Lucy Mangan discovers the Ladybird Books for Grown-Ups, and muses on what topics she would create for the series.
I have, as Eric Morecambe used to say, a long felt want. It is that John Craven’s Newsround be brought back, but this time for grown-ups. Everything is so complicated. All the wars. All the politics. All the economics. I’ve not even got a handle on I’m a Celebrity, this year. I bowed out after I found there was a woman called Lady Colin in it, when I’m still none too clear about why there is a Princess Michael of Kent. I need someone to break down the modern world and feed it to me in pre-digested pellet form, like an owl to its starving, clueless chicks.
I’ve sent many letters to his agent, but so far no dice. Well, you had your chance, Craven! Salvation has arrived from another quarter, and I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before. Ladybird has come to the rescue, bringing out eight new books for adults on some of the most pressing and complex issues of our day. They include the new Ladybird Book of Dating, of The Hipster, of Mindfulness, the Mid-life Crisis and The Hangover, plus two vital additions to the How it Works series – The Wife and The Husband.
The most valuable to me so far, in a world which recently saw the advent of the clip-on man bun, is The Ladybird Book of the Hipster. A sample page runs: “Hipsters think plates are very old fashioned. They prefer to eat from planks, tiles and first-generation iPads. This tofu self-identifying cross-species is being served on a spring-loaded folder that contains the script of a short film about a skateboarding shoelace designer.”
The facing page is of a gingerbread man on a baking tray, drawn – if memory augmented by common sense serves – from the opening pages of that seminal work The Gingerbread Man, in which patisserie-based hubris, though it outpaces many of the village folk and animal population eventually meets vulpine nemesis, legs first.
There is something quotable on every page of every book. Like the originals, there isn’t a misplaced or extraneous word in them – everything has been rigorously honed by authors Joel Morris and Jason Hazeley, this time in the service of comedy rather than education and it works just as beautifully. The text alone would do me (“Caff Eh? in Brighton is a popular spot for hipsters. The owner guarantees that his customers will never have heard of anything on the menu – things like dotka, commoner’s milk, blacknock and carnip tartonne, keyhole coffee and these freshly oven-balched beetcorn labneys”), but its perfect juxtaposition with the original illustrations from so many remembered favourites makes me hysterical. One of The Enormous Turnip’s pictures, of the owner contemplating the giant vegetable emerging in his field is repurposed for the book on Mindfulness. “In ancient times Guru Bhellend entered a state of mindfulness that lasted thirty-five years. During this time, he thought about everything. When he had finished, he wrote the answer on a grain of rice. He never married.”
Apart from the making-me-laugh-til-I-cry aspect, I think what I love most about these books is that they provide the same enormous satisfaction and warm glow as the ones they pastiche did – the satisfaction and glow that come from knowing you have been provided with something that is so much better than it needs to be. They are still the result of immense knowledge being distilled into 56 pages of pure brilliance – it’s just that this time, that knowledge is a matter of acute observation, joke-crafting and comic timing instead of natural history, astronomy or Guy Fawkes.
For next year, I would like a How it Works on Pensions and Mortgages, a Ladybird Book of Passive-Aggression and one on Diagnosing Yourself on the Internet. I’ll leave it with you, boys. In the meantime, thanks for all the laughs and for solving the entirety of this year’s Christmas gift-giving. Craven – there is, actually, still room in my life for some bullet point on Syria ‘n’ stuff, but you’d better move quickly. The market waits for no man.
Ladybird Books for Grown-Ups by Joel Morris and Jason Hazeley (Michael Joseph), are available now.