What ya gonna do when the novelty has gone? New Order's plastic ruler

As I was rummaging around in a drawer containing my exquisite collection of finest-quality stationery today, you’ll never guess what I came upon? Give up? Well, it was this …

 .. yes, straight up! (Ahem). Anyway, I'd forgotten I had this. Along with a PiL "Can" thing and a PiL "Mug" cup (from their Album promo splurge), it dates from my time working in a record shop in the mid-80s. Sharkish record reps would bestow them on gullible retail slaves like me thinking I'd order in lots of not-very-sellable product for the HMV singles counter. (Don't think I usually did though).

But what the hell is it? Apart from - obviously enough - being a stupid promotional plastic ruler (“Twelve inches of New Order”) that Factory Records knocked up to promote the Substance singles compilation in 1987, it's also part of Factory's self-referential - and slightly tedious - catalogue empire. FAC #203. Impressed? I think you're supposed to be.

If one were so inclined, I think you could do a whole "deconstructionist" number on this ruler. Reflecting on how its er, straight-edge anti-frivolous seriousness supposedly "mocks" more traditional music merchandise (sew-on/lapel badges, stickers, etc). The fact it's a ruler might be taken as a suggestion not just of the famed “austerity” of much of Factory's music, but also of the studious non-music realms of mathematics, architecture and design - fields the Factory aesthetic liked to play around with. But it's all a pose really. Clean, transparent plastic sits nicely with the look of Factory stuff at this time and people like me (aged 23) would have snaffled it up quite unembarrassedly, but in the end it's just a rather clunky (over-thick) ruler with a not-too-subtle message about the fact that your favourite Manchester doom-pop band has a decent back-catalogue of singles.

But merch is merch is merch, right? So I see people are these days paying over £100 on eBay to acquire this little piece of plastic. People, please. It's a ruler! A ruler. (By the way, if anyone else is trying to sell one of these on a popular online auction site, I strongly suggest they use these lines as part of their sales pitch: So what ya gonna do when the novelty has gone? / Yeah, what ya gonna do when the novelty has gone? There. They can have that idea for free).

By 1987 a grandiose Factory had sort of lost the plot if you ask me. Madchester seemed to be going to everyone's heads. Queues, air-horns, drugs and unapologetic consumerism were cool, and meanwhile almost anything was being given a FAC catalogue number - Hacienda House wines (geddit?), Factory notepaper, a G-MEX after-party, a Happy Mondays video shoot, Tony Wilson's nasal mucus (FAC #227.5; er, not really). Perhaps they should have just given up on those boring old records altogether and opened a massive souvenir shop or something …

No, looking back, things like this promo ruler are a bit of an embarrassment. Aside from the excellent nightclub (which hosted music), Factory was good because of the music. I appreciate that Saville's designs were an integral part of Factory's output, but I think it ends up looking ridiculous when design energy is expended on promotional fripperies like a ruler.

Anyway, as it happens my ruler (unlike my New Order records) is scratched. However hard I might try to flog it, I fear it's not going to get much on the open market. Sadly, I’ll have to abandon plans to sell it and invest the proceeds in a property empire. Furthermore, as this next photo rather suggests …

… the neither-very-durable-or-beautiful nature of the “Twelve inches of New Order” ruler means it only actually looks any good when held against something pleasant to look at - like wood. And indeed a terminally unfashionable-looking old wooden ruler I also found in my stationery drawer today is actually a far nicer artefact than the worth-one-hundred-quid-and-counting product from the glory days of Wilson/Saville associates.

Meanwhile, having had a quick riffle though the index of Peter Hook’s Substance tome just now, I could find no entry for … a ruler. Rightly enough, I suspect Mr Hook would rather play bass than mess around with bits of souvenir stationery.


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