Manual for men

Credit: https://www.penguin.co.uk/series/LBGU/ladybird-books-for-grown-ups/

J A Hazeley and J P Morris
How It Works: The Husband
Ladybird Books 2015

My guess is that this book is designed for anyone who is not a husband — the wife, the fiancée, the boy in need of a role model, extraterrestrial visitors and the like — but, speaking as a husband, I found much to enlighten me within these pages. Like many practical manuals it describes the subject’s strengths and weaknesses, gives insights into his interior workings and pictures him at work and play, following lone pursuits and attempting to socialise. What it doesn’t do, however, is to suggest ways to improve or maintain the husband; quite the opposite — in its otherwise comprehensive thoroughness it seems to implicitly advise a take-it-or-leave-it approach. It’s a rather fatalistic and bleak picture that’s painted.

This is one of the original series of “Ladybird books for grown-ups” which have graced bookshop displays for a couple of years now, especially at Christmas. With titles like The Ladybird Book of the Mid-Life Crisis, The Ladybird Book of Mindfulness and The Ladybird Book of the Hipster they took original illustrations from mid-20th-century Ladybird Books for children and fitted them to new themes, to which they’ve added a world-weary commentary. All in simple language. For simple adult minds. A typical example is

The husband has a very big memory. He can remember football scores, all his old car number plates, and most of the film Withnail & I. But he cannot remember what his wife asked him to bring back from the shops …

This is illustrated with a kilted first footer at Hogmanay triumphantly bearing, as he comes through the front door, an unpleasant-looking object (a lump of coal, I assume, but it looks suspiciously like a dog’s visiting card). He’s clearly forgotten to take the shopping list with him.

There are many kinds of humour that aim to tickle the funny bone. Much of it is aggressive, such as is common with political satire, or when some laugh at pratfalls or when certain comics pick on others because of difference. Wit — such as puns, riddles and other wordplay — is similarly cruel in that it involves acute dislocations in expectations, though it’s rarely directed personally (sample: “My uncle had to give up tap dancing — he kept falling in the sink.”) Observational humour can be more gentle despite being as exaggerated as the more aggressive humour. It usually features self-deprecation — in which we laugh at ourselves, at our habits, our foibles, our idiosyncrasies — rather than those seen to be outsiders or belonging to out-groups.

Much of the humour in these Ladybird books for grown-ups is essentially observational. “The husband hears as much as 30% of what is said to him,” is typical. Or take Jim, who after thirty-one years of marriage still doesn’t know what his wife Rebecca likes for Christmas and continues to get her the same present every year (in this case, a clutch bag). And again: “Glyn explains himself very badly. This is so he can say he is misunderstood.”

You either find this kind of thing achingly funny or absolutely cringeworthy. In short bursts it amuses, but repeated familiarity can render it tedious. The only way to decide is to sample it yourself. Myself, I enjoyed the small print more: Jason Hazeley’s N.S.F.W. qualification could stand for Not Suitable for Wife, Joel Morris O.M.G. doesn’t necessarily have some obscure honorific title, while ‘the publishers’ (clearly the writers themselves) claim they are the authors of the unlikely title Eat Yourself Fat. ‘The Publishers’ also acknowledge assistance from the Executive Secretary of the British Society of Husbands, Sir Penius Wroughshod, and the book is Printed in England; if wet, Italy.

Is it worth a perusal, let alone a purchase? I’ll leave you to be the judge.


Screenshot from a mobile phone today

This is the 600th post on Calmgrove, give or take the odd deleted post, hence this bit of frivolous fun. Note the coincidences: 600 posts, 6000 comments this morning (on a day in the sixth month of the year) for a post scheduled for 06.00 BST, and six pages (if you include the home page along with the five additional pages).

Only the spam comments upset the pleasing scenario: isn’t it ironic that out of every four comments sent to be posted here nearly three are spam?

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11 thoughts on “Manual for men

  1. MrsB_inthehills

    We bought each of our daughters a book from this series as part of the Christmas booty a couple of years ago: The Hangover, The Boyfriend (I think) and one that I can’t remember. What does it say about me (or my daughters) that the only title I’m absolutely sure of is The Hangover

  2. Bought my other half their guide to Zombies last Christmas for a laugh because he’s a huge Walking Dead fan. It did amuse me, I confess, though they’re not books you return to, just disposable stocking fillers. With the zombie one especially, I wondered what the original themes were for some of the illustrations!
    Many congrats on your big 600, Chris. Love the symmetry of your stats too. Here’s to the next 600 🙂

    1. Thanks for the felicitations, Lynn! (And so soon after the fifth anniversary of this blog!)

      Haven’t seen the Zombie one, but will now look out for it. I wonder how many bookshop browsers read the books all the way through before deciding not to buy them? It’s too tempting, they’re so short! And I too wonder about the original illustrations (some shown at https://twitter.com/VintageLadybird) and how the spoofers get to choose them. Does the text come first or the picture prompt? (We all now know how you mostly operate!)

      1. I heard the writers being interviewed on the radio – it was their idea I think and they approached Ladybird with it. I know the writers make very little money from the enterprise, which is a shame really, as I have the feeling people might get tired of the idea soon enough. Hopefully it’s inspired more interest in Ladybird though

        1. I have a vague memory of Ladybird winnng a court case and pulping copies of the precursors of these, published by somebody or other who’d used Ladybird pictures without authorisation for the very same spoof purposes. Then Ladybird’s parent company Penguin did exactly the same thing themselves. Whether they matched the quality of the originals or not, however, I’ve no idea. I might see if I can find the original news story online …

          1. I didn’t know that, Chris. Interesting. Kind of cynical too, of course, wanting to exploit afresh a back catalogue of pictures they own but are just taking up space in a store somewhere. It’s all business though isn’t it.

            1. Thanks for the link Chris. No offence to the artist, but it was a bit daft of her to use the images without permission … And harsh of Penguin to be so tough on her as it was only a small art project she’d produced.

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