THE well-worn cover of book at the opshop caught my eye: 211 Things a Bright Boy Can Do, it said, and it had typical 1950s UK boy magazine artwork: line drawings of a smiling lad, a lightbulb and a Constellation aircraft.
The back cover described the 300-page hardcover book as ‘the essential life-skills handbook, featuring all those things they didn’t teach you at school or boy scouts and included ‘how to tell if a girl fancies you’ and ‘how to take your pants off without removing your trousers.’
It’s by Tom Cutler, described as the son of a sex therapist and a sometime Dominican friar.
He’s worked as a teacher, set designer, doublebass player, speechwriter, printer, toyshop manager, lyricist, wine waiter, puppet maker, typographer, magazine editor, bandleader, portrait painter, radio reporter, cartoonist, and ghost writer for Cardinal Hume. He is also a practising magician.
The book, published by Harper Collins, is divided into various sections: How to be a real man, Sideshow Science, The tree of useless knowledge, The compleat outdoorsman, There’s nothing on the telly and several more, finishing with Militant cookery.
There are literally dozens of tutorials, among them some almost guaranteed to have the current crop of Very Easily Offended People tripping over themselves to scream about it on their preferred social scandalwaves.
Like How to judge a woman’s bra size at a glance, How to weigh your own head, How to light a fart, How to eat somebody’s goldfish, How to cook for a girl.
About the art of fart lighting, Cutler suggests it possibly started when ‘one of our Neanderthal ancestors let rip too close to the fire and shed a surprising light on a new world of cheap entertainment.’
He goes on to identify the main gases of a fart: about 59 per cent nitrogen, 4 per cent oxygen, 9 per cent carbon dioxide, 21 per cent hydrogen and 7 per cent methane, the last two being combustible and warns that hydrogen is a potent fuel, burning with a yellow flame.
‘It powers NASA’s space shuttle and was the gas responsible for the Hindenburg disaster.’
But he assures the Greens that ‘lighting your farts is not going to contribute greatly to global warming.’
Methane, which burns with a blue flame, ‘has a more flame-thrower effect’ and is emitted by an exclusive third of the population, who are ‘entitled to membership of the esoteric and mysterious Royal Order of the Blue Flame.’
Ah, the things they got up to in the 1950s.
Then I had a closer look at the book. It was not from the 1950s at all. It was published in 2006 – and the scuffed cover was not scuffed, but cleverly made to look that way.
And then there’s the Nose Cannon you can make with just one blade of grass while on a country picnic, How to cook for guests when you’ve got builders in the kitchen and How to freeze a Jehovah’s Witness off the doorstep. Plus How to win in a casino without cheating, and so on, for days on end.