In a gorgeously cynical move, Ladybird Books has permitted – just in time for its 100th birthday – its iconic children’s practical guides to be bastardised for modern grown-ups equally eager for self-improvement. Shopping with Mother and What to Look For In Winter have been updated with The Ladybird Book of Mid-Life Crisis, plus a guiding hand on mindfulness and hangovers.
How to be a wife and the fine art of dealing with hipsters have also been untangled. It’s hard, I feel, not to be slightly smitten with these dry and beautifully dark rejigs. Ladybird books are so locked in the nation’s conscience that the mere sight of a suicidal man clinging to the side of a building being talked down by a policeman, with the accompanying title The Ladybird Book of The Hangover, made my face convulse with involuntary giddiness. I was back in the nursery in wet galoshes, while sitting in my tediously adult world of vomiting cats, unpaid bills and a merciless Mallen streak.
Here were the same waxy-faced, ruddy-cheeked characters and simplistic homespun scenes that I loved in the 1970s, but focusing on very modern matters. How, for example, to approach the growing cult-like belief that all of life’s woes can be assauged by 10 minutes a day of mindful breathing and living in the moment.
Or, what to do when boozy morning-after symptoms are no longer a merry badge of honour, and instead, with the passing of time, have become more akin to a 72-hour-long central nervous system shutdown with accompanying existential terror. I, for one, need Ladybird-style simplistic help with both of these very modern malaises. I love mindfulness. Seriously. Pull up a chair and let me bore on at you for eons about love, light and inner calm. But I’m also aware from experience that announcing I’m spending Saturday at a Jon Kabat-Zinn seminar marks me out as a smug, chattering-class, airy-fairy, knit-your-own-tabbouleh London-ite twonk.
I’m hoping there’s a new Ladybird book featuring a smug, long-haired lady with closed-eyes pulling a face that seems to say, “I’m just off to a laughter yoga weekend at Soho Farmhouse, Oxfordshire”. But how can something so filled with love make me so hate-worthy? Ladybird, help me please.
And as for hangovers, I know that no amount of breathing from the diaphragm while envisaging love leaving my forehead like a laser will shift a cheap Pinot Grigio headache. However, I also know that in the modern world saying “no” to the Pinot Grigio at any social function will make the host and other party guests uncomfortable. It will make small talk untenable and mark me out as a bloody drag.
Ladybird is entirely correct to believe modern life is as bewildering for a forty-something as it is for a four-year-old child picking up Telling The Time and wondering how on earth a big hand pointing towards the nine can possibly mean it is “15 minutes before the top of the hour”. The answer, of course, to the telling the time quandary is: “Don’t worry little one, it makes absolutely no sense, but after a lot of mistakes, anger and shame eventually you’ll get the hang of it”. This, by no coincidence, is the answer to almost all grown-up problems too.
Especially – as tackled in the new Ladybird mid-life crisis book – the modern dilemma of “I am suddenly middle-aged and have no idea how to deal with the awful fright of being a young, hip, whipper-snapper encased in a fat, fuddy-duddy body. How can I cheer myself up?” Clearly the answer here is, in the short term, fast cars, painful affairs and inevitably living separately from your soulmate, talking via solicitors.
I’m also excited about the new Ladybird take on How To Be A Wife and How To Be A Husband. These will hopefully give cheery tips on how an intelligent, educated woman can keep a long-term relationship afloat, when she must either (a) put her career on ice to be a mother for several years, or (b) hand over childcare and house chores to her bloke who, despite being absolutely great at it all, will also be maligned by society as a sad sap living off his missus.
The cosy thing about Ladybird books in the Seventies was they showed a world without choice, without the clash of ambition and with pencil-thin horizons. Ladybird celebrated a world where mummy baked cakes all day and took the little ones on winter wonderland walks without needing Citalopram. And as for happy, contented daddy, he disappeared at breakfast time armed with his tool box, happy as Larry, to make enough money to support everyone.
But those days are gone, or perhaps they never existed at all. Yet having no neat answers to the complexities of the modern world, I’m happy to take advice from Ladybird. It, after all, was a complete boon to me during the early days when I wasn’t sure which to put on first: knickers, socks or a vest.
So why not let it loose now with how to recognise and behave when faced with an actual live hipster. I’ve not read the Ladybird book on hipsters yet, but I’m hoping the answer isn’t “Throw paint at their novelty cereal café during a non-sensical witchhunt over house prices”. In fact, if hipsters could get so angry about other hipsters starting a cereal café that they wanted to attack them, I wonder how angry hipsters can get about other hipsters making a lovely light-hearted mockery of Ladybird books? The older I get, the only thing I know for sure is life is as clear as a puddle. Thank you Ladybird, I’ll take all the help I can get.
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