Wham bam! Sam Cam to be mam (she'll need a new pram)

Yesterday was a less-than-impressive day of headline punning.

If you listened carefully yesterday, you might have heard the sound of British sub-editors tapping keyboards with rare vigour. Samantha Cameron was (is) pregnant! But more importantly, here was an opportunity to pun with the kind of reckless abandon last seen when Michael Foot flew to Brussels to head an arms body, way back in the early 1980s.

Here was an alignment of several stars. The going-into-labour/opposition-to-Labour backbone of the thing, yes. But don't forget the bizarre rumours, vocalised by Ed Vaizey at the beginning of this month, that Mrs Cameron might consider voting for Labour in the forthcoming election, having voted for Blair back in 1997.

Don't forget that Sam Cam already has a headline-friendly nickname. Don't forget the way the Blairs were accused of milking the happy news of the birth of their fourth child, Leo, in order to cut through the universal paranoia that defined the final few months of the last millennium ("New Labour's Falklands, all the feel-good factor with none of the death", as Zoe Williams puts it in yesterday's Guardian).

Don't forget the shimmer of wordplay potential orbiting other pregnancy-related sort-of-words: duff, preggers, bump et al.

So, let's see how the nationals did. Let's see what the supposed best subs in the country managed to carve out of this 24-carat opportunity:

Times

"Sam Cam moves towards labour" and "Nappies at No 10"

Mark: 7/10. Nice use of the key ingredients and a little alliteration to finish.

Guardian

"Samantha Cameron's labour bombshell" and "Tories welcome bump in road to election"

Mark: 8/10. Strong opening and a complex take on the "bump" pun.

Telegraph

"Does my bump look big in this?"

Mark: 4/10. Off-topic and predictable use of the "bump" pun, almost certainly recycled.

Mirror

"Sam Cameron's back to labour"

Mark: 5/10. Vaguely confusing and potentially grammatically unsound.

Independent

"Samantha's baby blue"

Mark: 6/10. Original but a little half-baked.

Sun

"Wham bam! Sam Cam to be mam (she'll need a new pram)"

Mark: 8/10. Thrilling use of a single-sound gag again and again and again.

Daily Mail

"Sam's having a baby Cam" and "David Cameron thrilled as Samantha announces she's pregnant with fourth child and due to give birth in
September
"

Mark: 3/10. A poor man's Sun headline, followed by a catastrophic death of ideas. Fail.

Frankly, I feel a little short-changed. If, as Shakespeare's Feste asserts, "a sentence is but a cheveril glove to a good wit: how quickly the wrong side may be turned outward", then where are the good wits on our once-hilarious newspaper front pages?

Twenty-four hours on, the scale of the missed opportunity is even more apparent.

Readers of The Staggers, can you do better than eight out of ten?

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I can’t follow Marie Kondo's advice – even an empty Wotsits packet “sparks joy” in me

I thought I’d give her loopy, OCD theories a go, but when I held up an empty Wotsits bag I was suffused with so many happy memories of the time we’d spent together that I couldn’t bear to throw it away.

I have been brooding lately on the Japanese tidying freak Marie Kondo. (I forgot her name so I typed “Japanese tidying freak” into Google, and it was a great help.) The “Japanese” bit is excusable in this context, and explains a bit, as I gather Japan is more on the case with the whole “being tidy” thing than Britain, but still.

Apart from telling us that we need to take an enormous amount of care, to the point where we perform origami when we fold our underpants, which is pretty much where she lost me, she advises us to throw away anything that does not, when you hold it, “spark joy”. Perhaps I have too much joy in my life. I thought I’d give her loopy, OCD theories a go, but when I held up an empty Wotsits bag I was suffused with so many happy memories of the time we’d spent together that I couldn’t bear to throw it away.

After a while I gave up on this because I was getting a bit too happy with all the memories, so then I thought to myself, about her: “This is someone who isn’t getting laid enough,” and then I decided that was a crude and ungallant thought, and besides, who am I to wag the finger? At least if she invites someone to her bedroom no one is going to run screaming from it, as they would if I invited anyone to my boudoir. (Etym: from the French “bouder”, to sulk. How very apt in my case.) Marie Kondo – should bizarre circumstance ever conspire to bring her to the threshold – would run screaming from the Hovel before she’d even alighted the stairs from the front door.

I contemplate my bedroom. As I write, the cleaning lady is in it. To say that I have to spend half an hour cleaning out empty Wotsits packets, and indeed wotnot, before I let her in there should give you some idea of how shameful it has got. And even then I have to pay her to do so.

A girlfriend who used to be referred to often in these pages, though I think the term should be a rather less flippant one than “girlfriend”, managed to get round my natural messiness problem by inventing a game called “keep or chuck”.

She even made up a theme song for it, to the tune from the old Spiderman TV show. She would show me some object, which was not really rubbish, but usually a book (it may not surprise you to learn that it is the piles of books that cause most of the clutter here), and say, “Keep or chuck?” in the manner of a high-speed game show host. At one point I vacillated and so she then pointed at herself and said, “Keep or chuck?” I got the message.

These days the chances of a woman getting into the bedroom are remote. For one thing, you can’t just walk down the street and whistle for one much as one would hail a cab, although my daughter is often baffled by my ability to attract females, and suspects I have some kind of “mind ray”. Well, if I ever did it’s on the blink now, and not only that – right now, I’m not even particularly bothered that it’s on the blink. Because, for another thing, I would frankly not care to inflict myself upon anyone else at the moment.

It was all a bit of a giggle eight years ago, when I was wheeled out of the family home and left to my own devices. Of course, when I say “a bit of a giggle”, I mean “terrifying and miserable”, but I had rather fewer miles on the clock than I do now, and a man can, I think, get away with a little bit more scampish behaviour, and entertain a few more illusions about the future and his own plausibility as a character, when he is squarely in his mid-forties than when he is approaching, at speed, his middle fifties.

Death has rather a lot to do with it, I suppose. I had not actually seen, or touched, a dead body until I saw, and touched, my own father’s a few weeks ago. That’s what turns an abstract into a concrete reality. You finally put that to one side and gird up your loins – and then bloody David Bowie snuffs it, and you find yourself watching the videos for “Blackstar” and “Lazarus” over and over again, and reach the inescapable conclusion that death is not only incredibly unpleasant, it is also remorseless and very much nearer than you think.

And would you, dear reader, want to be involved with anyone who kept thinking along those lines? I mean, even if he learned how to fold his undercrackers into an upright cylinder, like a napkin at a fancy restaurant, before putting them in his drawer? When he doesn’t even have a drawer?

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war