Despite being a non-smoker, I own an ashtray that's made from a piece of granite from the old London Bridge. And it's just like Aled Jones.
No, I don't mean that Ex Boy Soprano and TV's "Cash In The Attic" Presenter Aled Jones has carved out a career as an object without any practical use; that he's a crumbling fragment of his past and he's living off his former glory. I wouldn't do a thing like that. Uh huh. No way. Tsk.
I should explain.
My ashtray is a chunk from the London Bridge that was dismantled in the late 60s and transported to Lake Havasu in Arizona, where it was re-erected and now spans one end of the lake for no better reason than to act as a tourist draw. The bridge that is, not the ashtray. Whether the bridge is covered in ashtray-sized pockmarks I couldn't really say as, despite having been to Arizona many, many times I've never felt much compunction to go and visit the mother of my ashtray. The ashtray used to be my father's, who was big in the City of London which, I can only suppose, entitles you to chunks of old bridge turned into ordinary household objects when they become available.
There is an urban legend that the man who bought the bridge, one Robert P. McCulloch (who was big in chainsaws), thought he was buying Tower Bridge and was hugely disappointed, having coughed up over a million quid for the thing. My dad, eager no doubt to get his hands on a granite ash receptacle, was actually at the photo op in his capacity as City bigwig when McCulloch took possession of his new-but-old bridge. The photographers lined up the shoot with McCulloch leaning against the parapet of his purchase and with Tower Bridge in the background. One of the photographers indicated the far-off bridge and said, larkily "Hey Mr McCulloch I bet you wish you'd bought THAT bridge, eh?" and McCulloch, joining in the fun, replied in mock disbelief "Oh no, you don't mean I bought the WRONG bridge?!" How they all laughed.
Well of course the media ran with the story in the way they so often do when there's a chance to make all Americans seem completely stupid and ignorant. And the public, happy to believe that a man could, through his own industry, amass a vast fortune and yet be as dumb as a stump, lapped it up. I suppose the fundamental problem was the notion that anyone who was eccentric enough to pay a million pounds for a massive old edifice and ship it thousands of miles away to a dessert must be several ashtray-sized granite chunks short of a full river-crossing.
Yet, no matter how ridiculous the assumption is that a shrewd businessman would buy the wrong bridge, the myth continues. Only recently I heard it repeated by the BBC's top investigative sofa-jockey, Bill Turnbull on Breakfast News. Yup, a television news anchor man in the 21st century was all too happy to share a snippet of Americans-are-so-dumb drivel as fact. And have a little patronising chuckle about it too. Right there on the telly box. I was shocked.
Then a few days ago I saw a TV ad for a new album by Aled Jones. The voiceover described him as "one of the nation's great singers". Again, I was shocked.
And, like the London Bridge story, it just proves you shouldn't believe everything they say on the telly.
Which makes Aled Jones just like my ashtray.