you will find some which are bad enough for your column….


Victoria Coren at 3:24 pm on August 31st, 2009

Hi Rob. Well, my book’s similar in a way - it is a very frank account of my life in poker (a colourful story rather than a strategy guide, and plenty of honesty involved) although my memoir involves a little less of the drugs and hookers than Mike Matusow’s. It’s not out for another couple of weeks but there’ll be new information on the site tomorrow (September 1st) in the news and books sections.

Rain at 3:25 pm on August 31st, 2009

Funny how some words are only ever found in the disreputable company of certain others. Time….‘immemorial’, ‘redeeming’....feature,
‘moot’...point’, ‘corporate’....bullshit…...

daniel maris at 5:00 pm on August 31st, 2009

Well Victoria, I am not so sure about your singular family…see this link -

So I think your family of deer is/are being described engaged in an activity (grazing) which essentially pertains to them as individuals - eating (or grazing) being something we do as individuals. But I can see this is a bit of a borderline one - you could maybe argue grazing is a collective activity, they are in a sense watching out for each other, and that allows them all to graze at the same time. Hmmm. However, I think I would run with plural here. “Is” sounds ever so slightly stilted to me, in an otherwise lively and not too formal piece of journalism.

I had more to say but went over the character limit!

BadNewsBear at 5:22 pm on August 31st, 2009

Good afternoon scrumptious!

As someone who is an openly unreconstructed driver (that is I love my car and like to drive fast) I recently came across something that appealed to me for about 10 seconds and then gradually became quite offensive. Waterless car wash. Spray stuff on and you wipe it, and the dirt, off. For me it takes all the effort and so all the enjoyment out of washing down my mighty steed. In truly pointless fashion I saw one that was scented. So the outside of my car can smell nice…


BadNewsBear at 5:29 pm on August 31st, 2009

Sorry Daniel,

I have read the article and mulled over the is/are thing. I think Victoria is right on this one.

nonimus at 5:56 pm on August 31st, 2009

Very interesting indeed daniel. Ok why do we pronounce the word one with a w? x

adam at 7:27 pm on August 31st, 2009

i think you have to be careful with these sorts of inventions, after all lighters are easier to use than matches which were a big improvement on flint and that was much easier than rubbing two sticks together. i am sure ray mears would agree with you but, do you really want to go to all that trouble to light a fag.
couldn’t agree more with the whole perfume debacle tho and loved your piece on scented candles. my favourite product of that ilk is/are orange scented rubber gloves, that must take the edge off when cleaning up after the cat.

MarkP at 10:33 pm on August 31st, 2009

A co-worker recently asked if I had a sat-nav. I replied yes, it’s called an A to Z. “Ohh, how retro” they said.

Robert Duboff at 11:50 pm on August 31st, 2009

Wow that’s cool, I can’t wait for your book!  I’ve heard some stories already….hopefully they will all be revealed in your book.  Best of luck with it all.

haydn at 4:21 am on September 1st, 2009

I know exactly what you mean, Vicky. I feel exactly the same way about ketchips. Yes, they are a time-saving combination of chips and ketchup, but think of the sublime sense of achievement you get when you’ve poured out exactly the correct amount of ketchup to last a whole meal without having to pour out a second helping or have the last few chips go commando.

Oh, and Daniel:
a) a family (singular) is grazing. Vicky is absolutely correct.
b) please don’t contradict the goddess Coren again. She is perfect in every way and can use any word she likes.

daniel maris at 9:08 pm on September 1st, 2009

Haydn -

Read your Oxford English mate but if you’ve got your Coren glasses on that won’t be much help will it?

sebmelmoth at 10:45 pm on September 1st, 2009

i have just spent some time reading your blog comments and feel compelled to register my bloody annoyance. yes, you’re a clever person with strong opinions but you don’t arf attract some sycophants!! doesn’t it get tiresome?

Victoria Coren at 11:41 pm on September 1st, 2009

Now now Daniel, this is a friendly blog! We were having a lovely debate about grammar (my favourite sort), let’s not get personal….

daniel maris at 1:20 am on September 2nd, 2009

OK, ref.  It’s a fair cop.  It was meant humorously but you can’t hear my tone of voice of course.

Anyway I did consult the Oxford English. I’ll give you a page reference tomorrow if I remember.  Interestingly some sources identify strict use of the singular with North American usage, so perhaps this is another area where the US is affecting English in the UK.  Incidentally ever heard of the Americanism “irregardless”.  It means regardless!

But what about Sebmelmoth’s comments?  Not worried about the insulting tone…more concerned about whether he’s right to describe us as sycophants.  Just looked up the derivation. Has to do with telling on people for the gross crime of exporting figs (the ancient Greeks took their figs seriously). I think that idea of the informant, goody two shoes, tell tale still clings to the word.  And I don’t think that’s what’s going on here.

Sychophants or enthrallees?  What we are dealing with here is essentially male surprise and wonderment.

Rainbow at 1:38 pm on September 2nd, 2009


daniel maris at 10:34 pm on September 2nd, 2009


Coren Nation?

Lea at 3:12 pm on September 4th, 2009

Hi this is the only way i could think of letting you know about all the men who are playing the EPT Ladies on PS, I’ve been in touch with support but there’s nil that they can do. Vanma has some details of who last night were men. I have just won my first TV table through UK Bounty Stars which will be on the tv in Nov. Good news I beat the men and had Peter Eastgate to heads up with re the fact I never won that game :). I have been asked to go down when it’s airing to do some PR work with PS so hopefully we will bump into each other so I can meet the woman who I admire, when asked who I wanted to heads up with your name popped out but never mind as I will make it onto a table with you one day. Is there anything you can do about the men coming into ladies only? Hope to c u at the EPT

Victoria Coren at 3:31 pm on September 4th, 2009

Hi Lea, thanks for your message. Are you sure there were men playing in ladies’ tournaments? How did you know?! I’m guessing you mean satellites for the ladies’ event at the London EPT - how daft for men to play them, when they couldn’t take the seat if they won it. Perhaps they were trying to win seats as presents for their girlfriends, it’s charming really, like the knights of old but more sedentary.

  Of course this kind of thing can’t be policed, but I don’t think it matters hugely. The idea of ladies-only live tournaments is an opportunity for those women who want to play poker, but are put off by the rough & tumble male adrenaline, to have a go in a field with a different atmosphere. Obviously there won’t be any men in the live event! If men choose to play the online ladies’ events, daft competitive creatures that they are, I’m not sure it matters because online the atmosphere is totally different - for women who are put off poker by its maleness, I would always say just play online, in the comfort of your own home, and switch off the chat if it bothers you.

  So I’m afraid we can’t really stop them - PokerStars can’t start turning up and peering through windows to make sure guys aren’t playing on their girlfriends’ accounts. All I can say is, enjoy the funny side and be reassured that if you want to play the live ladies’ event in London, it WILL be female only.

(Well, I say that. If a very butch lady turns up to play, I’m sure nobody will insist on looking up her skirt. But check the hands and the neck, I say, the hands and the neck.)

Jonathan at 1:55 am on September 9th, 2009

Victoria sycophants: Corenthians?

Victoria Coren

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